Category Archives: William Saroyan

Thought of the Day 9.1.12 Edgar Rice Burroughs

“I write to escape…to escape poverty.”

Edgar Rice Burroughs

Русский: Эдгар Райс Берроуз

Edgar Rice Burroughs (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Edgar Rice Burroughs was born on this day in Chicago, Illinois in 1875. Today is the 137th anniversary of his birth.

He was the middle child Major George Burroughs and his wife Mary Evaline. His younger siblings died of childhood diseases, leaving him the baby of the family. He bounced around several different local schools. Whenever there was an outbreak of a disease his parents took him out of one school and put him in another.  Since schools taught Latin and Greek as well as English he later …

“his erratic schooling… resulted in his … learning little English while taking the same Greek and Latin courses over and over again. Despite his claims to the contrary, this early exposure to Classical literature and mythology would serve Burroughs well in his future writing career.” [The Official Edgar Rice Burroughs Mini-Bio]

When a flu epidemic swept through Chicago his parents sent a teenaged Edgar to his brothers’ cattle ranch in Idaho. He love the rough and tumble “wild west”  with its range wars and saloon shoot outs and he lived there for six months before his parents realized the danger of  frontier life was on par with the danger of getting influenza. They called him home and enrolled him in Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. He didn’t last long there and was soon transferred to the more structured  Michigan Military Academy. He failed the West Point entrance exam  and signed up for the Army  as a private where he served with the 7th US Cavalry at Fort Grant, Arizona Territory. He was discharged from the Army for a heart condition in 1897.

In 1899 he was back in Chicago working for his father ‘s company, and the next year he married his childhood sweetheart, Emma Hulbert. After a few years he and Emma travelled west to Idaho so he could try his luck with his brothers again, this time at gold mining. But that venture soon went bust and Burroughs went through a number of jobs from railway policeman to peddler for quack medicine.

One of his jobs was as a pencil sharpener wholesaler. He placed ads for the pencil sharpeners in pulp fiction magazines and he would read through the magazines to check the placement of the ads.

“After reading several thousand words of breathless pulp fiction Burroughs determined … that ‘if people were paid for writing rot such as I read in some of those magazines that I could write stories just as rotten. As a matter of fact, although I had never written a story, I knew absolutely that I could write stories just as entertaining and probably a whole lot more so than any I chanced to read in those magazines.'” [The Official Edgar Rice Burroughs Mini-Bio]

Cover of "Under the Moons of Mars: A Prin...

Cover via Amazon

In fact he had already written stories, but his introduction into the pulp fiction market with Under the Moons of Mars,  for which he received a whopping $400 from All-Story magazine, was a turning point in his career. The story was serialized  in the magazine and produced as a novel under its original name of A Princess of Mars. By the time the last installment was published in July of 1912 Burroughs had completed two more novels. The Outlaw of Torn and Tarzan of the Apes. Outlaw was not picked up by the publisher, but Tarzan was an immediate hit. Burroughs got $700 for the book. He wrote a number of sequels for both Mars (11, including John Carter of Mars) and Tarzan (26).

Dustjacket by Armstrong Sperry for the first e...

Dustjacket by Armstrong Sperry for the first edition of Tarzan and the Lost Empire by Edgar Rice Burroughs (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Other book series by Burroughs includes:

  • The Pellucidar series, which takes place in the hollow shell of the Earth (7 books, including one featuring a cross over appearance from Tarzan).
  • The Venus series, where Carson Napier, who is attempting a solo flight to Mars, crash lands instead on the watery planet of Venus. — look for a film made from the series coming out next year. (5 books)
  • The Caspak series, a prehistoric series, including The Land That Time Forgot (3 books)

He crossed writing genres at will penning social realism, horror stories, and westerns (and more).

Burroughs was living in Honolulu,  Hawaii when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. He volunteered  to serve the war effort as a war correspondent  (the oldest in the Pacific theatre).

He died on March 19, 1950.

English: Bookplate of American writer Edgar Ri...

English: Bookplate of American writer Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875-1950) showing Tarzan holding the planet Mars, surrounded by other characters from Burroughs’ stories and symbols relating to the author’s personal interests and career. Associated media: File:Letter from Edgar Rice Burroughs to Ruthven Deane 1922.jpg explaining the design of his bookplate. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thought of the Day 8.31.12 William Saroyan

“I can’t hate for long. It isn’t worth it.”

