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Eugene Gladstone O'Neill (16 October 1888 – 27 November 1953) was an American playwright, and Nobel laureate in Literature. His plays are among the first to introduce into American drama the techniques of realism, associated with Russian playwright Anton Chekhov, Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, and Swedish playwright August Strindberg. His plays were among the first to include speeches in American vernacular and involve characters on the fringes of society, engaging in depraved behavior, where they struggle to maintain their hopes and aspirations, but ultimately slide into disillusionment and despair. O'Neill wrote only one well-known comedy (Ah, Wilderness!). Nearly all of his other plays involve some degree of tragedy and personal pessimism.

Biography

Early years



O'Neill was born in a Broadwaymarker hotel room in Times Square. The site is now a Starbucks (1500 Broadway, Northeast corner of 43rd & Broadway); a commemorative plaque is posted on the outside wall with the inscription: "Eugene O'Neill, October 16, 1888 ~ November 27, 1953 America's greatest playwright was born on this site then called Barrett Hotel, Presented by Circle in the Square."

He was the son of Irish actor James O'Neill and Ella Quinlan. Because of his father's profession, O'Neill was sent to a Catholic boarding school where he found his only solace in books.

O'Neill spent his summers in New Londonmarker, Connecticutmarker. After being suspended from Princeton Universitymarker, he spent several years at sea, during which he suffered from depression and alcoholism. O'Neill's parents and elder brother Jamie (who drank himself to death at the age of 45) died within three years of one another, and O'Neill turned to writing as a form of escape. Despite his depression he had a deep love for the sea, and it became a prominent theme in most of his plays, several of which are set onboard ships like the ones that he worked on.

O'Neill's first play, Bound East for Cardiff, premiered at this theatre on a wharf in Provincetown, Massachusetts.


It wasn't until his experience in 1912–13 at a sanatorium where he was recovering from tuberculosis that he decided to devote himself full time to writing plays. O'Neill had previously been employed by the New London Telegraph, writing poetry as well as reporting.

During the 1910s O'Neill was a regular on the Greenwich Villagemarker literary scene, where he also befriended many radicals, most notably Communist Party USA founder John Reed. O'Neill also had a brief romantic relationship with Reed's wife, writer Louise Bryant. O'Neill was portrayed by Jack Nicholson in the 1981 film Reds about the life of John Reed.

Career

His involvement with the Provincetown Players began in mid-1916. O'Neill is said to have arrived for the summer in Provincetown with "a trunk full of plays." Susan Glaspell describes what was probably the first ever reading of Bound East for Cardiff which took place in the living room of Glaspell and her husband George Cram Cook's home on Commercial Street, adjacent to the wharf (pictured) that was used by the Players for their theatre. Glaspell writes in The Road to the Temple, "So Gene took Bound East for Cardiff out of his trunk, and Freddie Burt read it to us, Gene staying out in the dining-room while reading went on. He was not left alone in the dining-room when the reading had finished." The Provincetown Players performed many of O'Neills early works in the their theaters both in Provincetown and on MacDougal Street in Greenwich Villagemarker. Some of these early plays began downtown and then moved to Broadway.

Family life

O'Neill was married to Kathleen Jenkins from October 2, 1909 to 1912, during which time they had one son, Eugene Jr. (1910-1950). In 1917, O'Neill met Agnes Boulton, a successful writer of commercial fiction, and they married on April 12, 1918. The years of their marriage—during which the couple had two children, Shane and Oona—are described vividly in her 1958 memoir Part of a Long Story. They divorced in 1929, after O'Neill abandoned Boulton and the children for the actress Carlotta Monterey (born San Francisco, Californiamarker, December 28, 1888— died Westwood, New Jerseymarker, November 18, 1970). O'Neill and Carlotta married less than a month after he officially divorced his previous wife.

In 1929, O'Neill and Monterey moved to the Loire Valleymarker in central France, where they lived in the Château du Plessis in Saint-Antoine-du-Rochermarker, Indre-et-Loiremarker. During the early 1930s they returned to the United States and lived in Sea Island, Georgiamarker, at a house called Casa Genotta. He moved to Danville, Californiamarker in 1937 and lived there until 1944. His house there, Tao House, is today the Eugene O'Neill National Historic Sitemarker.

O'Neill's first published play, Beyond the Horizon, opened on Broadwaymarker in 1920 to great acclaim, and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. His best-known plays include Anna Christie (Pulitzer Prize 1922), Desire Under the Elms (1924), Strange Interlude (Pulitzer Prize 1928), Mourning Becomes Electra (1931), and his only well-known comedy, Ah, Wilderness!, a wistful re-imagining of his youth as he wished it had been. In 1936 he received the Nobel Prize for Literature. After a ten-year pause, O'Neill's now-renowned play The Iceman Cometh was produced in 1946. The following year's A Moon for the Misbegotten failed, and did not gain recognition as being among his best works until decades later.

