Title: O’Neill
Date: 1960
Notes: The photo gallery broke up paragraphs in 3 places in the source book, so it has been moved to the back matter here.
ISBN: 0-06-011487—8
Publisher: Harper & Row Publishing



    Part 1: Haunting Ghosts 1846—1912




















    Part 2: The Birth of a Soul 1912—1920














    Part 3: The Makings of a Poet 1920—1926















    Part 4: Wilderness Regained 1926—1936











    Part 5: Hopeless Hope 1936—1953










    Photo Gallery

    Chronological Table of O’Neill’s Published Plays



A great many persons, libraries, institutions, organizations and publications have given their help and cooperation in the preparation of this book. We will never be able to thank all of them adequately, and can only try to outline the extent of their assistance and indicate the measure of our gratitude.

We acknowledge, first, our debt to Carlotta Monterey O’Neill. With the understanding that we were to have the freedom of complete objectivity, she graciously allowed herself to be interviewed on many occasions, put documents and photographs at our disposal, made us a gift of two privately printed volumes containing O’Neill’s writings, cleared our path at the Yale University Library’s O’Neill Collection, and facilitated and consented to our quoting from and using the published and unpublished works of her husband. Mrs. O’Neill entrusted us with the details of her life with her husband, forbearing to ask for any power of censorship or to review what use we made of the material.

O’Neill’s first wife, Kathleen Pitt-Smith (the mother of Eugene O’Neill, Jr.), and his second wife, Agnes Boulton Kaufman (the mother of Shane O’Neill and Oona O’Neill Chaplin), also furnished us with much valuable information. Mrs. Pitt-Smith granted us extensive interviews and showed us documents relating to her son; Mrs. Kaufman’s memoir, Part of a Long Story (Doubleday & Company, Inc.), provided a picture of the climate of her marriage to O’Neill between 1918 and 1920. We thank them both.

We are very much indebted to four people whose help, faith and encouragement over five years extended well beyond the bounds of friendship: S. N. Behrman, Brooks Atkinson, Dr. Philip Weissman and Clara Rotter, all of whom allowed themselves to be put upon constantly, and who became integrally involved, in one way or another, in this project.

Our deep gratitude is extended, also, to Oscar Godbout, an ardent O’Neill scholar, and Robert Siegel (who was converted to one)—both spent many hours of their spare time in pursuit of live and documentary information pertaining to O’Neill, which they duly and minutely conveyed to us; to Leonard Harris, who took time out from his professional obligations as a publisher and editor (not ours) to labor over our manuscript; to John Mason Brown, who packed up a suitcaseful of rare books for us and told us to keep them for as long as we wished; to Kenneth Macgowan, who was an invaluable source of information, about O’Neill, and who turned over his voluminous correspondence to us; to Frances Steloff, whose Gotham Book Mart was a gold mine of rare volumes and documents, and who spared us many hours of her time; to Irving Hoffman, who put us in touch with people who would otherwise have been inaccessible; to Robert Downing, an encyclopedia of the theatre, who read proofs and kept a sharp eye out for factual errors; to Russel Crouse, Saxe and Dorothy Commins, Angna Enters, Shirlee and Robert Lantz, David and Esther Hahin, Mr. and Mrs. Arthur McGinley, Ben and Ann Pinchot, Elliot Norton, James Joseph Martin and Charles O’Brien Kennedy, who, in addition to supplying us with information, extended to us, on more than one occasion, their hospitality; and to Lawrence Langner, who not only talked to us at length and on many occasions about his relationship with O’Neill, but generously allowed us to quote from his comprehensive autobiography, The Magic Curtain (E. P. Dutton & Company, Inc.).

Without the help of various libraries, our task would have been an impossible one. We wish first to thank the Yale University Library, whose O’Neill collection is the world’s foremost; Dr. Donald C. Gallup and James T. Babb extended us every courtesy in our research there. We are also grateful, at Yale University, to Steve Kezerian.

We are much obligated for the extensive help given us by the New York Public Library’s Theatre Collection, and to George Freedley and Paul Myers, who were never too busy to track down that one, last (only it never turned out to be the last) detail; also the library’s Berg Collection and John Gordan.

The Princeton University Library, through the good offices of Alexander P. Clark and Alexander D. Wainwright, made its O’Neill collection available to us and granted us many special favors. Dartmouth College was equally gracious in placing the facilities of its library at our command, and we wish to thank Bella C. Landauer, who was responsible for the gift of the O’Neill collection to Dartmouth, and who brought other O’Neill items to our attention. We also thank Donald D. McCuaig, Marcus A. McCorison and Professor Kenneth Robinson for their help at Dartmouth.

At Harvard University, with the assistance of William Van Lennep, we were permitted to examine the O’Neill documents on file at the Houghton Library’s Theatre Collection. St. Mary’s College furnished us with details of Ella O’Neill’s student days, and we thank Marion McCandless for her exhaustive letters of information and for her book, Family Portraits. At St. Mary s, we also appreciate the help of S. Robert Johnson.

Mrs. George Jean Nathan allowed us to see her husband’s O’Neill collection, now at Cornell University; we gratefully thank her, also, for allowing us to quote from the published writings of George Jean Nathan.

We owe a debt to the Museum of the City of New York and May Davenport Seymour; the University of Oregon and Horace W. Robinson; Fordham University and Burt Solomon; the Fales Collection of New York University; the University of Washington Library and Jessica Potter; the University of Pennsylvania and Neda M. Westlake; Connecticut College for Women and Hazel Johnson; the University of Notre Dame and James E. Armstrong; the Columbia University Library and Kenneth A. Lohf; the New London Public Library and Frank Edgerton; the Newberry Library and Amy Nyholm; the Boston Public Library and Richard G. Hensley and Mrs. Marjorie Bouquet; the Library of Congress Reference Division and Richard S. McCartney; the Library of Congress Manuscript Division and David C. Mearns.

Our thanks are due, as well, to Actors Equity and Alfred Harding; O’Malley’s Book Shop; the American Merchant Marine Institute and Frank Braynard; the Church of St. Ann (New York City) and the Reverend John P. Healy; the Euthanasia Society of America and Dr. Robert L. Dickinson and Mrs. Robertson Jones; the General Service Administration, National Archives (Washington, D.C.), and F. R. Holdcamper; Lawrence Memorial Hospital (New London, Conn.); the Marine Society of the Port of New York; the Mystic Seaport Museum (Mystic, Conn.) and Malcolm D. McGregor; the National Institute of Arts and Letters; the George M. Cohan Music Publishing Company; the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (New York City); Bellevue Hospital; Norwich (Conn.) State Hospital; Laurel Heights Sanatorium (Shelton, Conn.) and Dr. Kirby S. Howlett, Jr., and Dr. Edward J. Lynch; the New London County Historical Society; d he Players and Pat Carroll; the Episcopal Actors Guild and Mrs. Helen Morrison; the Seaman’s Institute; Sailors Snug Harbor and Arthur Cochrane and Frederick S. McMurray; St. Joseph’s Church and St. Mary’s Cemetery (New London, Conn.); the Stamford Historical Society and Miss M. E. Plumb; the United States Lincs and Richard Harris; the Office of the Town Clerk and the Office of the City Clerk (New London) and Elizabeth T. Roath; Harkness Memorial State Park (Connecticut State Park and Forest Commission, Waterford, Conn.); Mount St. Vincent-on-Hudson and the Sisters of Charity—most particularly, Mother Mary; the College of Mount St. Vincent and Sister Marie Jeanette; De La Salle Institute; the Veterans Administration Hospitals in the Bronx and Manhattan and in Bath, N.Y., and the Probate Court, Salem, Mass.

Special thanks are due to the Gaylord Farm Sanitarium, which provided us with background information. We are grateful to members of its staff—Howard Crockett, Mrs. Reba Maisonville and especially to Dr. Sterling B. Brinkley, its director.

We are indebted to the reference libraries and morgues of various magazines and newspapers for their great help, and also for their permission to quote from specific articles. Many of these articles, too numerous to list here, have been acknowledged in the text. First in our gratitude is The New York Times, the extent of whose assistance is incalculable, and whose files have been drawn upon more than those of any other publication.

We thank, also, the New York Herald Tribune; the New York Journal American; the New London Day and its managing editor, George E. Clapp; the Oakland (California) Tribune and Frank Wootten and Lester Sipes; the Boston Globe and Herbert A. Kenny; the Providence (R.I.) Journal and the Evening Bulletin and I. Talanian; the Lynne (Mass.) Item and V. P. O’Brien; the Oregon Journal; the Salem Evening News and Warren Rockwell; the Oregonian and Amanda Marion; the Seattle Post-Intelligencer; the Seattle Times and Chester Gibbon; Time and Content Peckham; and Variety.

Among the people connected with O’Neill or members of his family, who gave us their hospitality and in other ways extended themselves to make our job easier, were: Winfield Aronberg, Barbara Burton, Dr. and Mrs. Louis Bisch, E. J. Ballantine, Mrs. Claire Bird, Mrs. Fred Boyden, Louis Bergen, Alfred B. C. Batson, Mrs. Chester A. Beckley, Agnes Casey, Professor Bruce Carpenter, Bennett Cerf, Mrs. Benjamin DeCasseres, Jasper Deeter, Eddie Dowling, Dorothy Day, Eben Given and Phyllis Duganne Given, Charles Ellis and Norma Millay Ellis, Waldo Frank, Mrs. Byron S. Fones, Dr. Shirely C. Fisk, Lillian Gish, Mrs. Samuel S. Greene, Mrs. Pete Gross, Dr. and Mrs. Joseph Ganey, Mrs. Clayton Hamilton, John Hewitt, Joe Heidt, Ralph Horton, Mrs. Smith Ely Jelliffe, Edna Kenton, Alexander King, Joseph Wood Krutch, Louis Kalonvme, Manuel Komroff, Ed Keefe, James and Patty Light, Ruth Lander, Armina Marshall Langner, William L. Laurence, Romany Marie, Mrs. W. E. Maxon, Dr. Frederic B. Mayo, Jo Mielziner, George Middleton, Mrs. Beatrice Maher, Philip Moeller, Ward Morehouse, Frank and Elsie Meyer, Joseph A. McCarthy, Elizabeth Murray, Mrs. Matt Moran, Nina Moise, Dudley Nichols, George Jean Nathan, Patricia Neal, Sean O Casey, Dr. Robert Lee Patterson, Florence Reed, Arthur Leonard Ross, Jessica Rippin, Robert Rockmore, Selena Royle Renavent, Paula Strasberg, Mrs. Earl C. Stevens, Lee Simonson, Wilhelmina Stamberger, Bessie Sheridan, Mr. and Mrs. Phil Sheridan, Claire Sherman, Mrs. E. Chappell Sheffield, Mai-mai Sze, Pauline Turkel, Brandon Tynan, Allen and Sarah Ullman, Alice Woods Ullman, Carl Van Vechten and Fania Marinoff Van Vechten, Mary Heaton Vorse, Mrs. Jacob N. Wolodarsky, Charles Webster, Richard Weeks, Francis (Jeff) Wylie, Norman Winston, Mary Welch, Stark Young and William and Marguerite Zorach. We are grateful to them all.

We also thank Elizabeth Shepley Sergeant, whose reminiscences of O’Neill were of great value and who has allowed us to quote from her book, Fire Under the Andes (Alfred A. Knopf); Ilka Chase, who granted permission to quote from Past Imperfect (Doubleday & Company); Mrs. Dudley Nichols, who consented to our use of letters written by her husband; Mrs. Barrett H. Clark, for permission to quote from Eugene O’Neill: The Man and His Plays (Dover Publications); and Mrs. Sherwood Anderson, for her help in locating some of the sources of her husband’s writings.

Others who generously furnished us with information and assistance of various kinds are: Jacob Ben-Ami, Walter Abel, Mr. and Mrs. Egmont Arens, Leslie Austin, Margaret Anglin, Dr. Frank L. Babbott, Frank D. Brewer, Charlotte E. Betts, Mary Bicknell, Pincus Berner, Robert C. Brown, Bessie Breuer, Albert Boni, Elizabeth Brennan, Jeanie Begg, Jennie Belardi, Mark Barron, Charles Burns, Chief of Police (Marblehead, Mass.) Samuel H. Bradish, Frederick Brisson, Mark Crane, Dan D. Coyle, Joseph Corky, Holger Cahill, George Canessa, Mrs. Francis Cadenas, Edith Corwin, Ed Kook, Dr. Saul Colin, Melville Cane, Mrs. Albert B. Carey, Carmen Capalbo, Stanley Chase, Harry T. Crowley, Louis Calta, Frank Conroy, Alexander Campbell, Bosley Crowther, Padraic Colum, Aileen Cramer, Cheryl Crawford, Edward Choate, Arthur Cantor, Gloria Cantor, F. V. Chappell, Alexander H. Cohen, Jack Cunningham, Bernard Clark, Joe Cronin, Warren Carberg, Arthur Daley, Harrison Dowd, Jack Dempsey, Olin Downes, Zelda Dorfman, Thomas F. Dorsey, Jr., Barbara Dubivsky, Lawrence E. Davies, Ruth Dutro, John D. Davies, Milton I. D. Einstein, Manny Eisler, Leon Edel, Max Eastman, Donald Friede, Daniel Foley, Mrs. Hall Furber, Lynn Fontanne, John Fenton, Bijou Fernandez, Robert Flanagan, Mrs. Emily Rippin Griswold, Howard Mortimer Green, Paul Green, Max Gordon, Ruth Gilbert, Louis Gruenberg, Dr. Karl Ragnar Gierow, Edward Goodman, Brother Angelus Gabriel, Mrs. Joseph Girsdansky, Carol Grace, Howard Mortimer Green, Jesse Gordon, David Golding, Margalo Gilmore, Marjorie Griesser, Police Lieutenant (Marblehead, Mass.) G. E. Girard, Dr. Gordon Hislop, A. Arthur Halle, Sam Hick, Mrs. Walter Huston, Sol Hurok, Sonia Levine Hovey, James Hammond, Helen Hayes, Theresa Helburn, Dag Hammarskjold, John Houseman, Mabel Hess, Inez Hogan, Rita Hastings, John Cecil Holm, Granville Hicks, Ann Harding, Robert Hassett, Margaret Heyer, Arthur Hughes, Blanche Hayes, Dr. Daniel Hiebert, Barry Flyams, Don Hartman, Dr. Andrew Harsanyi, Edward Hubler, Catharine Huntington, Louis Isaacs, Dr. Oswald Jones, Bill Johnson, Denis Johnston, Don Janson, Sybil V. Jacobsen, Dr. Robert Klein, Allred Krevmborg, Leon Kramer, Sadie Koenig, Margaret Kaplan, Gilbert Kahn, Theodore Liebier, Jr., Mrs. William L’Engle, Claire Luce, Alfred Lunt, Frank Leslie, Dr. Sidney Lenke, Scott Lindsley, Louise Larabec, T. H. Latimer, J. Anthony Lewis, Gloria Vanderbilt Lumet, Edward Lazarc, David Lawrence, Kyra Markham, Nickolas Moray, Mary Morris, Mrs. Julian Moran, Aline MacMahon, W. Somerset Maugham, Thomas Mitchell, Robert Manning, Marcella Markham, Philip McBride, Mrs. Harold J. McGee, Gilbert Miller, James Meighan, Theodore Mann, Walter Murphy, Mrs. Richard J. Madden, Dr. Merrill Moore, Warren Munsell, Mrs. Mabel Ramage Mix, Bert McCord, Alan D. Mickle, Richard Maney, Sal J. Miraliotta, Edward Morrow, Albert C. Nathanson, Dr. and Mrs. John Norris, Daniel O’Neill, Arnold Newman, Dr. W. Richard Ohler, Clifford Odets, Hal Olver, Henry O’Neill, Dr. B. N. Pennell, Albert J. Perry, Augustus Perry, Joseph Plunkett, Karl Pretshold, Mrs. Percy Palmer, Sevmour Peck, Brother Basil Peters, David F. Perkins, Coddington Pendleton, fudge S. V. Prince, Professor Norman Pearson, Arthur Pell, Dorothy Peterson, Sidney Phillips, Stavros Peterson, Frank Payne, Susan Pinchot, C. N. Pollock, Stephen Philbin, James Francis Quigley, Jose Quintero, George Reynolds, Sawyer Robinson, George Ronkin, George Ross, William Brennan Rogers, Jason Robards, Jr., Jane Rubin, Jay Russell, A. M. Rosenthal, Lennox Robinson, Harold D. Smith, James Shay, Richard Shepard, Mrs. Eunice Saner, Paul Shyrc, Mrs. Henry Bill Selden, Dr. Thomas B. Stoltz, Robert Sisk, Arnault G. Schellenberg, Mrs. John Sloan, Louis Sobol, James Shute, Arthur Shields, Bernard Simon, Oliver M. Sayler, Dr. Daniel Sullivan, Wilbur Daniel Steele, Patrolman (Marblehead, Mass.) John Snow, Mrs. George E. Shay, Dr. Kenneth J. Tillotson, John Tucker, Edna Tyler, Clara A. Weiss, Arthur G. Walter, Richard Witkin, Thornton Wilder, Richard Watts, Jr., Mary Williams, Edmund Wilson, Dr. Sophus Keith Winther, Robert Weller, Ted Williams, Mr. and Mrs. Laurence A. White, Stephen Weissman, Stephen Watts, William Weart, Arthur W. Wisner, Peggy Wood and Sam Zolotow.

In addition to the books previously acknowledged, we are grateful to Random House, Inc., for permission to quote from The Plays of Eugene O’Neill (three volumes) and from The Iceman Cometh by Eugene O’Neill and A Moon for the Misbegotten by Eugene O’Neill. We also thank the Yale University Press for allowing us to quote from Long Day’s Journey Into Night, by Eugene O’Neill, as well as from A Touch of the Poet and Hughie, both by Eugene O’Neill.

We are also indebted to the following sources:

Inscriptions: Eugene O’Neill to Carlotta Monterey O’Neill (Yale University Library); George Pierce Baker and the American Theatre, by Wisner Payne Kinne (Harvard University Press); An Anarchist Woman, by Hutchins Hapgood (Dodd, Mead & Company); The Complete Plays of Eugene O’Neill: Wilderness Edition (Charles Scribner’s Sons); History of the San Francisco Theatre, Volume XX: James O’Neill, by Workers of the Writers’ Program of the WPA of Northern California (sponsored by the city and county of San Francisco); The Theatre of George Jean Nathan, by Isaac Goldberg (Simon and Schuster); The Intimate Notebooks of George Jean Nathan (Alfred A. Knopf); A History of the American Drama from the Civil War to the Present, by Arthur Hobson Quinn (Harper & Brothers); Total Recoil, by Kyle Crichton (Doubleday & Company, Inc.); The Curse of the Misbegotten, by Croswell Bowen with the assistance of Shane O’Neill (McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc.); A Victorian in the Modern World, by Hutchins Hapgood (Harcourt, Brace & Company); Letters of Sherwood Anderson (Little, Brown & Company); George Pierce Baker, A Memorial (Dramatists Play Service); Conversations on Contemporary Drama, by Clayton Hamilton (Macmillan); Anathema! by Benjamin DeCasseres (Gotham Book Mart); A Bibliography of the Works of Eugene O’Neill, by Ralph Sanborn and Barrett H. Clark (Random House, Inc.); A Wayward Quest, by Theresa Helburn (Little, Brown & Company); Time and the Lown, by Mary Heaton Vorse (The Dial Press); Our American Theatre, by Oliver M. Sayler (Brentano’s); Movers and Shakers, by Mabel Dodge Luhan (Harcourt, Brace & Company); Living My Life, by Emma Goldman (Garden City Publishing Company, Inc.); Whatever Goes Lip-—by George C. Tyler and J. C. Furnas (The Bobbs-Merrill Company); John Reed, by Granville Hicks (The Macmillan Company); The Road to the Temple, by Susan Glaspell (Frederick A. Stokes); The Provincetown, by Helen Deutsch and Stella Hanau (Farrar & Rinehart, Inc.); A Research in Marriage, by G. V. Hamilton, M.D. (Lear Publishers, Inc.); These Things Are Mine, by George Middleton (The Macmillan Company); The Stage Is Set, by Lee Simonson (Dover Publications); Representative One-Act Plays by American Authors, selected by Margaret Goodner Mayorga (Little, Brown & Company); Reference Point, by Arthur. Hopkins (Samuel French); Of Time and the River, by Thomas Wolfe (Charles Scribner’s Sons); Nine Plays by Eugene O’Neill—introduction by Joseph Wood Krutch (Random House, Inc.); The American Drama Since 1918, by Joseph Wood Krutch (George Braziller, Inc.); The Gangs of New York, by Herbert Asbury (Alfred A. Knopf); and This Is My Best, edited by Whit Burnett (The Dial Press).

We also acknowledge, with thanks, consent to quote from the following:

“O’Neill Picks America as His Future Workshop,” by Richard Watts, Jr., September 27, 1931; “Exile Made Him Appreciate U.S., O’Neill Admits,” by Ernest K. Lindley, May 22, 1931; “Nathan Admits O’Neill Flouted Advice He Gave,” by Ishbel Ross, March 17, 1931; “Regarding Mr. Eugene O’Neill as a Writer for the Cinema,” by Richard Watts, Jr., March 4, 1928; “Eugene O’Neill Talks of His Own and the Plays of Others” (unsigned), November 16, 1924; “Young Boswell Interviews O’Neill” (unsigned), May 24, 1923; “Eugene O’Neill” (unsigned), November 13, 1921; “Eugene O’Neill at Close Range in Maine,” by David Karsner, August 8, 1926; Poem (“To Be Sung at the O’Neill Play”) in Franklin P. Adams’ column, October, 1931. The foregoing are all by permission of the New York Herald Tribune.

“The Odyssey of Eugene O’Neill,” by Fred Pasley, 1932—by permission of the New York Daily News; “A Eugene O’Neill Miscellany” (unsigned), January 12, 1928, and “The Boulevards After Dark,” by Ward Morehouse, May 14, 1930—by permission of the New York Sun; “O’Neill in Northwest to Get Drama,” by Richard L. Neuberger, November 29, 1936—by permission of the Sunday Oregonian; “The Ordeal of Eugene O’Neill” (cover story), October 21, 1946—by permission of Time; “Softer Tones for Mr. O’Neill’s Portrait,” by Mary Welch, May, 1957, and “Untold Tales of Eugene O’Neill,” by Gladys Hamilton, August, 1956—by permission of Theatre Arts magazine, Miss Welch and Mrs. Hamilton; “The Iceman and the Bridegroom,” by Cyrus Day, March, 1958—by permission of Modern Drama and the author; “The Recluse of Sea Island,” by George Jean Nathan, August, 1935—by permission of Redbook magazine and Mrs. George Jean Nathan.

Permission to quote from the three-part Profile of Eugene O’Neill by Hamilton Basso, February 28, March 6 and March 13, 1948, has been granted by the author and The New Yorker; we thank The New Yorker, also, for permission to quote from reviews and “The Talk of the Town,” and for a verse by Arthur Guiterman. Permission to quote from “Close-up —Eugene O’Neill,” by Tom Prideaux, October 14, 1946, is by courtesy of the author and Life, copyright 1946 Time Inc. Permission to quote from A Weekend with Eugene O’Neill,” by Malcolm Cowley, September 5, 1957, has been granted by the author and The Reporter magazine.

In addition, we would like to acknowledge our appreciation to the following articles and authors:

“Haunted by the Ghost of Monte Cristo,” by Richard H. Little—Chicago Record Herald, February 9, 1908; “Personal Reminiscences,” by James O’Neill—Theatre Magazine, December, 1917; “Nipping the Budding Playwright in the Bud,” by Heywood Broun—Vanity Fair, October, 1919; “Personality Portraits,” by Alta M. Coleman—The Theatre, April, 1920; “Playwright Finds His Inspiration on Lonely Sand Dunes by the Sea,” by Olin Downes—Boston Sunday Post, August 29, 1920; “Enter Eugene O’Neill,” by Pierre Loving—The Bookman, August, 1921; “The Extraordinary Story of Eugene O’Neill,” by Mary B. Mullett—American Magazine, November, 1922; “Making Plays with a Tragic End,” by Malcolm Mollan—Philadelphia Public Ledger, January 22, 1922; “The Real Eugene O’Neill,” by Oliver M. Sayler—The Century Magazine, July, 1922; “What a Sanatorium Did for Eugene O’Neill,” by J. F. O’Neill —Journal of Outdoor Life, June, 1923; “Eugene O’Neill,” by Charles A. Merrill—Boston Globe, July 8, 1923; “Eugene O’Neill—the Inner Man,” by Carol Bird—Theatre Magazine, June, 1924; “Back to the Source of Plays Written by Eugene O’Neill,” by Charles P. Sweeney— New York World, November 9, 1924; “Eugene O’Neill Lifts Curtain on His Early Plays,” by Louis Kalonyme—The New York Times, December 21, 1924; “Fierce Oaths and Blushing Complexes Find No Place in Eugene O’Neill’s Talk,” by Flora Merrill—New York World, July 19, 1925; “Fifteen Year Record of the Class of 1910—Princeton University,” 1925; “I Knew Him When—” by John V. A. Weaver—New York World, February 21, 1926; “Eugene O’Neill, Writer of Synthetic Drama,” by Malcolm Cowley-—Brentano’s Book Chat, Vol. 5, No. 4, July and August, 1926; “Who’s Who on Broadway,” by Homer H. Metz—New York Telegraph, December 25, 1927; “O’Neill Stirs the Gods of the Drama, by H. I. Brock—The New York Times, January 15, 1928; “Celebrities and Some Others,” by Allred Batson—North China Daily News, February 12, 1929; “Out of Provincetown,” by Harry Kemp—Theatre Magazine, April, 1930; “The World’s Worst Reporter, by Robert A. Woodworth—Providence Journal, December 6, 1931; “O’Neill’s House VWs Shrine for Friends,” by Mary Heaton Wise—New York World, January 11, 193!; “O’Neill Is Eager to See Cohan in ‘Ah, Wilderness!’” by Richard Watts, Jr.—New York Herald Tribune, September 9, 1933; “Eugene O’Neill Undramatic Over Honor of Nobel Prize”—Seattle Times, November 12, 1936; “O’Neill Turns West to New Horizons,” by Richard L. Neuberger—The New York Tiwtes, November 22, 1936; “O’Neill Plots a Course for the Drama,” by S. J. Woolf—The New York Times, October 4, 1941; “Eugene O’Neill Discourses on Dramatic Art,” by George Jean Nathan—New York journal American, August 22, 1946; “Eugene O’Neill Returns After Twelve Years,” by S. J. Woolf—The New York Times, September 15, 1946; “O’Neill on the World and ‘The Iceman,’” by John S. Wilson—PM, September 3, 1946; “Playwright Eugene O’Neill Back for Play’s Premiere Says He’ll Roam No More,” by Mark Barron—Associated Press News Feature, October 12, 1946; “Memories of Eugene O’Neill,” by Herbert J. Stoeckel—Hartford Courant Magazine, December 6, 1953; “Shane O’Neill’s hong Journey,” by Helen Dudar—New York Post, February 7, 1957; “Eugene O’Neill— Notes From a Critic’s Diary,” by Stark Young—Harper’s Magazine, June, 1957; “The Bright Face of Tragedy,” by George Jean Nathan— Cosmopolitan, August, 1957; “A Few Memories of Eugene O’Neill,” by Richard Watts, Jr.—New York Post, September 8, 1957.

Also, the following stories and articles by Eugene O’Neill:

“Tomorrow”—The Seven Arts magazine, June, 1917; “A Letter from Eugene O’Neill”—The New York Times, April 11, 1920; “A Letter [from Eugene O’Neill]”—The New York Times, December 16, 1921; “Strindberg and Our Theatre”—Provincetown Playbill, No. 1, Season 1923–24; “Are the Actors to Blame?”—Provincetown Playbill, No. 1, Season 192526; “The ‘Fountain’ Program Note”-—Greenwich Playbill, No. 3, Season 1925–26; “The Playwright Explains”-—The New York Times, February 14, 1926; “Memoranda on Masks—A Dramatist’s Notebook”—The American Spectator, November, 1932; “Second Thoughts”—The American Spectator, December, 1932.

Finally, we thank our editors at Harper for their patience and moral support. If we have inadvertently neglected to thank any of the people who gave us their assistance, we ask their pardon, and offer our gratitude.


Since Mr. Gelb and I are associates on the news staff ofThe New York Times, he has told me a good deal about O’Neill during the five years in which Mrs. Gelb and he have been writing it. When they undertook the responsibility of writing it they did not foresee the size it would assume. They had always admired Eugene O’Neill’s plays; they had long regarded him as America’s greatest dramatist; they were fascinated by everything they heard about him from people who had known him. All they intended originally was a biography of conventional length.

But the more they poked into his bizarre personal life, which they saw reflected in the dark mirror of his plays, the more engrossed they became. Everything in his life became significant because everything affected his plays. He was a highly personal writer who proceeded through a succession of obsessions from the wistfully romantic sea plays to the ruthlessness of Long Day’s Journey Into Night.

Eventually Mr. and Mrs. Gelb had to decide whether they were going to write a selective biography or a comprehensive life and study. They decided on the latter. For it became obvious to them that the philosophical life of the dramatist developed out of the experiences and temperaments of his mother and father: that the real sources, in fact, were his emotional and spiritual heritage. The father and mother lived in a spacious theatre that their son helped to destroy. He retained much of the spaciousness of style, but he filled it with bleaker and harsher materials.

Although O’Neill had a charming personality, he was an extremely complex man. Brooding, restless, distrustful, dramatic, he rejected every thing in life that did not bear directly on his writing. Except for his passion for writing, he would probably have drunk himself to an early death, like his hopeless brother. If the term “beatnik” had existed in his youth, he would have been recognized as a perfect example of the rootless, rebellious, dissipated, egotistical, self-pitying renegade. His passion for writing saved him by imposing on him a certain discipline. He chose between dereliction and writing. Even after he had made the choice—more or less deliberately, it appears—he was still “on the lam,” like a fugitive from society. He was forever abandoning what he had in favor of something else he thought he wanted, but never found. His life was a long day’s journey into night.

Those of us who were acquainted with him knew some of this. But his association with the theatre was only a small part of his personal life, and possibly the least significant. The things that mattered most to him and made the deepest impression on him were, invisible, at least to most of us—his boyhood, unsettled because his father and mother were frequently on tour; his years at sea and on the beach; his mad gold expedition in Honduras; his aimless days and nights in Greenwich Village; his hand-to-mouth existence in Provincetown. Also, the romantically gloomy books, plays and poems he read from the nineteenth century when the death wish was a literary fetish. These were the things that mattered most.

Although the rootlessness and isolation of much of O’Neill’s life have set his biographers many problems, Mr. and Mrs. Gelb have tracked him down with the ingenuity and perseverance of police reporters. They have interviewed more than four hundred people who knew one aspect or another of O’Neill’s elusive life. The people who knew him are mortal, like all of us; and people are always the best sources. The printed records confirm only a small part of the facts and impressions that people retain in their memories. Mr. and Mrs. Gelb have been able to relate O’Neill’s life directly to his plays. It is not a pretty life. But it is always absorbing; much of it is astonishing. We are fortunate to have it on the record less than a decade after O’Neill’s death.

Brooks Atkinson

New York, 1961

“Man is born broken, he lives by mending. The grace of God is glue!”

The Great God Brown, Act IV, Scene I

Part 1: Haunting Ghosts 1846—1912


In the early summer of 1939 Eugene O’Neill began work on what he called “a play of old sorrow, written in tears and blood.” It was Long Day’s Journey Into Night—a brutal baring of the forces that had shaped him, an evaluation of his tragic viewpoint, an explanation of his failures as a human being, and a celebration of the fact that he had become, in spite of these failures, the consummate artist that he was.

“I love life,” he once said. “But I don’t love life because it is pretty. Prettiness is only clothes-deep. I am a truer lover than that. I love it naked. There is beauty to me even in its ugliness. In fact, I deny the ugliness entirely, for its vices are often nobler than its virtues, and nearly always closer to a revelation.”

O’Neill, at fifty, felt an urgency to embark on the revelations of Long Day’s Journey Into Night, for he knew that the mental and physical stamina that had sustained him throughout twenty-five astoundingly productive years was ebbing. Although he no longer cared about having his plays produced—he had not had anything on Broadway since 1934, when Days Without End had been coolly received-—he did not want to die without leaving a definitive, naked statement of who and what he was.

He was convinced of his own immortality as a dramatist and, while determined to withhold his autobiographical play from the public until twenty-five years after his death, he did want it, ultimately, to take its place in the body of his work. His widow, to whom he left control of all his plays, permitted the script to be published three years after he died; it was immediately recognized as a masterpiece in the United States and abroad.

O’Neill wrote in a dedication of the play that at last he had been able to face his dead. After years of dissecting, analyzing and reconstructing the members of his family and drawing thinly disguised and symbolically heightened portraits of them, he was now prepared to approach them and himself with, as he put it, “deep pity and understanding and forgiveness.”

It is true that he pitied and understood. But the fact that he was impelled, years after their deaths, to reveal his father as a miser, his mother as a narcotics addict, his brother as an alcoholic, indicates that he could not entirely forgive. O’Neill, in his fifties, was still torn by alternating hatred and love for his family.

Friends assumed that he wanted to defer publication of Long Day’s Journey Into Night out of consideration for the feelings of his parents’ surviving relatives, who would have been dead when the play finally emerged. Since O’Neill had little affection for his parents’ kin, however, it is more likely that the purpose of the delay was to prevent his harsh portraits from being disputed (which, as it turned out, they were—and hotly—by friends of O’Neill’s father).

O’Neill was trying to tell an unsuspecting world the truth—if not always the literal truth, at least the artistic truth—about his heritage. He was compelled to go back to his roots, to justify himself, to prove that “the sins of the father are to be laid upon the children.”

“I’m always acutely conscious of the Force behind—(Fate, God, our biological past creating our present, whatever one calls it—Mystery, certainly),” O’Neill had written to the theatre historian and critic Arthur Hobson Quinn, fifteen years before beginning Long Day’s Journey Into Night.

When he started writing the play O’Neill, despite the inroads of a debilitating nervous disorder, was still impressively handsome. His dark hair was streaked with white and there were deeply cut lines about the mouth, at the edges of the eyes, and etched into a lofty forehead. A sparse, gray, triangular mustache roofed a mouth at whose corners lurked the hint of a sardonic smile. The sagging checks could not hide high, strong bones, a firm jaw and a chin chiseled from granite. He smiled rarely, but when he did it was like the sudden lifting of a fog; the fog settled again with the same startling rapidity.

His eyes, always an astonishment to those meeting him for the first time, illuminated his face. Large, dark, immeasurably deep, set wide apart under heavy brows, they could stare into depths that existed for no one else. When he turned the O’Neill look on someone, he appeared to gaze into that person’s soul. But the appraisal was neither critical nor even disconcerting; it was a look of profound and gentle searching, at once penetrating and reassuring. For nothing shocked him. He was interested only in the motive behind the action.

O’Neill, aged fifty, was regarded as the most distinguished dramatist the United States had ever fostered. Since 1916, when a group of passionate young writers, actors and artists in Provincetown, Massachusetts, presented his one-act play, Bound East for Cardiff, he had made a staggering contribution to the American theatre, and had become, except for Shakespeare and possibly Shaw, the world’s most widely translated and produced dramatist.

For over a quarter of a century he had battled to lift American drama to the level of art and keep it there, to mold a native, tragic stage literature. The first American to succeed as a writer of theatre tragedy, he had continued shattering Broadway convention and made possible the evolution of an adult theatre in which such playwrights as Thornton Wilder, Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller could function.

To O’Neill tragedy had the meaning the Greeks gave it, and it was their classic example that he tried to follow. He believed with the Greeks that tragedy always brought exaltation, “an urge toward life and ever more life”; the spectacle of a performed tragedy roused men to “spiritual understandings and released them from the petty greeds of everyday existence.” Tragedy ennobled in art what O’Neill often referred to as man’s “hopeless hopes.” Any victory man might wring from life was an ironic one, O’Neill believed. His viewpoint was that “life in itself was nothing.” It was only the dream that kept man “fighting, willing—living.”

“To me, the tragic alone has that significant beauty which is truth,” O’Neill said in 1921, not long after the premiere of Beyond the Horizon, his initial Broadway production and the first of four O’Neill plays to win the Pulitzer Prize. “It is the meaning of life—and the hope. The noblest is eternally the most tragic. The people who succeed and do not push on to a greater failure are the spiritual middle-classes. Their stopping at success is the proof of their compromising insignificance. How petty their dreams must have been!”

In 1939 O’Neill’s dream still soared. Despite the fact that he had won the Nobel Prize for literature three years before, he did not think he had yet pushed on to a great enough failure. Although he already had thirty-four published plays to his credit, including the thirteen-act trilogy, Mourning Becomes Electra, and had completed the as yet unproduced and unpublished The Iceman Cometh, he had set his “hopeless hope on finishing a Herculean cycle of eleven plays. 7 he cycle, on which he had been working intermittently for about five years, was to span a period of more than 175 years in the history of an American family doomed to what O’Neill characterized as “self-dispossession,” or the bartering of their souls for material gain.

But ill health had forced him to ponder the shelving of his taxing project. Toward the end of 1937 he began to suffer from an illness diagnosed at first as Parkinson’s disease and later as a rarer disease, whose nature could not be completely ascertained but which most specialists considered degenerative.

The obscure disorder causes a gradual breakdown of brain cells and results in a lack of co-ordination between nerves and muscles. The sufferer loses the ability to control arms, legs and even tongue and throat, while retaining his mental clarity. He reaches for a sheet of paper and instead of grasping it his hand flies upward; he tries to walk forward, and instead he stumbles backward; he clears his throat to speak and with his tongue cleaving to his palate his voice emerges as a croak, his words unformed.

In O’Neill’s case these things did not happen always or all at once. He never knew, though, when or how he was to be frustrated. His symptoms varied in their intensity; some of his doctors believed that psychological causes governed the form of his affliction.

By 1939 palsy was seriously affecting his hands. Even as a young man his hands had trembled slightly, a trait he believed he had inherited from his mother. Now the trembling made it difficult for him to write. To help control the shaking and conserve energy, he formed smaller letters, and his calligraphy became increasingly cramped. Eventually he was squeezing a thousand words onto a sheet of paper the size most people fill with two hundred. Much of his work had to be deciphered under a magnifying glass. He could not set down a creative thought except in his own hand. It was impossible for him to dictate or to use a typewriter.

Thus handicapped, O’Neill turned to work he considered more pressing than the cycle. “I felt a sudden necessity to write plays I’d wanted to write for a long time that I knew could be finished,” he wrote to a friend.

On a Tuesday, June 21, 1939, O’Neill’s wife, Carlotta, made the following entry in her diary: “Gene talks to me for hours—about a play (in his mind) of his mother, father, his brother and himself.... A hot, sleepless night—an ache in our hearts for things we can’t escape!” She was referring to the imminence of World War II.

It took O’Neill a little over two years to complete Long Day’s Journey Into blight. He worked every morning, many afternoons, and sometimes evenings as well. Often he wept as he wrote. He slept badly, and occasionally in the night he rose from the converted Chinese opium couch that served as his bed to go to his wife’s room and talk of the play and of his anguish.

“He explained to me that he had to write the play,” his wife once said.

He had to write it because it was a thing that haunted him and he had to forgive his family and himself.”

He was living at the time on a 158-acre estate, in a concrete-block house built on the side of a mountain, about thirty-five miles from San Francisco.

The house was staffed, until the war, by efficient servants. O’Neill saw scarcely anyone except his wife, whose job it was to maintain an atmosphere conducive to work.

“Orders were that nobody was to go near him,” she later recalled, “not even if the house was on fire. He was never to be disturbed.”

O’Neill arose daily at 7:30, dressed, had breakfast on a tray in his bedroom, and then shut himself into his study to work until 1 p.m.

“He would come out of his study looking gaunt, his eyes red from weeping,” Mrs. O’Neill continued. “Sometimes he looked ten years older than when he went in in the morning. For a while he tried to have lunch downstairs with me. But it was very bad, because he would sit there and I knew his whole mind was on his play—acts, lines, ideas— and he couldn’t talk. I would have to sit there perfectly dumb. I didn’t even want to make a sound with the chair that might disturb him. It made me very nervous and it made him nervous seeing me sitting there like that. We decided it would be best for him to have his lunch on a tray, alone.”

After lunch O’Neill would lie down for a rest, unless he was at a point in his work where he felt he had to go on a bit longer. But he napped sometime during the afternoon and if the weather was mild he swam in his pool, which, being high over the valley, had an oddly soothing effect on him. Later in the day he and his wife would walk about on their grounds and look in on the chickens O’Neill was keeping as a hobby. He sometimes went back to work until dinner.

In the evenings the O’Neill’s usually sat before their huge fireplace. O’Neill enjoyed reading Yeats aloud, while his Dalmatian lay at his feet.

“If he felt gay, he would act something out,” his wife has said. “He was very charming; he could be the worst ham you ever met. But if he was sick, he would be silent and just sit and think. Sometimes, he wouldn’t talk all day long.”

When the play was completed in the summer of 1941, O’Neill told his wife, “Well, thank God, that’s finished.” All but spent from the effort, he was able to write only one more play before his death in 1953— A Moon for the Misbegotten (completed in 1943), which is principally about his brother and is in a sense a sequel to Long Day’s Journey Into Night.

O’Neill presented Carlotta with the original manuscript of Long Day’s Journey Into Night on July 22, 1941, their twelfth wedding anniversary. In his inscription he declared that it had been her love that had enabled him to face his dead and write about “the four haunted Tyrones.”

O’Neill had chosen Tyrone to designate his surname because, steeped as he was in Gaelic history and intensely proud of his undiluted Irish blood, he knew the name was derived from Tir-eoghain, meaning the land of Owen. Owen, who died in A.D. 465, was the ancestor of the O’Neill’s who for centuries ruled over a section of Ulster, including the part that later became County Tyrone.

O’Neill did not bother to disguise the given names of his father and brother—James and James Jr.—but he called himself Edmund, which was the name of a brother who had died in infancy. And he called his mother, whom everyone had known as Ella Quinlan O’Neill, Mary Cavan Tyrone (Cavan also being the name of a county in Ulster).

Their story was, indeed, born of tears and blood and was the key to O’Neill’s tragic outlook in life and art.


Both James O’Neill and Ella Quinlan came from Irish Catholic families that had immigrated in the frontier days to bustling cities in Ohio. But that was all they had in common. James, dashing and handsome, and Ella, shy and pretty, fell in love before realizing that their outlooks clashed. Though jealously possessive, they were temperamentally unsuited. Like the warring protagonists in the plays their son was to write, James and Ella became victims of a destructive incompatibility.

Ella was the pampered daughter of a middle-class family, which provided her with a reasonable amount of culture and a higher education. She leaned toward a mystic view of life, was reserved, a little spoiled, romantic and innocent. It was difficult for her to make friends; her shyness was often misconstrued as hauteur and tended to put people off.

James was an actor with no formal schooling, who had fought his way up from poverty. He was gregarious, adaptable, materialistic, secure in his Catholicism and, although self-centered, endowed with a charm that made him universally loved.

Ella could never forgive James for exposing her to his rough-and-tumble world; and he could not forgive her for the pride with which she held aloof from that world. Yet each satisfied in the other a perverse need to torment and pardon. They could express their love only in cycles of punishment and reconciliation. The untranquil climate of their marriage is the theme of Long Day’s journey Into Night. That play lays open the wounds of their marriage, hammering at the accusations and guilty withdrawals and pitiful, abortive attempts at mutual understanding, insisting with nerve-racking emphasis on the quality and quantity of their pain.

James and Mary Tyrone, the play’s middle-aged couple who stand for O’Neill’s parents, are shown to be at once deeply in love and irrevocably embattled; Mary still dwells on the fact that she has married beneath her, out of helpless passion. Her frustration has driven her, long since, to narcotics addiction. She talks in self-pitying monologues. She has tried to understand James’s ambition and his terror at being unable to rise to and stay at the top, but she cannot excuse the effect it has had on her.

James, for his part, adores her, but writhes under her withdrawal and contempt. He has had to resign himself to caring for her as one would a child and salvaging the crumbs of their life.

Eugene O’Neill described the same kind of relationship in a much earlier play, in which the protagonists are frankly designated as Ella and Jim. In it Ella and Jim, both in their twenties, marry out of desperation. Each needs and clings to the other, though neither can give the other happiness or even peace. Ella considers herself Jim’s superior by birth and background and Jim is forced to concede her superiority. Ella resents Jim’s unrelenting fight to overcome his environment; she is furious at being dependent on him; and she is incapable of accepting his selfsacrifice and devotion to her. Jim cannot follow her behind the locked door of her disillusionment.

Jim and Ella literally drive each other insane but they do not let go. In the end Ella is reduced to a childlike state in which she talks to herself madly; Jim’s hope of rising above the petty cruelties of life is crushed, and he resigns himself to being Ella’s nurse.

“I can’t leave her. She can’t leave me,” says Jim to his sister, who has asked why they don’t separate. “And there’s a million little reasons combining to make one big reason why we can’t. For her sake—if it’d do her any good—I’d go—I’d leave—I’d do anything—because I love her ... but that’d only make matters worse for her. I’m all she’s got in the world! Yes, that isn’t bragging or fooling myself. I know that for a fact! Don’t you know it’s true?”

It was a truth O’Neill understood and could hammer home. He did not bother, in this play, to disguise the true names of his parents for two reasons. The first was that they were both recently dead. The other was that Jim was a Negro and the play, on the surface, seemed to be a study of miscegenation, which no one could dream of relating to O’Neill’s own family. The play was All God’s Chilian Got Wings, written in 1923.

O’Neill never stopped writing of his mother and father. He always portrayed them as lovers communicating in code, neither ever able to find the other’s key. Always alive to the intangible gap between his parents, he stated over and over in his plays the theme of man’s tragic inability to reach his fellow man. One of the most heartfelt expressions of this theme is voiced by the hero of The Great God Brown, also written a few years after the death of his parents. In a scene O’Neill selected to represent the work he considered one of his “most interesting and moving, Dion Anthony, the hero he modeled largely on himself, mourns his parents:

“What aliens we were to each other! When [my father] lay dead, his face looked so familiar that I wondered where I had met that man before. Only at the second of my conception. After that, we grew hostile with concealed shame. And my mother? I remember a sweet, strange girl, with affectionate, bewildered eyes as if God had locked her in a dark closet without any explanation.”

Eugene O’Neill’s conception of his mother as a girl locked in a dark closet was influenced by The Spook Sonata, a play by August Strindberg, one of O’Neill’s early literary heroes. In that terrifying drama a woman referred to as the Mummy actually lives in a closet and talks to her family like a parrot. Shortly after his mother’s death O’Neill informed a close friend that she had lived in a room from which she had seldom ventured— that, in a way, she was like the Mummy.

Ella revealed herself to no one outside of her immediate family. Among the hundreds of friends and business associates with whom her husband brought her into contact—even among her relatives who spent summer after summer in the harbor resort of New London, Connecticut, where she and James had their only permanent home—there was no one who could say he really knew her. Relatives who survived her did not even know her actual given name; she had been christened Mary Ellen and was called by that name throughout her childhood.

At fifteen, when she went to boarding school, she dropped the Mary and became Ellen, a name she considered more glamorous. She remained Ellen to the time of her marriage (as indicated by her school records and marriage certificate). Some time after her marriage she assumed the name Ella, which she used on all later legal documents, including her will; that is the name engraved on her tombstone in New London.

It appears then that O’Neill used his mother’s actual given name in Long Day’s Journey Into Night, just as he used the real names of his father and brother. But he may not have done so in this case for the sake of biographical accuracy. For if he had wanted to identify Ella as unequivocally as he did his father and brother he would have used her adopted name, by which everyone, including her relatives, knew her. Psychiatrists to whom the point has been raised consider it likely that O’Neill tried to link his mother to the Virgin Mary, to stress symbolically her frustrated desire to have been a nun rather than a wife and mother. He was acutely conscious of his mother’s conflict between the pure religious life that half-called her and the worldly one she led with her husband, but with which she could not come to terms.

Ella was born on Grand Avenue in New Haven, Connecticut, on August 13, 1857, at the height of a national financial panic. She was the daughter of Thomas Joseph and Bridget Lundigan Quinlan, who had both come from Ireland.

When Ella was born, her father was in his early thirties and her mother in her late twenties. Quinlan had established himself as a general storekeeper but he found the going difficult. Soon after the birth of his daughter he moved his family, which also included a son, William, to Ohio.

The Quinlans, like many immigrant Irish streaming into Ohio on their way west in pursuit of gold, were attracted by Cleveland. Although it was still reeling from the effects of a state-wide wave of bank failures, Cleveland seemed to offer more immediate opportunities than far-off California, for it was a beautiful lake port city and promised quick financial recovery. It had been joined only a few years before by railroad to Cincinnati, then the biggest city in the Midwest.

In Cleveland, Thomas Quinlan became a news dealer, and with the business boom provided by the Civil War he began to thrive. By 1867, when Ella was ten, Quinlan’s business had expanded into a retail shop dealing in books, stationery, “fancy goods,” bread, cakes and candies. The Quinlan family had reached respectable middle-class status. Quinlan accumulated a private library; he also bought a grand piano on which Ella, who showed an aptitude for music, was urged to take lessons. By the time Ella was thirteen, he had switched to the retail liquor and tobacco business and moved into a comfortable house in a good neighborhood.

During the next few years, through judicious investment in real estate and increased patronage of his shop, Quinlan became a man of substance. He brought up his children with all the cultural advantages that a prosperous businessman and a devoted father could provide. Holding firm convictions about his children’s education, he encouraged his daughter to think she might eventually earn a living through playing and teaching piano. But he let his children know he was going to provide for them in his will, and gave Ella to understand that any independence she might achieve by mastery of the piano was to be a matter of moral satisfaction rather than financial necessity.

