NORWALK, Conn. – A California man knew that buying one of Andy Rooney's typewriters last weekend would be a challenge from across the country. But finding one of Rooney's Rowayton neighbors to help him was just dumb luck.
Chris Buswell, a Rowayton real estate agent, was in bed when Steve Soboroff called from Los Angeles at 11:30 p.m. Friday after spotting a news story about the ongoing estate sale at Rooney's house. Soboroff, who collects typewriters owned by famous people, had been coveting Rooney's typewriter. "It's on my fave five list," Soboroff said.
Rooney, the longtime Norwalk resident and curmudgeonly commentator on "60 Minutes" on CBS, died in November at the age of 92.
Elizabeth Jackson, organizer of the estate sale, had persuaded Rooney's family to allow one of his prized Underwood Number 5s to be auctioned at the sale. Soboroff decided he had to have it, and he went to a chamber of commerce website to see who he could get to help him. He liked the credentials Buswell listed on his website – for one thing, Buswell had once been in the CIA. But there was nothing there that said Buswell lived "three doors down" from Rooney. Soboroff chose him for his profession.
"I'm a real estate person, and I know real estate brokers are very friendly people that work on commission, so I called one cold," he said. "The guy I called is an amazing guy."
Buswell said, "I was suspicious, but after talking to him I told him that in the morning I would get up and tell him what I could do for him."
Buswell didn't go to Rooney's front door, where people were lined up for the 10 a.m. start time. He went to the back door and talked to Brewster Jackson, former CEO of United Press International and husband of Elizabeth Jackson, organizer of the sale. He found out how the auction worked – bids of at least $500 were placed in a box – and called his new California connection.
"I reported back to him, and we decided to make an offer that I guess they couldn't refuse," he said.
Soboroff – who credits Buswell's CIA training for the back door trick – had been burned in an auction in the past, narrowly losing out on a typewriter owned by Lewis Carroll, author of "Alice in Wonderland." He asked Jackson how much he wanted for the typewriter and then offered him that amount. Jackson ran Soboroff's credit card number, and Buswell left with the typewriter.
"Meanwhile, CBS has called three times asking for the typewriter," Soboroff said.
Brewster Jackson confirmed that CBS called looking for the typewriter. Elizabeth Jackson confirmed it went for "quite a few thousand" dollars.
The typewriter is now headed to Soboroff, who thinks he has one of two typewriters that Rooney used. The other is at the Smithsonian Institution.
Elizabeth Jackson said Rooney had an affection for Underwood Number 5 typewriters – for many reasons, including that they were made in the same year he was, 1920. Two lesser Underwoods were sold at the estate sale, one for $100 and one for $150. Jackson said they were typewriters Rooney kept in the garage, for parts.
He had many high quality typewriters, which he collected. "I'm sure the children all kept a typewriter of his," she said. "There's a library, as I understand it, that's being put together of a lot of his essay memorabilia. I can't imagine a typewriter didn't go to them.
"But when I was here with them working on making arrangements for the sale and in conversation they said the Smithsonian has asked (for one). I said 'Well, I'm asking because I want one to be in the sale.' I don't know what the designation is, but I can't imagine they turned the Smithsonian down."
Soboroff has collected 15 typewriters that were owned by famous people, including Ernest Hemingway, Joe DiMaggio, John Lennon, George Bernard Shaw, Tennessee Williams and Jack London. "It's such a personal connection, and they're so one of a kind," he said.
He occasionally loans them to museums to raise money for journalism students, so he doesn't feel bad about beating out CBS.
Getting Andy Rooney's typewriter "may be the funniest story of his acquisitions." He acknowledged that it cost him "many thousands." But, he said, "It isn't that I didn't have to work hard to make that money, but this is Andy Rooney and this is a big deal."