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Editor: Harley Hammerman
St. Louis, Missouri

Volume 1


Debunking "The Screenews of War"

Harley J Hammerman
St. Louis, Missouri

On November 22, 2006, Keith J. Kelly reported the following in his "Media Ink" column of the New York Post:

A literary frenzy might soon be erupting over a newly discovered, previously unpublished short story written by theatrical titan Eugene O'Neill.

"The Screenews of War," one of the few short stories he ever wrote, is believed to have been penned 90 years ago but was quickly forgotten.

Today, at least two major magazines and a book publisher are said to be intrigued by the 40-odd-page manuscript, which has been quietly circulated over the past week by the professor who made the astounding find.

The New Yorker and The Atlantic Monthly are both said to be interested in the newly discovered work, according to insiders.

Professor Robert Dowling, who teaches literature at Central Connecticut State University, is the O'Neill buff who stumbled across the short story. He didn't want to reveal too much about how he located the manuscript, but says he has a clearly documented paper trail authenticating the work.

Dowling said at least one O'Neill biographer he contacted was aware that the story had been written, but did not know the title or what had happened to it. "It was assumed it had been lost," said Dowling.

On December 6, 2006, the Associated Press reported:

A New London literary researcher has uncovered an unpublishedand rareshort story, written by famed playwright Eugene O'Neill.

Robert Dowling, an assistant professor of English at Central Connecticut State University, came across the 90-year-old manuscript, "The Screenews of War," in October while doing online research with the University of Virginia's Barrett Library.

Most scholars thought the piece was lost or destroyed, Dowling said.

"O'Neill was such a giant in American letters that I just assumed this (short story) was out there, somewhere. It really has been a slow process of gratification because it's taken a long time to figure out what I had found," Dowling said.

Dear Professor Dowling . . .

You have not "discovered" a missing O'Neill manuscript.  The short story was never thought to be "lost or destroyed."  The 25-page typescript has been archived in the Barrett Library at the University of Virginia for some forty years.  It is listed in their catalogue and has also been listed as part of the Barrett Library on

An official University of Virginia copy of
the first page of "The Screenews of War"

How did "Screenews" get to the University of Virginia?  The following memo was written by Harold DePolo, a Greenwich Village friend of O'Neill's and a pulp fiction writer.  The original memo, dated January 30, 1960, accompanies the short story at the Barrett Library.  The memo was transcribed by O'Neill biographer Louis Sheaffer, and that transcript is part of the Sheaffer O'Neill collection at Connecticut College.

This manuscript of THE SCREENEWS OF WAR, with the last page missing, by Eugene G. O'Neill, was given to me in the spring of 1918 at Provincetown, Massachusetts.

We had gone to Provincetown that season, our first one away from a lake, to be near Gene. It was before he had had any financial success whatsoeverjust prior to his selling his first long play, BEYOND THE HORIZONand he and Agnes Boulton, whom he has recently married, were living on the ten dollars a week given Gene by his father. He told me, when he gave me the story, that he had written it several years before and had submitted it to some of the smooth-paper magazines, that it had been turned down every time with printed rejection slips. Could I possibly try to sell it for him. Whatever he could get for it would be wonderful. I told him that, at least, I could get readings "right from the stable," with editors who were good friends of mine and with whom I had been dealing for year (sic). Anyway, I sent it to Henry W. Thomas of Street and Smith and Matthew White of Munsey Company. It didn't, alas, sellhanged if I know whyand when I broke the bad news to Gene after the second throwdown he grinned and said "To hell with it. Throw it away if you want."

I didn't. I tossed it in a drawer with some other stuff and it has been travelling about with me, in and out of storage, in and out of attics, ever since. There we are.

Harold DePolo was living on reduced means by 1960 and selling everything he could, since he had run out of people to tap for loans.  He found a willing buyer for his O'Neill manuscript in Clifton Waller Barrett.

Desperate for money, O'Neill tried writing short stories in 1914.  He wrote "Screenews" first as a play, "The Movie Man," and this title can be seen X'ed out on the first page of the story.  The typescript is headed "Provincetown," so it might have been written as early as 1916, which would put it two years after "The Movie Man."  O'Neill biographer Arthur Gelb feels that if the story had shown promise, it would have been published by George Jean Nathan and H. L. Mencken, who had been urging O'Neill to write stories for their magazine, The Smart Set.  Louis Sheaffer could not have considered the story of much importance, as he obviously knew of its existence when he wrote his O'Neill biography (he had transcribed the DePolo memo), yet did not mention the story in either of his two volumes.