His plans for her must have been colored somewhat by wishful thinking, for Ella was not suited temperamentally to making her own way in life. No trace of the rugged adaptability that had brought her parents from Ireland could be found in her pliant personality or in her delicate features. Tall for her generation—about five feet six inches—and slender, she had a pale, smooth skin, large, dark-brown eyes, a wide, tremulous mouth, a high forehead, and long hair that was to change gradually from reddish to dark brown and which she often wore knotted at the back of her head. She had a quick, shy laugh, and a low-pitched voice.

Ella seemed best suited to take her place in Cleveland’s well-bred society, probably as the wife of a dependable businessman like her own father. In addition to studying the piano she read the classics from her father’s library and, at intervals, was taken by her father to the theatre. Like her friends, she was infatuated with the stock-company actors— and was thrilled by the passionate declamations of the great touring stars.

In September of 1872, when she was fifteen, she was sent to the convent of St. Mary, at Notre Dame in Indiana. Only very well-off families provided their daughters with a higher education, but Quinlan was prepared to give both his children every advantage. To ensure his plans for them he outlined his wishes in an explicit will less than two months after Ella left for the convent.

After bequeathing to his wife all his real and personal property (on condition that she remain unmarried “during the period of her natural life”), he reminded his children of his hopes for them by leaving to William his “Library of Printed Books” and to Mary Ellen his “One Piano Forte.” (After her marriage, she moved this heirloom to her house in New London. It figures as an important off-stage prop in Long Day’s Journey Into Night.)

Quinlan provided for his children in the event of his wife’s remarriage, and took further pains to secure their future in a codicil to his will, which reflected a certain lack of confidence in his wife:

“I devise that my children ... while they are living with my wife ... and before either of them shall attain their majority, that they each of them shall receive at the hands of my wile the same opportunities for education and self improvement, and be supported and clothed and treated as my wife knows and believes they would be treated by me and are treated by me now.”

Quinlan concluded with a vigorous admonition:

“I also expect of and require from my children ... that they each of them shall use the talents which they possess and the education which they may acquire to earn for themselves when they arrive at an age proper for them to do so an honest, honorable and independent livelihood, not relying upon their mother nor upon such share of the property as may descend to each after her demise nor before then.”

Ella, who adored her father and was more attached to him than to her mother, gave every indication of living up to his wishes. She settled down at the convent, situated-near the campus of Notre Dame, a boys’ school that later became the university. St. Mary’s was not at that time an accredited college. It did, however, offer instruction at the college level and since no American university of the period would admit women to its liberal arts courses, St. Mary’s was popular not only among Catholics but also among Protestant and Jewish families. For her day and background, Ella was exposed to a cultural cross section.

Her studies, in addition to church history, dogma and catechism, included English, ethics, rhetoric, philosophy, astronomy, French, and courses in the theory and composition of music, as well as piano technique. In Long Day’s Journey Into Night Mary Tyrone’s contention that she could have been a successful pianist is sneered at by her husband: “The piano playing and her dream of becoming a concert pianist. That was put in her head by the nuns flattering her. She was their pet. They loved her for being so devout. They’re innocent women ... when it comes to the world....”

Actually the nun who taught Ella piano was far from being the unworldly woman James imagined her. Her name (mentioned in Long Day’s Journey Into Night) was Mother Elizabeth. A convert, Mother Elizabeth did not join the Sisters of the Holy Cross until alter she became a widow. Born in England, she was descended from Dr. George Arnold, who had been organist at Winchester Cathedral under Queen Elizabeth; she was educated in Europe, was herself a fine pianist and was worldly enough to set the foundation, in 1850, for a music department at St. Mary’s that was still adhered to by the college more than a hundred years later.

In Mother Elizabeth’s judgment Ella was exceedingly talented. Mother Elizabeth also was astute enough to recognize in Ella a tendency toward self dramatization. W hen Ella, who had evinced a strong interest in religion, spoke of wishing to become a nun, Mother Elizabeth knew this was more a romantic daydream than a serious intention and she hurt Ella’s feelings by advising her to postpone her decision. Mother Elizabeth’s intuition proved sound, for Ella was married just two years after her graduation from St. Mary’s.

One of her schoolmates, Ella Nirdlinger, often spoke of her as a beautiful and pious girl to her son, George Jean Nathan, who later became one of the first drama critics to recognize Eugene O’Neill’s talent. Another of Ella’s classmates was Loretta Ritchie, of Pinckneyville, Illinois, who kept up a casual correspondence with Ella for many years. Ella wrote Loretta of bringing up her children in hotels and sometimes cradling them, as infants, in dresser drawers. Neither Loretta Ritchie nor Ella Nirdlinger snubbed Ella Quinlan when she married, although Ella’s literary counterpart, Mary Tyrone, sadly recollects in Long Day’s Journey Into Night, that after her marriage to an actor “all my old friends either pitied me or cut me dead.”

In June, 1875, when Ella was eighteen, she was graduated with honors in music. She received a gold medal engraved with her name and garnered honors for politeness, neatness, order, amiability, and correct observance of the academic rules.

Although Long Day’s Journey Into Night is biographically accurate in regard to most of the minutiae concerning Ella and James, a mystifying lapse occurs in connection with the description of their first meeting.

Eugene O’Neill has made it appear in the play that Ella was introduced to James by her father during the spring vacation of her senior year at St. Mary’s, in 1876. Ella was actually in her senior year in 1875, but this error of a year is less noteworthy than the fact that Ella’s father had died before the end of 1874. More interesting is the reference in the play to Quinlan’s participation in his daughter’s wedding plans, particularly the mention of his purchase of an elaborate wedding dress for her, when, in fact, the wedding took place more than three years after his death. O’Neill deliberately altered the facts to heighten Ella’s tragedy. She becomes a more poignant victim when she is thrust into James’s harum-scarum theatrical world directly from the sheltering home of her father.

But while O’Neill took license with these details, it is true that Ella’s father did become acquainted with James O’Neill in 1871 or 1872. James, at that time, was the leading man at Cleveland’s celebrated theatre, the Academy of Music. Quinlan’s shop on Superior Avenue was just a block and a half from the theatre, which stood between Superior and St. Clair avenues, in the heart of Cleveland’s business district.

Members of the acting troupe visited the shop and it was there that Quinlan and James struck up an acquaintance based on their common Irish ancestry. It was the custom for leading businessmen of the community to befriend actors of prominence; many of the touring stars, who were products of stock companies, could boast of friends in every town on their itinerary; this often made their travels more pleasant, for their local friends could be counted on to wine, dine and even house them during their engagements.

Ella, as a girl of fifteen, met James, who was then twenty-six, in her father’s home and developed a schoolgirl’s crush on him. But Ella enrolled in the convent in the fall of 1872, about the same time that James left Cleveland for McVicker’s Stock Company in Chicago. While Ella may have dreamed of James and talked to her friends about him, and even imagined herself his wife (when she was not imagining herself a nun), James did not give her a serious thought at that time. During the next three or four years, which he spent in Chicago and San Francisco, James was conducting a fairly hectic love life; it was not until he came to New York in 1876 that he again met Ella—and this time decided he had found his true love.

Their courtship had come about after Ella had spent some months in Cleveland following her graduation and decided that life was pallid there without her father’s stimulating presence. She reminded her mother of his wishes, and Bridget agreed to take Ella to New York, where she had relatives, and to let her enroll for advanced studies in music.

Mother and daughter arrived there early in 1876; substantial checks drawn on Quinlan’s estate followed them periodically. When James reached New York to fill an acting engagement in the fall of 1876, Ella persuaded a male relative of Bridget’s to take her to see him backstage, using James’s former acquaintance with her father as an excuse. She had not forgotten her schoolgirl daydreams, and was already half in love with him.


James O’Neill, at thirty, was an irresistibly romantic figure. While he was not much taller than Ella—he sometimes wore high-heeled boots on stage to increase his five feet eight inches—-he had a compact, well-balanced figure, graceful carriage and nobility of bearing that more than compensated for his lack of physical stature. His hair was black and curled over a high forehead; his eyes were melting and almost as dark as Ella’s, but they looked at the world more candidly and could burn with passion. His nose and chin followed classically chiseled lines; his even, white teeth gleamed against a dark complexion, and his lilting voice was a caress. In contrast to Ella’s shyness, James’s manner was open and sunny. He was a tireless and effective raconteur.

Although James was self-conscious about his lack of formal education, the life he had led made him far more worldly and sophisticated than Ella. He had the easy confidence of a man who knew he could charm the birds out of the trees.

On the stage he added to his natural endowments (aside from high heels) a swashbuckling manner, heroic gestures and a carefully acquired skill with a rapier. These characteristics were perfectly suited to the extravagant melodramas of the era and to the virtuoso recitals of Shakespearean roles for which the public had an endless appetite.

In addition, James had already begun to develop the controlled, melodious voice that could penetrate to the gallery of the huge theatres in which he played. He jokingly referred to his voice as “my organ.” He had taught himself the trick of increasing its volume while actually raising it only two or three notes in pitch. In this way he was able to convey fiery emotion without shouting, which set him apart from the stock actors who resorted to ranting.

In 1876 there seemed to be no question that James would rise to the top of his profession. In theatre circles it was predicted that he might succeed Edwin Booth, who was fourteen years his senior. Booth, one of the three American actors who achieved international lame during the nineteenth century (the others were Edwin Forrest and Joseph Jefferson), was considered by many to be the greatest actor of his era.

Beneath the personal warmth that attracted people to James lay a ruthlessness that often characterizes the successful actor. He possessed the slightly inhuman capacity to sweep aside any involvement that might hinder the pursuit of his art. His artistic temperament told him, without his having to analyze it, that if he did not put the advancement of his career before any other consideration he would founder.

As an actor, James belonged first to his profession, and spent himself completely on his audience. But while there was a certain glory in this dedication and an intoxication in the mass worship he inspired, there was also an emptiness. James tried to fill it by drinking. He always kept a bottle in his dressing room and sometimes drained it in a day. He carried his whiskey well, however, and rarely showed signs of its effect, except for a brilliant sparkle in his eyes. Certainly it did not hurt his acting nor did it in any way hinder his career.

The theatre of the day, in which James had been steadily rising for the past seven years, was a national institution that approximated in popularity the motion-picture industry during the 1930’s and 1940’s. There was scarcely a city that did not support its own resident stock company, with the larger cities supporting two or more. The local companies created their own favorites and in such cities as New York, San Francisco and Chicago it was possible for individual stock company actors to gain enormous local popularity without necessarily attaining national prominence. When famous touring stars visited these cities, the major stock players dropped temporarily into supporting roles.

In an era when leading players in stock companies ruled the public emotions in the same way that movie heroes later would, James O’Neill was sighed over and dreamed about. A Chicago newspaper writer once recalled, in a typical article about him: “Chicago adored James O’Neill. Girls built romances about his private life, some with substantial foundation.... One was that the leading lady of McVicker’s Stock Company was hopelessly in love with the dashing James and that it grieved him sore not to be able to return her purple passion. Droves of girls went every week just to see the heroine droop and wilt when Jimmy kissed her.”

James was a boon to stock company managers, whose prime concern was to elicit waves of emotion from their audiences. Audience response was then a much more tangible quality than it is in today’s relatively polite and intimate theatre, and managers went to considerable pains to measure it. Sometimes a manager would sit in an upper box and face the audience during initial performances of a play, to test the potency of the “shock waves” passing from viewer to stage. The play would be doctored on the basis of those waves. If all went well, bursts of applause and cheers would be spontaneously wrung at frequent intervals from the playgoers, who became almost painfully involved in the emotions of the actors and did not wait to applaud politely at the lowering of the curtain. The applause after a scene was occasionally so prolonged that the stars had to acknowledge it by taking bows between acts.

The impact of James’s personality and reputation on Ella was devastating. She was hypnotized by the glamour and magic that surrounded him.

Her mother, however, was not overjoyed by the prospect of having James for a son-in-law. The fact that it was Thomas Quinlan who had first introduced James to Ella did not help Bridget feel resigned, even though James seemed to be an upright Irishman and a good Catholic. While it was considered permissible for fashionable families to lionize a prominent actor, a member of the theatrical profession was not held to be a sound matrimonial prospect for a cherished daughter. Even the best of actors led nomadic lives and were subject to financial hazards, and a number of them were known to be philanderers and heavy drinkers. Scandals in their private and professional lives were followed with shivering pleasure in the newspapers. First-class hotels would seldom accommodate actors because of their habit of jumping their rent when, as often happened, their shows closed unexpectedly and left them stranded and unpaid.

Bridget recognized the fact, which Ella ignored, that a sheltered upbringing and refined taste were not adequate equipment for an actor’s wife; actors traveled from town to town, often under primitive conditions; and Ella could hardly find herself at home among the rugged troupers who were James’s friends and formed almost his whole world. It was not the sort of life that either Bridget or her husband had envisioned for their daughter, and she pointed this out to Ella. But Ella was carried away by the idea of being the wife of James O’Neill and, summoning an uncharacteristic tenacity and resolution, she determined to marry him.

As for James, nothing at this point in his life seemed impossible. He was as determined as Ella to marry and was as confident as she that within a short time he would stand in the front rank of his profession. That he could have deluded himself into believing Ella would make him a suitable wife or a reasonably happy one is even harder to understand than Ella’s blind confidence. He was under no romantic illusions about the discomforts of touring and he was certainly aware that Ella could not adapt cheerfully to the wandering life of an actor.

Perhaps the fact that, by the social standards of the day, she was unattainable made the conquest seem sweeter to his ambitious nature. Marrying Ella represented another break with his squalid background. And unquestionably he was captivated by her beauty and innocence, to a point where rational planning became difficult. There was also the incentive of Ella’s financial independence; it was not, perhaps, a major factor, but it could help smooth their way.

With the promise of a brilliant future and the conquest of Ella’s heart, James had grown a long way from the shabby boy with the thick Kilkenny brogue who had landed with his parents in America early in 1856. His family were what F. Scott Fitzgerald, speaking of his own forebears, once described as “strictly potato-famine Irish,” but James would never have acknowledged this fact publicly. In a loquacious and mellow mood, three years before his death in 1920, he gave a lyrical account of his beginnings:

“It was Kilkenny—smiling Kilkenny ... where I was born one opaltinted day in October, 1847.” (His son Eugene, many years later, pointed out that “like all actors, he cut his age for publication.” Actually, he was born October 14, 1846.)

“I beg leave to think,” James continued, “that were I permitted to choose a birthplace for any Irishman’s child, be he dreamy-eyed son of Erin with star fire in his heart or laughing gossoon with song on his lip and roguery in his eye, ’twould be that same little town in old Leinster.”

James was nine, the fourth of six children (three boys and three girls), when his father, Edward, a struggling farmer, and his mother, Mary, arrived at Buffalo in upstate New York. James had outgrown his “skirties,” but his younger siblings were still wearing the red flannel garments in which Irish peasant women dressed their children, to prevent them from being abducted by malevolent fairies.

Like the Quinlans, the O’Neill’s soon left their first landing place and pushed west to Ohio. It was in the same year that the Quinlans arrived in Cleveland—1857—that the O’Neill’s settled in Cincinnati, about a four-hour train ride away. Unlike the Quinlans, however, the O’Neill’s did not prosper, although Cincinnati was then the undisputed industrial center of the West. Edward O’Neill was a mystic; soon after his arrival, in response to an ethereal summons from his Celtic ancestors, who warned him of his impending death, he abandoned his family and returned to Ireland, where he died a short time later.

The two older brothers left home (one later joined an Ohio regiment and was killed in the Civil War) and James became the family’s mainstay. His life was bleak, but in no instance during the many times he was asked to contribute his reminiscences to various publications did he more than hint at the actual horror of his early existence. By contrast with his son, James was inclined—publicly at least—to imbue life with the gallant optimism and rather conventional pride that had always made him loved and respected outside his family. The views of both father and son were distorted and dramatically heightened by their strangely disparate temperaments.

For example, Eugene O’Neill’s impression of his father’s boyhood is contained in the lines he wrote for James Tyrone in Long Day’s Journey Into Night:

It was at home I first learned ... the fear of the poorhouse.... There was no damned romance in our poverty. Twice we were evicted from the miserable hovel we called home.... I cried, though I tried hard not to, because I was the man of the family. At ten years old! There was no more school for me. I worked twelve hours a day in a machine shop.... A dirty barn of a place where rain dripped through the roof, where you roasted in summer, and there was no stove in winter, and your hands got numb with cold, where the only light came through two small filthy windows ... I got ... fifty cents a week! And my poor mother washed and scrubbed for the Yanks by day and my older sister sewed.... We never had clothes enough to wear, nor food enough to eat.”

This was true as far as it went, but it was only part of the story. James O’Neill’s own romanticized version presents a startling contrast:

“I tried many kinds of work after my father died. I was a newsboy for one day.” (He had been hoodwinked into buying a bundle of day-old papers for twenty cents, and barely escaped being turned over to a policeman by his first customer. James thought this was funny.) “Then I was apprenticed to a machinist. Somehow, the clank of iron, the ring of the hammer, the heavy glow of the forge seemed unattuned to the romance of Kilkenny’s mossy towers, where walked the shadowy ghosts of Congreve, and Bishop Berkeley, of Dean Swift and Farquhar—Irishmen all, who wore their college gowns in and out of the grassy quadrangle of the venerable seat of learning that is Kilkenny’s boast.... And so three or four years went along, careless young years, when spare evenings were spent poring over a Shakespeare given me by an elder sister, of losing myself in the land of romance at the theatre where I was an established gallery god.”

While the “careless young years” were largely the figment of a mellow imagination, James’s lot did improve more than one is led to believe by Long Day’s Journey Into Night. His sister made a reasonably good marriage when James was fourteen and her husband, who had settled in Norfolk. Virginia, sent for him.

The Civil War had begun. James’s brother-in-law did a brisk business in military uniforms. James, who participated, earned a good salary and was rewarded with an instructor provided by his brother-in-law. “For three years I worked in the store all day and studied with my tutor in the evening,” James once recalled. “He was a man of liberal tastes, and, liking the theatre, he took me with him twice a week to see the plays. It was then that I formed my taste for the theatre. When the war was over my brother-in-law sold out his business and moved back to Cincinnati, and I went with him. Having saved a little money I tried to go into several small businesses, but was not successful. I found my money going and wondered what I should do.”

This account is a relatively sober one for James. In most cases he preferred to embellish. Just three years before his death he was still giving an imaginatively colored story of his beginnings. Describing his introduction to the stage, he wrote:

“I believe I had a subconscious assurance—the promise of a sublime— possibly a ridiculous faith—that I should be an actor one day, although no possibility seemed more remote. However, what’s an Irish lad without his dream? And so I carried mine along with me cherishing it.”

Many years earlier, however, in writing to A. M. Palmer, a New York theatre manager with whom he had a long association, James prosaically, and no doubt honestly, informed him that he had “drifted to the stage without interest.”

“I was fond enough of the playhouse,” he added, “and had the curiosity, common among boys, to have a peep behind the scenes so that I took an opportunity to go on as one of the lads in the last act of ‘The Colleen Pawn,’ which was being played at the National in Cincinnati, Ohio. I began the thing as a lark, but the stage manager prevailed on me to remain.”

That was on October 17, 1867, when James was twenty-one. Elaborating on the occasion of his debut, James once recorded: “One evening I was spending the hour before the theatre door should open in a game of billiards with a friend, when there rushed hurriedly into the room a chap named Cooper, who was captain of supers at the old National Theatre. ‘What’s the matter. Cooper?’ asked my friend.... ‘Confound it,’ muttered that functionary, ‘my supers have gone on strike and there are no guests for the ball in “The Colleen Bawn.” ’ ‘I’ll go if you’ll go,’ challenged my friend and I in one breath, and Cooper eagerly accepted our offer, directed us how to find the wardrobe man, and fled to find other guests.”

The Colleen Bawn, described by critics of the era as a “natural Irish comedy,” had been written in i860 by the prolific and immensely popular Irish playwright-actor, Dion Boucicault, who had completed his first successful play before he was twenty. The Irish in James must have leaped at the chance to participate in this sturdy vehicle. If, before this event, James had been only halfheartedly interested in a theatrical career, there is no doubt that his first brush with grease paint exhilarated him, and from that day on he conceived of no other career for himself than acting.

James stayed on at the National, was paid twenty-five cents nightly and later was promoted to captain of the “supers” and general utility man. His most impressive experience of stage fright occurred during a performance of Metamora, in which Edwin Forrest was starring. Forrest, the first of the great actors to cross James’s path, had a powerful physique, a voice like a trumpet, a violent temper and a monumental ego that helped to make him one of the most controversial figures of the American stage. He had been for forty years a tremendously popular Shakespearean actor, but he was now nearly sixty and was soon to end his career, a rejected and bitter man.

Suffering from rheumatism, he had emerged from retirement a few years earlier, after a divorce scandal. The play Forrest had chosen to present at the National was written for him in 1829 by a young playwright named John Augustus Stone. Its hero, a bombastic American Indian chief, suited Forrest’s acting style. In his repertory for thirty-six years, Metamora had brought Forrest a fortune, but, because he had bought the play outright from its author, Stone never received a penny in royalties.

Still imposing despite his years, Forrest was met by enthusiastic audiences at the National.

“When Edwin Forrest came along,” James once wrote, “I was entrusted with the part of The Flying Messenger. I rushed on but stuck at the important part.” James survived this experience and moved on to bigger, but not always better, things. For the next four years he served his apprenticeship in the theatre, traveling to St. Louis; back to Cincinnati; then to Baltimore, Marvland; Augusta, Georgia; and Washington, D.C.

James soon found himself playing such roles as Hotspur and Macbeth ■—with the inconsistent brogue that no one had yet thought to bring to his attention.

It was with a stock company in Washington that James supported the second of the trio of great American actors—Joseph Jefferson. Jefferson, who had been acting for thirty-six of his forty years, brought Rip Van Winkle to the capital, and James was cast in the substantial role of the young sailor, Heinrich. Dramatized by Boucicault from Washington Irving’s story in 1865, the play, with numerous alterations provided by Jefferson, was to be a staple of the road for forty years and was forever to be identified with Jefferson, as he was with it.

James was panic-stricken when Jefferson sent for him at the close of the first performance. He was sure he was about to be picked apart, but Jefferson, smiling genially, waved James to a chair in his dressing room.

“My boy,” said Jefferson, “you got six rounds of applause tonight, and that is good. Very good. But there are eight rounds in the part and we must get them.”

Then the man James later described as “the kindest and finest of men and of actors” showed him the points where the .rounds of applause might be elicited and carefully explained why they had not been forthcoming. “A lesson in acting money could not have bought,” James said.

At the next performance he tried to follow Jefferson’s advice, but nervousness made him stumble, so that he received only seven rounds of applause.

“Better, my boy, better,” was Jefferson’s comment. After that, James received the full eight.

At the conclusion of Jefferson’s stint with the company, he praised James’s acting and encouraged him to study. James was emboldened to ask Jefferson for a list of books that would help improve his technique.

“Shakespeare first, for breadth and depth and height of thought and fancy,” said Jefferson, “and for insight into human nature read all the standard old comedies.”

Jefferson’s advice “unlocked the treasures of the old masters of the stage,” James recalled. (He had already devoted considerable time to Shakespeare and knew some of the plays by heart.) “Congreve and Farquhar (Kilkenny bred, both) and along down the line to those other Irishmen Goldsmith and his brilliant young disciple Richard Brinsley Sheridan—I devoured them all—and Dion Boucicault too—together with every French and German comedy I could find.”

James’s next noteworthy engagement—in 1871—was as leading man at John Ellsler’s Academy of Music in Cleveland, where Ellsler and his wife were popular local performers. Ellslcr had been a partner of Jefferson and coached him in the dialect for Rip V<m Winkle. His Academy, at the height of its fame when James arrived, was a three-story brick building, equipped with a vast stage that was hung with red plush curtains. Gas footlights provided the stage lighting, while a huge chandelier illuminated the auditorium; its hundreds of china candles were laboriously lighted every evening from one of the theatre’s boxes with a long taper. Many of the top stars made the Academy a regular stop, and the Ellslers did excellent business, charging the customary admission of one dollar for orchestra seats and twenty-five cents for the gallery.

James was now twenty-four. Managers were beginning to acknowledge his magnetic effect on audiences and to cast him in the sort of romantic roles that would hypnotize the ladies into devoted attendance. A Cleveland reporter, recalling James’s popularity at the Academy of Music, wrote years later: “He was the patron saint of the matinee girls. He was the ideal of the town—this curly-haired, robust, handsome young Irishman.”

James played most of the romantic heroes of the era’s melodramas, and as many Shakespearean roles as he could muster. During his first season with the Ellslers he again appeared with Edwin Forrest. This time Forrest was at the end of his career. After a disappointing reception in San Francisco, he had taken to the road again, avoiding most of the bigger cities, where he knew he was no longer welcome. Heretofore jealous of anyone who showed talent, he now realized he was hopelessly out of the running and allowed himself, for once, to take an objective view of another actor’s ability. He went so far as to say of James to his own dresser: “If that young man manages to forget his brogue, he is going to make a capital actor.” The remark was reported to James, who never forgot it. He immediately set to work on the offending brogue.

Other stars passed through Cleveland, many of them at the top of their success, and James held his own, even when playing the title role of Macbeth opposite Charlotte Cushman, whose Lady Macbeth was one of the most formidable interpretations of the era. The deep-voiced Miss Cushman, who preferred to play Hamlet and Romeo and who cordially disliked most men, was so charmed by James that she took the trouble to coach him in the role of Macbeth. She predicted a brilliant future for him, if he would “work, work, work!”

In those days an actor who had less than fifty parts—including the major Shakespearean ones and numerous of the contemporary melodramas and farces—in his repertory was looked upon with scorn. James, by now, had acquired the requisite number. Fie had also learned, with practice, to suppress the richer part of his brogue, although it still had a tendency to trip him up in impassioned scenes. His reputation had spread as far west as Chicago, where J. 11. McVicker ran one of the country’s leading theatres. At the time it was outranked only by Wallack’s in New York, considered the best theatre in the United States, and Mrs. Drew’s Arch Street Theatre in Philadelphia. James accepted McVicker’s proposal to star for ten weeks at the head of the stock company, after which he would support a succession of touring stars. Chicago was recovering from the effects of its fire of the year before, and the fever of reconstruction seemed to serve as a stimulus to theatrical activity; McVicker’s audiences were loyal.

At McVicker’s James met Edwin Booth for the first time. Booth, then thirty-nine, was at the height of his popularity as a Shakespearean actor. He had a superb stage presence enhanced by an artfully modulated voice. He wore his dark hair long, and he had a thin, sensitive face with deep-set eyes. A number of years after Booth’s death, James reminisced about his idol: “Booth as a young man was the handsomest actor I have ever seen on the stage. He was the picture of manly beauty. Not only all women, but men, as well, were enthusiastic over Booth’s personal charm.”

Having weathered a difficult youth, during which he was obliged to act as a guardian and buffer for his eccentric father, the famous actor Junius Brutus Booth, young Edwin had developed as a first-rate performer in his own right. He had overcome a tendency toward alcoholism, recovered from the death of his first wife, for which he blamed himself in part, and emerged from the retirement into which his brother’s assassination of Lincoln had plunged him. James was as taken with Booth’s personal dignity as with his intellectual, low-key acting style.

A Chicago newspaper, summing up James’s development as an actor toward the close of his engagement at McVicker’s, said: “Most of all did he become the pattern of Edwin Booth. So keenly did he study Booth that he copied even his defects in mannerisms. He dressed like him, posed like him, and finally came to speak like him.” Concluding on a mixed note of flattery and caution, the article declared that “after the study of a year, he is the equal of some stars and the superior of many more,” but warned James to develop his own style and not carry imitation too far.

Ironically, James was to come much closer to emulating Booth’s tragic personal life than his triumphant professional one. Booth had taken as his second wife Mary McVicker, daughter of J. H. McVicker; like Ella Quinlan, Mary had been a student at St. Mary’s Academy (she was about seven years older than Ella). She had attempted to become an actress, but her stage career was no more successful than her marriage. After several years of disillusionment, she became insane. She was to die at thirty one, leaving Booth with one more unhappy memory to add to his collection of personal disasters.

James admired Booth’s fortitude and reticence in the face of tragedy. Perhaps the memory of Booth’s courageous resignation helped sustain James later when he was faced with a comparable situation in his own life.

“Booth was not only the greatest actor without a doubt the world has ever seen, but the noblest man the stage has produced,” James once said. “It is hard to tell how lovable he was personally, how high minded and lofty was his purpose and how pure his character, but we who knew him intimately will always reverence him above all other men we ever met in life.”

Booth gave James an unprecedented professional opportunity, which, in detailed accuracy even as to the date, Eugene O’Neill has recorded in Long Day’s Journey Into Night. The speaker is James Tyrone:

“In 1874 when Edwin Booth came to the theatre in Chicago where I was leading man, I played Cassius to his Brutus one night, Brutus to his Cassius the next, Othello to his Iago, and so on. The first night I played Othello, he said to our manager, ‘That young man is playing Othello better than I ever did!’ That from Booth, the greatest actor of his day or any other! And it was true! And I was only twenty-seven years old! As I look back on it now, that night was the high spot in my career.”

The switching of leading roles from night to night was a custom often followed when two stars of equal stature appeared together for a run. But as James was nowhere near Booth in importance, this particular occurrence was extraordinary. Booth had not intended to include Othello in his repertory at McVicker’s at all, but the Chicago press had challenged him by predicting that he would not dare play the role in the wake of the Italian tragedian, Tommaso Salvini, who had acted Othello just a week or two before. Othello was Salvini’s most famous portrayal and audiences on both sides of the Atlantic had been electrified by the terror with which he could fill a stage. Salvini was a giant of a man who believed in steeping himself so thoroughly in a role that it became almost an inseparable part of his personality; he used to terrify his Desdemonas by the realistic ferocity with which he attacked them during the strangling scene.

Booth could not overlook the challenge. He promptly announced Othello for the first week. Rivalry among stars was part of the theatrical tradition, with the public gleefully participating. Animosity between players could reach destructive heights; many people could still recall the Astor Place riot of 1849, which had been the result of a feud between Edwin Forrest and the English tragedian William Charles Macready. Forrest blamed Macready for his having been hissed during a performance of Macbeth in England. He retaliated by attending Macready’s performance of Hamlet and hissing his rival. Theatre patrons in both countries were shocked by the incident, and when Macready visited America, outraged supporters of both stars fought a bloody battle in and around New York’s Astor Place Opera House, where Macready was playing Hamlet. Forrest was considered by many to be morally responsible for the riot, which resulted in twenty-two deaths and several hundred injured.

Tempers were not so volatile in 1874, and Booth adopted a peaceful means of putting his rival in his place.

“He could not only play the part of Othello as well as Salvini,” James later told a Boston journalist, “but he could do something which Salvini would never attempt—he could play Iago.” There was more truth in the latter statement than in the former; theatre historians who classify Booth’s Hamlet and Iago among the greatest ever seen have described his Othello as overintellectualized and lacking in passion.

But James was loyal to his idol. Continuing his reminiscence, he said: “And so after one performance in the title role, Mr. Booth determined to appear the next night in the latter character, and I was cast for Othello. I was in a quandary. I knew that everyone who would be in the house that night would know me; that nearly all of them would have seen Salvini and Booth, and that they would expect me to fail. To imitate either one or the other of the well-known actors too closely would be bad policy; yet how to introduce something original puzzled me. It came like a flash at the last rehearsal.”

James said nothing to the other members of the cast about the innovation he planned for the evening performance. Actors seldom bothered with such formalities, for there was no director to keep them in line; co-ordinated performances of the classics were a rarity.

Productions of Shakespeare were individual tours de force. The star, if he was so inclined, might “direct” other members of the cast, but usually he was too preoccupied with his own strategy for wringing response from the audience to pay attention to his supporting company. Rehearsals were sketchy, the star withholding anything resembling a performance until actually playing before a paid audience. His supporting players followed suit, with the result that each performer took a stance and declaimed his big speeches oblivious to the rest of the cast. How he gestured, how he moved, how he intoned was determined by him alone. Audiences came to see their idols go through their paces—not to see ensembles interpreting a play.

The attention given to scenery and costumes also was negligible by modern standards. If the canvas was richly painted and the decorations lavish and ornate, the scenery drew good notices from the press; it was of minor significance whether the background furthered the mood of the play or whether it was appropriate to its period or place. The costumes were a matter of individual taste; each player provided his own, without regard for authenticity of period or location; it was enough to look elegant.

In the romantic melodramas that alternated in stock repertories with the classics, however, there was often more stress on the mechanics of the scenery than on the ability of the actors. These were the action-packed thrillers that foreshadowed the movies, boasting shipwrecks and near drownings in ocean waves (lumpy canvas groundcloths manipulated from below), raging fires (strips of red and yellow cloth, fanned from the wings), and howling snowstorms (barrels of confetti sprinkled from the flies). The stage manager co-ordinated the action; but just as long as the players drowned, scorched and shivered on cue, they could do the rest of their business as they saw fit.

James was merely following established procedure when he privately decided on the bit of business that was to distinguish his Othello. The cast was going through the third scene of the third act on the afternoon before the performance.

“Of course, this is your scene, O’Neill,” Booth said magnanimously. “I will be at the side here whenever you want me. And, by the way, O’Neill, I wouldn’t wear the sword in that scene if I were you. You will find that it is in your way and that it hampers your movements, while at the same time you will not need it.”

The sword in question was an ornament James had acquired during his early barnstorming days. It was an ancient scimitar, and James had never had occasion to draw it from its decorated scabbard. Going offstage, he now tried to pull it out; it came only halfway and then clanged back, as he had anticipated. He decided it suited his purpose. He wore the sword that evening when he went on for the scene. Sidling across the stage toward Booth, he uttered the lines:

If thou dost slander her and torture me,
Never pray more; abandon all remorse;
On horror’s head horrors accumulate;
Do deeds to make heaven weep, all earth amaz’d;
For nothing canst thou to damnation add
Greater than that.

James approached Booth, his sword half drawn. When Booth gave his answering lines, James sprang his surprise.

“Nay, stay:—thou shouldst be honest,” he said menacingly, and let go of the sword hilt. The sound reverberated through the theatre. The audience, so knowledgeable it could be enchanted by even such a minute innovation, nearly fell out of its seats in its effort to applaud James. Booth called O’Neill back onstage to take extra bows.

“The scene is yours,” said Booth. “You couldn’t have done it better.” To James’s relief, Booth never mentioned the brazen disregard of his advice.

Tricks like these were not, however, the sole basis on which James won the hearts of Chicago audiences. He had a genuine flair for Shakespeare that earned their respect. Reviewing a performance of Othello in which Booth again assumed the title role and James played Iago, a local critic wrote: “Mr. O’Neill’s Iago is deserving of warm encomium. It has some of the care that has always marked the star he supported.”

A letter to a Chicago newspaper, written by a playgoer in the early 1900’s and preserved by James in a scrapbook he kept, illustrates the power he wielded over audiences in that city. Recalling one night when James was playing Macduff to Booth’s Macbeth, during the star’s tenure at McVicker’s, the letter writer said:

“The house was packed to the doors and when Macduff announced the foul murder, the curtain went down on a war of applause, which continued until Mr. Booth stepped before the curtain—when, all at once, the applause ceased. Mr. Booth walked across the stage from left to right and disappeared. Then the applause was renewed in tones of thunder. Men and women stood up, waving their handkerchiefs and crying, ‘O’Neill, O’Neill!’ This applause and shouting were deafening. O’Neill came before the footlights, blushing like a boy. The audience had no desire to say to Mr. Booth by their applause that they did not appreciate his great acting. But they did want Mr. O’Neill to know that his fine acting had highly registered. The writer of this letter has witnessed performances of all the great actors, from Edwin Booth to the present day. But he never has witnessed greater actinp than James O’Neill’s, on the occasion herein mentioned.”

It was at McVicker’s also that James played Romeo to the Juliet of Adelaide Nielson, probably the only leading lady of whom Ella ever felt a twinge of jealousy. The English-born Adelaide was the loveliest Juliet on either side of the Atlantic. She was twenty-six when she began her triumphant tour of the United States, and her reputation for beauty and mystery had preceded her across the ocean. She was said to have been born out of wedlock and to have supported herself as a factory worker, a nursemaid and a seamstress. Her personal reticence amounted to myth, but it was believed a prominent Englishman had helped her financially while she studied for the stage.

James was impressed but not overawed by the privilege of supporting the exquisite actress, and even played a flirtatious practical joke on her one night.

Instead of letting his head sink to his chest in the death scene, screening his face from the audience, he held his head back, with his face in full view. He knew that Miss Nielson could not fake her kiss without being obvious, She was obliged to give him, as he put it, “a kiss of the sterling variety.”

Flustered by the experience, Miss Nielson reproachfully fixed James with her beautiful eyes when the curtain came down.

“How could you? How could you?” she cried.

“How could I what?” asked James, trying to suppress his glee.

“How, how—how could Romeo throw his head back when he was dead?” Miss Nielson asked lamely.

James always had a chivalrous answer for a pretty girl. “Miss Nielson,” he said, “your Juliet was the cause of it. It would make anyone come back to life.”

At the close of her engagement she begged James to accompany her on the rest of her tour, which, James recalled laconically, “I did not do.” But Miss Nielson, not offended, remembered James’s Romeo for a long time. In England some years later she was asked to name her finest Romeo. A list of distinguished actors was rejected. “The greatest Romeo I ever played with,” she finally said, “was a little curly-haired Irishman. When I played with other Romeos, I thought they would climb up the trellis to the balcony; but when I played with Jimmy O’Neill, I wanted to climb down the trellis, into his arms.”

On the strength of his conquests at McVicker’s James had received an offer from a rival Chicago company. He joined Richard Hooley, who had managed to make himself an enormously respected cultural force in that city. Hooley had offered him a larger salary and the promise of playing Hamlet, Othello, Shylock, Romeo and other Shakespearean roles on Saturday nights. In addition, James himself was to form the company. For Hooley he assembled a talented troupe which included an actress named Louise Hawthorne. Louise was beautiful onstage, but without her heavy make-up she could not conceal a scar that ran from her temple to her chin. Though married, she appeared to have more than a platonic affection for James. He respected her acting ability, and needed her in his company, and he did not rebuff her. When, after playing successfully in Chicago for one season, Hooley’s troupe moved on to San Francisco in May of 1875, she eagerly accepted James’s invitation to go along.

San Francisco flourished as a national theatrical center almost as great as New York. The Comstock Lode, miraculously rich in silver, had been discovered in nearby Nevada some years before. There was scarcely anyone in San Francisco who did not feel a sense of participation, however illusory, in its profitable annual yield; the city’s busy theatres reflected the inflationary times and Hooley’s company scored a hit. Almost immediately San Franciscans took James to their hearts.

In the late winter of 1875–76 James received an offer to join a top-notch stock company in New York the following season—an invitation he had been waiting for. Louise was not included in the invitation, nor did James tender her a personal one. Hurt by his indifference, she made her last appearance with James in a play called Ultimo, in March, 1876.

Two months later a “Grand Farewell Benefit” was given for James in San Francisco. Such affairs were frequently arranged in honor of leading members of a stock company. Salaries were often paid on an irregular basis, determined by the amount of money left in the box office after the star had collected his often piratical guarantee and on how honorable the manager happened to be. The proceeds from a successful benefit, therefore, sometimes represented the only substantial income of a stock actor’s entire engagement; without this cash he was hard put to keep up his stage wardrobe, let alone appearances. James, who knew how to be frugal and took every precaution to avoid the impoverishment that was a hazard of his profession, needed the benefit less than most of his fellow actors. But he did not decline the honor or the cash.

Although the other members of James’s company participated in the farewell tribute, Louise was conspicuously absent. She had returned to Chicago. James left San Francisco for Chicago late that spring. He was to make his New York debut in October with the A. M. Palmer stock company at its Union Square Theatre, but was to join the company on tour in Chicago.

James was not entirely happy about this arrangement. When he reached Chicago, Louise attempted to resume her affair with him, as he had feared she would. Her unreciprocated love for James caused her, on June 27, to throw herself from a window of the Tremont House and she was instantly killed.

Shaken by the tragedy, James had to cope with yet another threatening entanglement. There was a second woman in Chicago, very much alive and extremely interested in James’s activities, whose existence made the city a hazardous place for him to be. The woman, whom James knew as Nettie Walsh, called herself Mrs. James O’Neill and was the mother of a two year old boy whose paternity she attributed to James—a charge that James could not, with any degree of confidence, deny.


James would have preferred to brush aside the tact of nettie Walsh’s existence. A singularly insensitive woman, she showed no inclination to help James tidy up his complicated love life, as the considerate Louise Hawthorne had done. She continued to demand a certain amount of attention from James, on the strength of having lived with him for nearly four years and having, as she claimed, borne him a child.

She had met James in 1871, when he went to Cleveland to act for Ellsler, and when, by her account, she was only fifteen (the same age as Ella) and “wholly inexperienced in the ways of the world.” In fact, they were living together during the time James was cultivating Thomas Quinlan’s friendship. None of the Quinlans, however, had an inkling that James was keeping a fifteen-year-old mistress in Cleveland; James always knew how to conceal the unsavory aspects of his personal life.

James provided Nettie with worldly experience until he left for San Francisco in 1875. She had been a willing student during those four years, despite her knowledge that James was simultaneously enriching the experience of Louise Hawthorne. Nettie also pursued other amatory interests and James saw no reason for acknowledging paternity of the child, born to her in 1872. With apparently no twinge of conscience he had left Nettie in Chicago and taken Louise with him to San Francisco.

When James returned to Chicago after his San Francisco triumph he made some cautious inquiries about his legal responsibility to Nettie, who had begun announcing that she was his wife. He was told that Nettie had no legal claim on him, and he evidently considered the relationship termi nated when he left for New York. Nettie, as she was soon to demonstrate, thought otherwise.

It was at this point that James and Ella met and fell in love. But even though James kept the affair with Nettie a secret from Ella, he had his troubles overcoming the opposition of Ella’s mother to the marriage. It took James the better part of a year to win over Bridget and make Ella his bride.

He did not, however, allow his negotiations with the Quinlans to interfere with his work. He had come to New York to triumph and he did not lose sight of his goal. New York’s theatrical atmosphere in the 1870’s was not much different from that of other large cities. It had a denser concentration of playhouses, but most of them were run on the stock company principle.

Stars of genuine national stature were scarce. A contemporary New York newspaper sadly commented that “the list of star peformers who can be depended upon to gather large audiences in this city is growing smaller from day to day.” The clamor for their services was, of course, as great in New York as elsewhere. But stars did not tour the country so as to arrive ultimately in New York. Once they had fulfilled their brief engagements, even the most successful of them had to continue on tour. Even a play that scored a hit did not run for more than a few weeks; a run of two months was considered spectacular. There was a demand for variety and novelty, and this was reflected in the low caliber of the new plays, most of which were hastily thrown together to suit the talents of one or another of the reigning stars.

Many of the productions laid not the slightest claim to originality; they were either pirated versions of successful European melodramas or slightly doctored versions of plays brazenly stolen from the stock company across the street. The more enterprising of the stock companies supported “house playwrights,” among whom Dion Boucicault was a paragon. “House plays” were frequently turned out by their authors at the rate of a dozen a year and they were liable, with no noticeable detriment to their literary quality, to be rewritten by the actors who played in them.

The plays did not really matter to the audiences; either they were sentimental melodramas like East Lynne, the intricacies of whose plot (no matter under what title) the audiences knew by heart, or they were Shakespearean and other classical and semiclassical revivals. Audiences came to see actors, not plays—and sometimes not so much actors as personalities.

But, however catholic their tastes, New Yorkers were ardent theatre fans. They arrived at the theatre early and stayed late. Double bills were common and audiences were gluttons for four- and five-act plays. They thought nothing of entering a theatre at seven or seven-thirty and staying until close to midnight.

The New York to which James O’Neill came in 1876, when compared with such cities as London, Paris and Rome, was almost a small town. The area of fashionable residence was circumscribed by Washington Square on the south and Forty-second Street on the north—that area, for all practical purposes, was the city. Farther uptown lived Irish squatters in a wilderness of rocks, vegetable gardens and capering goats. The area that later became the Bronx was open country, dotted by little villages at scattered intervals along the railroad tracks.

New York had nothing resembling a skyline. It was architecturally undistinguished, its squat buildings—most of them brownstones—seldom reaching a height of more than three or four stories; its most original and impressive structure was the Brooklyn Bridge, which was then in the sixth year of its thirteen-year construction period. Horsecars jogged along the dusty, untended cobblestone streets, but businessmen could, to save time, ride in the Pullman cars of the steam-engined Third Avenue elevated railroad.

Stylish shops such as A. T. Stewart’s, Macy’s, Lord and Taylor, Arnold Constable and James McCreery lined Broadway from Ninth to Twentieth Streets, earning for the area the title of the “Ladies’ Mile.” Tiffany and Company was at Union Square and Fourteenth Street, a convenient place for James to buy Ella’s wedding ring, for the square also marked the beginning of the theatre district, which James seldom left.

There were about twenty theatres in New York, of which the most successful were Lester Wallack’s, at Thirteenth Street and Broadway, Augustin Daly’s, at Fifth Avenue and Twenty-fourth Street, and A. M. Palmer’s, on the south side of Union Square.

Wall ack, the son of an English actor-manager, played romantic and light comedy roles in his own company. Daly, who had been a theatre critic, went on to adapt popular plays and create stars in the theatre he managed. Palmer, for whose Union Square Stock Company James had been engaged, had created an artistic reputation by imposing discipline and serious rehearsals upon his actors. The Union Square Theatre, built in 1871 as a variety house and taken over a year later by Palmer, could scat 1,200 people—a small capacity for that era. The theatre occupied the lower stories of a hotel called Morton I louse, where many actors lived.

Union Square, a center of good living and gaiety, had been established as the city’s first theatrical district twenty years before, soon after the completion in 1854 of the Academy of Music on Fourteenth Street. Since then the square had drawn the best restaurants, such as Delmonico’s, and become a popular site for torchlight parades.

Palmer, a former librarian and a man of education, became, through the reputation of his stock company, a power in theatrical circles. I Te helped organize the Actors Fund, which looked after the families of indigent players. In 1874 his production of an adapted French melodrama, The Two Orphans, brought him a fortune. It was with a revival of this play that he intended to launch his regular fall and winter season for 1876–77. Palmer was winding up a “preliminary season” with a Bret Harte play called Two men of Sandy Bar when James moved his wardrobe trunk into the Union Square Theatre in September and began rehearsing.

James was to play the role of Pierre Frochard, the cripple, in The Two Orphans. The romantic part of the Chevalier de Vaudrey, which James had acted in San Francisco, was to be played by the company’s leading man, Charles R. Thorne, Jr. A favorite of New York theatregoers, Thorne was seven years older than James. Tall, slim and handsome, he had toured as a child with his actor father. Though not in the first rank of actors from a national standpoint, he was extremely effective in the swaggering roles for which he was generally cast. Under Palmer’s tutelage he had learned a quiet, dignified style of acting that was considered refreshing by the critics of the day.

A news item on October 2 informed the public that the revival of The Two Orphans would “introduce, as Pierre, Mr. James O’Neill, a fresh candidate for metropolitan honors.” The production, in four acts, included scenes of an illuminated garden near Paris, a prison courtyard, and a boathouse on the banks of the Seine; among its climatic effects was a snowstorm. The story, which dealt with two cruelly victimized orphan girls, piled villainy upon villainy, until honor and chivalry finally triumphed. It was undoubtedly this play that Ella attended.

Although a responsive audience greeted James’s debut, The Times, in its review the next day, was cool. Charles Thorne and the theatre’s leading lady, Kate Claxton, were lauded by The Times’ critic, but James was dismissed with a sentence: “Mr. O’Neill is altogether too robust as Pierre.” The Tribune, on the other hand, found James entirely satisfactory.

The Two Orphans ran until November 20 and was followed by another melodrama called Miss Multon, a French adaptation of the novel East Lynne, readapted into English. Palmer sent The Tivo Orphans company to the Brooklyn Theatre, but kept the newly popular James at the Union Square Theatre to support Clara Morris in Miss Multon, a move that probably saved James’s life. For Harry Murdock, the actor who replaced James in The Two Orphans, was one of several hundred people who died when the Brooklyn Theatre was destroyed by fire on December 5.

James was cast as Maurice de Latour, a Parisian advocate. His leading lady, Miss Morris, was a wistful, brown-haired actress who had risen to stardom with Daly. She had achieved a sensational success three years earlier as a scar-faced madwoman in a play called Article 47, which Daly had adapted for her, and had since been acclaimed as a reigning emotional actress. Her appearance in the title role of Miss Multon marked her first New York engagement in two years. She was welcomed back by an enthusiastic audience and the press was equally pleased with her performance. James was overshadowed. The Times still declined to be charmed by him: “Mr. James O’Neill, as Maurice, occasionally appeared more astonished at his presence on the stage than au fait of the proceedings he was supposed to be engaged in.”

James had expected gentler treatment at the hands of the New York critics and he was bewildered. He couldn’t understand why the critics failed to respond to, or even mention, “his handsome face, his luminous black eyes, his fine stage presence, his picturesque and magnetic personality”—attributes that a San Francisco reviewer had recently enumerated as being responsible for James’s “rapid rise to stellar eminence.” But New York critics continued to measure James unfavorably against their local standards.

His next role, Count Vladimir, in yet another French melodrama— this one set in Moscow and called The Danicheffs—again drew a sour comment from The Times: “We do not admire Mr. O’Neill’s Vladimir— a hard and artificial portrayal.” It is true that the anonymous critic did not care much for Thorne’s performance either. His portrayal of the serf, Osip, was dismissed as being “deficient in pathos.”

