Asian Pacific American Heritage Month: Armenia

People who love Zankou Chicken are greatly indebted to Armenia, and there are a number of high profile Armenian Americans (including the Kardashians). Los Angeles boasts a high number of Armenian Americans, with a concentration in Glendale.

Armenia is located “south of the great mountain range of the Caucasus and fronting the northwestern extremity of Asia.” To the north and east of Armenia are Georgia and Azerbaijan. To the southeast and west are Iran and Turkey. The CIA Facebook notes, that Armenia is located in “Southwestern Asia, between Turkey (to the west) and Azerbaijan; note – Armenia views itself as part of Europe; geopolitically, it can be classified as falling within Europe, the Middle East, or both.”

Problematically, Azerbaijan is located in in Asia (“Southwestern Asia, bordering the Caspian Sea, between Iran and Russia, with a small European portion north of the Caucasus range”) as is Turkey (“Southeastern Europe and Southwestern Asia (that portion of Turkey west of the Bosporus is geographically part of Europe), bordering the Black Sea, between Bulgaria and Georgia, and bordering the Aegean Sea and the Mediterranean Sea, between Greece and Syria”).

Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and author William Saroyan (1908-1981) was born in Fresno, California. His parents were Armenian immigrants from Bitlis, a city of Eastern Turkey. His 1939 play “The Time of Your Life” was the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. In 1948, James Cagney and his sister Kitty Cagney starred in the film adaptation, “The Time of Your Life.” Jackie Gleason, Jack Klugman and Dick York starred in the 1958 TV adaptation. Saroyan won an Academy Award for Best Story in 1943 for the film adaptation of “The Human Comedy.” The movie’s cast included Mickey Rooney, Frank Morgan, Van Johnson and Donna Reed.

Actors & Performers

Sacramento-born Adrienne Barbeau (1945) whose mother was Armenian, was the original Rizzo for Broadways “Grease.” She played Maude Findlay’s (Beatrice Arthur) daughter on the sitcom “Maude” (1972-1978). She voiced Catwoman on “Batman: The Animated Series” (1992-1995).

Rowan Blanchard (2001) is part Armenian. Born in Los Angeles, she played Riley Matthews in the Disney Channel series “Girl Meets World,” singing the title song with co-star Sabrina Carpenter. She was in the 2018 feature film “A Wrinkle in Time.” She will have a recurring role in “Snowpiercer.”

Eric Bogosian (1953) was born in Boston to Armenian American parents. His 1991 play “Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll,” his 1994 play “subUrbia” and the 1987 Pulitzer-nominated  “Talk Radio” were adapted into movies. “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” fans will recognize him as Captain Danny Ross. Bogosian won three Obie Awards. He currently plays Gil Eavis in “Succession.”

The 1996 film “SubUrbia” was directed by Richard Linklater. The story is based on Bogosian’s experiences growing up in Woburn, Massachusetts. It is about young adults who spend their time loitering around the local convenience store.  The film was shot in Austin, Texas. The cast includes Parker Posey and Steve Zahn.

The 1991 “Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll” stars Bogosian as 10 separate characters.

Arlene Francis (1907-2001) was an actress, radio presenter and television personality. She was born in Boston as Arlene Francis Kazanjian. She is best known as a panelist on the TV game show “What’s My Line?” (1950-1975). Newsweek once had her on its cover as the “First Lady of Television.”

Writer, actor and filmmaker Michael A. Goorjian (1971) won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or Special as the David in the 1994 TV movie, “David’s Mother.” Kirsty Alley plays the mother, Sally Goodson, who is devoted to her autistic son. If you’re old enough, you might remember him as (Neve Campbell) Julia’s love interest, Justin, in “Party of Five” (1994-2000).

Goorjian directed the independent film, “Illusion” with Kirk Douglas. Douglas plays a legendary film director, Donald Baines, near the end of his life. His old and long dead  friend, Stan (Ron Marasco) appears to him, showing him three films about different periods in the life of his illegitimate child, Christopher (Goorjian). Donald only saw his son once, 30 years ago. The film won Best Screenplay at the Hamptons International Film Festival.

David Hedison (1927-2019) was Captain Lee Crane in the TV series “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” (1964-1968). He also played a CIA agent in two James Bond films: the 1973 “Live and Let Die” and the 1989 “Licence to Kill.” Hedison played Spencer Harrison on the soap opera, “Another World.” He was also in the horror flick “The Fly” in 1958 (as Al Hedison). He had tow daughters, Alexandra and Serena Hedison.

Joe Manganiello‘s great-grandmother was a survivor of the Armenian Genocide. His father is of Italian descent. His film’s include “Magic Mike” and “Magic Mike XXL.” He was in “True Blood” as Alcide Herveaux, a werewolf (42 episodes).  He won an Emmy for narrating the documentary “Pittsburgh is Home: The Story of the Penguins” in 2017. Manganiello loves Dungeons & Dragons and has appeared on episodes of various programs playing the game. He is married to Sofia Vergara.

Eddie Mekka (1952) is best known as Carmine Ragusa, or “The Big Ragoo” on the sitcom “Laverne & Shirley.”

Erik Palladino (1968) had an Armenian mother and an Italian American father. Palladino played Dr. Dave Malucci (1999-2001) in “ER,” recurred on “NCIS: Los Angeles” and “Suits.” He recently appeared on “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” as Frank.

Fans of the Step Up film series will be familiar with Adam G. Sevani who was in “Step Up 2:  The Streets” and “Step Up 3D” as Robert “Moose” Alexander III. He was also in “Step Up: All In.” He has appeared in music videos such as Will Smith’s “Switch.”

Akim Tamiroff (1899-1972)was an Armenian American born in Tiflis or Baku. He arrived in the US in 1923. He won Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in the 1943  “For Whom the Bell Tolls.”

And, of course, there is Cherilyn Sarkisian (1946) who is better known as Cher. Cher has a Grammy Award (“Believe,” 2000, for Best Dance Recording), an Emmy Award (“Cher: The Farewell Tour,” 2003, for Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Special), three Golden Globes (“The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour,” 1974 for Best TV Actress –Comedy or Musical; “Silkwood,” 1984 for Best Actress in a Supporting Role–Motion Picture; and “Moonstruck”, 1988, for Best Actress in a Motion Picture –Musical or Comedy), an Academy Award (“Moonstruck,” 1988)  and a Cannes Film Festival Award (Best Actress for “Mask,” 1985). Born in El Centro California, her father, John, was an Armenian American.


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