An official University of Virginia copy of "The Screenews of War" has been made available to by O'Neill scholar William Davies King, who "discovered" O'Neill's short story at the Barrett Library long before it was "discovered" by Professor Dowling.  The O'Neill estate may allow "Screenews" to be published on for anyone interested to read and evaluate.  Of course, according to insiders, The New Yorker and The Atlantic Monthly are both said to be interested in the newly discovered work!

Clearly Harley Hammerman's "Debunking" essay demands a reply.

After finding the piece in the Virginia archives, I carefully searched all of the O'Neill scholarship and realized that "Screeenews" was as yet un-cited, except under the different title "The Movie Man" in O'Neill's work diary; and O'Neill biographers Arthur and Barbara Gelb and Stephen A. Black acknowledge in their work that this was probably the only short story O'Neill ever completed other than "S.O.S." and "Tomorrow."

Thus, in his "Debunking" article, Hammerman misrepresents the facts. He writes: "The short story was never thought to be 'lost or destroyed.'"

In fact, Arthur Gelb wrote Hammerman himself that he believed it was "destroyed by O'Neill," and Stephen Black wrote me an e-mail in which he said that as far as he knew, it was "lost"—both men used those exact words, and Hammerman was aware of this fact. Some of the second part of Hammerman's essay is actually taken word-for-word from that e-mail by Arthur Gelb, which he forwarded to me.

Hammerman also told me long into our correspondence, and well after my efforts to get it published were underway, that Professor William Davies King (whom I sincerely and greatly admire) had taken notes that indicate that he was aware of the story through Harold Depolo's memo at the Scheaffer collection. Hammerman forwarded me the notes, and nowhere did it demonstrate that Professor King had read the story—this is especially clear given the fact that "The Movie Man" is not mentioned as a basis for it, which is not included in the memo. If there is clear evidence that Professor King read it and acted upon it before I did, that's one thing. Otherwise, I don't really see Hammerman's point over all of this.

When I first heard that Professor King didn't follow-up on this knowledge, I was a little surprised, but I assumed he had other fish to fry with his work on Agnes Boulton, which I very much look forward to reading. Hammerman himself told me, after he apprised me of Professor King's awareness of the story's existence, that I deserved to be the first person to write about it—but only if it's published on Laconics.

I'm not at all surprised someone else was aware of it, as it was catalogued in the Virginia database (and linked to But when I initially inquired about the story in October to the archivist that handles the Barrett collection, he wrote, "In checking the Eugene O'Neill material I did find a typescript of a story called, 'The Screenews of War.' Is this the story you had in mind?"

In terms of the news media semantics over the word "discovery," the New London Day article was much more even-handed than the Post's initial story (perhaps not surprisingly). For example:

"Christian Dupont, director of the University of Virginia's Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, said of Dowling, "'He's doing a great thing, calling attention to a previously unpublished (O'Neill short story). ... It just hadn't been noticed by scholars all these years. What Dowling is doing is bringing to light a well-known author's still-unpublished work.'" Please see: Eugene O'Neill Short Story Is Unearthed In Virginia.

"Calling attention" and "bringing to light." That's precisely what I set out to do, but, as I'm sure most of you agree, if the story were to be published anywhere first, it should be in a widely read journal that the general public might enjoy.

If it is allowed to be published first on Laconics we will all read it, to be sure—but we would read it anyway. By definition, as "O'Neillians" we love and admire O'Neill and his work. If we allow it to be published in a venue that targets the general audience, however, then other readers, who may not have even heard of O'Neill, might be moved to share our deeply-felt sentiments towards America's greatest playwright.

A colleague of mine who knows about Hammerman's desire to get it in Laconics told me that, as a generalist and great fan of O'Neill's, he would never encounter it if the story was posted here. If it is published first in Laconics, regardless of the fine work done here, it will not gain the story's deserved attention.

In short, Hammerman has been attempting to undermine my efforts to bring "Screenews" to the public eye since it became clear to him that I hoped to publish the story with my introductory essay in a place with a broader audience than his Laconics. (Hammerman offered me money to publish it with Laconics when he first heard about it in the Post.) His last missive to me of December 9, in particular, was openly hostile and foul-mouthed.

