Theatre Guild, Inc. collection regarding William Saroyan's Love's Old Sweet Song

Biographical and Historical Notes

American author, playwright, and composer of Armenian descent William Saroyan (1908-1981) is known for his interest in the American worker and his romantic portrayals of American life. Many of his works deal with his Armenian heritage and his childhood city of Fresno, California.

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Born in 1908 to Armenian immigrants who had settled in Fresno, Saroyan's childhood was a tumultuous one, with Saroyan and his siblings spending time in an orphanage after the death of their father in 1911. After dropping out of high school, Saroyan worked a series of menial jobs before publishing his first short story in 1928. This event marked the beginning of Saroyan’s literary career. His first, and best known, book of short stories The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze and Other Stories was published in 1934 with the titular story winning the O. Henry Award the same year. He continued to publish short stories, writing by his own estimation approximately 100 per year between 1934 and 1939.

As with short stories, he wrote plays with equal speed. During the 1939-1940 season Saroyan wrote and had produced four plays, including The Time of Our Lives , awarded the Pulitzer Prize; however, the award was rejected by Saroyan. During that same year he wrote and directed Love's Old Sweet Song . Saroyan’s plays have been variously described by critics as surreal, metatheatrical and sentimental.

Saroyan continued to write plays, short stories, and novels through the 1940s and 1950s. He wrote the screenplay for The Human Comedy in 1943 for which he won an Academy Award. The Human Comedy was also published as a novel that same year. Saroyan married and divorced American actress Carol Grace (1932-2003) twice, their first marriage lasting from 1943 to 1949, and their second from 1951 to 1952. They had two children, poet Aram Saroyan and actress Lucy Saroyan. Along with the breakup of his marriage, Saroyan struggled with drinking, gambling, and debts during the 1950s. Despite his hardships, he continued to publish and wrote three autobiographies between 1961 and his death in 1981 of cancer.

Sources

"William Saroyan." Contemporary Authors Online. Detroit: Gale, 2003. (reproduced in Biography in Context). http://ic.galegroup.com/ic/bic1 (accessed November 1, 2010).

Bufithis, Philip. "William Saroyan." American Novelists, 1910-1945. Ed. James J. Martine. Detroit: Gale Research, 1981. (reproduced in Literature Resource Center). http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/LitRC (accessed November 1, 2010).

Scope and Content Note

The Theatre Guild Inc. collection regarding William Saroyan's Love's Old Sweet Song consists of .3 linear feet of material dating between 1939 and 1940 and includes a playscript; contracts with Saroyan, director Eddie Dowling, and composer Paul Bowles; and a promotional photograph from the Broadway production of the play. The collection is organized into three series: I. Playscripts; II. Contracts; and III. Photographs.

Written by Saroyan, Love's Old Sweet Song is a farcical case of mistaken identity in which a middle-aged spinster falls in love with a traveling salesman whom she believes sent her a telegram claiming that he loved her since her youth. It was co-produced by American actor, playwright, producer, and composer Eddie Dowling (1889-1976) and The Theatre Guild Inc. and co-directed by Dowling and Saroyan. American composer and author Paul Bowles (1910-1999) was contracted to compose incidental music for the play. Love's Old Sweet Song was performed at the Plymouth Theater (now named the Gerald Schoenfeld Theater) on Broadway between May 2, 1940, and June 8, 1940. Although it appeared in the same 1939-1940 season as Saroyan’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Time of Your Life , Love's Old Sweet Song was not considered a success, running only thirteen performances before closing.

Series I. consists of a single undated typescript in blue wrappers of Love’s Old Sweet Song . The typescript includes the complete text of the play as well as information on costume design, props, and lighting.

Series II. comprises nine contracts dating between October 1939 to July 1940 relating to the rights management of Love's Old Sweet Song . The contracts designate the production rights of the play to Eddie Dowling and the Theatre Guild and the Theatre Guild’s subsequent assignment of Dowling and Saroyan as co-directors. The Theatre Guild also employed Paul Bowles to compose music for the play. There is a letter documenting the receipt of a loan from American film producer George Stevens. Also included is a contract with Samuel French Plays to manage the rights of the play after its Broadway run had closed. Contracts include the signatures of Saroyan, Dowling, Bowles, Stevens and the Theater Guild's business manager Frank Munsell. Items are arranged chronologically, followed by undated material.

Series III. consists of one black and white photograph of Canadian-born American actor Walter Huston (1884-1950) as Barnaby Gaul, the male lead in Love's Old Sweet Song . The photograph is mounted on board and bears the caption: "Walter Huston in, Love’s Old Sweet Song, By William Saroyan."

Dates appearing in brackets are based on the processor's approximation of date ranges for undated material.