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a newly discovered, previously unpublished short story written by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
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
A New London literary researcher has uncovered
an unpublished—and rare—short
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
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 . . .
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25-page typescript has been
archived in the Barrett Library at the University of Virginia for some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 eOneill.com.
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
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 whatsoever—just
prior to his selling his first long play, BEYOND THE HORIZON—and
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, sell—hanged if I
know why—and 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.
official University of Virginia copy of "The Screenews
of War" has been made available to eOneill.com 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 eOneill.com 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
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 eOneill.com). 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
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
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 eOneill.com.
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 eOneill.com 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?”
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
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
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
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
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
University of California, Santa Barbara
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.
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.