In spite of his failure to win over the critics, however, James was building up an avid public following.

If he was hurt or embarrassed by his inability to draw good notices, he concealed his feelings. The Union Square Theatre, despite hard times in general and a dismal theatre season in particular, was having the best popular success of its career. James continued to present a convivial, unruffled surface to the cronies with whom he dined, drank and exchanged shop talk in the restaurants and saloons of Union Square.

Edwin Booth was in town that season, as well as a number of lesser luminaries with whom James was on easy terms. And he renewed his friendship with Adelaide Nielson when she opened in an engagement of Shakespearean repertory at Daly’s on May 8, 1877, three days after The Danicheffs ended its successful run. It was obviously Miss Nielson whom Ella had in mind when (as quoted in hong Day’s Journey) she said: “I thought to myself (looking in the mirror) ... ‘You’re just as pretty as any actress he’s ever met, and you don’t have to use paint.’”


James had not neglected Ella while struggling to make his reputation in New York. With her support he had finally persuaded Bridget to set the wedding date for the following month, when he knew he would be free of acting commitments. Meanwhile, he was touring in and around the city with The Danicheffs, which was probably why New York was decided on as the locale of the wedding, in preference to Cleveland. But it is possible that a contributing factor to this choice was Bridget’s unwillingness to call the attention of her disapproving Cleveland friends to the event.

Throughout most of May Ella engaged in one of her favorite occupations—shopping. Bridget drew a thousand dollars from her Cleveland bank for her daughter’s trousseau; Ella had stylish tastes and often spent as much as a hundred dollars on a dress. She opened charge accounts at the best stores along the “Ladies’ Mile” and passed blissful hours outfitting herself. The distinctive simplicity with which she dressed was one of her outstanding characteristics; people who could not remember much about her personality could always recall her wardrobe.

James and Ella chose to be married at St. Ann’s Church on East Twelfth Street, a few blocks from the Union Square Theatre. It was the church at which most of New York’s fashionable Catholic weddings took place, and the members of its congregation, including the restaurateur Lorenzo Delmonico, were drawn from what had come to be known as the “beau monde parish.”

If Eugene O’Neill, with his acute sense of foreboding, had been able to select the weather for the day that his parents were married, Jie would probably not have deviated from nature’s choice. A weather story in The Tinies said the day dawned under a “somber pall of clouds that, every lapsing moment, grew deeper and darker.... The whole scene was weird beyond description and silently menacing.”

The celebration of the nuptial mass was small and quiet. Bridget Quinlan was her daughter’s matron of honor and the only guests were a handful of Quinlan relatives. The ceremony had been arranged in privacy and received no mention in the city’s newspapers. James, trying to protect his reputation as a bachelor matinee idol, could not afford to mar the glamour that clung to his off-stage personality. He did not wish to interrupt the sighs of the ladies who watched his debonair passage along Fourteenth Street—and paid hard cash to admire him on the stage. Jauntily wielding his cane, James beamed at a world that worshiped him. If Ella, who was almost twenty and blooming with fresh beauty, had any qualms about holding his attention, she did not betray them.

But Ella soon found that marriage to James held other problems. After a brief honeymoon James resumed the touring that was to last another forty years. Ella had her first taste of the tumultuous life that was to prove alien to her but that she was to endure with her husband until his death.

Being married to a touring star in the 1870’s and 1880’s required endless resilience, an approachable personality, unaffected interest in and warmth for fellow troupers, and an ability to ignore the hardships of unventilated trains, shabby hotel rooms, and the prevalence of whiskey.

Although Ella could be ingratiating, the managers, agents, actors and actresses who were James’s constant companions sensed the effort it cost her. Moreover, Ella was helpless domestically. In later years she was to bemoan her confinement to second-rate hotel rooms in small towns, but this life at least provided a screen for her domestic failings. Even in their home in New London, which she and her husband occupied almost every summer until James’s death, Ella could not cope with household arrangements. She was incapable of preparing anything more ambitious than scrambled eggs and the engagement of efficient servants defeated her.

Ella was eased into the horrors of touring gradually, for the first four-years of her married life were the least hectic in her husband’s career so far as traveling was concerned. A few months after the wedding James went with the Union Square Stock Company to Chicago, where the troupe was to have a brief stay before its regular New York season. The Chicago run was successful, but Ella found backstage life distaste!ul. She spent much of her time in her hotel room during rehearsals and performances. And for the first time she noticed that James drank heavily.

While Ella was jolted by the discrepancy between the romantic life she had envisioned and the drabness of the reality, a worse shock was in store for her.

Early in September Nettie Walsh, learning that James had been married in New York three months earlier, and aware that he was being well paid as a leading man for the Union Square Theatre, brought suit for divorce. The action drew wide notice in the press, not only in Chicago but in New York, Cleveland and San Francisco—wherever James was known.

Nettie Walsh, in her determination to cash in on James’s success, spared none of the details of her relationship with him. She claimed she had married James in Cleveland on August i, 1871, and lived with him as his wife until 1875. She accused him of having fathered her son, now three years old, and of having committed adultery with Louise Hawthorne. She implied, in noting that James had acquired a bride in New York, that he was a bigamist, although she did not specifically state this in her list of grievances. She did, however, point out that her “husband” was a prominent actor, earning $195 a week and that for the past five years he had been earning between $3,000 and $5,000 a year, so that he was now, “being parsimonious in his habits and disposition,” worth at least $15,000. Nettie concluded her recital of grievances by requesting a divorce, the care and custody of her child, and suitable alimony.

Since, according to James, there had been no marriage and he had no interest in acquiring custody of the child, whose paternity he did not admit, the crucial point was the alimony. James was not inclined to provide it. Reporters who questioned James backstage on the day that Nettie filed her suit described him as being “quite loath to talk upon the subject.” James did, however, characterize Nettie’s statement as “false from first to last” and went so far as to acknowledge that he knew Nettie had a child which she attributed to him, but that “the whole thing is a piece of blackmail and an old story which has been tagging me around ever since I began to acquire prominence in my profession.” He added that he saw no reason why he should make any public explanation of the matter.

A week later, with Chicago buzzing about the scandal, James did make a public answer through his lawyer, Frank Crane. Crane filed a paper in which James alleged that he had become acquainted with Nettie in Cleveland on August 1, 1871, but that Nettie, so far as he knew, had adopted his name simply for the purpose of the suit and had no legal right to use it. He denied he had married Nettie in Cleveland or anywhere else, adding that his acquaintance with her after he left Cleveland for Chicago in 1872 had “continued at wide intervals of time up to the present.” Between 1872 and 1875, James said, Nettie had visited Chicago only twice, and he professed not to know whether these visits were made “for the purpose of renewing the acquaintance.”

James further declared through his lawyer that Nettie was “under the influence of sundry designing persons who seeked to ruin” his professional prospects and that they had advised her to “set forth a pretended and bogus marriage with that end in view.” At the beginning of their acquaintance, James went on, Nettie Walsh “was not a chaste and virtuous woman.” He said he had no way of knowing whether he was the father of her child and challenged her “to make a proof, as she may deem most beneficial to her cause,” as to his paternity.

James’s countersuit ended with the allegation that he had considered the relationship “extinguished” in 1875, when he went to San Francisco. Since that time, he added, Nettie had been “the recipient of improper attentions from divers men,” whose names he could not provide; he claimed she was currently living with one of these men, who was not her husband but who provided her with means of support and enjoyed “the marital relations of a husband.”

By way of establishing his own probity and refuting Nettie’s charge of his affluence, James pointed out the fact of his marriage to Ella Quinlan, which had been “solemnized according to the forms of law and sealed with the obligations of religion in the church.” Ever since his marriage, he said, he had been endeavoring to support himself and his wife “in a just and lawful and honorable way.” Moreover, he declared, he was not worth $15,000 and he offered to make an exhibit to the court of all his property. But he maintained that Nettie Walsh had no right whatever to call for such a statement nor had she any claim upon his property.

Begging the question of his relationship with Louise Hawthorne, James denied that he was “addicted to vicious and obscene habits.” He said he was “living a laborious life and making provisions for the future.” He summed up by rejecting every one of Nettie’s “outrageous charges” as being “with out substance or in fact.”

In spite of James’s spirited defense, Ella was mortified and could not forgive him for dragging her into a scandal. Her son Eugene later indicated the depth of her wound in Long Day’s Journey Into Night. He makes it clear that Ella was never able to dismiss the Nettie Walsh affair by causing Mary Tyrone to say: “... right alter we were married, there was the scandal of that woman who had been your mistress suing you.”

It is true that Ella later learned to take what comfort she could lioin the fact that James was a meticulously faithful husband.. there has never been a breath of scandal about him. I mean, with any other woman. Never since he met me. That has made me very happy.... It has made me forgive so many other things,” Mary observes in the play.

On October 23, three weeks before James was due to open in a play in New York, the case labeled “Nettie O’Neill against James O’Neill” was heard in Superior Court in Chicago. Judge Williams listened patiently to depositions of witnesses representing both sides. A man named Alfred Seaman testified that James and Nettie had been “clandestinely” married in Cleveland and a woman named Mrs. James Eyster stated that Nettie had lived with her in 1875 and that she “bad often urged Nettie to demand recognition as the wife of O’Neill and support from him as such.” Nettie’s lawyer stated that his client was “suffering from poverty, while the defendant was in good circumstances,” but offered no further argument. All in all, the evidence in support of Nettie’s claim was not overwhelming.

James, for his part, simply offered an affidavit denying the marriage, and he was supported by sworn statements from two friends, Henry Pratt and John O’Neill (who later became Eugene O’Neill’s godfather). James’s lawyer also introduced as witnesses two women—one Sarah Howard and a Mrs. Brockman—who alleged that Nettie had once said she was not the wife of James O’Neill, but intended to “make money out of him.”

Judge Williams ruled that the evidence before him was insufficient to prove the marriage, but that, pending a hearing on November 26, he would allow Nettie $100 for attorney’s fees, and $50 a month for her support.

By November 13 James was in New York, appearing in Palmer’s production of a play called The Mother’s Secret. The Chicago hearing was conducted on December 6, after a postponement, without lames being present, but his lawyers rallied their resources, and the court held that it did “not appear that there had been any marriage from the evidence presented.” The bill for divorce was dismissed.

Ella shrank from the well-meant sympathy of James’s friends. She was convinced that her own friends had nothing but scorn and pity for her, and she began to wonder how she would support the lonely life in which she was trapped.

Her own world, she believed, had shut the door on her and she could not bring herself to enter James’s world. “I’ve never felt at home in the theatre,” Mary Tyrone says broodingly. “Even though Mr. Tyrone has made me go with him on all his tours, I’ve had little to do with the people in his company, or with anyone on the stage.... Their life is not my life.”

Little by little Ella was retreating, hurt and bewildered, into her dark closet.

Early that winter she and James, together with the rest of Palmer’s company, began a train journey to the Pacific coast. On the way the coach carrying the troupe was coupled to a train filled with soldiers returning from the scene of Indian uprisings. A wildly festive greeting awaited the soldiers and the Palmer company in San Francisco. The soldiers were conquering heroes, and James was no less so, having been sincerely missed by the city that regarded him a favorite son. The city also took a tenacious interest in his personal fortune, and it quickly showed Ella that the divorce’ scandal was not forgotten. Soon after their arrival a local journalist, enhancing the facts, wrote: “Mr. James O’Neill, your black-mustached Adonis, had ... stood in the foremost rank in New York, been claimed in Chicago by three or four wives, and finally comes back to us as handsome, as talented and as well-mustached as ever.”

When the company settled in at the Baldwin Theatre, James occupied the star’s dressing room.

After panic and depression, San Francisco was recovering its aplomb in the winter of 1878. Members of the new society were as cultureconscious as any group in the East and they saw to it that their theatres flourished. Castles were going up on Nob Hill, real estate was booming once more, and James expanded in the lush atmosphere.

Ella, although she could not shake off her unhappiness over the scandal, found temporary serenity, for she was anticipating her first child. She even managed an air of amused tolerance over the publicity given to James’s realistic love-making in a run of Bronson Howard’s Surafogu. James’s innovation fascinated the young men about town, who attended performances repeatedly to time the kisses he exchanged with his leading lady. Nina Varian. Betting pools were organized on the number of kisses Miss Varian would receive each night.

James at this time became involved in the speculation fever that gripped San Franciscans and began investing in real estate and mining operations. He left Palmer’s company and joined a San Francisco group, to stay in California close to his investments. Although he eventually lost money on most of these deals, he never lost faith in his judgment as an investor and continued throughout bis life to sink a portion of his earnings 110m the stage into a variety of schemes and properties. As his son Eugene was late: to point out:

“He was an easy mark for ansone with a spare gold mine, zinc mine, coal mine, silver mine, pieces of real estate, etc.—and he rarely guessed right.”

James did not invest because he enjoyed gambling, but because he had a terror of poverty and thought he was securing his Future. Ilie cimc instinct that made James invest also caused him to he miserly in his pen sonal expenditures. But his desire to hoard was complicated by a wish to appear generous in the eyes of his friends. In the barroom, for instance, he could be counted on to stand his friends to drinks. He was constantly struggling with this duality. He made Ella gifts of expensive jewelry and clothes, but he wore his own clothes until they were threadbare and often economized needlessly on lodgings that caused him and Ella discomfort. Elis paradoxical attitude toward money resulted, quite naturally, in creating two distinctly different impressions of him.

Not an actor, manager or agent ever had anything but glowing praise for his character and generosity, which was remarkable in a profession where petty jealousies and vindictive gossip are so prevalent. The esteem in which he was held was accurately summed up by a contemporary San Francisco journalist: “Among his fellow actors [James O’Neill] is much respected.... He is noted for his kindness to young actors, and if called on will readily advise them about the business of their parts. Although holding the leading position in the theatre, he ... is generous in allowing anyone in scenes with himself to make a point when they can, and this is the secret of how he gains so many friends behind the scenes. He is charitable to the deserving, and is always ready to help those who are in need of his assistance.”

When James O’Neill, Jr. was born at the home of a friend on September 10, 1878, James and Ella seemed, to their acquaintances, to be happy and secure. Ella now had her baby to fill the empty times when her husband was rehearsing and performing.

James’s popularity with San Francisco audiences did not flag. His theatre had recently acquired a self-styled director who was, in fact, a stage manager of dynamic ideas and a house playwright of extraordinary nimblent ss. One of his earliest leats was an “adaptation” of a successful Bronson I Inward play called The Bunker’s Dnnehter. which was playing in New York; it took him almost no time at all to change the play’s title to The Millionaire’s Daughter, to delete the name of Bronson Howard and subitute his own. winch h ippened to be David Bclasco. Although this play and others equally original kept James profitably occupied until early in 1879, he wanted to distinguish himself in a more artistic vehicle. It was at this time that James received an unorthodox, but to him irresistible, offer.

The role was that of Jesus Christ in an adaptation of the Passion play. So strong was James’s vision of the dramatic sensation he could make that he was blind to the tawdriness of the script, prepared by an untalented writer named Salmi Morse. A local editor put it neatly when he wrote of Morse that “he was not nice in his syntax.”

Morse, who had flowing gray hair, a drooping mustache, abbreviated beard, mournful eyes, and a fanatically religious approach to the arts and to journalism, was regarded as an eccentric even in San Francisco, where bizarre characters abounded.

His dramatization of the life of Christ was, he claimed, the result of twenty years of research in the Holy Land. He had in his possession yellowed parchment documents to prove the authenticity of his findings. Morse was a Jew, but the fact that he proposed to produce what amounted to a C hristian religious service did not disturb James any more than the fact that James, an Irish Catholic, should be called upon to play the Nazarcnc.

Neither of these details, however, escaped the acid observation of San Francisco journalists. Even before the play was unveiled, a good deal of angry protest was registered by the newspapers, encouraged by a bandful of Protestant ministers. The bishop of the Catholic church in California had, according to Morse, expressed his approval of the script; but during the subsequent uproar no official of the Catholic Church would take a public stand either for or against the production.

Amidst protest and criticism, James and his cast rehearsed The Passion at the Baldwin Theatre, with the sort of biblical concepts that Hollywood’s Cecil B. De Millc was to employ seventy-five years later. The man behind the extravagant preparations was voting Belasco, who could be seen running about San Francisco, ecstatic over the opportunity that had come his way. He ransacked the city to find one hundred nursing mothers to appear in the tableau, “The Massacre of the Innocents.” He rounded up a flock of sheep and engaged two hundred singers and four hundred supers. He visited the Mechanics Mercantile Library, where he stood lost in scbolaiL study before two biblical canvases that he aimed to reproduce en tableau.

James decided that to do justice to the role of Christ he must become an ascetic. He gave up drinking, tobacco and other worldly pleasures. He ordered solemn rehearsals, alter which he retired to his dressing room for contemplation.

His fellow actors and fans were astonished and impressed by James’s new personality. He allowed no rough language backstage and tolerated no frivolity. The other members of the production found James’s pious approach contagious and began to walk soltly and speak gently. Belasco, who knew when to take a cue, carried a Bible and spoke of plans to enter a monastery.

James was bewildered by the reaction of the press, which criticized him for a misguided attempt to mix religion with commercialism. He considered himself a devout man, and he had persuaded himself that The Passion was both beautiful and elevating. Despite threats by irate citizens to take legal action against the production, The Passion opened on the night of March 3, 1879.

The results were disastrous. When James appeared on the stage with a halo about his head (created by Belasco), women in the audience fell on their knees in prayer; and during the scene in which he was crowned with thorns, a number of patrons fainted. Some members of the audience, consisting largely of San Francisco’s Irish, were so moved by the portrayal of Christ’s suffering that they rushed into the streets at the play’s end, assaulted passing Jews, and destroyed pawnshops and other Jewish properties.

The critics were hostile, one of them calling the play “an absurd and irreverent money-making spectacle.” The editorial pages of the newspapers rang with protest, the Protestant clergy redoubled its denunciation—and it looked as though The Passion would be a resounding financial success. But after a run of only eight days it was closed. The manager of the Baldwin had received letters threatening his life, and he was unwilling to take the risk, even for the fortune that seemed assured.

When business fell sharply at the Baldwin during the hastily substituted run of a play called The Miner’s Daughter, the manager had second thoughts about the wisdom of his decision. Swallowing his fears, he revived The Passion on April 15, even though a city ordinance had been hastily passed, making its presentation illegal and its cast subject to prosecution. The attempt at defiance was short-lived. At the end of the performance two police officers served James and the other members of the cast with warrants, and they were led oil to jail, still in costume. (Belasco preferred not to share martyrdom with Janies, and foiled arrest by hiding in the cellar.) James and his company were released on bail and brought into court for trial several days later. The embarrassing episode was finally closed when James paid a $50 fine, and others in the company paid smaller penalties.

Ella was humiliated both as a wife and as a Catholic, but James stuck to his conviction that The Passion was “in the nature of a religious service.” Some years later he insisted, to an interviewer, that “there was nothing irreverent or theatrical about the performance,” but that “its intense solemnity throughout was most impressive.” “To my mind,” he added, “there was nothing sacrilegious in The Passion. ... If anything, it was in the line of biblical education.”

James resigned himself after The Passion to more mundane impersonations and San Francisco forgave him for his lapse. At the same time that San Franciscans re-embraced James they politely ignored Lester Wallack, who had arrived in San Francisco to open an engagement at the rival California Theatre. Wallack was so indifferently received that he was forced to pack up, but before he left the city he vindictively told a reporter: “Sir, you can judge what I think of average San Franciscans when I state my opinion that if Jesus Christ himself came down from Heaven they would give O’Neill the preference in the character.”

Toward the end of October, 1880, James took Ella and their two-year-old son back to New York, where James spent the season at Booth’s Theatre. During the season of 1881–82, he toured New York State and New England. Believing the time had now come for him to launch himself as a full-fledged star in the East, he selected a vehicle, but once again his judgment proved faulty. The play he chose, and which he bought outright from its author, was An American King. It was written especially for James by a young man named Charles Dazey, who wrote his only really successful piece, In Old Kentucky, some years later.

An American King was something less than the tour de force James had thought it would be. This unfortunate venture marked the end of James’s possible claim to an immortality such as Edwin Booth’s. He was now thirty-five, but had not achieved anything near the stature that had once been predicted for him. He had, in fact, already started downhill without being aware of it.

Easy success in loolish roles had made him forget his original goal of becoming a great Shakespearean actor; when he realized what he had done, it was too late. Eugene O’Neill, brooding about his father’s misstep seven years after his death, was contemptuous of a contemporary actress who seemed about to make the same error. Ele told Brooks Atkinson, the critic, in 192-. that this rising actress planned to secure her reputation by placing tricky modern drama—and then devoting herself to great art; O’Neill, undoubtedly thinking of his father, scornfully pointed out that she would have accumulated so many facile mannerisms by that time that she would be lost to the ways of genius.

In January of 1883 James, struggling to keep An American King going, received an unexpected oiler from John Stetson, the manager of Booth’s Theatre in New York. It was the role of vet another French nobleman— but this particular character became in James’s hands the be-all and the end-all of stereotyped French noblemen.

Booth’s Theatre, built in 1869 by Edwin Booth as a Shakespearean showcase for himself, had failed under his management five years later and was currently pandering to the public taste for French melodrama. Charles Thorne, Jr. had opened in The Corsican Brothers on January 8, but became seriously ill two nights later with rheumatic gout. He was hastily replaced and when it became clear that he would not recover in time to play Edmond Dantes in the next attraction, The Count of Monte Cristo, Stetson thought of James O’Neill. It is conceivable that Thorne himself suggested James, recalling his popularity when they played together for Palmer. Although James had no way of knowing that this offer held out overnight stardom, he accepted with alacrity, for he had been on the point of abandoning his King venture.

Monte Cristo was a rewritten version of the Alexandre Dumas romance, a story that gave color to the heroic dreams of the young men of the day. The form that Stetson planned to use had been doctored by the popular romantic actor Charles Fechter, who had toured in it successfully for several seasons but had died four years earlier. Stetson had acquired the script.

Monte Cristo was to open on February 12. On the fifth, New Yorkers heard of Thorne’s unexpected death. He had died so suddenly, of internal hemorrhages, that his father had been unable to reach his bedside in time. Thorne’s funeral was held the next day.

That night the cast of Monte Cristo, which was supposed to have supported Thorne, supported James O’Neill. It was a significant night in the history of the American theatre—not so much because it launched James on a new phase of his career but because its effect on the career and personality of the actor colored the life and helped to foster the strange genius of his son Eugene. The Count of Monte Cristo, which was to bring James the popularity and wealth for which he had yearned, simultaneously put a strict limitation on his career. It became a trap from which he never escaped and into which Eugene O’Neill was born.

In the beginning it seemed to James that he was still on his way up — that Monte Cristo marked one more step in the direction of lasting fame and stature. He was still slender enough to look well in tight velvet breeches and close-fitting doublet. Experience had made him an agile swordsman, and he had no peer in grace.

The role of Edmond Dantes might have been written expressly for him; he was the wronged, avenging, triumphant Count to the last inch. How could success in this romantic role detract from the Shakespearean parts he would play later? New York encouraged him in this illusion. Even though James himself realized he wasn’t at his best for the premiere, the first nighters, not anticipating any great impact from the warmed-over melodrama, were taken by storm.

Some people had to leave before the end of the performance because the curtain wasn’t rung down until midnight. But even they had seen enough to tell each other excitedly that the old play had been infused with new life. More than one member of that audience recalled, years later, the churning ocean waves, created by hard-breathing stage hands manipulating a blue ground cloth from below; the waves assumed a newly menacing wetness when James emerged from them with blazing eyes, his breast heaving in gasps of victory after his escape into the sea from the Chateau d’lf. When the liberated Dantes cried out—in a voice that penetrated to the last row of the gallery—”The world is mine!” the audience gave him an accolade which seemed to prove his statement.

That the play achieved the success it did was largely due to the freshness of James’s swashbuckling performance, which also inspired the rest of the cast.

James seemed as little able to earn the disapproval of the public as to earn the approval of the New York critics. But his popular success was such that he could afford to ignore the critical carping. The gossipy and prognostically unreliable Spirit of the Times, a theatrical journal, noted that in its opinion “The revival of Monte Cristo was a failure, and ... it deserved to fail.... Mr. O’Neill is an actor with an Irish name and an Irish accent but without any Irish sympathy, passion or magnetism.”

The Irish accent was inaudible, and the magnetism moderately in evidence to the critic of The Mew York Times, who found other faults with James’s interpretation and with the production as a whole: “The performance last night was tedious and awkward. The chief actors in the cast seemed unfamiliar with their parts. The cast was, however, respectable and may become, after a few evenings, effective. Mr. O’Neill (ailed to make an impression of strength because he applied to broad and dashing romantic acting the restrained method of realism. His intensity at the closing scenes of the play was, nevertheless, dramatic and somewhat magnetic.”

Many years later James confessed that he had given a poor perform ance on opening night.

“When Mr. Stetson had billed the play and myself, I had time only for three rehearsals,” he explained. “I begged him to postpone the opening for a week, but he said he couldn’t. ‘I know all the newspaper boys, and will tell them that you had only three rehearsals,’ he promised. ‘They will understand and overlook crudities.’ But on the opening night lie was busy and forgot. The next morning the papers were severe.

“The critics were right that time. I was bad. I knew it. but I got at the play with hammer and tongs. I rehearsed all day in my rooms. By the end of the week the play was going well. Hie public saved the life of the play.’ It ran at Booth’s for a month, closing on St. Patrick’s Day, and then went on tour.

Wherever James toured with Monte Cristo, playgoers crowded to see him. One of the most interesting and analytical reviews of the production appeared a year after its New York opening, when San Francisco first saw the Count in James O’Neill’s version.

Monte Cristo is a great popular success [the San Francisco News Letter informed its readers]. It is exciting and interesting in spite of its many absurdities of detail.... Dantes in prison protrudes his head through a hole within a few inches from the top of the parapet, and at the same time he goes on mining for his freedom; an order is given to double the guard for the purpose of shooting Dantes as he escapes, and the guard is then withdrawn. In the ballroom scene Monte Cristo transacts business in the presence of the hostess and guests and bandies vulgar and insulting words with a bystander. Danglars [a character in the play] writes a letter with his left hand at the rate of 199 words a minute. Nortier [another character] shouts good-night from his room in the inn, and ten seconds afterwards, by the watch, his would-be murderess announces that he is asleep.

The waves in the Chateau ci’Ii scene are simply dreadful. The apotheosis of all this absurdity is the scene where Dantes, standing on a two-by-four rock in the midst of bobbing chunks of wood and canvas, receives a shower of salt. That this play, with all these supremely ridiculous details ... should still excite and amuse, is a proof of its strong romantic interest and powerful dramatic force. It is bound to draw for some time.

That was a modest prediction. James was to take the Count back and forth across the country for over a quarter of a century; to play him more than six thousand times; and to cam well over $800,000 by the impersonation. He was over sixty and his sons had grown up and taken roles in the vehicle before his public would release him from Edmond Dante’s grip —and the grip of $50,000 net profit a year that the play eventually brought him. With all his money and prestige on the road, though, he was, as far as audiences were concerned and as posterity remembers him, a one-character actor, f lis name became a household word to two generations of playgoers, but always linked with that of Monte Cristo. It happened so gradually that James was not, at first, aware of it.

Stetson, realizing he had a money-maker in the Count, signed James to a contract that guaranteed him $i,oco a week, plus a box-office percentage—more than James had ever commanded before.

Ella joined her husband on tour with young Jim, who was now nearly live, whenever the company settled down long enough to make this feasible. The company played most of the major cities of the East and then proceeded west for a series of one-night stands.

Although Ella’s every instinct rebelled against the life she now found herself committed to, she seemed to have no choice; James had no more wish to be separated from her than she from him. But traveling was especially difficult at this point, for she was expecting another baby. Restaurants were not likely to be open when they boarded their coach train at dawn and they often had to travel for hours without even a cup of coffee. When they could breakfast before catching their train, they might have nothing more for eight or ten hours. Trying to force herself to eat heartily against the day’s privations, Ella would watch in disgust while James took his customary early morning drink or two to stimulate his appetite.

The baby, another boy, arrived in St. Louis. He was given the name Edmund Burke O’Neill, in honor of the English statesman and orator who, having been Dublin born, was an object of James’s admiration. Few of James’s friends were aware of Edmund’s middle name, and mistakenly thought he had been named for Edmond Dantes.

Since the Monte Cristo company was scheduled to continue its transcontinental tour to San Francisco, and then, if business warranted, proceed ease again, James and Ella decided they must have a base to which they could periodically take their two children. Touring was difficult enough with one child, but with an infant added, it was more than Ella could manage, particularly with the heat of summer coming on.

Soon after Edmund’s birth James and Ella went to New London to find a summer home, where, if James himself could not always spend the hot months, his wife and children could. Ella’s mother had already taken up residence in New London to be near her sister, Elizabeth Brennan, who had settled there with her husband some time earlier.

James had no ties with any of his own relatives. His mother had died some years before and he would look in only casually on his sister when he passed through St. Louis. Both he and Ella were convinced that New London would offer the roots they both hoped for.

James had long been attracted to the whaling atmosphere of the harbor town; it had been described to him by a friend, John McGinley, who had been in the white goods business in New York. John McGinley, whose father had been a New London whaling captain, had fascinated James with tales of the coast town, which, in 1846, had been the second largest whaling port in the world, surpassed only by New Bedford. The McGinley family had settled in New London in the late eighteenth century when John McGinley’s grandfather arrived from Londonderry, Ireland.

Now John McGinley had given up his business in New York and returned to New London to raise a family and help organize the newspaper called the New London Day, and he was so engaged when James and Ella arrived in 1883.

At that time New London was one of the most beautiful towns in the East. Built on a succession of low hills, it held a large, deep-water harbor —the mouth of the Thames River that opens into Long Island Sound. The harbor made a magnificent anchorage for the square-riggers, the colorful Sound steamers, and the windjammers that still sailed the seas.

The town’s mainstay was small industry related to shipping, textiles, and the tag end of the whaling business, but its possibilities as a summer resort were already recognized—something that did not escape James’s business eye. A sprinkling of the socially prominent from New York, Boston, Philadelphia and New Orleans, acknowledging New London as a yachting and swimming paradise, were beginning to build summer homes along Harbor Road, later to be called Pequot Avenue. The road, which ran alongside the Thames to its mouth, was then about a mile long and was paved with ground oyster shells. It extended from the edge of town to a curve of land on which stood a slender white lighthouse, marking the beginning of the Sound.

About halfway between the town proper and the lighthouse the O’Neill’s bought a small pink cottage and two lots of land overlooking the water. They probably rented a house during their first summer in New London, for the deed to their property, in Ella’s name, was dated August 14, 18(84. Two years later the O’Neill’s purchased some adjoining property, including a barn and two additional cottages, one of which, in the i8yo’s, had housed the district school. (The family that bought the house in 1937, after it had stood vacant for many years, was puzzled to find metal pedestals, such as served to support old fashioned school desks, screwed into the floor of an upstairs room.) It was this cottage, still standing in New London as Number 325 Pequot Avenue, that James rebuilt in the late 1890’s and expanded into into a summer home, and in which Eugene O’Neill set the action of Long Day’s Journey Into Night.

There is every reason to believe that in the early days of their residence in New London James and Ella were warmly accepted. The snobbery that was to bedevil them developed later, with the influx of aristocratic summer residents.

It the rear or so following I dmund’s birth. James and Ella left young h n ml the biby in Bridget’s charge, both in New London and in New L01L, while they toured with Monte Cr’uto. Although Ella made the trips protestingly and decried the necessity of having to choose between husband and children, her devotion to James overrode her maternal instinct. She felt guilty about leaving her children, but she was incapable of parting from her husband.

The demand for James’s Monte Cristo was inexhaustible. Stetson, who bad been convinced that one season of touring would see the end of its popularity, and was not willing to finance the company further, sold the play to James outright for only $2,000. For once, James had guessed right (“My good bad luck,” he later called it, with bitterness) and he could not stop making money with it. He traveled back and forth across the continent, playing in every city and hamlet that had a theatre.

Ella, a dutiful shadow, had left her two sons with her mother in a small Manhattan hotel and had joined James on the road in February, 1885. Soon after, she had word that Jim was ill with measles. On February 27 the baby, Edmund, not vet a year and a half, caught the disease. He was ill for five days and died in the early morning of March 4.

Ella’s dismay at having left Edmund grew into an intolerable guilt, which she spent the rest of her life trying to shift to her husband and children. Young Jim was the first to suffer, for Ella was convinced that he had tried to kill his brother. Eugene O’Neill was aware of how Ella felt, as lie demonstrated in Long Day’s Journey Into Night when he caused Mary Tyrone to say to her husband that she had always believed her son went into the baby’s room deliberately, to give him measles. Jim was jealous of the babv—hated him, says Mary Tyrone, adding that he had been warned that measles could kill the infant. The real Jim could not have been insensitive to Ella’s feelings.

The following fall, only six mouths alter Edmund’s death, Jim was packed off to boarding school at Notre Dame, Indiana, where as a minim (or elementary) and high school student he was to spend most of the next nine years. Jim could hardly har e failed to interpret his exile as punishment for a crime.

The effects of his banishment did not appear to embitter him until he reached his late teens, however. Initially he seemed eager to make good. In his nine years at Notre Dame lie was an outstanding student and an active and popular participant in school sports and other extracurricular activities. He excelled in geography and reading, received special mention in rhetoric, was a monitor in the literary and dramatic societies, and played shortstop on the baseball team.

With Jim off her hands, Ella was free to spend more time on the road with her husband. Occasionally during the next few years James and Ella visited Notre Dame; James was always fussed over at the school and entertained as though he were visiting royalty, which in a sense he was, being by now nationally identified with and idolized as the Count of Monte Cristo. On one such visit he endeared himself to the staff and students, and enhanced his son’s popularity, by trading recitations with a group of youngsters, after which he donated a gold medal to be given at commencement to the student who would distinguish himself above all others for good conduct and proficiency in study. The splash James made at school reflected favorably on Jim, but the boy was already beginning to harbor a resentment toward his overpowering father. He was clever enough to hide this, for the time being, but it was soon to emerge in overt rebellion.

James, for his part, was beginning to rebel against another sort of tyranny. He was growing to resent the success that forced him into endlessly recreating Edmond Dantes. He lost the spirited freshness that had made Dantes so appealing, and he gave automatic and listless performances. His boredom with the role did not pass unnoticed. A San Francisco critic, in December, 1887, almost five years alter James had first appeared in Monte Cristo, wrote: “In [James O’Neill’s] hands it has degenerated into an extravagant melodrama. The romance that amused and interested the intellectual world has become a bit of coarse theatricalism, that pleases only the more ignorant of theatregoers.... He is reaping the pccuniary profit of his business sagacity, but it is at the cost of art. If the actor concerned had no previous claim upon critical consideration the matter would not deserve so much comment, but lames O’Neill has done admirable work—artistic work-in the past, and it is a cause of regret that he should have abandoned his better abilities.”

Other critics sniped at him too. One pointed out that “The Count’s irresistible monetary fascination is fast smothering O’Neill’s versatility.” James was so firmly identified with the part that his friends called him Monte Cristo outside the theatre. They referred to his house in New London as the Monte Cristo Cottage and James himself put up a sign giving it that official designation.

James tried other plays, but the public was apathetic; he went back to Monte Cristo and the public adored him.

It was at this time that Bridget Quinlan died in New London. Ella, still grieving over Edmund’s death, had no further tears to shed. Her mother’s death was no more than a ripple in the sea of melancholy in which she drifted. And James was beginning to reel from the double burden of his artistic deterioration and his wile’s increasing depression. It was under these circumstances that Eugene, their third son, was conceived.


“You were born afraid. Because I was so afraid to bring you into the world ... afraid all the time I carried you. I knew something terrible would happen ... I should never have borne [you]. It would have been better for [your] sake.”

These are the words of Mary Tyrone to her third-born son. Whether or not they are literally the words of his mother, it is clear that O’Neill believed, from early boyhood, that they conveyed his mother’s true feeling of despair over the fact of his birth. Eugene was not to escape his share of his mother’s guilt any more than his brother or father. The sense of guilt was absorbed by him and shadowed his whole life. For he was convinced that it was his birth that made Ella into a narcotics addict.

In Long Day’s Journey Into Night, he pitilessly reiterates his mother’s accusations. Her speeches throughout four acts of the play stress the fact that she was “so healthy” before he was born, that she never had a gray hair or a nerve in her body before his birth. Bearing her third son was “the last straw,” she says, adding, “I was so sick afterwards.” O’Neill indicated, long before he wrote Long Day’s Journey Into Night, the effect his mother’s despair had on him. In The Great God Brown, written in 1925, less than three years after his mother’s death, O’Neill’s autobiographical hero, Dion Anthony, says:

“Why am I afraid to live, I who love life and the beauty of flesh and the living colors of earth and sky and sea? Why am I afraid of love? Why am I afraid, I who am not afraid? ... Why must I live in a cage like a criminal, defying and hating, I who love peace and friendship? Why was I born without a skin, O God, that I must wear armor in order to touch or to be touched? ... Or rather, Old Graybeard, why the devil was I born at all?”

The self-lamented birth of Eugene O’Neill took place in a Broadway hotel room on a Tuesday afternoon, October 16, 1888, two days after his father had marked his forty-second birthday and a month after his mother had turned thirty-one. Ella was still lovely and James, trim and dapper, still presenting a smiling, unruffled exterior, was hollowly assuring audiences from Boston to San Francisco that the world was his.

Although James’s tour during the months of September and October, 1888, followed a New England route, Ella had left New London to await her confinement in New York. Despite her precarious emotional and physical condition, James did not feel he could postpone his lucrative tour to be with her. Depositing Ella in New York at a hotel called the Barrett House, he opened Monte Cristo in New Jersey the week of September 3. From there, leaving Ella to brood over the impending arrival of their baby, he took up one- and two-night stands in Massachusetts, Maine and New Hampshire. He played without a break through the Saturday night performance, October 13, in Worcester, Massachusetts, and came to New York on Sunday to spend his birthday with Ella. Since Ella expected to be confined within the next couple of days, James remained at the Barrett House. Evidently he canceled his scheduled appearances for the next four nights, for he did not resume his tour until October 18, two days after his son’s birth.

Eugene’s birthday was damp and gray, with an intermittent light rain. In the theatrical world Edwin Booth and another great Shakespearean actor, Lawrence Barrett, had recently taken the country by storm, appearing together in their first nation-wide tour. On the Rialto, which by that time had expanded to the area between Union Square and Thirty-fourth Street, E. H. Sothern was playing in Lord Chumley. James’s old mentor, Joseph Jefferson, was announced to appear with John Gilbert and Mrs. John Drew in The Rivals within a few days. Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Yeomen of the Guard was having its American premiere.

Although the first electric lights had been installed in a theatre six years before, the street lamps above Twenty sixth Street were still being lighted by oil tipped torches. Stanford White had recently completed his architect’s blueprint for The Players, the newly organized actors’ club that was to be opened on New Year’s Eve at a house purchased by Edwin Booth in Gramercy Park (James O’Neill was to become one of the club’s first members).

Missing from the theatrical scene was the theatre where James had made his New York debut. The Union Square Theatre had been destroyed by fire eight months before, on February 27; almost every actor and actress then in New York had turned out to watch and lament the destruction of a cherished landmark.

Eugene O’Neill’s birthplace, at Broadway and Forty-third Street, was then called Longacre Square. (It was not renamed Times Square until sixteen years later.) Because lie never had any real roots, Eugene grew up with a dogged sentimentality for the neighborhood in which he was born, as it was in his boyhood. He was always half-humorously resentful of the rapid changes that took place in the area, recalling the quiet side streets of the West Forties, lined with brownstone residences and interspersed with their owners’ livery stables, and the tree-lined lane a little farther uptown known as the Boulevard.

The family hotel called Barrett House, which had been built to the imposing height of eight stories in 1883, occupied the northeast corner of Broadway and Forty-third Street. Its windows looked out on cobblestone streets, where horse-drawn carriages passed at a leisurely pace. The Barrett House clock, set into a gabled tower, was a landmark for uptown residents and visitors.

For many years O’Neill was to point out to friends the third-floor room in which he was born, until, in 1940, the hotel was torn down to make way for a two-story structure housing a group of stores and topped by a towering electric sign advertising Kleenex. By the time O’Neill was old enough to enjoy recalling and revisiting his birthplace, the hotel, which had merged with an adjoining structure in 1900, was called the Cadillac. But this did not detract from O’Neill’s nostalgia.

“Every time I go past, I look up,” he said in 192.5. “Third window from Broadway on the Forty-third Street side. I can remember my father pointing it out to me.” In at least one instance, he impetuously hustled a friend up to Room 236, knocked on the door, explained his mission to the startled occupants, and was granted permission to look around. Many years later, returning to New York after having lived some years in California, O’Neill found that the hotel had been razed and he complained that he hardly recognized the area any more.

“There is only empty air now where I came into this world,” he said.

In 1948, only five years before his death, O’Neill had been gratified to receive from an old friend a photograph of the original Barrett House. O’Neill told his friend, “I know of no gift which could have pleased me more.” He had added facetiously that the figure in the picture leaning against the lamppost outside the hotel obviously “had a bun on.’

“I remember seeing him there the day after I was born,” added O’Neill. “You forget there were men in those days, and when they decided it was fitting they should go on a drunk, they went on n drunk. Not like the weaklings of today, who after two days of much mixed drinks have to have an animal trainer bed them down in Bellevue and gently subdue their menagerie visions! 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 began to instill in his younger son a profound consciousness of and pride in his pure Irish ancestry from the moment of his birth by bestowing on him a traditional Gaelic name. Eugene is the Anglicization of Eaghan and Eaghan Ruadh, Dr Owen Rae, who was the greatest of the O’Neill soldiers to fight the English Parliamentarians. The middle name, Gladstone, which O’Neill later dropped, was given to him in honor of the Liberal English prime minister, then a champion of home rule for Ireland, who, like Burke, was distinguished for his oratory.

Thirty years after he had been christened, when an early play brought him to the attention of the public, O’Neill was enchanted to receive a congratulatory letter from a seventy-two-year-old woman who signed herself Elizabeth Murray and who wished to remind him that she was the nurse who had been with him at his birth.

“I have thought of you many times in the last thirty years,” Mrs. Murray wrote, “and I wondered how you and your dear mother were getting along. I carried you in my arms to the church the day you were christened, a beautiful baby.”

O’Neill treasured the letter, as he did the photograph of the Barrett House and pictures of himself as an infant in his mother’s arms. A man of violent contradictions, O’Neill spent much of his life protesting against having been born, yet he was sentimentally attached to memorabilia of his birth.

Eugene was, according to medical records, a healthy, breast-fed baby, despite the debilitating effect that his birth apparently had upon his mother; he weighed eleven pounds. (Mary Tyrone says, in Long Day’s Journey Into Night: . that ignorant quack of a cheap doctor— All he knew was I was in pain. It was easy for him to stop the pain.”)

Ella, according to relatives, was attended at her delivery by a doctor with whom James O’Neill had struck up a barroom acquaintance. Eugene came to believe that it was James’s eagerness to save on medical costs that caused him to choose a doctor so casually. It seems certain that the doctor ordered morphine to ease Ella’s pains.

Morphine, a derivative of opium, was in those days available in various preparations without prescription. Many patent medicines containing morphine, such as cough syrups, were readily obtainable at drugstores, and morphine was even listed in the catalogues of some mail-order houses. It was not until World War I that a federal law was passed (late in 1914) restricting the sale of opium and its derivatives; then codeine, a milder drug, succeeded morphine in many patent remedies.

The effect of morphine, in addition to alleviating physical pain, is to blur the edges of reality, removing fears and worries and relegating the user to what O’Neill once described, when speaking of his mother, as “a kind of twilight zone.” According to medical evidence, it is unusual for a person to become addicted to morphine unless he actively wishes to sustain the sense of unreality that it provides.

Thus there is questionable validity in the contention, as advanced in Long Day’s Journey Into Night, that a “quack doctor” started Ella on a vicious habit that trapped her against her will. It is true that a doctor introduced her to the drug, but she herself seized on its effect as a means of escape. Morphine offered her a never-never land in which she could hide. It was many months before she realized that she no longer could do without the drug.

It was many months, also, before James became aware that Ella was an addict. According to a cousin of the O’Neill’s, Ella’s addiction was not suspected by James until, one day, he overheard his wife sending an elevator boy to the apothecary to replenish the patent medicine she had been taking for “nervousness.” James was on the point of going out himself and told the boy that he would pick up the medicine.

The druggist, who happened to be a conscientious man, asked James if he knew that the medicine could become habit forming, and James, after further inquiry, was appalled to discover the truth. The fact of his wife’s addiction must have been almost incomprehensible to him, for virtually nothing was known of such matters to people of his class. The cousin, a lively-minded, inquisitive girl, learned these facts years later by eavesdropping on a conversation between her elders; she was among the few surviving relatives and friends of the elder O’Neill’s who was not unduly surprised by the revelation of the mother’s addiction in Long Day’s Journey Into Night.

The words O’Neill has given James Tyrone to speak in the play seem to bear out the facts. Answering his son, who has accused him of neglect in failing to recognize the seriousness of his wife’s narcotics habit, and of miserliness in not getting proficient medical help, James protests: “... how was I to know then? What did I know of morphine? It was years before I discovered what was wrong. I thought she’d never got over her [childbirth] sickness, that’s all.”

Eugene began touring with his father as an infant. James had resumed his travels in Monte Cristo a few days after his son was born and Ella, though not in good health, rested in New York for only a month or so after Eugene’s birth.

“My mother nursed me in the wings and in dressing rooms,” O’Neill often said. He elaborated on this to a friend with whom, during one Greenwich Village dawn, he was watching John Barrymore make his unsteady way down a narrow street.

“Barrymore, like a lot of dizzy actors, boasts about having been born in a trunk. As if that were something wonderful, I was born in a theatrical hotel and my mother had to travel and put me in a bureau drawer on two pillows for my cradle. I was fed and dressed and put to sleep in hotel rooms. I can’t see that a theatrical life on the road is such a marvelous thing.”

In January of 1889, before he was three months old, Eugene was taken by Ella to be inspected by his ten-year-old brother at Notre Dame. “Master Eugene is a beautiful child,” reported the Notre Dame Scholastic on January 12. “My first press notice,” O’Neill would say, years later, displaying the carefully preserved clipping.

George Tyler, the prominent theatrical producer of the first two decades of the 1900’s, who spent his early years of training as an advance publicity man for various touring companies, has said that it was one of his obligations, when he worked for James O’Neil], to “scramble round and do things” for Ella, who, with her baby, would be sent ahead of the company to rest from the grind of one-night stands.

One night in Chicago, where Ella had been established to wait for James and his company, Tyler was summoned by a frantic call to her hotel. He discovered that Eugene, then three months old, was “sort of black in the lace and gasping and raising Cain.” Ella was convinced he was dying. Tyler finally managed to find a doctor, who, after a look at the baby, decided it was nothing more serious than colic.

The disruptive and grueling routine of travel had its more serious effect on Eugene, though. His mother’s own attitude toward the wandering life had frozen into cheerless resignation, alleviated by daily attendance at Mass or, alternately, by escape into drugged daydreams. This did not bolster Eugene’s sense of security. Even though Ella was spared the more strenuous aspects of one night stands—under whose rigors James seemed to thrive—the clattering old day coaches on which she rode with Eugene, the indifferent hotels in which they staved, and the tasteless food on which they subsisted in their moves from city to city created a drab and wearing environment.

A representative route, got up by one of James O’Neill’s managers, has survived to indicate what a sample month’s tour was like. In one November James’s company played Scranton, Pennsylvania; Albany, New York; North Adams, Northampton, Westfield—all in Massachusetts; Hartford and Middletown in Connecticut; Worcester, Massachusetts; Woonsocket, Rhode Island; New Bedford, Massachusetts; Newport, Rhode Island; Fall River and Boston, Massachusetts; and Providence, Rhode Island—in that order. All but four of these stops were for one night and only two were for full-week engagements.

This went on throughout the theatrical season, with only the summers in New London providing a breathing spell. Eugene’s companions, necessarily restricted during the seven years he traveled with his parents, consisted mainly of railroad conductors and hotel porters, in addition to an English-trained nanny named Sarah Sandy.

Sarah was a goodhearted woman and devoted to Eugene. Her only grudge against the world, whether real or imagined, was that her mother had sent her into service while allowing her sisters and brothers to receive an education. Sarah came to Ella highly recommended by a resident at the Barrett House in whose employ she had been for many years. Sarah did her best to compensate her charge for his lack of family life and playmates. She sometimes took him to stay with her own relatives and, while on the road, zealously sought out aquariums, zoos and circuses for Eugene to visit. His earliest memory of those days was of feeding squirrels in a park in Memphis, Tennessee. A chubby infant, he was dressed for his outings in Little Lord Fauntleroy suits and lace collars, and he wore his light brown hair long, with bangs.

Sarah also told Eugene the sordid details of contemporary murders and invented horror talks of her own, supplementing this instruction with visits to museums where wax effigies of criminals and malformed dummies were on display. In New York she often took him to the Eden Musee, which featured, for a twenty-five cent admission, “a world of wax” and Hungarian gypsy music.

She probably channeled her Lustrations into this vivid form because she felt as isolated and unbelonging as Eugene; her terrified but attentive listener was a perfect captive audience. The reference in long Days Journey Into Night to Edmund Eugene’s “continually having nightmares as a child,” although not related in the play to his nurse, was obviously factual and just as obviously traceable to the imaginative Sarah. On the other hand, her lurid stories may have begun to stimulate an imagination that was later to hold audiences spellbound with vivid accounts of terror and doom.

Both Sarah and Eugene found themselves picking up a secondhand backstage education. Sarah used to say that she had seen The Count of Monte Cristo so many times she could go on stage and plus any part at a moment’s notice.

