William Saroyan Speaks - 1978 National Geographic Society

 UntitledIn 1978, National Geographic ran an article called "The Proud Armenians" which provided a nearly 30-page look at the history and culture of Armenia, where it stood at the time, and some of the best-known members of the Armenian diaspora, including Krikor Ohanian (actor Mike Conners), financier Kirk Kerkorian, and of course, William Saroyan. 

This article provided an excellent introduction to the Armenian people, both in Armenia, which was under Soviet control at the time, and elsewhere. 

The National Geographic Society would hold annual dinners, usually focusing on a theme that had been a major part of the year's issues. The Proud Armenians, a major accomplishment, was clearly the focus of the 1978 dinner, and William Saroyan was chosen to give the audience his unique good humor and insightful comedy. 

William Saroyan was an in-demand speaker for much of his life. So much so that he was fairly choosey with his appearances, particularly later in life. He was a regular on television and radio in the 1950s through the early 1970s, including a famous 1971 appearance in The Dick Cavett Show with Veronica Lake and Leonard Maltin. He tired of the same questions and began limiting his appearances shortly thereafter. 

The National Geographic dinner speech represents one of Saroyan's last major speeches before his passing in 1981. This comedic look at the Armenian people, and specifically a hilarious portion of the talk where he discusses how many Armenians are in the world and who exactly are the Armenians, gets the audience laughing heartily.

 A digital copy of this recording was provided by the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR) via  Marc Mamigonian. 


WILLIAM SAROYAN at Arion Press Gallery - A Final Look

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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.  

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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!

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WILLIAM SAROYAN Events at Arion Press Gallery

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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.IMG 2931 1

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.

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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. 

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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. 



Three Times Three - Quarter, Half, Three-Quarter, and Whole Notes.

3 Times 3 B41001Welcome to Forever Saroyan presents - Three Times Three. I'm Chris Garcia, and this is the final episode of Three Times Three, and the final story, “Quarter, Half, Three-quarter and Whole Notes.”

It's another one of Saroyan’s very thoughtful pieces. I will now read the entire introductory note – “ideas.”

 Saroyan as a writer really came through a number of different periods to get to the point where he became a major figure in American letters. The period of 1935 through about 1940, saw him evolve in a number of ways just through the sheer volume of writing he was doing, and his ability to make stories out of nothing. It seemed often he wrote short vignettes, sometimes brief encounters, and sometimes, even just talking philosophy. That makes it possible for stories like “Quarter, Half, Three-quarter and Whole Notes” possible.

There's only one way to write a story and only one way to write one sentence, and that is to be pious, and simple and inwardly isolated. Above all things, inwardly isolated.

There are a number of statements by writers at this time where they were specifically talking about the art of writing. In essence, writers were becoming big enough celebrities within the overall collective unconsciousness to write about writing, and have their words taken seriously. Another famous writer known for doing just that was Ernest Hemingway. Saroyan's friend, rival, enemy, and often competitor, though I doubt either would see each other as such. In fact, I think each of their views on one another was informed more by how they were seeing themselves at any given time.

Here, he talks about getting a job briefly, and buying book, which is something that a number of writers do, but then he goes off into a long, sometimes disjointed, talk about his writing, about what he's reading, about various people. He jumps around. He's talking about writing, but at the same time, he's referencing things outside of his own writing.

Prose should get the simultaneity; of events, of thought and incident. things do not happen by themselves. They happen together with innumerable other events, thoughts, remembrances, moods, words, emotions, melodies, mingling and generally unrelated, sad and comic. Pious conversation at the beach, Pacific waves, goals, fishing boats, the sea sound debris, walking, I will be around waiting to say what is essential, nothing more. Break down the stupid structure of the language and make it live. Sometimes gaiety, sometimes not a story.

As he goes through his ideas of what a story is, we kind of see ties to external writing, and writers. As many have pointed out, Guy de Maupassant was one of his major influences, yet Maupassant was exceptionally broad and out there, and in his writing, particularly detailed. It wasn't until writers such as Chekhov where a paring down of language became much more popular. And from it, the idea of minimalism arose. And so this is certainly minimalist, but much of it is thoughtful, and perhaps even ponderous.

Birth, baptism, crucifixion and resurrection.

A funeral Psalm.

I have fallen asleep and dreamed my end in time and eternity and I have awakened and dreamed again the living of my flesh. Now, as motion again, he who walks whistling over the cement sidewalk and reaches the city, who enters its order, stands amongst its inhabitants, speaks and returns, walking to his room. And between these two dreams, the one of death to be and the other of life which is, is the long road or the broad plane, or the bright city of living. A lonely path through the rich forest of Earth unborn, or the clean, clear plain of the smiling heart or the vast, wide city of strength. And for this reason that I am so deeply caught and fixed within this order, which is not really tragic, though it sometimes is. I must laugh and feel that all is right, though I'll be wrong, that death is right that pain is right that diseases right hatred, cruelty, mockery, sin, despair, fear, and only for this reason that I and yourself, of course, am so deeply caught within this magnificent time and place of error and waste which we call life. So amazingly entered into the earth upon it, standing so magnificently related to the universe, so ridiculously the son and brother of God so pathetically immortal, so sinfully, innocent of old guilt, since the only guilt is being having once been born, but not twice.

