Menu Bar

O’Neill’s Birthplace Is Marked
By Plaque at Times Square Site

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 was late."

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 Parliamentarians.

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.

© Copyright 1999-2007