As for Eugene, one of his earliest memories (by his own later account) was of his father “dripping with salt and sawdust, climbing on a stool behind the swinging profile of dashing waves. It was then that the calcium lights in the gallery played on his long beard and tattered clothes, as with arms outstretched he declared that the world was his. This was a signal for the house to burst into deafening applause that drowned out the noise of the mechanical storm being manufactured backstage.”

Eugene was so steeped in the ways of the theatre that by the time he was five he considered himself qualified to pronounce a professional opinion that both amused and appalled his father. He was paying a call with James on a Cincinnati relative, when a wizened neighbor happened in. Habitually shy and silent, he could not refrain from turning to his father and confiding, in a stage whisper, “Ugly old woman. Wouldn’t do for the stage.”

He was no better disposed toward pretty, young women who did very well for the stage. He accompanied his mother to the dressing rooms one day after a matinee and hung back bashfully as Ella greeted Margaret Anglin, at that time still a relatively obscure ingenue. “Come in, boy,” said Miss Anglin. “Don’t be afraid. I won’t kiss you.” Eugene did not budge. “You might,” he said. By this time, Eugene had outgrown his lace collars and long curls; with his ears sticking out and several front teeth missing, he looked the typical, winsome five-year-old.

It is not surprising that Eugene, between bouts of horror with Sarah, casting efforts on behalf of Monte Cristo, and dodging the blandishments of ingenues, found early and pleasurable escape into books. A photograph taken of him in New’ London at the age of seven—which O’Neill, in his later years, referred to as “amusing and characteristic”—shows him seated al >ne on a rock, gazing sadly and thoughtfully out to sea. He is fetchingly dressed in a dark jacket, short pants, an Eton cap, long dark stockings and high laced boots. Eugene would sit for hours on the smooth yellow rocks that lined the harbor road, reading, sketching, dreaming and wondering what it was like to be a sea gull.

Even as a child he was detached from his physical background, preferring to escape into an imaginary realm where he could not be hurt by a remote mother or an overwhelming father. He was moody and oversensitive. Though he had no more than his fair share of the usual childhood diseases, including measles and typhoid fever, he was plagued by colds and respiratory infections and was often pale. His relatives regarded him as “delicate.”

But there was a robust, tenaciously realistic side to Eugene, just as there was a generous, even an indulgent, side to his father. For example, James bought, and Eugene delighted in, a toy railroad, which ran on a track surrounding his house. It was not a miniature electric train, but a coal-burning model in which he could sit and ride around his yard; but he had to stoke the engine himself, with fuel he fetched and carried. He also had a fling at chicken farming, selling eggs to his father at prices well above those of the contemporary market.


If the first seven years of touring with his father injected the theatre permanently into Eugene’s blood, those years also gave him a thorough dislike of its conventions.

“My early experience with the theatre through my father really made me revolt against it,” he once recalled. “As a boy I saw so much of the old, ranting, artificial romantic stuff that I always had a sort of contempt for the theatre.”

Those wandering years also gave him a permanent sense of rootlessness, of not belonging. The ensuing six years, which he spent mainly at Catholic boarding schools, increased his feeling of isolation.

“O’Neill has acute memories of the outbursts of hysterical loneliness that overtook him on every return to his rigid Christian exile,” wrote Elizabeth Shepley Sergeant, the journalist and biographer, who, after interviewing him in 1926, became his friend. “Gazing afar upon a stage where a heroic figure strutted, towards a lovely distant mother to whom he stretched his arms in vain, he conceived the world in which he was at mercy of his affections as disastrous.” (He no longer had even his nurse, Sarah, to cling to, and this was perhaps an even cruder blow than being parted from his mother; for, whatever her shortcomings, Sarah had provided him with the protective warmth he craved.)

O’Neill, almost always dismayed by the articles published about him, was so impressed by Miss Sergeant’s sensitive grasp of the forces that shaped his character that he soon after confided to her the story of his mother’s morphine addiction—something he did, painfully, to only five or six people during his lifetime.

The “rigid Christian exile” began with his entry into a convent school on a hill in the northern Bronx, along the banks of the Hudson River. Established by the Catholic Sisters of Charity in Manhattan in 1847 as the Academy of Mount St. Vincent, it later moved uptown and before the turn of the century became an academy very much like St. Mary’s at Notre Dame.

James O’Neill, self-conscious about his own lack of formal education, was a martinet about his children’s schooling. A sound education was, to his mind, far more important than any amount of domestic coddling. In September, 1895, Eugene, not quite seven years old, entered the boarding school maintained on the grounds belonging to Mount St. Vincent, and known as St. Aloysius Academy for Boys; it had been set up mainly to proximate the curriculum of second through sixth grades.

In that same September Eugene’s brother, Jim, now seventeen, entered a boarding school a few miles away in the Bronx on the site of what is now Fordham University, and was then called St. John’s College and Preparatory School. (Jim had by this time become “Jamie,” because of the elder James’s discomfiture over hearing his own nickname called out by Sarah during the summers when the family was together in New London.)

Both boys were registered at their schools from the Barrett House, which was still the O’Neill family headquarters when Ella or James were in New York. Relieved of physical responsibility toward both her children, Ella could now shut her eves and visualize the two respectable institutions in the Bronx where Jamie and Eugene were presumably secure and well cared for—and at a safe distance from her. She could subdue with morphine any intruding doubts about her children’s emotional well-being. Since her sons were away, she no longer had to worry about concealing her narcotics habit from them nor explain about her periodic trips to sanitariums, to which her husband had begun sending her for rehabilitation.

Mount St. Vincent had a romantic association with the world of the theatre and James was pleased to call this to Eugene’s attention. The fifty-five acres along the Hudson, complete with a pseudo Norman-Gothic castle, had been sold to the Sisters of Charity in 1856 by Edwin Forrest for the Forrest like sum of $100,000. Called Fonthill by the actor, the estate included, in addition to the turreted gray-stone castle, whose lounda tion was hewn from bedrock, a small, gracefully designed, two story stone cottage that had been the gatekeeper’s lodge, in which Forrest himself had lived briefly and in which Eugene was to spend his next fixe wars. Forrest, who had designed Fonthill for himself and his wile, never lived in the castle because they separated before it was completed. I he castle served as a priests’ residence in Eugene’s day, later becoming the library and archives of the college.

Eugene was not happy at Mount St. Vincent. Its lovely, wooded paths and rolling farmlands in the surrounding wilderness of the Bronx, the insistent cries of sea gulls circling above the I fudson, the solicitous atten tion of the sisters, only increased his sense of deprivation and loneliness.

He was remembered by the sisters as a ‘ refined and quiet boy,” who preferred to spend his free time with books rather than in active play with his companions. Though usually solemn, he had a heart-melting smile.

The foreman of the farm, who cut the grass and always invited the boys to pile the hay and roll in it, remembered Eugene as the only boy who habitually declined the invitation. Sometimes Eugene would stroll down to the river to watch the boats go by, a look of dreamy yearning on his face. One thing he longed for in the rustic setting of Mount St. Vincent was the companionship of his dog. Eugene and a New London cousin both had acquired large, odoriferous hounds, and both had named their pets Perfumery. But Eugene had had to leave his Perfumery behind, in the care of another relative named Josephine Brennan.

Eugene begged his teachers to let him keep the dog at school, and finally a sympathetic priest agreed to have a doghouse built on the grounds. Eugene wrote Josephine to get ready to ship Perfumery to school. But the day before the letter reached her, the dog ran under the wheels of a carriage and was killed. Eugene did not speak to Josephine for two years.

The stone cottage in which Eugene lived, ate and studied housed only fifteen boys, ranging in age from seven to twelve. On the top floor were the students’ bedrooms, only six in all, and the ground floor included two classrooms and a dining room. Meals were prepared in the main building, nearly a mile away, and carried to the cottage. Although the majority of students came from wealthy families, they were not overindulged at Mount St. Vincent, but neither were they deprived. The freezing nocturnal trips through the snow to a privy were counterbalanced by generous morning meals of oatmeal supplemented by farm butter and fresh milk.

Cherry trees abounded on the campus and, in season, the boys could feast on the fruit, when the birds did not beat them to it. In the late spring, a section near the Hudson was fenced off as a swimming pool and the boys paddled about under the supervision of a sister. It was here that Eugene had his first lessons in swimming, which later became the only sport he practiced consistently and in which he excelled. In the pastoral surroundings of the Bronx Eugene also developed an interest in nature, which was later reflected in his plays.

A contemporary glimpse of Eugene’s schoolmates has been preserved in a quaint volume called A Famous Convent School, written by Marion J. Brunowe and published in 1897. Miss Brunowc’s encounter with the academy boys occurred in October, 1896, when Eugene was just eight.

In spite of his reluctance to join in the recreational activities of his companions, he was obliged to take a certain amount of outdoor exercise, so it may be assumed that he was among the youngsters immortalized in Miss Brunowe’s treacly prose:

“Shouts of clear, high laughter ... proceed from a group of lads just issuing from yonder picturesque stone cottage ...” she wrote. “They are all little fellows, but they make a big noise. Here they come, the jolly little chaps, in ones, in twos, in groups, running, skipping, jumping, laughing in unrestrained glee, a glee which is not so wild, however, that good breeding is forgotten.

“No, with the sight of visitors, off go caps; each, to be sure, in the peculiar method of the wearer, from the tiny lad who clutches his head covering quite in the middle of the top, to the small, punctilious Cuban youth of ten, who removes his cap with a grace worthy of his Spanish ancestors. This duty once performed, however, the small men grow supremely indifferent to any presence save their own, and that of the young religious who superintends their sports, and looks as if she might perhaps not be averse to joining in a game now and then herself.”

Although Eugene may have been a part of this group physically, he was certainly detached from it spiritually. Flis roommate for two years, a boy named Joseph McCarthy, who was three years older than Eugene, recalled, at seventy-two, that Eugene did not have much to do with anyone except him.

“He talked very little,” McCarthy has said, “and he didn’t have much to say to me, either, although he seemed to be fond of me and considered me a sort of protector. Once, I punched another boy in the nose for calling Gene a sissy.”

A shy, frail man, suffering from the aftereffects of tuberculosis and a paralytic stroke, McCarthy could still enjoy talking about Iris former roommate, flis eves crinkled with humor as lie recalled a nun who used to jab with her elbows and rap the students’ heads to impress the salient points of a lesson on her young chaiges. (“Do you ever think of Sister M----- who used to knuckle us on the bean? and Sister G-----? They often come back to me,” O’Neill wrote McCarthy from France in 1930.)

“Gene had an aura of sophistication that endeared him to the sisters— even to Sister M-----, in spite of her jabs and punches,” McCarthy said. “Most of the boys liked him, too, though they considered him a little queer. He read Kipling and authors way beyond his years—Anatole France among others. He used to call me ‘Mowgli.’” (France, w’ho was later to turn up on the Catholic Index of forbidden books, had not yet been condemned.) Eugene insisted that Joe read everything he read, but declined to discuss the books with him.

“He was mediocre in his studies, and not really interested in anything except his reading,” McCarthy recalled. “He did talk, once in a while, about wanting to go to sea. I don’t know if it was his own idea or his mother’s but he used to wear a sort of sailor blouse and short pants most of the time. And I remember he wrote to his brother, of whom he was very fond.”

McCarthy, who knew that Eugene’s father was a famous actor, as did the other boys, was not surprised to find that Eugene was willing to take part in school plays, in preference to other extracurricular activities. Eugene seemed bored, though, with the enthusiasm displayed by the other boys for James O’Neill’s fencing prowess. Another student at the school, Stephen Philbin, who was Eugene’s age, has recalled that the boys used to discuss lames’s technique with the sword and sometimes tried to imitate his dueling scenes, using sticks for weapons.

The most heated discussions among the boys concerned the Spanish-American War. As there were a good many Cuban pupils at Mount St. Vincent. much comradely patriotism was inspired by the blowing up of the Maine. “Remember the Maine,” shouted throughout the land, was echoed at Mount St. Vincent and reinforced by picture-postcard novelties depicting the battleship which, when lit by a match, exploded in a highly satisfactory fashion.

From what both McCarthy and Philbin have remembered about the school routine, it would seem that Eugene had ample time to pursue his reading. The boys arose at six thirty and received classroom instruction horn eight until three thirty. From then until bedtime, jt nine, they were mote or less free. On Sundays they attended Mass in the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception, situated in a large, pink brick building which, at th it time, also housed the academy’s girl students. The enforced weekly religious services, together with concentrated weekday study of the Catechism, had is inevitable cllect on the heart and mind of young Eugene.

The age of icason, as defined by the Catholic Church, had not vet been lowered to seven, as was decreed in the 1900’s. Consequently, Eugene did not receive his first Holy Communion until he was twelve, and by that time he was steeped in the Creed, the Commandments and the Sacraments. And yet, even though Catholicism was an integral part of his daily being, and though he was to feel himself pursued for the rest of his file by the “I found of Heaven,” the seed of rebellion against the rimd demands of the Church was already planted. McCarthy, who had a less questioning mind than Eugene’s, was startled by a comment his roommate once made, and never forgot it.

“Religion is so cold,” the nine-year-old Eugene said.

In a play O’Neill wrote in 1936, Days Without End, the hero, speaking of himself in the third person, describes his boyhood disappointment with the climate of Catholicism: “[His parents’] God was One of Infinite Love—not a stern, self-righteous Being Who condemned sinners to torment, but a very human lovable God Who became man for love of men and gave His life that they might be saved from themselves. And the boy had every reason to believe in such a Divinity of Love as the Creator of Life.... Later, at school, he learned of the God of Punishment, and he wondered.... Afterward ... he saw his God as deaf and blind and merciless—a Deity Who returned hate for love and revenged Himself upon those who trusted Him!”

O’Neill’s early belief was mystically interwoven with his mother’s religious life, which, as a boy, he tenderly venerated. Perhaps he was not conscious at the time of how closely the atmosphere of Mount St. Vincent paralleled that of St. Mary’s, where his mother had spent her girlhood; but the impression emerged vividly later. In his teens whenever he listened to his mother’s long monologues of her years at St. Mary’s he could evoke parallel images of the girls at Mount St. Vincent.

His emotions were so intimately entwined with his mother’s that in his mind he transposed her as a schoolgirl to the campus on the Eludson—a trick of imagination illustrated by his reference in Long Day’s Journey Into Night to the ‘Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes, on the little island in the lake,” to which Mary Tyrone recalls having gone to pray in her senior year at school. No such shrine existed on the campus of St. Marv’s Academy when Ella was a student there; the shrine was at Mount St. Vincent. Built as a replica of the grotto in Irance, where Bernadette re ported her visitation from the Virgin Mary, the shrine stood on an island in a tiny lake, spanned by wooden bridges.

Ella went to the Mount St. Vincent giotto dining her flips to the school to visit Eugene. The walk from the Mount St. Vincent station — which was a stop of the New York Central Railroad -to Eugene’s dormitory led past the lake on which the grotto stood. If anything could have called to Ella’s wavering faith at that time, it would hive been the sight of her girlish prototypes worshiping at the statue of Mary, on whose mystically healing grace Ella was often to call for redemption in later years.

In addition to visiting Eugene and Jamie from time to time, usually accompanied by one of her New London relatives, Ella also saw her sons during school recesses. Despite her emotional stress during this period, she did not offer any objections when Eugene suggested bringing Joe McCarthy to New London with him during Easter vacation in 1897.

Joe always wondered why Eugene had invited him. During the entire week Eugene did not leave the house, saw no local friends, and made no effort to entertain Joe in any way. He seemed oblivious to the fact that he was being deficient as a host. Ella did not offer any suggestions for the boys’ diversion, either. She behaved pleasantly and normally, in the eyes of the older boy, who was an orphan. Eugene spent the week reading in his room or on the porch, and left Joe to do as he pleased, after offering him the choice of his father’s library.

Vacation over, the boys returned in friendly but unbroken silence to Mount St. Vincent, which Joe was to leave that summer.

During the three ensuing years that Eugene spent at the school, he grew more aware that something was wrong with his mother. His brother’s behavior gave the first clue. Jamie, whom Eugene hero-worshiped, was failing in a spectacular way to live up to his youthful promise. Jamie had found out about his mother’s addiction and begun to blame himself for the part he believed he had played in Edmund’s death and the deterioration of his mother’s health.

But, perhaps even more shattering, he had recently learned that there was another claimant to his birthright. On March 9, 1897, Nettie Walsh’s son, who had by this time grown to manhood, revived his mother’s claim of twenty years earlier.

Seizing on James’s presence in Chicago that spring, he filed a bill alleging that his mother, in 1877, had lost her suit for divorce because she had been “misled by designing people” and that James, “by a scries of false and plausible promises and also by and through threats of various sorts” against the good name of his mother and his own future prospects, “so worked upon the mother that, by ... the most outrageous fraud upon the court, the defendant, James O’Neill, procured a decree to be entered in said court finding that no marriage ever existed between Nettie and the defendant, James O’Neill, and dismissed her said bill of divorce for want of equity.”

I he son went on to point out that his own legitimacy was in question, and that he intended to remove the blemish from his name and reestablish the good name of his mother. He asked that James be restrained from leaving the state and that a receiver be appointed for James’s p-operty.

James put his lawyers to work once more and did his best to keep the matter quiet. But the case dragged on for three years, accompanied by a certain amount of publicity, and Jamie eventually learned all the details. (Although the son’s suit was no more successful than the mother’s in establishing the fact of the marriage, and was finally dismissed in 1900, it cost James money again.)

Jamie started going to pieces soon after graduating from St. John’s Preparatory School. He entered St. John’s College with the idea of studying law, and although he continued to do very well scholastically, he began to drink, cutting classes and visiting the more gaudy places of entertainment in Manhattan. In spite of his grades, which averaged consistently in the nineties, even in the subject of religion, Jamie had become, by the time he was twenty, a suffering, cynical alcoholic.

It was at this point that he began to be a formative and destructive influence on his ten-year-old brother, whom he both loved and resented. His letters to Eugene were tinged with sneering comments about life and religion that had a lasting effect on the younger boy. Finally, after a flagrant gesture of defiance at St. John’s—he brought a prostitute to the campus and tried to pass her off as his sister, on a bet—he was asked to leave. The request was made early in December of 1899, six months before he was to be graduated. Jamie had got into trouble before that. As manager of the baseball team he had failed to meet his players on time at the railroad station; instead, with the train tickets in his pocket, he had gone off to a saloon, where he was discovered, drunk, by one of the team members.

Eugene remained at Mount St. Vincent until June of 1900. He was upset about Jamie, and increasingly worried about his mother. Longing for a reassuring answer, he sought comfort in his religion. He was able to find it, probably for the last time, in the sacrament of Communion, which he received on May aq. Several years after his death a sweet laced, elderly nun at Mount St. Vincent pointed out to a visitor the altar al which the twelve-year-old boy, having Listed and confessed and made Icivent acts of faith, hope, love and contrition, solemnly accepted the body and blood of Christ.

Eugene believed unwaveringly that he had achieved union with Cod, that he had been granted an increase of grace, and that he would be preserved from mortal sin. The nun, who had not herself known Eugene, had spoken to sisters w’ho remembered him and she had interested licisclf in his career.

“Doesn’t it break your heart to think of the poor little fellow?” she asked the visitor rhetorically, apropos of Eugene’s subsequent loss of faith.

Mount St. Vincent kept its boy students only to the age of twelve. The following fall, therefore, on October 16, 1900, Eugene entered De La Salle Institute in Manhattan. This time he lived at home, now a hotel at Sixty-eighth Street near Central Park West, and attended daily classes at the school. Situated on Sixth Avenue and Fifty-ninth Street, with enormous French windows facing Central Park, De La Salle was a Catholic school operated by the Christian Brothers. Elaborately decorated and furnished, it was attended by the sons of wealthy families. The preponderance of successful actors’ sons in the student body inspired one of Eugene’s teachers, Brother Basil, to arrange contests in reading and declamation among his pupils, to which he invited the proud professional parents.

Ella’s experiment in domesticity was abortive and disastrous. Eugene returned to the hotel one day unexpectedly and stumbled upon her in the act of giving herself a morphine injection. She was far more upset than Eugene and accused him of spying on her. Eugene, who barely comprehended what he had seen, bore the tirade quietly, almost numbly. It took him some time and several anguished sessions with his father and brother before he understood what was, and had been for many years, wrong with his mother. Finally the full force of his discovery gripped him.

At that point it was actually a relief to him to be aide to pin down, at last, a sulficiently devastating reason for his inbred, tragic view of life. For the first time, too, the bitter pattern of his brother’s and his father’s life was illuminated for him.

Eugene had already begun to dramatize himself, much as his mother had ilone as a girl. This misery was genuine, but he heightened it to torment himself. Ella’s addiction now provided the reason for his faltering faith. lie praxed for her cure, challenging God to prove himself by restoring his mother to health, and demonstrating thereby that he had already lost his faith.

Thinly disguising the facts of this personal crisis in Dins Without End, he presented the hero’s mother as a widow in a weakened condition from having nursed her husband during a fatal siege of flu, rather than as a woman who could not cope with her marriage and had retreated into narcotics addiction. Speaking of his boyhood self in die third person, the hero says:

“Then his mother ... was taken ill. And the horrible fear came to him that she might die, too.... His God of Love was beginning to show Himself as a God of Vengeance.... But he still trusted in His Love. Surely He would not take his mother from him.... So the poor fool prayed and vowed his life to piety and good works! But he began to make a condition now—if his mother were spared to him! He abased and humbled himself before the Cross—and, in reward for his sickening humiliation, saw that no miracle would happen. Something snapped in him then.... His mother died. And, in a frenzy of insane grief— No! In his awakened pride he cursed his God and denied Him, and, in revenge, promised his soul to the Devil—on his knees, when everyone thought he was praying!”

This fictional session of prayer and revolt had its actual counterpart during Eugene’s second year at De La Salle. Ella, who did not want him at home watching her with wounded and accusing eyes, had enrolled him as a boarder. Eugene “praved and vowed his life to piety and good works,” asking God to redeem his mother. He deluded himself into believing that he was still firm in his faith, by applying himself with unprecedented zeal to his studies and by doing particularly well in the subject of religion.

That year, under a stringent grading system, he tied for fifth place with two other students in a class of twenty-two. His average mark in religion for the year was 84. English, in which he averaged 87, was one of his best subjects, but his highest grade was 88, in history; his lowest mark was 57, in geometry and algebra, subjects he consistently resisted.

But in spite of his application to good works, Ella was not spared.

By the end of the year Eugene knew he was through with Catholic schools. However strongly James and Ella may have felt about it, they could not induce Eugene to accept any further religious training. He jeered at their arguments, saying that religion had proved of little use to them; why insist on it for him?

He was to maintain later that this year marked the turning point in his life. Fie confided as much, at sixty, to one of his doctors when he was gravely ill. Fie entered Betts Academy, a nonsectarian Connecticut boarding school, at fourteen. At fifteen he decided to stop attending church.

It was on a Sunday morning in New London, during school vacation, that he made up his mind never to go to church again. James saw him descending the stairs and told him to get ready, and Eugene informed him of his decision. James took a few steps down the staircase to confront his son and the two began shouting at each other, James attempting to shake sense into Eugene physically and Eugene twisting and pulling under his grip.

Grappling and arguing, they reached the ground floor and glared at each other, James rigid with frustration but Eugene standing his ground. James finally went off to church alone.

Eugene’s rejection of Catholicism hounded him for the rest of his life. The anguish of this rejection of faith is clearly revealed in Days Without End. In the play, completed by O’Neill when he was forty-five, he expressed his torment at having lost his, faith and his desire to confess and receive forgiveness. Many of his admiring non-Catholic followers were upset by the dogmatically Catholic profession of the last act, in which the hero declares: “At last I see! I have always loved! O Lord of Love, forgive Thy poor blind fool! ... Thou art the Way—the Truth— the Resurrection and the Life, and he that believeth in Thy Love, his love shall never die!”

The very title of the play, in fact, echoes the words of one of the first prayers Eugene learned: “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world-without end.”

Although the play seemed to indicate that O’Neill had re-embraced his faith, it soon became evident that he had not. Not long after the production O’Neill once again resigned himself to damnation.


In contrast to his early school years, the four years Eugene spent at Betts Academy, in Stamford, Connecticut, were relatively happy ones. He found that he was accepted on his own terms by his schoolmates, and he began to take a more convivial part in their activities, at the same time reserving his right to withdraw when it suited him. His teachers at Betts, like those at Mount St. Vincent, remembered him as a dreamer who often liked to go off on solitary walks.

At fourteen he had grown into a strikingly attractive youth. Tall, thin, with darkening brown hair and uncannily luminous eyes, Eugene inherited the best features of both his parents. He had his mother’s sensitive mouth; his hands, with their long, delicate fingers were both his mother’s and his father’s. His profile, with its strong jaw and prominent nose, was his father’s.

Eugene’s entrance into Betts in the fall of 1902 marked for him the beginning of an open revolt against religion and convention, which was to intensify with each year. Under the influence of his voracious reading he began to substitute an active atheism for Catholicism and began to defy his father in other ways. Under Jamie’s cynical tutelage he also tried, though never quite successfully, to replace his shattered dream of a pure and queenly mother with Jamie’s own substitute, the earthy, sympathetic whore. Like many renegade Catholics, he was impelled to attack every tenet of his rejected faith. It was a long time before he recognized that his revolt was actually a search for a substitute faith. He was gradually to become, as Elizabeth Sergeant later noted with his complete approval, “an agnostic in search of redemption.”

The years at Betts provided Eugene with his only formal education of a higher order, except for a much later course in playwriting at Harvard University. (His year as a Princeton freshman was to be academically fruitless.) Betts, as it happened, stood ready to drum into him a thorough, practical and liberal grounding in the classics and sciences.

The nonsectarian school, which was one of the best private preparatory institutions in the East, aimed “to surround the boys with a home atmosphere.” Its goals were to “concentrate on the individual needs and abilities of each student, to encourage each to proceed at his own rate, and to cultivate in them sound habits of observation and research.” A brochure stated that “in observation work the first task of the student is the inspection of things that are constantly before him, such as plants, animals, the stars, etc. He is thus taught first to see and then to tell what he sees going on around him in nature and in practical life, and is required to record his observations in well-systematized note-books.”

It was an admirable approach, particularly well calculated to provide basic training for an incipient dramatist; Eugene’s sharp eye and ear for the things that were before him later became a major facet of his talent, and all his life he was to keep the voluminous, well-systematized notebooks, which served as the outlines for his plays and which he was trained to use at Betts. The school kept its classes small—there was a student body of only sixty, and a staff large enough to provide a ratio of one teacher to every six pupils.

James and Ella were at considerable pains to see that Eugene found himself always in physically beautiful, as well as academically stimulating, surroundings. Betts Academy, about an hour’s train ride from Manhattan, had been built in 1838 on an elevation called Strawberry Hill, in the finest residential section of Stamford. The grounds included a four-acre lawn with football and baseball fields and a tennis court; in winter a depressed section of lawn was flooded and converted into an ice-skating rink. Two rambling, yellow wooden buildings (which burned to the ground in 1908, ending the school’s seventy-year existence) provided comfortable living quarters for students and staff, and included modern classrooms and well-equipped athletic facilities.

Eugene had his own room in the three-story main building, which was furnished in Victorian but not unhomey style, with high dresser, iron-frame bed, desk, chair, and throw rug. From his window he could see on clear days the familiar Long Island Sound at which he also gazed in New London. Here in Stamford, as at Mount St. Vincent on the Hudson, New London, and most of the other places he was to live, water formed part of Eugenes background. Hie combined cost of atmosphere and academic inspiration was $500 a year.

The man who presided, paternalistically, over the outsize family of boys, was William Betts, known, behind his back, as “Billy.” A squat man with a handle bar mustache, Betts was indulgent in everything but scholarship. He was willing to overlook pranks, but he was strict in his academic demands. As one of Eugene’s schoolmates lias recalled, “Billy knew Latin and Greek backwards and was a stern taskmaster; anyone who staved the course at Betts had to come out with a thorough education and was, invariably, accepted by a top college.”

Eugene was a fair student in Latin and French, a good student in natural history, and an excellent one in English. He also did well in Greek and Roman history, which were stressed as a background for learning classical languages and which helped spark his later fascination with Greek drama.

One of his teachers, Arthur Walter, called “Algie” by the boys, waged a four-year battle with Eugene on the field of mathematics. It was never entirely clear, in the end, who had emerged as victor. Eugene would sulkily ask, “What’s the good of studying that stuff?” and his teacher would patiently attempt to supply an answer. Walter told James O’Neill, during one of his visits to Betts, that Eugene had failed in algebra; James, distressed, indicated that the school had his full support in any disciplinary measures it saw fit to impose. Although James was a fairly frequent visitor to the school, Ella never accompanied him. Since her presence during most of this period has not been recalled in New London either, it is probable that she was spending considerable time in a sanitarium.

Algie Walter, in addition to being the mathematics teacher, was in charge of Eugene’s dormitory.

“His room was across the hall from mine,” Walter recalled. “I often invited Gene to come to my room and have a chat, but he never accepted.”

Eugene smoked in his own room, contrary to a school rule which banned all smoking. Walter believed that Eugene’s requests to attend Mass in town were really excuses for him to have an undisturbed smoke.

“Permission was always granted whenever he asked,” Walter said. “We had a few Roman Catholics in school besides Gene, but he never went to Mass with any of them.”

Another way to come by a smoke was to visit the town lunch wagon, which provided the only place within walking distance of Betts where the boys could eat out. The wagon was a horse-drawn affair, which was stationed during the day in an alleyway near the firehouse. At night a horse towed it to the center of town, where it became a dinner wagon. The lunch wagon’s bill of fare was inferior to that of the Betts dining room, where second helpings of nutritious food were always provided. But the boys enjoyed the wagon’s specialty, which the menu ambiguously called “tenderloin.” It sold for fifteen cents, and was actually a chunk of pork pounded into a flat slab and fried brown.

A number of Eugene’s classmates have concurred in their recollections of him as a popular, if not gregarious, boy, who took normal pleasure in breaking the rules and flouting authority both as an individual and as a member of the crowd. One evening Eugene and a group of friends gathered all the chamber pots in the dormitory and built a tower of them at the top of the stairs outside their rooms. They tied a rope to the bottom pot, and as soon as they were sure all the teachers were asleep, they pulled the rope. The resultant clatter was as terrifying as any of diem could have wished. Betts, who was unable to isolate the ringleader, as all the boys had taken an oath to stand together, was inclined to favor Eugene as one of the chief culprits; in his frustration he predicted that Eugene was destined for the electric chair. Eugene was flattered.

Eugene was also among those who sneaked out of the dormitory and raced for town the night the Town Hall burned down. Many other times, and with a less exciting incentive, he participated in the game of tying sheets together from a dormitory window and escaping into town after lights-out at nine o’clock. At times the boys would find Billy Betts grimly awaiting their return. Then they would be penalized with canceled weekend leaves.

When the boys sneaked into town—it was about a mile’s walk on a dirt road—they usually headed for a saloon operated by the champion prizefighter, Bob Fitzsimmons. Fitzsimmons would occasionally look the other way while the bartender slipped them a beer, or even something stronger. Il he was in an expansive mood Fitzsimmons, who kept a lion cub as a pet, would sit with the boys and, to their immeasurable delight, tell them of his bouts in the ring. Fitzsimmons would sometimes turn up on the Betts baseball field in the spring to root for the home team, sporting a tall silk hat and holding his lion on a leash. Eugene was as enraptured as anyone.

Although Betts emphasized athletics, Eugene never took an active part in any sport except, once in a while, to swing a desultory golf club, but he had a boundless enthusiasm for athletes that was to last all his life.

Eugene, as some of his classmates have recalled, was interested in, but not completely at ease with nice girls. He made dates with one or two Stamford girls but was uncertain how to entertain them. He asked a Betts boy named Sawyer Robinson, whom he once introduced to a local girl, how much he ought to spend on her. But other of Eugene’s classmates had the impression that off campus he was something of a ladies’ man.

Eugene had begun to tag along on New York weekends with Jamie, who was methodically teaching his kid brother the ropes. He was an eager pupil, but not an altogether apt one. Although he followed Jamie’s example in going through all the motions (“I made sin easy for him,” Jamie often remarked), Eugene never believed in what he was doing.

Jamie was “wised up” to the fact that all women had the souls of whores; Eugene was convinced that all whores had souls of gold. Jamie was chronically cynical; Eugene was incurably naive and romantic. He was incapable of adopting Jamie’s hedonistic attitude.

But Eugene kept up an appearance of savoir-faire. He enjoyed displaying his knowledge of the ropes by taking school friends with him to New York to see the current shows, which, due to his father’s profession, he could do free of charge. He and another New York boy named Hans, whose father ran Papst’s Cafe, next door to the Majestic Theatre, became close friends for a time. While Hans’s access to free tickets was limited to the Majestic, the Betts boys were just as willing to settle for repeated attendance there as for visits to other theatres. The main reason was that The Wizard of Oz was having a long run at the Majestic and the student body of Betts was collectively in love with the blond ingenue, Anna Laughlin.

Eugene could be lofty about this mass, unrequited love, for he was personally acquainted, through Jamie, with the musical’s star, Lotta Faust. Lotta made such an impression on him that, about two dozen years later, he could still remember her beautiful legs, and he was fond of discussing Miss Faust with other old fans, among them George Jean Nathan.

“There, my boy, was a love-apple,” O’Neill once told Nathan, “and who said anything about acting? You could get an effect just looking at her that you can’t get from looking at and listening to any dozen current actresses full of the virtuoso stuff. When Lotta sang ‘Sammy,’ all the great Shakespearean actresses of the day felt like going into hiding.”

When Eugene was ready to leave Betts he was an exceptionally well mannered, but at the same time shy and withdrawn, boy of seventeen. He was still conforming in his dress—possibly in imitation of his brother, who was a Broadway fashion plate. Although he was soon to emphasize his revolt against convention by abandoning all semblance of decent attire, during this period he dressed nattily. On weekends and holidays he wore white flannel trousers and dark jackets and on school days he wore knickers and pull-overs.

His fashion sense beguiled the girl who lived next door to him in New London, and who played croquet with him on his front lawn during summer vacations.

“I’ll never forget the time Gene came home in brown knickers and squeaky yellow shoes,” she once said. “I remember them squeaking along the road past my house.”

In spite of his sartorial conformity, Eugene possessed an instantly recognizable quality of being set apart from the crowd. By this time he had swallowed large doses of Tolstoi and Dostoevski, as well as Kipling and the modern French writers, and he had discovered Oscar Wilde. Joseph Conrad and Jack London fascinated him, and he dreamed of going to sea, although he did not, for the moment, consider it as a serious possibility. Fie did not, in fact, have any serious plans for his future, even though his father had a faint hope that he might go, on the stage, as Jamie had been persuaded to do.

Chafing at his father’s hcavyhanded paternalism, Eugene consented to go to college. But he chose Princeton rather than Yale, which was where all his college-bound classmates were going, and for which Betts was an acknowledged preparatory school.


In the fall of 1932 Eugene O’Neill wrote his only full-length comedy. He called it Ah, Wilderness!, set it in a “large-small town in Connecticut” in the summer of 1906, and made its central character, Richard Miller, a boy “going on seventeen, just out of high school” and ready to enter Yale in the fall. In the summer of 1906 Eugene was seventeen, just out of high school, and ready to enter Princeton in the fall. He spent his vacation in the large-small town of New London.

When Ah, Wilderness! was produced there was considerable speculation as to how autobiographical the characters and events of the play were. At the time O’Neill said that the resemblance between Richard Miller’s life and his own was trifling. What he really thought of himself and his family did not emerge until Long Day’s Journey Into Night, set in the New London of 1912, appeared in print. Ah, Wilderness!, said O’Neill, was a nostalgic dream of what he would have liked his adolescence to have been. “The truth is, I had no youth,” he added.

Nevertheless, Ah, Wilderness! and Long Day’s Journey Into Night may be regarded, in a sense, as two sides of the same coin—one a benign glimpse of what the O’Neill family, at its best, aspired to be and the other a balefully heightened picture of what it was at its worst.

But while O’Neill based Ah, Wilderness! on his own family to some degree, the family of his best friend, Arthur McGinley, served as his principal model. Arthur was the son of John McGinley, who, in 1883, had urged James and Ella to buy a house in New London.

O’Neill was self-pityingly given to contrasting his own boyhood summers in New London with the sort of summers spent by his New London contemporaries, whose parents devoted themselves uncomplicatedly to each other and their children. The McGinley family was the one he particularly admired and envied. Like Nat Miller in Ah, Wilderness! John McGinley was the editor (and part owner) of a newspaper; he had helped found the New London Day in the late 1800’s. Also like Nat Miller, McGinley was the head of a large family. Not only Eugene, but his father as well, regarded the McGinleys’ cheerful domesticity with a kind of awe. Once when visiting the McGinleys and observing the easy, close-knit camaraderie that existed among the parents and their seven sons and daughters, James was moved to confess to his friend, “I may have made some money and achieved some fame, but you’re the man I envy.”

Whenever James appeared as Monte Cristo in New London, he reserved a box at the Lyceum Theatre for the entire McGinley clan. The children would show up for the event scrubbed, shining and eager. Arthur McGinley saw the play nine times as a result of this family ritual.

In Ah, Wilderness! O’Neill characteristically used many actual names —or close approximations—of the people connected with the era and locale of which he was writing. The names Arthur, Tom and “Wint” (a nickname for Winthrop) were given to characters in Ah, Wilderness! and a boy named Lawrence is mentioned, but does not appear; all four names belonged to the McGinley boys. John McGinley’s wife, Evelyn Essex, became Essie, and the daughter, Mildred, took her name from a girl O’Neill had known and remembered in that period; her nickname, in the play and in life, was “Mid” and her last name was Culver, which O’Neill also managed to use by having Mildred mention a friend named Anne Culver.

O’Neill also threw in a reference to a policeman named Sullivan, who was actually Tim Sullivan, a New London fixture. In the play Nat Miller’s spinster sister, Lily, drew her name and much of her character from a spinster cousin of Ella O’Neill’s named Lil Brennan. It was Lil who often protested to Ella and James that Eugene’s reading should be censored, although, in other matters, she was inclined to take Eugene’s part against his father. She recognized, for example, that James had made Jamie (and was making Eugene) overdependent on him, and felt it was unreasonable for James to expect his sons to have a mature sense of responsibility unless he changed his method.

I lowcver much the youthful Eugene suffered from a lack of warmth in bis own home, the adult Eugene, yielding to an inescapable bond of all ection beneath his resentment of his father, endowed the character of Nat Miller with at least two of his father’s amusing and rather lovable traits. (Responding to a researcher’s query a few years after the production of Ah, Wilderness!, O’Neill said that Miller was like his father “in some aspects, but totally unlike him in others.”)

One of the traits was James’s conviction that “a certain peculiar oil” in bluefish had a poisonous effect on his digestion; it was a family joke that Ella served him bluefish under the guise of weakfish. The other trait was James’s tendency to repeat stories of his boyhood and young manhood—illustrated in Ah, Wilderness! by what was probably the only nontheatrical reminiscence in his repertory, concerning the way he had once rescued a friend from drowning.

Although O’Neill succeeded in drawing two totally disparate families in Ah, Wilderness! and Long Day’s Journey Into Night, he set them both down in the living room of his own home on Pequot Avenue. (The similarity of the two settings is not readily noticed, for the Pequot Avenue establishment is seen in Ah, Wilderness! through rose-colored glasses, while in Long Day’s Journey it is viewed through a glass darkly. Nevertheless, if executed literally for the stage, the two sets could, with the shifting of only a few minor details, substitute for each other.)

Both the Miller and the Tyrone living rooms are first seen empty, with early-morning sunshine streaming through the windows. Porch, doorways bookcases and windows are almost identically situated. In the center of the Tyrone living room is “a round table with a green-shaded reading lamp, the cord plugged in one of the four sockets in the chandelier above.” In the center of the Miller living room is “a big, round table with a green-shaded reading lamp, the cord of the lamp running up to one of five sockets in the chandelier above.” In the Millers’ room “a medium-priced, inoffensive rug covers most of the floor” and in the Tyrones’ room “the hardwood floor is nearly covered by a rug, inoffensive in design and color.” Yet the Millers find their home cheerful and pleasant, while the Tyrones (with the exception of James, who is indifferent) regard their home as little better than a hovel.

This contradictory view was actually reflected by contemporary New Londoners, depending upon their social strata. James’s Irish friends and in-laws thought the house comfortable, attractive, and more than adequate for the four O’Neill’s. Members of the town’s more pretentious families, however, considered it ordinary. Ella, later supported by Jamie and Eugene, was self-conscious about not having a home as grand as those belonging to the better families in the town, and often complained to James that the house was ill constructed, shabbily furnished, and cheaply maintained. She and her sons often accused James of frugality. But James, who had few pretensions and who believed he had done well to come as far as he had from his Irish peasant beginnings, took their abuse in silence.

While there is evidence to support the Long Day’s Journey (or gloomy) view of the O’Neill home—especially when it began to be neglected in later years—a newspaper article written in 1900 supports the Ah, Wilderness! (or sunny) side. The feature writer for the Boston Sunday Journal, who visited the O’Neill home for an interview with James (and who may have been a stage-struck, unsophisticated young man), came away dazzled. He described it as “an elegant two-story structure ... and an ideal spot for rest and recreation.”

Set well back from the road on an embankment, the house was surrounded by open porches (which were then called piazzas), shrubbery, flowers, and a sizable expanse of well-kept, Velvety lawn.

The reporter credited Ella with “artistic ideas [which] are manifested in the taste with which the interior of the house is arranged.” He added: “It is hard to go into any room in which there is not a cozy nook or a comfortable corner. Paintings of real value and rare etchings adorn the walls, while any number of photographs of Mr. O’Neill’s professional friends are scattered over tables and writing desks.” Among them was a large photograph of Edwin Booth, inscribed to James, that stood on a small easel in a bamboo frame. The reporter was also impressed by James’s library, which, he said, included “rare acting editions of old plays, and prompt books of distinguished value” in addition to the works of Rousseau, Emerson, Kent and Farquhar.

The house could not have been cheaply constructed, for the beautiful old wooden staircase, solid door and window frames, and fine, sturdy hardwood floors survived years of later neglect and abuse; even its white shingle exterior and the Victorian gingerbread trimming of the porch caves, while not especially fetching by modern standards, were solid enough to withstand years of sea-front weather.

But it is true that the house did not compare favorably with the more luxurious homes of other theatrical figures in the town, and Eugene chose to condemn his father for that. One way in which, as a boy, he revenged himself upon James, was by writing his own name in the front of his father’s books. Another thing he did was to scratch a large, disfiguring M.C. (for Monte Cristo) into the base of the handsome, polished balustrade of his house. But the worst thing—from James and Ella’s point of view—that Eugene ever did as a child was to pour a can of green paint over a box of shiny, metal statuettes depicting lames as Edmond Dantes. The paint had hardened, permanently cloaking the little figures in sickly green, before Eugene’s crime was discovered.

Neither Jamie nor Eugene approved of James’s practice of doing his own work about the grounds. They accused him of trving to save money on help, while James stoutly maintained that he found relaxation in tending his own lawn and shrubbery and that no “lazy loafer” he could hire would do it half as well. Similarly, James’s refusal to avail himself of the city’s water supply, on the grounds that it was not pure enough, and his use, instead, of an old-fashioned well sunk in his own property, was attributed by his sons to reluctance to pay the water taxes.

While all of this accumulated resentment is spelled out relentlessly in Long Day’s Journey, no trace of it appears in Ah, Wilderness! But, curiously, another vestige of the O’Neill menage does appear in both the nostalgic comedy and the autobiographical tragedy and in almost the same form in both plays. This is the raw, young, rough-spoken Irish maid, or “second girl.” In Ah, W ilderness! her name is Norah, but she uses the same brogue-larded phrases and is the same thorn-in-the-side to her mistress as Cathleen in Long Day’s Journey.

The greatest disparity in characterization between the two plays is the mother. Mrs. Miller is nothing like Ella; she is, however, very much like Evelyn McGinley, who bore a physical resemblance to Queen Victoria and had all the maternal, bustling, good-natured officiousness that Eugene missed in his own mother.

And the older brother, Arthur, in Ah, Wilderness! is also far removed from actuality. Two years older than Richard, he is a Yale undergraduate and almost as innocent as Richard himself. Jamie, on the other hand, was ten years older than his brother, and no innocent: an actor, a heavy drinker, a favorite in the New London brothels, and a man who knew all the Broadway gossip and could be amusingly informative about the least savory and most personal aspects of all the reigning soubrettes, a number of whom had lost their heads over him.

As for Richard, there was much of young Eugene in his make-up, though part of his personality was borrowed from a contemporary named Charles (“Hutch”) Collins. When Ah, Wilderness! was produced, Arthur McGinley wrote to O’Neill to tell him he recognized his own family in the play. O’Neill, fearing that he might have embarrassed his friend, wrote back that none of the characters were taken from life.

“They are general types true for any large-small town,” he added. “But the boy does spout the poetry I and Hutch Collins once used to.” Hutch shared with Eugene (and Richard) a passion for the works of such scandalous writers as Wilde and Swinburne, and both boys could recite long passages from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (from which work the play’s title derives; O’Neill substituted “Ah” for “Oh” because he thought the former conveyed a stronger sense of nostalgia). And, like Richard, the two teen-age boys believed that Oscar Wilde had been imprisoned for the crime of bigamy.

It was Eugene who guided Hutch’s early reading, but he did not have to guide his taste in clothes. Hutch dressed like a dandy, wearing white flannels and a hat with a London label that elicited both the envy and the scorn of his friends, whose parents referred to him as “Jerry Collins’ damn fool.” One of Hutch’s sartorially drab friends once nailed the hat to a wall as a joke. Both Eugene and Hutch were often seen leaving the New London library with stacks of books under their arms, eliciting the bewildered respect of their less intellectual friends. One such friend, on being questioned about Eugene by a younger boy, was told, definitively, “That Gene O’Neill—he reads deep stuff!”

But the seventeen-year-old O’Neill, like Richard Miller, had his lighter, boyish side, though he was sometimes inclined in later years to deny it. While he expressed contempt for the stuffiness of New London, he did participate with pleasure in the Fourth of July rituals, which he later described in Ah, Wilderness! The traditional celebrations, with intricate displays of fireworks, started at midnight on July 3 and lasted until midnight of the Fourth. Eugene marked the holiday with his friends rather than with his family, for neither his mother nor his father was interested in or capable of the cheerful give and-take that pervaded the McGinley and the Miller clans.

Despite his sense of deprivation and his insistence that he hated New London (“It wasn’t a friendly town,” he once told an acquaintance), Eugene had no wish to forget it. He kept revisiting, in his mind, its physical and emotional landmarks, just as he later persisted in pointing out the Barrett House to his friends. He set three of his major plays (Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Ah, Wilderness! and A Moon for the Misbegotten) in New London, and there are hints of vividly remembered local events and personalities in several others—notably Strange Interlude, in which the frenzied excitement of a college rowing meet is re-created.)

Eugene attended many of the Yale Harvard boat races that were held every year on the Thames and were among the big social events of New London. Members of the competing crews and their relatives and friends crowded the hotels and inns of the town, and a Mardi Gras spirit prevailed, in which Eugene participated.

Eugene also relished listening to the popular player piano tunes of the day, some of which turned up in Ah, Wilderness!—“Waiting at the Church,” for instance, and “Bedelia.” His nostalgia for the songs of the early 1900’s lasted all his life.

O’Neill attributed his love of music, which included contemporary jazz and an indiscriminate smattering of the classical, to his mother’s musicianship. He boasted to several close friends that she had been a talented pianist. But though in later life he acquired a sizable record collection and a fine phonograph, nothing could send him into quite the same transports as the tinny sound of a player piano, rendering the tunes of the early 1900’s. He humorously confessed as much in a poem he composed in New London a few years later, of which these lines are typical:

I have tried to fall for the stuff of Mozart
Handel, Haydn—a dozen or more
But I guess my ear isn’t framed for “beaux arts”
For I found them all a terrible bore.

The long-haired high-brows call me “vulgarian”
When the “Great, Big Beautiful Doll” I croon
For I’m strong for the music that’s real American
And the joy of my heart is a rag time tune.

High-brows, whom classic music quickeneth,
Heed well the burden of my vulgar rune,
Your lofty tumbling wearies me to death,
The joy of my heart is a rag time tune.

Evidence of the strong pull music had on his emotions appears in many of his plays. Besides the popular songs in Ah, Wilderness! he used songs to underline mood, evoke atmosphere or convey character in such plays as The Hairy Ape, The Great God Brown, Mourning Becomes Electra, All God’s Chillun Got Wings, and The Iceman Cometh.

Another phase of his bojhood that Eugene cherished and never outgrew was his use of early 1900 slang and colloquialisms. That was the speech in which he felt most at home, and the further he deviated from it, either in conversation or in the dialogue of his plays, the more stilted and ill at case he became. “The old bean,” “in the pink,” “palship,” and “the glad mitt” were among his favorite expressions long after they had become archaic; in his correspondence he often emphasized these phrases with an exclamation mark, a punctuation to which he was devoted. A number of people who met him in’later life (the critics Brooks Atkinson and John Mason Brown, for example) have commented on the extraordinary flavor of his speech. Brown has remarked that he lacked a knowledge of contemporary speech and Atkinson has pointed out that his outdated slang sounded awkward. But O’Neill loved it, and in addition to the colloquialisms of a bygone era he had a fluent command of the unchanging language of the underworld and the demimonde, which, from his lips, sounded as incongruous as the obsolete slang.

