The largest exhibit Forever Saroyan has put together to date ended its two-month run at the Arion Press Gallery in San Francisco. The exhibit attracted visitors from around the Bay Area, all throughout California, and from as far out as Washington, Massachusetts, and even Canada and Armenia!
The exhibit, curated by Dori Meyer and Chris Garcia, featured themed cases focusing on various aspects of Saroyan's life and family. These cases contained items from the Forever Saroyan collection, as well as several reproductions of items from the Saroyan collections at Stanford and UC Berkeley. These were in addition to the 30 drawings and paintings, most of which were displayed for the first time.
The Human Comedy
Visitors entering were greeted with Saroyan's most beloved novel. The Human Comedy began as a screen treatment Saroyan wrote for Louis B. Mayer of MGM. Disagreements with Mayer led to Saroyan being removed from the project and the screenplay being completed by Howard Estabrook. Saroyan took the outline he had created and turned it into the novel The Human Comedy, which became a best-seller and came out at nearly the same time as the film. The film would win an Academy Award for Best Story for Saroyan in 1944. Our display included an original lobby card for the film, the original Estabrook script, several versions of the book, including an Armed Services edition and German translation, as well as Saroyan's original proof sheet, including corrections made to the text in his own hand.
WILLIAM SAROYAN: The Armenian
William Saroyan was proud, and acutely aware, of his Armenian heritage. This case featured a look at Saroyan's family, including reproductions of photos of his family, including grandmother, mother, and his father. We also included scans of pages from the Armenak Saroyan diary kept while coming to America in 1906. Saroyan was a major figure in Armenia, and his visit in 1964 garnered major attention. So much so that reporters followed him, taking hundreds of photos. We included two of those original photos. Saroyan often wrote abiout Armenia and Armenians, including in the three plays comprising the Armenian Trilogy.
Following his death in 1981, Saroyan's passing and legacy received significant coverage in several Armenian publications.
The case was surrounded by pencil drawings Saroyan created in the early 1930s, mostly on Vanity Fair Florists stationary.
WILLIAM SAROYAN in San Francisco
Saroyan was a fixture in San Francisco, maintaining friendships with many of the most colorful figures in the city, including legendary columnist Herb Caen, sculptor Benny Bufano, and celebrity chef George Mardikian. Saroyan often wrote about SF, including writing pieces for books like Let's Have Fun in San Francisco. He also often wrote introductions for books by important San Franciscans, such as Maridikian's Dinner at Omar Khayam's.
Occupying one-half of our largest case, we included reproductions of pieces on San Francisco by Saroyan and Herb Caen, original telegrams between Saroyan and editor H. L. Mencken, and original copies of Let's Have Fun in San Francisco, and the magazine The Peninsulan. One wonderful late addition to the case was a picture of Saroyan and cousin Khatchik 'Archie' Minasian at Playland-by-the-Beach.
WILLIAM SAROYAN: The Daring Young Writer
Saroyan's early career was full of close-calls, as evidenced by the original rejections letters from Viking Press and The New Yorker included in this case, and massive hits, like his 1934 short story "The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze" and the collection named for it. Forever Saroyan is lucky enough to not only have the original magazines and copies of the various printings of the collection, but also materials including Saroyan's original hand-drawn cover concept for the book, a reproduction of which was shown in the exhibit. Also included was a copy of the 1928 Overland Magazine which was Saroyan's first major publication in 1928.
WILLIAM SAROYAN & The Theatre
Saroyan's theatrical output got two cases: one displaying the programs and book versions of his plays, and another dedicated to The Time of Your Life. The display of programs from 30 years of Saroyan theatrical performances, including productions featuring Henry Fonda and Walter Huston. Also included were rare programs from Saroyan's earliest plays: My Heart's in the Highlands, Time of Your Life, and Love's Old Sweet Song. Included is also a copy of the Playbill for The Human Comedy, a musical adaptation of Saroyan's book created two years after Saroyan's death.
Included in the case were two of the most impressive pieces of Saroyana - the telegrams accepting the Drama Critic's Circle award for The Time of Your Life, and a copy of the book of the play signed by President Franklin Roosevelt, his wife, Eleanor, members of his cabinet, and actress Carmen Miranda.
The Time of Your Life also got its own case, highlighting early printed versions, both for US readers, actors (an early Samuel French script edition from 1940), and UK readers published by Faber & Faber. Rare promotional material from an early run of the play starring Eddie Dowling and Julie Haydon, and an ABC radio adaptation of the play.
KHATCHIK 'ARCHIE' MINASIAN
Saroyan's cousin Archie was his closest friend and confidant. A remarkable poet and playwright in his own right, his book of poems The Simple Songs of Khatchik Minasian, along with three other collections were included in the exhibit. We also displayed several of his watercolors.
