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Editor: Frederick Wilkins
Suffolk University, Boston

Vol. II, No. 2
September, 1978



1. A number of Newsletter readers were gratified to learn, in the May 1978 issue (item 3a on pp. 18-19), that progress is being made toward the publication of O’Neill’s letters--a resource that will be a boon to scholars and theatre artists alike. One of the compilers, George H. Jensen of the University of South Carolina, describes (in a letter of May 25) his recent and continuing efforts in. the tangled vineyards of editorship:

“Donald Gallup and Armina Marshall, head of the Theatre Guild, gave me permission to edit the O’Neill-Guild correspondence as a dissertation project with the proviso that they could approve the manuscript before it was published as a book. The dissertation version was finished in fall 1977. Donald Gallup read the dissertation version. He generally approved of the manuscript, but wanted a few changes made before it was shown to Armina Marshall. Within the next week, I will finish revising the dissertation and send it to Miss Marshall. If and when she approves the manuscript, it will be submitted to Yale University Press. If Yale rejects the manuscript, it will be taken to other publishers. The major question now is how quickly Miss Marshall, who is obviously a busy woman, can read the manuscript and whether or not she will approve it. If all goes well, the manuscript could be submitted for publication by the end of the summer.”

2. In a recent “Arts and Leisure” section of the Sunday New York Times (“If Actors Had Their Choice of Roles,” June 18, 1978, pp. 1, 11), Geraldine Fitzgerald was one of the performers who responded to the editor’s inquiry as to what great theatrical characters they would most like to play. Ms. Fitzgerald’s first choice was Cordelia in King Lear, since she has long been “interested in a human being who would sublimate her own needs to help another human being. I was interested because in this century altruism is suspect--is it neurotic, masochistic, parasitic--what? Well, I never got to play the role, and now never will, but I got to play Nora Melody in A Touch of the Poet and this woman is to me organically the same kind of person as Cordelia--as the play is to me Eugene O’Neill’s retelling of the ‘Lear’ legend: the potentially great man who retreats from reality into dreams.”

Her second choice was Mother Courage, in Marc Blitzstein’s version of the Brecht play; and her third (“my all-time favorite”) was a role she has played before: Mary Tyrone in Long Day’s Journey. “She is, to me, the most complex character in dramatic literature: a mother who is herself a child, a mystic and a materialist, an artist with no means of expression, a sensualist who wants to be a celibate, a saint and a demon. I love her. In fact, I played the role in New York in Arvin Brown’s production with Robert Ryan, where it was a sell-out success, but circumstances beyond anyone’s control forced its closing after six weeks--hardly time to scratch the surface of this masterpiece.”

3. STRANGE BEDFELLOWS IN PRODUCTION SWEEPSTAKES. Theatre Profiles/3, the latest of the Theatre Communication Group’s biennial resource books on nonprofit professional theatres in the United States, reveals which playwrights were most performed by those theatres during the 1975-76 and 1976-77 seasons. O’Neill tied for fourth with two incongruous companions. The winner was of course Shakespeare (54 productions). Second and third were Tennessee Williams (34) and Shaw (32). Fourth place (25 productions each) was shared by Moiré, Noel Coward, and Eugene O’Neill! Below this tenuous triumvirate came Chekhov (21), Pinter (18), Brecht (16), and Arthur Miller (14).

4. LOST O’NEILL FILM DISCOVERED. O’Neill, though usually dissatisfied with screen versions of his plays, called the 1923 film of Anna Christie, with Blanche Sweet and George Marion, “a delightful surprise remarkably well acted and directed, and in spirit an absolutely faithful transcript.” Now the film, lost for years, has been located and was broadcast in New York City on July 22, as part of WNET’s “Lost and Found” film series, with an introduction by Miss Sweet. Eileen Bowser, curator of the Museum of Modern Art’s Department of Film, described the circumstances of its reemergence in the New York Times on June 25 (Section II, p. 22): “It had been rumored to exist in eastern Europe, but it was not until the FIAF (Federation Internationale des Archives du Film) Congress was held in New York in 1969 that Blanche Sweet was able to beseech the film archivists she met there about her lost film. The delegate from Yugoslavia believed that his archive held a copy.” And it did, evidencing one again eastern Europe’s great contribution to O’Neill studies.

