A Christmas Tie

omnibusIn 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 1958including 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 90General 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. 

ANTAAlbum PB 037This 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!

Saroyan and Baseball

On a recent re-read of the last Saroyan book published during his lifetime, Obituaries, I came across a brief section that caught my interest –

…a book that arrived in the mail only eight hours before I began to study it, inscribed to me by the author, Robert W. Creamer, who drove me out from Manhattan in 1954 to Ebbets Field in Brooklyn in his second-hand Cadillac, along with my son Aram, to see the second game of the World Series, with the Yankees, for I had agreed to write about the Series for the just-lately-founded (by Henry Luce) weekly, Sports Illustrated.

 

Something about that just didn’t strike me right.

thecatchdownloadFirst off, as a life-long San Francisco Giants fan, I was pretty sure that the Giants had been in the World Series in 1954, and though they had played games throughout all the parks in New York at various times, a quick search showed that all the New York games in 1954 had been played at the Polo Grounds, the Giants’ home field.

They also hadn’t faced the Yankees, but instead, the Cleveland Indians, now the Cleveland Guardians, led by their incredible pitching staff including future Hall of Famers Early Wynn, Bob Feller, and Bob Lemon. This was interesting because the Yankees had been in every World Series since 1948, so there would have been no Yankees for Saroyan to head into Brooklyn to see! The 1954 World Series is best remembered for Willie Mays making the incredible over-the-shoulder catch and gunning the ball back into the infield to prevent a run scoring. The Giants won the Series, the last time they would until 2010.

Looking at the history of the Series, the next two years, 1955 and 1956, both featured Ebbets Field, home of the Brooklyn Dodgers, and the New York Yankees, making it likely that one of those years would be the one Saroyan had confused for 1954. Looking through our collection of magazines, I found several copies of Sports Illustrated, and there were two from 1956, both with William Saroyan pieces in them. One is most generally about baseball, called aptly enough “My Baseball.” It’s a very Saroyanesque piece, full of the thoughtful rumination Saroyan had been packing his memoirs with throughout the 1950s. The piece is at once personal, but also profoundly deep in its understanding of the role Baseball played in America at the time.

Baseball is caring. Player and fan alike must care, or there is no game, there’s no pennant race and no World Series. And for all any of us know there might soon be no nation at all.

 

And slightly later in the piece –

It is good to care – in any dimension. More Americans put their spare (and purest?) caring into baseball than into anything else I can think of – and most of them put at least a little of it there.

               

Saroyan packs a lot of philosophy into the single page of the story.  He intimates that a baseball season is a concept not built of games, but of drama. He approaches people like Casey Stengel, the legendary baseball manager who took the Yankees to the World Series in 1956, to characters in one of his plays. They are not necessarily larger-than-life, but they are so full of life that they may well feel so. It’s a strong, short, and fascinating piece about baseball in a time when there was still a perceived purity, but all the elements that would eventually seem to taint the game were just starting to bubble up.

This was clearly not the story that Saroyan wrote after riding in Creamer’s Caddy to Ebbets, though. The issue featuring that piece would be released two weeks later, on October 22nd. “One by One and Seven” was the article that Saroyan was talking about in Obituaries…even if he got the year wrong.

SportsIllustrated October 22 1956005

The article opens with a beautiful sentence that makes Saroyan’s view of baseball as theatre obvious.

The way we felt was…Let it go anyway it must, but let it be good drama.

The 1956 World Series is largely remembered for the performance of Don Larsen in the fifth game of the series. It was the first, and so far only, perfect game in the history of the World Series. Larsen allowed no hits, no walks, and no Yankee committed an error in the game. Saroyan covers the game, which took place on October 8th, and though Saroyan seems to be partisan towards the Dodgers, he certainly understood the significance of the game.

You don’t begrudge a win that comes out of a Perfect Game.