He was also part of the modern movement to revive the classical heroic mask from ancient Greek theatre and Japanese Noh theatre in some of his plays, such as "The Great God Brown" and "Lazarus Laughed."

O'Neill was very interested in the Faust theme, especially in the 1920s. He is also known for the very poetic names of many of his plays.

In their first years together, Monterey organized O'Neill's life, enabling him to devote himself to writing. However, she later became addicted to potassium bromide, and the marriage deteriorated, resulting in a number of separations. She was dramatic and shallow, but O'Neill needed her, and she needed him. Although they separated several times, they never divorced.

In 1943, O'Neill disowned his daughter Oona for marrying the English actor, director and producer Charlie Chaplin when she was 18 and Chaplin was 54. He never saw Oona again.

He also had distant relationships with his sons, Eugene, Jr., a Yalemarker classicist who suffered from alcoholism, and committed suicide in 1950 at the age of 40, and Shane O'Neill, a heroin addict who also committed suicide.

Child Date of Birth Date of Death Notes
Eugene O'Neill, Jr 1910 1950
Shane O'Neil
Oona O'Neill 14/05/1925 27/09/1991


Illness and death

Grave of Eugene O'Neill
After suffering from multiple health problems (including depression and alcoholism) over many years, O'Neill ultimately faced a severe Parkinsons-like tremor in his hands which made it impossible for him to write (he had tried using dictation but found himself unable to compose in that way) during the last 10 years of his life. While at Tao House, O’Neill had intended to write a cycle of 11 plays chronicling an American family since the 1800s. Only two of these, A Touch of the Poet and More Stately Mansions were ever completed. As his health worsened, O’Neill lost inspiration for the project and wrote three largely autobiographical plays, The Iceman Cometh, Long Day's Journey Into Night, and A Moon for the Misbegotten. He managed to complete Moon for the Misbegotten in 1943, just before leaving Tao House and losing his ability to write. Drafts of many other uncompleted plays were destroyed by Carlotta at Eugene’s request.

O'Neill died in Room 401 of the Sheraton Hotel on Bay State Road in Boston, on November 27, 1953, at the age of 65. As he was dying, he, in a barely audible whisper, spoke his last words: "I knew it. I knew it. Born in a hotel room, and God damn it, died in a hotel room." The building would later become the Shelton Hall dormitory at Boston Universitymarker. There is an urban legend perpetuated by students that O'Neill's spirit haunts the room and dormitory. A revised analysis of his autopsy report shows that, contrary to the previous diagnosis, he did not have Parkinson's disease, but a late-onset cerebellar cortical atrophy.

He is interred in the Forest Hills Cemetery in Jamaica Plain, Massachusettsmarker.

Although his written instructions had stipulated that it not be made public until 25 years after his death, in 1956 Carlotta arranged for his autobiographical masterpiece Long Day's Journey Into Night to be published, and produced on stage to tremendous critical acclaim and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1957. This last play is widely considered to be his finest. Other posthumously-published works include A Touch of the Poet (1958) and More Stately Mansions (1967).

Museums and collections

O'Neill's home in New London, Monte Cristo Cottagemarker, was made a National Historic Landmark in 1971. His home in Danville, California, near San Francisco, was preserved as the Eugene O'Neill National Historic Sitemarker in 1976.

Connecticut Collegemarker maintains the Louis Sheaffer Collection, consisting of material collected by the O'Neill biographer. The principal collection of O'Neill papers is at Yale Universitymarker. The Eugene O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, Connecticutmarker fosters the development of new plays under his name.

Work

Full-length plays



One-act plays

The Glencairn Plays, which all feature characters on the fictional ship Glencairn -- filmed together as The Long Voyage Home:
  • Bound East for Cardiff, 1914
  • In The Zone, 1917
  • The Long Voyage Home, 1917
  • Moon of the Caribbees, 1918
Other one-act plays include:
  • A Wife for a Life, 1913
  • The Web, 1913
  • Thirst, 1913
  • Recklessness, 1913
  • Warnings, 1913
  • Fog, 1914
  • Abortion, 1914
  • The Movie Man: A Comedy, 1914
  • The Sniper, 1915
  • Before Breakfast, 1916
  • Ile, 1917
  • The Rope, 1918
  • Shell Shock, 1918
  • The Dreamy Kid, 1918
  • Where the Cross Is Made, 1918


Other works

  • The Last Will and Testament of An Extremely Distinguished Dog, 1940. Written to comfort Carlotta as their "child" Blemie was approaching his death in December 1940.


See also



References

Further reading



External links




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