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vii: "Second Birth": the Earliest Plays

Eugene O'Neill returned to his family's summer home on June 3, 1913. He has described in several ways the effect that his five months' stay at Gaylord had had on him. "My mind," he said, "got the chance to establish itself, to digest and evaluate the impressions of many past years in which one experience had crowded on another with never a second's reflection. At Gaylord I really thought about my life for the first time, about past and future. Undoubtedly the inactivity forced upon me by the life at the san forced me to mental activity, especially as I had always been high-strung and nervous temperamentally."

A year after he left Gaylord he told Dr. Lyman that he would like to return for a visit, "because if it is sweet to visit the place where you were born, it would be doubly sweet to visit the place where one was reborn." His second birth, which he felt had taken place there, was the only one, he said, which had his full approval.

When he returned home it was to the old tensions. Formerly his father had been disturbed by the fact that Gene didn't have any definite idea what he wanted to do; now his son's intention to write plays troubled him even more.

"My father was worried about me," Eugene has said of this period. "He didn't know how to handle me, he didn't 'get' what I was trying to do; he only wanted me to settle down and make a living. He often used to think I was just crazy." A friend of the actor has said that James O'Neill wanted his son to be a lawyer.

During his first three months at home, Eugene suffered a severe case of hookworm. But he had returned with a determination not only to work hard at writing plays but also to stay well, and he followed a rigorous schedule of sunbathing and swimming every day. His appetite was good for the first time in many months.

James O'Neill talked about his problem son with Clayton Hamilton, the dramatist, who often called at the O'Neill home. He told Hamilton he didn't know what to do with Eugene-- he was "a bad boy." Could Hamilton find some good in him, perhaps devise some method for developing the good? To this Hamilton replied, "I have nothing to suggest."

Hamilton nevertheless was impressed by the fact that Eugene had worked his way all over the world as a seaman. "I looked the lad over," he wrote. "He had large and dreamy eyes, a slender, somewhat frail and yet athletic body, a habit of silence, and an evident disease of shyness." Hamilton liked the young man, and Eugene liked him. But Eugene did not mention his writing at this time. When he did, later, he found a devoted ally.

As his health improved, he saw more of Judge Latimer, his old editor on the Telegraph. They often rowed out on the Sound to fish all day. Latimer read the poetry and the plays Eugene was writing and told him he thought they were excellent. He was struck by O'Neill's determination to produce "something worthwhile for the sake of its own value and in utter scorn of its commercial value." Latimer believed "there was something in Eugene, at that time, an innate nobility which inspires and drives a man, against whatever hindrance, to be himself, however heaven or hell conspires to rob him of that birthright."

In many ways, the older man and Eugene were far apart. Latimer disapproved of what he called Eugene's "local acquaintances, of a mildly Bohemian sort." He himself was a solid Republican conformist, although in his own conservative circles he was regarded as slightly eccentric. He became a perfect foil for Eugene's budding radical views and iconoclasm, and he listened sympathetically to the young man's tirades against religion. "As we used to talk together," Latimer has said, "and argue our different philosophies, I thought he was the most stubborn and irreconcilable social rebel I had ever met. We appreciated each other's sympathies, but to each, in the moralities and religious thought and political notions, the other was 'all wet.' Emphatically, he was 'different.' I thought it astonishing how keen was his wit, what a complete iconoclast he was, how richly he sympathized with the victims of man-made distress, how his imagination was running high as the festering skies above Ye Ancient Mariner."

Apparently Eugene's views made little impression on Latimer. Only a few years later, the former editor and judge went to work for United States Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer and participated in the wholesale prosecution of radicals shortly after World War I.

But Latimer was genuinely devoted to Eugene. "He was adrift [that summer] in mind and spirit, and the body was threatened," he has said. "I was sorry for him. The four things about him that impressed me, at once, were his modesty, his native gentlemanliness, his wonderful eyes, and his literary style."

