The Time of Your Life - 5 Impressive Productions

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It has been argued that The Time of Your Life is the gem of William Saroyan’s theatrical oeuvre. A deserving winner of the New York Drama Critics Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize, it is a story played out inside a bar called Nick’s, a dive bar based on San Francisco’s legendary tavern Isadore Gomez' Café, affectionately known as Izzy’s. Nick’s is populated by colorful characters of wildly varying repute. The action centers around Joe, a well-heeled ne’er-do-well who is more than willing to bankroll the adventures of the denizens of Nick’s. It’s a prized role, and one that requires a deft hand in performing. Too eager a portrayal and the subtlety of the dialogue can be lost, too reserved and there’s little to hang the entire scenario on. The entire play is a gift for an actor, especially one looking for new worlds to conquer.

The work was written in just six days in a New York hotel room. Saroyan’s career was coming to full-flower in 1939, a year many refer to as Saroyan’s “Miracle Year.” Just five years after his victorious entrance onto the literary scene with The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze, he had gathered an ever-growing list of publications. His entry into theater was the impressive one-act play, My Heart’s in the Highlands, and the double-threat of a world-class playwright who was also an exceptional prose stylist was irresistible to producers! Many wanted to work with him, but Saroyan wanted to return to his beloved San Francisco. He mentioned this to theater critic (and his major NYC supporter) George Jean Nathan, but added that he had an idea he thought would make for a good play. Nathan thought he should stay in New York to write it, but Saroyan would only consider it if he had a production commitment. Nathan set the wheels in motion through a cunning plan that saw Saroyan given a citation by the Drama Critics Circle for most promising playwright during a banquet at the world-famous Algonquin Hotel. There, he was put at the same table as Eddie Dowling. Dowling mentioned how much he liked Saroyan’s first play, and if he wrote another, he would buy it.

scans472Dowling was a hot commodity as well, having become a name in the Ziegfeld Follies, and writing and producing a number of successful shows. His Richard II, where he served as producer and star, was a major hit in 1937. He was seen as highly bankable at the time, no small feat for New York during the Depression, and more importantly, he was able to gather interest from producing partners.  Notice of The Time of Your Life adding a try-out in New Haven prior to the Boston opening "so it may be a smooth-running show when it opens in Boston at the Plymouth Theater next monday..."

The Time of Your Life had brief runs in New Haven and Boston, both of which could be described as chaotic, with changes made to the material right up until the final curtain. When the show finally came to New York City in October of 1939, it was a hit. The production is a classic example of a young upstart bringing the heat. William Saroyan co-directed the play with star/producer Dowling. Dowling had convinced the Theatre Guild to co-produce with him, and it was launched at the Booth Theatre. Though there was apprehension following the road shows earlier in the year, Saroyan and Dowling had a hit on their hands when things came together in New York.

There are few shows one can point to as having been perfectly cast for more than just the moment, and without doubt one can make that claim about The Time of Your Life in 1939. The cast included no less than four future members of the Theater Hall of Fame. Alongside Dowling were some future legends. Gene Kelly, who created dances for the show, would become one of America’s most popular stars of all time, and just a year later would turn Pal Joey into a major hit. Future Oscar winner Celeste Holm, and Oscar nominee William Bendix also appeared, both just at the beginning of their cinema careers. Saroyan also arranged a role for his cousin, Ross Bagdasarian, who would go on to become a Grammy-winning singer, composer, and producer under the pseudonym David Seville.

The production ran from October 1939 through April 1940, then toured before a return engagement in the latter half of 1940. It would twice be revived on Broadway, in 1969 and 1975.

