Mary Adelman, whose Manhattan typewriter-repair shop tended to machines with shift-lock keys that would do neither and carriages that would not return — and to the people who pounded away on them — died Wednesday in Washington. She was 89.
The cause was complications of dementia, her daughter Anne Adelman Taswell said.
For decades Mrs. Adelman’s shop, Osner Business Machines, at 393 Amsterdam Ave., just south of 79th Street, was an emergency room for typists with bent keys, problematic platens, and ruined ribbons.
It was a dusty leftover from a time before word processors and, even more newfangled, computers — a place that at its busiest would be jammed with typewriters that could be repaired, cannibalized for parts, or sold. Most had been flipped on their ends to let Mrs. Adelman squeeze in more.
She maintained that a typewriter was “a personal item that has meaning, not just a piece of metal.” But the shop was not just about the typewriters. It became an Upper West Side fixture in the lives of people desperate to keep the words flowing. Some hunted and pecked. Some poked with two fingers. Some approached their QWERTY keyboards with the poise and careful hand positions of a pianist.
The shop attended to the typewriters of such well-known writers as Isaac Bashevis Singer, David Mamet, Erich Maria Remarque, Nora Ephron, Gene Shalit, and Philip Roth. Joseph Heller had a Smith-Corona with keys that flew off (they were soldered back on). The novelist David Handler was so grateful for Mrs. Adelman’s assistance that he made her a character in a mystery, “The Girl Who Ran Off With Daddy.”
“Every time you’d go there, it was always filled with people, that little shop — crammed with people,” one longtime customer, playwright Peter Shaffer, the author of “Equus,” said in 2001. “It was like the cabin scene in ‘A Night at the Opera.’ You couldn’t get in the door.”
Murray Schisgal, who typed out his play “The Typists” in the 1960s, called the time he spent in Mrs. Adelman’s shop “the best hours I spent with people other than my bartender.” And Walter Wager, who wrote the novel that was the basis for the film “Die Hard 2,” said the shop “was almost a local pub for writers in the community, a mini-Algonquin.”
Mrs. Adelman was the centerpiece. “She was the serene, courteous, efficient, get-it-done aunt,” Wager said, “and you respected her.”
She was born Marie Golinski on March 2, 1928, in Antwerp, Belgium, the daughter of Morris Golinski, who later worked as a tailor, and his wife, Caroline. A Jewish couple, they wanted to name their daughter Miriam after the sister of Moses and Aaron in the Old Testament, but were forced to choose a different name from a registry that Mrs. Adelman said did not permit Jewish names. Her family did not know precisely when or why she became Mary.
After fleeing Belgium, and the occupying Nazis, with her mother, sister, and brother in 1941, she lived in London; her father followed them several months later. She moved to Canada in 1954 and soon began a long-distance romance with Stanley Adelman, who had been born in Dabrowa Gornicza, Poland, and had been held in five concentration camps in World War II.
They had been introduced by a cousin of hers who knew Stanley Adelman. Living in New York, Stanley Adelman drove to Toronto to see her every weekend until their wedding on Dec. 24 that year.
Stanley Adelman, who had learned to repair typewriters in Munich after he was released, had met the Manhattan shop’s original owner, Karl Osner, in 1951 and went to work there when Osner’s one employee quit. Mary Adelman joined her husband after he took over the Osner shop in 1968. She presided over the counter.
After her husband was injured in a bicycling accident in 1984 and retired, Mary Adelman kept the shop going, supervising typewriter technicians. He died in 1995. The shop closed in 2001.
‘Every time you’d go there, it was always filled with people.’
At her death, Mrs. Adelman was living in an assisted-living facility not far from Taswell and another daughter, Frederica Adelman Gulezian, whose homes are in Maryland.
Besides them, Mrs. Adelman leaves a brother, Philip Golinski, and four grandchildren.
As the years passed and typewriters were overtaken by word processors and then personal computers, Mrs. Adelman complained that they made writing too easy.
“Just press the button, and the computer will do it,” she said in a segment on the CBS News magazine “48 Hours” that began with correspondent Dan Rather calling typewriters “roadkill on the information highway.”
Such convenience, Mrs. Adelman said, “has done away with craftsmanship.”