Menu Bar


Editor: Frederick Wilkins
Suffolk University, Boston

Vol. IX, No. 3
Winter, 1985



1. SHEAFFER READIES ILLUSTRATED VOLUME. As a kind of sequel to his Pulitzer Prize biography of Eugene O'Neill, Louis Sheaffer has been commissioned by Stewart, Tabori & Chang, which specializes in lavishly illustrated books, to produce a pictorial account of the playwright's life. It will be divided about equally between text and illustrations. Though most of Stewart's publications use color photographs, the O'Neill one will use black and white graphic material exclusively. Color, the author and his publisher feel, "would falsify the tone of the playwright's turbulent and, not infrequently, somber history."

2. TWO BIOGRAPHICAL ADDENDA, kindly provided by Louis Sheaffer.

When I began researching nearly thirty years ago to write a biography of O'Neill, Yale Professor Norman Holmes Pearson, who had known Eugene and Carlotta, in addition to being a friend of Eugene, Jr., told me that I couldn't have found a more difficult subject among all the other contemporary American authors. The reason for this, he said, was that just about everyone who had known O'Neill well would refuse to talk, either out of respect and affection for the shy, reclusive playwright or from fear of repercussions from his widow. The professor, I might add, was among those who wouldn't talk.

Just recently I was reminded of the long-ago conversation when an acquaintance of mine, doing research in the Alfred Knopf papers (which are soon to be transferred to the University of Texas), sent me a copy of a letter from Carl Van Vechten to Mr. Knopf. Van Vechten and his wife Fania Marinoff had been friends of the O'Neills. His letter follows [exactly as typed by Van Vechten on October 30. 1956 --Ed.]:

Dear Alfred, I think it would be impossible for any one, save in some secret way, to set down his share of the story to write a frank O'Neill story. Undoubtedly Carlotta will have her version prepared and she has already rewritten her diary. Probably anything unfavorable to Gene in her possession has been destroyed Princeton, Yale, and the Museum of the City of New York share his manuscripts. They have already been informed that if they give out anything she doesn't desire given out she will withdraw mss. She will INSIST on reading any biography . Max Wiley is writing for Doubleday a novel based on O'Neill. Before it is published she will emasculate that, as she did Pompey's Head. Moreover ,I think she will be able to protect his reputation even after she is dead, for a generation or two. Then, everybody who knew him will be dead. The only way to preserve the unadulterated sto[r]y is to get affidavits from numberless people, including wives and children of Gene (Lawrence Langner has already written his), organize and publish these in some far/distant future, without risk of getting sued. Please do NOT let any one see this letter and do not quote from it. It is for your private eyes, but better keep it in some safe place , because this subject will come up many times. Every publisher in America will be after this story.

With love, [handsigned] Carlo

Notes: Van Vechten misspelt Max Wylie's name. His novel, Devil in the Flesh, was his major effort to establish a literary reputation of his own, thereby escaping from the shadow of his better-known brother, Philip Wylie, author of A Generation of Vipers. A few years after Devil appeared, without creating a sensation, Wylie killed himself. The full title of the other book Van Vechten mentioned was A View From Pompey's Head, by Hamilton Basso, which became a best seller.

*          *          *          *          *

Although the New York Times ran a long obituary (October 31, 1985) on Marion Tanner, the real-life model for the fictional "Auntie Mame," whose antics first appeared between book covers from the pen of her nephew Patrick Dennis, the newspaper neglected to identify the two husbands she had had. One of them, named Lingard Loud, was a classmate of Eugene O'Neill's in Professor Baker's playwriting course at Harvard.

Years later, as I record in my biography, he was scarcely complimentary as he recalled our foremost dramatist. "He had," Loud said. "a fine forehead ... and a heavy moustache to hide his depraved mouth. He was resentful against God, resentful against his family, resentful, resentful."

Interestingly enough. Miss Tanner, whom I also interviewed, remembered that originally her ex-husband was "greatly impressed with O'Neill, with his imagination, his ability, his personality. O'Neill was the only one Lingard ever talked about."