One of the last plays he wrote, a one-acter called Hughie, is an amazing compilation of argot. The play, less an acting piece than a short story with dialogue, which O’Neill did not intend fpr production, is about a petty gambler and a night clerk in a seedy Manhattan hotel. In it O’Neill uses the following terms from his working vocabulary: sap, noggin, sucker, puss, moniker, hooked, bangtail, finn, babe, sawbuck, croaked, bum dope, old bones, raw babies, rubbed out, real jack, old turtle, round-heeled, in my book, the sticks, the Big Stem, run-out powder, fall guy, clam shut, hit the hay, crummy dump, the once-over, het up, beat the racket, poor boob, square shake, lap it up, put the bite on.

He derived none of these terms from books—they were all part of what he liked to think of as his “life-experience.”

But in 1906 his ideas—like those of Richard Miller in Ah, Wilderness!—came almost exclusively from books. In that year Eugene did a good part of his reading in the apartment-office of a dashing New Londoner named Joseph Ganey, who was ten years Eugene’s senior, and a contemporary of Jamie. Ganey had been a butcher and a coal dealer, before deciding to become a doctor. Shortly after settling down to medical practice and acquiring “Doc” as his nickname, Ganey made (to Eugene’s admiration) an impetuous trip around the w’orld, during which he collected a number of first editions to add to an already sizable library.

Although Ganey did not return Eugene’s admiration-—he found him sullen and difficult and considered him something of a poseur—he tolerated the boy and did not discourage his reading. Doc Ganey refused to allow Eugene to take any of his precious volumes home with him, but consented to let him read as much as he pleased in the apartment. Often Ganey would return home at three in the morning from a night on the town and find Eugene poring over Wilde, Schopenhauer, Zola or de Maupassant.

From early adolescence Eugene had been devouring the books in his father’s library; every summer he read through the works of Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas, in addition to Dickens and Kipling. He also read the Irish romantic, Charles Lever, and the volumes of Irish history with which James’s library was studded, as well as the philosophy of Emerson and the poetry of Scott and Byron—he could recite Childe Harold interminably; only after he had exhausted the supply of recognized classics in his own home did he approach Doc Gancy’s more sophisticated library.

But while Richard Miller is depicted as startling his family with lurid and antisocial quotations from disreputable European authors, he is shown to be basically innocent and pure in heart; his “depravity” is solely intellectual. Eugene, on the other hand, was inclined to practice what he preached and, although he was naive, he was not innocent.

Doc Ganey’s “Second Story Club,” an informal, raffish, preponderantly Irish organization that would have stood Richard Miller’s hair on end, was a milieu in which Eugene felt at home. The club, which met in Ganey’s second-floor rooms on Main Street to talk, drink and play cards, was composed of a kind of avant-garde of New London and was regarded with horror by the respectable citizens of the town. Art McGinley, who was tall and lanky and was called “a left-footed Irishman” by his friends because his family was Episcopalian, said, in recalling Doc Ganey, “We ate his food, drank his liquor, wore out his carpets, read his books and got free medical attention.” Eugene did not care for cards, but he could hold his own in the other activities.

Llnlike Richard Miller, who is shocked by his encounter with a prostitute in a shady hotel and resists her efforts to entice him to an upstairs room, Eugene by now was boastfully at home with the ladies of Bradley Street, a narrow avenue at the northern end of town that encompassed the flourishing red-light district of New London; Jamie had seen to his indoctrination there, and the members of the Second Story Club saw to it that he continued his visits.

The brothels of Bradley Street, about a dozen in all, were housed in rickety wooden structures that flanked the New London police station. This facilitated periodic police raids and generally abetted the convenient working arrangement between the upholders of the law and the practitioners of vice. The girls would lean out the windows and exchange small talk with the policemen while waiting for customers. When a house was raided and the prostitutes haled into court, the judge would ask “Occupation?” and the customary answer would be “Seamstress.”

A description of the interior of a Bradley Street brothel was given by O’Neill in The Great God Brown and was recognized with delight by some of his old companions in sin when the play was first published.

“An automatic, nickel in thc-slot player piano is at center, rear,” he wrote. “On its right is a dirty gilt second hand sola. At the left is a bald-spotted crimson plush chair. I he backdrop for the rear wall is cheap wallpaper of a dull yellow-brown, resembling a blurred impression of a fallow field in early spring. There is a cheap alarm clock on top of the piano.”

“Here comes the kindergarten,” the seamstresses would call out when Eugene and his young friends showed up. They usually arrived en masse, for reasons of economy; a round of beer cost one dollar, regardless of how many were in the group.

Eugene and Richard were dissimilar in other ways. There is nothing in Richard’s character that suggests Eugene’s profound love of the water and ships; nor does Ah, Wilderness! more than hint at the fact that the town in which it is set had a tradition of sea history. Eugene, however, rarely missed watching the arrival or departure of the square-riggers that still, in the early iqco’s, sailed with breath-taking beauty into New London harbor. That harbor was all but jammed with the floating palaces of millionaires, Navy craft, and a training vessel for Coast Guard cadets. But Eugene was interested only in the romantic schooners that were already becoming something of a rarity and were soon to vanish completely.

He spent long hours talking to the ships’ captains and crews, trying to recognize in them the romance he found in Jack London and Joseph Conrad. Ella snobbishly disapproved of Eugene’s acquaintances among the old salts who hung about the harbor, just as she deplored the fact that both Eugene and Jamie—and James too, for that matter—seemed to prefer almost any environment to that of their home. She could not even take pleasure in James’s purchase of one of the first Packards in eastern Connecticut in a year when there were less than 80,000 automobiles in the entire country; for the kind of gay, duster-and goggles outings indulged in by the Millers in Ah, Wilderness! were simply beyond the O’Neill’s. Ella was usually driven out in the car alone, and Eugene and Jamie, feeling very devilish, occasionally appropriated it for themselves. In recalling this a year or so before he completed Ah, Wilderness! O’Neill wrote to a friend that he and Jamie “once got the car up to a mite over forty. A great day—from which the car never fully recovered!”

Although Eugene had the use of a car, his own rowboat, and good clothes, he often had to borrow a nickel from one of his friends for trolley fare, because his pocket money was restricted; virtually his only source of income was what he could earn from his father for trimminy the hedge that surrounded the house: fifty cents for a good day’s work that was supposed to teach him the value of money. Yet, in spite of restrictions, Eugene occasionally managed to pay his way into the Montauk Inn, the prototype for the tavern in Ah, Wilderness! as well as for the off stage inn in his later play, A Moon for the Misbegotten.

The Montauk Inn was an inelegant establishment furnished with a player piano and upstairs rooms, located on the fringe of New London’s most fashionable residential area. It was patronized by coachmen, farmers and prostitutes, who, like Belle in Ah, Wildernessl, were partial to sloe gin. A pair of boxing gloves, said by the inn’s proprietor to be those with which John L. Sullivan won his final, seventy-five-round bout with Jake Kilrain in 1889, hung behind the bar. (Sullivan, in point of fact, had used bare knuckles to subdue Kilrain in that bout.)

One of the inn’s best customers was a pig farmer named John Dolan, who collected garbage on the side and lived in an unbelievably ramshackle house on a disreputable piece of land that he rented from James O’Neill for $35 a month. Dolan was, by even the most charitable estimate, a sloven. In his house, along with his two daughters and two sons, he kept a pig and some chickens.

Tall, thickset and slightly round-shouldered, Dolan dressed in filthy overalls and a tattered brown hat. He couldn’t write his name and he had a powerful fondness for the bottle; he also had a thick brogue and a biting Irish wit that was the joy of his drinking companions. He chose to be followed wherever he went by a St. Bernard that adored him.

Dolan, observed by Jamie and Eugene with relish, became Phil Hogan in A Moon for the Misbegotten. His uproarious encounter in that play with a young estate owner O’Neill called T. Stedman Harder was drawn from an account Eugene heard at first hand in the Montauk Inn.

Harder (who was modeled on Edward Stephen Harkness, the scion of an enormously wealthy family that summered in New London) confronts Hogan and complains that his pigs have infringed on the estate’s ice pond. (Ice from the pond was chopped in the winter and stored in silos to last through the warm weather, and Harder did not care for the taste of pork in his drinking water.) But Hogan accuses Harder of knocking down his own fences in order to lure the pigs into the pond and give them pneumonia.

The same episode also occurs in Long Day’s Journey Into Might, but as exposition, and with the names altered to Shaugnessy (for Dolan) and Harker (for Elarkness).

The ice pond of the plays actually belonged to Edward C. Hammond, whose summer estate adjoined Dolan’s farm at the loot of a hill. But the Standard Oil background attributed to I birder Harker in the plays belonged, rightfully, to the father of Edward Stephen Harkncss, who helped John D. Rockefeller found the Standard Oil Company, against which Eugene had a grudge. The Harkness summer estate, which in igyi became a state park, was known as “Eolia”; it consisted of 235 acres bordering on the Sound, a forty-two-room mansion, formal gardens, and assorted barns, greenhouses, caretakers’ cottages, and stables. It was run by twenty indoor servants, including three butlers, and an additional stall of forty groundkeepers, chauffeurs, dairymen, vegetable keepers, gardeners and watchmen. The thought of grubby old Dolan standing up to and routing the inheritor of all this grandeur was enough to send the moody Eugene into gales of laughter that echoed in his mind for many years.

He was still thinking of Harkness and Dolan and the Montauk Inn when, in the early 1930’s, he began writing his cycle of eleven plays about an American family. In the only play of the cycle that he completed to his satisfaction, A Touch of the Poet, he gave his rich, Yankee villain yet another variant of the name Harkness; in that play his name is Harford, rather than Harder or Harker. O’Neill drew on his memory of Dolan as well as of his own father to create Cornelius Melody-—-a proud, ambitious, but defeated man, who drops his mask of pride to reveal himself as the son of a shebeen keeper, whose father grew up in a hovel he shared with pigs.

The incident in A Touch of the Poet, wherein one of Melody’s Irish cronies kicks Harford’s lawyer off his property, is reminiscent of the scene in A Moon for the Misbegotten in which Phil Hogan expedites the departure of Harder from his farm. And Melody’s tavern, though located near Boston in the year 1828, resembles in atmosphere and clientele the Montauk Inn of New London in the early 1900’s. Cornelius Melody’s daughter Sara can be regarded, in some respects, as a refined version of Hogan’s daughter Josie in A Moon for the Misbegotten.

Eugene’s predilection for types like Dolan and the seamstresses of Bradley Street, combined with his brother’s reputation as a heavy drinker (even though Eugene had not yet started drinking heavily himself), made it difficult for him in 1906 to have any communication with a girl like Muriel in Ah, Wilderness! The mothers of nice girls frowned at the mention of his name. One of the young daughters of a family with whom the O’Neill’s boarded from time to time when they had no cook recalled being warned by a friend, “The O’Neill boys are terrible. They’re drunk and dissolute.” She added with amusement that any girl who valued her reputation made a point of giving both Eugene and Jamie a wide berth.

Ella was understandably chagrined; yet James himself compounded the difficulty by warning the parents of these girls to keep their daughters away from his sons; he thought it his moral duty to caution any of his friends who had impressionable daughters about his sons’ profligate habits. Ella, on the other hand, professed to consider none of the New London girls good enough for her sons.

Ella kept mostly to her house, though she occasionally entertained and visited her relatives, the Brennans, and another old New London family, the Sheridans, with which the Brennans had allied themselves by marriage. When she was on morphine she was not fit for social intercourse, and when she was between cures she was too self-conscious and apprehensive to be sociable on a large scale.

Her addiction was a well-kept secret outside the family circle. A few of Ella’s younger relatives, who lived to witness the publication and production of Long Day’s Journey Into Night, found themselves in the uncomfortable position of having to defend, out of family loyalty and pride, a situation they had barely guessed existed and to defend a woman who, because she had held them at arm’s length, they did not really know and rather resented. Most of Ella’s relatives, in fact, preferred James to her.

Two granddaughters of Bridget Quinlan’s sister, Elizabeth Brennan, who were cousins and contemporaries of Eugene and Jamie, have indignantly recalled, contrary to the picture presented in Long Day’s Journey Into Night, that Ella would never have allowed her husband or sons to keep a whiskey bottle on her living-room table. Nor, they have insisted, w’as James ever stingy to his boys.

“The boys wore only tailor-made suits,” Bessie Sheridan, one of the cousins, once pointed out. “And the O’Neill’s had a chauffeur and a coachman.” Miss Sheridan added that she “always liked Gene—he was a fine boy, simple and good—until he wrote this disgraceful book [Long Day’s Journey Into Night].” Her sister, Mrs. Irene Moran, has concurred in this opinion. (In 1914, When Eugene published some one-act plays under the collective title Thirst, an aunt of the Sheridan sisters threw the volume into the furnace, remarking, “I like a clean taste in my mouth.” This narrow approach on the part of some of his relatives did not go unrecorded by O’Neill. A play he wrote in 1921, called The First Man, which he later acknowledged as being “painfully bungled,” reflects his feelings about the relatives of a sensitive, idealistic man. They are shown as capable of judging others only by the standards of their own limited experience, and bound by petty pride and stultifying conventionality.)

The recollection of another of Elizabeth Brennan’s granddaughters, who was only ten years younger than Ella, is, for a poignant reason, both more candid and more revealing. Lil Brennan, one of the few relatives of whom young Eugene was genuinely fond, became, in her late eighties, a victim of senility psychosis. Confined to a state nursing home near New London and out of touch with the world, she vividly relived in her mind her young womanhood in New London. Believing herself to be in her early thirties during the summer of her ninetieth year, in 1957, she spoke to her doctor and a visitor about what she thought were recent events and of people she believed were still living.

“Mama always says, ‘Be nice to Ella, she has a difficult life,’” Miss Brennan told her visitor, recalling the period in the late 1,000’s when, as a young girl, she first became aware of Ella O’Neill. Lil’s mother, Josephine McGlyn Brennan, who lived to be ninety-three, was Bridget’s niece (and Ella’s first cousin) by marriage.

“Mama never can see any wrong in anyone,” Miss Brennan added. “But Ella O’Neill keeps to herself; she passes me in the street and doesn’t even notice me.” With childlike malice she said, “She’s stuck-up, that’s what she is, stuck-up,” adding knowingly, “and she touches up her hair.”

“When I go back to New York next week,” she continued vindictively, “I’m going to tell Agnes what she said to me.” (The New York she spoke of was that of 1907, and Agnes was her sister, who had died at eighty; they had lived in the city for a while, Agnes studying the piano and Lil trying to establish herself as a milliner. She thought if she could persuade Ella to become her customer she could use this prestige to attract other fashionable women.)

“Do you know what Ella said when I asked her to buy some hats from me? She said she bought her hats at Bendel, but she’d give me her old ones to make over and sell. I was never so insulted!”

Only a young woman as naive as Lil would have expected Ella O’Neill to buy homemade hats. Ella’s hats, like her dresses, were the last word in expensive good taste. She rarely went outdoors without a veil as well. Her relatives thought she wore veils to protect her smooth, white complexion against sun and wind, but more likely she wore them to hide the unnatural, morphine-induced brightness of her eyes.

Her relatives also thought Ella vain, for she wore $50 French corsets. ‘Don’t ever let yourself weigh over 145 pounds,” she cautioned the mother of Bessie and Irene Sheridan, in a day when the buxom Lillian Fussell set the style for youngish matrons.

Though considered snobbish by her own kin, Ella was, in turn, snubbed by the elite of New London, who were inclined to regard the O’Neill’s as something not far above riffraff. Their attitude was due to the unsavory combination of James’s shanty Irish background, his career as a “road” actor, and his unpretentious mode of living. Among the families that ignored them were the Chappells, whose position and money derived from coal and lumber.

Eugene resented the Chappells for snubbing his mother, although he was content to mention them in his plays only in passing, instead of giving them the sneering, lull dress treatment he reserved for the Harknesses. In Long Day’s Journey Into Niglit he calls the Chappells the Chatfields, and has Mary Tyrone refer to them, after they have driven past the Tyrone house and bowed formally to James Tyrone, as “big frogs in a small puddle.”

The reference has been cheerfully acknowledged by one of the younger members of the family, who has expressed regret at the narrow-mindedness of New London society in the early 1900’s.

Mrs. E. Chappell Sheffield recalled that her mother, returning in her victoria from a drive which took her past the O’Neill house, once remarked: “My, I certainly had a sweeping bow from James O’Neill.” But, Mrs. Sheffield added, her mother would not have dreamed of calling on Ella—and Ella, restricted by protocol from calling first, had to swallow the affront.

“We considered the O’Neill’s shanty Irish,” she said ruefully, “and we associated the Irish, almost automatical]y, with the servant class. As a matter of fact, I remember being very upset when I first started going to church—my father became a Catholic convert—and I recognized only servants in the church. Why do we go to the Irish church?’ I remember asking my mother, to her embarrassment. We were among the few Catholic families considered acceptable.”

O’Neill, visiting Doc Caney some years after he had achieved fame as a dramatist, said:

“You know, I always wanted to make money. My motive was to be able, someday, to hire a Tally-Ho and fill it full of painted whores, load each whore with a bushel of dimes, and let them throw the money to the rabble on a Saturday afternoon; we’d ride down State Street [New London’s main thoroughfare] and toss money to people like the Chappells. Now that I’ve made as much as I need, I’ve lost interest.”

But the insult still rankled; otherwise O’Neill could not have written so virulently of—for example—Cornelius Melody’s hatred for the Yankees who snubbed him.

The same families that shunned the O’Neill-, were quite willing to receive and call upon Bichard Mansfield and his wile. Mansfield, however, who was younger than James and had arrived at success later than he, was a distinguished Broadway actor. Besides, he was every bit as arrogant as the first families themselves, and proved he knew how to live well by running not one but two elaborate estates—one called “d he Orange” and the other “Seven Acres”—diagonally across Ocean Avenue from each other. Mansfield often affected a monocle and a cape, and in his role of country squire he too looked down on the OYYeiUs, to James’s mortification.

With this kind of ostracism, it is surprising that James was accepted as a member of the exclusive Thames Club, founded by a group of New London businessmen. Mansfield was a member of the club, as were most of the wealthy and prominent New Londoners. But aside from James and a Brennan relative of Ella’s, only a handful of Irishmen gained admittance. James did not disgrace his nationality. Within the club’s dignified chambers he was treated with quiet respect, if not with enthusiasm.

He visited the club two or three times a week during the summer months, sometimes bringing an actor friend. He habitually ordered bourbon and milk, a drink remembered as unusual by the club’s bartender, a fellow Irishman named Jim Shay.

Shay has also recalled that James often bought drinks for any other club members who happened to be present. His manner was courtly and genial, and he invariably raised his glass in the same toast. “Sunny days and starry nights,” he would say, in his deep, lilting voice, the famous O’Neill smile on his lips. He was careful to have only two or three drinks at the club; he did his serious drinking in the less formal atmosphere of hotel barrooms, where he was loved by one and all. “It is hard to find anyone in New London who doesn’t know Mr. O’Neill personally,” said the reporter for the Boston Sunday Journal in 1900.

A particular favorite with the town’s Irish, James had been asked some years earlier to run for mayor. He declined, saying that he did not want the title if he could not be present to discharge his duties. When he was again pressed to run, he declined with a ringing speech that finally squelched his would-be nominators: “Every politician seeking office aspires to the presidency of the LTnited States. If I were to enter politics I should want to make that my goal and I can’t be president because I was born in Ireland, God bless it!”

One of the reasons why a segment of New London’s citizens considered James an apt choice for mayor was his conviction that New London would one day become a main sea terminal for transatlantic traffic—a port city second only to New York and Boston in wealth and prestige. There were good grounds for this belief; for one thinn its three-mile-long harbor was large and deep enough to accommodate ocean liners. New London seemed, to more level heads than James’s, to be destined for a great future. James could not lorcscc the powerful opposition that would arise from an hand!rd of wealthy estate owners and aristocratic natives who were determined to keep New London a noncommercial, exclusive playground. Although there were several strong attempts made by industrial tvcoons—J. P. Morgan was behind one of them—to realize New London’s commercial potential, they came to nothing, and James ultimately lost a great deal of money on his investments.

The Boston Sunday Journal reported that it was “doubtful if there is another citizen in New London who is more enthusiastic about the city than is Mr. O’Neill.” The newspaper added that he had invested “a great deal in real estate about the town and has watched its growth carefully during the last ten years.” James always seemed to have ready cash for property and was apt to describe himself to his family, not without pride, as “land poor.” Eugene’s portrait of his father as a miser in Long Day’s Journey Into Night has been disputed by many old New London friends; typical of how he was regarded, and of how both Jamie and Eugene knew he was regarded, is the exchange in A Moon for the Misbegotten, which deals with Jamie at a time when his father had been dead for several years. Jamie (in the guise of Jim Tyrone) speaks of his father (to the New London farmer’s daughter named Josie), as “an old bastard.”

Josie: He wasn’t! He was one of the finest, kindest gentlemen ever lived.

Tyrone (sneeringlyj): Outside the family, sure. Inside, he was a lousy, tightwad bastard.

James’s favorite retreat was the Crocker House, a large hotel on State Street whose bar was the gayest place in town. During the summer months it was always packed with Coast Guard cadets, the cream of the town’s leading businessmen, and visiting millionaires off their yachts; William Randolph Hearst was likely to be there, as were various Morgans off the Corsair. The Whitney and Astor yachts were often anchored in the Thames and their passengers showed up from time to time at the Crocker House bar.

James held court there in the afternoons and often on into the evenings. One of his intimates was Captain Nat Keeney, an old Yankee sailor with a weathered face, a spicy vocabulary, and an endless repertory of highly improbable stories. (He, too turns up in Long Day’s Journey Into Night—as Captain Turner; his namesake, on the other hand, may be found in the one-act play lle.J James, whose own language was fairly restrained—he would never have dreamed of swearing before a lady— enjoyed listening to Captain Keeney’s uninhibited speech. Keeney was such a well-known and tolerantly accepted character in New London that no one minded his language. A (ussy spinster who was his neighbor once complained to him, in high indignation, that a shopkeeper had insulted her by shouting, “Keep your shirt on!” Captain Keeney listened sympathetically. “Did that goddam sonofabitch say that to you, Miss R------?” he asked. “Yes, he did, Captain Keeney,” replied the spinster, not turning a hair.

Another of James’s boon companions was a white-haired, portly, frock- coated, silk-hatted, cane-carrying Irishman named Thomas Dorsey. Eugene, once observing him devour two steaks at a sitting, told Art McGinley that Dorsey should be between the covers of a book. He later put him there, calling him McGuire, in Long Day’s Journey Into Night. Dorsey was a lawyer and a real-estate promoter, and had a reputation as a wag.

In spite of his local fame Dorsey could not get into the Thames Club, and James regularly met him at the Crocker House. The relationship between the two men was not purely social. It was Dorsey who sold James the bulk of his real-estate holdings in New London—often plots or buildings on which James later lost money. The consummation of their various deals was necessarily accompanied by the consumption of vast quantities of liquor, for which James usually paid.

Often there remained unfinished business to discuss after 11 p.m., when the bars in town closed, and then James sometimes sought out the night clerk at the Crocker House, a tall, thin young man named Alexander Campbell, who was a friend of Eugene’s and a member of the Second Story Club. James would persuade Campbell to set out a bottle for himself and Dorsey in one of the hotel’s offices. Dorsey had a wonderful time selling James property and James never held it against his friend that his real-estate holdings seldom showed a profit. Eugene and his brother, however, resented it and Jamie often asked Dorsey, albeit in an offhand, contemptuous way, to stop selling land to his father.

Jamie, like his father, had a coterie at the Crocker House. He did not inspire anything like the devotion shown to his father, but he could make people laugh when he was in the mood. The sensational murder of Stanford White in New York was one of the chief topics of conversation at the Crocker House. Jamie, who had a passing acquaintance with Evelvn Nesbit, the chorus girl whom Harry K. Thaw had married and for whom he had shot White on June 25, 1906, professed to have inside knowledge of the affair.

Private testimony not yet published, said Jamie, revealed that Evelvn Nesbit, while unconscious, had been ravished seven times by Stanford White. His eager listeners asked how, if she had been unconscious, could this explicit count have been established? Jamie, talking out of the side of his mouth, as he often did for effect, replied, dead-pan, that Miss Nesbit had a taxi meter secured to a specific part of her anatomy.

Although James often drank as much as a quart a day at the Crocker House without showing it, there were one or two times when he misjudged his capacity. Once, having spent a long evening in the town toward summer’s end, he started walking home along the railroad tracks, which followed for some distance the banks of the Thames. Crossing a culvert, he missed his footing and fell. A couple of passers-by helped him home. Ella, alarmed at his condition, sent for a doctor and a priest despite James’s protests. The doctor treated a sprain and several minor bruises and left, rhe priest, an old friend of James’s named Father Joynt, realized that James had been drinking.

“Well, James,” Father Joynt said, good-humoredly, “God was with you this time.” James, unchastened, replied, “I wish He’d been with me a minute earlier.” A week later James played Monte Cristo on crutches.

Another time James, who boasted truthfully that liquor had never caused him to miss an appearance, turned up in a foggy state for a session of The Count of Monte Cristo at New London’s Lyceum Theatre. In the scene in which he was supposed to come up from the sea, he got lost in the folds of the ground cloth and delayed his appearance for so long that members of the audience, who knew the play almost as well as they knew their own family scandals, were sure James had dropped dead of heart failure and would never emerge again. He did manage to disentangle himself and gasp his way into view. It was the closest he ever came to letting liquor ruin his performance.

Jamie never learned to stand his liquor as well as his father did. He appeared to need it more, and was constantly battling James on the subject. Although James occasionally drank a cocktail before breakfast, he saw no reason why Jamie should emulate him. He fought a losing battle, though, to limit Jamie’s drinking. One New London relative, Phil Sheridan (brother of Bessie and Irene), who was Eugene’s age, has remembered passing the O’Neill house one day when James, who was cutting the hedge, asked him in for a drink.

“Jamie eyed the bottle with his tongue hanging out, while the Old Man poured me a drink,” Sheridan later recalled.

But Jamie often managed to help himself to the bottle on the sideboard, afterwards watering the depleted whiskey until, finally, James put all his liquor under lock and key in the cellar.


During the summer of 1906 Eugene watched the hostility grow between his father and brother. He had been observing their mutual antagonism during New London vacations ever since Jamie’s acting debut in 1900, following his dismissal from college. James and Jamie complained about each other to Eugene, and Eugene found himself sympathizing with first one and then the other. Gradually he came to side with Jamie, for Jamie was clearly the more defenseless. Hatred of his father, despair over his mother, and disgust with his own shortcomings gnawed at Jamie and by the time he was in his late twenties his youthful drinking habits had hardened into chronic alcoholism.

After leaving college Jamie tried halfheartedly to become a newspaper reporter. But that turned out to be a poorer paying and less glamorous occupation than he had anticipated, and he soon found it easier to allow his father to cast him as an actor. (He had occasionally played a small role with his father’s company as a boy, but not with the idea of making the stage a career.)

Jamie had no real love for the profession, as his father had. He was vociferously contemptuous of the theatre in general and of his father’s talents in particular. But there seemed nothing else for which he was suited.

He had his father’s looks, but somewhat coarsened. He also had his father’s Irish wit and fondness for quoting Shakespeare (sometimes inaccurately), a fair echo of his resonant speaking voice, and a native charm without which he would have been insufferable. Many people, indeed, found him just short of offensive; but because of his humor and the peculiar pride he took, even at his most drunken, in being impeccably dressed, he was sometimes not only tolerated but regarded with affection. It was difficult to reconcile the raging-drunk, furniture-smashing, obscenityshouting Jamie with the partially drunk, stiffly polite, grandly aloof Jamie, but he was both men. The change from one to the other was just a question of a little more or a little less whiskey.

Like his mother, Jamie had a tendency to hold people off, so that there were not many who knew him well. But even his casual acquaintances have retained an image of Jamie wearing a derby hat, spotlessly clean white shirt, brightly shined shoes, and on occasion, spats. When rain threatened he was likely to carry a furled umbrella and a well-pressed coat over his arm.

When he was mildly drunk, the fact could be detected only by a strange redness that spread, like rouge, over his cheekbones. James was as familiar with that sign as he was with the drug-induced brightness of Ella’s eyes, and he grew ill when he saw it. For as Jamie progressed with his drinking, it was James on whom he vented his spite; Jamie knew how to torment his father to a nicety; later he would apologize with the excuse that it had been “the booze talking.” This was a handy, catchall apology used by all the O’Neill’s for the cutting things they were always saying to each other; even Ella resorted to it, only in her case it was “the poison” talking. (These and a number of similar phrases occur in several of O’Neill’s plays.)

Jamie’s penchant for behaving outrageously and getting away with it manifested itself early. During a New York vacation from prep school, when he had been forbidden by his father to attend a circus matinee, he decided to flout the order and raise the price of admission on his own. Wandering about the neighborhood of Madison Square Garden, then situated on the northeast corner of the square, he spotted a “Boy Wanted” sign in a luggage shop window. He approached the proprietor, who was absorbed in his bookkeeping, and brashly announced, “I want that job.” The irritated proprietor decided to put him in his place.

“You do, do you?” he growled. “Well, go outside and walk down the block and if I call you back, I’ll hire you. If I don’t, you just keep walking.”

“Thank you, sir,” said Jamie, and left. In front of the store was a display of trunks and suitcases with price tags attached. Without slowing his pace, Jamie picked up the most expensive bag he could carry and started down the street. The proprietor, who had been watching to see the effect of his own maneuver, shouted: “Here, you, come back.” Jamie came back and the proprietor, outmancuvcrcd, gave him the job. After working a few hours, Jamie talked his boss into giving him not only a small advance on his salary—enough to pay (or a circus ticket—but also the afternoon off.

Jamie and his father carried on a similar, but deadlier, battle of wits. Jamie would taunt, embarrass, disappoint and outrage James—and then, by some brash, engaging trick, would win his forgiveness and another reprieve. It became almost a point of honor with Jamie to see how far he could push the Old Man. as he called lames behind his back (to his face, even when angry, he called him “Papa”.) The game of harassment was kept up relentlessly.

Once, when father and son were playing a New York engagement, Jamie swaggered into the office of the theatrical manager who was working out the details of a tour with James. Jamie was out of funds as usual and knew he could not ask his father fop a loan, as one had recently been refused; James had periodic impulses to teach Jamie the value of a dollar, although he knew, in his heart, that Jamie would always depend on him and that he would permit him to.

“I want to make you a little bet,” Jamie told his father. “The loser can stand the whole office staff to drinks across the street.”

Jamie explained that he’d been exercising to improve his chest expansion and bet that his chest measurement exceeded his father’s. James, who prided himself upon his robust condition, took the bait, as he invariably did. Though in his late fifties, he could still boast that he had never been sick a day in his life. A tape measure duly demonstrated that James’s chest measured forty-three inches, while Jamie’s measured only forty.

Smiling triumphantly, James told his son to lead the way across the street. Jamie, affecting chagrin, complied. He ordered drinks for his guests and thirstily downed his own. When the bill, for $6.90, was handed to him, he told the bartender, indicating his father, and in a voice loud enough to carry to him:

“Give the bill to that elderly, gray-haired gentleman at the other end of the bar; he has a wallet stuffed with greenbacks sewn into the front of his shirt, which gives him a chest expansion five inches above his normal one.”

Alter James paid the bill, Jamie gave him a friendly pat on the back, saying, “Sorry, Papa, but six-ninety is just too steep for a struggling young actor.”

James realized that he was himself largely responsible for Jamie’s flagrant dependence upon him. Although he often deplored it, he also seemed to derive a bitter-sweet pleasure from it. lie had started Jamie on his acting career—and his career of dependence—as an understudy in The Musketeers, James’s first venture under the management of the hugely successful Liebier and Company.

Like a number of producing concerns during the late 1800’s and early 1900s, Liebier and Company had begun on little more than high hopes, nerve, precarious credit, and a few hundred dollars in cash. Theodore Lieblcr’s rapid rise as a theatre manager was typical of that era.

The son of a German artist, he started a lithographic concern specializing in theatrical posters. He grew interested in show business when managers who couldn’t pay their bills gave him, instead, a percentage of their productions. This kind of payment proved profitable for Liebier and by 1890 he had a thriving establishment in New York’s Park Place. Then one Saturday at 12:30 p.m.—on August 22, 1891—there was an explosion in the basement paint shop. It was described in the newspapers as the Park Place Disaster; sixty-one people lost their lives when the five- story building collapsed.

Liebier, who had no explosion insurance, was forced to abandon his business. He had been able to salvage a little money, and now decided to produce a play. Someone with funds to invest and an interest in the theatre was fair game for any would-be manager, and such a one was George Tyler, James O’Neill’s one-time advance man. Tyler was not in especially good repute as he had, not long before, presented an overblown, open-air production of As Yow Like It in Asbury Park, New Jersey; his box-office receipts on opening night had been insufficient to pay the salaries of his all-star cast, and he had only recently dared to come out of hiding. But Tyler had a scheme, and all he needed was backing. Liebier had the backing, or at least the beginning of it.

The scheme, as Tyler presented it to Liebier, was to present Charles Coghlan in a play Coghlan had just written. The once brilliant old actor, a habitual drinker of champagne, was in debt; Tyler was in disgrace and owed a hotel bill of $200, among his more pressing obligations; Liebier had had no experience in theatre management. It was, therefore, inevitable that these three should get together and produce one of the big hits of the time.

It was called The Royal Box. Tyler had told Liebier it could be staged for $750. Because no New York theatre was willing to book the play, it was taken to Canada for a tour. Liebier, meanwhile, persuaded the manager of the Fifth Avenue Theatre, who had just been abandoned by the star of his show, to book The Royal Box as a temporary bill. But by that time the Liebier company’s funds were exhausted. Undaunted, Tyler, in Ottawa, set about raising some more cash.

To his resourceful brain the quickest way to raise it was to get into a poker game with Lillian Bussell. This was not quite as farfetched as it sounds. Miss Russell, who was appearing at a competing theatre in Ottawa, was an avid but notoriously poor poker player. Stage hands vied for jobs in her company, for it was Miss Russell’s custom to gamble with them at the end of each performance—and she usually lost.

Tyler arranged to get into one U the games, but that night Miss Russell drew phenomenally lucky cards, and took what was left of Tyler’s cash. Then, with a typically Russellian gesture, she offered to lend Tyler the money to get his show to New York.

The Royal Box was a great success from the moment it opened at the Fifth Avenue Theatre. Liebier and Company followed The Royal Box with another hit called The Christians, and then invited James O’Neill to star in The Musketeers, Sidney Grundy’s version of the Dumas novel.

James had been serving as his own manager, but he was perfectly willing to throw in with Liebier and Company, if it meant a chance to get away from The Count of Monte Cristo without financial risk. Liebier and Tyler offered him $500 a week, 10 per cent of the gross profits, and an all-star cast that included Blanche Bates, Margaret Anglin and Wilton Lackaye.

At the same time Daniel Frohman, who was in his managerial heyday, announced that he was going to produce The Kings Musketeers, an adaptation of the Dumas novel by Henry Hamilton; it was to star E. H. Sothern, who was thirteen years younger than James—and who was soon to demonstrate, by becoming one of the country’s leading Shakespearean actors, that he had the courage and integrity James lacked.

Both Musketeer productions—Liebier’s at the Broadway Theatre (Broadway and Forty-first Street) and Frohman’s at the Knickerbocker (Broadway at Thirty-eighth Street)—ran until mid-April. Sothern opened first, at the end of February, 1899, and James opened on March 13. The competition was unusually lively and theatre fans had a good time arguing about which d’Artagnan was the better.

Although James scored a personal triumph, he found that he had not got very far away from Monte Cristo. This bothered him but it did not bother Liebier and Company. At the turn of the century managers were not much interested in making departures. Ibsen’s The Master Builder was put on for one performance in January, 1900, and Richard Mansfield, that same year, courageously put Shaw’s The Devil’s Disciple into his repertory. But for the most part producers were happy to present minor variations on proved formulas. The most eminent theatre critic of the era, William Winter, was doing his influential best to subdue Ibsen and Shaw, along with other major European playwrights. The public, with his blessing, still wanted to see popular stars in the kind of roles they were used to, and managers paid high prices for playwrights who could provide such vehicles.

James toured in The Musketeers and eventually added it to his repertory, which soon after 1900 once again featured Monte Cristo, this time with Jamie in his supporting cast. This production of Monte Cristo was elaborately mounted by Liebier and Company and had its unveiling at New York’s Academy of Music. It boasted nine big sets, the first one representing the port of Marseilles, complete with a ship in full sail gliding into the harbor.

James still had more agility on stage than many actors half his age. One of the actors engaged for The Musketeers was David Perkins, whom James chose because of his merits as a swordsman.

“O’Neill enjoyed having actors in his company who could put up a good fight,” Perkins explained. “Those dueling scenes weren’t faked much —we used real rapiers with only slightly blunted points—and they were genuine displays of fencing skill, except, of course, that the right man had to end up winning.”

T here was one scene in The Musketeers in which, after much leaping about in a bedchamber and on the bed itself, Perkins ended up losing.

“I used to have bruises on my knuckles from O’Neill’s sword thrusts,” he recalled with satisfaction.

But James was no more immune to danger than Perkins in the scenes involving sword play. During one performance, in a scene where three men attacked him at once, the action became so impassioned that James was stabbed through his leather doublet, inches from the heart, and barely escaped a nasty cut. James took this in stride. “Watch yourself, or you’ll have a dead man on your hands,” he cautioned his overzealous adversary backstage. But he said it with a smile.

James himself had wounded his son during a performance at the Olympic Theatre in St. Louis in 1903. During a dueling episode, James caught Jamie’s wrist with the edge of his sword. The audience gasped as Jamie, with a ery of pain, staggered backward and fainted in his father’s arms. Jamie played the rest of the tour with his arm tightly bandaged during performances, and supported by a sling off stage. Although re morseful, James turned the accident into an object lesson. “Think of him being an actor,” he would say, “and he never learned how to fence!”

When Jamie first joined his father’s company he began in small parts, for which he received $20 a week. Not long after, his father allowed him to make his debut as Albert, Edmond Dantes’ son, at more than double that salary. His first appearance in the role—at McVicker’s, the old O’Neill stamping ground in Chicago—was a success.

“Last evening’s entertainment,” wrote a critic for a Chicago newspaper, “was made particularly charming by the debut of James O’Neill, Jr., who by his unusual resemblance to his father promises another generation of Monte Cristo.... He acts extremely well too and the fact that he plays Albert in the play and is Dantes’ son makes the instance of his appearance fraught with charm. He had a lot of enthusiastic applause for his civility to dramatic art and his nice temper.... I suppose generation after generation will go on watching the O’Neill’s exterminating villains, one at a time.”

James periodically continued trying to shake off the stranglehold of the Count. In 1903, still for Liebier and Tyler, he chose a four-act adaptation of a Conan Doyle story, billed variously as Brigadier Gerard and The Adventures of Gerard, but it was a flop. He tried several other plays, but kept going back to Monte Cristo, for nothing else he did was as financially rewarding—not even an all-star revival of The Two Orphans, which played first in New York and then had a nineteen-week tour of one-night stands in the South and Southwest, followed by about a month and a half of longer runs in big cities.

That was Jamie’s real introduction to the rigors of the road and he did not stand them well. An actress, Bijou Fernandez, who replaced Margaret Anglin in the cast when the play went on tour, once recalled those nineteen weeks with horror.

“We almost died doing it,” she said. “I don’t know where they found all those cities.” Miss Fernandez, who was a novice at touring, would go to her hotel after the evening’s performance and leave word to be called an hour before the train was scheduled to arrive next morning, which was often as early as five o’clock. She was grateful to James for his advice, offered soon after the tour began, to ignore the timetable and ask the hotel clerk to call her when he had the latest word about the train’s actual time of arrival. This often saved hours of waiting at the station.

No amount of well-meant advice had any effect on Jamie, however. Drunk after every performance, he was often so late the next morning that the train had to be held for him.

In New Orleans Jamie nearly succeeded in cremating himself when his cigarette set fire to his mattress. An actor in the company named Tom Meighan tried, briefly, to reform Jamie. He would take him out for something to eat after the show and then deposit him at his hotel with instructions to go to bed. But Mcighan gave up when he found that Jamie would go out to a bar as soon as his back was turned.

The Two Orphans tour marked the beginning of Jamie’s wildest and most public defiance of his father. James reacted with what dignity he could muster, but, as he was himself a perfectionist in his demands on other members of his company, his son’s flouting of professional ethics was especially humiliating. Jamie did not try to spare his father’s feelings before the rest of the company. He made jokes about his own drinking and his slovenly attitude toward the tour. He abused James, ran down the production, and kept on drinking.

For some time Jamie continued to play the role of Albert in Monte Cristo and also doubled in the small part of an old man. As Albert, he wore light, buff-colored buckskin tights, which fitted him like his skin; he did this with his father’s tacit approval, to attract the women in the audience. But his father did not approve of the women who usually filled the boxes to ogle Jamie. A number of them were prostitutes, whose acquaintance Jamie had made on earlier tours. Jamie would take every opportunity to strike poses at the stage apron, thereby drawing unfavorable comments from the local critics.

But James liked even less a little game his son had invented to play during a scene in which Jamie had to kneel and receive Monte Cristo’s blessing. Jamie would conceal a strip of muslin in his hand and, as he knelt, would surreptitiously tear it, causing a rending noise that sounded as if his tights were splitting. His father would grow so furious that the color of blood showed through his make-up.

“Someday it’s really going to happen to you,” James would fume at his son the moment they were both off stage.

In his other role as the old man in the first scene, Jamie enjoyed making his entrance wearing a frowsy gray wig, which he never combed, and the youthful black evebrows that belonged to Albert.

“Horrible, horrible,” James would mutter. He knew, and he knew that his cast knew, that he would have dismissed any other actor for such behavior.

One New Year’s Eve, when the company arrived in San Francisco, Jamie and a friend rented a furnished room, where they thought they could hide. They drank through the night and ended by smashing the china basin, windows and furniture. On New Year’s Day before the matinee Jamie’s landlady presented herself at the theatre shouting for James O’Neill and claiming payment for the damage. A young man, John Hewitt, who at one point doubled as stage manager and actor with James’s company, took the landlady’s message to James.

“Governor,” said Hewitt, using the title everyone in the company gave James, “I have some very unpleasant news for you on New Year’s Day.”

“Well, out with it, lad,” said James.

“Your son .. began Hewitt.

“Ah, my son of the Golden West?” asked James, with heavy irony.

Hewitt told him what Jamie had been up to, and presented the landlady’s bill for $80. James wrote out a check. “Case dismissed,” he said, smiling ruefully.

Jamie arrived a few minutes later, barely in time for the curtain. He was pale and numb.

“My son of the Golden West!” James greeted him, and added a jeering noise that resembled a Bronx cheer. Jamie went through his part mechanically. At the end of the performance James asked his son, with genuine solicitude, “How are you feeling, laddie?”

Jamie needed his liquor as badly as his mother needed her morphine. He never traveled without a bottle in his suitcase, and on long trips he always packed two or three. Once the company was about to make the big hop from Denver to Salt Lake City and the train had been held up for him for five minutes. Hewitt was giving him a hand up to the train’s platform, when Jamie’s suitcase opened and two bottles fell out and smashed on the ground. Jamie was almost in tears over the squandered alcohol.

In the small towns where the company played the actors would often fall asleep to the sound of Jamie’s voice, singing in the town’s only tavern. Even when Jamie was at his most inebriated he could not be goaded into a barroom brawl; when he saw that a situation was slipping out of his control he would put out his hand, like a policeman halting traffic. “What, ho!” he would say, in a frozen voice, turning his back and lurching away with a pathetic attempt at dignity.

If there was a town prostitute, Jamie would find her. In the larger towns he was frequently called for at the stage door by the leading madam, who would bear him triumphantly’ away in her carriage. At the end of a run in St. Louis he sent word to the theatre that he was not leaving with the company. Fie had found a pretty, twenty-vear-old brunette in the best bordello and had fallen in love with her. Hewitt had to drag him away by main force.

I Ila, who was still making the longer stops on James’s itinerary, would come to the theatre from time to time to meet her husband and take a casual look at her son, of whom, at this point, she gravely disapproved. She was distant to Jamie backstage and appeared distressed at her husband’s calm acceptance of his behavior. On the other hand, it seemed to members of the company that she made a point of being attentive to Eugene, who sometimes accompanied her during his school vacations. This caused James to lavor his elder son over Eugene and fanned the various touchy O’Neill tempers into new flame.

Eugene, when he visited backstage, had the eager curiosity of any youth who gets a chance to look behind the scenes. He would play with the props and question the actors and stage managers. Hewitt, for example, once demonstrated the way coconut shells, tapped on a piece of marble covered with chamois cloth, simulated hoofbeats. Jamie teased him, but in an affectionate, big-brotherly way that made Eugene glow. During performances, which Eugene watched from the wings, he had eyes only for Jamie. Jamie clowned and strutted for him and told him of his exploits, and little by little Eugene was drawn into what James thought was a filial conspiracy to undermine him.

Toward the end of the season in the spring of 1906 James was faced with a new problem. Ella, whose most recent sanitarium treatment had had good results and who seemed to be making a real effort to overcome the drug habit, developed a breast tumor. Her doctors suggested an operation and recommended a French surgeon. James immediately made plans to go to Europe. He told friends that he was going abroad for a vacation, prior to opening a new play in the fall.

Ella’s operation was successful and James, for the first time in years, threw himself into the spirit of a real holiday. Fie visited the Chateau d’lf, the historical castle used by Dumas as the scene of the Count of Monte Cristo’s incarceration. The old man who served as superintendent and guide for pilgrims to the ruin near Marseilles had been running through his travelogue, which included a reference to Edmond Dantes’ imprisonment and escape, for so many years that he had come to believe Dantes had really existed. A member of James’s party whispered to the old man that one of his guests was an actor who had played the Count of Monte Cristo more than three thousand times in the United States. Overcome by emotion, the guide threw his arms around James, exclaiming, “Mon Dieu, j’ai trouve un Edmond!”

James went to London early in July to attend a benefit for Ellen Terry, and then visited his own Ireland. During his travels he kept up a galloping correspondence (later published in a New York newspaper) with the author of his forthcoming play, a young New Yorker named James Slevin. The play, called The Voice of the Mighty, was about John the Baptist, and James was certain it would be a success.

“When in London I attended a revival of Wilde’s Salome, and in a way I can say I enjoyed it,” James wrote to SIcvin from Dublin. But James’s perceptivity was not acute, for in the next breath he went on to compare Salome with The Voice of the Mighty, which was something like comparing The Playboy of the Western World with Peg o’ My Heart.

“Though you have written your play on the same subject,” continued James, “you have taken an entirely different view. Your choice of situations is not the same and your handling is quite the opposite. He tells his story in most picturesque language, delicate figures and subtle conceptions, but very little action. You, on the other hand, have presented your play in a series of strong dramatic actions and incidents, painted your pictures with a broader brush and with a more virile hand. His pleases the student —yours will please the people.” James, like many actors, was a pushover for rhetoric.

James and Ella returned to the United States in late July, 1906. James arrived in New London bursting with a new batch of the Irish stories he loved to tell in barrooms and, when he could hold the attention of his family long enough, in his own living room. Eugene absorbed their racy flavor and the earthy ring of their wit. These stories, as much as the grim philosophy of Nietzsche and Strindberg, became an ineradicable part of his literary heritage, as he was later to demonstrate in such plays as A Moon for the Misbegotten and A Touch of the Poet. Eugene was amused, for instance, by his father’s sketch of the Irish railway porter who, said James, “simply can’t help being funny.”

“On one of my trips through the Emerald Isle,” recounted James, who just couldn’t help being lyrical, “I got into a third-class car by mistake with a first-class ticket; a zealous porter wrathfully pulled me out of the car and told me ‘I was chating the Kumpany.’ After I was comfortably seated in the first-class compartment, he put his head in and asked: ‘Is there anyone there for here?’ But even this genius was eclipsed by the conductor of the train who, before the train departed, fiercely rang a bell and bellowed in gloomy warning: ‘This train shtops nowhere at all!”

James’s memory was so good and his gift of mimicry so fluent that both Jamie and Eugene considered it their duty to belittle these abilities. James would frequently talk about how hard he had to work as an actor.

“You call that work?” asked Jamie, who had a pretty good memory himself and sometimes condescended to learn all the subsidiary roles in James’s touring repertory, so that he could take over for any actor who defected or was indisposed on tour. James, of course, had meant he had to work hard to be a good actor, but, as always, he was both stung and challenged by Jamie’s disparagement and accepted Jamie’s ten-dollar bet that he could learn Goldsmith’s The Deserted Village in a week; Jamie even persuaded Eugene to make a similar bet that he could learn the role of Macbeth in the same period.

James had played the role himself only a few months earlier at the Metropolitan Opera Blouse in New York, during a testimonial performance for Modjcska, in which the Polish star had played Lady Macbeth.

He had, on that occasion, caused a bit of a backstage sensation when it was discovered, just before the murder scene, that he had somehow forgotten to provide himself with a costume. He went on in an ancient dressing gown of his own, wearing it with such aplomb that no one in the audience dreamed of questioning its suitability.

Since neither Eugene nor Jamie could afford to lose the bet, they both applied themselves to the task of memorizing. At the end of the week Jamie recited The Deserted Village for his father and collected his bet— proving nothing except that he could work harder in a petty cause than in a worthy one. Eugene then began Macbeth, taking his cues from James; he was letter-perfect, but before he had gone very far James closed the book and fixed Eugene with his penetrating eyes.

“You certainly have a good memory,” said James, “and I see you’ve worked hard, but never go on the stage.”

Eugene couldn’t help laughing. Nothing was further from his mind.


Eugene entered Princeton on September 2.0, 1906, and left a little less than nine months later, having established beyond a doubt that he was not college material.