Saroyan chose to look at Larsen’s achievement as well as a few of the other players on the field, but really seems to be writing about baseball as more than the American pastime, but as a definition of what Americans want out of life. He describes the game as a tension between two teams, but one where seeing a magnificent feat, such as a Perfect Game (or even Mays’ miracle catch) will suffice. He seems to see baseball as a source for great American storytelling. Saroyan closes the piece with a note that seems to indicate his belief that the game is fundamental to America’s arts as well as the sport of its people –

Baseball tells a nation’s story. Among the reporters who regularly cover baseball are those who have become writers of style, wit and humor, and it may be that they are turning out the best folk writing of our nation.

May be?

What other folk writing is there?

SportsIllustrated October 22 1956006The October 22nd issue of Sports Illustrated includes a piece by Robert Creamer, as well. "The Name is Yogi" is a wonderful piece focused on the legendary New York Yankee’s catcher, and sayer of malapropisms, Yogi Berra. While less philosophical than Saroyan, Creamer certainly presents Berra as a semi-magical presence in the game. 

Saroyan wasn’t merely in on baseball for the articles he had been contracted for, but enjoyed the game his entire life. He made mention of the game in a few of his stories, though rarely as a focus, but instead as a flavor to establish the scenario or character as deeply tied to America. 

One of the most interesting pieces we’ve here at Forever Saroyan is a program from the 1963 World Series, fascinatingly enough between the Dodgers (who’d left Brooklyn for Los Angeles in 1958) and the Yankees (who had remained behind in The Bronx.) It was one of the most hotly anticipated showdowns of the period. Several of the players from 1956 were back in this series, including Hall of Famers Whitey Ford, Don Drysdale, Yogi Berra, and Mickey Mantle. Saroyan attended the opening game of the Series on October 2nd, 1963, and again was joined by his son, Aram. Saroyan, which often adorned things like programs with marginalia, wrote on several pages, including seemingly having prepared to keep the box score of the game, but abandoning the task after merely writing the starting line-ups’ names. He did write one phrase on a page that might be the most Saroyanesque statement he could possibly make. Under a photo of the American League champion New York Yankees, his unmistakable scrawl noted “Look at all those human beings.”

 

Additional Materials: 

Overview of the 1956 World Series

KRCA broadcast of Game 2 of the 1956 World Series


SportsIllustrated October 22 1956004

-Written by Archivist Chris Garcia, San Jose, December 2023

Saroyan, the "Cap"tain

Yerevan street art2

Saroyan is still the pride and joy of Armenia, his ancestral homeland keeping his memory alive over 40 years after his passing. In 2021, artist Arman Stepanyan commemorated Saroyan’s 113th birthday with a unique portrait made from thousands of plastic bottle caps at the corner of Parpetsi and Pushkin Streets in Yerevan. The Armenian solar energy company SOLARA provided solar LED lights to illuminate the portrait. Street art is not very common in Armenia, largely due to Soviet-era rules; but it has been gaining momentum in recent years. Below the artist speaks about his mosaic and a somewhat clumsy translation into English by Google Translate follows.

 

William Saroyan's bottle caps mosaic in Pushkin Parpetsi road cross

 

“Our whole world consists of molecules and cells. By combining these small elements with each other with colors, you create a piece of art in a beautiful environment. It's street art or pixel art, making it using waste. Lids are considered waste. Some guy on Facebook wrote me to collect caps especially for me and I was very happy. I don’t know if people are happy about other things. They give me some kind of material that I can use to create. Another advantage of creating is that you can achieve something through art. Since 2018, I have had a dream that we should have a picture of William Saroyan in the city because we don't even have any streets with the name of William Saroyan. And in fact I chose the place very randomly so that it is a part of the intersection, it’s located in the center. I tried to implement it in the urban environment. I tell my friends to stand on this street and they say that tourists come and take pictures and I enjoy it so much. The happiest thing in my life is when you are able to influence human psychology in a direct sense through art, that is, through colors and shapes, because that is the most important in mosaic.”

 

yerevan street art1

 

Photographs taken by Fr. Mesrop Ash

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