5. THE BLAZING TRAIL TO TAO HOUSE. Tempers flared at a February 28  meeting in Danville, California, when local residents of the Tao House area and representatives of the National Park Service discussed matters of access and programming in the continuing effort to convert Tao House into an available and fully active National Historic Site that retains the affection of its neighbors. The problem of access involves Kuss Road, the only existing vehicular access, which, according to a recent report by the National Park Service, is “bad, too narrow, too steep, and has too many accidents.” (See the discussion of this problem on page 13 of the January 1978 issue of the Newsletter.) A variety of proposals were voiced--charging for use of the road, constructing a cog railway, etc.--and the solution, when reached, will be announced in the Newsletter. On the subject of programming, the residents of the area felt that “a cultural center for the elite would be improper; the public must also be allowed access. It should not be for the cultural elite only, nor should it be a retreat for theatre types only.” While it is certainly true that a publicly-funded project should not be the sole possession of any elite, recent performances of O’Neill plays at Tao House (as reported in previous issues) suggest that “theatre types” can make--already have made--a valuable contribution, one that augurs well for the future of the Tao House site as a living memorial to O’Neill.

6. A recent reading, in close proximity, of Long Day’s Journey and Frank Gilroy’s The Subject Was Roses reminded New York playwright Milan Stitt “that Long Day is the only American play ever to receive two Pulitzer this way: If you take out the mother’s drug addiction, the drunk brother, the son’s consumption and the father as actor, one is left with The Subject Was Roses. The same revelations in the same order, the same child dead at birth, the same love revenges, etc. Curious.” (Mr. Stitt, incidentally, has recently completed the screen play for Stanley Kramer’s film of his play, The Runner Stumbles, which is currently in production.)

7. “HICKEY” GREETS A HOOSIER, a reminiscence by Edward L. Shaughnessy.

After a matinee performance of A Moon for the Misbegotten in the spring of 1974, I had the good fortune to spend a few minutes in conversation with Jason Robards. I had simply waited until the Morosco emptied; his dresser escorted me backstage.

I have no reason to think that Mr. Robards would recall the interview, of course, but I’ll not quickly forget it. How charming and gracious he was as he invited me to sit down in his dressing room. The time was about 5:15 in the afternoon; he (and Colleen Dewhurst and Ed Flanders) had yet to give the 8:00 p.m. performance. No hurry, though. We chatted for fifteen or twenty minutes: about O’Neill, about Shaughnessy in Long Day’s Journey (who is Phil Hogan in the play they had just acted), about the comparative importance of the Gelbs’ book and Sheaffer’s two volumes. (“I’ll take Louis’ books,” said Robards. It surprised me that he even had a preference.)

“What do you do, where are you from?” I told him about my teaching and about a fall seminar in O’Neill that I would be giving. “I’m from Indiana,” I said. “I teach American literature at Butler University in Indianapolis.” Robards smiled: I could imagine what he was thinking: “Hmm, the corn-belt, huh!” He just smiled for a few seconds and then said: “So they finally got the gospel out to the frontier, eh?” The point hit me immediately and we both laughed. Of course, Jason Robards had created the definitive Hickey under Quintero’s direction  in 1956--Hickey, the son of a traveling Hoosier preacher from whom the salesman had learned how to size up hayseeds and other easy touches.

As I prepared to leave, I asked the actor to inscribe my program. He had nothing to write with. “All I have is a pen filled with teacher’s red ink,” I said. He took it and wrote above his photograph: “For Ed Shaughnessy--In teacher’s red ink, not Scotch. Best health and wishes, Jason Robards.” Now there’s a true son of O’Neill, I thought. And that’s one part of the story I can prove.