He does actually contradict many of the things he would say later in his career in the story, most famously his actual claiming that writers are actually born twice. That said, the story moves fairly well and keeps you reading largely because of the way he writes. The beauty of passion, I think, is the way to look at it. How it looks at the story, and in a way reflects the rest of the stories in the book.

A work of prose may be said to be good, though not necessarily great, when it has wholeness, for it is wholeness that man instinctively desires and works of art, and thus, this wholeness need not be purely technical, as many writers imagine. As a matter of fact, the logical growth of the story form would seem to be towards a dismissal, or at least a regulation to a position of minor importance of technical virtuosity, and a more powerful emphasis of the spiritual and emotional intensity and wholeness of a piece of writing involving man.

He, in essence, is calling for an acceptance of a form of modernism or at least expressionism. He's rejecting a technical perfection that marked the works of writers such as Chekhov, Babel,and others over that period. He's saying new writing of the 1930s is not necessarily technically perfect and polished, but one that exhibits emotional content. His methodology for doing such often takes the form of writing, as he would speak or as if he is speaking. Now there is a perfection to that. The power of his dialogue, for example, is based in its rootedness in naturalistic expression. That said, at the same time, his works are not slapdash recordings of conversations. They are perfected and polished. But the perfection and polish that he is trying to achieve is not such of the high level of intellectualism. But yet one of emotionalism he's presenting himself to appeal to the emotions to the the softer side of the human intellect, because his works are not non-intellectual. In fact, they're highly intellectual. Their intellectual explorations of emotional topics by use of evocation. He calls out emotional reactions to events in his story to his dialogue to plot points. And then makes you look at that and what they mean and how they play in you and in others. That, perhaps, is the greatest power of William Saroyan and perhaps the most important part of the story “Quarter, Half, Three-quarter and Whole Notes.”

As a whole, Three Times Three is a book that documents a very strange time for William Saroyan, not only insofar as it is at the beginning of his career, but it is a moment where he was creating for publication very quickly. We hear his origin tale for the stories. We hear Subway Circus was punted, and if you read Subway Circus, it's a pretty good play. It's not a great play. But schematically, it doesn't work here. It is not an exploration of meaning and content. It is a formation of meaning and content, and thus it feels wrong for Three Times Three.

Most of the stories here have more or less faded away, even with Saroyan purists. While stories such as The Living and The Dead and The Man with the Heart in the Highlands have been reprinted and are well known, at least among Saroyanphiles, they truly surpass the book in which they're contained. The Man with the Heart in the Highlands is far better known for its inclusion in work such as the play My Heart’s in the Highlands and other works that were made after, not necessarily referencing this publication, but other times it appears in Saroyan’s writing, notably, The Saroyan Special and  The William Saroyan Reader, while stories such as “Public Speech”, “Life and Letters,” “The Beggars” and “The Question” may seem slight when compared in general to other Saroyan works, they're certainly an example of what he was working on to get to where he ended up.

This was published after his first truly magnificent collections, both of which marked him as a major figure. While this collection did not succeed, at least as the book was not a great financial success, where Saroyan did succeed is in feeling out the edges of his stories. Even in his introductions, he'll point out where he overreached himself. Where when grasping for the edge, he just went too far and pulled more back than he could handle. That happens, and we see as his work progresses into collection such as Little Children and in particular, My Name is Aram, he has found the edges and is better defined as a writer. Without going through projects such as Three Times Three, he may never have found that and perhaps it's even Three Times Three that drove him to the type of writing he would do in My Name is Aram. His understanding that the philosophical works have a place in his writing, but yet story needs to be solidly at the heart of everything he writes.

I would argue that The Man with the Heart in the Highlands is the most important story here, though “Quarter, Half, Three-quarter and Whole Notes” has also been reprinted several times. It is The Man with the Heart in the Highlands, the most different story in this collection, largely because it's the most traditionally short story-like story, that stands tall, and its presentation here certainly makes Three Times Three a better book overall. While Conference Press never became the major press that we would have thought, it did publish a couple of very good books, and Three Times Three does have a very important place in the lung bibliography of William Saroyan.

Thanks for listening to Three Times Three. I'm Chris Garcia. Stay tuned for this space. We'll be coming back with more looks at individual books down the line. But for right now, this has been Forever Saroyan Presents: Three Times Three. Thank you for listening.

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