World War II put a pause on many productions, partly due to many creatives, including Saroyan, being pulled in to assist with the war effort. Broadway was not shuttered, nor were movie theaters around the country, but tastes were changing and productions tended more towards lighter fare or pieces directly dealing with the war. Following the war, there was a great burst of production that lasted for several years. Hollywood producers greatly ramped up production, adapting plays and novels from the late 1930s and early 40s. One of the plays that had not yet been adapted for screen was The Time of Your Life.

 scans476James and Jeanne Cagney admired the play greatly. The power siblings snapped up the film rights, hired brother William to serve as producer, and brought on H.C. Potter to direct. James Cagney played Joe, the role originated by Eddie Dowling, and William Bendix returned, this time playing saloon owner, Nick. Others in the cast included Jeanne Cagney as Kitty, and Broderick Crawford, who would go on to win the Oscar the following year for his performance in All the King’s Men, as Officer Krupp. James Barton, a legendary Vaudevillian, played the role of Kit Carson. They also gave early credits to two actors who would be best known for television roles later in life: Natalie Schafer (Gilligan’s Island) and Richard Erdman (Community).

The production had several hurdles to overcome, including the Production Code Authority. The original ending of the play had Kit Carson killing Blick, a police detective. This was not allowed on screen, as it ran afoul of the violence against police officials guidelines. The Cagneys contacted Saroyan for a rewrite, but his asking price was beyond the already ballooning budget, so they simply changed Blick from an officer to a stool pigeon and blackmailer. They shot the ending, but test screening audiences hated it, so they devised a new, action-packed ending which played better.

The film received somewhat mixed, but largely positive, reviews. Even so, it failed to find a large audience.  Lew Schaeffer of the Brooklyn Eagle said, “To a truly remarkable degree, it captures Saroyan’s unusual and elusive flavor. And considering that ‘The Time of Your Life’ is fundamentally unsuited to the cameras, the film is a notable achievement.” The Boston Globe claimed the film was “A fascinating try at adapting the complexities of William Saroyan to the cinema.”

The advent of television led to a great thirst for new material from familiar sources. One of the most popular formats was the anthology program. Here, a host would typically introduce a work, often adapted from a popular novel, film, or play. Several of these shows, such as Fireside Theater and General Electric Theatre, were among the top-rated shows of the early years of television. Playhouse 90, considered one of the best examples of this kind of program, debuted on CBS in 1956. Though not the ratings powerhouse of many of the others, it was a highly respected and awarded series. It won Emmys for Best Dramatic Series One Hour or Longer three times and is still remembered for one of the most impressive television scripts ever: Rod Serling’s adaptation of Requiem for a Heavyweight. In 1958, Playhouse 90 took on Saroyan’s The Time of Your Life, this time with comedic legend Jackie Gleason in the role of Joe. Gleason had been wanting to take on more dramatic work, and this was a fine platform as it also allowed him to use his comedic charms. Up-and-coming television actor Jack Klugman, fresh off his crucial role in Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men, played the role of Nick.  Dick York, who would become a major star six years later on Bewitched, played Tom, and Gloria Vanderbilt made one of her most memorable early television appearances. In an interesting casting choice, James Barton played the role of Kit Carson, just as he had in the Cagney version of 1948!

William Saroyan letter discussing changes he was making to the script for The Time of Your Life's presentation on CBSThis episode also received mixed reviews, with outlets like the New York Daily News and Los Angeles Times praising it. Most reviewers gave the actors, and especially Gleason, high marks. The St. Louis Dispatch noted, “Saroyan writes about drunks with compassion, understanding and, I might add, Jackie Gleason plays the hero the same way.”

Other reviewers pointed to the unconventional structure as unappealing for the nascent format of television, or simply thought a mainstream television audience wasn’t ready for Saroyan. “It was so far offbeat from the expectations of settled middle-age,” claimed reviewer Charles Mercer, “that it probably appealed to few except members of the current beat generation.”

There were many stage productions of The Time of Your Life throughout the 1950s and early 1960s. Actors such as Francot Tone had taken the role of Joe, and during that period it was one of Saroyan’s most performed works. By the late 1960s, regional and touring productions weren’t staged as often, despite the 1969 Broadway revival. By the 1970s, an entire generation of actors had come up whose first exposure to theatre had come during the post-war years. Saroyan was still a much-admired name, and in 1972, a powerful new production was launched by the Plumstead Playhouse, fronted by Hollywood legend Henry Fonda as Joe. It played in Philadelphia, Chicago, and at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., then transferred for a run at the Huntington Hartford Theatre in Los Angeles. The play was directed by one of the hottest theater directors of the time, Edwin Sherin, a Drama Desk winner who had spent much of the previous year directing two Hollywood films. Again, the cast featured not only the legendary Fonda, but also several actors who would go on to great things, including Richard Dreyfuss, Jane Alexander, and Gloria Grahame. The show also featured former professional wrestler Pepper Martin, who would make dozens of film and television appearances over the next twenty years.