Woodrow Wilson was the university’s president, and, while Eugene had nothing against Wilson personally, he soon decided that Princeton was excessively tradition-bound, self-consciously superior and clannish. Eugene scowlingly put on the black beanie that was required dress for freshmen, but he conspicuously refrained from any word or deed that might have been mistaken for school spirit. Moreover, he quickly concluded that the university offered little in the way of intellectual challenge or stimulation.

“Why can’t our education respond logically to our needs?” he rhetorically asked Olin Downes some years later when Downes interviewed him for the Boston Sunday Post. “If it did, we’d grab for these things and hold on to them at the right time—when we’ve grown to them and know we need them. It was not until I had to shift, mentally as well as physically, for myself that my awakening came. When I was studying Shakespeare in classes, I was afraid of him. I’ve only recently explored Shakespeare with profit and pleasure.”

O’Neill found profit and pleasure during his college year in authors he had discovered on his own.

“Wilde, Conrad and London were much nearer to me than Shakespeare at that time,” O’Neill said. “And so, later, was Ibsen.... I needed no professor to tell me that Ibsen, as dramatist, knew whereof he spoke. I found him for myself outside of college grounds and hours. If I had met him inside, I might still be a stranger to Ibsen.

“I am perhaps excusing myself for the way I loafed and fooled and got as much fun and as little work as I could out of my one year at Princeton, but I think that I felt there, instinctively, that we were not in touch with life or on the trail of real things, and that was one consideration that drove me out.”

Eugene’s idea of being in touch with life and going after the real things included private experiments with absinthe and incense in his dormitory and the pursuit of prostitutes in Trenton, New Jersey. A book by the torrid, best-selling novelist Marie Corelli inspired the dormitory experiment.

One night, declining the invitation of a couple of other freshmen to go into town, Eugene shut himself into his room with a bottle of absinthe and a couple of sticks of incense. When his friends returned they found Eugene (or Gene, as they had begun to call him) blazing drunk. The bottle was nearly empty and the room, reeking of incense, was lit by a single, naked bulb, covered with red paper.

He had kicked over the radiator cover and was starting to break the furniture when his friends intervened. Eugene had no more inherited his father’s capacity for holding his liquor than had Jamie.

Although the handful of freshmen with whom Eugene condescended to be friendly were flabbergasted by his behavior and opinions, they were also beguiled. He never went out of his way to make friends and wasted no time with anyone who didn’t immediately interest him. But to people he found responsive he was instantly, if offhandedly, charming.

Despite the disapproval of many of their classmates, three freshmen remained loyal to Eugene throughout his Princeton year. They were roommates and their names were Ralph Florton, Tom Welsh and Al Zimmerman. Unlike Eugene, they had all led sheltered lives, had attended recognized Princeton prep schools (rather than Betts), and knew how to conform to the undergraduate atmosphere of the university.

“Princeton was a difficult place to get along in with only three or four friends,” Horton once pointed out, recalling Eugene’s willful isolation. “Gene wasn’t popular. He wouldn’t put himself out to make friends, and as a result he didn’t have many.” Horton remembered the difficulty he, Welsh and Zimmerman encountered in trying to get Eugene accepted by their eating club.

At that time freshmen ate in the Commons, on the ground floor of University Hall (which was later torn down and replaced by Holder Hall). Groups of twenty to fifty freshmen would organize themselves into a club, whose members would then regularly dine together in a small room off the Commons. Nonclub members ate in a nonconvivial, community area. Horton, Welsh and Zimmerman belonged to a club that called itself the White Hat and, after making friends with Eugene, proposed him for membership. Fie was promptly blackballed. His reputation for being a destructive drunk was partly responsible, but his remote attitude contributed equally.

The three tried again on successive Monday nights to get him into the club, with the same result. Finally Welsh, who was president of the club, appointed Horton and Zimmerman as tellers. Eugene’s name was resubmitted and the tellers, ignoring the negative votes, announced that Eugene was elected. The club members who had cast the negative votes were puzzled, but since it was already spring they did not make an issue of it, and for the final weeks of the term Eugene dined wearing a white hat.

Eugene’s little room upstairs in University Hall was a magnet for Horton and his roommates, and for another freshman named Richard Weeks on whom Eugene had consented to smile darkly. According to Horton, Eugene was “far more advanced, intellectually, than anyone else in our group.” He would hold forth by the hour, quoting poetry and philosophy with supreme self-assurance.

When he had had a few drinks he was likely to climb onto a table. Standing with the slight stoop that was characteristic, gesturing eloquently with his long-fingered hands, his cheeks flushed, his eyes blazing, he would expound on religion, literature and politics. His four listeners thought him a rebellious, romantic, Black Irishman, smoldering with wild dreams that they scarcely understood.

Once he concluded a harangue which informed them he was an atheist, with: “If there is a God, let Him strike me dead!” The others could not suppress shudders. “I was eighteen at the time,” Weeks later recalled, “and I was afraid that God would heed him.”

Another time, however, Eugene took pains to explain that he was not, after all, an atheist, but rather an agnostic. The only reason he was not an atheist, he went on, with more fervor than originality, was because the human mind was incapable of comprehending infinity; he said there was something beyond the human mind—and that something might be God.

Eugene was obliged to make a formal concession to religion at Princeton, for attendance at chapel was compulsory every other Sunday and twice during the week. Each student had to hand a signed card to the clergyman, as a check on his obedience to the rules.

“Sometimes we’d try to slip St. Peter, as we called the clergvman, two cards—one for ourselves and one to cover up for an absent friend,” Horton recalled.

But there were times when this ruse did not work, and Eugene had to sit through a number of sermons delivered by Henry Van Dyke, who was usually the speaker. Van Dyke, who had left his Presbyterian pastorate in New York to become professor of English literature at Princeton in 1900, did not impress Eugene favorably. Twenty-five years later he wrote: “I hold Van Dyke in grudging memory because ... his sermons were so irritatingly stupid that they prevented me from sleeping.”

If Eugene conformed in his religious requirements, he did not bother to do so in his academic ones.

“Gene was lawless, as far as the university was concerned,” Weeks once said. “One of the things he would do was take books out of the library and never return them. One time I got a book out for him and after he left Princeton—with the book—the library got after me to return it. I wrote Gene and he sent back the book—to my surprise.”

Among his more lawless activities were his reckless cutting of classes and his extended absences from the university. Once he went with a classmate to New York and stayed a week. When they returned, they told Horton and Weeks about their holiday, which included a visit with a couple of whores in a brownstone in the upper Twenties. Another time Eugene went to New York with Horton, and he proudly pointed out a two-dollar house in which lived a woman many years his senior who had recently fallen in love with him. He gloated about his conquests, which, at that time, included a married woman in New London and several loose ladies of Trenton.

Eugene took Horton with him several times to New York’s Hotel Lucerne, at Seventy-ninth Street and Amsterdam Avenue, where his parents were staying. Horton, who, years later, did not recall seeing James or Ella, did remember the Lucerne’s bar, which had the best free lunch in town; it included lobster salad.

Eugene would often return from weekends in New York with detailed stories of his own and Jamie’s escapades. He held his friends spellbound with accounts of how Jamie and another actor carried on a three-day orgy with two popular young actresses.

Eugene tried to pass on to Horton and Weeks some of the worldly knowledge he had gained from Jamie. He took them to Trenton, where he introduced them to hotel barrooms and displayed his prowess as a drinker. Once he told a bartender, “I want something to knock the top of my head off.” The bartender obligingly fixed him a libation called a Yale Punch. Horton and Weeks joined him. None of them ever discovered what its ingredients were, but it had the desired effect.

Most of the time, though, Eugene drank Old Fashioncds, which Weeks, who had never heard of them, considered exotic. Another drink (for lean days) to which Eugene introduced his friends was English stone ale. It came in tall stone bottles, and had the effect of four beers.

Many nights Eugene would slip off to Trenton on his own, to visit a girl of whom he was especially fond. She was known, locally, as the Widow of Nassau Hall. He often talked about her in idyllic terms and grew irate when his friends made ungallant comments about her reputation.

Eugene seldom appeared troubled by lack of funds and was always well dressed. The only commodity he seemed unable to supply for himself was a smoke. One of his friends, from whom he constantly cadged cigarettes, kept a special supply of Sweet Caporals, which he knew Eugene disliked, in order to discourage him. Although he sometimes spoke to his friends of “putting the bite on the old man” for extra funds, he was in no sense deprived. About 40 per cent of his fellow undergraduates were earning part or all of their way through Princeton, but Eugene was not required to lift a finger. His expenses including spending money, amounted to about $1,400 during his freshman year, which James apparently parted with willingly for the sake of his son’s education. Eugene must have appreciated James’s generosity and felt kindly disposed toward him at the time. Horton has recalled that Eugene went so far as to put in a good word for Monte Cristo, which he described as the only non-Shakespearean play that had withstood the test of time.

Between drinking and women, Eugene had little time for classes. At mid-term one of the few exams he passed was French. He took no interest in the extracurricular activities of the college and was unenthusiastic even about attending football and baseball games.

Eugene revealed his mixed feelings about college sports six years after be left Princeton, when he wrote a one-act play called Abortion. In this early effort, however lacking in literary merit, there is evidence of his keen eye for his surroundings and there are a number of autobiographical references to his year at Princeton and to the one immediately following.

The setting of the play is “a dormitory in a large eastern university in the United States,” and the action takes place during a typical Princetonian celebration of a sports victory. The hero, a youth named Jack Townsend, is a college baseball star. Like many of O’Neill’s plays, Abortion ends on a note of violence, when Jack, who has got a girl into trouble and then indirectly caused her death, shoots himself.

Eugene’s college career ended less dramatically. It did not even end as colorfully as fans of George Jean Nathan have been led to believe. Nathan, after many years of friendship with O’Neill, felt obliged to reveal the lighter side of a nature that was generally regarded as somber, and he did not balk at invention to establish that O’Neill had a rowdy sense of fun. Nathan invented the legend that O’Neill was thrown out of Princeton for an act of vandalism against the university’s president. He even made up some phrases in which O’Neill had “told” him the story—”Princeton ... [kicked] my tail out of the place as an undergraduate because I was too accurate a shot with an Anheuser-Busch beer-bottle and hit a window in Woodrow Wilson’s house right where he lived,” the critic (in The Intimate Notebooks, published in 1932) quoted the dramatist as saying.

O’Neill, who often told several versions of a story himself, did not let Nathan’s fiction disturb their friendship, but he did deny the story periodically.

“I liked Woodrow Wilson,” he told Hamilton Basso, of The New Yorker, after Nathan’s story had been widely circulated. “I wouldn’t have done a thing like that if I had been swimming around in a lake of vodka.”

O’Neill did incur disciplinary action but it was for throwing stones, not beer bottles. He and Weeks and another undergraduate got drunk in Trenton one Monday night during the early part of June. They missed the last trolley to Princeton and took the 1 a.m. train to Princeton Junction, three miles from the university. From there they were obliged to walk. As they were passing the stationmaster’s house, a dog barked at them.

“There’s a dog barking at us, Gene,” said Weeks drunkenly. “I don’t think we should tolerate that.”

Eugene agreed, and the three picked up stones and hurled them in the general direction of the barking, which was also the direction of the stationmaster’s front porch. Exhilarated by the sounds of vandalism, the boys climbed onto the porch and Eugene kicked over pieces of furniture. The stationmaster appeared at his front door and shouted threats at them. The three turned and made for the railroad tracks, which they followed home, satisfied that their evening had been well spent.

The next day the stationmaster lodged a complaint with university authorities, and alter a few days of investigation Eugene, Weeks and their companion were questioned. They confessed, and were summoned before the Discipline Committee on Saturday. Eugene did not turn up, but was punished in absentia with a four-week suspension, to be effective at the beginning of the sophomore year. Weeks and the other undergraduate received the same penalty.

The dean wrote of the incident to all three fathers, and Eugene inter cepted his letter. Weeks confessed to his father ahead of time, waited out his suspension the following fall in New York, and returned to Princeton.

Eugene had decided on his own to quit college, and had failed to take any of his final examinations. He was dropped in June by the Committee on Examinations and Standings “for poor scholastic standing.”

One of his last impressions of Princeton was of a hectic student parade and bonfire, in celebration of Yale’s defeat in a baseball game. He recorded the details of this event in Abortion.

He also expressed his disdain for the conventional, college-bred, American youth in several later plays, by introducing the type as a counterpoint to the autobiographical, sensitive, burningly idealistic artist-dreamer. Harder, in A Moon for the Misbegotten, is one example of the despised species:

“No matter how long he lives, his four undergraduate years will always be for him the most significant in his life, and the moment of his highest achievement the time he was tapped for an exclusive Senior Society at the Ivy university to which his father had given millions. Since that day he has felt no need for further aspiring, no urge to do anything except settle down on his estate and live the life of a country gentleman.”

Sam Evans, in Strange Interlude, is another example:

“Although he is twenty-five and has been out of college three years, he still wears the latest in collegiate clothes and as he looks younger than he is, he is always mistaken for an undergraduate and likes to be. It keeps him placed in life for himself.”

Eugene wanted no Ivy-stamped niche in life. He was convinced he could learn more out of college than in. Like Shaw and O’Casey, he ultimately demonstrated that a college education was not essential to the writing of great plays.


Eugene’s first step in self-education was into Benjamin R. Tucker’s “The Unique Book Shop,” on New York’s Sixth Avenue. Tucker, a New Englander of colonial and Quaker ancestry, had become a philosophical anarchist at eighteen. He was in his early fifties when Eugene met him and had a career of journalism and agitation behind him. He was the founder and editor of an anarchist publication, Liberty, whose first issue had declared: “Monopoly and privilege must be destroyed, opportunity afforded, and competition encouraged. This is ‘Liberty’s’ work, and ‘Down with Authority’ her war cry.”

Tucker had published, with his own limited funds and at no profit, many European works that had not previously been translated into English. Among them were books by the French anarchist Proudhon, Zola’s Money and Modern Marriage and Mirabeau’s A Chambermaid’s Diary. He also published Shaw’s The Quintessence of Ibsenism and Wilde’s The Ballad of Reading Gaol.

Tucker was perhaps the best-known member of America’s individualistanarchist movement, which advocated that “all the affairs of men should be managed by individuals or voluntary associations, and that the State should be abolished.” Individual liberty was for Tucker the only satisfactory way of life; he argued in favor of “the right of the drunkard, the gambler, the rake and the harlot to live their lives until they shall freely abandon them.”

Fie did not submit a plan of how to provide and maintain equal liberty for all, but he did manage to put his theories into practice for himself. He rejected religion, and considered the formalities of marriage and divorce absurd. Anarchists, wrote Tucker, “look forward to a time when every individual, whether man or woman, shall be sell supporting ... when the love relations between these independent individuals shall be as varied as are individual inclinations and attractions; and when the children born of these relations shall belong exclusively to the mothers until old enough to belong to themselves.” Tucker himself lived with a woman he never married and by whom he had a child.

Eugene was introduced to Tucker in the late spring of 1907 by a young radical named Louis Holliday, who, though he had not attended Princeton, knew some of O’Neill’s friends there. Sandy-haired, stocky, exuberant, Holliday had taken a liking to Eugene, which Eugene returned, and they met frequently in New York. Years later, when Eugene had isolated himself from all the radical acquaintances of his youth, he often spoke of Holliday, who by then was dead, as having been one of his few “real friends.”

Eugene spent many hours at The Unique Book Shop absorbing Tucker’s ideas, reading his books, and learning of the other anarchists of the day. Tucker found him an eager, if unsophisticated, pupil. Eugene was outgrowing a tendency to announce, like Richard Miller in Ah, Wilderness!, “I’ll celebrate the day the people bring out the guillotine again and I see Pierpont Morgan being driven by in a tumbril!” and “After you, the deluge, you think! But look out! Supposing it comes before? Why shouldn’t the workers of the world unite and rise? They have nothing to lose but their chains!” He was still apt to sign his letters “Yours for the revolution!” and he enjoyed quoting: “From each according to his ability; to each according to his needs.”

From Tucker, Eugene began to get a clearer idea of the divisions and variations within the anarchist ranks. For instance, Tucker explained to him that, unlike the more popular militant anarchist school, individualistanarchists were content to attack the established authority of government with words rather than bombs. Tucker had defined his own stand in 1892, when as a result of the Homestead Strike Alexander Berkman shot Henry Clay Frick. In 1906 the anarchist world continued to regard the affair with profound interest, for Berkman, who had been in prison for fourteen years, had just been released. Berkman and his champion, Emma Goldman, were at odds with Tucker because he had declined to defend Berkman during his imprisonment. “The hope of humanity,” he had written, “lies in the avoidance of that revolution by force which the Berkmans are trying to precipitate. No pity for Frick, no praise for Berkman—such is the attitude of ‘Liberty’ in the present crisis.” Berkman was one of Emma’s several lovers, and she writhed under this slight.

Emma Goldman, passionate, tempestuous, long-suffering and humorless, considered Tucker heartless and unrealistic. How could anyone calling himself a believer in anarchy fail to endorse Berkman’s noble attempt to remove Frick? In her fervid autobiography Emma has described Berkman’s assassination attempt as a “heroic deed,” but from her account it is not hard to see why an intellectual like Tucker preferred to steer clear of it. Berkman, although armed with a gun, dynamite capsule and poisoned dagger, had failed to dispatch Frick. Emma was indignant that Berkman, after putting three bullets into Frick and stabbing him in the thigh, had then been “pounded into unconsciousness” by Frick’s rescuers. She was even more indignant when her former mentor, Johann Most, a prominent anarchist leader, dismissed Berkman’s deed as unnoteworthy and suggested that Berkman had used a toy gun. Frick began to recover from his wounds, and Emma was furious that people blamed Berkman for the fact that Frick was still alive.

Tucker also told Eugene about Max Stirner, whose book, Ego and His Own, he had translated some time earlier and which had been a forerunner of the anarchist movement in America. Eugene bought a copy and was impressed with Stirner’s philosophy of egoism, which disdained all social and ethical standards.

“As for good and evil!” wrote Stirner. “I am I, and I am neither good nor evil. Neither has any meaning for me.... My concern is ... not the True, the Good, the Right, The Free, etc.... but simply my own self, and it is not general, it is individual, as I myself am individual. For me there is nothing above myself.”

But Tucker’s most significant contribution to Eugene’s education was in introducing him to Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra. Eugene was enthralled by Nietzsche, and remained so all his life. When nearly forty and solidly established as America’s leading dramatist, he wrote to a friend (the critic and poet-essayist, Benjamin de Casseres):

“Zarathustra ... has influenced me more than any book I’ve ever read. I ran into it through the bookshop of Benjamin Tucker ... when I was eighteen and I’ve always possessed a copy since then and every year or so I re-read it and am never disappointed, which is more than I can say of almost any other book.”

Eugene made it a habit to copy passages from Nietzsche and commit them to memory. He always felt kinship with the German philosopher, who had died in 1900. Nietzsche, the son and grandson of Protestant pastors and descended from a line of theologians on his mother’s side as well, had undergone a loss of faith comparable to Eugene’s and become a devastating critic of Christianity and its ideals. Many aspects of O’Neill’s later life strikingly paralleled those of Nietzsche’s. The drooping black mustache O’Neill grew in his late twenties, the solitude in which he spent his last years, the tremendous strain he put on his creative spirit, the somber satisfaction he took in being misunderstood, and the final collapse—all arc a mirroring of Nietzsche.

Thus Spake Zarathustra, written in the style of an Old I estament prophet, was Eugene’s Catechism. At eighteen he swallowed it whole, just as he had, at eight, absorbed the Catholic Catechism. But, unlike the Catechism, which he kept trying to forget, Zarathustra was permanently digested, even though, in his later years, he confessed, “Spots of its teaching I no longer concede.”

Instead of the Catechism’s:

“What is man? Man is a creature made up of a rational soul and an organic body”—Eugene now embraced:

“Man is a rope stretched between the animal and the Superman—a rope over an abyss.”

Instead of the Catechism’s:

“What is a rational soul? A rational soul is a spiritual substance, endowed with intellect and free will, and immortal ...”—Eugene seized upon:

“‘Body am I, and soul,’—so saith the child. And why should one not speak like children? ... the awakened one, the knowing one, saith: ‘Body am I entirely, and nothing more; and soul is only the name of something in the body.’”

For the Golden Rule’s enjoinder, “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” Eugene eagerly substituted Nietzsche’s:

“Do I advise you to neighbor-love? Rather do I advise you to neighbor-flight and to furthest love! Higher than love to your neighbor is love to the furthest and future ones; higher still than love to men, is love to things and phantoms.... My brethren, I advise you not to neighbor-love—I advise you to furthest love!”

Eugene also tried to emulate Nietzsche’s poetic style. Although, in later years, he professed to have had no real literary leanings until he was well into his twenties, he now began to write poetry. It was derivative from Baudelaire as well as from Nietzsche—and it was not good. Baudelaire and Dowson had joined Swinburne and Wilde in his admiration. James considered most of his son’s literary heroes degenerates and suspected, not without some justification, that Eugene was attracted to them as much by the sordid details of their personal lives as by the cadence of their language.

James did not hold Eugene’s view that he should spend his young manhood loafing. After allowing Eugene a recuperative summer in New London, during which he frequently reminded him that he had thrown away his chance of a proper education, James found him his first job, as secretary to a small New York mail-order firm dealing in cheap costume jewelry. The company, in which James had invested some money, gave prizes of phonograph records to children who could peddle a certain quota of tawdry rings and pins among their neighbors and relatives. James thought Eugene could utilize his literary background in handling the correspondence for the firm, but Eugene decided otherwise. He proved singularly inept at the job and devoted most of his office hours to reading. His evenings were spent on the town.

In the fall of 1907 James and Jamie were on tour again with Monte Cristo and Ella kept the apartment at the Lucerne for herself and Eugene. But the opportunity this offered for intimacy between mother and son was not used by either. Like her husband, Ella always seemed less at ease with her own children than with their contemporaries.

Like James, but more quietly, Ella was inclined to befriend and put herself out for youngsters she considered talented and in need of encouragement. She took under her wing, for a time, a second cousin named Agnes Brennan, who was a few years older than Eugene and showed promise as a pianist, and also Agnes’ young friend, Sadie Koenig, who was studying in New York with the same music teacher. Sadie’s struggle to earn her keep and pay for music lessons reminded Ella of her own brief, though far more comfortable, student days. Ella went out of her way to be kind to Sadie, who, she knew, often had to walk from her rooming house on Seventh Street to the music school on Twenty-third Street because she could not afford the fare for the horsecar. Ella encouraged Sadie and Agnes (who was being financed by a member of her family) to visit her often at the Lucerne, where she would serve them coffee and cake, and inquire about their progress.

“Mrs. O’Neill was a wonderful woman,” Miss Koenig later recalled. “She gave me help and advice when I really needed it.”

In spite of her gratitude and admiration, however, Sadie could not help noticing that Ella behaved strangely at times—being drowsy, incoherent, repeating herself or trailing off into vague silences. Sadie had no idea what was wrong with Ella, but she did suspect that Eugene pained and disappointed her. He was frequently at the hotel when Sadie and Agnes visited and seemed, to the innocent young woman, to be “a kind of bum.”

According to Miss Koenig, Eugene was often drunk and almost always argumentative. He would come in and fling himself onto a bed, and Ella would ask, in front of the two girls, “Are you at it again?” Eugene would veil back at her from the bedroom, “You’d be better off if you’d sleep a little more.” The two argued incessantly and Eugene sometimes mocked his mother in what seemed, to Sadie, an outrageous fashion.

Once Ella said to Sadie, as she was leaving, “I hope you’ll be a success someday. Study hard so you won’t have to struggle later.” Eugene then put his arms around Sadie and warned her drunkenly, “Now, you work hard, and don’t touch any liquor.”

Because of her family connection with the O’Neill’s, Agnes was somewhat more inured to their unconventional behavior and tried to make light of it. But Sadie was very much upset.

Eugene left both the mail-order company and the Lucerne in the early fall of 1908. (Soon after, the company went bankrupt as an aftermath of the panic of 1907, leaving James with one more bad investment to write off.) Somehow Eugene persuaded his father to give him a few months of grace.

Late that fall Eugene moved into a studio on Broadway and Sixty-sixth Street, in a building then called the Lincoln Arcade. The studio was shared by two young artists named Edward Keefe and George Bellows. Keefe was a tall, dark, good-looking New Londoner who wanted to paint, and who later became an architect in his home town. Bellows, a graduate of Ohio State University, also wanted to paint and eventually became a leader of the “ash can” school of art. Keefe, who had known Eugene in New London as a fishing and swimming companion and a fellow member of Doc Gancy’s Second Story Club, was more receptive to Eugene’s idea of having a good time than was Bellows. It was Keefe on whom Eugene tried out his radical thinking, dragging him off to Tucker’s bookstore for doses of Nietzsche and Stirner.

They adopted a Saturday night ritual, in which they were occasionally joined by Louis Holliday, that included visits to a number of notorious establishments in the area known as the Tenderloin. By the late 1800’s New York had achieved an international reputation as a wicked and gaudy city. The Tenderloin, stretching from Madison Square to Forty-eighth Street between Fifth and Ninth Avenues, was its center of vice. It was not only the red-light district but the site of gambling dens, illicitly operated saloons, and the headquarters for the most active criminals.

White slavery flourished, opium dens abounded, and a corrupt Tammany Hall, under the resourceful guidance of Richard Croker, cleared hundreds of thousands of dollars annually in protection fees, bribes, and percentages in the area’s enterprises. The Tenderloin, which had been known earlier as Satan’s Circus, got its name from a police inspector who, on being transferred there from a quiet area of the city, expressed his satisfaction that after a long time of making do with rump steak, he could now avail himself of some tenderloin.

Eugene and Keefe tried, with severely limited funds, to be a part of this gaily sordid life. They started their Saturday night rites at Mouquin’s, a French restaurant on Sixth Avenue and Twenty-eighth Street which was frequented by the high and low life of Broadway. The restaurant, housed in a wooden mansion, had a reputation for excellent French cuisine at moderate prices and it was here, according to Keefe, that they “ate dinner after a fashion.”

Properly primed, they wandered over to the Haymarket, a combination restaurant, dance hall and variety stage, where prostitutes gathered and where liquor was served all night long. Diamond Jim Brady could often be found there, entertaining out-of-town visitors. Pickpockets, petty thieves and pimps made it their headquarters.

Located on Sixth Avenue, just south of Thirtieth Street, it was an ugly, yellow, brick and frame building three stories high. Shuttered by day, its windows blazed with light at night and far into the early morning hours. Erected as a variety theatre after the Civil War, the building retained the galleries and boxes which lined three of its walls above the main floor.

While the ground floor was reserved for dancing and drinking, the galleries had been fitted out with cubicles where, for a dollar or two, a customer could watch one of the girls do the kind of dance popular at French peep shows.

It was here that Eugene took several strides forward in his program of education. Although he could not often afford to be more than an onlooker, he absorbed everything. He set down his impressions in a sonnet called “The Haymarket,” which was later published in a New London newspaper:

The music blares into a rag-time tune—
The dancers whirl around the polished floor;
Each powdered face a set expression wore
Of dull satiety, and wan smiles swoon
On rouged lips at sallies opportune
Of maudlin youths whose sodden spirits soar
On drunken wings; while through the opening door
A chilly blast sweeps like the breath of doom.
In sleek dress suit an old man sits and leers

With vulture mouth and blood-shot, beady eyes At the young girl beside him. Drunken tears I all down her painted face, and choking sighs Shake her, as into his familiar ears She sobs her sad, sad history—and lies!

O’Neill made a firsthand study of young girls with painted faces and sad histories.

“Those babes gave me some of the best laughs I’ve ever had,” he once confided to George Jean Nathan, “and to the future profit of many a dramatic scene.”

The heroine of Anna Christie is a prostitute, and a total of fourteen streetwalkers ply their trade in seven other of his published plays; additional prostitutes figure as offstage characters in another five plays.

Although O’Neill acknowledged their function, he continued to be far more interested in their souls. Having rejected Jamie’s view that they were fascinating vampires, he conceived of them as children of fate. For the most part, Eugene believed, they were girls of arrested emotional development, capable of a dogged and childlike loyalty to anyone who was kind to them. Eugene accepted the fact that a girl could drift into the profession out of helplessness. He met many who told him their histories of a losing struggle to stay alive by respectable standards.

O’Neill first took up the cause of the prostitute in a one-act play called The Web, which he wrote in 1913 and whose heroine was a girl named Rose Thomas. Rose is helplessly bound to a pimp named Steve, with whom she lives and who mistreats her and takes all her money. In a state of advanced tuberculosis, Rose would probably have given up trying to stay alive if it were not for her baby, whom she loves, nourishes and protects in the squalid room where Steve keeps her. An escaped gangster who intercedes for her with the brutal Steve asks her:

“Why d’yuh stand fur him anyway? Why don’t yuh take the kid and beat it away from him? ... why don’t yuh cut this life and be on the level ... git a job some place?”

Rose replies: “D’yuh suppose they’d keep me any place if they knew what I was? And d’yuh suppose he wouldn’t tell them or have somebody else tell them? Yuh don’t know the game I’m up against. I’ve tried that job thing. I’ve looked for decent work and I’ve starved at it. A year after I first hit this town I quit and tried to be on the level. I got a job at housework—workin’ twelve hours a day for twenty-five dollars a month. And I worked like a dog, too, and never left the house, I was so scared of sccin’ some one who knew me. But what was the use? One night they have a guy to dinner who’s seen me some place when I was on the town. He tells the lady—his duty he said it was—and she fires me right off the reel. I tried the same thing a lot of times. But there was always some one who’d drag me back. And then I quit tryin’. There didn’t seem to be no use. They—all the good people—they got me where I am and they’re going to keep me there. Reform? Take it from me it can’t be done. They won’t let yuh do it, and that’s Gawd’s truth.”

The same sense of being trapped by circumstances is expressed by O’Neill’s later heroine, Anna Christie. Confessing her past to her father and the man with whom she has fallen in love, Anna says:

“It was one of them cousins ... the youngest son—Paul—that started me wrong. It wasn’t none of my fault. I hated him worse’n hell and he knew it. But he was big and strong.... That’s what made me get a yob as a nurse girl.... And you think that was a nice yob for a girl? ... With all them nice ... fellers yust looking for a chance to marry me, I s’pose.... What a chance! They wasn’t looking for marrying ... I was caged in ... yust like in jail... lonesome as hell! So I gave up finally. What was the use? ... men, God damn ’em! I hate ’em. Hate ’em!”

O’Neill’s language had become less finicky by 1920, when he wrote Anna Christie, but his sentimental sympathy for whores was basically unchanged, and it never did change. At fifty-eight, shortly before The Iceman Cometh was produced, he was asked if it was true that the play had a cast of fourteen men and three tarts.

“There are fourteen men and three—uh—ladies,” he replied.

And at sixty-three he was still defending the honor of prostitutes. He bristled when a mild mannered friend made a casual remark about an Army experience involving a “two-bit whore.” He resented the slight, much in the same way that the “ladies” in The Iceman Cometh insist on the distinction between “tarts,” a designation they are glad to own up to, and “whores,” which they stolidly maintain they are not. Not many of Eugene’s friends were interested in making such nice distinctions, and Ed Keefe, for his part, was content to characterize the girls at the Elaymarket as “pretty good.” As he has remembered it, though, “We were only living at the life, trying to be a part of it; we didn’t have the money to do it right.”

They did have enough money, if they were careful, to end their evening at Jack’s, an oyster house at Sixth Avenue and Forty-third Street. A hangout for writers and newspapermen, Jack’s was open day and night and was famous for its Irish bacon and sea food and for its efficient staff of waiter-bouncers.

The theatre was another form of entertainment open to Eugene and Ed Keefe. Eugene could still obtain complimentary tickets to almost anything he wanted to see, and there was a great deal of glittering nonsense on display. Show business was continuing its expansion to meet the demands of a growing city. About thirty playhouses dotted the Rialto, roughly from Joe Weber’s theatre on Twenty-ninth Street to the Colonial vaudeville house on Sixty-second Street, with the center of activity now established at O’Neill’s birthplace—Times Square.

The name of the square had been changed from Longacre to mark the erection of The New York Times building in 1904. Two dozen theatres were situated in its vicinity.

One of the biggest hits of the season—it ran for 496 performances— was The Man from Home, written by Booth Tarkington in collaboration with Harry Leon Wilson. Somerset Maugham’s Lady Frederick was a success at the Hudson Theatre; Ethel Barrymore was playing the title role, which had been turned down by the vainer Mrs. Pat Campbell and Viola Allen, among others, because the heroine was a mature woman who had to appear, in one scene, seated at her dressing table devoid of make-up.

The Easiest Way, by Eugene Walter, was being hailed as a radical departure from the tepid native drama of the period. Produced by David Belasco, the play had for its heroine a woman named Laura Murdock, who had a somewhat tarnished reputation. And despite its florid and sentimental language, it further flouted convention by ending unhappily. Laura’s curtain line was being quoted all over town: “Dress up my body and paint my face. I’m going to Rector’s to make a hit—and to hell with the rest!”

Eugene attended many of the current productions, but he drew the line at Monte Cristo when his father brought it to New York for a brief engagement early in the season. He sent Keefe and Bellows, refusing to accompany them.

He still enjoyed musicals and attended a good portion of the twenty or so produced during the 1908–9 season, including two by Victor Herbert and one by George M. Cohan. What he liked most about musicals was the chorus girls, who bore no more resemblance to the dedicated Broadway ballerinas of today than a peacock bears to a sparrow. In an era of famous beauties—Ziegfeld had staged his first Follies in 1907— chorus girls reigned over the city’s night life. Eugene could not begin to afford them, as they were accustomed to being courted by the wealthiest men about town and expected to be lavishly entertained. But he got to know some of the younger girls through Jamie and would occasionally take them out.

“The girls in those days,” he recalled in his later years, “were less ambitious and more fun.”

For Eugene at that time there seen.cd to be no middle ground between chorus girls and whores. He considered himself too worldly for innocent dalliance, and the fact that his rakish behavior irritated his father added spice to his adventures.

Keefe has recalled a time when Eugene, for some reason, was particularly angry with his father. “I’m going to hx the old bastard,” Eugene told his friend. He secured the company of a girl from a French bordello (paid for out of the allowance he received from his father). The girl had violently red hair, and neither her presence nor her profession could possibly have been overlooked. Eugene seated her next to him in a box he had reserved at the New York Theatre, where Anna Held was appearing in Miss Innocence, a musical produced by her husband, Florenz Ziegfeld. Eugene was reasonably sure that someone among his father’s army of acquaintances would recognize him and give James a report. Someone did and James, as often happened when he found himself flouted by one of his children, fell back on Shakespeare, reciting King Lear’s “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child!”

Tiring suddenly of their gay life, Keefe, Bellows and Eugene abandoned New York in midwinter for Zion, New Jersey, a town not far from Princeton, where James owned a small farmhouse and a bit of land.

Arriving at the station on a frosty afternoon, they hired a buggy to take them to the O’Neill farm. The house, which only someone as young and heedless as Eugene could have regarded as habitable, was situated at the bottom of a snow-covered hill, with a stream running behind it and snowy hills surrounding it. Eugene and his friends found living conditions primitive, for the house, unoccupied for many years, was in a state of decay.

In order to heat the three downstairs rooms they decided to live in, they had to tear out a false front that guarded the fireplace and clean the chimney. The kitchen, located in the middle of the house, contained an oil stove, on which they did their elementary cooking. Keefe, the only one able to cope with the stove, acted as chef; his specialty was dried pea soup, but he varied this occasionally with bacon and eggs, purchased from a nearby general store. Eugene, who was incapable of cooking anything at all, chopped wood for the fireplace. The room with the fireplace served as their sitting room, and another room, in which they discovered a broken-down bed and a sagging spring propped up on wooden boxes, became their bedroom.

Since the only feasible sleeping arrangement was for two of them to share the bed while the other slept on the spring, and since the former arrangement promised to be the warmer one, they tossed a coin to determine who would have to sleep in cold solitude. Bellows lost.

All three throve on camp life. Eugene spent his time walking and chopping wood during the day and writing poetry in the evening. Keefe and Bellows turned out forty paintings between them, a number of which vividly reflected the blue cold of their environment. Since there was nothing in view but hills, they painted hills from morning till night. Since there was no reason to shave, they all grew beards. Shaving would have been difficult in any case. Even washing was a problem, d he only water available came from a well pump and sometimes the water in the bucket started freezing while it was being carried into the house. One of the conveniences of the farmhouse that amused them all was the family privy, which had three toilets of graded sizes. The privy was the only spot from which the farmhouse could be painted, and Keefe availed himself of this vantage point.

Eugene’s father, in a fit of generosity, sent some liquor and a box of cigars to the farm, and Louis Holliday was invited out for a weekend to share these riches. The three young men spent no money except for basic provisions. The only unforeseen expense was incurred by Keefe, who got his shoes wet and put them by the fire, where they burned to cinders and had to be replaced.

The outing lasted five weeks. Eugene, Bellows and Keefe arrived back in New York bearded, lugging finished canvases, and flushed with Rentier spirit, to resume residence in their studio.


In the late spring of 1909 Eugene had his first significant encounter with a girl who, in the words of a young blade in Ah, Wilderness!, was not “a real swift baby.” She fell, rather, into the category of “dead Janes,” a phrase used by Eugene to describe respectable girls with whom there was not likely to be “something doing.”

Eugene was not yet twenty-one when he met Kathleen Jenkins. She was an extremely pretty, vivacious girl of Eugene’s age, a little spoiled and a little bored. Her father, Charles Jenkins, whose family came to America before the Revolution, was for a time associated with Tiffany and Company and was commodore of the Larchmont Yacht Club in Westchester. He later moved to Chicago with his wife, Kate Cambias, a volatile woman whose Corsican ancestors claimed kinship with Napoleon Bonaparte. She left her husband in Chicago in 1899, when Kathleen was ten, and moved to New York, where her father, Henry Cambias, had taken a seat on the New York Stock Exchange.

Kathleen was brought up, as were most of her friends, to believe that the best use she could make of her time and her endowments was to give and attend parties and make a good marriage. Her mother often gave Sunday afternoon tea parties, or supper parties, at which Kathleen could shine. Kate Cambias Jenkins was resentful about her own marriage; she had married Charles Jenkins because her parents had thought him a better catch than the man she really loved. But Jenkins had taken to drink.

Kathleen’s mother, worried that alcoholism could be inherited, encouraged her daughter to sip cocktails at fifteen, believing that an early acquaintance with liquor would forestall any tendencies toward the Jenkins failing.

At twenty Kathleen resembled the lovely girls Charles Dana Gibson was drawing. She had big blue eyes, her fair hair was piled high on her head, and her carriage was a graceful imitation of the Grecian bend. Bored by eager beaux from her own environment, Kathleen was beguiled by the strange, dark, handsome young man who was presented to her. Eugene had met the beau of one of Kathleen’s girl friends, and was taken to the Jenkins home, on Broadway near 113th Street. Eugene, always shy in the presence of a nice girl, was emboldened by Kathleen’s obvious interest in him and invited her out.

Even at twenty Eugene revealed a paradoxical nature. Vain and egotistical at times, he could also be touchingly helpless. Throughout his life he remained a puzzle to the people who knew him best, for he was given to swift reversals and conveyed sharply different impressions of himself— often deliberately. He was worldly in experience, yet naive in its application to his own life; shy and sentimental one instant, hard as nails the next; an incipient artist of uncanny insight and sensitivity, yet a man who often misunderstood and failed those who depended on him; a victim of self-pity, and a hero challenging the fates.

Eugene was subject to black moods of despair, which he sometimes attributed to his Irish ancestry. These moods were intensified when he drank. His drunken violence most often was spent upon women with whom he was romantically involved, but Kathleen and one or two others he knew in his twenties were notable exceptions. Kathleen saw only the gentler side of his nature—or, perhaps, she closed her eyes to his darker side, because she was not equipped to understand it.

Many years later, recalling the youthful romance, she said: “We could never have made a go of it; I’d be foolish to imagine that I could ever have given him the kind of understanding he needed.” But at the time she saw only that he was mysteriously different from any other man she had ever met. He wrote poetry for her that was both exotic and tender; he carried with him an aura of strange romance that was enormously appealing; he lived in a world she scarcely knew existed, but which he made sound fascinating and desirable. She fell quickly in love with him.

Eugene, who could never resist being loved, was bewitched by Kathleen. He was less in love with her than with the romantic image of her love for him, but the emotion was strong enough to keep him in New York that summer, courting her. Before he quite realized what was happening he found that Kathleen, assuming he was as earnestly in love as she, expected him to marry her. He did not want to hurt her. But neither did he feel he could marry her—as much for her sake as for his own. He was not working and had neither the prospect nor intention of it. He was entirely dependent on his father for support and, while that arrangement sometimes made for strained family relations, he was, on the whole, satisfied. He did not see how the acquisition of a wife could help his situation, for he knew that James would not tolerate it.

Reverting in panic to his little-boy dependence upon James, he confessed to his father the depth of his involvement with Kathleen, stressing that she was a nice girl who really loved him. James, always suspicious that any girl interested in his son was actually after Monte Cristo gold and ignoring the fact that Kathleen’s family was well enough off not to need any O’Neill financing, told Eugene that Kathleen must be a gold- digger; even worse, she was not a Catholic. James would take matters into his own hands and get Eugene out of the country for a while.

Thus reassured, Eugene could present himself to Kathleen as the helpless victim of an unyielding father. But Kathleen was unwilling to let the matter rest there and Eugene eventually subscribed to her point of view.

James, between rehearsals of the new play he was going to do in September, cast about for a way of removing Eugene and came up with a plan to send him on a mining expedition. Ella had invested some of her money in a gold mine in Spanish Honduras and an engineer named Earl Stevens was about to go there with his wife to investigate the holding.

Stevens, a native of Oregon, was eleven years older than Eugene and had graduated in 1905 from Columbia University. James, whose own mining interests were widespread and varied enough to have brought him into contact with numerous engineers, had formed one of his fatherly attachments for Stevens, and he thought the young mining expert would have a stabilizing effect on Eugene. James did not mention to Stevens the real reason for wanting to send Eugene on the trip. Instead, professing a fear he had never felt, James told Stevens that he was sending Eugene away for a while to remove him from “theatrical” influences.

Eugene was interested in his father’s plan to make him a miner. Looking for gold in Honduras sounded like an agreeably protracted adventure. Satisfied that there would be no consequences to face, one way or another, he bundled Kathleen onto a ferryboat for Hoboken, New Jersey, on October 2, 1909, about a week before he was scheduled to sail for Honduras. They were secretly married in Hoboken Trinity Church, the Rey. William G. Gilpin, a Protestant minister, officiating. Eugene put his age down as twenty-two on the marriage certificate, although his twenty-first birthday was still nearly two weeks away. He listed his occupation as “engineer,” his residence as Zion, New Jersey. He and his bride agreed to keep the marriage secret for the time being. It could not be for long as Kathleen was pregnant.

Eugene was to sail for Flonduras from San Francisco and Kathleen saw him off at his train in New York. Eugene considered it rather a good joke on his father that the girl from whom James was separating him was already his wife.


The younger son of the O’Neill’s came into man’s estate aboard a banana ship. His twenty-first birthday found him afloat in the Pacific Ocean, off the coast of Mexico. He celebrated by having his picture taken, first with Stevens and then with Mrs. Stevens, a pretty brunette not much older than he. Both photographs showed Eugene dressed in a neat, dark suit and high white collar, a selfconscious smirk on his clean-shaven face, and a cigarette between the thumb and forefinger of his right hand.

Stevens and his wife had gone ahead to San Francisco to make arrangements for the expedition and Eugene had joined them there. The three sailed down the western coast of Central America and docked at El Salvador. After hiring a native couple as guide and servant, they made their way on muleback to the Honduras capital, Tegucigalpa. Then they continued by mule to the Rio Siale, where they set up a base of operations for the expedition. W hile looking for mine sites they had to clear trails by machete and on at least one occasion the two men lost each other overnight in the jungle.

“I guess I looked like a Preparedness Day parade,” the younger of the explorers later recalled. “I had a cartridge belt around my waist and a Colt revolver at one hip. Then I had a bandolier over one shoulder and a carbine slung over the other and I carried a machete dangling from the other side of my belt. Of course, it was the custom for a man to carry side arms in that country in those days, but I never saw anything to shoot but lizards.”

Oddly enough, the reminiscent O’Neill never referred to the presence of Mrs. Stevens on the journey. It is a fair guess that he conceived a romantic notion about her. The first play he ever wrote—in 1913—was A Wife for a Life, which has a gold-mining camp background and deals with a young miner named Jack and his partner, an older man with whose beautiful and virtuous wife Jack has fallen in love.

While O’Neill never admitted having dreamed up the idea for this unrewarding effort in Honduras, he did credit his journey with supplying the physical background for a later and considerably more worthwhile project. The Emperor Jones, written in 1920, is set largely in a tropical forest, whose primitive state closely resembled the unexplored regions of Honduras through which Eugene and the Stevenses cut their way late in 1909.

Discussing The Emperor Jones on one occasion, O’Neill said: “The effect of the tropical forest on the human imagination was honestly come by. It was the result of my own experience while prospecting for gold in Spanish Honduras.”

In his stage directions for that play, he wrote:

“The forest is a wall of darkness dividing the world. Only when the eye becomes accustomed to the gloom can the outlines of separate trunks of the nearest trees be made out, enormous pillars of deeper blackness. A somber monotone of wind lost in the leaves moans in the air. Yet this sound serves but to intensify the impression of the forest’s relentless immobility, to form a background throwing into relief its brooding, implacable silence.”

Describing his own jungle experiences many years after his return from Honduras, O’Neill recalled that a group of Indians from a rubber expedition passed his camp one day and told him and Stevens that another river farther on was choked with gold.

“We started in a mahogany dugout canoe,” O’Neill said. “We had to go down the Rio Siale, into a larger stream, to the mouth of a river the Indians had described. Then we started up the stream. It was unexplored territory—nobody had gone in. We didn’t get very far. It was a narrow, swift river, and trees had fallen across. At each bank the jungle grew so thickly that it was impossible to move through it. We gave up and came back.”

Eugene found the jungle pure hell. In addition to the Little Formless Fears—the superstitious hallucinations he later ascribed to Jones, and which came to haunt him in the black jungle denseness—every variety of flying and crawling insect molested him. He could stomach neither the rations (iguana, wild pig, and monkey fried in grease and, inevitably, the tortilla) nor the natives, whom he described as “lazy, ignorant, human maggots.” One evening the man who served as guide absent-mindedly lost his employers, leaving them to spend the night far from their campsite, listening to the yowls of a jaguar.

Eugene was almost joyful when, after about five months of this sort of thing, and no sign of the gold he had come for, he was stricken with malaria.

“I’d get an attack of the fever at two o’clock in the afternoon of every other day,” he recalled later, “and, though the climate was hot, I’d sit at the campfire and chatter my teeth out.”

Leaving Stevens to dam his unnavigable river, Eugene, led by an Indian guide, made a ten-day return trip by mule to Tegucigalpa. Shivering with fever, he presented himself at the American consulate. The consul put him to bed, summoned a doctor, and nursed him for three weeks. During the nights, which are cold in Tegucigalpa, the consul, who could not supply enough blankets to keep his patient warm, added a cover of some worn American flags.

Before he was well enough to leave Honduras Eugene received word that the dam had burst and that Stevens, too, was calling it quits. O’Neill and Stevens did not meet again until the winter of 1936 in Seattle, Washington. By that time Stevens, without O’Neill’s knowledge, had become a trumpet player with the Portland Symphony Orchestra, and O’Neill had won the Nobel Prize. O’Neill, who had gone to Seattle to find background material for a play, instituted a search for Stevens not long after his arrival.

“O’Neill believes that Stevens is now operating a gold mine somewhere in Oregon,” reported Richard L. Neuberger, the journalist who was later to become a senator. After interviewing O’Neill for the Oregonian, Neuberger wrote: “If Mr. Stevens should by any capricious chance read these words and would communicate his address and whereabouts to the writer of this article, care The Oregonian, Mr. Eugene Gladstone O’Neill would be greatly appreciative.”

Stevens did read the words, and was surprised and delighted. He was surprised because fourteen years earlier he had received a very courteous, but explicit, brushoff from O’Neill, in response to a request for financial backing in an Oregon mining venture. O’Neill had written Stevens at that time that it was hard to imagine that the Honduras adventure had really taken place, adding facetiously that the image of himself “loaded down like an arsenal with ammunition, knives and firearms” would make “a first rate comedy hero of romance, especially if my faithful (?) mule could also play a part.”

Stevens was delighted that O’Neill did not bear him a grudge for having had to turn him down. He communicated with O’Neill and both Stevens and his wife were promptly invited to dinner and to spend the night. “I look forward to seeing you both,” O’Neill informed Stevens, “—although I shall feel a bit embarrassed, because as I remember myself in the Rio Siale days, I was a very obstreperous young Nut, and must Lave been a great trial to have around!”

The reunion was successful, but soon after that O’Neill became ill and moved to California. Stevens, who outlived O’Neill by three years, never saw him again. But from time to time he gazed nostalgically at the photographs of the two eager young men and the pretty girl who had gone on a romantic adventure in a romantic world.

The end of Eugene’s Honduras expedition marked the beginning of two of the most significant years of his life.

“I was invalided back to New York via the Panama Canal,” was the way he later summed it up, somewhat mystifyingly. The canal was not opened until five years later. But he was always conspicuously silent about the melodramatic climax that took place on his return to New York.

Although he had tried hard to believe, in the jungle, that Kathleen was an unfortunate memory that would evaporate, he could not quite convince himself that this was true. He had received a letter from her in Honduras saying she could no longer keep the marriage a secret; her pregnancy was now obvious. Eugene had been obliged to write his father about the marriage and James, of course, was furious, but he still imagined he could suppress the whole affair. James miscalculated the reactions of Kathleen and her mother as blandly and as arrogantly as he had once miscalculated those of Nettie Walsh.