8. An interesting O’Neill project was recently staged by a senior honors student in the Dramatic Art Department at the University of California, Berkeley. Dianne Colantonio, a student specializing in lighting design, became impressed with the way in which O’Neill manipulated his lighting effects. Her thesis was that by calling for certain kinds of effects he contributed greatly to the subtlety and care with which lighting designers and technicians work in the American theatre. As a demonstration of her concept, she planned a program that showed O’Neill’s lighting requirements over his career. The student-directed-and-acted presentation began with A Wife for a Life, which was staged with foot lights and typical turn-of-the-century lighting effects to achieve the dying desert light and the campfire. She then offered the second scene of Emperor Jones and the last act of Welded, using two follow spots as the only illumination for the latter work. Welded emerged as a fascinating “art deco” period piece, and despite the excesses of emotion, there was every indication that, given courageous acting, the play might prove of interest in the theatre. The bill concluded with the Edmond/James Tyrone scene from the fourth act of Long Day’s Journey into Night, the lighting being very reminiscent of the lighting required for A Wife for a Life.

9. In Berkeley, California, The Playhouse Company, a group of professional actors and advanced students of acting teacher Jean Shelton, undertook an O’Neill season, producing in succession throughout the year A Moon for the Misbegotten, directed by Alma Becker; The Hairy Ape, directed by Edward Weingold and Hughie, directed by David Datz; The Emperor Jones and Before Breakfast, directed by Robert Elross; and Long Day’s Journey into Night, directed by Jean Shelton. The ambitious program featured Robert A. Behling as Jamie in both the Tyrone plays, Robert Elross as James Tyrone and as Erie Smith, and Michael McGuinness as Edmund. Danny Glover appeared as the Emperor Jones and Elliot Wagner appeared as Yank. Josie Hogan was played by Diana Ayers, F. Jo Mohrbach played Mrs. Rowland and Anne Macey played Mary Tyrone.


Ah, Wilderness! American Conservatory Theatre, San Francisco. The production toured in Hawaii (June 12-25) and Tokyo, Japan (June 30 July 9).

Before Breakfast, starring Sylvia Miles. Chichester Festival, England, July. (Part of a double bill also including Clifford Browder’s The Employment Agency.)

Desire Under the Elms, dir. Craig Hartley. Gainesville (Florida) Little Theatre, April 5-15. (See report in “Reviews and Abstracts” section of this issue.)

Long Day’s Journey Into Night. Academy Theatre, Atlanta, Georgia. On tour from September 7 through October 1, under sponsorship of the Southern Arts Federation. One-day and two-and-a-half-day residencies  ($1200 and $1750 respectively) may still be available.

Marco Millions. Sharon (Connecticut) Playhouse, August 1-5, 8-12. (A review will appear in the next issue.)

A Moon for the Misbegotten, dir. Stanley Wojewodski, Jr. American Stage Festival, Milford, New Hampshire, July 25-30.

Thirst, dir. Edward Amor. Experimental Theatre, University of Wisconsin-Madison, April 12-15. (See report in “Reviews and Abstracts” section of this issue.)

Where the Cross Is Made, dir. George Hamlin. Harvard Summer Repertory Theatre, Cambridge, Massachusetts, July 6-8. (Part of a double bill also including Thornton Wilder’s The Happy Journey. See report in “Reviews and Abstracts” section of this issue.)

11. R.S.V.P. Items 8, 9, and 11 in the “News and Queries” section of the last issue of the Newsletter (May 1978,  pp. 20-21) were requests for information and materials for special sections in future issues. The editor hopes that, after subscribers have trod back from their arcadian summer rambles, those who have not as yet responded will find time to do so. While the requests are more fully stated on the aforementioned pages, these are in essence the materials being sought:

1. titles of college and university courses devoted to or including O’Neill, with a list of the titles included and a brief description of overall format;

2. meritorious examples of student writing on O’Neill (both graduate and undergraduate, whether brief essays or extracts from longer works, but preferably no longer than 750 words), to be used in a special issue devoted to student work on O’Neill;

3. theatregoers’ memories of indelible past performers and performances of O’Neill; and

4. notes and essays on the film versions of O’Neill’s plays and on adaptations of his work for other media.

The editor expects, before the end of 1979, to be able to include photographs and illustrations in the Newsletter, so responders to requests 3 and 4 might consider including illustrative materials with their submissions.



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