The production was critically praised, perhaps more than any previous production. Critic Richard Coe of the Washington Post wrote, “Glorious cast, gloriously aware! See this Saroyan!” Variety was no less effusive – “Henry Fonda in total command! For those who love ‘The Time of Your Life,’ this production will stand as one of the very best possible!”

Henry Fonda in The Time of Your Life 1972 Page 1The passing of William Saroyan in 1981 was a double-edged sword for production of his work. While no longer living to provide the best of all possible promotion of his own works, his passing led to several new productions, including one in Chicago in 1984 with a cast that included many significant and rising names in both stage and screen. Joe was played by William Petersen, a major figure in Chicago theater at the time, but only a year away from major film success in To Live and Die in L.A. and Manhunter. Dennis Farina, who had appeared with Petersen on stage and in the film Thief, was cast as Nick. Farina’s career would explode almost immediately after The Time of Your Life, and he would go on to dozens of film and television appearances before his death in 2013. Kevin Dunn has had an exceptional career as a character actor and was given high marks for his performance as the Sailor. Ted Levine, playing Krupp, was already a fixture in Chicago performing with the Remains theatre company, and in 1991 would inhabit the iconic role of Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs, and then appeared in many film and television roles.

Perhaps the most interesting name among the cast was Del Close. Close was known for many stage and screen credits but is best known today as an important figure in the development of improvisational theater. Many consider him the founding father of long-form improvisation for co-founding improvOlympic and defining the ‘Harold’ technique. His book, Truth in Comedy, is still widely referenced as one of the primary texts in American theater. In The Time of Your Life, he performed as Kit Carson, receiving excellent notice in the press at the time, including a nomination for Chicago’s most prestigious theatre award, the Jeff. The show received great praise, with the Chicago Tribune calling it an “outstanding revival,” and “…this is a rich and vital production, blessed with many actors in its large cast, who breathe remarkable life into the loners, losers, drunks and whores whom Saroyan embraced with such unabashed delight.”

The Time of Your Life still gets produced by universities, community theatre, and regional theatres from time-to-time, but none have managed the impressively prescient casting of these five productions. Actors love Saroyan for the emotional content, the impressive humanity of his characters, and the dialogue that is crisp and honest. That may go a long way to explaining why so many productions give us so many soon-to-be-stars.

Article written by Chris Garcia, Archivist, Forever Saroyan, June 2021

 

 

The 14th Annual Vardanants Day Lecture - The Unknown Saroyan

Between 1993 and 2018, the Library of Congress hosted the Vardanants Day Armenian Lecture Series. Hosted by the Near East section of the Library, and named in honor of the Armenian religious holiday commemorating the Battle of Avarayr, these lectures have discussed topics in areas of the arts, politics, history, literature, and culture. The 2009 lecture, titled The Unknown Saroyan, presented matrerial in honor of the centerary of William Saroyan's birth the year before. Hosted and introduced by Levon Avdoyan, the Library of Congress Area Specialist for Armenia and Georgia, the primary speaker is Dickran Kouymjian, the former Haig and Isbael Berberian Professor of Armenian Studies at California State University, Fresno. James H. Billington, the Librarian of Congress, also provides remarks. 

Professor Kouymjian speaks on William Saroyan's art practice, his work in film, and general biographical elements. Of special note is the reading of an October 1931 letter by Saroyan to the art teacher Rudolf Schaeffer discussing his early art work and the artists he admired at the time, a reading from Young Saroyan by Mary Jane Deeb (Chief of the African and Middle Eastern Division at the Library of Congress), and a look at William Saroyan's work in film. 

