a birthday with Oscar Wilde is Eugene O'Neill. Born in a hotel room
overlooking Broadway on October 16, 1888, O'Neill's father, James, was one
of the 19th century theater's most famous and respected actors. The
son was raised a Roman Catholic on trains and in hotel
rooms, following his father across the country as he toured.
In 1895, O'Neill entered the St. Aloysius Academy for Boys
and transferred in 1900 to the DeLa Salle Institute in Manhattan. His
mother, Ella, was addicted to morphine and had little influence on her son
except to cause him severe emotional pain. In 1902, she
attempted suicide. After renouncing Catholicism in 1902, O'Neill
entered the Betts Academy in Stamford, an exclusive non-sectarian
After six years, O'Neill enrolled in Princeton University, but his failure
to take his studies seriously resulted in his expulsion after the first
year. He spent most of his days in waterfront bars and brothels. He took a series of odd jobs before finally deciding to set off
on a gold prospecting expedition in Honduras, where he struck malaria.
After his recovery, he tried his hand at sailing, writing for a small-town
newspaper, and acting in vaudeville, none very successfully.
O'Neill married Kathleen Jenkins in 1909, and they had a
son together. But O'Neill's drinking proved a detriment to the couple,
and they divorced within three years. In 1912,
O'Neill fell sick again, this time with tuberculosis. He spent six months
in a sanatorium. While he was there, he began reading classic
literature, including the modern plays of innovative playwrights Ibsen and
his release, O'Neill set about writing his own plays. He enrolled in
George Pierce Baker's 47A Workshop at Harvard University from 1914-1915 and,
succession, completed eleven one-act scripts. In 1916, he became part
of a theatrical group in Provincetown, Massachusetts. It was a
marriage made in heaven. The group, which would become known as the
Provincetown Players and included writers Susan Glaspell and Robert
Edmond Jones, began producing O'Neill's plays as quickly as he could turn
them out. In the process, they revolutionized the American theater.
O'Neill married Agnes Boulton in 1919, and during the
course of their 11-year relationship, the couple produced two children.
He married Carlotta Monterey the same year of his divorce from Boulton.
The couple lived at first in France, and then in Georgia, and finally in
California. O'Neill was never close to his children. He disowned
his son, Shane, for a lifestyle of which he didn't approve, and he disavowed
his daughter, Oona, after at the age of 18 she married Charlie Chaplin.
Despite a chaotic personal life--or perhaps because of
it--O'Neill was literally never at a loss for words. As he grew older,
his work got better. His early Realist period had him writing about
his own experiences, most often as a sailor. In the 1920s, he rejected
realism in favor of his Expressionistic period, in which he attempted to
capture on stage the forces behind human life. He was influenced
mostly during this period by the ideas of philosopher Freidrich Nietzsche,
psychologists Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, and Swedish playwright August
Strindberg. During his final period, O'Neill returned to realism, and
today his later works are most often considered his best.
1920, O'Neill's play, Beyond the Horizon, became a popular and
critical success on Broadway, winning for its author the
O'Neill would go on to win two more Pulitzers in the next eight years, one
for Anna Christie (1922) and another for Strange Interlude
His best known plays are Anna Christine (pub. 1922),
Desire Under the Elms (pub.1924), Mourning Becomes Electra
(pub. 1931), Long Day's Journey into Night (pub. 1956), and The
Iceman Cometh (prod. 1946). He continued writing until 1944, when he was diagnosed with a
crippling neurodegenerative disease called cortical cerebellar atrophy. In
1956, his work underwent a revival, and his posthumously published play, Long Day's
Journey into Night (1956), won for the author his final Pulitzer Prize.
Eugene O'Neill died in Boston on November 27, 1953.
Discover Eugene O'Neill
Yourself - Check Out Today's Best-Selling