Marion herself, who had Eugene to dinner a few times. found him a "dramatic figure. I felt both an anger and a sadness in him, but more of sadness; yet his personality was always shot through with a mordant kind of humor--maybe 'sardonic' is the better word. He was sardonically humorous on the subject of his father and all the years he had played in Monte Cristo."

3. "EUGENE O'NEILL--A GLORY OF GHOSTS" is the title of the 2 1/2-hour film. written by Paul Shyre, directed by Perry Miller Adato. and produced by Ms. Adato and Megan Callaway, that will be seen on PBS next summer as a part of the new WNET/THIRTEEN series, 'American Masters.' Members of the May 29 - June 1 O'Neill conference at Suffolk University will see a special large screen showing of the full film--the first performance for the general public---in advance of its television premiere.

Dramatic and documentary techniques have been freely combined in the film to tell the story of the life and work of the playwright. Scenes from eight O'Neill plays, dramatized by an all-star cast, serve as examples of the dramatist's work and to illuminate his life and character. The film also includes interviews with Walter Abel, Travis Bogard, Colleen Dewhurst, Armina Marshall and Jason Robards.

The performers in scenes from the plays are Blythe Danner (Anna Christie and Nina Leeds), Geraldine Fitzgerald (Mary Tyrone), Bette Henritze (Marthy Owen), Thomas Hulce (Edmund Tyrone), Tony Lo Bianco (Larry Slade, Yank in The Hairy Ape and Driscoll in Bound East for Cardiff), James Naughton (Jamie Tyrone and Yank in Cardiff), Jason Robards (James Tyrone. Hickey, and Jim Tyrone in Moon for the
), and Mario Van Peebles (Brutus Jones).

Real-life figures are played by Zoe Caldwell (Carlotta Monterey O'Neill), Frances Conroy (Agnes Boulton O'Neill), Frank Converse (George Jean Nathan). Joel Fabiani (Kenneth Macgowan), and Jason Robards (James O'Neill, Sr.), with Jeffrey De Munn as the voice of Eugene O'Neill.

The film has been eagerly awaited, has been lavishly praised by previewers, and will provide an exciting "first" for conference-goers next May.

4. PORTRAIT OF A DAUGHTER. Oona O'Neill Chaplin is one of a trio of friends (the others are Carol Matthau and Gloria Vanderbilt) whose long-standing relationship is traced in Trio: Portrait of an Intimate Friendship, a book by Aram Saroyan that was recently published by the Linden Press of Simon & Schuster.

5. PECILE TO CONDUCT SUMMER SEMINAR ON O'NEILL. Jordan Pecile has received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to conduct a summer seminar for secondary school teachers. The seminar, which will take place from June 30 to August 8. 1986, will concern O'Neill's late plays, and will be held at the Monte Cristo Cottage in New London. CT. In addition to morning meetings at the Cottage, seminar members will interact with the National Playwrights' Conference that will be running concurrently at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center in nearby Waterford. Inquiries about the seminar should be addressed to Professor Pecile at 100 Irving Street, Mystic. CT 06355.

6. EUGENE O'NEILL CENTENNIAL LECTURE SERIES. Connecticut College and the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center will sponsor a lecture series on the dramatist's life and work. The series will run from October 1987 through October 1988. Proposals for lectures and other presentations have been invited. but unfortunately the Newsletter learned of the invitation after the original deadline date of December 1, 1985. However, as late project proposals may be accepted, interested persons can still send word ("a title and a project description of at least 200 words") to Richard Moorman, Chairman. O'Neill Centennial Lecture Program Committee, Box 1543. Connecticut College, New London. CT, 06320. "As we encourage a variety of perspectives." Moorman writes, "specialists in any discipline relevant to O'Neill's biography and dramaturgy are encouraged to apply. Likewise, innovative approaches are no less welcome than traditional scholarship." The editor regrets that he must announce the invitation so late and hopes that potential participants will still consider applying.

7. IN MEMORIAM. Timo Tiusanen, whose book, O'Neill's Scenic Images (Princeton Univ. Press. 1968). was praised by Jordan Miller(in Eugene O'Neill and the American Critic) as "a significant piece of O'Neill scholarship ... one of the few book-length studies of O'Neill as an artist of the theatre rather than as a writer of dramatic literature. "died suddenly last August in his native Finland at the age of 49. A founding member of the Eugene O'Neill Society and its first international secretary, he will be sadly missed by the many O'Neillians who had come to respect and love him. We will miss his charm, his wit, and his kindly but accurate barbs at Americans for failing to offer O'Neill the veneration he is accorded by their European colleagues.