The lecture was followed by a screening of Saroyan's film The Good Job, which is not included in this video. 

You can find further information on the Vardanants Day Armenian Lecture Series on the Library of Congress' website for the series.

A Self-Guided Tour of Saroyan’s San Francisco by Dori Myer

About this Tour

William Saroyan

William Saroyan lived in San Francisco from 1926 through the 1940s and visited often after that. His mother and sister occupied the same house on 15th Avenue from 1939 until they died. The city has changed by leaps and bounds since those days, booming after World War II and then the tech industry takeover. Most of the locations in this tour have been torn down or renovated completely so that they don’t much appear as they did when Saroyan roamed the streets. However, there are a handful of remaining buildings, notably those where he lived.

Take a moment to appreciate the history of the city as much as the history of Saroyan himself, and consider what it might be like to tour his haunts with the man himself beside you.

 

In This Tour (From Southeast to West)

  1. Home, 1910, 11 Gaven St
  2. Postal Telegraph Branch Office, 1927, 405 Brannan St
  3. Home, ca. 1927, 123 Natoma St
  4. Breen’s, 1928-1940s, 71 Third St
  5. Postal Telegraph Office, 1927, 651 Market Street in the Palace Hotel
  6. Gelber-Lilienthal Book Shop, 1930s, 336 Sutter St
  7. John J. (Jack) Newbegin’s New and Rare Books, 1920s-40s, 358 Post St
  8. Omar Khayyam’s, 1938, 196 O’Farrell St
  9. Postal Telegraph Company, late 1920s, Powell St at Market St
  10. Turk street, east of Van Ness, 1920s-1940s, Alleyways (gambling), Menlo Club at 30 Turk Street (bar and gambling), Turk Street Poker Club, Joe Bailey’s (drinks and poker)
  11. Postal Telegraph Office, 1920s, Taylor St at Market St in the Golden Gate Theatre Building
  12. Crystal Palace Market, 1930s, 8th St and Market St
  13. Public Library Downtown, 1920s-1940s, 100 Larkin St
  14. Vanity Fair Florists, 1931, 556 Geary St
  15. Izzy’s on Pacific, 1937, 848 Pacific Ave
  16. Saroyan Place (formerly Adler place), dedicated in 1988
  17. William McDevitt’s Bookstore, 1930s, 2079 Sutter Str
  18. Home, 1928-1929, 2378 Sutter Street at Divisadero St
  19. Home, 1929, 1707-A Divisadero St
  20. Home, 1930-1939, 348 Carl St
  21. Public Library, Sunset Branch, 1930s, 18th Ave and Irving St
  22. Home, 1939-1946 (and occasionally beyond), 1821 15th Ave
  23. Home, 1946-1948, 2727 Taraval Ave

 

Home 1910

Home, 1910, 11 Gaven St

In 1910, the Saroyan family briefly lived in a building at this location. William was not yet 2, according to the census. His father, Armenak, worked as a preacher for the Salvation Army. This is not obvious from William’s writings, but the proof is in the census materials. It wasn’t long after this that Armenak farmed chickens in Campbell, died of a burst appendix, and was buried in San Jose. The children were then moved to the Fred Finch Orphanage in Oakland while their mother worked in San Francisco.

 

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Postal Telegraph Branch Office, 1927, 405 Brannan St

In 1927, Saroyan was the manager of this Postal Telegraph Office, the youngest branch manager in the country. To him this meant that he was free to roam the streets of San Francisco during the day with no oversight. But being the boss didn’t suit him and he returned to clerking at other branches. This experience features heavily in the story, “1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8” in The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze and Other Stories, “A Writer’s Declaration” in The Whole Voyald and Other Stories (p.8), and Places Where I’ve Done Time (Chapter 23)

 

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Home, ca. 1927, 123 Natoma St

This isn’t mentioned often, but it was an early address for the Saroyans, before they lived on Carl St.

