MEETING EUGENE O'NEILL*
"Thought you wouldn't mind visiting with the O'Neills after dinner. They live in Danville. That's not far, is it?"
I had picked up Kenneth Macgowan at the San Francisco Airport and driven him inland to our home in Lafayette. He had hardly placed his sparse luggage in the guest room when he stepped back into the living room with this statement.
I reviewed his words, hardly believing them. Visiting with O'Neill! It had to be Eugene O'Neill. I had heard that he spent some time in Danville. I knew that Macgowan had been close to him since the Provincetown theatre. And I knew that Macgowan held on to friends and contacts, for here he was—a celebrity in his own right—my house guest.
Some months before, I had completed the production of a documentary film, Mexico Builds a Democracy. At the suggestion of a mutual acquaintance, I had gone East to screen it for Macgowan, who had recently taken a leave of absence from producing at 20th Century Fox to head up the film division of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs, a part of the over-all war effort.
Macgowan was a modest, easy man to know with a gracious manner that inspired one to relax and at the same time give his best. We soon discovered a multitude of common interests. The film was screened, purchased, and late on a Friday I was seated along-side Macgowan on the commuter train to upstate New York (Brewster, I believe it was), where he and his family had lived for many years. Here I met and enjoyed a weekend in the genuine warmth and sparkle of the Macgowan clan.
Now in Lafayette it was my turn to try to reciprocate, and here he was, offering me Eugene O'Neill (for years something of a God to me), alive and close by. I made no attempt to hide my excitement at this prospect and shortly after dinner we were on our way.
While the drive to Danville took only some twenty minutes, to locate the secluded house took a bit of doing. I became as nervous wondering if we would ever find O'Neill, as I was anticipating the meeting with him.
It was a clear, bright night and finally we came upon what looked like a high and long, white, adobe wall. An antique door was open to a courtyard, and framed by it, magnificently illuminated from within, stood O'Neill's wife, the statuesque beauty Carlotta Monterey. She greeted Macgowan and me. Her voice was at once as melodious and graceful as her movements as she led us through the quiet, formal courtyard and into the entry of a Spanish-American style house.
Then we were ushered into a living room whose focal point was a huge pair of blue, blue eyes, in an emaciated face, still emitting vital magnetic power from within a fragile frame. This was Eugene O'Neill.
As he saw and greeted Macgowan, a warm smile tightened his loose skin. As his shaking hand shook mine, he seemed to grow in stature, and the powerful eyes penetrated into the depths of me.
I remember literally nothing of the conversation, little of my surroundings. Enough that I was in the company of an immortal. Enough that I was permitted to be a tiny part of the relationship between old friends of great talent. Enough that one of my life-long dreams had come true. I had met the great Eugene O'Neill.
Somehow, as sparse as are the details of that meeting in my memory, just the mention of his name brings the blue eyes back into brilliant focus, and he becomes, once again, alive and close by.
—Alvin J. Gordon
*Copyright (c) 1983 by Alvin J. Gordon.
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