Equally sad was the passing, last August 28, of actress Ruth Gordon, who died at her summer home in Edgartown, MA, at the age of 88. Though not a performer in O'Neill's plays, she had a long interest in his work and was a member of the Theater Committee for Eugene O'Neill. She regaled the editor, at the Committee's 1983 O'Neill birthday party, with her recollections of the Broadway opening of Anna Christie at the Vanderbilt Theatre on November 2, 1921. What she remembered most was the audience's gasp at the first entrance of Pauline Lord as Anna. They gasped, not at the clear evidence of Anna's "past," but at the fact that Miss Lord was dressed, not in red or black--rouge et noir being the standard hues for "fallen women"--but in brown velvet! The editor will never forget his evening with Miss Gordon, one of the great ladies of the American theatre.

8. DEWHURST WINS MEDAL. The Theater Committee for Eugene O'Neill celebrated the playwright's 97th birthday with a dinner in the Philharmonic Board Room, Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, on Monday evening, November 4, at which its 1985 Eugene O'Neill Birthday Medal (attached to a chain for wearing. at the recipient's request) was awarded to actress Colleen Dewhurst. Jason Robards read three letters by O'Neill; Joseph Papp presented the medal; Miss Dewhurst paid tribute to the playwright who had been "so good to us all"; José Quintero proposed a toast to O'Neill, the "hard taskmaster" whom he has learned to "hate and love" [he also recalled Miss Dewhurst's appearance as Josie Hogan--"radiant, sculptured, but porous"]; and Robert Klein and his wife, Metropolitan Opera mezzo-soprano Brenda Boozer, ended the festivities with a medley of songs O'Neill loved ("Shenandoah," "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," "Waitin' for the Robert E. Lee," and "Oh, You Beautiful Doll"). It was an evening of rare warmth and bonhomie, superbly choreographed by the Committee's co-chairpersons, Barbara Gelb and George White, and its treasurer, Martin E. Segal. The Committee, it was reported the next day in the New York Times, "plans a nationwide celebration on Oct. 16, 1988, of the 100th anniversary of O'Neill's birth." More detailed information will be provided as soon as it is available.

9. DOES O'NEILL NEED LIBERATING? That's what Jonathan Miller thinks, as he prepares to direct a new Broadway production of Long Day's Journey Into Night that has a scheduled opening date of April 17, 1986, and will star Jack Lemmon as James Tyrone, Sr. Interviewed by Ross Wetzsteon in the November 1985 issue of American Theatre ("The Director In Spite of Himself." pp. 4-9 and 41), Miller seems determined to loosen the play from the shackles imposed on it by those who, in his eyes, are too concerned about its biographical allusions and too worshipful of its "masterpiece" status:

It is about time, in the afterlife of this particular play, that it severed its connection with the custodial group that surrounds any great playwright in the first 30 years after his death. There is a group of people, often supervised by the widow, who assume some sort of custody of the orthodox method of presentation, and O'Neill is no exception. He has been surrounded by a sort of maintenance group who guarantee what they believe to be the proper and fitting way to do his work. And I think it's about time that the work loosened its anchorage. [It requires] above all separation from its biographical anchorage. (p. 41)

Given the ubiquitousness of its production record--with certainly few if any of those productions being supervised or approved by some custodial cabal--it is hard to credit Dr. Miller with accuracy about Long Day's Journey, or about any of O'Neill. His world is no "closed shop," and if, for instance, Kurosawa were to turn from Shakespeare to him for inspiration, no plenum of purists would decry, undermine or torpedo his intention. On the contrary, directors like George Ferencz, George White, Harold Easton and Laurence Février have done wonderfully innovative things in performances of O'Neill that have won praise from the playwright's admirers. Granted, a too idolatrous attitude on the part of performers or spectators can lead, in Miller's words, to "a boring solemnity, a congregation instead of an audience." And Miller's view of the play, while hardly new, is refreshingly insightful:

I think it is actually a fairly fast-moving, rattling, conversational piece. The rhetorical passages which people put much store by, for instance, and seem to think are great poetry, are often very self-ironizing passages--the characters see themselves as being slightly foolish mouthing them. (p. 41)

Nothing wrong there, except that "self-ironizing" doesn't necessarily undermine the "greatness" of "poetry": just ask Richard II! And there's nothing wrong in choosing Jack Lemmon for the patriarch because he's "so wonderfully against the traditional view." But to expect that "the O'Neill custodians will come crashing in on me with guns blazing and assume that violent irreverence has been inflicted upon the master": that is a bit much, and smacks more of press-agentry than actuality. And of course it works: many will now await the new production with special eagerness. But I'm sure their hands will be as ready to applaud as to reach toward their holsters!

10. FROM PAIN TO ART. That the biographical approach decried by Jonathan Miller still has a valid place in dramatic criticism was evident in Samuel G. Freedman's article, "How Inner Torment Feeds the Creative Spirit," that appeared in the Sunday, November 17 issue of the New York Times (Sec. II, pp. 1, 22). Noting that, "for many artists, creation is a constant act of balancing the dark side that allows introspection with the brighter one that turns raw material into finished product," Freedman cited The Iceman Cometh as one of his examples:

The play, set in a saloon ironically called Harry Hope's, closely parallels O'Neill's years of uncontrollable drinking in dives like Jimmy--the-Priest's and the Hell Hole. It is impossible to imagine O'Neill having written the play without becoming the virtual ascetic he did; yet it is equally impossible to imagine him writing as rendingly about self-destruction and self-delusion without having lived both.

The connection between experience and creativity is always tenuous: Shakespeare need not have even contemplated regicide to write Macbeth! But Freedman's words seem accurate--a valuable corrective to those who would completely untether the work from the individual who wrote it.


Ahuja, Chaman. Tragedy, Modern Temper and O'Neill. Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1984. 207 pp. ISBN 0-391-02699-2. $20.00, cloth. (To be reviewed in next issue.)

Floyd, Virginia. Eugene 0'Neill: A New Assessment. New York: Ungar, 1985. xxvii + 605 pp. ISBN 0-8044-2206-0. $19.95, cloth. (A paperback edition is also available: ISBN 0--8044-6153-8.) (To be reviewed in the next issue.)

Barlow, Judith E. Final Acts: The Creation of Three Late O'Neill Plays [Iceman. Journey and Moon]. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1985. vii + 215 pp. $22.50, cloth. ISBN 0-8203-0759-9. (Reviewed in this issue.)

Williams, Gary Jay. "Turned Down in Provincetown: O'Neill's Debut Re-examined." Theatre Journal, 37 (May 1985), 155-166. [Williams' contention is that O'Neill was with the Provincetown Players earlier than the traditional account would have it, and that the plays in his Thirst volume were turned down before Bound East for Cardiff was accepted and launched his career as a produced dramatist. The truth, if it be that, is a bit less romantic than the standard account, but Williams' essay makes compelling reading, as all who heard it at the 1984 O'Neill conference might infer. And it is accompanied (on p. 157) by a full-page, previously unpublished photograph of the Provincetown wharf, probably taken in 1916.]

Durnell, Hazel B. "Eugene O'Neill and the Far East" (pp. 147-164), in Japanese Cultural Influences on American Poetry and Drama. Tokyo: Hokuseido, 1983.

Dutta, Ujjal. "The Iceman Cometh: O'Neill's Theatre of Alien Vision." Journal of the Department of English (Calcutta Univ.), 17 (1981-82), 72-78.

Egri, Péter. "The Dramatic Role of the Fog/Foghorn Leitmotif in Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night." Amerikastudien, 27 (1982), 445-455.

Egri, Péter. "The Plight of War and the Predicament of Revolution: Eugene O'Neill's The Personal Equation." Acta Litteraria Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae, 23 (1981), 249-260.

Misra, K. S. "O'Neill's Hairy Ape" (pp. 185-206), in Modern Tragedies and Aristotle's Theory. New Delhi: Vikas, 1981.

Raleigh, John H. "Strindberg in Andrew Jackson's America: O'Neill's More Stately Mansions." Clio, 13 (1983), 1-15.