Mentioned in “A Writer’s Declaration,” The Whole Voyald and Other Stories (p. 8)

 

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Breen’s, 1928-1940s, 71 Third St

Breen’s opened in 1925 and was a notable dive bar (and speakeasy during Prohibition) where Saroyan gambled in 1928 and beyond. After changing ownership multiple times, it was finally auctioned off in 1979, sold to the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency. In 1949, San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen described it: “You'll find bums and businessmen... newspapermen and socialites.” The Kentucky and the Barrell House were two nearby bars occasionally referenced as well. Saroyan mentions Breen’s in Places Where I’ve Done Time (Chapter 39), I Used to Believe I Had Forever, Now I’m Not So Sure (p. 104), Obituaries (p. 149), and Births (p. 88)

 

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Postal Telegraph Office, 1927, 651 Market St in the Palace Hotel

In the late 1920s, Saroyan worked here as a counter clerk and teletype operator. This luxury hotel saw many famous patrons, whom Saroyan observed and wrote about sometimes.

This is mentioned in Places Where I’ve Done Time (Chapter 8) and “A Writer’s Declaration” in The Whole Voyald and Other Stories (p.8)

 

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Gelber-Lilienthal Book Shop, 1930s, 336 Sutter St

In 1937, Saroyan liked to visited the Gelber-Lilienthal Book Shop at 336 Sutter Street, a place for writers and literary types. The shop opened in 1924 by antiquarian Leon Gelber and businessman Theodore Max Lilienthal. Artist Valenti Angelo made the above woodcut of the location in the 1920s, when it had a high ceiling and a quaint Olde English appearance.

This is mentioned in Letters from Rue Taitbout (p. 125) and Obituaries (p. 5)

 

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John J. Newbegin’s New and Rare Books, 1920s-40s, 358 Post St

Newbegin’s, opening in 1906, was all class. It sold Grabhorn Press books as well as signed first editions of contemporary authors Ambrose Bierce and HL Mencken, both of whom influenced Saroyan (and Saroyan went on to work with the Grabhorn Press frequently). This would have been a place Saroyan frequented, even though it also attracted socialites

 

OmarKhayyam

Omar Khayyam’s, 1938, 196 O’Farrell St

Omar Khayyam’s Middle Eastern restaurant was owned by George Mardikian, who featured prominently in William’s life. They first knew each other in Fresno, when Mardikian had a lunch counter. In 1938 Mardikian moved to San Francisco and opened his basement restaurant, which featured middle eastern and Armenian food. Mardikian was an evangelist for convincing Armenians to move to the United States and sponsored many of them financially. During some of William’s worst bouts of gambling, Mardikian lent him money. Though they had a long history together, theirs was a fraught friendship embroiled in money exchange. In the mid-1980s, a fire destroyed the restaurant. Saroyan talked up this restaurant in the book Let’s Have Fun in San Francisco from 1939, as well as in a preface to Mardikian’s cookbook (which Saroyan was not paid for, a sore spot to him).

 

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Postal Telegraph Company, late 1920s, Powell St at Market St

In the late 1920s, Saroyan worked here as a counter clerk and teletype operator.

This is mentioned in “A Writer’s Declaration” in The Whole Voyald and Other Stories (p. 8)

 

turkstreet

Turk Street, east of Van Ness, 1920s-1940s, Alleyways (gambling), Menlo Club at 30 Turk Street (bar and gambling), Turk Street Poker Club, Joe Bailey’s (drinks and poker)

This part of Turk street is in the Tenderloin District, always considered one of the city’s sketchier locales where gamblers, prostitutes, and thieves roamed the streets. This was also a fun place for a young man to go. In the early 1930s, Saroyan spent much of his time on Turk Street. It looks too different today to even compare, but some of the alleyways remain, where you can imagine illegal gambling houses might pop up. This is featured in the story, “The Turk Street Gamblers,” in the collection I Used to Believe I Had Forever, Now I’m Not So Sure (p. 77), Sons Come and Go, Mothers Hang In Forever (pgs. 66, 73, 172), Chance Meetings (p. 76), and Obituaries (p. 82)

 

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Postal Telegraph Office, 1920s, Taylor St at Market St in the Golden Gate Theatre Building

In the late 1920s, Saroyan worked here as a counter clerk and teletype operator.

