Agnes Boulton and Eugene O’Neill were married on April 12, 1918 and divorced on July 1, 1929. Their marriage yielded two children. Shane Rudraighe O’Neill was born early in the morning of October 30, 1919 and Oona O’Neill was born late in the evening of May 1, 1925. When Eugene O'Neill died on November 28, 1953, he made his third wife, Carlotta, his sole heir, explicitly disinheriting Shane and Oona and “their issue now or hereafter born.”
Shane O’Neill married Cathy Givens on July 31, 1944. Their “issue” included Eugene III (born November 19, 1945; died February 10, 1946), Maura (born February 15, 1948), Sheila (born December 20, 1949), Ted (born November 29, 1951) and Kathleen (born February 26, 1955). Oona O’Neill Chaplin, with her husband Charlie, gave birth to eight children.
Agnes Boulton’s Part of a Long Story was published in 1958. It was the first half of a proposed two volume account of her eleven-year marriage to O’Neill.
Sheila O’Neill relates that “Aggie was writing the second half of her book the last few years before she died in 1968. I can remember staying with Aggie, I think it was 1967. Almost every day, her secretary came over to help Aggie with her book. As the secretary typed, she would tell Aggie to get rid of some of her cats or she would not work for Aggie anymore. She did come back and work with Aggie for the next two years or so. But Aggie never finished her second book before she died.
“About six years ago, I was at a yard sale at a house in Point Pleasant, next door to where Aggie’s house was. I asked the man if he knew Aggie. He said he moved there in 1968, just before Aggie died, but didn't know her. He told me that soon after, Shane and Oona sold the house with everything in it. The new owners had a yard sale and he bought a lot of things from Aggie's house, including some of O’Neill’s papers and letters, but he wouldn't sell anything back to me. He also told me that Aggie's secretary went to a publisher with the second part of Aggie's book and said she wrote it by herself. She tried to get it published as hers. The publisher wouldn’t and told her they knew she didn't write it. The man told me he thought she got mad and destroyed it. I hope it’s still around somewhere, maybe in Point Pleasant.”
Agnes Boulton’s book is indeed part of the long story, and there is certainly more to be told, particularly as relates to the “disinherited issue” of Eugene O’Neill.
More of a Long Story is Sheila O’Neill’s memories of growing up with her father Shane. They are childhood memories of her family from an adult perspective, much as Long Day’s Journey into Night stemmed from O’Neill’s childhood memories.
Sheila does not profess to have the writing ability of her grandfather.
“As a child, I had a lot of trouble with reading and spelling. I think it was dyslexia. I taught myself later in life to read better. I just learned to use the computer two years ago, so it is a little harder to write down what I'm thinking about. But I love writing about my family. I’ve wanted to do the story about Shane for years.”
While the stories that follow have been edited, they reflect Sheila’s style and storytelling ability. The stories are told in a childlike manner with an adult sensibility. They are richly illustrated with Sheila’s original drawings and vintage photographs.
Eugene O’Neill’s plays were in many ways his progeny. They were descendants of his family milieu. They contained the same environmental DNA as Shane and Oona. O’Neill’s literary progeny give us unique insights into the basic human condition. In More of a Long Story, O’Neill’s genetic offspring give us similar insights on a very different stage.
Saint Louis, October, 2008
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