Eugene arrived in New York at the end of April; his gold-mining adventure had lasted six and a half months. James, who had been touring since the end of November in The White Sister, the play in which he had opened just before Eugene left, hastened to New York from Washington to scold his son and plan new strategy.

When O’Neill started writing plays he indicated sardonic awareness of the similarity between his entanglement with Kathleen and his father’s affair with Nettie Walsh. In the one-acter called Abortion, for instance, the hero, Jack Townsend, becomes involved with a girl of whom he is fond but does not love enough to marry. Eugene had solved his own problem by marrying Kathleen but with no thought of assuming any husbandly duties, and the lines he later wrote for Jack Townsend reflect his own sense of guilt and unhappiness. Speaking of the “sweet, lovely girl” he does not love, Jack says to his father:

“Yes, yes, I know it, Dad. I have played the scoundrel all the way through. I realize that now. Why couldn’t I have felt that way at the start? Then this would never have happened.” (In the play, “this” is an abortion; in fact, Eugene could have been accurately referring to his own irresponsible marriage.)

But, continues the hero, “at that time the whole thing seemed just a pleasant game we were playing; its serious aspects appeared remote, unreal. I never gave them a thought.”

The father in Abortion is, like most of the fathers in O’Neill’s plays, modeled on James O’Neill. He is a “kindly old man of sixty or so ... erect, well-preserved, energetic, dressed immaculately but soberly” and he has himself been something of a rake in his youth, as a result of which his son expects a certain amount of sympathetic understanding. Thus in response to the father’s “if you did not love this girl, why did you,—why, in the first place—?” the son says:

“Why? Why? Who knows why or who, that does know, has the courage to confess it, even to himself. Be frank, Dad! Judging from several anecdotes which your friend ... has let slip ... you were no St. Anthony. Turn your mind back to those days and then answer your own question.”

As a final indication of Eugene’s sense of identification with his father’s profligate youth, Eugene called the girl in Abortion not quite “Nettie,” but “Nellie.”

James was on untenable ground. He could not play the stern Victorian with Eugene. He simply had to swallow the situation and sit out the storm—which broke a few days after Eugene’s return from Honduras.

Halley’s comet, which had appeared early in the year, had by May 4 grown alarmingly bright in the skies over Manhattan; it continued to grow brighter until May 19, at which time the earth was scheduled to pass through its 46-miHion-mile-long tail. Superstitious throngs spent that day on their knees, praying for deliverance; the arrival of the comet, which since 2616 b.c. had been frightening emperors, kings and popes out of their collective wits, heralded the arrival of Eugene O’Neill, Jr., on May 5- (Like the true son of his father, Eugene Jr. was later to claim the appearance of the comet for his personal omen of disaster.)

On May 6 the World took Mrs. Jenkins’ word for the details of the marriage. It announced, in bold headlines, “The Birth of a Boy Reveals Marriage of ‘Gene’ O’Neill.” The subhead declared, “Son of Actor Was Wed Secretly Last July to Kathleen Jenkins, Who Was Sweetheart of His Childhood.” Mrs. Jenkins had decided to put the O’Neill’s in their place and to have her moment. The baby, who was born with black eyes, and weighed in at a strapping ten and a half pounds, was, Mrs. Jenkins informed the World reporter, “the image of his dad.”

“It was at the request of Mr. James O’Neill that my daughter’s marriage was kept a secret,” Mrs. Jenkins added. “Mrs. O’Neill had been ill all winter and the announcement of her son’s marriage, it was feared, would have grave consequences to her. She was told only recently. She seemed pleased when she learned of the baby’s birth.” (Mrs. O’Neill was so pleased that, when the World reporter tried to reach her at the Lucerne, she was unavailable.)

Making a propitiatory gesture toward the O’Neill’s, Mrs. Jenkins said to the reporter, “My daughter told me that she had begged Eugene to be married by a priest, but he declined. But the child is to be baptized in the Catholic faith, as Kathleen feels it would be a sin not to do so.... He will be named Eugene Gladstone O’Neill, 2nd.”

James wanted no part of Eugene Gladstone O’Neill, 2nd, baptized or not. His reaction to the announcement was stony silence. His son’s reaction was no less stolid. Mrs. Jenkins and Kathleen, in fact, had no idea Eugene had returned to the United States. The same World story reported that “young ‘Gene,’ as he is familiarly known, does not know that he is a father, and will not know it for probably six weeks, as he is mining down in Honduras.”

It was this newspaper article that first told Eugene of his fatherhood. Entering a familiar Manhattan bar on May 6, he was greeted jocularly by the bartender and informed that drinks were on the house. Questioning this generosity, Eugene was given a broad wink, and presented with the copy of the World that carried the announcement of Eugene Jr.’s birth.

Mrs. Jenkins realized a few days later that in James O’Neill she had met her Waterloo, when her triumphant earlier announcement backfired. Under a two-column picture of Kathleen, looking pensive, the World, on May 10, ran the caption, “Mrs. O’Neill, Who Is a Mother, Does Not Know Husband Is in City.” The World reporter had found Eugene at 123 West Forty-seventh Street, not far from the Green Room Club, a social center for actors. According to a friend of Eugene’s at that address, said the World, the missing husband had been in residence there “for a week at least.” And at the Green Room Club an obliging clerk revealed that Eugene and his father had dined there on May 4. “Gene also had been seen at Broadway restaurants in the last few days,” the World added helpfully.

“The young mother is still in ignorance of her husband’s presence in this city,” the newspaper continued. “She believes him to be in a mine in Honduras, working to make a fortune for her and their inlant son. Since O’Neill’s return to New York he has not called upon his wile, according to her mother, Mrs. Kate C. Jenkins, at whose home Mrs. O’Neill is living. When Mrs. Jenkins was told yesterday that her son-in law was here, she at first refused to believe it. She was so shocked she could say nothing for several minutes. Then, with tears of mortification filling her eyes, she exclaimed:

“‘It seems impossible that Gene is in town and has remained away from his wife and their baby. There must be some mistake, but if there is not, Eugene’s attitude is inexcusable. He knows how we all feel toward him and that he could have come to this house to live any time since his marriage to my daughter. There would have been no “Mother-in-law” about it, either, and he knew that. I felt toward him as if he were my own. If he is living in New York without coming to see his wife and baby, I am pretty certain who is responsible for his behavior. No, I will not say now who that person is.’”

James O’Neill knew whom she had in mind. For the moment he had won his point; now he underlined it by whisking Eugene off with him as the hastily appointed assistant company manager of The White Sister. He intended to let the Jenkins family simmer for a while and did not want Eugene within their reach.

Eugene was upset but helpless, for he felt he had no choice but to submit to his father. A friend has recalled that Ella later told her that Eugene had wept when the full implication of his responsibility struck him, soon after the birth of Eugene Jr. There is evidence in his plays that he brooded for some time about the various alternatives possible in a situation such as his and Kathleen’s. In addition to Abortion, two other early plays, Servitude and Before Breakfast, deal with men who regarded themselves as having been trapped into marriage. And one of his last plays, A Touch of the Poet, introduces the same theme.

E agene’s first professional association with the theatre did nothing to alter his opinion that .American drama was chiefly claptrap. The White Sister was not much of an improvement over Monte Cristo insofar as its high-flown sentiments and improbable dialogue were concerned; it was representative of the mawkish melodramas that were still being complacently produced. Even such innovations as Paid in Full and The Fourth Estate, while dealing with realistic, contemporary subjects, were cloaked in melodramatic speech and contrived denouement. Edward Sheldon, possibly the most original and daring playwright to enter the field in the 1900’s, had contributed Salvation Mell in 1908, when he was only twenty- two, and fresh out of Professor George Pierce Baker’s playwriting course at Harvard.

The Only Law, by Wilson Mizner and Bronson Howard; Is Matrimony a Failure? by Leo Ditrichstein; The Melting Pot, by Israel Zang- will; The Passing of the Third Floor Back, by Jerome K. Jerome; and Springtime, by Booth Tarkington were among the shows which, with The White Sister, had launched the Broadway season of 1909–10.

Like most of the plays of the time, The White Sister had been tailored to the talents of a particular star—in this case Viola Allen, the tall, darkhaired actress who had sprung to prominence in controlled, romantic roles. The play was adapted by William Hackett and F. Marion Crawford from Crawford’s successful novel.

James was now sixty-three and had for the time being put the strenuous role of Edmond Dantes on the shelf. But other starring roles were not easy to come by and he had accepted the minor role of a bishop in The White Sister. He disappointed most of his out-of-town admirers by dropping his youthful, romantic hero characters to support Miss Allen. At least one feature writer went so far as to inquire “why Liebier and Company [producers of The White Sister] paid such a large salary to have James O’Neill in the cast, when the part could be played perhaps not quite so well, but satisfactorily just the same, by some actor at one quarter the allowance.” The writer answered his own question: “The reason is very plain. When the firm embarked in the theatrical business ... their chief asset was Mr. O’Neill in ‘Monte Cristo.’ He gave the firm an opportunity to book some good routes and helped somewhat to bring the firm into the prominent position which it holds today. There is a certain amount of sentiment attached to the engagement and with George C. Tyler the salary is of no consideration. It is merely having the services of a man highly esteemed who was once the firm’s mainstay.”

In spite of his critical attitude toward his father at that time, Eugene nevertheless thought it slighting that James was reduced to playing a supporting role in a trivial play. His resentment ripened in retrospect and in 1920, soon after his father’s death, he confided to George Tyler, with whom he was then associated in the production of one of his own plays, that his father “suffered as a retribution in his old age (for having confined himself so long to Monte Cristo) the humiliation of supporting such actor-yokels” as Viola Allen.

The White Sister was the story of a pure-spirited girl who, believing her soldier-lover dead, renounces the world to become a nun. Five years later the man returns, having escaped from captivity at the hands of his enemy, and tries to persuade her to give up her religious life and return to the world and him. She resists, and he shoots himself. Although New York received the play with tempered enthusiasm, out-oftown audiences loved it. Viola Allen reaped most of the glory, but the critics were kind to James and he still had his fans.

Women who had swooned over him as a young man remained devoted to him as an aging one. The once firm line of his jaw sagged a bit and there was more than a suggestion of a double chin; his hair was gray, his hairline was receding, and there were tired lines under his eyes that make-up could no longer hide, but the eyes themselves could still flash with fire.

“I am told that Mr. O’Neill is annoyed by women who gather at the stage door,” wrote a woman reporter who devoted half a newspaper column to James’s “rose-petal hands.”

Two seasons before appearing in The White Sister, James had revived Edwin Forrest’s old acting stand-by, Sheridan Knowles’s Virginius, which he considered a “poetic masterpiece” almost on “a level with the tragedies of Shakespeare.” At the end of the third act of Virginius, on opening night, he made a wry little speech that went over with the audience better than the play.

“I thank you,” he said, “for your generous appreciation. Though for the last thirty years I have occupied a somewhat conspicuous position on the stage, I have seldom visited New York. I am sure I don’t know why. I am no worse than other actors.

“Tonight’s greeting encourages me to say that I intend to be back among you every year of the few years that are still left to me, playing something of this sort, and when I depart for that bourn from which no traveler returns I trust you may be able to say of me: ‘Ah, well, he could do something else than act dear old Monte Cristo.’”

Taking their cue from James, who had by then been on the stage for forty three years, newspaper and magazine feature writers seized the opportunity to interview him exhaustively and sentimentally. Briefly James’s star shone once more in New York. But, despite the flurry of revived interest in him and his gallant curtain speech at Virginius, his faith in his own immortality was not justified. Less than a dozen years after his death people had not only forgotten he had ever played anything but Monte Cristo, they had all but forgotten him as anything but the father of Eugene O’Neill.

In 1910 most observers, James among them, thought Eugene would not amount to anything. But James was pleased to have his younger son’s company in The White Sister because Jamie, who had been with him during most of his recent tours, was making one of his rare excursions on his own. Jamie had appeared with his father in Virginius in the role James had once played in support of Forrest; he had drawn from one critic the comment that he “gave good promise.” It was eight years since his “promising” debut as Albert in Monte Cristo. Now, at thirty-two, Jamie was appearing in a James Forbes comedy, The Traveling Salesman, in the featured role of a salesman named Watts.

Eugene functioned less than brilliantly as an assistant company manager for The White Sister.

“A courtesy title,” he once explained. “I had to sit at the gallery door and sec that the local ticket taker didn’t let in any of his friends.” He added that once he and the ticket taker had become acquainted everything worked out “all right.”

Several people who have recalled his presence on the tour expressed doubt that he functioned at all. He seemed to have come along for the ride. zXccording to Theodore Lieblcr, Jr., son of the producer and an avid observer of his father’s theatrical activities, “it didn’t cost the company anything to have young O’Neill travel along.”

“In those days,” he said, “you could get a free baggage car on the railroad if you bought a block of twentv-five passenger tickets. Even with a company numbering around fifteen, it was the economical thing to do. The II hite Sister company was relatively small, so Eugene could travel in one of the paid-1 or, empty scats. I’m sure his father arranged to have him do something to justify his being there.”

Eugene’s reaction to his brief term of employment was disgust at having to wear a tuxedo on the nights he helped preside over the box office or hovered over the ticket takers. He soon found a way, however, to change both his environment and his costume.


In the late spring of 1910, when The White Sister was nearing the end of its run in Boston, Eugene abruptly yielded to a longing that had been growing for some time. Drawn to Boston’s Mystic wharf, as he had been drawn to the docks of New London, he lingered at the waterfront watching the clipper ships put out to sea, talking with the crews of newly arrived vessels, and thirsting for the romance that lay beyond the horizon. He decided he must go to sea.

Actually, it did not happen quite as fast as O’Neill, looking back, remembered it. Before “signing up” he consulted his father. James thought a sailor’s life might have a good effect on Eugene’s health and teach him responsibility. A sea voyage would also remove Eugene far from Kathleen and show her and her mother that the O’Neill’s did not consider the marriage binding. James intended to arrange a divorce when Eugene returned. He was pleased with Eugene’s plans. The barque’s captain was willing to take Eugene as a passenger for a small fee, provided he lend a hand with the less arduous work on the voyage. James agreed to stake his son.

“It happened quite naturally,” Eugene said later, “as a consequence of what was really inside of me—what I really wanted, I suppose. I struck up one day by the wharf in Boston with a bunch of sailors, mostly Norwegians and Swedes. I wanted to ship with somebody and they took me that afternoon to the captain. Signed up and the next thing we were off.”

The impulse that sent O’Neill to sea was more than a quest for adventure, more than an urge to be the kind of supertramp he admired in the novels of Jack London—although he did have a desire to model himself on London, who had shipped out at seventeen.

“I wanted to be a he-man; to knock ’em cold and eat ’em alive,” he once explained. But that was only part of it. Shipping out was an escape from circumstances that were suffocating him, into an atmosphere he sensed would set him free, the moment he felt the deck roll under his feet he realized he was, at last, in his natural element. For the first time in his life he felt he belonged.

The sea gave him a sense of religious ecstasy, which he tried for the next thirty years to put into words. He made a groping start during his first voyage. Sitting on the deck one day after he had stood his watch, he began writing a poem called “Free” (“Actually written on a deep-sea barque in the days of Real Romance,” he said years later):

Weary am I of the tumult, sick of the staring crowd,
Pining for wild sea places where the soul may think aloud.
Fled is the glamour of cities, dead as the ghost of a dream,
While I pine anew for the tint of blue on the breast of the old Gulf Stream.

I have had my dance with Folly, nor do I shirk the blame;
I have sipped the so-called Wine of Life and paid the price of shame;
But I know that I shall find surcease, the rest my spirit craves,
Where the rainbows play in the flying spray,
‘Mid the keen salt kiss of the waves.

Then it’s ho! for the plunging deck of a bark, the hoarse song of the crew,
With never a thought of those we left or what we are going to do;
Nor heed the old ship’s burning, but break the shackles of care
And at last be free, on the open sea, with the trade wind in our hair.

Eleven years after writing “Free,” he expressed similar sentiments with more originality and—though the form is prose—more genuine poetry:

“Oh, there was fine, beautiful ships them days,” says Paddy, the old Irish sailor, in one of O’Neill’s great, early plays, The Hairy Ape. “—clippers wid tall masts touching the sky.... We’d be sailing out, bound down round the Horn maybe. We’d be making sail in the dawn, with a fair breeze, singing a chanty song wid no care to it. And astern the land would be sinking low and dying out, but we’d give it no heed but a laugh, and never look behind. For the day that was, was enough, for we was free men ... Oh, to be scudding south again wid the power of the Trade Wind driving her on steady through the nights and the days! Full sail on her! ... Nights when the foam of the wake would be flaming wid fire, when the sky’d be blazing and winking wid stars. Or the full of the moon maybe. Then you’d see her driving through the gray night, her sails stretching aloft all silver and white, not a sound on the deck, the lot of us dreaming drcams.... ’Twas them days men belonged to ships, not now.’ It was them days a ship was part of the sea, and a man was part of a ship, and the sea joined all together and made it one.”

He never stopped thinking of his exaltation. As late as 1941 he caused Edmund, the sea struck young protagonist of Long Day’s Journey Into Night, to say:

“I lay on the bowsprit, facing astern, with the water foaming into spume under me, the masts with every sail white in the moonlight, towering high above me. I became drunk with the beauty and singing rhythm of it, and for a moment I lost myself—actually lost my life. I was set free! I dissolved in the sea, became white sails and flying spray, became beauty and rhythm, became moonlight and the ship and the high dim-starred sky! I belonged, without past or future, within peace and unity and a wild joy, within something greater than my own life, or the life of Man, to Life itself!”

The ship on which Eugene signed was a steel barque called the Charles Racine, one of the last of the square-riggers to compete with steamers at the end of the nineteenth century. She was not in a class with the slender clipper ships; she was, in the phrase Eugene quickly picked up from his shipmates, an “old hooker.” But she could drive fourteen knots under full sail and Eugene concluded that sailing was the only way to meet the sea. The Charles Racine became for him, in what was the most flattering description sailors had for a ship, “a home.” And the sea began to symbolize for him both a source of life and a final, ecstatic freedom from the burden of life. Many years later he dreamed of incorporating this poetic concept into an autobiographical play to be called Sea-Mother’s Son. For it was only in the vast womb of the sea that O’Neill felt serene.

Conrad’s The Nigger of the Narcissus was what sparked Eugene’s sea voyage. He had been reading it during The White Sister tour and it struck a responsive note at a crucial time. In The Nigger of the Narcissus Conrad wrote: “The true peace of God begins at any spot a thousand miles from the nearest land; and when Fie sends there the messengers of His might it is not in terrible wrath against crime, presumption and folly, but paternally, to chasten the simple hearts—ignorant hearts that know nothing of life and beat undisturbed by envy or greed.”

The true peace of God was what Eugene, the renegade Catholic, sought. Fie came as close to finding it among the simplehearted sailors of the Charles Racine’s crew as he ever could. (Later he discovered a basic difference between himself and Conrad. “I have a feeling when I read Conrad,” he explained, “that he himself is detached and safe in the wheelhouse of the vessel, looking down at his men on the deck and describing their activities. When I write about the sea, I want to be on the deck with the men.”)

“I look on a sailor man as my particular brother,” he said not long after his first voyage. And after he had written his sea plays, he declared in an interview with Mary B. Mullett in the American Magazine:

“I liked [sailors] better than I did men of my own kind. They were sincere, loyal, generous. You have heard people use the expression: ‘He would give away his shirt.’ I’ve known men who actually did give away their shirts. I’ve seen them give their own clothes to stowaways.

“I hated a life ruled by the conventions and traditions of society. Sailors lives, too, were ruled by conventions and traditions; but they were of a sort I liked and that had a meaning which appealed to me.” Another time he described the “simple people” he characterized in his sea plays as “direct in action and utterance.”

“They have not been steeped in the evasions and superficialities which come with social life and intercourse.” he later said. “Their real selves are exposed. They are crude but honest. They are not handicapped by inhibitions. In many ways they are inarticulate. They cannot write of their own problems. So they must often suffer in silence. I like to interpret for them—dramatize them—and thus bring their hardships into the light.... Life on the sea is ideal. The ship for a home, sailors for friends, the sea for surroundings ... I like the man of the sea. He is free of social hypocrisy.”

From childhood Eugene had been bedeviled by the meaningless talk of friends and acquaintances. He was rarely at ease with anyone. It was his agonizing shyness, rooted in egotism, that made him fearful of being misunderstood and unappreciated and that drove him into sullen withdrawals or bouts of drinking. Like Cornelius Melody, the haughty, embittered, self-pitying hero of A Touch of the Poet, Eugene enjoyed quoting the lines from Byron’s Childe Harold:

I have not loved the World, nor the World me;
I have not flattered its rank breath, nor bowed
To its idolatries a patient knee,
Nor coined my cheek to smiles,—nor cried aloud
In worship of an echo: in the crowd
They could not deem me one of such—I stood
Among them, but not of them.

But with the seamen of the Charles Racine, as with the prostitutes of the Haymarket and Bradley Street and, later, with the dockworkers and sailors of New York’s waterfront, Eugene could mingle happily. With them, there was no fear of being misunderstood or hurt; relationships were on an elementary level. They helped him achieve a sense of identification with humanity. They wore no masks and among them he needed no mask either. There was never any condescension on his part toward his less educated companions—whom he accepted on their own terms, as they did him. He inspired in them immediate respect and love.

Once, trying to cheer up a small-time speakeasy operator and petty gambler who was devoted to him, he said: “Don’t be low in the mind, Be like the sailors; no matter how bad things get, there’ll always be another ship; there’ll always be another woman.”

On the Charles Racine Eugene learned to live with men whose aims and aspirations were simple and simply stated: a berth on a good ship, a girl and a drink in port, and back again to the sea; no room for petty social ambition. The men were concerned first with the basic law of a windjammer at sea: One hand for yourself and one for the ship. No one begrudged the hand for the ship.

“Discipline on a sailing vessel was not a thing that was imposed on the crew by superior authority,” O’Neill told Miss Mullett, when asked how he had managed not only to put up with but to enjoy the restricted life of an ordinary seaman. “It was essentially voluntary, d he motive behind it was loyalty to the ship! Among seamen, at that time, this love of the ship was what really controlled them.

“Suppose, just as an example that one of the yards was loose, hanging by a thread, so to speak. Suppose a gale was blowing and the captain or the mate ordered two men to go aloft to secure this loose spar. This might be a dangerous proceeding. The men could refuse to do it. And they would be entirely within their rights, because if any complaint was made of them or any punishment imposed, they could go before their consul at the next port and justify their refusal to obey.

Now the motive of the captain, or of the mate, in giving the order, might be simply to save a spar which, if lost, would add an item of expense to the owners of the vessel. But the men who risked injury, or even death, by earning out the order, would be impelled solely by their lore of the ship. They wouldn’t care about saving the owners a few dollars, nor about saving the captain’s face. They would go simply because of their feeling that they owed the service to the ship itself.”

The Charles Racine had a crew of thirty five men. Built in Sunderland, England, in 1892, the ship was 200 feet long, with a 38 1/2-foot beam and a gross weight of a little over sixteen hundred tons. She was a tramp, whose home port was Stavanger, Norway. When Eugene signed on as an ordinary seaman—the Norwegian crew classified him as a gunman, just one notch above deck boy—she was bound for Buenos Aires with a cargo of lumber.

Eugene’s knowledge of the sea had come exclusively from books and the talk of seamen, but he considered himself a natural sailor. He had no trouble learning to climb the rigging of the fore-, main- and mizzenmasts, and to furl and reef the six types of sail carried by the barque. (His plays are filled with accurate and detailed descriptions of various types of vessels.)

He discovered the thrill of going aloft to the royal and gallant sails, 150 feet above the deck, with the mast sometimes swaying as much as 45 degrees and pitching at the same time. In addition, he learned to do less exciting work, such as holystoning, or scouring the deck on Sundays with a porous sandstone fitted with a stick. The stone was called the “Bible,” because it was about the size and weight of one; a smaller stone, held in the hand to penetrate into corners, was called the “Prayer Book.”

Eugene also took his turn sluicing down the rigging with a rag soaked in a mixture of tallow and white lead, to prevent the cables that supported the masts from rotting. And he learned to bring the teak railing to snowy whiteness by scouring it with wet canvas dipped in sand.

While the physical activity, the bracing sea air, and the lack of alcohol had a salutary effect on Eugene, the rations did not. The food was only a slight improvement over the fried monkey and tortillas of Honduras: pea soup and salt pork one day, salt pork and pea soup the next. It is true that at the beginning of the voyage the crew feasted on the pigs, chickens and ducks that were slaughtered en route. But these did not last long. On Sundays the men were treated to salt hash or Argentine canned beef and the weekday menu was occasionally varied by dry, salt fish, called stokfish, and usually supplemented by potatoes cooked in sea water.

Fresh water, even for drinking, was scarce; during a long, rainless period, the men were rationed to a pint a day. The water tank was in the hold, and bucketfuls had to be drawn with a suction pump; the ship’s carpenter kept the pump locked in his quarters. The caskets containing the ship’s provisions of meat were lashed to a rail abovedeck, where the captain could keep an eye on them. Every morning the cook would come up to cut off a piece of meat for the day’s dinner.

“Good morning, Captain,” he would say, as he approached the casket with his cleaver. If there was a fair wind, the captain would smile benevolently and allow the cook to cut as much meat as he wanted. If the weather was foul and the ship making little headway, the captain was likely to snap, “Cook, you’re taking too much. There’s enough in that piece to feed an army.” The cook learned to take this philosophically; he knew the captain was fuming over lost time and over the implacable opinion of the shipowners that “The wind is always on the side of a good sailor.”

If meat was scarce, hardtack, or sea biscuit, always abounded. Eugene learned to break open a biscuit with a marlin spike, shake the worms out of the air holes and soak it in what he later described as “something called coffee,” making it possible to chew.

Aboard the Charles Racine, Eugene picked up a love of sea chanties as enduring as his affection for the popular land music of the early 1900 s. Long after his vovage he was still singing (and slipping into his plays) the songs he heard at sea, such as “There Was a Maid from Amsterdam” and “No More I’ll Go A-Roving” (to which he knew all the ribald words), “Blow the Man Down” (which he wrote into The Moon of the Caribbees), “Whiskey Johnny” (sung in The Hairy Ape), and “Shenandoah” (which he put into Mourning Becomes Electra).

In 1920 he asked Olin Downes, who was later to become music critic of The Mew York Times: “Did you ever hear chanties sung on the sea? You never did? It’s not surprising. There are even fewer sailing vessels now than there were ten short years ago when I pulled out for the open. They don’t have to sing as they haul the ropes. They don’t humor a privileged devil who has a fine voice and hell inside of him, as he chants that wonderful stuff and they pull to the rhythm of the song and the waves. Ah, but I wish you might hear that and feel the roll of the ship, and I wish you might listen to an accordion going in the forecastle, through the soughing of winds and the wash of the sea.”

And to a friend, the writer Malcolm Cowley, O’Neill would sing “Blow the Man Down,” pausing to tell him that the slow rise and fall of the refrain, “Way-o, blow the man down,” was like the movement of a ship on an ocean swell, and illustrating his meaning with a wavelike gesture of his right hand.

Eugene spent hours listening to his sailor brothers spin their varns, many of which turned up later in his sea plays. One story that did not appear concerned the ingenious captain of a square rigger whose hand-operated, portable foghorn slid overboard during a storm. The captain hoisted a live pig aloft and tied a line to its tail; a tug on the line, so the story went, brought a squeal louder than the loudest foghorn.

In loul weather, when all hands were required to work not only through their own watch but in unrelieved stretches of as much as twelve or sixteen hours, the captain sometimes rewarded his crew with a custom called “splicing the main brace”—a ration of whiskey for all hands. In a ritual not unlike James O’Neill’s custom of doling out liquor to his sons, the captain would pour a ration of whiskey for each man as he filed by on the poop deck with a tin cup.

Eugene’s spare time activities were limited. He could read and write, which he did, or learn to make the intricate sailor’s knots that many members of the crew practiced, or patch his clothes. (Like the rest of the crew, Eugene dressed in overalls and knitted cotton shirts and often went barefoot; in tropical weather, he wore only trousers.) Or he could participate in Trunk Pleasure, an activity the Norwegians called Sjiste Faarndlse.

Every sailor had a trunk, wide at the bottom and narrow at the top, that he kept by his bunk in the forecastle. In heavy seas, when the forecastle was awash, the trunks would float. A sailor’s most precious possession, the trunk held his letters, photographs, and such souvenirs and gilts as he had collected from or for his family and girl friends. Inside the cover was usually painted a full-rigged ship. It was a point of honor to trust one’s fellow sailors and leave the trunk unlocked; if anyone did lock his trunk, it was resented as a terrible insult, and everyone would kick at it as he went by, until finally it opened.

O’Neill drew on his memory of this custom for the incident upon which an early one-act play, In the Zone, is based. In the play a seaman arouses the suspicions of his shipmates by concealing a locked metal box; it is wartime and they think he is a German spy. They force open the box and find it is full of old love letters.

Trunk Pleasure consisted of sitting around with the chest lids up, each man in turn picking out an item about which to describe a personal experience, real or imagined.

The Charles Racine was sixty-five days on the 5,900-mile voyage from Poston to Buenos Aires. All that time she was out of sight of land; during the 4 to 8 a.m. watch Eugene would climb the ratlines to the highest yardarms—called the top floor—and watch the dawn come up on the Atlantic. Wherever lie looked the sea met the sky in a wist circle, of which be and the ship wore the center. No experience in his later life ever equaled the exaltation of these hours aloft.

“Gene’s pride seemed to be in those years,” his widow said several years after his death in trxing to explain her husband’s exultant memories of his sailing days. “lie used to talk about his sea years and his flat down on the waterfront, where he slept on the floor.

“And I said to him once, half-jokingly, ‘I have dragged you about Europe. I have worked like anything to show you all the beautiful spots, and I have never heard you say once that you liked this or that or the other.’ ‘Well,’ he said, ‘I liked them, but they weren’t very exciting.’”

To Eugene it seemed exciting to be for the first time really on his own. Separated by six thousand miles of ocean from his father and his father’s dole, he tackled the problem of survival.

He arrived in South America with ten dollars, his wages for the 65-day voyage.

“I landed in Buenos Aires a gentleman, so called, and wound up a bum on the docks,” he later said, recalling his ten-month stay in South America. He never explained why he did not ship out again on the bark; possibly, as James Tyrone puts it in Long Day’s Journey Into Night, it was part of his “game of romance and adventure” to have “a bit of being homeless and penniless in a foreign land.”

His wages from the Charles Racine were gone in one night—spent at a notorious Buenos Aires waterfront saloon called the Sailor’s Opera. O’Neill once described it rather mildly:

“It sure was a madhouse. Pickled sailors, sure-thing race track touts, soused, boiled white shirt, declasse Englishmen, underlings in the diplomatic service, boys darting around tables leaving pink and yellow cards directing one to red plush paradises, and entangled in the racket was the melody of some ancient turkey trot banged out by a sober pianist.”

A few years earlier, he supplied the following description:

“Everyone present was expected to contribute something. If your voice cracked your head usually did, too. Some old sailor might get up and unroll a yarn, another might do a dance, or there would be a heated discussion between, say, Yankee and British sailors as to the respective prowess of their ships. And, if nothing else promised, ‘a bit of a harmless fight’ usually could be depended upon as the inevitable star feature to round out the evening’s entertainment.”

He confided the more lurid details to several intimate friends and one of them, an attorney, later recalled the occasion.

“O’Neill spent a couple of hours telling me about his sea experiences one day in 192.6, when he visited me for a day on a chartered boat. I’ve never heard more colorful or fouler stories in my life, including when I was in the Marine Corps during World War I. He spoke of the brothels of Buenos Aires and Liverpool and of resisting homosexual advances aboard ship, among other things.” A couple of hours of talk at one stretch was unusual for O’Neill, who generally talked haltingly—when he talked—but who was more often silent. And it was extraordinary to hear profanity from a man who by that time restricted himself to an occasional “damn” or “hell.”

“Someday,” O’Neill told the attorney, “I’m going to publish my experiences and distribute them privately among fifty friends.”

O’Neill did not carry out this scheme. However, he did reveal for publication his distilled impressions of the motion pictures of Barracas, a suburb of Buenos Aires, which he attended with his shipmates:

“Those pictures were mighty rough stuff. Nothing was left to the imagination. Every form of perversity was enacted and, of course, the sailors flocked to them.”

“But,” he added, “save for the usual exceptions, they were not vicious men. They were in the main honest, good-natured, unheroically courageous men trying to pass the time pleasantly.”

At the Sailor’s Opera Eugene met a young man who later turned up as Smitty in three of his sea plays. In Bound East for Cardiff Smitty is a minor character; in The Moon of the Caribbees, he is a sailor haunted by the memory of a shattered love affair; and in In the Zone he is the owner of the locked box.

The original Smitty was a handsome, twenty-five-year-old Englishman with a blond mustache. The younger son of a nobleman, he had had a traditional British education and been an officer in the British Army. He was, in O’Neill’s w’ords, “almost too beautiful ... very like Oscar Wilde’s description of Dorian Gray. Even his name was flowery.” But he began drinking too much and his fiancee dismissed him. Miserable and disgraced, he had come to Buenos Aires, ostensibly to make a new career for himself. Instead of taking advantage of the letters of introduction he had brought from powerful British personages to equally influential South Americans, Smitty decided to go on a protracted drunk.

“Between drinks, he’d drink to sober up,” recalled O’Neill, who had done his own best to drink Argentina dry.

Smitty had been in Buenos Aires ten months when Eugene arrived, and his money was running out. He and Eugene roomed together for a time, while the young Englishman tried to pull himself together and Eugene tried his hand at one job after another. Eirst came a stint with the Buenos Aires branch of a United States electrical appliance concern. Eugene presented himself as a draftsman to the firm’s American manager, but after he had looked blankly at a T square and triangle for a few hours he was obliged to admit that his claim had been somewhat exaggerated. The manager put Eugene to work tracing plans. Eugene bore with the monotony of this job for about six weeks, and then quit to spend what was left of his salary at the Sailor’s Opera.

Broke again, he took a job with Swift and Company, in the meatpacking center at La Plata. He was assigned to the warehouse where raw hides were sorted. He was beginning to think he would never get the stench of the hides out of his hair, let alone his clothes, when the warchouse burned down, saving him the trouble of quitting.

Approaching his twenty-second birthday, Eugene decided to try one more respectable job. He found it with the Singer Sewing Machine Company, back in Buenos Aires. The job lasted only until he discovered that he was expected to learn how to take apart and put together the dozens of different models Singer then had on the market.

For a while he went through the motions of reporting for work but was fired when the boss discovered he was less interested in bobbins and needles than in hanging about the waterfront.

A California engineer and surveyor named Frederick Hettman, who had recently arrived in Buenos Aires, befriended Eugene when he first landed. After being introduced in a hotel, Hettman discovered that Eugene was the son of his stave hero. “From that moment, we became friends,” said Hettman, and added:

“O’Neill didn’t busy himself too much with work. He lived modestly in a pension and several times he couldn’t pay his rent. Once, before leaving on a surveying trip to the interior, I decided to pay his rent in advance for several months so that he could live in peace. I then went to Cordoba and when I returned to Buenos Aires I didn’t find him there.”

Out of funds, and feeling he had exhausted the possibilities of working on land, Eugene had signed on a British tramp steamer carrying mules to Durban, South Africa.

Once again he found himself afloat on his birthday. The voyage was not pleasant. In later years Eugene could not even recall the name of the ship, possibly because he preferred not to. (ObNeill enjoyed telling friends about the time, after he had become an established playwright, when he ran into a man who had been on the cattle boat with him and who was then a bus driver for sightseeing tours through Chinatown, a career adopted by a number of old sailors.

“Hello, Jack,” O’Neill greeted his former shipmate. “What are you doing?”

“Oh, herding these rubbernecks around,” answered Jack. “What’s your racket now?”

“Nothing much,” said O’Neill. “I’m fooling around the theatre a little.”

“Yeah, I thought you’d turn out an actor like your old man sometime,” returned Jack. “You were a bum sailor.”)

Eugene did remember, though, that his hope of seeing a bit of Africa was quashed; he was not allowed off the ship because he lacked the $100 required to enter the country. Fie sailed back on the same ship to Argentina, which was less finicky about the financial status of its visitors, and from early December of 1910 to May of 1911 he not only gave up all pretense of working but did his best to hit bottom.

“In the months after his return, O’Neill’s health and good looks deteriorated,” Hettman later recalled, with considerable restraint.

The sentiments O’Neill later applied to his heroine, Nina Leeds, in Strange Interlude were at this point applicable to him. Like Nina, Eugene headed for the gutter for the security of knowing he had reached the depths and there was no farther to go. Or, in the words of yet another self-destructive O’Neill protagonist, Orin Mannon of Mourning Becomes Electra, he buried himself “so deep at the bottom of hell there is no lower you can sink and you rest there in peace!”

In later years O’Neill described those derelict months in Buenos Aires as the time he was “on the beach.” He recalled them with a certain amount of relish. There was an episode, for instance, involving a two-week job as a stevedore, loading a square-rigger called the Tia Mandra.

“That old bucko of a first mate was too tough,” O’Neill once said. “He was the kind that would drop a marlin spike on your skull from a yardarm.” He went back to beachcombing.

How far he descended is illustrated by something he told Hamilton Basso, who in 1948 was assigned to write O’Neill’s “Profile” for The New Y orker:

“I was then twenty-two years old and a real down-and-outcr—sleeping on park benches, hanging around waterfront dives, and absolutely alone. I knew a fellow who used to work on a railroad down there and who had given up his job. One day, he suggested that we hold up one of those places where foreign money is exchanged. Well, I have to admit I gave the matter serious consideration. I finally decided not to do it, but since you aren’t given to taking a very moral view of things when you arc sleeping on park benches and haven’t a dime to your name, I decided what I did because I felt that we were almost certain to be caught. A few nights later, the fellow who had propositioned me stuck the place up with somebody he’d got to take my place, and he was caught. He was sent to prison and, for all I know, he died there.”

In 1948 O’Neill could be detached. At that time when he was asked by the playwright Robert Sherwood to autograph a volume of O’Neill plays for a library in Argentina, O’Neill wrote a long inscription in which, according to Sherwood, “he expressed the doubt that there was a single park bench in Buenos Aires that had not, on occasion, served him as a bed.”

But in 1910 there was nothing very amusing about his situation. He didn’t have the money to pay for a bed in even the cheapest rooming house.

When he was not sleeping on park benches and trying to avoid the brutal plain-clothes police who patrolled the park and were known as the Vigilantes, he slept on the waterfront with other down-and-outers—sailors, mostly—in shacks made of sheets of galvanized metal, which he and his companions scavenged from discarded sections of storage sheds. He picked up a half-starved waif and installed her in one of these hovels as his mistress. He begged for food and for liquor—a cheap white rum called cachaza and a brew called cana.

He got food by following an old sailor custom. When he was hungry he made his way to any ship that happened to be in port; he lowered a greasy rope, at the end of which dangled an even greasier can, to the porthole of the ship’s galley. The bonds that existed among seamen inspired the ships’ cooks to feed their destitute brothers, many of whom were fellow members of the Industrial Workers of the World (Wobblies) who had been organized in 1905. Eugene was in sympathy with their aim to overthrow capitalism, although his own contribution to the cause consisted of echoing the patter he had heard in Benjamin Tucker’s bookstore. But he was a brother in appearance, and his tin can was always filled with food—the best the ship had to offer—which was often horrible enough.

Although Eugene was indistinguishable from his fellow outcasts and was convinced, at the time, that he belonged to their ranks spiritually as well as physically, some small inner voice urged him not only toward self-preservation but even toward creativity. He wrote at least one poem during that period; it was called “Ashes of Orchids.” Fie also began making notes of what he saw and heard; not long after he returned from sea he told a girl in New London that he had had an idea at the back of his mind that he might want to write some day and that it had occurred to him that shipping away was a means of getting material. While it was certainly not his principal motive, it turned out to be a vital factor in his writing.

“My real start as a dramatist was when I got out of an academy and among men on the sea,” O’Neill said in 1920, six years after he had drawn on those days to enrich the dialogue of Bound East for Cardiff, his first major one-act play—and the first serious contribution by an American to the field of sea drama.

“D’yuh remember the times we’ve had in Buenos Aires? The moving pictures in Barracas? Some class to them, d’vuh remember?” asks the dying sailor, Yank, in that play. “... And the days we used to sit on the park benches along the Paseo Colon with the Vigilantes lookin’ hard at us? And the songs at the Sailor’s Opera where the guy played ragtime—d’vuh remember them? ... And La Plata—phew, the stink of the hides! I always liked Argentine—all except that booze, cana. How drunk we used to git on that, remember?”

Bound East for Cardiff was the first of four O’Neill plays eventually collected under the title, S.S. Glencairn. While these are referred to as the sea plays and are an accurate and personal record of the two years O’Neill spent among sailors, it is an interesting fact that of the forty-five plays he authorized for publication or production no less than thirteen are set entirely or in part aboard ship, and in six more the sea figures as an integral part of the action. The variety of O’Neill’s sea settings during the period of his creative years illustrates his sustained preoccupation with the subject:

A steamer’s life raft, adrift in a tropic sea (Thirst, 1913)

A section of boat deck of the S.S. Empress (Warnings, 1914)

The life boat of a passenger steamer adrift off the Grand Banks of Newfoundland (Fog, 1914)

The forecastle of the S.S. Glencairn, on the North Atlantic (Bound East for Cardiff, 1914)

A section of the main deck of the Glencairn, at anchor off an island in the West Indies (The Moon of the Carihhees, 1916)

The seaman’s forecastle on the Glencairn, somewhere in the submarine zone (In the Zone, 1916)

The captain’s cabin on board the steam whaling ship Atlantic Queen in the Arctic Ocean (lie, 1916)

The main deck of Columbus’ flagship, on a calm sea off the West Indies (The Fountain, 1920)

The barge Simeon Winthrop at anchor in the harbor of Provincetown and at dock in Boston (Anna Christie, 1920)

The fireman’s forecastle, a section of the promenade deck, and the stokehold of an ocean liner on the Atlantic CThe Hairy Ape, 1921)

The poop deck of the royal junk of the Princess Kukachin, at anchor in the harbor of Hormiz, Persia (Marco Millions, 1923–1924)

The afterdeck of a cabin cruiser anchored in the Hudson Biver (Strange Interlude, 1926–1927)

The stern of a clipper ship moored at a wharf in Boston (Mourning Becomes Electra, 1929–1931)

And the six plays, written between 1916 and 1920, which deal with sailors or the influence of the sea, arc: The I ong Voyage Home, Where the Cross Is Made (later expanded into the full length play GohQ, Hie Rope, Diff’rent, and Beyond the Horizon.

Although O’Neill’s first sea plays—Thirst, Fog and Warnings,—were based on stories he heard from his shipmates, they were unsuccessful exercises in symbolism; he had his first real artistic success with the Glencairn plays, all drawn from firsthand knowledge.

The Glencairn was his fictional designation for the S.S. Ikalis, which O’Neill—finally responding to that small voice that urged him to live—- boarded in Buenos Aires for the voyage home.


In three of the four S.S. Glencairn plays o’.XeiLL has given an accurate picture of the British tramp Ikalis on which he spent the month of May, 1911. The fourth plan, I he Long Vornge Home, although using some of the same characters, is set in a London waterfront dive.)

The Ikalis had been built eleven years before in Glasgow, Scotland, for a British firm, the Levland Shipping Companv; she was one of a dozen tramps, including two sistc-r ships, owned by the company. Like the Charles Racine, the Ikali, had no fixed itinerary; she ran mainly between Atlantic and Indian Ocean ports, picking up cargoes as she found them, kier crew of about thirty, including -coal passers and firemen, was representative of the mixture to be found aboard the commercial steam vessels that had all but replaced the slower but far more beautiful barques. Many of the crewmen were deep-water sailors who had made the reluctant change from sail to steam when they found that desirable berths on windjammers y.ere becoming scarcer and scarcer. Most of the Ikalis crew were unmarried; men with family attachments wanted berths on ships with reg ilar runs.

Although the majority of the tailon were from Liver-pcwl. there was a sprinkling of other nationalities. The captain of a tramp could not be chooy about his crew. Living quarters stere cramped, the work was hard, the pay low and the food atrocious. The captain had to be siti-fied with a run.her of inexperienced men, or ‘sewner’ bums, who came along for the ride and usually lumped ship at the first port th it beckoned. In the dass before the maritime unions a sailors lite wt both freer of restrictions and more hazardous.

O’Neill had not yet qualified as an able-bodied seaman when he signed on the Ikalis, which carried six A.B.‘s and three ordinary women. Assigned mostly to scrubbing, painting and chipping during the voyage, he envied the A.B.’s their lighter work load and studied them to learn what he could about the chores aloft, the handling of lines and rigging and the art of boxing the compass.

In the Glencairn plays O’Neill used composite types based on the Ikalis crew.

“I have used the members of the same crew throughout [the cycle],” he wrote to a magazine editor in 1917 when submitting the one-acters, “because, judging from my own experience as a sailor, I thought I had ... picked out the typical mixed crew of the average British tramp steamer.”

Later, enlightening a friend, he described the Glencairn characters as “extreme types and simple types.” They were composites of men he had known on the Charles Racine, on the Buenos Aires waterfront, on the Ikalis itself, and a little later, in a New York waterfront saloon. After writing the Glencairn series, he went on to develop some of them further in The Hairy Ape, Anna Christie, Beyond the Horizon, and several other plays.

Five members of the “typical mixed crew” aboard the Glencairn, in addition to Smitty, are Yank, an American seaman, “dark-haired, hard- featured ... a rather good-looking rough”; Driscoll, “a powerfully built ... brawny Irishman with the battered features of a prize fighter”; Olson, “a stocky, middle-aged Swede with round, childish blue eyes”; Cocky, “a wizened runt of a man with a straggling gray mustache”; and Paddy, “a squat, ugly, Liverpool Irishman.”

O’Neill knew them all, in somewhat different guises. But only Cocky, Yank and Olson had actual prototypes aboard the Ikalis. Smitty, of course, was transplanted from Buenos Aires and projected into the Glencairn’s forecastle, and O’Neill was yet to meet the real Driscoll and Paddy.

The original Olson, who was the model for the shanghaied sailor in The Long Voyage Home, was a Norwegian A.B. on the Ikalis, who had followed the sea since boyhood. He had not been home once in twenty years and used to tell O’Neill and his other shipmates that the great sorrow and mistake of his life was that he had left the farm where he was born, to run away to sea.

“He was a bred-in-the-bone child of the sea if there ever was one,” O’Neill once recalled. “With his feet on the plunging deck he was planted like a natural growth in what was ‘good clean earth’ to him. If ever a man was in perfect harmony with his environment, a real part of it, this Norwegian was.

“Yet he cursed the sea and the life it had led him—affectionately. He loved to hold forth on what a fool he had been to leave the farm. There was the life for you, he used to tell the grumblers all in the forecastle. A man on his own farm was his own boss. He didn’t have to eat rotten grub and battle bedbugs and risk his life in storms on a rotten old ‘lime-juice’ tramp. He didn’t have to wait for the end of a long voyage for a payday and a good drunk.

“No, Sir, a man on his own farm could get drunk every Saturday night and stay drunk all day Sunday if he wanted to! (At this point the forecastle to a man became converted to agriculture.) Then, too, a man on a farm could get married and have kids.

Finally, the Norwegian, having got rid of his farm inhibition for the time being, would grin resignedly and take up his self-appointed burden of making a rope mat for some ‘gel’ in Barracas he had promised it to the next trip down.”

The voyage from Buenos Aires to New York took about a month. The Ikalis stopped at Trinidad to refuel and take on a load of cacao; it was this stop—with the ship anchored half a mile out from land in the shallow harbor that would not permit closer navigation to the island—which suggested the background of The Moon of the Carihhees, against which Smitty was superimposed.

O’Neill was not sorry to leave the Ikalis when she docked in New York early in June. With a couple of his shipmates he made for a waterfront rooming house and saloon on Fulton Street near West Street opposite the West Washington Market. He had about twenty-five dollars—his month’s pay from the Ikalis—and the first thing he and his thirsty shipmates did was head for the bar.

O’Neill had been gone about a year. As far as his family or anyone else might judge, he returned with nothing more to show than that with which he had left—a lack of purpose, no achievement, and an unquenchable thirst for liquor. Apparently he felt that James would not welcome him— or, perhaps, he really considered himself one with his brother sailors and wanderers and could not cut himself adrift from them. Whatever his reasons, he did not try to get in touch with his father for a month. As for Kathleen, he was content to wait until his father should issue instructions, and it never crossed his mind to see her or his son.

He paid $3 for a month’s rent at the Fulton Street rooming house known as Jimmy-the-Priest’s. He settled down among the sailors, stevedores, truckers, anarchists, Wobblies, prostitutes, telegraphers, printers, and assorted down-and-outers who inhabited the grisly, vermin infested three story establishment and whom, more than thirty years later, O’Neill recalled as the best friends he ever had. The rooming house was one of a dozen or more that flourished on the waterfront before the Seamen’s Institute was built in 1913, providing sailors with a decent place to go to.

The proprietor of Jimmy-the-Priest’s had earned his name because he looked much more like an ascetic than a saloonkeeper. In Anna Christie O’Neill called him Johnny-the-Priest and described him accurately:

“With his pale, thin, clean-shaven face, mild blue eyes and white hair, a cassock would seem more suited to him than the apron he wears. Neither his voice nor his general manner dispels this illusion which has made him a personage of the waterfront. They are soft and bland. But beneath all his mildness one senses the man behind the mask—cynical, callous, hard as nails.”

