The Theatrical Genesis of William Saroyan’s “My Heart’s in the Highlands”

In the rich tapestry of American theatre, the collaborative spark between playwright William Saroyan and famed producer Harold Clurman in 1937 stands out as a moment of artistic serendipity. Clurman, at the helm of a theatre, extended an invitation to Saroyan, an emerging voice in literature, to venture into the realm of theatre. Saroyan’s response was not just affirmative but boldly conditional: he would pen the play, provided he could also direct it.

Saroyan had the perfect story in mind, a short piece titled “The Man With the Heart in the Highlands,” which he had crafted one idle afternoon in 1935. Its conversational style made it an ideal candidate for stage adaptation. With minimal adjustments, primarily the addition of directional cues like “he said” and “she said,” Saroyan transformed the narrative into the one-act play “My Heart’s in the Highlands.”

The play featured a cast that would go on to leave their own marks in the industry. Richard Conte, Harry Morgan, and a young Sidney Lumet, who would later earn acclaim as a director, brought life to Saroyan’s heartfelt dialogue. The production’s budget was modest, a mere $9,000, but the play’s impact was far-reaching, resonating with audiences and critics alike.

“My Heart’s in the Highlands” was more than a financial success; it was a testament to Saroyan’s talent and his unique vision for the theatre. His dual role as playwright and director marked a turning point in his career and exemplified a hands-on approach to storytelling that was uncommon for the time.

Today, the play remains a celebrated piece of theatrical history, a reminder of the potent possibilities that arise when creative minds like Saroyan and Clurman join forces. It is a narrative that underscores the enduring power of dialogue-driven storytelling and the magnetic pull of the stage—a place where the heart of a story can truly find a home.


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