William Saroyan at the Boulder Creek Library

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We've completed our time at the Boulder Creek Library. We were exceptionally pleased with the response and want to thank the library's incredibly kind staff and patrons!

 

After our incredibly well-received exhibition at Arion Press to open the year, we’ve been working at bringing smaller exhibits to life, and we’re happy to announce our first, opening August 1st at the Boulder Creek Library in Boulder Creek, California, running until September 1st. The exhibition features twelve small cases displaying artifacts of Saroyan’s life and times, including books, artwork, photos, manuscripts, and ephemera from the life of Saroyan. Topics include Saroyan's lyrics, The Time of Your Life, The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze, his novel and the film The Human Comedy, his theatrical output, and more.  

The library is located at 13390 W Park Ave, Boulder Creek, CA 95006 about one block up from CA Highway 9. Hours are Monday through Thursday 10 AM–6 PM, and Friday and Saturday 10am to 5pm. The library is closed on Sundays.

At 4pm on Thursday, August 17th, the Library will also feature a talk by Archivist Chris Garcia on Saroyan, focusing not only on his life and works, but on his connections to California, the Bay Area, and to the San Lorenzo Valley. 

We hope you’ll stop by this exhibition and tell your friends! For those unaware, Boulder Creek is a lovely small town, still re-building after the ravages of the CZU fires of 2020, so come and plan a day in this wonderful mountain town punctuated by a visit to our display dedicated to Saroyan!

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Journey through The Time of Your Life

 

cgphoto002William Saroyan's passing was mourned around the world, but no where was the sorrow as pronounced as in his hometown of Fresno, California.

While there were several memorials held for Saroyan, including a star-studded tribute in Los Angeles, the Fresno memorial, titled A Celebration of the Life and Works of William Saroyan was impressive. A combination of speeches by Saroyan's friends and admirers, performances, and audio and visual presentations, the entire event lasted nearly four hours and shows the depth of impact Saroyan had, as well as the incredible array of friends and admirers Saroyan had attracted throughout his life. Professors, authors, poets, singers, and actors were among those who spoke or performed on the stage that day, but one section of the event is particularly important - a perfoprmance of an excerpt of The Time of Your Life.

The Time of Your Life is widely seen as Saroyan's theatrical masterpiece. The original Broadway production featured many Broadway legends, includign Gene Kelly, Ross Bagdasarian, Will Lee, Celeste Holm, Julie Haydon, and Eddie Dowliing.  Sometimes overlooked is the music. While not one of the plays with compositions by Paul Bowles, it did feature music performed by Reginald Beane, and a young man and fellow Fresno native Manuel Tolegian. 

Born and raised in Fresno, Tolegian and Saroyan had played together as kids, but Manuel had moved away fairly young. The two would reunite by chance in the 1930s. In his oral history with the Archives of American Art in 1965, he discussed his re-meeting fellow Fresnan William Saroyan. 

"Oh yes. Saroyan I met at a cocktail party in New York even though he was born right across the street from me in Fresno."

Having reconnected, the pair struck up a friendship that included working together off-and-on. Tolegian was back and forth between his home in Los Angeles and New York, where he shared studio space with legendary Abstract Expressionist painter Jackson Pollock, while Saroyan was alternating between New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. 

TheTimeOfYourLife003In 1939, Saroyan made his Broadway debut with My Heart's in the Highlands, and received mostly positive reviews. The Theatre Guild, and Eddie Dowling in specific, acquired thye rights to Saroyan's next play, The Time of Your Life. After a series of try-outs, none of which went particularly well, the play came to Broadway and became a smash, going on to win the New York Drama Critics award and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Saroyan, who co-directed the play with Dowling, gave a couple of roles out to people he knew. Ross Bagdasarian, Saroyan's cousin, played the newsboy, and Manual Tolegian, in New York at the time, was convinced to play The Arab's Lament on harmonica for the show.

MANUEL TOLEGIAN: I don’t think I told you, but in 1939 I played the music for his “Time of Your Life,” a play.

BETTY HOAG: I read in a magazine you played the harmonica.

MANUEL TOLEGIAN: Played the harmonica backstage, yes.

BETTY HOAG: Was this fun to help him, or…?

MANUEL TOLEGIAN: Well no, it was quite a job for over a year in the evening. During the day I still painted but in the evening I worked at the job. And it was a Pulitzer Prize winning play, you know, and Drama Critics Circle award, I think it was the first play to win these two awards at that time. Saroyan was a lover of my pictures, being of Armenian descent himself I think he felt this warmth and sincerity coming out of my work. Also he used subject matter quite often—he did, or still does, I guess… I think we were both mutually helpful to each other. I must say I owe a great debt to him for many things he did—he has a great gift for articulating, you know, he’d keep explaining things I didn’t know these things that I did in my work, which he brought out in words, you see. It was very interesting.

While no footage of the original production is known to exist, the Fresno celebration put on an excerpt from the play, complete with Tolegian opening the piece by playing The Arab's Lament.

 

To view the specific video of Tolegian and The Time of Your Life, select the fourth video on the playlist (cfcpl 000506 t04), or enjoy the entire celebration through this Archive.org playlist of footage provided by the Fresno Public Library from a set of four U-Matic video tapes. While there are minor tracking issues, the footage is a remarkable artifact of one of the great tributes to Saroyan and his legacy, 

Saroyan on Broadway: My Heart's in the Highlands - 1939


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My Heart’s in the Highlands was published on June 8th, 1939. It had completed its Broadway run the prior month after 44 performances. While not a tremendous success, it had established Saroyan as a force, and his next show, The Time of Your Life, would forever enshrine him in the Broadway hierarchy.

The show featured music by Paul Bowles, starred future blockbuster director Sidney Lumet as Johnny, and Art Smith as Jasper MacGregor. The show received mixed reviews. Burns Mantel in The New York Daily News, said “It is a fantastic drama about a poor poet and his loyal son. About the starving they do, and the neighbors they have, and a crazed ancient who believes he is a great actor.”

Perhaps the most fascinating review, mixed within itself, was from John Anderson in the New York Journey American:

“Though Mr. Saroyan has leaped through no store windows with a shy bathtub, he is, I suspect, the Salvador Dali of the drama, a surrealist playwright whose “My Heart’s in the Highlands” at the Guild Theatre last night could be compared favorably to a fur-lined teacup. If you squint your eyes, and try to understand it, it doesn’t make any sense at all, but if you let it alone and let it pry around in the gizzard, it will very likely tug your heart strings.”

One thing mentioned by several critics at later revivals was that the version that was published in 1939 was a superior version. Apparently slightly abbreviated for publication, it was published as a stand-alone piece, though not without adornment. The edition published by Harcourt Brace and Company features not only the play, but also the original story (which had first run in Three Times Three in 1936.) This multiple use is very typical of Saroyan, who was always looking for ways to re-use his previously published writing. It included a new preface from Group Theatre director Harold Clurman, and a new preface by Saroyan. Interestingly, the volume includes several reviews for the play, and not just the positive ones! Saroyan, never one to allow the critics to feel like they got it right, said in the introduction, “I believe My Heart’s in the Highlands is a classic.”

Perhaps the most interesting portion of the book, and one I had somehow overlooked in my first readings of it, was a portion that provided a reduced version of the sheet music. Paul Bowles’ music had been praised by critics including Brooks Atkinson in The New York Times and Richard Watts, Jr. in the New York Herald Tribune. This music was based on an existing melody written by J.M. Courtney for the lyrics of Robert Burns' song My Heart's in the Highlands, itself based on a traditional Scottish tune Failte na Miosg.

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