Though Latimer tried to serve as a literary ambassador from Eugene to his father, he did have one serious disagreement with Eugene. He thought Eugene should give up writing poetry and plays, and write novels. Eugene had had some luck with short stories, but not much. He found exposition extremely difficult and said the only way he seemed to be able to express himself was in dramatic dialogue and in descriptions of people and sets.

That summer Eugene continued to write poems -- especially to girls. He had resumed his friendship with Muriel, but there were difficulties. It was apparent that he was a poor prospect as a provider; and, besides, she did not share, as Latimer put it, "his radical ways of looking at things." Muriel has recalled that "Judge Latimer was fond of both of us." And she remembers that that summer Eugene "used to say over and over again that he was going to be a great writer and that some day he would return to New London and show them. He was always bringing me short stories or plays to read. He opened up a whole new world to me--the world of literature."

In the fall the O'Neills closed their house and James agreed to pay for Eugene's keep at a Mrs. Rippin's, whose house overlooked Long Island Sound. It was one of the better boarding houses of the town. Among its frequent guests, when their own cottage was not open, were the Clayton Hamiltons. Mrs. Hamilton has recalled that "Mrs. Rippin was a 'homely' soul in the English sense of the word. She never found the aitches she had dropped in her native cockney environment." Mrs. Rippin read some of Eugene's early plays and didn't like them because the characters were " 'orrible." She liked Clayton Hamilton's plays because the people were "nice."

At Mrs. Rippin's, where he lived for sixteen months, Eugene had a real glimpse of a happy home life. Her daughters were devoted to him. They typed his manuscripts and took them to the post office -- even providing the postage at times. He was writing one-act plays at the rate of one a month and was sending them off to Broadway producers. If Eugene overslept, Mrs. Rippin would rout him out of bed and threaten him with no breakfast if he failed to take his early morning swim, which the doctor had ordered. Generally he prided himself on this self-torture, even when it was icy-cold. He mailed Dr. Lyman a photograph of himself in a bathing suit, noting on the snapshot that the temperature was 29 degrees and indicating the snow at his feet with an arrow. "Taken (cross my heart) January 1, 1914," he wrote; then he added from Kipling:

The uniform'e wore
Was nothin' much before,
An' rather less than 'arf o' that be'ind.

Although Eugene's long stay at Mrs. Rippin's boarding house sounds idyllic, Clayton Hamilton has written that, in putting him there, James O'Neill had "decided to adopt a punitive process that approached imprisonment. He let the lad alone throughout the winter." Mrs. Hamilton wrote that Eugene stayed at "the most hospitable and economical place he could choose with the $8 weekly allowance granted him by his father. James O'Neill considered even that much money badly spent, for he saw no future whatsoever for a son he then considered a wayward, worthless wanderer, unable to settle down to anything."

But Eugene was earning some money on the side. He wrote to Dr. Lyman in May, 1914, that he was at work playwriting and also "prostituting same" by doing movie scenarios for which he was earning thirty dollars a week. But he had high hopes. He expected Holbrook Blinn to produce two of his one-acters at the Princess Theatre. He was hard at work on a four-act play which he was sure would hit the footlights the next season.

By the fall he had written eleven one-act and two full-length plays. In between, he was reading Nietzsche and the plays of Wedekind. "I read everything I could lay my hands on," he has said, "the Greeks, the Elizabethans -- practically all the classics -- and, of course, all the moderns, like Ibsen and Strindberg, especially Strindberg."

Much of his reading was done in the apartment of Dr. Joseph M. Ganey, located above the doctor's office. The apartment was a hangout for a small group of intellectuals who called themselves the Second Story Club. Dr. Ganey was a short, heavy-set man with blue eyes and gray hair who didn't allow his books to be taken out of his apartment. His bookplate read: "I do not loan books, so please do not embarrass me by asking." Ganey said that Eugene read everything of Guy de Maupassant and believed the French writer had a tremendous influence on him.

