O’Neill, Eugene (16 October 1888 - 27 November 1953)
Eugene O’Neill (16 October 1888 - 27 November 1953)
Roger J. Stilling
Appalachian State University
See also the O’Neill entry in DLB 7: Twentieth-Century American Dramatists.
BOOKS: Thirst and Other One Act Plays (Boston: Gorham Press, 1914);
Before Breakfast (New York: Shay, 1916);
The Moon of the Caribbees and Six Other Plays of the Sea (New York: Boni & Liveright, 1919; London: Cape, 1923);
Beyond the Horizon (New York: Boni & Liveright, 1920);
The Emperor Jones, Diff’rent, The Straw (New York: Boni & Liveright, 1921), republished as Plays First Series, The Straw, The Emperor Jones, and Diff’rent (London: Cape, 1922);
Gold (New York: Boni & Liveright, 1921);
The Hairy Ape, Anna Christie, The First Man (New York: Boni & Liveright, 1922);
The Hairy Ape and Other Plays (London: Cape, 1923);
Beyond the Horizon and Gold (London: Cape, 1924);
All God’s Chillun Got Wings and Welded (New York: Boni & Liveright, 1924);
The Complete Works of Eugene O’Neill, 2 volumes (New York: Boni & Liveright, 1924);
Desire Under the Elms (New York: Boni & Liveright, 1925);
All God’s Chillun Got Wings, Desire Under the Elms, and Welded (London: Cape, 1925);
The Great God Brown, The Fountain, The Moon of the Caribbees and Other Plays (New York: Boni & Liveright, 1926); republished as The Great God Brown Including The Fountain, The Dreamy Kid, and Before Breakfast (London: Cape, 1926);
Marco Millions (New York: Boni & Liveright, 1927; London: Cape, 1927);
Lazarus Laughed (New York: Boni & Liveright, 1927);
Strange Interlude (New York: Boni & Liveright, 1928; London: Cape, 1928);
Dynamo (New York: Liveright, 1929);
Lazarus Laughed and Dynamo (London: Cape, 1929);
A Bibliography of the Works of Eugene O’Neill To gether with the Collected Poems of Eugene O’Neill, edited by Ralph
Sanborn and Barrett H. Clark (New York: Random House, 1931);
Mourning Becomes Electra (New York: Liveright, 1931; London: Cape, 1932);
Nine Plays (New York: Liveright, 1932);
Ah, Wilderness! (New York: Random House, 1933);
Days Without End (New York: Random House, 1934);
Ah, Wilderness! and Days Without End (London: Cape, 1934);
The Plays of Eugene O’Neill, “Wilderness Edition,” 12 volumes (New York: Scribners, 1934-1935);
The Long Voyage Home: Seven Plays of the Sea (New York: Modern Library, 1940);
Plays, 3 volumes (New York: Random House, 1941);
The Iceman Cometh (New York: Random House, 1946; London: Cape, 1947);
Lost Plays of Eugene O’Neill (New York: New Fathoms, 1950)–includes Abortion, The Movie Man, The Sniper, Servitude, and A Wife for a Life;
A Moon for the Misbegotten (New York: Random House, 1952; London: Cape, 1953);
The Last Will and Testament of Silverdene Emblem O’Neill (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1956); republished as The Last Will and Testament of an Extremely Distinguished Dog (Worcester, Mass.: Achille J. St. Onge, 1972; New York: Holt, 1999);
A Touch of the Poet (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1957; London: Cape, 1957);
Hughie (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1959; London: Cape, 1962);
Inscriptions: Eugene O’Neill to Carlotta Montgomery O’Neill (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1960);
More Stately Mansions (New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 1964; London: Cape, 1965);
Ten “Lost” Plays (New York: Random House, 1964; London: Cape, 1965)–includes Thirst, The Web, Warnings, Fog, Recklessness, and Abortion;
“Children of the Sea” and Three Other Unpublished Plays, edited by Jennifer McCabe Atkinson (Washington, D.C.: NCR Microcard Editions, 1972)–includes Bread and Butter, Now I Ask You, and Shell Shock;
Poems 1912-1942, edited by Donald C. Gallup (New Haven: Yale University Library, 1979); revised as Poems 1912-1944 (Boston: Ticknor & Fields, 1980; London: Cape, 1980);
The Calms of Capricorn, 2 volumes, edited by Gallup (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Library, 1981);
Eugene O’Neill At Work: Newly Released Ideas for Plays, edited by Virginia Floyd (New York: Ungar, 1981);
Work Diary 1924-1943, 2 volumes, edited by Gallup (New Haven: Yale University Library, 1981);
Chris Christophersen: A Play in Three Acts (Six Scenes) (New York: Random House, 1982);
The Unknown O’Neill: Unpublished or Unfamiliar Writings of Eugene O’Neill, edited by Travis Bogard (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988);
The Unfinished Plays: Notes for The Visit of Malatesta, The Last Conquest, Blind Alley Guy, edited by Floyd (New York: Continuum, 1988);
Complete Plays, 3 volumes, edited by Travis Bogard, Library of America series (New York: Viking, 1988).
PLAY PRODUCTIONS: Bound East for Cardiff, Provincetown, Mass., Wharf Theatre, 28 July 1916; New York, The Playwrights’ Theatre, 3 November 1916;
Thirst, Provincetown, Mass., Wharf Theatre, August 1916;
Before Breakfast, New York, The Playwrights’ Theatre, 1 December 1916;
Fog, New York, The Playwrights’ Theatre, 5 January 1917;
The Sniper, New York, The Playwrights’ Theatre, 16 February 1917;
In the Zone, New York, Comedy Theater, 31 October 1917;
The Long Voyage Home, New York, The Playwrights’ Theatre, 2 November 1917;
Ile, New York, The Playwrights’ Theatre, 30 November 1917;
The Rope, New York, The Playwrights’ Theatre, 26 April 1918;
Where the Cross Is Made, New York, The Playwrights’ Theatre, 22 November 1918;
The Moon of the Caribbees, New York, The Playwrights’ Theatre, 20 December 1918;
The Dreamy Kid, New York, The Playwrights’ Theatre, 31 October 1919;
Beyond the Horizon, New York, Morosco Theatre, 2 February 1920;
Chris, Atlantic City, N.J., 8 March 1920;
Exorcism, New York, The Playwrights’ Theatre, 26 March 1920;
The Emperor Jones, New York, The Playwrights’ Theatre, 1 November 1920; transferred to Selwyn Theatre, 27 December 1920;
Diff’rent, New York, The Playwrights’ Theatre, 27 December 1920;
Gold, New York, Frazee Theatre, 1 June 1921;
Anna Christie, New York, Vanderbilt Theatre, 2 November 1921;
The Straw, New York, Greenwich Village Theatre, 10 November 1921;
The First Man, New York, Neighborhood Playhouse, 4 March 1922;
The Hairy Ape, New York, The Playwrights’ Theatre, 9 March 1922;
Welded, New York, Thirty-Ninth Street Theatre, 17 March 1924;
The Ancient Mariner: A Dramatic Arrangement of Coleridge’s Poem, New York, Provincetown Playhouse, 6 April 1924;
All God’s Chillun Got Wings, New York, Provincetown Playhouse, 15 May 1924; transferred to Greenwich Village Theatre, 18 August 1924;
S.S. Glencairn, Provincetown, Mass., Barnstormer’s Barn, 14 August 1924; New York, Provincetown Playhouse, 3 November 1924;
Desire Under the Elms, New York, Greenwich Village Theatre, 11 November 1924;
The Fountain, New York, Greenwich Village Theatre, 10 December 1925;
The Great God Brown, New York, Greenwich Village Theatre, 23 January 1926;
Marco Millions, New York, Guild Theatre, 9 January 1928;
Strange Interlude, New York, John Golden Theatre, 30 January 1928;
Lazarus Laughed, Pasadena, Cal., Pasadena Community Playhouse, 9 April 1928;
Dynamo, New York, Martin Beck Theatre, 11 February 1929;
Mourning Becomes Electra (Homecoming, The Hunted, and The Haunted), New York, Guild Theatre, 26 October 1931;
Ah, Wilderness!, Pittsburgh, Nixon Theatre, 25 September 1933; New York, Guild Theatre, 2 October 1933;
Days Without End, New York, Henry Miller’s Theatre, 8 January 1934;
The Iceman Cometh, New York, Martin Beck Theatre, 9 October 1946;
A Moon for the Misbegotten, Columbus, Ohio, Hartman Theatre, 20 February 1947; New York, Bijou Theatre, 2 May 1957;
Long Day’s Journey into Night, Stockholm, Royal Dramatic Theater, 10 February 1956; New York, Helen Hayes Theatre, 7 November 1956;
A Touch of the Poet, Stockholm, Royal Dramatic Theater, 29 March 1957; New York, Helen Hayes Theatre, 2 October 1958;
Hughie, Stockholm, Royal Dramatic Theater, 18 September 1958; New York, Royale Theatre, 22 December 1964;
More Stately Mansions, Stockholm, Royal Dramatic Theater, 11 September 1962; New York, Broadhurst Theatre, 31 October 1967.
OTHER: Bound East for Cardiff, in The Provincetown Plays, First Series (New York: Shay, 1916), pp. 7–25;
Before Breakfast, in The Provincetown Plays, Third Series (New York: Shay, 1916), pp. 193–207;
The Dreamy Kid, in Contemporary One-Act Plays of 1921, edited by Frank Shay (Cincinnati: Kidd, 1922), pp. 487–517;
Benjamine DeCasseres, Anathema!, foreword by O’Neill (New York: Gotham Book Mart, 1928).