“The role of art is to make a world which can be tolerated.”

“Try as much as possible to be wholly alive, with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell and when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough.”

–William Saroyan

William Saroyan, American writer.

William Saroyan, American writer. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

William Saroyan was born on this day in Fresno, California in 1908. Today is the 104th anniversary of his birth.

William was the youngest son of Armenian immigrant parents. His father died when he was 3 years old. William and his siblings went to the Fred Finch Orphanage in Oakland while their mother, Tahooki, found what work she could in San Francisco.  Six years later the family reunited as Tahooki got permanent work at a cannery in Fresno. He didn’t like school. The work was boring and he was picked on because he was the son of an immigrant. But he liked to learn, he liked to read and he like to write. He took advantage of the Fresno public library’s book collection and he took a course on typing at the Technical School. He sold newspapers to help with family finances, and worked his way up to messenger boy with a telegram company.

He travelled around the country hoping to become the next big American writer, but luck wasn’t with him (one time his suitcase, with most of his money and clothes inside, wound up in New Orleans instead of with him in New York.) So Saroyan returned to California and took a string of uninspiring jobs from working in a funeral parlor to selling vegetables at a farmers market. All the time he was writing on the side.

In 1933 he started to get published. His earned $15 when his short story The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze appeared in the national magazine Story. Encouraged by the publication he decided to send the magazine one story a day for the entire month of January.

This he proceeded systematically to do, still full of the usual doubts that harass the unestablished writer, but determined to carry through the ambitious work program in as positive frame of mind as possible. He began with no firm ideas as to what the stories would be about… Midway through the month a telegram… arrived from the editors with the message he needed: yes, the stories were being received with great interest — keep them coming! This was the decisive moment of acceptance, marking the end of his long apprenticeship…. [Brian Darwent, William Saroyan Society, Biographical Sketch]

Other, higher paying, magazines began to take an interest. His stories appeared in The American Mercury, Harper’s, Scribner’s and others. A collection of his short stories was published by Random House in 1934 and became a best seller.

He traveled overseas, making a pilgrimage to his father’s homeland of Armenia. (He couldn’t make it as far his father home town, which was now a part of Turkey, but he did get to Erivan, Soviet Armenia.) Along the way he met Charlie Chaplin, George Bernard Shaw and Finnish composer Jean Sibelius.

He added playwriting to his skill list  in 1939 with My Heart’s in the Highlands. The play centers around a struggling Arminian American poet and his son Johnny.  His second play The Time of Your Life won a Pulitzer Prize (which Saroyan refused) and The New York Drama Critic’s Circle Best Play award (which he accepted.)  It takes place in Nick’s Pacific Street Saloon and centers around a wealthy young man named Joe and a bar full of colorful characters. The play has been revived several times on Broadway and in LA, and has been made into a big screen movie, with James Cagney and a Playhouse 90 television movie with Jackie Gleason.

First edition cover

First edition cover (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Human Comedy was produced by MGM Studios. Saroyan was under contract with Louis B. Mayer and he wrote and directed a short film called The Good Job as well as the 4.5 hour screen play for The Human Comedy (which Mayer turned over to another writer to edit down.) Saroyan also wrote a novel  on the same material that came out the same week as the film. The sentimental story was based on his life growing up as an immigrant in Fresno and it won an Oscar for the writer.

After WWII his writing career cooled. He was considered to sentimental and sugary for the harder edged, post-war critics.

 Saroyan praised freedom; brotherly love and universal benevolence were for him basic values, but with his idealism Saroyan was considered more or less out of date. [Books and Writers]

But he continued to write prolifically. In 1952 he published his memoir The Bicycle Rider in Beverly Hills.

Just before he died of cancer in 1981 he called the Associated Press quipping “Everybody has got to die, but I have always believed an exception would be made in my case. Now what?”

Stanford University has a large collection of his works and the author is celebrated by the William Saroyan Society. 

William Saroyan statue, Yerevan

William Saroyan statue, Yerevan (Photo credit: tm-tm)

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