The doctor also recalled a prophetic incident in the fall of 1912. Eugene, much the worse for wear after a drinking bout, walked into the city room of the Telegraph. The managing editor, when he noticed Eugene's condition, expressed his disapproval. "If you weren't James O'Neill's son," he said, "you'd be down in the gutter with all the rest of the bums."

Eugene was not abashed. "The day will come," he replied, "when James O'Neill will be remembered only as the father of Eugene O'Neill."

The members of the Second Story Club included a number of newspapermen; among them were Charles Thompson, Arthur Casey, Malcolm Mollan and Art McGinley. The principal activities of the club members were drinking, and playing penny ante, and swapping tales of amorous exploits. Eugene tried hard to be "one of the boys," but Ganey has recalled that when he occasionally joined in a game of penny ante his mind seemed to wander.

Years later, when he was chatting with Ganey in New York, O'Neill said, "I hate this town like poison. I always have and always will. I left New London because I wanted to make enough money to hire a four-in-hand, fill it up with obvious blond whores, and drive down Main Street scattering a bushel of dimes for the peasants to scramble after."

His first play -- in any case, the first one he copyrighted -- was a one-acter, A Wife for a Life. In this one, in a three-act play Servitude, and in a one-act play, Abortion, he clearly indicated his preoccupation with the problems of his first marriage, which had only recently ended in divorce.

The heroine of Servitude wants to "assert the freedom necessary for her individual development." She has been "awakened" by David Roylston, a playwright. As a "New Woman" she visits her "creator," Roylston, and notes that "the great emancipator" has turned his good wife into a virtual slave. She thereupon sets about to "rewaken" Roylston into recognition of the true worth of Mrs. Roylston. Reality, however, destroys her illusion. She returns to her husband, after learning from Mrs. Roylston that "love means servitude; and love is servitude." Servitude is short for a three-act play. The dialogue is inept, amateurish -- a fault some think O'Neill never fully overcame.

In A Wife for a Life, O'Neill writes in a similar vein. A grizzled miner acts out a plot which says that "greater love hath no man. . . than that he giveth his wife for his friend." O'Neill said that he wrote this for the vaudeville stage. The idea for it had come to him when he was playing the Orpheum circuit with his father. It was, he said, the only play he ever wrote to make money. One cannot disagree too much with O'Neill that A Wife for a Life, which depends completely upon coincidence, was the worst play he ever wrote; but, like Servitude and all his early efforts it "plays" far better than it reads.

Abortion is the story of a college baseball hero who gets a girl into trouble. An abortion is arranged and the girl dies. Her brother learns what has happened and decides to go to the police. As a result, the baseball hero commits suicide.

O'Neill was apparently so intrigued by the theme of abortion that he wrote several versions of it. When talking about the play he varied the plot ingeniously. Nevertheless, Abortion is blatantly melodramatic and not one of his prouder efforts.

The Web, the earliest of O'Neill's plays which he later authorized for production, opens with the line, "Gawd! What a night!" It is straight melodrama concerning a prostitute and her protector. The scene is laid in a "squalid bedroom on the top floor of a rooming house on the lower East Side, New York." The woman has a baby, and the infant is a source of annoyance to her lover, Steve. The lover beats her and she falls to the floor. Another man rescues her in the nick of time. Steve warns her if she leaves or "holds out" on him, he will have her thrown in jail and will take the baby away from her. She is, obviously, caught in "the web." The good man, a fugitive from justice, gives the poor woman money to go away. Steve, who has been hiding nearby, comes on stage and kills the good man. He then plants the gun so that it will implicate the woman. When the police all too promptly arrive, they take the woman away. The baby cries, "Ma-a-a-a!" A detective takes the infant in his arms and says, "Mama's gone now. I'm your mama now."

This is generally believed to be the first play O'Neill ever wrote. Naturally it is crude, the plot is bad melodrama and the dialogue is poor. But as a first play, The Web is remarkable in that it includes many of O'Neill's characteristic elements: violent death, cruelty, tragedy and a good deal of theatrical action.

