An American Playwright – Eugene O’ Neill

By | Oct 16, 2017

I was talking with a old friend over the weekend. We had gone to college together in the late ’70s and had taken a number of Theater classes together. We were discussing historical people who we would like to possibly do for performance history. The subject came up because he was thinking of doing Abraham Lincoln. I mentioned that I had always thought about working on a play with the Playwright Eugene O’Neill narrating the story of his life.

In the ’70s many people knew of Eugene O’ Neill. He was an American Playwright, who many felt was the Shakespeare of the American Theater of the first part of the 20th Century. O’Neill was born into show business. His father James O’Neill was considered a matinee idol as a stage actor in the later half of the 19th Century, his most famous role was that of The Count of Monte Cristo. Eugene O’neill was born in a hotel room on October 16, 1888, the third of three children that James O’Neil had with his wife Mary Ellen Quinlan.

It wasn’t until after he spent much of 1912 and 1913 in sanatorium recovering from tuberculosis that he decided to write plays. Prior to this he had spent time at sea. Quite a few of his early plays cold be classified as Sea Plays.

His career as a playwright can be seen as divided in 2 parts. The first from 1914-1936. His plays were a standard on Broadway during this period winning the Pulitzer Prize for Drama (1920, 1922, 1928,) and in 1936 the Nobel Prize for Literature, the second American to win. The second part begin in 1946 after a 10 year period where no new plays of his were produced. Then Ice Man Cometh an autobiographical play was produced. It was the first of a number of autobiographical plays he wrote during this second phase of his career. Long Day’s Journey into Night is thought by many to be his best.

He was married 3 times; Kathleen Jenkins (1909–12), Agnes Boulton (1918–29) and Carlotta Monterey (1929–53). He had three children, Eugene Jr with Jenkins and with Boulton Shane and Oona. Oona married Charlie Chaplain at the age of 18. Chaplain was 54. O’Neill disapproved of the wedding and he never saw her again.

After a long illness which for many years made it difficult to write O’Neill died in Room 401 of the Sheraton Hotel on Bay State Road in Boston, on November 27, 1953. It is said that while he was dying he whispered “I knew it. I knew it. Born in a hotel room and died in a hotel room.”


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