Eugene O’Neill won the Nobel Prize in Literature for his twenty years of unrelenting effort to create a truly modern American drama. Between 1916, when he unveiled Bound East for Cardiff to the fledgling Provincetown Players, and 1936, when the Nobel award was announced, O’Neill had become America’s first world dramatist. When O’Neill began his quest to be “an artist or nothing,” he drew for his models on the great pioneering modern dramatists of Europe: Henrik Ibsen, August Strindberg, George Bernard Shaw, and John Millington Synge. In 1927, when Lawrence Langner, a director of the New York Theatre Guild, wrote to his fellow board members of O’Neill, “Let us admit that a man whose plays are being given in London, Paris, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, and Moscow is unique among American dramatists,” he was making the point that this former student of the world masters was now one of them. Langner could also have included Stockholm on his list of world cities, for by the time O’Neill came up for the prize, distinguished productions of such O’Neill plays as Anna Christie (1921), Desire Under the Elms (1924), Strange Interlude (1928), and Mourning Becomes Electra (1931) had already been staged at the Royal Dramatic Theater of Stockholm.
Despite this exposure to O’Neill, the road to the prize was not a smooth one. In 1935 O’Neill had been high among a list of finalists that included H. G. Wells, Paul Valéry, and G. K. Chesterton, but he was opposed by the Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy, Per Hallström, who voiced some familiar objections to O’Neill’s work: excessive experimentation, clumsy treatment of abstract ideas, and uneven quality. Because of the standoff, no award was made in 1935. By 1936, however, Hallström had been persuaded, and his official award presentation address is a complex, deeply pondered assessment of an American newcomer by a distinguished oldworld intellectual. Hallström continued to disapprove of certain aspects of O’Neill’s work, but he also admitted to being caught up in O’Neill’s dark vision of life, his “abundant flow of passionate, pregnant words,” “the never slumbering energy” of his plots, and his “yearning to attain the monumental simplicity characteristic of ancient drama,” a quality that Hallström found most fully realized in the Mourning Becomes Electra trilogy.
Ill health kept O’Neill from attending the Nobel ceremonies, and he was never able to make his promised visit to Sweden, where he had so strong a following. However, it was typical of O’Neill to see beyond personal acclaim and find-as he wrote in his letter of thanks, read at the banquet-that “this Nobel Prize is a symbol of the recognition of the coming-of-age of the American theater.”
Eugene Gladstone O’Neill was born to James and Mary Ellen O’Neill on 16 October 1888 at the Barrett House, a residential hotel in the heart of the New York City theater district. He was the third child of the couple. The eldest, James O’Neill Jr. (“Jamie”), was born in 1878, and the second, Edmund Burke O’Neill, was born in 1883 and died in 1885. Edmund’s premature death and the circumstances surrounding it, like many other events in O’Neill’s family life, became part of his work.
James O’Neill was a well-known stage actor at the time of Eugene’s birth. The elder O’Neill was born in Kilkenny, Ireland, about 1845, came to the United States with his family in 1855, and grew up in the Midwest. After a variety of jobs, he found he had a gift for the stage. In the nineteenth-century American theater, major stars such as Edwin Booth would tour their plays from city to city, using actors from local theater companies to fill out secondary roles. After starting with such walk-on parts, James O’Neill moved to increasingly prominent roles at theaters in St. Louis; Washington, D.C.; Cleveland; Chicago; and San Francisco before joining a leading company in New York, the ultimate destination for an ambitious actor in the United States.
In 1883 James O’Neill was offered the leading role of Edmund Dantes in Alexandre Dumas père’s romantic drama The Count of Monte Cristo (1844-1845). The play suited the elder O’Neill’s powerful and appealing acting style and became a huge popular success. By 1885 he was a family man, and he bought exclusive rights to the play and made it his vehicle to a national reputation and financial prosperity. In later years this choice came to seem like a regrettable abandonment of his dream of becoming a great Shakespearean actor in the Booth tradition.
Eugene O’Neill’s mother was born Mary Ellen (“Ella”) Quinlan on 13 August 1857 in New Haven, Connecticut, to parents who were, like James O’Neill, Irish immigrants in search of a better future. Ella Quinlan moved with her family to Cleveland, Ohio, where her father built several successful retail businesses and created a prosperous, secure upper-middle-class life for his family. She got a good Catholic education from the nuns at St. Mary’s Academy in Notre Dame, Indiana, and nourished a talent for music. In 1872 she met James O’Neill (then touring in Cleveland) when he visited her father at the family home. Her schooling and his career separated them until 1876, when she was in New York studying music (with her mother as chaperone) and the actor was performing there. When she went backstage to renew their earlier acquaintance, a romance blossomed, and the two were married on 14 June 1877 at St. Ann’s Catholic Church in lower Manhattan.
The marriage, by all accounts, was a loving one; but it proved a difficult one for Ella O’Neill, who was pulled, on one hand, by a desire for a stable home and family life and, on the other, by the desire to be with her husband when he was on tour. They were touring when little Edmund caught a fatal case of measles, apparently from young Jamie. Both mother and son carried a burden of guilt from that tragedy. In the aftermath of Eugene’s birth, Ella O’Neill developed an addiction to morphine that cast a shadow over the O’Neill family life until she freed herself from the drug in 1914.
In 1884 James O’Neill bought a summer cottage overlooking the Thames River in New London, Connecticut, and named it Monte Cristo in recognition of the play that was making him rich and famous. From 1884 until shortly after the actor’s death in 1920, the cottage was the one stable home place in the O’Neill family’s life. In dramatic history, the Monte Cristo cottage (325 Pequot Avenue) served as the model for the Tyrone home in O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night (1956). It is preserved now as an historic site and pilgrimage destination for admirers of O’Neill’s work.
The young Eugene O’Neill’s education proceeded along several fronts. As a boy, he was an avid reader, and at Monte Cristo cottage he had his father’s library of classic literature (including several editions of James O’Neill’s beloved William Shakespeare) to explore. His formal schooling began in rigorous Catholic boys’ schools: St. Aloysius Academy (1895-1900) in Riverdale, New York, and the De La Salle Academy in Manhattan (1900-1902). In 1902 he was enrolled in the nonsectarian Betts Academy in Stamford, Connecticut (1902-1906), a move that signaled the beginning of the young O’Neill’s disenchantment with Catholicism. With the exception of his first year at De La Salle, O’Neill was a boarding student at each of the three schools. He had the reputation of being shy and reclusive. Nevertheless, as a high-school student at Betts, he emerged as a distinctive young man with a reputation for radical reading and opinions, as well as an insider’s knowledge of the less respectable byways of New York City. He learned these from his playboy older brother Jamie. After graduating from Betts, O’Neill had a brief college experience, entering Princeton in the fall of 1906 and leaving in the spring of 1907, having taken few classes and having passed fewer.
After O’Neill left Princeton, his father helped him find a paying job, but O’Neill showed little interest in mundane work. However, freed from the Princeton curriculum, he continued his own self-education by reading radical, decadent, and modernist writers such as Friedrich Nietzsche, Max Stirner, Emma Goldman, Charles Baudelaire, Oscar Wilde, and Ernest Dowson. Now eighteen, he also began to explore the seamier sides of New York life without his brother Jamie’s guidance. His memories of this world of gangsters, drunks, prostitutes, addicts, and other social outcasts served him well as a playwright.
Being in New York on and off during the 1907-1912 period also allowed him regular access to the New York theater. There was much he despised, but his opposition helped him shape his rebellion against it. There was also much that excited him. For example, in 1911, Dublin’s Abbey Theatre brought works by William Butler Yeats, Lady Isabella Augusta Persse Gregory, and Synge. O’Neill later stated, “it was seeing the Irish Players that gave me a glimpse of my opportunity.”
A romance also played an important part in O’Neill’s life at this time, ushering him into marriage, fatherhood, and his first youthful experiences with the seaman’s life. In the spring of 1909, O’Neill began to see Kathleen Jenkins, the free-spirited daughter of a prominent New York family. Both the Jenkins and the O’Neill parents opposed the relationship but could not stop the pregnancy and the hasty marriage that followed. But James O’Neill (with his son’s tacit approval) immediately began to subvert the marriage by sending O’Neill, in the company of an engineer, to explore the gold-mining potential of a family investment property in the Spanish Honduras.
Upon O’Neill’s return (and recovery from malaria), his father helped him return to sea (and maintain his distance from his wife and their newborn son, Eugene Jr.) as a part-time crewman on the sail-driven cargo ship Charles Racine for a sixty-five-day, 5,900-mile voyage from Boston to Buenos Aires. The experience left him with ecstatic memories of communion with the sea and keen insights into the life of men at sea that later found frequent expression in his plays. O’Neill made as many as eight long sea voyages between October 1909 and August 1911. By the time he landed in New York from his last one, he had risen in the ranks from Ordinary Seaman to Able-Bodied Seaman. The American Lines sweater he wore on that final voyage became a treasured memento of this period of his life.
During O’Neill’s seagoing years he often stayed in waterfront dives from Buenos Aires to Liverpool, and, by the age of twenty-two, he had developed an alcohol problem that he struggled with for life. Even after he gave up the seaman’s life in August 1911 and settled again in New York, he could not put the world of seaman’s dives behind him. Although he could have roomed at one of the residential hotels in midtown Manhattan that his family favored, O’Neill chose to stay at a saloon and boardinghouse familiarly known as “Jimmy the Priest’s” (252 Fulton Street). Though dangerous to O’Neill’s physical and mental health, this way of life also provided him with much powerful material for plays.
O’Neill had fled marriage and parenthood by going to sea. When he returned, Kathleen Jenkins asked only for legal grounds for a divorce, not alimony or child support for Eugene Jr. On 29 December 1911 O’Neill allowed attorneys to witness him in the company of a prostitute, thus establishing adultery as grounds for the divorce decree that was finalized in October 1912. This sequence of sordid, humiliating events left O’Neill free of legal entanglements but not from psychological problems. Biographers differ on the date and circumstances of the event, but sometime in the first half of 1912, O’Neill attempted suicide by an overdose of Veronal at Jimmy the Priest’s. He was found by fellow lodgers in time to be revived, and he admitted, as so many unsuccessful suicides do, that he felt a renewed desire to live. O’Neill later wrote a play called Exorcism on the subject but destroyed all copies after its original staging in 1920. The suicide attempt marked the lowest point of his life, but it also started a clear upward movement. In the summer of 1912 he returned to the safe environment of New London and took a job as a cub reporter with the New London Telegraph. Thus, O’Neill took his first tentative steps into the writing life. He published both prose reportage and occasional verse in the paper until illness forced him to leave in December 1912. A month earlier, he had been diagnosed with tuberculosis. O’Neill entered his father’s first choice of treatment facilities, stayed one night, and joined the family back in New York, insisting on better care. After further consultations, O’Neill entered the Gaylord Farm Sanatorium in Wallingford, Connecticut on Christmas Eve, 1912.