The Clayton Hamiltons stayed at Mrs. Rippin's for a winter vacation in January, 1914. Eugene did not immediately discuss his work with Hamilton, whom he saw daily at the breakfast table. Gladys Hamilton has recalled that he "seemed an unobtrusive young man who did not wish his silences interrupted." The couple respected his apparent desire to be let alone and it was Eugene who finally spoke about his work.

"I've been trying to write one-act plays," he said, "and I'd like to ask you how to do it."

"Never mind how plays are written," Hamilton replied. "Write down what you know about the sea, and about the men who sail before the mast. This has been done in the novel; it has been done in the short-story; it has not been done in the drama. Keep your eye on life -- on life as you have seen it; and to hell with the rest."

The sea plays which Eugene began to write in the spring of 1914 were amateurish but powerful. In Thirst, he showed a West Indian mulatto sailor, a dancer and a gentleman on a raft, dying of thirst. The gentleman and the dancer think the mulatto has drinking water hidden somewhere on the raft. The dancer offers her necklace to the mulatto, and then her body, in exchange for water. He refuses both and she dies. The mulatto takes out his knife and indicates that he is going to satisfy his hunger and thirst. The gentleman pushes the woman's body into the sea. The mulatto thereupon plunges his knife into the gentleman. They wrestle and both men fall into the sea. The necklace remains on the raft glittering in the spotlight.

Thirst is incredibly melodramatic and probably derived from O'Neill reading of Jack London. Eugene's difficulty with dialogue is apparent in the play's opening lines:

THE DANCER. My God! My God! This silence is driving me mad. Why do you not speak to me. Is there no ship in sight yet?

O'Neill's ear for actual spoken language was never too sharp, though he did pick up slang. However, it is neither necessary nor desirable for a playwright to reproduce contemporary speech; it is necessary to rise above it, to capture the rhythms of our lives and language, not just the words. And this O'Neill learned to do better than any American playwright before or since.

Fog is also laid on a life raft. The characters are a Poet, a Man of Business, a Peasant Woman, and a Dead Child. The life raft drifts close to an iceberg. They hear a steamer in the distance. The Man of Business wants to call out for help. The Poet will not let him because it may cause the ship to ram the iceberg. The fog lifts, the steamer looms. The sailors have been guided to the raft by the voice of the Child, they say. The Poet tells them the Child has been dead for twenty-four hours.

Fog is the best of the very early plays. It is not naturalistic, for the characters clearly symbolize the theme of greed versus idealism. There is a certain beauty in this drama that emerges in production and foreshadows the expressionism of such later plays as The Hairy Ape.

Warnings is about a wireless operator who, while on leave, learns that he may go stone-deaf at any time. He ships out on his transatlantic liner nonetheless. When the liner starts to sink, he sends a message asking for help, but he is unable to hear an answer because deafness has overtaken him. The play ends with his suicide. Warnings is a poor effort; the first scene, showing the man and his family, is too long, the entire plot seems contrived, and the wireless operator's character changes too suddenly and too inconsistently.

Late in the spring, Eugene wrote Bound East for Cardiff, which showed a tremendous advance in the quality of his work. The dialogue has an impressive honesty and the ring of truth about it. A sailor called Yank is dying from an accident aboard ship. Tough men of the sea reveal an awkward tenderness toward him. Driscoll, an Irishman, jokingly accuses Yank of wanting to die so that he will go to heaven. Yank says no, he is destined for hell; and he speaks with bitterness of the life of men at sea -- one ship after another, hard work, small pay, bad food, no one to care if you're dead or alive. He recalls some of his adventures, many of them similar to Eugene's own. Yank remembers that he once killed a man with a knife in a fight at Cape Town. Will God hold it against him? God sees everything, God knows everything. Yank wonders if he will be buried at sea. In the end, he sees somebody standing in the cabin. Driscoll, seeing no one, asks who it is. Yank answers that it is a pretty lady dressed in black. He then dies. Driscoll sobs and kneels in prayer.

