Saroyan and the Grabhorn Press: A Lasting Friendship

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Archie Minasian and Wiliam Saroyan in Saroyan's San Francisco home, 1949

              Getting published by a large publisher like Random House or Doubleday is usually a dream for writers. Mass production can lead to a spot on the bestseller lists, which can lead to fame and fortune. But what about the self-publishers and small presses? Historically, small presses have been places of prestige. Unlike small publishers, small presses produce limited edition and specialized publications and are sometimes run by only one or two people. Small presses tend to favor creative and experimental efforts to improve the cultural landscape. These businesses have thrived in America (and beyond) for centuries as artisanal institutions. Walt Whitman and Mark Twain, both heavy influencers on Saroyan, favored small presses, for example.1

              Saroyan liked to publish through small presses and also self-published his 1936 short story collection, 3 Times 3. Of the small presses, he worked with The Creative Arts Book Company in Berkeley, Black Archer Press, and notably had a long relationship with The Grabhorn Press, the subject of this article.

              The Grabhorn Press was established in San Francisco in the early 1920s by Edwin and Robert Grabhorn. Later, Edwin’s wife Marjorie and Robert’s wife Jane joined the team. The press was known for its use of hand-set type, handmade paper and binding, and elegant design. Later, Jane ran imprint presses Jumbo Press and Colt Press. In 1965, Edwin retired and Robert partnered with Andrew Hoyem to create Grabhorn-Hoyem Press. In 1974, Hoyem created Arion Press and in 2000 established The Grabhorn Institute, a nonprofit honoring the Grabhorns.2 Both Arion Press and the Grabhorn Institute operate today in The Presidio in San Francisco, under new ownership.

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Jane and Robert Grabhorn [n.d.] (Book Arts & Special Collections, San Francisco Public Library)


              Saroyan printed several books with Grabhorn Press, building a playful friendship and professional partnership with Jane Grabhorn. Their delightful correspondences can be found in the William Saroyan Papers, 1926-1981 collection at the Stanford University Special Collections. Their collaborations include A Christmas Psalm 1935 (1935), Farewell Speech of King Edward The Eighth Broadcast from Windsor Castle the Tenth Day of December, MCMXXXVI (printed by Grabhorn, published by Ransohoffs, 1938) and Hilltop Russians in San Francisco (1941).


Cover and first page of Farewell Speech of King Edward The Eighth Broadcast from Windsor Castle the Tenth Day of December, MCMXXXVI (printed by Grabhorn, published by Ransohoffs, 1938)


              To get a sense of their friendship, we present three letters between Jane and William in 1963 (edited for length, copyright Stanford University Libraries):

“Dear Sir:

              PLEASE SEND MONEY.

              In the meantime, the photographs arrived, carefully bent, according to your instructions. And we thank you.

              Well, anyway, also I broke two ribs falling against a wall can opener. You think that’s easy, you got another thing coming. I mean it’s relatively easy if you discount damage to the can opener; to do it and leave the can opener absolutely intact, is a major feat of acrobatic skill.

This I did;

I also have a disease which I believe would be called in olden days the Seven Years Itch. Oh this is troublesome beyond words, and humiliating. I feel like an unclean fugitive as I flit from doorway to doorway, scratching and hoping no one is looking.

I send love, - we all do.,

Clickety-clack, Jane”


Saroyan responds,

              “Dear Madam,

              Yours of the undated instant saying please send money comes as an astonishment since it is well-known that money isn’t everything if in fact in the final analysis it is anything by far. And clickety-clack, although surely Latin, is obviously used in another sense, perhaps meaning why am I fat or what is the moon? Jane, you have simply got to stop stumbling upon can openers, but never, never give up the itch, one has so few friends.

Love, and love to all of you: Bill”


Jane responds,

              “It’s lovely hearing from you and I have pinned your letters and the picture of you and me holding hands on my mirror next to the prom-dance cards, the colt drawn by Henry Miller and my Communist Party membership certificate dated 1930. (They never renewed it; claimed I wouldn’t stay in my cell like a good girl should.)”


              At this point they had known each other for almost 30 years. Though I haven’t included it here, their letter content alternated between professional discussion and friendly joking, moving seamlessly between the two. It’s clear they had built a strong relationship over the decades.

              Saroyan also introduced the Grabhorns to his cousin, the poet Archie Minasian. In 1950, Colt Press published Minasian’s The Simple Songs of Khatchik Minasian, a collection of poems. Jane also interacted with Saroyan’s son, Aram.