O’Neill’s five months of treatment at Gaylord were a period of healing for both mind and body. With his enforced leisure, O’Neill again read avidly and quite probably began to take notes for the plays he wrote after his release from Gaylord on 3 June 1913. O’Neill lived with his family for the rest of the summer, and, when the fall theater season called them to New York, he took room and board with the Rippin family at nearby 416 Pequot Avenue. In a life-changing burst of creative energy, O’Neill wrote nine one-act plays and two full-length plays between June 1913 and August 1914.
O’Neill’s first plays all draw imaginatively on some aspect of his life between 1907 and 1913 and show him learning from the best modern playwrights, particularly Ibsen, Strindberg, Gerhart Hauptmann, and Synge. The most important of his early plays were The Web (written in 1913), a harsh look at the life of a tubercular prostitute and her illegitimate child; Thirst (written in 1913), a stark portrayal of the mental disintegration of three sun-crazed survivors from a sunken luxury liner; Recklessness (written in 1913), a scathing look at a plutocrat’s loveless marriage; Warnings (written in 1913), a play about a ship’s radio operator who hides his deafness and causes his ship to wreck; Fog (written in 1914), an allegory of the poetic mind, framed as a play about three survivors on a fog-shrouded lifeboat; Bound East For Cardiff (written in 1914), a quietly poetic play that studies the relationships among stoic seamen as one of their group faces death; and Abortion (written in 1914), a play depicting the impact of a town girl’s fatal abortion on the rich college man who seduced her.
This burst of dramatic creativity persuaded James O’Neill to become more actively involved in his son’s new career path. First, the actor subsidized the publication in 1914 of the collection Thirst and Other One Act Plays, including all of the plays except Bound East for Cardiff and Abortion. Second, he agreed to give his son modest financial support to study at Harvard University in James Pierce Baker’s famous postgraduate seminar in playwriting, English 47. Baker was persuaded to accept the Princeton dropout by O’Neill’s desire to be “an artist or nothing” and by the ability he saw in O’Neill’s sample work. In September 1914 O’Neill settled back into an academic setting for the first time since leaving Princeton in 1907.
Biographers and critics disagree on the impact of Baker’s seminar on O’Neill’s development as a playwright. On the one hand, O’Neill made use throughout his career of Baker’s technique of composing detailed outlines and scenarios of his plays before drafting the dialogue. On the other hand, O’Neill produced almost no usable work during his seminar year. Baker invited O’Neill back for the advanced workshop the next year (1915-1916), but O’Neill decided to take his plays directly to New York City and try to make his mark in the heart of American theater.
O’Neill returned to New York in the autumn of 1915 hoping to find a professional producer. He placed his hopes on his father’s friend George Tyler and on a new art theater company called the Washington Square Players. This group was committed to presenting a mix of classic and modern European plays plus work by new American playwrights. O’Neill sent them both his Thirst and Other One Act Plays collection and Bound East for Cardiff but was chagrined when his offerings aroused no interest.
Feeling somewhat low, O’Neill gravitated toward Greenwich Village, where he found a saloon and rooming house officially named the Golden Swan but familiarly known as “The Hell Hole.” The Hell Hole was a hangout for Greenwich Village artists and writers as well as a varied group of former politicians, Irish hoodlums, and other fringe types. O’Neill soon drifted into a winter of dangerously heavy drinking and general dissipation. Old friends Louis and Polly Holladay, popular restaurant owners, helped the shy playwright make contacts with artists and writers in the Village. O’Neill also became friends with Terry Carlin, an older, alcoholic anarchist who had mastered the art of staying alive in New York without working. O’Neill, who was existing on a dollar-a-day allowance from his father, found Carlin a source of practical advice on living cheaply. Carlin also had many friends in Greenwich Village artistic circles, and in the summer of 1916 he suggested to O’Neill that they follow the artist group to their summer gathering place, Provincetown, Massachusetts. Provincetown was where O’Neill the playwright finally got his first public stage production.
Provincetown was a small but thriving fishing village at the far end of Cape Cod. When O’Neill arrived there in June 1916, it had also attracted several summer art schools and had become a gathering place for artists and writers. When one such school was evicted from a converted fisherman’s pier and shack, the structures were used as the Wharf Theatre, the historic first home of the Provincetown Players.
The Provincetown Players emerged from the same dislike of mainstream New York theater that motivated the founding of the Washington Square Players. But the Provincetown group committed itself to staging new American plays rather than the Eurocentric mixture favored by the Washington Square Players. The leaders of the group were artist-visionary and company director George Cram “Jig” Cook and his wife, novelist and playwright Susan Glaspell, though many other individuals of great interest were involved. As Glaspell told it, she ran into Carlin shortly after he and O’Neill arrived on the cape. When she asked Carlin if he had any plays with him, he said no, but that his young friend O’Neill had a trunkful. After a live reading of Bound East for Cardiff at Cook and Glaspell’s house (with the bashful playwright listening alone from the dining room), O’Neill had found his production company. The Provincetown Players were amateurs, but they were committed to founding a vital new American theater, with O’Neill’s work at the center of it.
The Provincetown Players offered their first summer season of one-act plays in 1916. The first program was headed by Glaspell’s Suppressed Desires, the second by O’Neill’s Bound East for Cardiff, and the third and final program by O’Neill’s Thirst. For O’Neill, the long wait for theatrical validation was over. Pleased with their Cape successes, the players reconstituted themselves in Greenwich Village at 139 MacDougal Street, in the same lively block of old brownstones that housed the Liberal Club, the radical periodical The Masses, and the Washington Square Book Shop. They called their 140-seat venue the Playwrights’ Theatre. Two years later they moved to 133 MacDougal Street, keeping the Playwrights’ Theatre name until the 1923-1924 season, when it became known as the Provincetown Playhouse.
O’Neill got his New York City debut during the Provincetown Players’ first New York season (1916-1917), when they staged Bound East for Cardiff (3 November 1916), Before Breakfast (1 December 1916), Fog (5 January 1917), and The Sniper (16 February 1917). The season succeeded admirably in putting O’Neill’s name and talent in front of the New York public, and in March 1917 an inspired O’Neill moved back to Province-town to work on new plays for the upcoming season.
Whether it was the constant presence of the sea or his sense that his sea plays were his strongest, all four plays he brought back to New York in September 1917 had maritime characters, settings, and themes. The first, In the Zone (premiered 31 October 1917), picks up the seamen of the S.S. Glencairn from Bound East for Cardiff and places them in a stretch of sea patrolled by German U-boats and aircraft. In Ile (premiered 30 November 1917), an Ahab-like captain drives his men to mutiny and his wife (who is sailing with him) to madness in his crazed search for “ile” (whale oil). For his third and fourth plays of the spring and summer of 1917, O’Neill went back to his Glencairn material. The Long Voyage Home (premiered 2 November 1917) focuses on the Swede Olson and his doomed attempt to leave the sea for a farm at home. The last of O’Neill’s Glencairn plays was The Moon of the Caribbees (premiered 20 December 1918), his personal favorite. This play takes the crew of the Glencairn to a port in the Caribbean and puts native women and a lot of alcohol on board. The violent result of this mix has mythic inevitability to it.
O’Neill had relationships with several interesting women during these years, most significantly with Louise Bryant, lover (and then wife) of radical journalist John Reed. But by 1917 O’Neill seemed to be looking for the right woman to marry. Before long, he met Agnes Boulton, a young woman of beauty and talent trying (already with some success) to make a place for herself in literary New York. They met at the Hell Hole in November 1917, and after an intense courtship, O’Neill asked her to move with him back to Provincetown. They married there on 12 April 1918.
The quiet of Provincetown and the stability of married life allowed O’Neill to establish a productive daily routine: write all morning; take a break for lunch; and spend the afternoon swimming, boating, or exploring the dunes with his wife. In the evenings, there would be reading, socializing, and writing in his journal. O’Neill moderated his alcohol consumption and was fit and healthy. Such conditions always brought results on the page, and during this period he completed four new one-act plays (The Rope, Shell Shock, Where the Cross Is Made, and The Dreamy Kid) and the full-length play that made his name on Broadway, Beyond the Horizon.
The Rope reached the Provincetown Players stage on 26 April 1918 and is one of many O’Neill dissections of pathological greed. Shell Shock is a lightly ironic antiwar piece. Where the Cross Is Made is another play in O’Neill’s antigreed mode. The most impressive of this group of one act plays was The Dreamy Kid, the first of O’Neill’s studies of African American life in the early twentieth century.
By far the most significant of O’Neill’s 1918 compositions, however, was the full-length drama Beyond the Horizon. This play brought O’Neill his first serious interest from a major uptown producer, the respected and successful J.D. Williams. When Williams paid O’Neill $500 for an option to produce Beyond the Horizon, O’Neill believed his breakthrough moment was at hand. But Williams’s subsequent delaying tactics proved frustrating to a writer used to working in the communal world of Greenwich Village art theaters.
Nevertheless, things went well for O’Neill in 1919 and 1920. Thanks to the increasingly proud James O’Neill, the young O’Neill family now had a home of their own. As a wedding present, O’Neill’s father gave the couple a house on the Cape Cod dunes not far from Provincetown village. The Peaked Hills Bar house had been built as a federal lifesaving station and later tastefully converted by Mabel Dodge, a wealthy and colorful patron of the arts, into an isolated and atmospheric summer residence. For an avid swimmer, boater, and fisherman such as O’Neill, the seaside setting could not have been better. In the winters, the O’Neills rented a house in the village of Provincetown and traveled to New York as rehearsals and other theater business demanded. Their domestic happiness was further enhanced by the birth, on 30 October 1919, of their first child, son Shane Rudraigh O’Neill.
