I am sitting at my Remington, clacking away at the lobby’s desk when a man approaches me. Chuck, a New York businessman, tells me about his mother, Anne Bernich, who served as Underwood’s Typewriter Girl of 1945. According to Chuck, “Although her typing skills were amazing, she was voted the ‘Prettiest Girl’ in Long Beach High School, class of 44′ which added to her qualifications I’m sure.” For years his mother kept a 16mm film reel that Underwood shot of her typing. A few years ago, Chuck rented a projector and they played it for the first time in several decades. And Chuck happens to carry a copy of it on his phone…
“The movie itself is rather boring, it’s a half an hour long and meant for schools and businesses,” Chuck claims. So he and the AV guy from his work got together, edited it and started dubbing in voices to make it comic.
Anne was an assistant to the manager of Underwood’s typewriter division. She regularly attended business shows that had an array of sections devoted to different typewriter companies, mimeograph machines, and anything else that a person would use in a 1940’s business. Anne would be set up in the Underwood area always demonstrating the latest model for the crowds. Frequently these shows hosted contests in which young women would race each other to accurately type the most words per minute.
Chuck gives me his mom’s number. When I call her she tells me, “They would send me to different contests and I usually won because I could type very fast.” One time at a business show, a man who had been watching her work offered her a job at his brand new company. Anne politely declined, saying that she was very happy with her job at Underwood. She now regrets it, “This man was the man who started IBM! Thomas Watson! He was a delightful man. I can’t believe I said no to him, had I said yes, I’d probably have a lot more money than I have now.”
I asked Anne what her word per minute was when she typed. “Oh, probably a hundred and something, I forgot honey, but it was a lot. I played the piano. I started lessons when I was seven. I think the fact that I played the piano made my fingers very nimble.” Later, I called Chuck and asked if he knew what his mother’s words per minute was. He immediately told me “130.” At 88, Anne still plays the piano, and holds a job as a church organist.
It was Anne’s boss who suggested that she be the official Underwood Typewriter Girl of 1945. “I was petite and had blonde hair, and uh, I was nice looking. I guess that’s why they took me, they figured I’d be photographic enough.”
She kept the tin with the film reel in it for years in her file cabinet. “It took us a whole week to make it. I had to wear the same dress every day. It wasn’t washed or anything, we didn’t have a washer or dryer then. And the makeup was horrible orange, just terrible, and we’d go out for lunch between the takes and all and people would be looking at us, and me with this terrible makeup, I was embarrassed.”
Whenever a new typewriter came out, Anne would go to the factory that produced it and take a tour of the facility with the manager. “I don’t know why they had me go up there, but I did.” At one point they showed her an all-white (including the keys) portable typewriter getting packed up to be sent. “I said, ‘Oh, it’s beautiful, but why is it all white?’ And they said ‘It’s going to the Pope.’”