BY Arthur Gelb
FROM The New York Times, October 17, 1957
On Oct. 16, 1888, Eugene O’Neill was born in a Broadway hotel room. On
Nov. 27, 1953, he died in a Boston hotel room. Yesterday his birth was
commemorated by the dedication of a bronze plaque dedication of a bronze
plaque on the site of his birthplace, on the northeast corner of
Broadway and Forty-third Street.
The author of forty-two published plays, O’Neill
was the only American to win a Nobel Prize for playwriting and the only
dramatist to win four Pulitzer Prizes.
O’Neill’s father, James, was a celebrated actor
whose greatest success was on the road, so the O’Neills spent most of
their lives in hotel rooms. It was in a third-floor room of a
family-style hotel, the Barrett House, that O’Neill was born. The hotel
was situated in what was then Longacre Square, a quiet residential
area. New York’s theatrical district was in Herald Square.
At 2 o’clock yesterday afternoon, the plaque,
saluting O’Neill as "America’s foremost playwright," was fixed to a
pillar in front of a store building on the site, one of the most
bustling corners of Manhattan.
The plaque was donated by José Quintero, Theodore
Mann and Leigh Connell, sponsors of the Broadway production "Long Day’s
Journey Into Night" and off-Broadway’s "The Iceman Cometh."
One hundred persons, including actors in current
productions of O’Neill plays, attended the ceremony. Frederic Fox,
special assistant to President Eisenhower, sent his greetings and said
he was sure "the President has great respect for the creative art of
Eugene O’Neill." In a telegram, Governor Harriman hailed O’Neill as "a
world famous playwright of genius." Mayor Wagner proclaimed "Eugene
O’Neill Dedication Day."
Merged with an adjoining structure about 1900, the
Barrett House was renamed the Cadillac Hotel. It was frequently pointed
out by O’Neill as a noteworthy landmark. In at least one instance, he
impetuously took a friend up to the third floor, knocked on the door of
the room in which he had been born, explained his mission to the
startled occupants and received permission to look around.
To O’Neill’s regret, the Cadillac was torn down in
1940. Some time later, he said, "There is only empty air now where I
came into this world."
Photograph Pleased Him
Five years before his death, in 1953, at the age of
65, O’Neill received a photograph of the original Barrett House.
"I know of no gift which could have pleased me
more," O’Neill wrote. He added facetiously that the figure leaning
against the lamp-post outside the hotel obviously "had a bun on"
"In the old days, when I was born, a man --
especially one from Kilkenny -- went on a five year drunk and finished
by licking four cops, and then went home to raise hell because dinner
The reference to Kilkenny applied to his father,
who came here from Ireland with his family in 1854. It is said that
James O’Neill named his third son Eugene after Eaghan Ruadh, or Owen
Rae, the greatest of the O’Neill soldiers to fight the English
Among the controversial aspects of the posthumously
produced autobiographical play, "Long Day’s Journey Into Night," is
O’Neill’s dramatically underlined explanation that his birth was
responsible for his mother’s illness.
In the play, O’Neill has his mother say that
bearing the child was the last straw.
"I was so sick afterwards," she says, "and that
ignorant quack of a cheap hotel doctor -- all he knew was I was in pain.
It was easy for him to stop the pain."
The reference is to her introduction to narcotics,
which soon became an anguished habit.
Now, on a
bronze plaque in Times Square, the birth of that son is commemorated.