In 1919 O’Neill helped his career by engaging Richard Madden of the American Play Company as his agent and Harry Weinberger to handle his legal concerns. Both were highly respected professionals who put O’Neill’s career on a secure business footing. They also became lifelong friends and confidants. In addition, O’Neill’s career got a boost from the book trade. In 1919 Boni and Liveright (publishers of the Modern Library series of classic books and such up-and-coming modernists as T. S. Eliot, Ernest Hemingway, and Robinson Jeffers) proposed to publish the best sea plays in a collection called The Moon of the Caribbees and Six Other Plays of the Sea. O’Neill’s various publishers continued to bring out well-produced editions of his plays to the mutual benefit of writer and publisher alike. As O’Neill’s fame grew in the 1920s, his plays sold well in book form, and he joined the great modern novelists and poets on the bookshelves of serious readers. O’Neill increasingly wrote plays that had the qualities of serious fiction-strong psychological insight, richly poetic prose, and demanding thematic complexity.
The second half of the 1919-1920 season marked a crucial new stage in O’Neill’s writing life. He put aside the one-act play to concentrate on full-length drama. This new phase of O’Neill’s career began when Beyond the Horizon finally reached Broadway. Pressured by O’Neill and his new agent Madden, producer Williams decided to open the play in a series of matinee-only showings, making double use of several cast members from his current hit, For the Defense. With O’Neill as director, the play had its first matinee at the Morosco Theatre on 2 February 1920. In the audience were proud parents James and Ella O’Neill, but the nervous playwright stayed away, waiting for the reviews.
O’Neill had written full-length plays before, but none with the tragic intensity of Beyond the Horizon. The opening situation sets dreams of adventure against family and domesticity but gives them all an ironic twist. Robert Mayo is a poetic soul who dreams of escaping the farm by joining his sea-captain uncle on a voyage “beyond the horizon” to the Orient. His solid, practical brother Andrew, however, has no dreams beyond marrying Ruth Atkins, the girl next door, and doing what he loves best, farming. Ruth upsets both men’s plans when she tells Robert that she wishes to marry him, not Andrew. Robert abandons his dreams of travel for marriage to Ruth but proves to be an inept farmer. O’Neill depicts his and Ruth’s downward spiral into mutual misery and despair with ruthless psychological attention. Critics and audiences alike found Beyond the Horizon to be a powerful examination of the sources of human unhappiness. The play had a strong run and won O’Neill his first Pulitzer Prize for drama.
Good news in the theater was followed by bad news in the family, however. James and Eugene O’Neill had become increasingly close as the son showed both dramatic talent and an obvious drive to succeed as a serious writer. But just as this new phase in their relationship was growing, James O’Neill suffered a stroke and was found also to have advanced intestinal cancer. During the actor’s final months, O’Neill was regularly at his father’s side. When James O’Neill died in New London on 10 August 1920, theater lovers on both sides of the Atlantic honored his memory.
After the funeral, O’Neill returned to Peaked Hills Bar and sought escape from his grief in creative work. In just two months, he wrote two new plays for the Provincetown Players’ 1920-1921 season, The Emperor Fones (premiered 1 November 1920) and Diff’rent (premiered 27 December 1920). Diff’rent, a play about a foolishly idealistic young woman who refuses love in her youth and ends as an aging and embarrassing flirt, ran for 100 performances before closing in the spring of 1921. By far the more important of the two was the experimental tragedy The Emperor Fones. This play follows the final hours of Brutus Jones, a flamboyant political outsider (brilliantly played by African American actor Charles Gilpin) who has used street smarts, charisma, and luck to become dictator of a small, unnamed Caribbean nation populated by the descendants of former slaves. At the opening of the play, Jones’s hubris is on full display as he brags to Smithers, a cowardly white profiteer who abets Jones’s schemes, about how he stole the allegiance of the people from rival Lem by persuading them he could only be killed by a silver bullet. Once he is on the run, however, the bravado falls away under the relentless pressure of the drums of his pursuers and the emergence of his own fears and superstitions. In style as well as substance, The Emperor Jones was a spectacular success and jumped from Greenwich Village to Broadway, posting profitable runs in both venues and solidifying O’Neill’s reputation as America’s playwright of the future.
In the aftermath of James O’Neill’s death, his widow emerged from the shadow of her husband’s powerful persona. Ella O’Neill had been free of her morphine dependency for six years at the time her husband died, and she took firm control of the family’s investment properties, selling off the unproductive ones and maximizing the income from the rest. More surprisingly, perhaps, wastrel Jamie O’Neill quit drinking and became his mother’s daily companion and her assistant in the handling of the family business. And in 1921 O’Neill met Eugene Jr., his eleven-year-old son by Kathleen Jenkins. The two got along well, and O’Neill began a belated but genuine paternal relationship with the scholarly, well-spoken boy.
The prolific O’Neill had four new plays ready for the 1921-1922 season, with Anna Christie opening first. Anna Christie had gone through several preliminary stages before becoming the popular hit that opened on Broadway on 2 November 1921. The first version, known both as Chris (in George Tyler’s failed Atlantic City tryout in 1920) and Chris Christophersen (in later print versions), focused on the title character, an old sailor (drawn from a real acquaintance) who hates “dat ole davil sea” and worries greatly when Anna, his gentle, typist daughter, falls in love with a ship’s officer. For the revised Broadway Anna Christie, O’Neill made the Anna character into a tough-talking young prostitute and her love interest into a rowdy Irish stoker, the rough-and-ready Matt Burke. Burke falls for Anna at first sight but then must struggle with her past and his own prejudices. Anna Christie has passion, humor, violent confrontations, and moments of rough poetry. It ends with Matt and Anna engaged and Anna planning a household for both husband and father. O’Neill took some criticism for the romantic ending, but audiences liked this energetic, yet nuanced love story. After a profitable 177-performance run, Anna Christie won O’Neill his second Pulitzer Prize.
O’Neill’s second play of the season was The Straw, which opened on 10 November 1921. The Straw derives from O’Neill’s stay at Gaylord Sanatorium, a place for which he always had strong positive feelings, and the plot was inspired by his friendship with a female patient there. This undervalued play lasted only 20 performances at the Greenwich Village Theatre.
While O’Neill was busy in New York with rehearsals for The Hairy Ape and The First Man (both of which premiered in March 1922), his mother and brother had gone to California to sell some real estate. In early February, Ella O’Neill had a stroke that left her in and out of consciousness until she died on 28 February 1922 at the age of sixty-four. Bereft, Jamie O’Neill began to drink heavily again and spent the train trip home with a prostitute in his compartment to help him forget that his mother’s body was in the baggage car. This grotesque episode found its way into O’Neill’s late play A Moon for the Misbegotten (premiered 20 February 1947). Mary Ellen Quinlan O’Neill was buried in the family plot at St. Mary’s Catholic Cemetery in New London.
The First Man, unevenly written at best, was neglected in this period of mourning and closed after just 27 performances. The Hairy Ape was a different story. Using the same tactic that had worked so well with The Emperor Fones, O’Neill opened it in the experiment-friendly Provincetown Playhouse in the Village, where the new play provoked an intense response from audiences and critics, both for its aggressively experimental technique and its apparently prolabor, anticapitalist politics. The play opens below decks of a stately ocean liner where O’Neill reveals a collection of coal-dust-covered men with low foreheads, powerful shoulders, and long, muscular arms formed by years of feeding the ship’s engines. The protagonist of The Hairy Ape is Robert “Yank” Smith, a stoker-philosopher who argues that the stokers are the soul of the new machine age, the men who “belong.” A brief, traumatic encounter with Mildred Douglas, a pampered rich girl from first class, shatters Yank’s unexpectedly fragile sense of self, and the rest of the play takes Yank into New York City on a double quest: to avenge himself on Mildred and her kind and to regain his lost sense of belonging to something great and powerful. In a sequence of expressionistic vignettes, Yank is rebuffed at every turn until he finds his fate in the crushing arms of his animal double, a giant gorilla in the zoo. The play had a strong run in Greenwich Village that led to an equally successful move uptown for another 100 performances, as well as domestic and overseas tours.
The growing commercial success of the Province-town Players had come to alienate some of the group’s founding members, particularly Cook and Glaspell. When the couple left New York to search for spiritual renewal at Delphi in Greece, the divided Provincetown Players shut down for a one-year hiatus. When the group was reconstituted for the next season (1923 1924), O’Neill and his two closest associates, Robert Edmond Jones and Kenneth Macgowan, were firmly in charge of its management. This new arrangement allowed O’Neill to continue to release his less commercial plays in Greenwich Village while still writing for the larger commercial venues uptown.
O’Neill’s run of hit plays brought him new financial security. In 1922 he bought Brook Farm, a thirty-acre estate in Connecticut, to serve as his primary family residence. He kept the Cape Cod house for summers. Nothing could help older brother Jamie O’Neill, however. Their mother’s death had plunged him into an alcoholic slide from which there was no recovery, and he died of complications from alcohol abuse in a New Jersey sanatorium on 8 November 1923. Within a little more than three years, O’Neill had lost his entire immediate family.
For the 1923-1924 season O’Neill was back on the stage with two new plays: Welded (17 March 1924) and All God’s Chillun Got Wings (15 May 1924). Welded is an intense love story between three people, strongly influenced by Strindberg’s Dance of Death (1901). Despite moments of wit, insight, and pathos, it closed after only 24 performances. All God’s Chillun Got Wings was O’Neill’s third attempt to explore the black experience in America. Because it focused directly on an interracial marriage and was to be acted by an interracial cast (with African American Paul Robeson and Caucasian Mary Blair as the married couple), the play brought out an army of would-be censors, from the Ku Klux Klan to the Manhattan District Attorney, to stop it from opening. O’Neill and the Provincetown Players held firm, and the show went on. The play itself mixed realism and expressionism to follow the relationship of a lower-class white girl (Ella Downey) and a middle-class black male (Jim Harris) from their childhood friendship into their crisis-filled marriage. This serious, daring drama ran for 100 performances at the Provincetown Playhouse.