I'm terribly sorry he brought you all into this. I can only imagine what O'Neill would think. . .

Robert M. Dowling
Assistant Professor
Department of English
Central Connecticut State University

When I first read about Professor Dowling’s discovery in the New York Post, I did indeed contact him and ask him if he’d be interested in publishing the short story on At that time, I had no idea he had “discovered” a story that had been archived and available at a university library for quite some time. Subsequently, Professor Dowling asked rhetorically of me in an email, “Do you think I found it in my grandmother's basement?” Naively, I suppose I did.

It’s not clear to me why Professor Dowling was initially secretive about where he had “discovered” the story, allowing my collector’s mind to wander to his grandmother’s basement. Professor Dowling confirmed his lack of candor in our correspondence when he said, “I don't think you understand how I found it (naturally, since I haven't really told anyone).” It was Professor King who alerted me to the fact that “The Screenews of War” was catalogued at the Barrett Library. But even then, we both assumed that Professor Dowling had discovered another version of the short story, or at least another copy. It wasn’t until after I had passed on Professor King’s information, that Professor Dowling informed me his “discovery” was indeed the University of Virginia manuscript. And it wasn’t until several days later that Professor King realized he had in his possession a copy of the story. (He had copied it because Agnes Boulton also wrote stories set in Mexico, and he wondered if there might be some connection.)

I am all for getting Eugene O’Neill all the publicity we can—that’s what is all about. But I believe that this publicity must be above board and professional. The hoopla and half-truths that have surrounded Professor Dowling’s pronouncement of his “discovery” via the press have not met these criteria. This was not about getting publicity for Eugene O’Neill. To once again quote Professor Dowling’s email, “Prestige, on the other hand—and here's where it's both existential and psychological—is enormously important for any writer. The more you get, the more you're heard. How's that for a cynical bitter truth?”

Harley Hammerman

The question of what constitutes a "discovery," as raised here by Harley Hammerman, is an interesting one. The fact that this unpublished short story has, so far, not been listed (to my knowledge) in any bibliography or reference work on O'Neill does mean that it has been officially overlooked, but the fact remains that this work has been "looked over" by several, and so it does not come out of nowhere.

Aside from the fact that Barrett, then the University of Virginia Library, catalogued it nearly half a century ago, the evidence of Sheaffer's transcript of DePolo's memo shows that he was aware of it. Though the Gelbs do not mention the story's title, they state that The Movie Man had been adapted as a short story, and they surely reviewed all the materials in the Barrett Collection, so presumably they, too, had seen it. How else would they know that the one-act had been adapted at all?

I'm sure that many other O'Neill scholars have made the journey to the beautiful campus of the University of Virginia to look at the O'Neill materials there. Much of what Barrett acquired came from Agnes Boulton, Harold DePolo, and others, around 1960, who were cashing in their O'Neill holdings at a moment when prices were rising. The "O'Neill revival" of the late 1950s was not just about new productions of his plays.

So, the "Screenews" (I keep wanting to put a second N in there) surfaced. Vying for the least interesting document of all time, this incomplete typescript shows O'Neill (?) expanding and novelizing his uninteresting and "lost" play from 1914, "The Movie Man." The copyright division of the Library of Congress successfully preserved for us this tone-deaf effort at satire by a writer who was still trying to figure out whether he wanted to be Joseph Conrad or Ring Lardner (both admirable goals, both miles away).

Everyone who has looked at the whole sweep of O'Neill's career has labored to find a place for "The Movie Man." O'Neill appears to depict John Reed at a moment before he knew John Reed. He reaches for atmospheric effect in his evocation of comical Mexican speech: "'Carramba!' Gomez shouted 'What ees eet? Ees that hombre gone crazee?'" He depicts the crass Hollywood exploiters of Pancho Villa as demeanors of the "peons" and "greasers."

Where are Yank and Driscoll when you need them?

The playwright, instead, is insisting upon the humor of a revolutionary leader being told that he must fight his battle by daylight so that the cameras can capture the action.

It is tawdry writing at best. A young writer will sometimes go that way. O'Neill did. However, at a certain point, he decided he would not. A good question is when that happened. My study of his marriage to Agnes Boulton, who was a writer who had few illusions about the costs and especially benefits of aiming for a popular audience. My book on her will show that the issue remained open for O'Neill for perhaps longer than critics and biographers have thought up to this point.