This is discussed in Places Where I’ve Done Time (Chapter 8), “A Writer’s Declaration” in The Whole Voyald and Other Stories (p. 8)

 

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Crystal Palace Market, 1930s, 8th St and Market St

Saroyan tells us that this was a favorite haunt of his in the 1930s, a large city-center market spanning many blocks. It was based on the markets of London. Across the street from The Orpheum Theater, it was a hub of activity that allowed Saroyan to observe his fellow man. This is mentioned in I Used to Believe I Had Forever, Now I’m Not So Sure (p. 104).

 

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Public Library Downtown, 1920s-1940s, 100 Larkin St

The downtown branch (opened in 1888) is the crown jewel of the San Francisco Library system. Today, the downtown library holds a History Center, which includes Saroyan in its Biography Collection. He rode the streetcar or walked to this location.

This is mentioned in I Used to Believe I Had Forever, Now I’m Not So Sure (p. 104): “In the public library I examined only those books which could not be borrowed, the books of Art in the Reference Room; and the books of Patents, for there is nothing so instructive as man's foolish inventions, along with their preposterous illustrations.”

 

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Vanity Fair Florists, 1931, 556 Geary St

Where this parking garage stands now, William and his uncle Mihran ran Vanity Fair Florists briefly in 1931. Not much is known about it, but Forever Saroyan has an extensive collection of sketches drawn on Vanity Fair stationery from William’s time there. Mentioned in Places Where I’ve Done Time (Chapter 66).

 

Izzys

Izzy’s on Pacific, 1937, 848 Pacific Ave

Around 1937, Saroyan frequented Izzy’s Saloon. It was owed by Portuguese immigrant Isadore Gomez, and Saroyan wrote in his journals, “Izzy Gomez's was something else. Unique. Sui generis. It really was as portrayed in The Time of Your Life, except that it was also a hangout for hard-boiled, sophisticated newspapermen...They gave the place a rowdy, slightly underworld character of half-suppressed brawl...For meals, Izzy served thick, luscious steaks, French fries, and salads. He gave a considerable number of meals and liquor out free, not just to starving artists, but to people he liked.” The bar was demolished in 1952. It is mentioned in I Used to Believe I Had Forever, Now I’m Not So Sure (p. 108), Letters from 74 Rue Taitbout (pgs. 127, 143), and is the inspiration for Nick’s in The Time of Your Life.

 

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Saroyan Place (formerly Adler place), dedicated in 1988

San Francisco is full of small alleyways, like any city. This was once called Adler Place, but in 1988, San Francisco literary icon Lawrence Ferlinghetti successfully convinced the city to rename this alleyway near his bookstore, City Lights. Ferlinghetti was a friend to Saroyan and was also part of the Beat Generation with his buddy and Saroyan aficionado, Jack Kerouac. Kerouac wrote about Saroyan’s influence on his own writing. At the same dedication event, Ferlinghetti announced the renaming of the alley across the street to Jack Kerouac Alley.

 

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William McDevitt’s Bookstore, 1930s, 2079 Sutter St

Bill McDevitt was an eccentric bookstore owner whose shop opened in 1918. McDevitt was a Socialist leader, which might have appealed to Saroyan’s ideology at the time, though Saroyan was never an activist.

This is mentioned in Sons Come and Go, Mothers Hang In Forever (p. 65): “Bill McDevitt owned a big shambling cluttered bookstore in San Francisco on Sutter Street above Fillmore, and I used to go in there and browse, because print and publication, paper and binding, title page and margin, and all the rest of the business and reality of language in action has always seemed near to where I ought to be, something like my home, and my way.”

 

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Home, 1928-1929, 2378 Sutter St at Divisadero St

William lived here with his family in 1928/29. He returned to this flat after a disappointing first trip to New York in 1928. From here, he could see the nurses working at the hospital across the street and fantasized about marrying one.