For the 1924-1925 season, O’Neill brought forward still another play that agitated New York moralists: Desire Under the Elms. Opening 11 November 1924 at the Greenwich Village Theatre, this intense tragedy, set in harsh New England farm country, pits a tough old patriarch against his embittered youngest son over the possession of the family farm and the love of a sultry and conniving younger woman brought home by the father to be his third wife. O’Neill takes this classic May-December situation, fills it with psychoanalytically charged passion, and lets the interlocked fates of the three characters play themselves out in a series of dramatic and disturbing scenes. The powerful story was augmented by an innovative set design by Robert Edmond Jones, and Walter Huston gave a commanding performance as patriarch Ephraim. The play shocked and angered the censors but enjoyed a strong 208-performance run in the Village and on Broadway.
By the autumn of 1924, O’Neill had decided that Brook Farm was too cold and landlocked for comfort, and he moved his wife (now pregnant) and Shane to a rented house in Bermuda. Daughter Oona was born in Bermuda on 14 May 1925. The mild climate, friendly sea, and sociable Bermudans appealed to the O’Neills, and in 1926 they bought and renovated Spithead, their new family headquarters.
The 1925-1926 season brought two new plays: The Fountain (10 December 1925) and The Great God Brown (23 January 1926). The Fountain follows the quest of Juan Ponce de Leon for material empire at first and, later, the more personal salvations of eternal youth and ideal love. It lasted only 25 performances. However, The Great God Brown proved to be one of O’Neill’s most tantalizing and difficult successes. The play opens with a prologue show- ing three teenagers graduating from high school, contemplating the lives stretching out ahead of them. Billy Brown is a conventionally handsome youth without depth or color. Dion Anthony is both his double and his opposite. Torn between two powerful inner forces-the pagan and the saintly embodied in his name-he masks the fragility of the latter with the Byronic attractiveness of the former. The third teen is Margaret, the lively, fresh-faced virgin who is loved by Billy but loves Dion. Margaret gives herself sexually to Dion on graduation night, binding him to her in marriage. Billy is left as the envious outsider, a role he never quite escapes. The body of the drama follows the intertwined fates of this trio as they age and experience the tests and frustrations of adulthood. Mixing realism and symbolism, O’Neill uses masks to make visible the intricacies of the relationship between self and persona. The earth-mother goddess Cybele presides over the frenzied human events with an immortal’s unflappable calm. Many of the first reviewers expressed confusion, but an intrigued public turned out for 278 performances.
The two-year period from 1926 to 1928 was one of great turmoil and change in O’Neill’s life. As 1926 began, O’Neill, despite some growing discontent, still seemed committed to his marriage. Things changed in the summer of 1926 when the O’Neill family vacationed at Bel-grade Lakes, Maine, where actress Carlotta Monterey was vacationing with Elizabeth Marbury, the business partner of O’Neill’s agent Madden. Monterey (born Hazel Tharsing) was a minor stage and screen actress known more for her exotic, refined beauty than her acting talent. O’Neill had first met Monterey in March 1922 when she replaced Blair as Mildred Douglas in the The Hairy Ape. When they met again at Marbury’s house, Monterey made a strong impression on the playwright. She offered a glamorous alternative to the distracting turmoil of O’Neill’s domestic circle, and the two spent a great deal of time together boating and cycling.
At the end of the summer of 1926, the O’Neill family went back to Bermuda for the winter, but O’Neill continued to visit New York on his own for medical and business reasons in 1926 and 1927. During one of these trips, he and Monterey became lovers. Though wracked with guilt and doubt, O’Neill pushed ahead with the affair and allowed it to grow into a full-fledged romance. When O’Neill left Bermuda in November 1927 to work on rehearsals with his new production company, the respected Theatre Guild, he was leaving both the place and his marriage behind.
The first play to be staged under O’Neill’s new association with the Theatre Guild was Marco Millions, which opened on 9 January 1928 with popular Guild star Alfred Lunt in the title role. In Marco Millions, the boy Marco Polo starts out as a romantic, idealistic lover of life and is gradually shaped by the mercantile culture of his family and the family business into a satiric exemplar of the Western capitalist mind. Marco both intrigues and repels the great Kublai Khan and captures the heart of Princess Kukachin, but his obtuseness to poetry, beauty, wisdom, and romance make him a figure of tragic disappointment to the princess and the theater audience. Marco Millions had a respectable 92-performance run.
Three weeks later, Strange Interlude opened with Lynn Fontanne (Lunt’s wife) in the role of Nina Leeds. For Strange Interlude, O’Neill made two major, interlocking artistic decisions. The first was to write the play long: nine full acts in two parts, with a one-hour supper break between parts. While some critics feared this length would be an imposition on the audience, its actual effect was to create a memorable special event that true theater lovers could not afford to miss. The extra length also reinforced the deep structure of the play: its presentation of virtually the whole life cycle of its characters from youth to age. The extra length also made possible his other main technical innovation, the interpolation of “unspoken” or hidden thoughts into the conventional dialogue. This modern adaptation of the traditional aside and soliloquy made it possible for audiences to hear the inner workings of the mind in relation to a character’s public speech.
The play opens in August 1919, and its central character is Nina Leeds, a strikingly beautiful twenty-year-old woman whose dreams were shattered when her fiancé, fighter pilot Gordon Shaw, was killed in the last days of World War I. She is angry at herself for not giving herself sexually to Gordon before he left for the front, and the rest of the play follows her quest to find some peace and meaning in her life after this devastating trauma. This journey proves to be a strange and provocative one, packed with psychological nuance and theatrical bravura. Strange Interlude ran an astonishing 426 performances and was a national best-seller as a book. It also won O’Neill his third Pulitzer Prize for drama.
With Strange Interlude up and running successfully, O’Neill and Monterey sailed for England and France to begin their new life together. O’Neill’s life with Agnes Boulton O’Neill, which had started with such youthful passion in New York and Provincetown in 1918, was finished after ten years and two children.
During 1928 O’Neill and Monterey rented a villa in France, using it as a base for touring and for O’Neill to work on his new play Dynamo. In the meantime, however, his theological epic Lazarus Laughed (written in 1926-1927) found a producer, California’s Pasadena Community Playhouse. Lazarus Laughed had been previously thought unstageable because of its cast size (more than 400 separate roles, requiring more than 150 performers with extensive doubling of parts), the vocal demands on the actor who plays its laughing protagonist, and the hundreds of masks and costumes this cast requires. On 9 April 1928 the Pasadena group showed that the play could be done effectively.
The text itself is another effort by O’Neill to provide a myth for moderns who have lost the old faith and found nothing in modernity to replace it. Lazarus has been raised from the dead, and Jesus has moved on, leaving Lazarus to confront a cross section of social and religious groups in the Holy Land during the period of the Roman Empire. The message of Lazarus is that “there is no death... there is only life,” and his laughter is “a laugh so full of a complete acceptance of life... so devoid of all self-consciousness or fear, that it is like a great bird song triumphant in depths of sky.” The tragic fate of Lazarus is that his life-enhancing vision threatens established authority, and in the end he dies a second time. The corrupt, conflicted Caligula has the last words: “Men forget.” O’Neill never saw a production of this play.
Settled in a rented house in the south of France, O’Neill began working on Dynamo, another theological play. Dynamo is set in contemporary, rather than biblical, times and was to have been the first of a proposed trilogy with the group title of “Myth-Plays for the God-Forsaken.” Dynamo follows the troubled spiritual path of its youthful protagonist Reuben Light as he tries to free himself from the rigid, fundamentalist Protestantism of his preacher father. O’Neill blamed the failure of the play (it lasted only 50 performances) on his absence during the rehearsal process.
After sending the finished copy of Dynamo to the Theatre Guild for staging, O’Neill set off with Monterey on an elaborate steamship tour of the Orient, beginning with Hong Kong and ending in France, with stops along the way at Shanghai, Manila, Singapore, Ceylon, and Egypt. However, the whole experience proved more troubled than idyllic and was marred by O’Neill’s drinking, Monterey’s angry responses (including temporary separations), periods of illness, and occasions of passionate reconciliation. It was undoubtedly a relief to return to France and settle into the Château du Plessis, a spacious, picturesque villa near Tours. Monterey took up the roles of household manager (they employed servants) and director of renovations, and O’Neill settled back into his writing, beginning the ambitious Mourning Becomes Electra. On 2 July 1929 Agnes Boulton O’Neill’s Reno divorce became final, and O’Neill and Monterey were married in a civil ceremony in Paris on 22 July 1929. (It was his third marriage, Monterey’s fourth.)
O’Neill had often expressed admiration for classical Greek tragedy, and in Mourning Becomes Electra he made a conscious effort to create an American tragedy in the trilogy format of the original festivals of Dionysus. O’Neill’s prototype was the Oresteia of Aeschylus, and he reimagined it in several important ways. First, he Americanized the story by setting it in the immediate post-Civil War period; second, he eliminated the Greek divinities and replaced them with the unconscious drives of psychoanalysis; and third, he displaced the Orestes figure from centrality in favor of the Electra figure, O’Neill’s Lavinia. With this last change, O’Neill created another play with a strong female focus, as he had done in Strange Interlude. The critical response to this epic drama was strongly positive, and the play had an excellent 150-performance Broadway run. In addition, the book release sold 50,000 copies. This monumental achievement went a long way toward making O’Neill a Nobel candidate.
The writing of Mourning Becomes Electra had been a demanding but satisfying task that dominated O’Neill’s two and a half years at the Châeau du Plessis. But unlike many other American writers of the time, O’Neill did not find the expatriate way of life liberating or satisfying. In May 1931 the O’Neills sailed for New York to work with the Guild on the casting and rehearsal process for Mourning Becomes Electra. Almost immediately, their peace was shattered by the public suicide of Monterey’s former husband Ralph Barton. O’Neill soon grew impatient with the whirl of events in the city and began to look for a quieter place to work. Actress Ilka Chase suggested Sea Island, Georgia, and in November 1931 the O’Neills bought two oceanfront lots and began work on Casa Genotta (from “Gene” and “Carlotta”), a twenty-room Spanish-style brick house designed and constructed under Carlotta Monterey O’Neill’s supervision. As usual, she took care of the practicalities of life, and O’Neill fell into his favored routine of writing in the morning and swimming or boating in the afternoon.