Still, O'Neill had determined, long before he ever knew Agnes Boulton, that he would not sell himself short, and "The Movie Man" from 1914 already seems an anomaly. Why, then, would he have returned to this work in 1916 or thereafter? "Desperate for money" is a readily available phrase, and perhaps it is apt. Perhaps O'Neill thought it would be worth the hours of rewriting and retyping to turn his unsuccessful play into a money-making story.


But maybe not. Here I enter into the realm of pure speculation.

The story resurfaces in 1960, in the hands of Harold DePolo, who would die just a few months later. DePolo had been a "pulp fiction" phenom, a man who claimed he could write sometimes two, three, four stories in a day back then. (See the EO Review article on DePolo by Richard Eaton and Madeline Smith.)

DePolo did not publish much in the "smooth paper" magazines. He was expert in the pulps, and I would guess that a dedicated hunter of the Library of Congress pulp files might find 300-500 stories by DePolo, from the early 1910s through the 1920s. His star seems to have fallen thereafter.

Sheaffer's interviews of DePolo, from the late 1950s, do not touch on the very first encounter of DePolo and O'Neill, but it might well have been as early as 1914, or even 1913. As early as April of 1914 (and possibly earlier), DePolo was publishing stories about Mexico ("The Woman I Knew," Snappy Stories, 7:3 (April 1914)).

As I was digging out pulp stories by Agnes Boulton, scrolling through reel after reel of microfilm, I kept bumping into DePolo stories. Some of these I copied, randomly, usually only because I liked the title. I managed, by this entirely undisciplined process, to amass at least six stories written by DePolo between 1914 and 1918 set in Mexico.

Here I make a leap, in the laconic way. Is it not possible that DePolo himself, either in 1916 or in 1918, adapted O'Neill's measly little play from 1914, rightfully "lost," and tried to sell it to the pulps?

The story is a mess tonally, reflecting NO sense of the gravity of war or the humanity of its characters. Instead, they act out emotionally disconnected points of view on a dramatic action which is elsewhere. I suppose you get a "wry" view of the peculiar imperialism that Hollywood came to represent, and you get some atmospheric dialect, but the whole effort to novelize the play's action is so labored, so verbally plumped, it is hard to believe that the O'Neill who was working on "The Moon of the Caribbees" would have wasted a week on it.

Stranger things have happened in a writer's life. Maybe he did. However, I think it is worth considering whether the whole business might not have been promulgated by Harold DePolo, who had no known standard below which he would not descend. He could not have brought forward (for sale) his own reworking of O'Neill before O'Neill's death because O'Neill would repudiate it. Afterward, however, he would face no obstacle to claiming O'Neill's authorship of something he had perhaps written.

DePolo insisted to Sheaffer that he had written the final paragraph of O'Neill's verified short story, Tomorrow, after the editors had asked for some revision. He told Sheaffer to look at the different typeface of that section. It might be interesting to compare that typeface with the one used for this "O'Neill" story. Then, too, the short story is filled with trivial writing errors, "it's" for "its" and "their's" and that sort of thing. Does that sort of error match with O'Neill's other early writings? The idiom, too, would be worth a look. DePolo's stories show a lot of use of terms like "peon" and "Greaser." Are there other verbal analogues between "Screenews" and DePolo's stories.

Finally, I wonder why he (they?) chose to change the title from "The Movie Man" to "The Screenews of War." Am I wrong in thinking that the latter is truly a terrible title? From a writer (O'Neill) who was already coming up with some of the best titles ever for plays, it is hard to imagine him adopting this one. Another DePolo touch? perhaps an effort to steer attention away from his pirating of O'Neill's work?

I offer all this in the spirit of open discussion of a topic of minor fascination.

William Davies King
Professor and Graduate Advisor
Department of Theater and Dance
University of California, Santa Barbara

Mr. Hammerman,

I'm not sure I understand why - if this short story was known about - why you or Mr. King did not previously bring this to light.

It sounds to me like you are bitter that the professor from Connecticut DID SOMETHING with the story, i.e. - tried to bring attention to it - whereas you either did nothing (which is unthinkable, given that you run a Eugene O'Neill site), or that you were "scooped'' and this is sour grapes.

Please show me if and exactly how I'm wrong.

Thank you
Chris David

Harold DePolo is my Grandfather on my mother's side. I have several letters written / typed by him to my mother. And I am offended by some of the things that are said about my Grandfather. He was very loving and kind man.

Melissa Adkinson



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