WILLIAM SAROYAN & His Contemporaries
Saroyan kept good literary company, from sparring with Ernest Hemingway over his portrayal in Saroyan's story 70,000 Assyrians to John Steinbeck, whose story, The Wayward Bus, he adapted into a screenplay. Included in this case are reproductions of letters and published articles dealing with Saroyan's interactions with other significant writers. He was also friends with a number of artists, and we included a copy of a drawing of Saroyan done by legendary artist Varaz Samuelian.
WILLIAM SAROYAN & Music
William Saroyan famously wrote the song "Come On-a My House" with cousin Ross Bagdasarian. Saroyan and Bagdasarian recorded a version of the song themselves, but it first became a hit for Rosemary Clooney in 1950. Dozens of other artists have recorded versions of the song, with the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Prima, Kay Star, Eartha Kitt, Dinah Shore, Captain & Tenille, and Bette Midler doing their interpretations. It's been performed in several languanges, including Yiddish, Spanish, Japanese, and even Armenian, performed by legendary Armenian singer Anita Darian. Forever Saroyan holds not only the original sheet music, but the original napkins the song was written on, though we did not show it. We did show the original typed version, including hand-written notes by Saroyan.
Saroyan wrote lyrics for songs included in his plays My Heart's in the Highlands and Love's Old Sweet Song, like The Pitchman's Song, written with legendary composer Paul Bowles. Saroyan worked with composers Alan Hovhaness, Bernardo Segall, Henry Bryant, and Jack Beeson, who produced two operas based on Saroyan works.
WILLIAM SAROYAN & Grabhorn Press
Hosting WILLIAM SAROYAN at Arion Press was a particular treat because of the deep connection to Granhorn Press, whose successor, Arion Press, is a part of the Grabhorn Institute, which currently operates the original presses used to print Saroyan works!
The Grabhorn Press, founded by Edwin and Robert Grabhorn, was a long-time publisher of Saroyan's work. They printed no few than five pieces of Saroyan's from the 1930s through the 1950s. He had a close relationship with Jane Grabhorn, Robert's wife, who helped run the press in the years after their marriage. We included original letters between Jane Grabhorn and Saroyan, as well as several of the books Grabhorn printed.
Of particular note is a rare copy of The Farewell Speech of King Edward The Eighth Broadcast from Windsor Castle the Tenth Day of December, MCMXXXVI, with the Instrument of Abdication & a Note by William Saroyan.
WILLIAM SAROYAN - International
Saroyan was not only a major literary figure in the US, but a significant seller around the world. Here, we gathered a few of his many works published by Faber & Faber in the UK. Saroyan and Faber maintained a relationship for more than 30 years, with T.S. Eliott being one of his editors. He was also widely translated and we are lucky enough to have books in Russian, German, French, Japanese, Polish, and Dutch.
WILLIAM SAROYAN - The Books
Our final case contained two dozen of his books from across his career. While not every collection, novel, and memoir he published, the selection featured almost every major work, of his from across his entire career. We also included copies of two artist's books by artists Saroyan appreciated and wrote introductions for - Dong Kingman and Fletcher Martin.
Though the exhibit's run is over, we're working on finding more ways to bring the art and Artifacts of William Saroyan and the Saroyan-Minasian families to the prominence they deserve. We will hopefully be able to create and display more exhibits, as well as our continuing publication and website work. WILLIAM SAROYAN may have come and gone, but Forever Saroyan is just getting started!
WILLIAM SAROYAN Events at Arion Press Gallery
Forever Saroyan put on two events during the run of the WILLIAM SAROYAN exhibit, the first being a screening of the Omnibus episode "A Few Adventures in the California Boyhood of William Saroyan" starring Sal Mineo and narrated by Saroyan himself. That was followed by a presentation of the book William Saroyan & Archie Minasian: The Complete Correspondence, 1929–1981 by Blake Riley and Mary Alexander, the team responsible for the book.
On February 4th, 2023, we were honored to have Hasmik Harutyunyan perform in the exhibit space. We opened the event with an invocation by Father Meshrop Ash of St. John's Armenian Church in San Francisco.
The event then entered into the first performance phase, with Harutyunyan performing Armenian folk songs, including Bari Bari, with lyrics by Saroyan and music composed by Alan Hovhaness.
Our founder, Charles Janigian, then read some of Saroyan's words, and the audience was treated to Saroyan himself reading The Armenian & The Armenian, one of his most powerful stories, including the final passage which has become an oft-quoted standard for Armenian resilience.
The event drew a crowd that included many young Armenian kids. At the end of the evening, many of them joined Hasmik in singing the Armenian National Anthem.