O’Neill first began Days Without End, a theological companion piece to Dynamo. After several unsatisfactory drafts, he put theology aside for Ah, Wilderness!, a family comedy unlike anything he had written before. The comedy proved to be easy and quick to write, and he sent it ahead to the Theatre Guild as he continued to struggle with Days Without End. In the end, both plays were presented in the 1933-1934 season.
Ah, Wilderness! opened the Guild season on 2 October 1933. The play follows seventeen-year-old Richard Miller through a Fourth of July and its 5 July aftermath in 1906 (the year O’Neill himself was seventeen) in a “large small town in Connecticut” resembling O’Neill’s own New London. Over the two days, young Richard stumbles through the coming-of-age rituals of most American boys. This Fourth of July is Richard’s personal Independence Day, or, at least, his first hesitant steps in that direction. To augment Richard’s story, O’Neill created a colorful set of supporting characters, most notably Natt Miller (played to great acclaim by George M. Cohan), a father figure with strength of character, humor, and down-home wisdom. The play moves easily from good-hearted irony to outright belly laughs, with shades of the pathos of human frailty woven through it. Ah, Wilderness! was a hit with critics and audiences alike, and its 285-performance run left many wondering why O’Neill did not write in this vein more often.
The hugely successful nine-month run of Ah, Wilderness! set a daunting benchmark for Days Without End to match when it opened on 8 January 1934. O’Neill conceived Days Without End as a “modern Miracle” play, in which the soul of a sinner (John Loving) is up for grabs between his priest (and uncle) Father Baird and John’s nihilistic alter ego (visible only to him), ironically named “Loving.” In the climax of the play, John chooses God over Loving’s nihilism and rushes to a church to pray. He is rewarded by his sick wife’s seemingly miraculous recovery. This buoyant ending delighted Catholic reviewers but irritated or antagonized just about everybody else, and Days Without End closed after 57 performances.
The unrelenting pace of writing, rewriting, and rehearsing Mourning Becomes Electra, Ah, Wilderness!, and Days Without End left O’Neill exhausted and, according to his physician, on the verge of a nervous breakdown. It was, everybody agreed, time for a rest, and in late January 1934 the O’Neills returned to Sea Island, where O’Neill took insulin to help him gain weight and bought a kayak for exercise. He did no further playwriting during 1934, but although he returned to active work in 1935, there was no new O’Neill play on Broadway until 1946.
When O’Neill did begin writing again, he had trouble finding a clear direction. His first impulse was to complete the “Myth-Plays for the God-Forsaken” trilogy begun with Dynamo and Days Without End, but after several frustrating months, he dropped this project to begin sketching out plans for a much more ambitious one under the group title “A Tale of Possessors Self-Dispossessed.” O’Neill intended this project to be an historical cycle that would trace the spiritual history of the United States from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries by following the fates of two families linked by marriage, the “Yankee” aristocratic Harfords and the humbly born but proud and ambitious Irish immigrant Melody clan. As O’Neill worked on scenarios for individual plays, his conception for the whole grew faster than his ability to finish the parts. At the end of nearly five years of work (interrupted by illness and a household move from Sea Island to Danville, California), O’Neill had produced one stage-ready play (A Touch of the Poet), one extremely long, untamed draft (More Stately Mansions), and copious notes, scenarios, and drafts, most of which he and his wife destroyed between 1943 and 1953.
Taken together, the two surviving works suggest that the planned cycle might have become a landmark work in modern drama, but only the first stands as a fully formed O’Neill play. A Touch of the Poet focuses on the Irish side of the two families and shows how they came to be joined. The early part of the play is dominated by the larger-than-life figure of patriarch Con Melody and his humiliating fall from gentlemanly pretensions to acceptance of his status as an immigrant Irish barkeep. His beautiful and intelligent daughter Sara, however, carries the family bloodline into a prosperous future by seducing the philosophical youngest Harford son into marriage and joining her family’s raw Irish energy to the wealth and established position of the Harford line.
In More Stately Mansions, attention is turned to the intricacies of the Harford family dynamics. Unfortunately, this work exists only in an early, extremely long and loosely structured version in which much verbosity and repetition obscure the core familial and sexual themes. Neither of these plays was staged during O’Neill’s lifetime, although the Theatre Guild was interested in A Touch of the Poet.
In 1936 O’Neill’s health declined again, much as it had in 1934. Blaming the Southern heat, the O’Neills accepted the invitation of University of Washington professor Sophus Keith Winther to try the Seattle area. With Winther’s help, they leased a house with a view of Puget Sound. In this setting, on 12 November 1936, O’Neill learned that he had been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.
The news of the award did not come as a complete surprise. Speculations involving O’Neill as a candidate had occurred as early as 1929, and Sinclair Lewis added heat by openly promoting fellow Americans O’Neill and Theodore Dreiser when Lewis became the first American laureate in literature in 1930. In general, O’Neill tended to downplay awards, although he understood their promotional value and privately appreciated the recognition (particularly by peers such as Yeats, Shaw, Hauptmann, Sean O’Casey, and Luigi Pirandello as well as that among his fellow Americans who wrote to congratulate him). He was hurt, however, by what he regarded as the indifferent response of Maxwell Anderson and others whom he felt did not appreciate the pioneering work he had done that benefited all American playwrights. Despite such private feelings, he wrote in his banquet speech that he accepted the award as a gesture of recognition of the new maturity of the American theater and drama. He also was careful to let his Swedish admirers know of his great debt to their own playwright Strindberg. A combination of general exhaustion, medical recommendations that he needed rest, and his lifelong aversion to public appearances combined to keep him from delivering his thoughts in person. His health took a swift downward turn in the weeks after the Nobel news arrived, and O’Neill was given his award in a truncated ceremony in an Oakland, California, hospital room. American chargé d’affaires James E. Brown Jr. represented him at the banquet in Stockholm.
In general, the Nobel Prize did not have a great impact on the arc of O’Neill’s career. Undoubtedly, the $40,000 monetary windfall (somewhat greater than he was receiving for movie rights to his plays at the time) helped him with expenses while he and Carlotta O’Neill waited for Casa Genotta to find a buyer. But at this point in his life, O’Neill was much more interested in writing his final great projects than in actively participating again in the marketplace of Broadway theater, where the publicity value of the Nobel Prize would certainly have had an immediate impact. Indeed, he steadfastly resisted appeals for his new work from his friends and associates on the Theatre Guild board, claiming to be tired of the whole production process. In addition, the robust constitution that made him so physically strong and active had begun its slow decline as one insidious disease after another seemed to wear away at his health. Thus, from 1936 forward, O’Neill struggled against the effects of relentlessly declining physical health even as he reached the pinnacle of his world fame and was still reaching toward his fullest powers as an artist. Nearly ten years passed between the day the Swedish Consul General brought O’Neill his Nobel Prize and the appearance of his next new play on a New York stage (the underappreciated premiere of The Iceman Cometh in 1946).
The O’Neills sold Casa Genotta early in 1937, while O’Neill himself was still in the hospital, and they purchased 160 acres of beautiful but isolated ridge land near Danville, California. Here Carlotta O’Neill supervised the design and construction of the Asian-themed residence the couple called Tao House, where they lived from 1938 until February 1944. In this house (now preserved as an O’Neill museum) the playwright wrote his last great dramas.
Once he was installed in his new home, life at Tao House was geared to O’Neill’s seven-day-a-week work. With his acquiescence, O’Neill’s social life increasingly came under the control of his wife, who began to act as an informal chief of staff, screening his incoming mail and deciding which friends and family would have access to the man she now referred to as “The Master.” Trips outside Tao House were rare but did include excursions to San Francisco and football games at the University of California at Berkeley.
By the summer of 1939, O’Neill tired of the everexpanding (and increasingly unmanageable) “Possessors Self Dispossessed” cycle and decided to work on some plays based on his own early life. These ideas ultimately became his last three full-length dramas: The Iceman Cometh, Long Day’s Journey into. Night, and A Moon for the Misbegotten.
The Iceman Cometh is thought by many to be O’Neill’s second most important drama. For this play, O’Neill went back to the ambience of his heavy barroom days, creating Harry Hope’s saloon out of memories of Jimmy the Priest’s and the Hell Hole and filling it with characters inspired by old friends and acquaintances from many decades before. The Iceman Cometh is structured around a two-day period in the summer of 1912 and features a large cast of concisely individualized characters linked by two common traits: a need for alcohol and an equally compelling need for a “pipe dream,” a saving illusion that they are not a bunch of dead-enders whose lives are made tolerable only by drink. At the start of the play, the saloon denizens are waiting for the arrival of salesman Theodore Hickman (“Hickey”) to liven up Harry’s birthday party, but Hickey turns the tables by announcing that he has come this year not to celebrate everybody’s hopeful pipe dreams but to destroy them. Bullied and shamed by Hickey, the barflies try to meet his challenge, and O’Neill casts an ironic but (mostly) forgiving gaze on their efforts. In the final act, a series of startling twists keeps the tension high and elevates the play to genuinely tragic stature.
Tired and weakened from the labor of The Iceman Cometh, O’Neill caught a persistent case of the flu that kept him in bed for two weeks. But he was cheered up and helped financially in February 1940 when director John Ford proposed to update the Glencairn plays to the present moment and weave them into a single movie to be called The Long Voyage Home. Ford and O’Neill met as fellow Irish-American artists, and the movie version of The Long Voyage Home (1940), starring John Wayne, Barry Fitzgerald, and Thomas Mitchell, became O’Neill’s favorite movie adaptation of his work.
In early spring 1940, O’Neill was feeling stronger again, and he began his most intimate effort to portray the familial nexus from which he had emerged. Despite the hand tremor that made it nearly impossible for him to hold a pencil, O’Neill pushed hard with Long Day’s Journey into Night through the summer, finishing a first draft in September 1941 and beginning revisions immediately. It was O’Neill’s intention that this highly personal play would never be acted on stage and would not appear in print form until twenty-five years after his death.
