A Christmas Tie
In the early days of television, it was not unusual for major playwrights to create new works of original drama for television. William Saroyan created many, including several for the seminal anthology series Omnibus. Many, if not most, of these original works are either lost, or held in archives and difficult to access.
This is not the case for A Christmas Tie.
Saroyan wrote new works for Omnibus between 1953 and 1958, including the autobiographical piece A Few Scenes Out of the California Boyhood of William Saroyan, starring a young Sal Mineo. Omnibus was one of many anthology shows on television that brought together interviews with important cultural figures, adaptations of classic theater pieces, and original works by contemporary playwrights. Playhouse 90, General Electric Theatre, and The DuPont Show of the Month all had episodes featuring Saroyan pieces. Omnibus, considered to be one of the most prestigious shows on television at the time, attracted major stars and featured recurring appearances by legendary conductor Leonard Bernstein. The show presented A Christmas Tie originally for the fourth episode of Omnibus, in 1953
The short play centers around a new tie salesman, incredibly enthusiastic to have his new job, and his interactions with an older woman who has come in order to purchase ties...or perhaps to steal them. This is one of those Saroyan pieces where there are many ways for it to be read, The leads here carry much of the weight of the piece, with Burgess Merideth, who had worked with Saroyan previously on The Free Company, as the salesman, and theater legend Helen Hayes as the shopper. They have a lovely interaction, and both seem quite adept at delivering Saroyan's words.
The piece was re-aired for the third season of Omnibus as well, and became one of Saroyan's best-known television pieces.
This was also not the only time that the piece was performed on television. Telethons have been a part of television since the very beginning. In 1955, the American National Theatre and Academy (ANTA) put together a show to benefit CARE, Cooperative for American Remittances to Europe. The show originated from the Adelphi Theatre in New York, and was sent to other theaters around the country using pioneering television network DuMont's coaxial cable-based system. DuMont was close to ending transmissions when it transmitted The A.N.T.A album in 1955, though the closed-circuit broadcast was as innovative as the network had been dating back to the late 1930s.
The show was done in a variety show format, with portions of singing, segments of popular Broadway shows, skits, and performances featuring major stars like Lena Horne. The show featured A Christmas Tie, and Helen Hayes returned, but Merideth's role have been taken over by Ray Boyle, who had appeared in several films in the prior year, including The Bridges at Toko-ri. This broadcast still exists in the archives of UCLA, one of the few programs from the DuMont still in existence, though it's not currently available to the public.
We're lucky that any episodes of Omnibus have survived, as a majority of early televisions broadcasts were lost over the ensuing seven decades. Several episodes of Omnibus have been released over the years. Recently, YouTubers have posted A Christmas Tie from what appears to be a capture from early VHS releases, making this incredible part of Saroyan's television output available to the masses for the first time in seventy years.
We here at Forever Saroyan wish you Happy Holidays and hope you'll enjoy this wonderful piece of television history!