Related topics

Writer William Saroyan’s Oscar in San Francisco Pawn Shop

March 26, 1991

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ William Saroyan, the writer who once turned down a Pulitzer Prize for his work, probably would have chuckled if he’d known his 1943 Oscar would someday be displayed in the window of a pawn shop.

After all, the Oscar was for the screenplay of ″The Human Comedy.″

″He accepted it, but he didn’t make a big thing out of it,″ the head of the William Saroyan Foundation, Robert Setrakian of San Francisco, said Monday of the 48-year-old Oscar.

The gold statuette in the pawn shop in the heart of the Mission District has sparked queries from, among others, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the Saroyan Foundation, descendants and a museum in Fresno, the writer’s birthplace.

″At first we thought it was stolen, but (now) we don’t think so. It was at a museum, and a relative took it back,″ said shop owner Darryl Kaplan, adding that the Oscar was brought in about a year ago and hocked for $250.

Kaplan has not considered selling it, although he said he’s been offered more than $20,000 for the statuette. As legal owner of the statuette, Kaplan said he has decided not to keep it, but hasn’t decided who to turn it over to.

Kaplan said he received more than 100 calls over the weekend inquiring about the Oscar.

The Oscar was hocked by a man identifying himself as Fortunato Velasguez Jr. of San Jose, who claimed to be a friend of the Saroyan family. Setrakian said he’s never heard of the man.

Kaplan doesn’t know where Velasguez lives. Several attempts were made to reach him after the four-month loan expired, Kaplan said, and title to the Oscar passed to his business, the Mission Jewelry & Loan Co., when the man did not respond.

Saroyan died in 1981 at age 72. The flamboyant writer, who lived in Paris and the United States, turned down the Pulitzer for his 1939 play, ″The Time of Your Life,″ saying he didn’t believe in literary prizes.

In his will, he left his entire estate to the Saroyan Foundation and made no mention of his son, Aram, or his daughter, Lucy. Setrakian is executor of the estate.

According to Setrakian, the Bancroft Museum in Berkeley had the Oscar for a while but never displayed it. The foundation gave permission to Saroyan’s sister, Cosette, to display it in her San Francisco home.

″As far as we knew, that’s where the Oscar was,″ said Setrakian.

Cosette Saroyan died about a year ago. The Oscar was not found among her belongings.

Neil Smith, a copyright and trademark attorney for the Academy, became aware of the pawn-shop Oscar a week ago and went to see it for himself.

″It does appear to be genuine - beat up but genuine. It is scratched and has been exposed to weather,″ Smith said before leaving his San Francisco office on Monday to attend the 63rd Academy Awards ceremonies in Los Angeles.

The Academy’s interest, he added, is in seeing that the Oscar ends up in proper hands, such as with Saroyan heirs or the Saroyan Foundation.

Smith said he’s confident that will happen because Kaplan is ″a pawnbroker with a conscience.″

Update hourly