Long Day’s Journey into Night is generally regarded as O’Neill’s best play, as well as one of the masterpieces of world drama. It is also the most overtly autobiographical of his plays, and in his dedication to Carlotta O’Neill he called it a “play of old sorrow, written in tears and blood.” Its four main characters–James and Mary Tyrone and their sons Jamie and Edmund–all correspond closely to O’Neill’s father, mother, older brother, and O’Neill himself. The play begins on an August morning in 1912, immediately after breakfast. The Tyrones appear at the start to be a quite normal, middle-class family. Yet, there are hints of darker undercurrents–references to Mary’s recovery from some undisclosed disease and hints of other long-standing conflicts that emerge later. By the final, late-night and early-morning scenes of the play, Edmund has learned that he has tuberculosis and must go to a sanatorium. James Tyrone must face his stinginess when the family confronts him over sending Edmund to the cheapest available hospital. James also reveals to Edmund his deepest regret–that he had sacrificed his artistic integrity for easy financial success, just as O’Neill’s father felt he had done. The darkest moments of the play belong to Mary Tyrone, however, as the fact of her newest relapse into drug use becomes painfully obvious to everyone. Her final monologue is a masterpiece of psychological insight into the mind of the addict and is dramatic speech of the highest order.
After completing Long Day’s Journey into Night, O’Neill outlined a series of one-act monologues to be gathered under the umbrella title of “By Way of Obit.” Only Hughie was completed, but this cleverly structured and written fable of grief, isolation, loneliness, and communication shows that O’Neill’s increasingly weakened state had not diminished his creative power.
Shortly before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, O’Neill began his second Tyrone family play, A Moon for the Misbegotten. In it, O’Neill gives an amplified portrait of the figure of Jamie Tyrone from Long Day’s Journey into Night and, by implication, a more complex, nuanced interpretation of older brother Jamie O’Neill.
As the play opens, Jim Tyrone, the son of a famous actor, comes to call on Phil Hogan, a classic, bog-Irish reprobate who tenant-farms some Tyrone land, and Josie, his larger-than-life daughter, a virgin with a bad-girl persona that she deploys to hide her shyness and maintain her independence in a tough male world. Jim Tyrone, however, has long been drawn to her and she to him. After some foolery involving Phil, Josie, and a pompous oil tycoon, Jim goes to a local saloon, promising to visit Josie later that evening. As he leaves, there is an aura of potential romance in the air, but the Jim Tyrone of A Moon for the Misbegotten is in a state of spiritual exhaustion, a deadness of the soul too deep to be redeemed by romance. Thus, a play that began as an exuberant comedy moves to a somber, meditative conclusion as Jim confesses his darkest secrets to Josie in the moonlit night and finds a measure of comfort on her capacious breast.
The attack on Pearl Harbor brought the war abruptly into the O’Neill family as it did to everyone else in the country. In the aftermath of 7 December 1941, Eugene O’Neill Jr. gave up his faculty position at Yale and attempted to join military intelligence but was turned away, apparently because of a youthful involvement with leftist political groups. Ultimately, medical problems kept him out of the army, and he spent the war as a defense industry factory worker. Shane O’Neill joined the Merchant Marine, proud to be an Able-Bodied Seaman as his father had been. But after a year and a half of duty in the dangerous Atlantic convoys, he was mustered out for psychological reasons. As California prepared for a possible Japanese invasion, O’Neill began to practice shooting in case he was needed for civil defense. He held his pistol with both hands to control his tremor.
Despite illness and the stress of wartime, by early 1944 O’Neill had three major full-length plays (A Touch of the Poet, The Iceman Cometh, and A Moon for the Misbegotten) and one accomplished one-act play (Hughie, his first one-act since 1918) sitting unproduced. In the summer of 1944 Langner, representing the Theatre Guild, visited California and found O’Neill was finally ready to discuss production possibilities.
In addition, the O’Neills were ready to leave California. O’Neill’s health had deteriorated considerably during the war years. In addition to the tremors (which were misdiagnosed as Parkinson’s disease), O’Neill suffered from prostate problems, neuritis, low blood pres sure, and a variety of flu-like bronchial infections. His disabilities put an increasing amount of work pressure on his wife, who also began to suffer physical health problems and to behave erratically and offensively toward both friends and family. In particular, she developed a strong jealous streak concerning attractive young women and an increasingly aggressive tendency to cut off O’Neill’s children from contact with their father. In addition, gasoline rationing, a shortage of help, and war-related financial problems made life at the large, isolated Tao House complex untenable, and they sold it and most of their furnishings in February 1944. When Langner arrived to discuss producing the new plays, the O’Neills were living in a suite at the Huntington Hotel in San Francisco.
In October 1945 the O’Neills returned to New York, living first in a hotel and then moving into a comfortable penthouse apartment on East Eighty-fourth Street and Fifth Avenue. At first, O’Neill’s life seemed like the good old days, with jazz clubs, bicycle races, and socializing with old theater friends. Dudley Nicholls came from Hollywood to discuss making a movie of Mourning Becomes Electra, and the Theatre Guild got to work on its 1946 production of The Iceman Cometh, the first new O’Neill play on Broadway since Days Without End in early 1934. In many respects, the return to New York was a rejuvenating experience for O’Neill, but it failed to turn into the triumphant revival that he and the Theatre Guild had hoped for. During his twelve years away from Broadway, O’Neill had fallen from the public consciousness, and although the Theatre Guild production of The Iceman Cometh (9 October 1946) was respectfully received and ran for 136 performances, it did not ignite an immediate demand for more O’Neill plays.
Nevertheless, the Theatre Guild was eager to follow The Iceman Cometh with A Moon for the Misbegotten and A Touch of the Poet in 1947, but when A Moon for the Misbegotten ran into mixed reviews and attacks by local censors in out-of-town previews, O’Neill withdrew both it and A Touch of the Poet from the Guild’s production schedule. For all practical purposes, 1946 was the last year during O’Neill’s lifetime that he was an active presence in the New York theater world.
O’Neill’s last years had more unhappy than happy times. His children were an almost constant source of sadness and consternation, much of which was caused by his own intransigence and Carlotta O’Neill’s increasingly aggressive gatekeeping. Daughter Oona grew into a beautiful and intelligent young woman, but she lost her father’s respect and love when, in 1943, she capped a series of frivolous-seeming actions by marrying Charlie Chaplin, a man her father’s age (Oona was eighteen) who was also notorious for his marital and extramarital escapades. O’Neill consistently rebuffed Oona’s many subsequent attempts at reconciliation. Relations between O’Neill and his son Shane collapsed when the latter was arrested for drug possession and O’Neill refused to post bail for him, most probably to force him into a court-ordered drug treatment program. Shane O’Neill continued to live an addict’s lonely existence until his death by apparent suicide in 1977. Eugene O’Neill Jr. was the playwright’s favorite child. Intelligent, strong-willed, and charismatic, Eugene Jr. had carved out (and then abandoned) a stellar academic career at Yale University as a classicist. After the war, he tried unsuccessfully to build a new career in radio broadcasting, but eventually alcohol and money problems led him to commit suicide on 25 September 1950 in Woodstock, New York. The loss of Eugene Jr. was a great source of pain in the weakening playwright’s last years.
O’Neill’s closest relationship in his last years was with Carlotta O’Neill, but this connection too was often tumultuous. O’Neill had trouble coming to grips with how to live as an artist who could no longer practice his art, and Carlotta O’Neill had difficulty making the transition from being a famous man’s lover and wife to becoming the wife and nurse of an invalid. Between 1947 and 1950, the couple fought often and fiercely, separating more than once. Ultimately a deeper commitment reasserted itself, and the two reunited. O’Neill lived out the last part of his life in a suite at the Shelton Hotel in Boston, occupying his time reading mystery stories, listening to his extensive collection of jazz and blues recordings, and watching the boaters on the Charles River from his sitting-room windows.
The O’Neills still lived at the Shelton when the playwright died of pneumonia on 27 November 1953. The date and time of the funeral were kept secret from friends and press alike, and only a half-dozen or so people attended his burial at Forest Hills Cemetery in Boston on 2 December 1953. Later examination of the autopsy report suggested that the long-term illness that caused the trembling in his hands and body was not Parkinson’s disease but a rare degenerative disease that attacked the cerebellum and produced Parkinson’s-like symptoms.
Carlotta O’Neill outlived her husband by twenty years and played a major role in the resurrection of O’Neill’s literary and theatrical reputation that had already begun with Jose Quintero’s eye-opening revival of The Iceman Cometh at the Circle in the Square Theater (8 May 1956) with Jason Robards Jr. as Hickey. Carlotta O’Neill had already contributed to the O’Neill boom of the 1950s by freeing the rights to Long Day’s Journey into Night and other late plays from Bennett Cerf and Random House. Publication rights went to Yale University Press, and the first production rights to LongDay’s Journey into Night (overriding O’Neill’s severe restrictions on either production or publication of the play) were given to the Royal Dramatic Theater of Stockholm and director Karl Ragnar Gierow, who staged Sven Barthel’s Swedish translation of the play in 1957. Gierow followed Long Day’s Journey into Night with the world premieres of Hughie (1958) and an abridged More Stately Mansions (1962).
Carlotta O’Neill gave the Swedish artists the honor of first rights to these works because of the Nobel award, but she also knew that a true O’Neill revival (and the royalties it would bring) would have to take place in the United States. Her choice to lead this movement was Quintero, who brought Long Day’s Journey into Night to the American stage at the Helen Hayes Theatre on 7 November 1956, where it ran for 390 performances and won O’Neill his fourth Pulitzer Prize. In the 1950s and 1960s, Quintero was responsible for the New York productions of eight different O’Neill dramas, and he remained close to Carlotta O’Neill until her deteriorating mental condition made communication impossible. By the time Carlotta O’Neill died on 17 November 1970, she and Quintero had succeeded in restoring Eugene O’Neill to a powerful, if posthumous, position in world theater.
