Interview with Steve Soboroff – the leading collector of celebrity-owned typewriters
Crime fighter by day. Typewriter collector by night.
Steve Soboroff, President of the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners, is a busy man.
At latest count he's amassed a collection of 33 typewriters – most now on display at the Paley Center in LA until January 2016. And these aren't any old Olivettis. These are typewriters used by the most famous and infamous figures of the 20th Century. As Steve says, if they weren't on the cover of Time magazine, he's not interested.
Steve's obsession began in 2003 when he bought the great LA Times sports writer Jim Murray's machine at auction. Since then he's acquired the Underwood Orson Welles employed to write Citizen Kane, a teenage John Lennon's, and what was left of a typewriter Unabomber Ted Kaczynski used to fashion his bombs.
And if Steve's face is familiar, it's probably because it was his phone that singer Rihanna memorably dropped (and smashed) at an NBA game last year. Courtside seats come at a price.
The most exciting moment in Clippers history? Riri drops Steve's phone at an NBA game last year
Here Steve tells us about the typewriter he'd most like to steal, what it's like to say no to Angelina Jolie, and how his job with the LAPD helps him spot fakes.
JustCollecting: You rebuffed Angelina Jolie's attempts to buy Tennessee Williams' typewriter for husband Brad Pitt. You later agreed a price for Ernest Hemingway's but then it fell through. What happened? And are you the first man to have turned down Angelina Jolie?
Steve: It wasn't that way! I only have one Tennessee Williams typewriter so I didn't want to sell it. I have two of Hemingway's. But then we agreed that using Hemingway's typewriter for correspondence (even from Brad Pitt) wasn't the right thing to do. So, I certainly did NOT turn her down.
Which are the most valuable in your collection? The one Orson Welles used to write Citizen Kane? John Lennon's? Ernest Hemingway's?
All are valuable but the top ten would include those three above plus Maya Angelou's, Superman creator Jerry Siegel's, George Bernard Shaw's, Andrea Bocelli's Brailler, Truman Capote's, Tennessee Williams', and maybe Unabomber's. But this list is unfair to the other 23.
James Bond actor Pierce Brosnan made a charitable donation of $500 to use John Lennon's Imperial Good Companion Model T
What's the first typewriter you would save in a fire?
The one closest to the door.
I understand it's possible to match typescript to a single typewriter. Do you use this technique when adding new models to your collection?
Yes. I use photo matching too. Authenticity isn't just part of the picture – it's the whole picture. You have to remember I'm in the business of law enforcement, so I look at these things forensically.
Tom Hanks loves the typewriter [he has a collection of 200]. You love the fact a famous person used the machine. When you two get together, things must get heated. Am I right?
No. I don't think I get his competitive juices flowing. He likes what I do and sent me his for the collection, and he reminded me that he deserved to be in the collection as he had been on the cover of TIME twice!
Aside from Tom, which other famous celebrities have you met through your typewriter collection?
Andrea Bocelli, Joanne Carson [long time friend of Truman Capote], Julie Andrews, George Burns, Jim Murray and I got a letter from the Unabomber. Almost all of the others I have met the family as that's how I find and/or buy.
What does it feel like when you're sat at a typewriter once used by one of the great writers?
It gives me the chills. You become speechless and just imagine. It's great.
Conversely, doesn't the Unabomber's typewriter give you the heebee-jeebees?
No, but he does.
Has Rihanna been to see the exhibition yet? And if so, which typewriter did she break?
It's "Riri" please! No she hasn't, as unlike an iPhone, these are not replaceable!
People can type on your machines in return for a charitable donation. What are your rates?
Folks have paid from $50 to $5,000 to type on one. The proceeds go to scholarships for journalism students.
Steve with Laura Siegel Larson, daughter of Superman creator Jerome Siegel - that's Siegel's Royal Portable Quiet Deluxe
Where do you find your typewriters?
Auctions. Word of mouth. Garage sales. Plus research, referrals and I follow the obituaries…
If the President of the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners was going to steal any typewriter in the world, which would it be?
I wouldn't steal it in Los Angeles as the LAPD is so good I would get caught. If you phrase the question to keep me out of Scotland Yard, I would like Mark Twain's.
Who owns Ian Fleming's golden typewriter? Have you tried to buy it?
Is typewriter collecting a growing hobby?
Yes, but using typewriters by millennials and baby boomers is exploding!
What about collecting in general?
In this crazy fast tech world, collecting (almost) anything is healthy, therapeutic and fun.
Mark Twain's Life on the Mississippi is said to be the first book written on a typewriter - his machine is high on Steve's "most wanted" list
Which other areas do you think have growth potential over the coming decades?
Typewriters of famous people will lead the way (I hope).
How will the collector of the future get involved in their hobby? Will fairs and regular meets still be relevant, or is it all going to be online?
Online is efficient for access and pricing but in person is the most fun.
Do you collect anything else?
Volume one, number one magazines. I have 200 but Dr Steven Lomazow from New Jersey has almost 2,000!
Joe DiMaggio's credit card fell out when you got his typewriter home. Hemingway's contained negatives from his childhood. Any other unexpected finds you can tell us about?
1/8 pound of cigar nicotine scraped from George Burns' typewriter (wanna buy an ounce?)
Want to learn more about when Steve met Rihanna? Click here.
See Steve's typewriter collection at the Paley Center for Media in Los Angeles, until January 2016.
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