When the Hamiltons opened their cottage that summer of 1914, Eugene came down to call. Gladys Hamilton has recalled that he approached her husband with the utmost trepidation. He was halting and hesitant in his speech, "his eyes alone," she wrote, "supplying the eloquence his tongue denied." He gave Hamilton several of his one-act sea plays to read.

Hamilton read them but, he says, he decided not to tell Eugene how good he thought they were, or how promising. Actually, he was astounded at their power. Eugene had indicated he might like to study in Professor George Pierce Baker's 47 Workshop at Harvard. Hamilton knew Baker and thought he could get Eugene admitted. When he spoke to James O'Neill about sending Eugene to Harvard, James, according to Hamilton, was hesitant. He pointed out he had already sent his son to Princeton, where he had lasted only a year. Hamilton used all his eloquence in dealing with the old man, who respected the judgment of a drama critic and family friend. Eventually he was able to persuade the father that there was indeed hope for his wild, sea-roving son.

Although James O'Neill has been painted by Hamilton and others as something of a miser where his son was concerned, he did an extremely generous thing that summer. He put up a thousand dollars to subsidize a book of plays by Eugene. Richard Badger of the Gorham Press in Boston published the book under the title Thirst. It contained, besides the title play, The Web, Recklessness, Fog, and Warnings. There was little market for the work of an unknown playwright, and the publisher was able to sell only a few copies. After Eugene achieved recognition, Thirst became a collector's item. It is one of the scarcest of modern American first editions, and a copy has fetched as much as sixty-five dollars.

Hamilton eventually reviewed Thirst in the magazine Vogue. It was the only review the book received, although copies were sent around to all the book and drama critics. He wrote:

This writer's mood is one of horror. He deals with grim and ghastly situations that would become intolerable if they were protracted beyond the limits of a single sudden act. He seems to be familiar with the sea; for three of these plays deal with terrors that attend the tragedy of shipwrecks, revealing a keen sense of the reactions of character under stress of violent emotion; and his dialogue is almost brutal in its power. More than one of these plays should be available for such an institution as the Princess Theatre in New York.

Eugene O'Neill afterward wrote Hamilton: "You can't imagine what it meant coming from you. It held out a hope at a very hopeless time. It made me believe I was arriving with a bang; and at that period I very much needed someone whose authority I respected to admit I was getting somewhere."

Hamilton also gave O'Neill some good advice. Having learned that Eugene was sending his play manuscripts to managers as soon as he completed them, then living in hope that they would be quickly read and accepted, the successful dramatist told him, "When you send off a play, there is not one chance in a thousand it will ever be read, not one chance in a million of its ever being accepted; and if it is accepted it will probably never be produced. But if it is accepted and produced, say to yourself it's a miracle which can never happen again."

O'Neill thereupon decided, as he told Hamilton afterward, that his friend and mentor was "hardly a fit associate for budding aspirations. But finally I reflected that you knew whereof you spoke, that I was up against a hard game and might as well realize it and hew to the line without thought of commercial stage production. Your advice gradually bred in me a gloomy and soothing fatalism which kismeted many a rebuff and helped me to take my disappointments as all an inevitable part of the game. It was a bitter dose to swallow that day but it sure proved a vital shock-absorbing tonic in the long run. It taught me to 'take it' -- and God knows that's the first thing most apprentice playwrights need to learn if they are not to turn into chronic whiners against fate or quitters before their good break comes."

Both Hamilton and Eugene wrote to Professor Baker at Harvard. Eugene's first letter was a well-reasoned presentation of his candidacy for the 47 Workshop. He said that his father was the actor James O'Neill, and so he had been closely connected with the dramatic profession. He had been assistant manager in his father's company when Viola Allen played in The White Sister, and five of his own one-act plays were being brought out in book form.