“The Theater We Worked For”: The Letters of Eugene O’Neill to Kenneth Macgowan, edited by Jackson R. Bryer and Ruth M. Alvarez (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1982);
“Love and Admiration and Respect”: The O’Neill-Commins Correspondence, edited by Dorothy Commins (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1986);
“As Ever, Gene”: The Letters of Eugene O’Neill to George Jean Nathan, edited by Nancy L. Roberts and Arthur W. Roberts (Rutherford, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1987);
Selected Letters of Eugene O’Neill, edited by Travis Bogard and Bryer (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988);
A Wind is Rising: The Correspondence of Agnes Boulton and Eugene O’Neill, edited by William Davies King (Madison, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2000).
Mark W. Estrin, ed., Conversations with Eugene O’Neill (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1990).
Jordan Y. Miller, Eugene O’Neill and the American Critic: A Bibliographical Checklist (Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1973 [i.e., 1974]);
Jennifer McCabe Atkinson, Eugene O’Neill: A Descriptive Bibliography (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1974);
Madeline Smith and Richard Eaton, Eugene O’Neill: An Annotated Bibliography (New York: Garland, 1988);
Smith and Eaton, Eugene O’Neill: An Annotated International Bibliography, 1973 through 1999 (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2001).
Arthur Gelb and Barbara Gelb, O’Neill (New York: Harper, 1962; London: Cape, 1962; enlarged, New York: Harper & Row, 1973);
Olivia E. Coolidge, Eugene O’Neill (New York: Scribners, 1966);
Louis Sheaffer, O’Neill, Son and Playwright (Boston: Little, Brown, 1968; London: Dent, 1969);
Sheaffer, O’Neill, Son and Artist (Boston: Little, Brown, 1973);
Doris Alexander, Eugene O’Neill’s Creative Struggle: The Decisive Decade, 1924-1933 (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1992);
Stephen A. Black, Eugene O’Neill: Beyond Mourning and Tragedy (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999);
Gelb and Gelb, O’Neill: Life with Monte Cristo (New York: Applause, 2000).
Thomas P. Adler, “Beyond Synge: O’Neill’s ‘Anna Christie,”” Eugene O’Neill Newsletter, 12 (Spring 1988): 34–39;
Doris Alexander, Eugene O’Neill’s Last Plays: Separating Art from Autobiography (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2005);
John V. Antush, “Eugene O’Neill: Modern and Postmodern,” Eugene O’Neill Review, 13 (Spring 1989): 14–26;
Judith E. Barlow, Final Acts: The Creation of Three Late O’Neill Plays (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1985);
Barlow, “No He-Men Need Apply: A Look at O’Neill’s Heroes,” Eugene O’Neill Review, 19 (Spring-Fall 1995): 111–121;
Normand Berlin, Eugene O’Neill (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1988);
Lennart A. Björk, “The Swedish Critical Reception of O’Neill’s Posthumous Plays,” Scandinavian Studies, 38 (August 1966): 331–350;
Stephen A. Black, “On Jason Robards as O’Neill’s Nietzschean Iceman,” Eugene O’Neill Review, 17 (Spring-Fall 1993): 149–156;
Harold Bloom, ed., Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night (New York: Chelsea House, 1987);
Bloom, ed., Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh (New York: Chelsea House, 1987);
Steven F. Bloom, “Alcoholism and Intoxication in A Touch of the Poet,” Dionysos, 2 (Winter 1991): 31–39;
Travis Bogard, Contour in Time: The Plays of Eugene O’Neill, revised edition (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988);
Bogard, From the Silence of Tao House: Essays about Eugene & Carlotta O’Neill and the Tao House Plays (Danville, Cal.: Eugene O’Neill Foundation, Tao House, 1993);
Zander Brietzke, The Aesthetics of Failure: Dynamic Structure in the Plays of Eugene O’Neill (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2001);
Brietzke, “Tragic Vision and the Happy Ending in ‘Anna Christie,’” Eugene O’Neill Review, 24 (Spring-Fall 2000): 43–60;
Oscar Cargill, N. Bryllion Fagin, and William J. Fisher, eds., O’Neill and His Plays: Four Decades of Criticism (New York: New York University Press, 1961);
Daniel Cawthon, “Eugene O’Neill: Progenitor of a New Religious Drama,” Theatre and Religion, 1 (1992): 21–30;
Miriam M. Chirico, “Moving Fate into the Family: Tragedy Redefined in O’Neill’s Mourning Becomes Electra,” Eugene O’Neill Review, 24 (Spring–Fall 2000): 81–100;
Donald P. Costello, “Forgiveness in O’Neill,” Modern Drama, 34 (December 1991): 499–512;
Frank R. Cunningham, “O’Neill’s Beginnings and the Birth of Modernism in American Drama,” Eugene O’Neill Review, 17 (Spring-Fall 1993):11-20;
Thierry Dubost, Struggle, Defeat, or Rebirth: Eugene O’Neill’s Vision of Humanity (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1997);
Kurt Eisen, The Inner Strength of Opposites: O’Neill’s Novelistic Drama and the Melodramatic Imagination (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1994);
Roger Forseth, “Denial as Tragedy: The Dynamics of Addiction in O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh and Long Day’s Journey into Night,” Dionysos, 1 (Fall 1989): 3–18;
Sheila Hickey Garvey, “‘Anna Christie’ and the ‘Fallen Woman Genre,”’ Eugene O’Neill Review, 19 (Spring-Fall 1995): 67–80;
Thomas B. Gilmore, “The Iceman Cometh and the Anatomy of Alcoholism,” Comparative Drama, 18 (1984): 335–347;
Robert F. Gross, “O’Neill’s Queer Interlude: Epicene Excess and Camp Pleasures,” Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism, 12 (Fall 1997): 3–22;
Ulrich Halfmann, ed., Eugene O’Neill: Comments on the Drama and the Theater: A Sourcebook (Tübingen: G. Narr, 1987);
Michael Hinden, Long Day’s Journey into Night: Native Eloquence (Boston: Twayne, 1990);
Hinden, “O’Neill and Jamie: A Survivor’s Tale,” Comparative Drama, 35 (2001-2002): 435–445;
Deborah Wood Holton, “Revealing Blindness, Revealing Vision: Interpreting O’Neill’s Black Female Characters in Moon of the Caribbees, The Dreamy Kid and All God’s Chillun Got Wings,” Eugene O’Neill Review, 19 (Spring–Fall 1995): 29–44;
John H. Houchin, ed. The Critical Response to Eugene O’Neill (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1993);
Edna Kenton, The Provincetown Players and the Playwrights’ Theatre, 1915-1922, edited by Travis Bogard and Jackson R. Bryer (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2004);
Ward B. Lewis, “O’Neill and Hauptmann: A Study in Mutual Admiration,” Comparative Literature Studies, 22 (Summer 1985): 231–243;
Michael Manheim, Eugene O’Neill’s New Language of Kinship (Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1982);
Manheim, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Eugene O’Neill (Cambridge & New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998);
James J. Martine, ed., Critical Essays on Eugene O’Neill (Boston: G.K. Hall, 1984);
Marc Maufort, “The Legacy of the American Romance in O’Neill’s Expressionist Drama,” English Studies, 5 (1994): 32–45;
Maria T. Miliora, Narcissism, the Family, and Madness: A Self-Psychological Study of Eugene O’Neill and His Plays (New York: Peter Lang, 2000);
Richard F. Moorton Jr., ed., Eugene O’Neill’s Century: Centennial Views on America’s Foremost Tragic Dramatist (New York: Greenwood Press, 1991);
Brenda Murphy, O’Neill: Long Day’s Journey into Night: Plays in Production (Cambridge & New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001);
Murphy, The Provincetown Players and the Culture of Modernity (Cambridge & New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005);
Michael C. O’Neill, “Confession as Artifice in the Plays of Eugene O’Neill,” Renascence, 39 (Spring 1987): 430–441;
John Orlandello, O’Neill on Film (Rutherford, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1982);
John Henry Raleigh, “Communal, Familial and Personal Memories in O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night,” Modern Drama, 31 (March 1988): 63–72;
Margaret Loftus Ranald, The Eugene O’Neill Companion (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1984);
Ralf Erik Remshardt, “Masks and Permutations: The Construction of Character in O’Neill’s Earlier Plays,” Essays in Theatre, 8 (May 1990): 127–136;
James A. Robinson, Eugene O’Neill and Oriental Thought: A Divided Vision (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1982);
Malcolm Selmon, “Like.. So Many Small Theatres’: The Panoptic and the Theatric in Long Day’s Journey into Night,” Modern Drama, 40 (Winter 1997): 526–539;
Yvonne Shafer, ed., Performing O’Neill: Conversations with Actors and Actresses (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000);
Edward L. Shaughnessy, Down the Nights and Down the Days: Eugene O’Neill’s Catholic Sensibility (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1996);
Thomas Siebold, ed., Readings on Eugene O’Neill (San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1998);
Anna Siomopoulos, “The ‘Eighth o’ Style’: Black Nationalism, the New Deal, and The Emperor Jones,” Arizona Quarterly, 58 (Autumn 2002): 57–81;
John H. Stroupe, ed., Critical Approaches to O’Neill (New York: AMS, 1988);
Egil Törngvist, Eugene O’Neill: A Playwrights Theatre (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2004);
Barbara Voglino, “‘Games’ the Tyrones Play,” Eugene O’Neill Review, 16 (Spring 1992): 91–103;
Ronald H. Wainscott, Staging O’Neill: The Experimental Years, 1920-1934 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988);
Ross Wetzsteon, “Jig Cook, Eugene O’Neill, and the Provincetown Players: The Beloved Community of Life-Givers,” in his Republic of Dreams: Greenwich Village, the American Bohemia, 1910-1960 (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002);
Judith Bryant Wittenberg, “Faulkner and Eugene O’Neill,” Mississippi Quarterly, 33 (1980): 327–341;
Tamsen Wolff, “‘Eugenic O’Neill’ and the Secrets of Strange Interlude,” Theatre Journal, 55 (May 2003): 215-234.
The two most important sources of biographical materials on Eugene O’Neill are the manuscript collection at the Beinecke Library at Yale University and the ShaefferO’Neill Collection at the Charles E. Shain Library at Connecticut College. Other important archives are housed at the Library of Congress, the Museum of the City of New York, the New York Public Library, Princeton University, Harvard University, Cornell University, the University of Virginia, and the University of Texas at Austin.