              The friendship between the Grabhorns and William is a bright star in the history of printer-artist relations. This is part of the reason that Forever Saroyan partnered with The Grabhorn Institute to host our exhibit: The World of William Saroyan. Though the exhibit was originally scheduled for April 2020 and was delayed due to the spread of coronavirus, we intend to reschedule and once again join Saroyan to Grabhorn, continuing this legacy of friendship.

             The following are images of Grabhorn originals and their reprints:

 Arion Christmas Psalm

               In 2015, Arion Press reprinted A Christmas Psalm 1935 for Forever Saroyan


swansfinebooks grabhorn christmas psalm 1935                                  Psalms 35 Arion 1st pg  

First page of original 1935 Grabhorn Press printing                                  First page of 2015 Arion Press reprint


hilltop russians abebooks                                                        molokaneorg Hilltop c small

Original 1941 Grabhorn Press cover and flyleaf of Hilltop Russians in San Francisco  

3 Hilltop Russians1                                   4 Hilltop Russians2

 2020 Technology Press (San Jose) abridged reprint


 simple songs heritage auctions                                simple songs magus amazon

1950 original Colt Press printing of The Simple Songs of Khatchik Minasian        1969 reprint by David Kherdian's Giligia Press



1. Henderson, Bill. “The Small Book Press: A Cultural Essential.” The Library Quarterly: Information, Community, Policy, vol. 54, no. 1, 1984, pp. 61-71. JSTOR, Accessed 8 Sept. 2020.

2. Baughman McDowell, Kelci. “Grabhorn Press: Home. History, resources, and tools for consulting SCU's Grabhorn Press holdings.” Santa Clara University Research Guides. Santa Clara University. Updated 9/4/2020. Accessed 9/8/2020


Article written by Dori Myer, Archivist, Forever Saroyan, September 2020

William Saroyan the Visionary at the Book Club of California

Update: view a recording of the presentation here!

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We are proud to announce the presentation of "William Saroyan the Visionary" via Zoom, hosted by the Book Club of California

Forever Saroyan's Managing Director and founder, Charles Janigian, will give a 75-minute presentation about what makes William Saroyan relevant today and why he should be brought back into the Californian and American literary canons. It will feature slides containing images of Saroyan's artwork, photographs, and ephemera from Forever Saroyan's collection.  


Sign up via the Book Club of California's website

Date: 8/31/2020 (Saroyan's birthday)

Time: 5p-6:15p 

Cost: Free to the public

Webinar is limited to 100 guests/viewers, so act fast!


Check out the Book Club's full list of programs and policies here:

The Fascinating Journey of "Come On-A My House"

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“Come On-A My House” was a hit in 1951, recorded by Irish-American Rosemary Clooney but written by two Armenian-American men, William Saroyan and his cousin Ross Bagdasarian. Originally written in 1939 during a road trip the cousins took across the country, the music was based on an Armenian folk song. The duo wrote the song for their off-Broadway musical, The Son, but Clooney took it to #1 on the Billboard charts, and it has been covered dozens of times since.

The song features icons of Fresno’s Armenian orchard life: apples, plums, apricots, figs, dates, grapes, peaches, and notably pears and pomegranates, which appear as significant Armenian symbols throughout Saroyan's written works (see the stories “Five Ripe Pears” and “The Pomegranate Trees” for examples of this).

In Clooney's version, she opts for a generic “ethnic” European immigrant accent, or what some imagined to be an Italian-American accent, which was a popular trope in the 1950s and 1960s, used in novelty, or “dialect,” songs. Though the lyrics to “Come On-A My House” don't specifically call out an ethnic origin, they are written phonetically to simulate how an Armenian immigrant might say these words in English:

Come on-a my house, my house, I'm gonna give you candy

Come on-a my house, my house, I'm gonna give a you

Apple, a plum and apricot-a too eh

Come on-a my house, my house a come on

Come on-a my house, my house a come on

Come on-a my house, my house I'm gonna give a you

Figs and dates and grapes and cakes eh

Come on-a my house, my house a come on

Come on-a my house, my house a come on

Come on-a my house, my house, I'm gonna give you candy

Come on-a my house, my house, I'm gonna give you everything

Come on-a my house, my house, I'm gonna give you Christmas tree

Come on-a my house, my house, I'm gonna give you

Marriage ring and a pomegranate too ah

Come on-a my house, my house a come on

Come on-a my house, my house a come on

Come on-a my house, my house I'm gonna give a you

Peach and pear and I love your hair ah

Come on-a my house, my house a come on

Come on-a my house, my house a come on

Come on-a my house, my house, I'm gonna give you Easta-egg

Come on-a my house, my house, I'm gonna give you

Everything, everything, everything

Come on-a my house


Others picked up on this accent and covered the song with international variations. Louis Prima altered some of the words to better match an Italian immigrant's song in 1951, offering up calamari and scungilli in addition to fruit. Mickey Katz recorded it in 1951, in mixed English-Yiddish, adding a Klezmer interlude and replacing the fruits with matzo balls, fish, knishes, and kugel. Chiemi Eri covered the song in Japanese in 1952, followed by Eartha Kitt singing it in Japanese in 1965, and Coldfeet’s English-Japanese version in 2003. Daniel Santos & Los Jovenes del Cayo also recorded it in mixed English-Spanish with a Latin rhythm, in “Ven Pa’ Mi Casa” in 1951, followed by multiple covers in Spanish, including another popular take by Nico Estrada y su Sonora with Vicky Zamora in 1960. Anita Darian gave it a middle Eastern flair in 1959 and sang in English-Armenian. Bill Coleman gave it the first jazz treatment in 1952. Saroyan and Bagdasarian recorded a version in 1951 that includes a spoken-word introduction by Saroyan (Bagdasarian did the singing) that elaborates on the immigrant theme: “One lonely immigrant boy/Going from work one day/See fine U.S. Number-1 girlie/Fall in love with her right away./He looked on her/She looked on him/But he didn’t know just what to say/He loved her, he wanted for to marry her/So he told her in old country way.” This part has only occasionally made it into cover versions.

In 1959, Julie London released the most sultry version (later released as part of an album in 1962), taking the song in a whole new direction with more obvious double entendre. This interpretation was followed up in 2002 when Nasty Tales and Their Orchestra’s version was used as the theme song for the Playboy bunny reality TV show The Girls Next Door. Della Reese’s version was later lip-synched by Madonna in a dream sequence in the movie, Swept Away. Following up these sexier versions was Nina Ernst’s very provocative 2019 recording containing dark undertones with a video connecting the song to sex and drug use, showing that this song has staying power and many interpretations!

You can watch the transformation of this song over the decades using the list of videos below. From the upbeat pop sentiment of the 1950s to psychedelic versions in the 1960s, to 80s synth and 90/2000s ska. The song has been recorded dozens of times since the 1950s and has appeared in TV, movies, and theater. Below is a list of cover recordings, most of which took a direct approach to recording the song as written, but with a few loose adaptations that breathe new life into the song. After being covered for 70 years, it might qualify as an American folk song at this point. Have we left any off? Let us know if you have more covers of “Come On-A My House” to share!


1951 Rosemary Clooney:

1951 William Saroyan and Ross Bagdasarian:

1951 Kay Armen:

1951 Ella Fitzgerald:

1951 Daniel Santos & Los Jovenes del Cayo (English/Spanish) “Ven Pa' Mi Casa”:

1951 Mickey Katz and his Orchestra (Yiddish/English):

1951 The Three Suns:

1951 and 1958 Louis Prima:

1951 Kay Starr:

1951 Dolores Martel with Tony Pastor Orchestra:

1952 Chiemi Eri: (Japanese)

1952 Bill Coleman:

1950s (released in 2015) Peggy Lee:

1959 (1962 released on album) Julie London:

1959 Anita Darian (Armenian/English):

1960 Della Reese:

1960 Richard Hayes:

1960 Ñico Estrada y su Sonora with Vicky Zamora (Spanish/English) “Ven Pa’ Mi Casa”:

1961 Four Lads

1962 Patrice Munsel:

1965 Ross Bagdassarian:

1965 Eartha Kitt (Japanese):

1967 The Bluebeards:

1967 The Shakes:

1982 Captain and Tenille (bonus track on album More than Dancing…Much More)

1988 Surf Punk:

1990 Voice Farm:

1994 John Pizzarelli:

1999 Flat Earth Society:

1999 Big Kahuna and the Copa Cat Pack:

2001 KT Oslin:

2002 Nasty Tales and Their Orchestra:

Girls Next Door Intro:

2002 Swept Away, Madonna/Della Reese:

2003 Bette Midler:

2003 Coldfeet:

2004 Barbara Lusch

2004 The Poker Dots

2005 The Swingin Swamis:

2008 Courtney Collins and Jeremy Ylvisaker with J.T. Bates and Michael Lewis

2011 Coco d’Or:

2011 Sherry Dyanne feat. Candy Dulfer:

2013 René Marie:

2014 George Ch:

2015 Marin Mazzie:

2016 Rosemary Standley:

2018 Imelda May:

2019 Shizuka Kudo:

2019 Sarah Mai:

2019 Nina Ernst:


Article written by Dori Myer, Archivist, Forever Saroyan, June 2020

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