In his second letter he sent along two of his plays. He also explained, apologetically, about leaving Princeton. He said he was "flunked out" for overcutting and had done very little work. He thanked Baker for his consideration and repeated that he hoped to become his student.

O'Neill was twenty-six that fall of 1914 when he journeyed to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to enter Baker's 47 Workshop. He was older than the other students. One of them, John V. A. Weaver, who married the actress Peggy Wood, was to gain fame as a poet. Some of the others, O'Neill recalled, appeared to be as uncomfortable at having "this dark-eyed Irishman" for a classmate as he was at having to be a college boy again. Eugene must have seemed strange indeed to those college boys, five or six years his junior.

His father gave him ten dollars a week for expenses, out of which he had to pay for his room, board, car fare, laundry and new clothes. He boarded with a Mennonite family and, he told friends, they were very kind to him. The food was good and plentiful, and he had a comfortable bed in a clean room.

One of the ways in which he revealed his annoyance at having to be a college boy again was to swear like a sailor when talking to his fellow students. He did this often in the presence of one particularly effete student, who decided that O'Neill was "foul-mouthed." The student also thought O'Neill's worst fault as a writer was "an ineptitude at dialogue, except when the speakers were raving drunk or profane." He recalled that The Second Engineer, one of the plays O'Neill wrote at Harvard was "labored and stiff." This play was also titled The Personal Equation. It is no longer in existence but, from all contemporary accounts, this is no great loss.

"He was good-looking," the student conceded, "very nervous, and extremely impatient with Forty-seven and anxious to get down to live in Greenwich Village. He was friendly, though rather uneasy and inarticulate at times. You got the impression that he trembled a little and seemed trying to keep from stuttering. But when he delivered himself of a remark, it was impressive."

Another of O'Neill's classmates summed up his impressions succinctly by describing him as "a sarcastic bastard."

Professor Baker, although sympathetic toward the idea of creating a new American theater, believed there were some useful things about playwriting to be learned from the past. But from the beginning O'Neill was bored by lectures on the theater. In one of his classes, the assignment consisted of diagramming the construction of a play by Augustus Thomas. O'Neill was so disgusted he got up and left the room. On another occasion Baker read Bound East for Cardiff and told O'Neill he didn't think it was a play at all. O'Neill himself thought the plays he wrote at Harvard were "rotten." One of them was a long, rambling affair about seamen and a strike of the ship's firemen. The other, The Dear Doctor, Baker thought slick enough for vaudeville; when O'Neill checked on the short story on which he had based his one-acter, he found that it had been stolen from an already successful vaudeville sketch.

Undoubtedly the best play O'Neill wrote during his year at Harvard was The Sniper. It concerns a Belgian peasant who has seen his family slain and his land taken by the Germans. He turns his gun on the Germans and is captured. This plot is sentimentally dramatized, but there is a professional air to it all the same, and "Bleeding Belgium" was on America's conscience in 1915. O'Neill wrote two other plays while at the workshop: A Knock at the Door, a comedy of little humor, and Belshazzar, a rather horrible Biblical play in six scenes on which Eugene and a fellow student, Colin Ford, collaborated.

The best description of O'Neill at Harvard was that of John V. A. Weaver, who said that O'Neill stood out "like an oyster in a lunchroom stew." The rest of the class, Weaver wrote,

. . . listened with scared respect to the professorial admonitions, urgings, and objurgations. Not so the fierce-browed, sardonic young man at whose left I sat. These theoretical vaporings were to him simply so much asafoetida. While we sat open-mouthed and earnest, he would writhe and squirm in his chair, scowling and muttering in a mezza voce fearful imprecations and protests. Of him, too, we were frightened. He kept so much to himself. He did not invite approach. For some weeks, we let him alone. Then one day Dr. Baker read aloud a scenario by an aspirant. It was lugubrious, it was flamboyant, it was very, very earnest. Several of us gave suggestions. It came O'Neill's turn. He waited some moments. Finally, he said, without a smile, 'Cut it to twenty minutes, give it a couple of tunes, and it's a sure-fire burly-cue.' We howled with laughter. Dr. Baker smiled. From that time until we all parted in June there was a new ease, a refreshing relaxation in the meetings."