This is mentioned in Places Where I’ve Done Time (Chapter 3)

 

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Home, 1929, 1707-A Divisadero St

William’s mother didn’t like the climb to the third floor in the Sutter Street apartment, so they moved to this location, a block away, in 1929. Their stay here was very brief before they settled at 348 Carl Street.

Mentioned in Places Where I’ve Done Time (Chapter 58) and Obituaries (p. 240)

 

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Home, 1930-1939, 348 Carl St

After living in various San Francisco apartments with his mother and siblings in the 1920s, Saroyan landed at Carl Street, where he wrote The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze. The family lived here in a second floor flat from about 1930-1939. From this location, he could walk to the Sunset Library or go farther to the downtown public library. This is where he became a literary sensation. This apartment is mentioned all over Saroyan’s memoirs and in stories. To start, it is name checked in “70,000 Assyrians” in The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze.

 

 

 SunsetBranch

Public Library, Sunset Branch, 1930s, 18th Ave and Irving St

Saroyan always loved the public library wherever he lived. In San Francisco, he would walk to the Sunset Branch on 18th Ave and Irving (opened in 1918). Saroyan would sit in the library for hours reading books, periodicals, magazines, anything that would educate and inspire him. This location is mentioned in Not Dying (p. 101).

 

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Home, 1939-1946 (and occasionally beyond), 1821 15th Ave

With money from his writing success, William purchased this row house for his family, where his mother, Takoohi, and sister, Cosette, lived until their deaths. They began living here in 1939. William lived here on and off for decades, with a basement studio to do his writing. This was his home base whenever he returned to San Francisco. The house is still owned and occupied by William’s relatives and has a view of the Pacific Ocean. This residence is mentioned all over Saroyan’s memoirs, but you can start with Sons Come and Go, Mothers Hang in Forever (p. 201).

 

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Home, 1946-1948, 2727 Taraval Ave

This row house was newly built when William, Carol, and the kids purchased it in 1946. He based the upstairs room which he used as his writing space in his 1963 book Boys and Girls Together.

"The upper flat was a shambles, but it always was. It smelled of stale cigarettes because he smoked so much whenever he worked or tried to. It smelled of not being lived in, too, and of fog and book. Books he hadn't had a chance to look into yet, some of them on hand for months, not even unwrapped yet, piled on the floor and on the furniture. There were stacks of magazines mixed in with the books, and manuscripts, pebbles and twigs and roots and branches of trees washed smooth and clean by the sea that he kept bringing home all the time."

It was considered remote in San Francisco, far from the hustle and bustle, out on “The Avenues” of the Sunset District. They spent time here and also in New York during the period they owned it – until 1948. Carol felt isolated in San Francisco, with no local friends, so the family kept a flat in New York so they could both be satisfied. Deeply in debt in 1948, William had borrowed money from George Mardikian and sold this house to him on September 6, 1948 for $22,000 to pay debts. In addition to Boys and Girls Together, the house is mentioned in Sons Come and Go… (p. 78, 176) and “Palo” in The Whole Voyald and Other Stories.

 

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Paul Elder’s Bookstore, 239 Post St 

It was a special bookstore in that it held an art gallery and lecture hall within it. Elder made high art of book selling. In 1934 Elder invited Saroyan to read from his breakout hit book and Saroyan frequented the exciting space. 

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Ocean Beach for walks, 1930s-1940s

Saroyan was known for his long walks from his house on 15th Avenue to the beach some 30 blocks away. Some of these walks he spent alone, others he spent with family and friends. The sculptor Beniamino Bufano is one notable walking partner, as well as the artist Hilaire Hiler. This is described in the 1939 travel guide, Let’s Have Fun in San Francisco. Saroyan would often pick up attractive beach rocks and display them in his home.

 

 

Optional near SF

Former Tanforan Race Track (1150 El Camino Real, San Bruno) – betting on horses

Former Bay Meadows Race Track (380 E 28th Ave, San Mateo) – betting on horses

Golden Gate Fields (1100 Eastshore Hwy, Berkeley) – still open – betting on horses

Fred Finch Orphanage (3800 Coolidge Ave, Oakland, CA 94602) – 1911-1916 home

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