Snyder, Phillip A. "A Wanderer's Tether: The Meaning of Home in O'Neill's Ah, Wilderness! and Long Day's Journey Into Night." Encyclia Journal of the Utah Academy of Sciences, Arts & Letters, 57 (1980), 103-109.

Voda-Capusan, Maria. "Masca destin la Eugene O'Neill" (pp 96-111), Teatru şi Mit. Cluj: Dacia, 1976.

Shaughnessy, Edward P. "Eugene O'Neill: The Development of Negro Portraiture." Melus, 11 (Fall 1984). 87-91.


Bloom, Thomas A. "Kenneth Macgowan and the Aesthetic Paradigm for the New Stagecraft in America." Univ. of Michigan, dir. Alan Billings, 1986.

Lowel, Marleen. "Herman Melville and Eugene O'Neill in Search of a Nocturnal Paradise." George Washington Univ., dir. C. Sten & R. Combs, 1986.

Wainscott, Ronald H. "A Critical History of the Professional Stage Direction of the Plays of Eugene O'Neill, 1920-1934," 1985.

13. O'NEILL AT NEMLA '86. Four papers will be presented at the special session on Eugene O'Neill during the 1986 convention of the Northeast Modern Language Association in New Brunswick, NJ, next April 4. The session, entitled "O'Neill's Women: Biography as Theatre," will be chaired by Ellen Kimbel. The papers and speakers are the following:

"The Journey from Theatre to Film: Lumet's Mary Tyrone," by Frank R. Cunningham, University of Nebraska.

The Cycle Women and Carlotta Monterey," by Martha Bower, University of New Hampshire.

"Carlotta Monterey's Diaries: New Light on the Late Plays," by Judith Barlow, SUNY-Albany.

"The Faces of Eve in Eugene O'Neill's Drama," by Joseph Tedesco, St. Bonaventure University.

The session will take place from 10:15 to 11:30 a.m. at Rutgers University.


Before Breakfast, dir. Francisco Rivela. No Smoking Playhouse, New York City, closed Dec. 15. (Part of a "Trilogy of Love and Death" that also included Williams' Talk to Me Like the Rain and Lorca's Don Perlimplin.)

Beyond the Horizon. Source Theatre Co., Washington, D.C., Nov. 8 - Dec. 7, 1985.

The Emperor Jones, dir. Donald McKayle. Denver (CO) Center Theatre Company, Jan. 20 - Feb. 22, 1986.

Long Day's Journey Into Night, dir. Braham Murray. Royal Exchange, Manchester, England, March 14 - April 6, 1985. [According to Robin Thornber, reviewing the production in the Guardian (March 15), Murray's determination to buck the "grandiose" and replace it with "a very subdued, very restrained series of quirky cameos" did not arouse enthusiasm. "I was simply not engaged in this rather seedily suburban and excessively verbose family and their sordid problems. And I don't think that that's what O'Neill was aiming for."]

Long Day's Journey Into Night, dir. Jonathan Miller with Jack Lemmon as James Tyrone, Sr. Broadway opening, April 17, 1986, at theatre to be announced.

Long Day's Journey Into Night, dir. Adrian Hall with Katherine Helmond as Mary. Trinity Square Repertory Company, Providence, RI, April 18 - May 18, 1986.

A Moon for the Misbegotten, dir. John Gulley. Asolo State Theater, Sarasota, FL. In repertory, Jan.-Apr., 1986. Also on tour in Southeast, Midwest and Northeast, Jan. 2 - Mar. 2.

A Moon for the Misbegotten. Dallas Theater Center, early in 1986 (dates t.b.a.).

A Moon for the Misbegotten, dir. Pam Pepper. Pennsylvania Stage Company, Allentown, May 7 - June 8, 1986.

Mourning Becomes Electra, dir. Tom Haas. Indiana Repertory Theatre,
Indianapolis, Feb. 14 - Mar. 2, 1986.

My Gene, one-character play by Barbara Gelb, with Colleen Dewhurst as Carlotta Monterey O'Neill. New York Shakespeare Festival, February or March (1986) opening. For details, call 212-598-7100.



© Copyright 1999-2007