On one occasion Weaver and a student named Elkins, who was something of a society man, joined O'Neill as he was leaving the classroom. The three went to a saloon frequented by Boston Irish and called, naturally, the Shamrock. They drank ale and nibbled at the free lunch until the early hours of the morning, told ribald tales and anecdotes of their experiences, and theorized about the drama. Then they took a decrepit horse-drawn hack to Cambridge and resumed their talk in O'Neill's room until about five in the morning. Weaver had a copy of Edgar Lee Masters' Spoon River Anthology he had bought that day. "When the dawn broke," Weaver wrote, "I was sitting on a trunk, Elkins sprawled across the bed, and O'Neill was reading, in his powerful melancholy bass, poem after poem from that disturbing collection."

Elkins, who was related to the Widener family of Philadelphia, had plenty of money and entree into the best social circles in Boston. A good conversationalist himself, he was delighted with O'Neill's description of his days with his father's Monte Cristo company. O'Neill embellished the story of his life somewhat. He described living in hobo camps, working as a stoker on ships, taking part in riots and street fights all over the world. Elkins sometimes took his two friends to formal dinners on Beacon Hill. But O'Neill refused to be impressed, as Weaver put it, "by flunkies and quiet elegance. He wore a dirty brown flannel shirt, and maintained an air of jocular insolence. He thrilled and appalled the Brahmins by his social views."

The three friends dined at Durgin's, where boiled beef and beer were in order, or at the Roma on salami and red wine. Once O'Neill outlined and acted out, in part, a comedy he proposed writing about upper-class Bostonians. But he never put it on paper. Now and then Elkins would take O'Neill and Weaver to the theater. He would buy an entire box, seating eight. After the three drama students were comfortably settled, Elkins would tear up the unused tickets with a grand air of "conspicuous waste." Despite his obvious enjoyment of the pleasures of the leisure class, O'Neill continued to startle his classmates with what Weaver called his "savage radicalism." Weaver was also impressed by O'Neill's compelling charm with women.

Women were forever calling for Gene, [Weaver said]. There was something apparently irresistible in his strange combination of cruelty around his mouth, intelligence in his eyes, and sympathy in his voice and eyes. He was not good-looking. But one girl told me she could not get his face out of her thoughts. He was hard-boiled and whimsical. He was brutal and tender, so I was told. From shop girl to "sassiety queen," they all seemed to develop certain tendencies in his presence. What may have resulted, deponent sayeth not. About some things Gene was sphinxlike. All I can report is the phenomena.

The friendship of Elkins, Weaver and O'Neill ended with the course, a year later. On a stifling May morning they said good-by. Elkins went to the West Coast and Weaver found a job in Chicago.

What O'Neill got out of his year at Harvard was largely the result of his association with Baker, whose judgment he respected and whose interest he appreciated. Most of the plays he wrote there were poor and never were produced.

"I did get a great deal from Baker personally," O'Neill has said. "He encouraged me, made me feel it was worthwhile going ahead. My personal association with him meant a devil of a lot to me."

Baker noted that O'Neill "worked steadily and with increasing effectiveness. He seemed absorbedly interested in what he was trying to do. By the end of the year he already knew how to write well in the one-act form, but he could not as yet manage the longer forms." Baker wanted him to return for a second year, but he was given to understand that O'Neill could not afford to.

Professor Baker switched his drama workshop to Yale a few years later. When he died in 1935, O'Neill wrote a tribute in which he cited the "profound influence he exerted toward the encouragement and birth of the modern American drama. . . . He helped us to hope, and for that we owe him all the finest we have in memory of gratitude and friendship."

The Hell Hole and the Wharf

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