The saloon had a back room where anyone who could not afford the price of a bed could sleep with his head on the table; all he needed for this privilege was a nickel to buy a schooner of beer or a shot of bad whiskey.

“Gorky’s Night’s Lodging was an ice cream parlor in comparison,” O’Neill once said.

Jimmy did not allow fighting on his premises; anyone who wanted to settle an argument was obliged to step outside to a stretch of concrete known as “the Farm.” Howcvcr, Jimmy did not mind if his patrons enticed visiting farmers or other out-of towners into the bar, got them drunk and robbed them. O’Neill did not participate in this activity, but some of his friends did.

One of them, a broken-down telegrapher known as “the Lunger,” who eventually succumbed to tuberculosis at Jimmy’s and who occupied the thinly partitioned room next to O’Neill’s, tried to teach him the International Code. But his attempts generally took place late at night, when both were drunk, and the next day Eugene could never remember what he had learned. He did remember enough of the Lunger’s personality to dramatize him, as James Knapp—his affliction became dcalness, rather than consumption—in the one act play Wennings which was written three years later.

O’Neill’s room, which he entered as seldom as possible, was dusty, Unhcatcd, and lighted by one small kerosene lamp. It had a grimy window leading out to a rickety fire escape. Two narrow beds covered with threadbare spreads and inhabited by bugs took up most of the space. Three dollars was not enough to buy privacy even at Jimmy-thc Priest’s and Eugene had a succession of roommates.

By spending no money on food Eugene managed to stretch out his ship’s pay for several weeks. Roomers at Jimmy-the-Priest’s were entitled to a plate of free soup at noon every day, and O’Neill lived on that and five-cent whiskey. When he was not sleeping off a drunk, swapping stories in the bar or singing sea chanties, he toured the waterfront with his friends or loafed on a bench in Battery Park, which he regarded as one of the pleasantest areas of the city. From there he could watch the ships entering and leaving the harbor, follow the bustle of loading and unloading on the piers along West and South Streets, and observe the cavalcade of groaning trucks on the streets leading into the heart of Manhattan.

The New York waterfront, which has held the attention of countless poets, artists, novelists and essayists, did not fail to stir O’Neill; but at the time he observed its rich life less through the eyes of a writer than through the eyes of his companions, who were an integral part of it. As he sat warming himself in the park he was indistinguishable from the idling sailors and bums who spent their time on its benches.

Once again his female companions were mainly whores. One of them, Maude, who lived on West Forty-seventh Street, professed to be in love with him. From time to time she joined him in waterfront saloons.

O’Neill’s money was going. He had already paid $3 to keep his room through July, but he worried about what he would do in August. Rather than ship out again and be cut off from his liquor supply, he decided to try for a handout from his father and he wrote to James in New London. James, happy to learn that his son was back, sent him money, but stipulated that it was for train hire home. O’Neill promptly spent it on liquor. When he sobered up, he decided against asking his father for more.

At Jimmy the-Priest’s Eugene had become acquainted with a burly, redheaded Liverpool Irishman named Driscoll, a fireman who had sailed on tramps like the Ikalis and was about to sign on for another vovage. Liverpool Irish was, to sailors all over the world, a svnonvm for tough customer; the sons and grandsons of the original Irish settlers in Liverpool had traditionally followed the sea. According to O’Neill, Driscoll was “a giant of a man and absurdly strong.”

In July Driscoll signed for a berth on a passenger liner, the S.S. New York, bound from New York to Southampton and Cherbourg. Eugene went with him to Pier 61, where the bosun was picking his crew for the liner, applied, and was accepted as an able-bodied seaman at the salary of S27.50 per ocean crossing. Proud of his newly acquired rating, be carried his sea bag aboard the New York on July 22.

The S.S. New York was an American Line ship that had been built in Scotland the year of Eugene’s birth; like her new A.B., she was approaching her twenty-third year. A fast ship for her day—she could do twenty knots—the New York had seen service during the Spanish American War as an auxiliary cruiser called the LLS.S. Harvard. She had been remodeled after the war and given now boilers ;ind two new raked funnels to replace her three old ones. With her three masts, her clipper bows and her covered promenade deck, the New York (together with her sister ship, the Philadelphia’) was the first twin-screw, de luxe passenger liner between New York and Europe.

From a seaman’s point of view, however, the luxury liner was anything but luxurious. Once again, in spite of his elevated rating, O’Neill found himself holystoning during his four-hour watch. He also performed a chore called soogie-moogie, the scrubbing down of outside bulkheads with a piece of hammock cloth soaked in a> caustic solution that turned the fingernails black.

O’Neill once said that what he detested about this detail was being patronized by the “aristocratic” passengers strolling on deck. Another chore was helping to maintain the standing rigging. A.B.’s rarely took the wheel, but they took in the lines and made the ship fast at pier and occasionally Eugene stood a two-hour watch in the crow’s-nest. Being an A.B. aboard the New York was, in Eugene’s words, “an ugly, tedious job and no place for a man who wanted to call his soul his own.” He added that it was “hard work without any romance.”

“There was about as much sea glamour in working aboard a passenger steamship as there would have been in working in a summer hotel,” he said on another occasion. “I washed enough deck area to cover a good-sized town.” He grew sick of being an A.B. who wielded a mop as the chief implement of his seamanship.

Provisions for the crew were a little better than on the Ikalis, but the pay was not much higher and the patronizing by the passengers outweighed the more humane attitude of the ship’s officers.

The master of the New York was W. J. Roberts, nicknamed “Blackie” by the crew. He was a stout, kindhearted Southampton Englishman, who looked like an Italian. The Shipping Articles he signed before leaving New York included such stipulations as the prohibition of flogging and all other forms of corporal punishment by the master and his officers. Each member of the crew received a navy-blue jersey with “American Line” printed in white across the chest, wool caps and high-waisted blue pants; O’Neill and his fellow seamen wore these when leaving or entering port to make a good impression on the passengers, but during watches they dressed in old dungarees.

O’Neill received his meals in small pots with handles. In addition to his daily rations of lime or lemon juice with sugar, to prevent scurvy, he was entitled, among other items, to four quarts of water a day, one and a quarter pounds of salt beef on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday (the men called it “salt horse”), one pound of salt pork on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, one pound of fish (dry, preserved, or fresh) on Friday, and one pound of canned meat on Sunday.

On paper, the diet sounded fairly palatable, but when the food was not rotten it was so badly prepared that it was all but inedible. O’Neill, accustomed to worse fare, didn’t really care what he ate, but he companionably joined his shipmates in grumbling.

The seamen, who occupied the forecastle and slept in three-tiered steel bunks, were a tough lot, composed mainly of English, Irish and Swedes, with only a scattering of Americans. If a man had a toothbrush in his sea bag he was ridiculed for being a dude; if he came on board with a suitcase he was likely to be laughed off the ship. But, tough as they were, the coal passers and firemen of the stokehole were tougher.

Those men, a breed apart, who were as contemptuous of the sailors as the sailors were of them, seemed endowed with inhuman powers of endurance. One of them combed his hair with a scrubbing brush. Stripped to the waist in the suffocatingly hot and airless pit where the furnaces and boilers were located, the coal passers plunged their heavy shovels into bins piled high with coal, to replenish the mounds behind the firemen; the firemen thrust open the furnance doors with their shovels, flung the coal into the flaming mouths and slammed the doors shut.

They worked at a hideous pace to keep the furnaces supplied with the three hundred tons of coal the ship consumed every day. They groaned about sweating “blood for steam,” and this was almost literally true. Not infrequently an exhausted stoker would put his head in the coal chute as a load came down from above, so that he could be knocked out and laid up for a rest. Although this procedure might easily have killed an ordinary man, it didn’t seem to give the stokers more than a bad headache. They had hard skulls, toughened up by occasional coal-shovel fights. Often the result of such a battering was a permanent, bluish discoloration of the skin.

But even without this disfigurement, and away from the stokehole, firemen and coal passers were an unlovely sight. When Mildred, the jaded society girl in The Hairy Ape, is confronted by Yank, the fireman, in the stokehole of the ship that was modeled by O’Neill on the S.S. New York, she exclaims, “Oh, the filthy beast!” and faints.

This was not an exaggerated reaction. Even ashore, no amount of scrubbing could obliterate the embedded rings of black dust around the eyes and in the creases of skin of the stokers. In recognition of their super human labor, the stokers were doled out a cup of rum following each watch, after which they collapsed into instant sleep on their narrow bunks. Four hours later they were back in their inferno, breathing flame and dust end sweating blood.

Driscoll was such a stoker. “He thought a whole lot of himself, was a determined individualist,” O’Neill later said. “lie was very proud of his strength, his capacity for grueling work. It seemed to give him mental poise to be able to dominate the stokehole, do more work than any of his mates.”

O’Neill’s friendship with Driscoll at Jimmy-the-Priest’s caused the fireman to overlook the natural animosity of his calling toward the A.B. and enabled Eugene to get an intimate glimpse of the kind of man and environment he later interpreted in The Hairy Ape. In that play the fireman, Yank, is described as being “broader, fiercer, more truculent, more powerful, more sure of himself than the rest [of the crew].” Yank, despite the superficial alterations of name and nationality (he is an American), was modeled on Driscoll. Driscoll is also a character (name unaltered) in the Glencairn plays, and he is Lyons in O’Neill’s only published short story, “Tomorrow.”

A sort of offshoot, or mutation, of Driscoll also appears in the Glencairn plays in the person of Paddy, a squat, ugly Liverpool Irishman. Paddy, incidentally, turns up again—but this time transformed into an old, wizened Irishman—in The Hairy Ape and, with the same characteristics, in “Tomorrow.” In both the story and the play, Paddy is given to singing, “in a thin, nasal, doleful tone,” the old chanty, “Whiskey Johnny.” It is interesting also to note that in The Moon of the Caribbees, written four years before The Hairy Ape, a crew member says to Paddy: “You ain’t no bleedin’ beauty prize ... a ’airy ape, I calls yer.”

The first stop of the New York was the Irish port of Queenstown (later renamed Cobh) on the south shore of Great Island in Cork Harbor, seventy-five miles from James O’Neill’s birthplace in Kilkenny. Queenstown was the closest Eugene had come to the island he had talked and read about since childhood, and to which he felt something in him belonged; but the crew was not allowed ashore. He had to wait until the ship had discharged her passengers at Southampton, England, where she stayed only about five hours, deposited the rest of the passengers across the English Channel at Cherbourg, and returned to dock at the American Line’s home port at Liverpool, where she was to remain for a week.

Liverpool for O’Neill was sailor town, its vast docks not much different from the New York waterfront or that of Buenos Aires. There, as in New York, sailors were considered fair game. Just as in New York, the operators of Liverpool waterfront dives had working arrangements with thugs and streetwalkers to extend invitations, sometimes accompanied by a cheap bottle of free booze, to incoming sailors. A sailor who accepted the invitation was likely to find himself not only relieved of his month’s ac cumlated wages within a few days, but in debt to the boardinghouse proprietor.

Two methods were used—crimping and shanghaiing. The first of these practices involved a conscious, if somewhat muddled sailor; he was obliged to sign over his future pay to the boardinghouse operator before his gear was released to him. Shanghaiing consisted of putting a thoroughly drunk—or knocked out—sailor aboard an undermanned vessel, in return for payment from the ship’s master and whatever cash the sailor could be robbed of.

An American Line sailor named Starbuck Perry enjoyed telling O’Neill and his friends how he had been a victim of a kind of shanghai-in-reverse, when a tramp on which he had once completed a voyage in Buenos Aires put out again, before Perry had collected his wages. Perry, a huge, tough sailor who lived to be ninety, and who, in the words of another shipmate of O’Neill’s, “took nothing from no one,” had a permanently bashed-in head and wore an incongruous goatee. One of the most talkative and colorful men who ever put to sea, he greatly supplemented O’Neill’s fund of knowledge. He knew Jack London and was not too modest to admit that he had often held London spellbound by his tales.

It is probable that O’Neill modeled the setting of The Long Voyage Home—which deals with the shanghaiing of the sailor Olson and is set in “the bar of a low dive on the London waterfront—a squalid, dingy room dimly lighted by kerosene lamps”—on a notorious saloon in Liverpool. The proprietress of this dive, which had sawdust on the floor and was patronized largely by the toughest of the Liverpool-bred firemen, closed her eyes to the activities of a man called Shanghai Brown, who would have shipped his own father to China for two pounds and who kept her supplied with customers. Nick, the crimp, in The Long Voyage Home, could have been patterned on Shanghai Brown— “round shouldered, ... his face ... pasty, his mouth weak, his eyes shifty and cruel ... dressed in a shabby suit which must have once been cheaply flashy” and a man who pronounced Buenos Aires “Bewnezerry.”

A fellow A.B. named James Quigley joined O’Neill and Driscoll during their Liverpool leave. Quigley, who was still putting out to sea as a bosun forty-five years later, recalled how in Liverpool he and O’Neill used to flirt with the “Mary Ellens.” Aiming to make life pleasant for men in uniform, Mary Ellens were not hardened professionals, but amenable amateurs with a soft spot for sailormen. According to Quigley’s pithy recollection, “They were good girls, teady to say hello to any friendly sailor —and they wore no pants.”

Quigley and O’Neill made the acquaintance of a couple of Liverpool whores, in addition to the good girls.

“Gene was so handsome,” Quigley once said, “that he didn’t have to look for women. They’d come over to bis table and ask for the privilege of sitting down with him.” O’Neill was partial to a wide-hipped, languorous blonde, who wore a red rose in her bosom and drank bitters in her whiskey to keep her sober. He called her Cecilia, though that was not her real name.

One evening O’Neill confused and delighted Cecilia by fixing her with his dark eyes and murmuring:

“My heart has dreamed dreams I might never have known—a beautiful whore!”

A few minutes later, when Quigley bent down to pick up a dropped match, he couldn’t resist fondling Cecilia’s ankle under the table. She withdrew indignantly and returned to her dreamy contemplation of O’Neill. Grateful for her loyalty, O’Neill kept up a running joke about Quigley’s trying to steal his girl. He displayed his characteristic chivalry toward Cecilia. When another seaman said something slurring about her one night in a bar and included Quigley’s girl in the insult, O’Neill and Quigley started a free-for-all from which they both emerged with black eyes.

In return for O’Neill’s and Quigley’s loyalty the whores gave them needed money when their leaves ended. O’Neill told Quigley that no one but a whore would have been so generous.

O’Neill did not make the return trip on the New York, which was laid up for repairs. Instead he transferred to her sister ship, the Philadelphia, on August 19. Except for her master, Captain A. R. Mills, who weighed over two hundred pounds, drank close to a bottle of whiskey a day, and cultivated an enormous walrus mustache, the Philadelphia was just like the New York. The Philadelphia reached New York on August 26, 1911, and O’Neill collected his wages, less the amount he had spent in the canteen. This came to $14.84. He obtained his “mutual release” from the American line vessel and headed back to Jimmy-the Priest’s, where he recorded his mixed feelings about his trip in a poem he called “Ballad of the Seamy Side” (later published in a New London newspaper):

Where is the lure of the life you sing?
Let us consider the seamy side:
The fo’c’stle bunks and the bed bugs’ sting,
The food that no stomach could abide,
The crawling “salt horse” flung overside
And the biscuits hard as a cannon ball;
What fascination can such things hide?
“They’re part of the game and I loved it all.”

Think of the dives on the waterfront
And the drunken brutes in dungaree,
Of the low dance halls where the harpies hunt
And the maudlin seaman so carelessly
Squanders the wages of months at sea
And maybe is killed in a bar room brawl;
The spell of these things explain to me—
“They’re part of the game and I loved it all.”

Tell me the lure of “working mail”
With two hours sleep out of twenty four,
hefting bags huge as a cotton bale
Weighing a hundred pounds or more,
Till your back is bent and your shoulders sore
And you heed not the bosun’s profane call;
Such work, I should think, you must abhor!
“It’s part of the game and I loved it all.”

“I grant you the food is passing bad,
And the labor great, and the wages small,
that the ways of a sailor on shore are mad
But they’re part of the game and I loved it all.”

There is no doubt that he did love it and continued to love it all his life. He never shipped to sea again, but neither did he ever tire of recalling his sailor days. He kept his discharge certificate, listing him as “E. G. O’Neill, A.E.,” among his most cherished papers.


Jimmy-the-priest’s,like new london, attained a permanentsignificance for O’Neill. He used it in 1920 as the setting for the first act of Anna Christie and in 1939 as a background for The Iceman Cometh. In addition, much of the firsthand knowledge of whores, gamblers and waterfront characters he displayed in other plays came from the half dozen months he lived at Jimmy’s.

One of O’Neill’s roommates there during the period between October, 1911, and January, 1912, was a man named Chris Christopherson.

“He had sailed the sea until he was sick of the mention of it,” O’Neill recalled later. “But it was the only work he knew. At the time he was my roommate he was out of work, wouldn’t go to sea and spent the time guzzling whiskey and razzing the sea. In time, he got a coal barge to captain. One Christmas Eve he got terribly drunk and tottered away about two o’clock in the morning for his barge. The next morning he was found frozen on a cake of ice between the piles and the dock. In trying to board the barge he stumbled on the plank and fell over.” (Christopherson’s accident actually occurred in October. O’Neill’s sense of drama was sometimes superimposed on his recall of facts.)

Chris, his name unchanged, became Anna Christie’s father, and his obsessive hatred was immortalized by O’Neill in the phrase, “ole davil sea.”

Another of Eugene’s acquaintances at Jimmy’s was a drunken, exBritish Army officer who went by the name of Major Adams. In his sixties, the major spent much of his time reliving battles of the Boer War. Arbitrarily reduced in rank by O’Neill, the major later became “the captain” in The Iceman Cometh. In the play he is “as obviously English as Yorkshire pudding,” a man who, when drunk, strips to the waist to display the ragged scar of an old war wound on his left shoulder and clings to the pipe dream of returning one day to England, which he had left in disgrace after gambling and drinking with regiment money. The major himself died of drink not long after O’Neill met him.

O’Neill spent hours, sometimes days, sitting in Jimmy’s back room listening to the life stories, the maudlin drcams, the shattered hopes of his friends. He described the feeling of resignation at Jimmy’s when he had one of the characters in The Iceman Cometh remark, early in the play: “It’s the No Chance Saloon. It’s Bedrock Bar, The End of the Line Cafe, The Bottom of the Sea Rathskeller! Don’t you notice the beautiful calm in the atmosphere? That’s because it’s the last harbor. No one here has to worry about where they’re going next, because there is no farther they can go.”

The habitues of Jimmy’s, O’Neill once said, “were a hard lot, at first glance, every type—sailors on shore leave or stranded; longshoremen, waterfront riffraff, gangsters, down-and-outers, drifters from the ends of the earth.” O’Neill, just turned twenty-three, was younger than most of them but he “belonged.”

“I lived with them, got to know them,” he said. “In some queer way they carried on. I learned at Jimmy-the-Priest’s not to sit in judgment on people.”

His sense of security at the bottom of the sea was jolted one day when he heard that Driscoll, who to O’Neill represented the acme of belongingness, had committed suicide. Quigley had heard the story at sea and brought it back to O’Neill. Driscoll was sailing on a passenger liner when he jumped overboard; a passenger spotted him and shouted and Driscoll was pulled out. But two voyages later, passing through the enshrouding fog banks off Newfoundland, he plunged again. It was hours before his shipmates missed him.

O’Neill brooded a long time about the why of Driscoll’s suicide, for he had believed that Driscoll, of all people, “wasn’t the type who just gave up.” He concluded that Driscoll’s sense of belonging had been shaken. Later he supplied a dramatic reason in The Hairy Ape by showing Yank’s disintegration when his faith in the importance of his superhuman endurance in the stokehole was shattered.

While brooding about Driscoll, O’Neill still clung to the conviction that he was himself a spiritual brother to the gang at Jimmy-the-Priest’s and that he had no ambition to change his surroundings. He was like them in his preoccupation with getting and staying drunk and in his method of picking up drinking money when his cash ran out. With his dockworker or seafaring friends he sometimes ambled down to the waterfront and earned a few dollars carrying mail sacks on or off the ships. But a less strenuous method of securing liquor was to “lower the boom on the live ones,” which meant watching the incoming ships for sailors he knew and putting the touch on them.

Nevertheless, something in O’Neill prodded him to look outside from time to time. Although his excursions seldom amounted to anything more energetic than a hunt for small change, it is difficult to accept his own later affirmation that he considered himself at that time irrevocably a member of the End of the Line Cafe. It made a more romantic story to remember it that way—his subsequent redemption acquired a dramatic impact that delighted his Irish sense of extremes. But it is highly doubtful, for instance, that any other member of the brotherhood at Jimmy’s would have had the interest or the ambition to make several trips uptown to see the newly arrived Irish Players in their first New York appearance.

George Tyler had brought them over from Dublin’s Abbey Theatre. Headed by Sara Algood, Maire O’Neill, Cathleen Nesbitt, Arthur Sinclair and J. M. Kerrigan, the company opened its repertory at the Maxine Elliott Theatre on November 20, 1911. To theatre lovers, the program of plays by Yeats, Synge, Lady Gregory, and Lennox Robinson was an exciting event, but to the working-class Irish it was a threat and a challenge.

Tyler knew that the troupe had run into trouble in Dublin with The Playboy of the Western World, where the hero’s swaggering was taken seriously as an attack on the Irish character. But Tyler hoped things might go smoothly in New York despite rumblings in the Irish press. On opening night fifty plain-clothes policemen mingled with the audience, which, Tyler noticed, included “a suspicious number of square-jawed lads and colleens.” When the curtain was raised they threw vegetables and stink bombs at the actors. The police finally rushed them out of the theatre, and the performance was resumed.

‘Tunny business that was,” Tyler later wrote. “The play was written by an Irishman, the company was Irish, the rioters were Irish, the cops were Irish, and it was an Irish judge that fined them all for disorderly conduct.”

The Irish Players went through their announced repertory during the next few weeks, but they failed to draw large audiences.

O’Neill was among the minority that attended faithfully, using the entree provided by his father’s connections. He found himself particularly responsive to Synge’s one-act play, Riders to the Sea.

“It was seeing the Irish Players ... that gave me a glimpse of my opportunity,” he later told an interviewer, indicating that his state of mind at the time was not completely hopeless. “I went to see everything did. I thought then [in 1911] and I still think [in 1923] that they demonstrated the possibilities of naturalistic acting better than any other company.” Though he considered himself Irish to the core, he once remarked, apropos of the rioting, “The Irish can’t laugh at themselves.”

Shortly before Christmas O’Neill received a letter from a lawyer representing his wife, whom he had all but forgotten. The lawyer had learned of his whereabouts from James, who was touring the vaudeville circuit in a condensed version of Monte Cristo and had evidently decided to let Eugene take his own time to outgrow the derelict stage. Kathleen was seeking a divorce, the lawyer informed O’Neill when they met. The lawyer had already been in contact with James’s attorney and it had been agreed that Kathleen would support the child and would not ask for alimony. What the lawyer wanted from O’Neill was his co-operation in furnishing Kathleen with the grounds for a New York State divorce. The whole thing seemed shabby and ignoble to O’Neill and he felt sorrier for Kathleen than he did for himself. But he agreed to the lawyer’s proposal.

On December 29 O’Neill went to a brothel at 148 West Forty-fifth Street with three companions. He selected a girl and took her upstairs while one of his companions, an attorney named James Warren, a friend of Kathleen’s mother, waited. After two hours Warren went upstairs where, according to his later court testimony, he “saw this Eugene O’Neill and this woman in bed together; O’Neill at the time was undressed.” The woman also was “undressed,” according to Warren, who added that Eugene “left there with me about six o’clock in the morning.”

The grounds for divorce having been duly established, O’Neill, in disgi’st, proceeded to drink himself insensible.

A new year dawned but it held no symbol of hope for O’Neill. After a few more days spent in drinking at Jimmy’s he went uptown with a friend in search of escape. Finding a five-dollar bill, they decided to try their luck at a gambling den on Forty-fourth Street just east of Sixth Avenue.

Until a few years before, the place had been owned by Dick Canfield, under whose management it had become the most famous gambling house in the United States. Canfield had been forced out of business by District Attorney William Travers Jerome in 1904, partly as a result of public indignation over the reputed fleecing of a member of the Vanderbilt family, who reportedly lost $100,000 to Canfield in a single night’s play. Canfield’s house was reopened by others and was still actively in business in 1912. (Just a few blocks west of Canfield’s was the gambling establishment operated by Herman “Bcansy” Rosenthal, in partnership with police Lieutenant Charles Becker. An avid follower of underworld news, O’Neill later enjoyed recalling that he had gambled in a house a block away from where Beansy was murdered six months later.)

Eugene and his friend had a winning streak and within an hour they were $200 ahead. Since the gambling houses of the era served free champagne, Eugene and his friend were also by that time noisily drunk. They were thrown out but allowed to keep their cash. It was a cold night and the last thing Eugene remembered before he drew a blank was being in a Broadway saloon and thinking, “I wish I was south in New Orleans.”

This story, with the exception of the detail about his wish to be in New Orleans, was published in newspapers in various inaccurate versions after O’Neill had become a well-known dramatist. Most of the versions ended with O’Neill’s affirmation that he remembered nothing until several days later, when he awoke in the upper berth of a train pulling into New Orleans, and to his astonishment saw a poster announcing the imminent arrival of James O’Neill in Monte Cristo. This instance of father and son turning up almost at the same time in the same place after their long estrangement is invariably pointed out as “coincidence” and apparently O’Neill himself chose to regard it as such. As late as 1931 he wrote to a friend that his father had “happened” to play New Orleans while he himself was there “broke, on the tail end of a bust ... just as things were becoming desperate.”

But only a month or so before his arrival in Louisiana Eugene had been in touch with George Tyler, one of his father’s oldest friends. And it is clear that he was keeping an eye on the theatre in general and on his father’s whereabouts in particular. It seems more than likely that he longed to return to paternal authority, but since he had chosen to show his father he could exist on his own his capitulation had to appear coincidental.


O’Neill’s resubmission to his father was not effected without a conscious struggle, tie was still seething with the childish sense of rebellion James had always inspired in him.

When O’Neill arrived in New Orleans and “discovered” that his father would soon be there he apparently made an effort to get away. He went to the waterfront seeking a berth on a vessel bound for Nova Scotia or some other place that would include a stopoff at New York, where he could jump ship; he failed to find a berth and spent the rest of his small supply of cash in barrooms.

“I had seaman’s papers,” he later informed a friend, “but no ships seemed to be taking on anyone—at least not ships bound for New York where I wanted to return.”

When James arrived O’Neill looked him up and as he put it, “braced him for the fare north.” But James, for reasons best known to himself, decided the time had come to give Eugene another chance to become a wage earner. He offered his son a job acting with his company.

“It was a case of work or walk home,” O’Neill told his friend, adding, “I acted for the rest of the tour over the Orpheum Circuit.” He failed to note that he did not stay with the company quite to the end of its prematurely abandoned tour or that it was partly due to him that the tour was prematurely ended.

After greetings of mixed pleasure and dismay had been exchanged between Eugene and his parents and brother, James told his son that he was to assume a role in the play as an assistant jailer.

“You’ll go on with Charlie in Utah,” he told him, referring to Charles Webster, a nineteen-year-old actor who, in spite of his lack of professional experience—he had played in only one other production before joining James’s company—was doubling in the roles of Albert (Monte Cristo’s son) and chief jailer. Ogden, Utah, was the next stop alter New Orleans.

“But I’m not an actor,” Eugene protested feebly.

“Do what I say,” ordered James. “You’ll have only one line and Charlie will tell you what to do.”

On the train to Ogden Eugene worried about his acting debut, although his role consisted of only two words.

On the first night in Ogden young Webster helped the miserable, sweating Eugene into his trappings, which included a bulky black coat with an attached cape and a flowing mustache that was nostrils with wires. Eugene stumbled on stage with Webster in the scene in which the Abbe Faria dies in his cell. Webster went through his business of unlocking the cell door with a monstrous bunch of keys, letting the light from his lantern fall on the body of the abbe, kneeling down and putting his ear to the abbe’s chest, and then fixing a dark look on his assistant. That was Eugene’s cue. His line was:

“Is he ... ?” To which Webster replied, “Yes, he’s dead.” Eugene’s nervousness had communicated itself, and Webster found himself delivering the news of the abbe’s demise in an overwrought falsetto. The blackout which followed this exchange, instead of being fraught with audience tension, was filled with derisive laughter. Eugene and Webster exchanged stunned looks in the semidarkness and bolted for the wings. As they fled, they could hear James’s bewildered voice: “What happened? What happened? I’ll kill those boys.”

Webster and Eugene climbed up into the flies and hid until James, still calling out, “Where are they? I’ll kill them,” was obliged to take his place on stage for the next scene. When Eugene finally had to face his father he tried to laugh off his discomfiture by commenting wryly, “A chip off the old block, eh?” Whereupon James returned, “Say, rather, a slice off the old ham.” But when some reporters, having heard that James O’Neill’s younger son was making his debut with the company, came backstage after the performance, they found James smiling and unruffled. One of the reporters, having been introduced to Eugene, remarked, “He’s a very handsome boy, Mr. O’Neill; he takes after his father.” James replied, with just the right note of paternal pride, “He’s much better looking than I ever was.”

Eugene was not his father’s equal in gallantry. Years later he remarked of the tour:

“That cut-down version was wonderful. Characters came on that didn’t seem to belong there and did things that made no sense and said things that sounded insane. The old man had been playing Cristo so long he had almost forgotten it, so he ad-libbed and improvised and never gave anybody a cue. You knew when your turn came when he stopped talking.”

It is true that the vaudeville version of Monte Cristo, condensed from four acts to four scenes and reduced to about forty-five minutes’ playing time, was a horribly botched affair. But it is doubtful that Eugene would have been any more sympathetic or co-operative if it had been a respectable production. By his own gleeful admission, he preserved his honor ‘ by never drawing a sober breath until the tour had terminated.” He wrote to one friend many years later that “the alcoholic content was as high as the acting was low, ’ adding that he was graduated from the Orpheum Circuit with the degree of “Lousy Cum Laude.” He further assured his friend that if the tour had lasted just a little longer he would also have won his “D.T.” His only regret, he continued, was that he was unable to warn the audience in advance about his performance so they could all get drunk before witnessing it.

“Although I was only on the stage for minutes at a time,” he said, “I imagine there are still people in this country who awake screaming in the night at the memory of it.” On another occasion he remarked that the “general frightfulness” of the production reached “a high spot in the lousiness of my acting,” adding, “I couldn’t have been worse if I’d been playing Hamlet.”

James himself was less than satisfied with the production. Although he never showed it to his colleagues, he was humiliated at having to return at the age of sixty-two to the unbecomingly youthful, and uncomfortably athletic Edmond Dantes, and as the second (if featured) half of a vaudeville bill. The tabloid Monte Cristo was presented twice a day— after a trained horse act and a group of flying acrobats.

Not that vaudeville wasn’t considered an eminently respectable, if slightly lowbrow medium. Movies were still in their silent infancy and many stars, in order to keep active and earn good money between legitimate stage appearances, took to the vaudeville circuit in one-act plays or condensed versions of longer plays. Even Sarah Bernhardt made a vaudeville tour, stipulating she would not appear with animal acts or blackface comedians. But Sarah played the more powerful and more lucrative Keith Circuit, whose Palace Theatre in New York was the Olympus of vaudeville. The smaller Orpheum chain, which radiated out of Chicago and San Francisco, exerted its influence mainly in the West.

James, however, did not take Monte Christo to vaudeville as a novelty or even for the large salary—-the whole company received only $1,250 a week, as compared with Bernhardt’s $7,000. He did it because he seemed unable to draw audiences playing anything else, and because the time had finally come, after twenty-eight years, when legitimate theatre audiences had tired of his old melodrama. And though James was now a relatively rich man, he wanted to earn more. Fear of the poorhousc had become an obsession.

James’s desperation was understandable: his wife needed constant medical care and protection and he was the sole support of the thirty-five- year-old Jamie, who would have been blacklisted by every manager in the country long since if he had had to rely on his own ability. In addition, he knew that Eugene, despite recent efforts to be independent, would continue to turn up with new financial demands; James could not bring himself to abandon him, even though at times he was tempted to do so. And so James continued to squeeze more life from Monte Cristo, at the same time feeling misunderstood and unappreciated by the three people for whom he was so pathetically laboring.

James had played Monte Cristo five thousand times and even the indignant critics and journalists had given up chiding him. The more perceptive were aware of his tragedy and wrote of him sympathetically.

One such article was written in 1908 for the Chicago Record Herald by a clever reporter named Richard H. Little. Chicago had been welcoming, encouraging and analyzing James for over thirty-five years. At this point he was back at McVicker’s, where he had first played in 1872; he was giving Monte Cristo in repertory with Virginius.

“Haunted by the Ghost of Monte Cristo,” read the caption over the story, in two-inch-high letters.

“James O’Neill has been the Count of Monte Cristo 5,678 times,” Mr. Little began. “I went over to McVicker’s last week to ask him why, and fell among press agents.

“I first asked the man in the box office why James O’Neill had played Monte Cristo 5,678 times.”

“How the ’ell do I know? Stand back, I’m checking the line,” was the answer.

“Then appeared on the scene,” Mr. Little went on, “one J. Findlater- Byth.” He was James’s press agent and when asked the same question he looked pleased and invited the reporter to join him in a drink. After this reinforcement Findlater-Byth, looking even more pleased, disappeared to return a few mintcs later with James’s general manager and his general representative. Hopefully Mr. Little again voiced his question. But J. Findlater-Byth suggested that “before proceeding to the discussion of the main question, all hands be piped forward to splice the main brace.” The main brace was duly spliced. Mr. Little then waited patiently while the press agent, the general manager and the general representative discussed J. Findlater-Byth’s activities as a Reuter’s correspondent during the Boer War. (He later lent part of his personality to The Iceman Cometh.)

Mr. Little put his question again more elaborately and after a while it occurred to all concerned that they should repair to the “governor” himself for an answer. They went backstage.

“I don’t know,” said the manager, “whether it is because he has played Monte Cristo so many times—next week, you know, will be the twenty-fifth anniversary of his appearance as Edmond Dantes—or whether it is because he so identifies himself with the part that has caused the public to clamor for it when, if he had his way, he would long ago have put it on the shelf.

“But when he is Edmond Dantes on the stage he is Edmond Dantes back in the wings until we shake him and bring him back to himself. I always make it a point to be back of stage myself or have somone else here ready to seize him when he comes off the stage in Monte Cristo and take him back to his dressing room. Otherwise he would blunder around here for I don’t know how long before he got himself out of the part.”

At last Mr. Little confronted James in his dressing room.

“Why have you played Monte Cristo 5,678 times?” he asked.

“Why?” mused James, looking dejected. “Well, because I cannot get rid of the cursed thing.”

“Oh, you love your art, governor,” hastily interposed J. Findlater-Byth. “And the artistic possibilities of Monte Cristo are so great that you feel it would be an imposition on the public to put aside a play that so appealed to the emotions and has such a great influence on so many.”

“Do I, Jimmy?” asked the governor. “Thanks. But I would like to bury Edmond Dantes so deep that he would never come to life again. Edmond Dantes is the old man of the sea around my neck. I have carried him twenty-five years but he won’t let go. I can’t break his hold.

“I want to play Virginius and Julius Caesar ... But I can’t shake this Nemesis, this nightmare, this spectral shape of Monte Cristo. It haunts me and I can’t escape it.”

“You’re sick, governor,” said J. Findlater-Byth.

“No,” said James, “I’m not sick. I was never sick in my life.... Every year I start out with the fixed determination that I am done with Edmond Dantes forever, and before I know it he has me by the throat and I am climbing the rock once more and shouting: ‘Mine the treasure of Monte Cristo; the world is mine.’

“No, when I play Monte Cristo they pack the house. When I play Virginius—well, they give me good audiences, but they don’t take me as I want them to take me.”

James left to go on stage and J. Findlater-Byth called Mr. Little’s attention to the fact that it was thirteen minutes past ten, and that it was his invariable custom at thirteen minutes past ten to take a gentle stimulant. After J. Findlater-Byth had had his stimulant, he took Mr. Little back to the box office where, J. Findlater-Byth thought, Mr. Little might find an even better answer to his question.

At the box office Mr. Little observed the large number of people buying tickets who belonged to the older ranks of playgoers; he stopped one of them and got as articulate an answer to his question as any reporter could have hoped for:

“I don’t exactly know,” began the ticket buyer. “I suppose it’s a habit with me. I saw O’Neill play Monte Cristo twenty-five years ago. I’ve seen him since whenever it was possible. I suppose I’ve seen that piece forty or fifty times, and I never get tired of it. I suppose it belongs to the old days, but if they only put plays over nowadays that gripped me like Monte Cristo does I’d be for them, but they don’t.

“Say, honest, in all this riot over musical comedy and broilers and show girls and vaudeville that they have nowadays do they give you anything that makes the chills shoot up and down your spine like Monte Cristo?

“Say, when O’Neill climbs up there out of the sea with the salt water dripping off his clothes and waves his knife and yells, ‘The world is mine,’ I want to stand up on a chair and holler.

“I don’t suppose it affects young people that way. They’re spoiled by the class of plays they see nowadays. I took my granddaughter to see O’Neill down in New York a short time ago and she was much disappointed because he only said ‘The world is mine.’ She wanted to know why he didn’t stay up there on the rock and sing it.

“I told her that it wasn’t a song, that it was a line in the piece. ‘Oh, no, Grandpa,’ she said, ‘it’s a song, “Love me and the world is mine.’”

“Well, maybe it is, but I would just as lief that O’Neill didn’t sing it.

“Monte Cristo is human. I don’t care how impossible they say it is. At least it always seems to make a direct appeal to me and I hope O’Neill goes on playing it for another twenty-five years. He may think that Shakespeare is greater, but what is greater than to feel that you have touched the heart, whether you do it in a classic or in a melodrama? I’ve bought seats for three nights next week and I’m only sorry I can’t come every night.”

Mr. Little was impressed. He went backstage to say good-by to James and found him still musing over the question.

“I am as much a prisoner of the Chateau d’lf as Edmond Dantes ever was,” said James. “The other day I saw in a Sunday illustrated paper a picture of a California redwood tree with the various events of the world’s history pictured around in the order they had occurred since the tree began to grow. When it was a little shoot, just appearing above the ground, Christ was born in Bethlehem. And so pictured out at various heights of the tree are drawings symbolic of the great episodes of the world. And, while these things were happening, away out in the California forests this redwood tree was growing.

“Do you know, I feel like that redwood tree. Twenty-five years, the time I have been playing Monte Cristo, is not long, and yet when I think back over that period I feel older than the California redwood.

“In that time I have seen great actors spring from obscurity to fame, flourish and die. I have seen careers built up and torn down. Children have been born and grown into men and women. Little towns where I once played one-night stands, or passed by entirely, have become flourishing cities. Inventions never thought of when I began playing Edmond Dantes have revolutionized everything.

“And all this time I have been climbing up on a rock, waving a knife, and announcing that the world was mine.

“Do you wonder I want to escape from it all? I want them to remember me as Virginius, but they won’t. I suppose that I will be Edmond Dantes throughout the play and down to the final curtain.”

The final curtain for Edmond Dantes was not far off when James, in October, 1911, began to tour the tabloid version of Monte Cristo. When he brought it to Cincinnati near the start of the vaudeville tour, although he and the production were hailed as “most welcome,” it was noted sadly that “James O’Neill has passed the meridian of the physical; his hairs are whitened, if his brow is unwrinkled, and there is scarcely that elasticity of tread that marked his graceful posings when he was the foremost romantic actor of our stage.” Cincinnati, of course, was bound to evoke memories of the past for James, and he confided to a local reporter:

“I suppose when a man gets to my age he begins looking backward. You see, I am over sixty.” (Actually, he had just turned sixty-five).

“I am not so inclined to look backward in other places,” said James, “but when I stand before the old National I am carried to the beginning; getting back to the present my life passes in review. I suppose I stood down there an hour. I was wondering where, had I not gone on the stage, I would be now; whether I would have been more, or less, successful; whether I would be here at all; whether I would be more or less happy. You can’t help such thoughts, you know, at this time of life.”

That was about as much of his personal attitude as he could bring himself to reveal; and even that, with its expression of doubt as to his happiness and success, was more than he usually committed himself to for the record. James’s sense of failure and his intimations of mortality were heightened as the tour proceeded. In Chicago and Memphis, where he played in January, 1912, and soon after, in New Orleans, his reception was gentle and loyal—but it was a reception accorded to a relic of the past and James felt this keenly.

Jamie stood ready to trample on his father’s wounded feelings. When Jamie was lectured by his father for going to a bar between shows without taking off his costume and make-up, Jamie retaliated: “Why worry about it? You’re what I’ll be twenty years from now.”

Jamie was no longer playing Edmond Dantes’ son. He looked too dissolute for the role. He was playing a character called Nortier and had given up any pretense of performing. He had all he could do not to fall down on the stage; on one occasion, in fact, when he was on stage with his brother during a particularly emotional speech of James’s, he did fall down and pulled Eugene down with him.

Eugene was not, like Jamie, deliberately bent on torturing his father; his attitude was that if James was going to “sandbag” him, as he put it, into playing with the company, then his father would have to put up with the result—which was one long drunken frolic. Some of Eugene’s antics were merely embarrassing to James personally, but others struck at his professional pride and even threatened his career. For Eugene, like Jamie, was never sober when he arrived at the theatre; James watched him warily every night.

Eugene occasionally doubled in the part of a silent messenger. James never knew if Eugene would come on stage with the “prop” message he was required to deliver or if he would search his costume for the paper and finally hand his father empty air, causing snickers in the audience. Even worse, Eugene was sometimes drunk enough to stagger on stage, confront one of the other characters (or even James himself) and say, “So there you are, Tim Sullivan!” (Tim Sullivan was the New London policeman of whom James was fond, but not fond enough to have his name introduced into the dialogue of Monte Cristo.)

Jamie’s mischief was more malicious. One time he launched a campaign to get young Webster to give an embarrassing reading of one of his lines. The line, spoken by Albert to Monte Cristo, who in the play is about to allow himself to be sacrificed in a duel with his son, was: “Count, I harshly challenged you last night but I thought it my duty to repress calumny.” Night after night Jamie would station himself next to Webster as he awaited his cue in the wings and mutter in his ear, “I thought it my duty to repress calomel” (a purgative). One night Webster did slip just as Jamie had intended. The audience was delighted; James was mortified. Later that night, when Jamie and a companion were threading their way through the dark alley that led from the theatre to the street, someone threw a bucketful of water down on Jamie from a dressing-room window. Jamie never found out who threw the water, but he always suspected Webster.

James tried for a time to set his sons an example of moderation. After the evening performance, he took them to a bar, bought them one drink apiece, and then said good night pointedly and went to his hotel. Eugene, recalling this ritual, told an Irish Catholic friend that it was like going to daily Mass. But as the boys knew that James was going home to a bottle of good liquor, the routine had little effect on them; the free drink was just a start for the night’s celebrating.

By the time the company reached Denver in February Jamie and Eugene’s escapades were getting wilder and more resourceful. One Saturday night Jamie sent Eugene to a local madam who esteemed Jamie highly. Eugene arrived and found the madam awaiting him with six of her most attractive girls. But Eugene had an impulse to outdo Jamie and told the madam that size was the girl of his choice. She was so flattered that she sent the girls off, shut the house, and spent the weekend in cozy, alcoholic privacy with Eugene. Eugene staggered away at dawn the following Monday. When he entered his hotel lobby the desk clerk gave him a contemptuous look, which seemed to he concentrated on his legs. Eugene followed the direction of the clerk’s gaze and saw that several inches of flaming red satin hung beneath the hc-m of his overcoat; he had put on the madam’s kimono and forgotten to return it before leaving. For the rest of the day he and Jamie made his triumphant siege of the bordello an excuse for celebrating and by evening, when they turned up at the theatre, not e; en the stoical James could persuade himself that they could get through a performance. He had to cancel a show because of his sons’ drunkenness and it ’.’.as probably the blackest day of his professional life.

James, not only humiliated by his sons’ efforts to disgrace him, was crestfallen at the lack of excitement his production engendered in towns where he was used to being met with ovations. Added to his burden was Ella’s behavior. She had bec-n traveling y ith him and had been in a trancelike state for several weeks. Although no one in his company, incredible as it seems, suspected Ella of taking narcotics, they were uneasy about her. They thought she was an invalid suffering from arthritis.

James, between his sons’ chinking and his wife’s morphine stupor, was at the end of his rope. Afraid to leave- Ella alone in their hotel room, he often brought her to the theatre with him, where she sat in his dressing room during the performance. She igno-ed her sons and seemed oblivious to her surroundings—except in one instance. Obeving a strange impulse, she would sometimes leave the diessing room and stand in the wings during the ballroom scene. This was one of the emotionally charged highlights of the play. It is during this scene that Monte Cristo discovers that Albert, whom he believes to be the son of one of his enemies, Fernand, is really his own son. This is the high-voltage dialogue that unravels the facts:

Monte Cristo: (who has forced Albert to his knees): Fernand, I hold thy heart in my hand.

Mercedes (the boy’s mother, who had been married to Monte Cristo before his imprisonment and presumed death, and who later married Fernand): What will you do?

Monte Cristo: I will kill him.

Mercedes: You dare not!

Monte Cristo: Why not?

Mercedes: Because—he is your son!

Monte Cristo: My—!

At the point where James forced Webster to his knees, Ella shuddered and began moving like a sleepwalker toward the stage. James was supposed to be glaring down into Webster’s face, but if he lifted his eyes an inch or two he could see over Webster’s head, into the wings. His startled look always told Webster that Ella was there again.

James was afraid that Ella might reach the stage one day, but someone always tapped her and brought her out of whatever reverie it was that this scene inspired in her.

James showed the effect of his personal and professional harassment, first, by sudden and unusual irascibility toward some members of his company and, second, by giving up one scene that involved an elaborate change of costume and make-up and which he found he no longer had the strength for. He foisted his part in the scene on young Webster, and then proceeded to question Webster’s ability to act it. It was uncharacteristic of James to shirk a job and even more unlike him to taunt an inexperienced actor who was trying his best to juggle three roles. The part James unloaded on Webster was that of Monte Cristo disguised as a Jewish peddler.

Webster had a bad time with the Jewish dialect. Supposedly stumbling in from a storm drenched, he had to say “Vot vedder, vot vedder,” and several other lines in a similar vein. James nagged him about his accent. He would call Webster to his dressing room and say the lines for him over and over.

In frustration—probably James was thinking that the unskilled accent would be attributed to him—he told Webster, “Go to the pawnshops and talk to the Jewish people and learn their accent and mannerisms.”

Eugene undertook to defend Webster.

“He’s doing fine. I don’t know how he does it,” he would tell James.

“Of course,” Webster admitted, “what Gene admired was the fact that I could memorize and play three roles; he had trouble getting his one line down pat.”

James relented, however, toward the end of their stay in Denver. Webster, whose voice was affected by the altitude, played his various roles one night almost gasping for breath.

“Very good tone color, tonight, my boy,” said James, “very good tone color.” That night he was feeling expansive over a minor victory he had just won from his sons.

“Boys,” he had told them the day before, “I’ve been invited to dinner at Elitch’s Gardens and I’m to bring you along. For God’s sake, stay sober.”

Naturally, they did nothing of the kind. Shortly after their arrival they took out a bottle and had nearly emptied it by the time dinner was announced. James observed their condition and as they sat down opposite him at the crowded table he pinned them with a look of such stern command that neither of them uttered a word throughout the meal. Although his triumph amounted to a demonstration that his sons were taciturn, rather than drunken, he had won. It was a small victory, though, in the face of the big defeat that followed.

On February 14 Variety, the Bible of the entertainment world, carried the following item, datelined Denver:

“After next week James O’Neill will end his Orpheum Circuit tour.... The production and star have been favorably received, but Mr. O’Neill’s support brought adverse comment all along the line and the voluntary cancellation has followed. The sketch had still about eighteen weeks of Orpheum time contracted for.”

Eugene had the grace to feel ashamed. Before the final week was played out he deserted the company. He soaked up all the alcohol he could absorb and somehow made his way back to New York—and Jimmy- the-Priest’s.


During the next three months, whenever Eugene was sober—even momentarily, because of lack of funds—things looked so black to him that he would have drunk anything, even varnish diluted with water, to make him forget he was alive. Since he did on one occasion actually try varnish-and-water and went on to sample camphor- flavored wood alcohol, it is astonishing that he didn’t succeed in killing himself in the early spring of 1912.

If he needed excuses for drinking at that time, he had them. Pangs of conscience were part of his trouble. (In Long Day’s Journey Into Night, set six months after the vaudeville episode, Edmund in what is surely a reference to Eugene’s behavior on the tour, speaks to his father of “all the rotten stuff I’ve pulled!” and adds, “I’ve treated you rottenly, in my way, more than once.”)

Another factor in his depression was worry about his mother. James had sent Ella to a sanitarium near Denver. Eugene always suffered over the humiliation he knew she underwent each time her illness was exposed to strangers.

He was filled with helpless rage over what he and his family had done to each other. He drank until he could no longer think or feel—and until even drinking wasn’t enough to blot out his misery.

He began to wonder seriously if, after all, it would not be better for him to kill himself, as had Driscoll—his friend from Jimmy-the-Priest’s and the S.S. New York. O’Neill made an unsuccessful suicide attempt. Later, his roommate succeeded by jumping out a window. O’Neill called this man Jimmy Anderson in his short story entitled “Tomorrow,” and James Cameron (nicknamed Jimmy Tomorrow) in The Iceman Cometh. Jimmy’s background was strikingly similar to that of James O’Neill’s erstwhile press agent, J. Findlater-Byth. O’Neill once said that his roommate had been a graduate of Edinburgh University, who, “until the beginning of his social decline, was a highly valued correspondent of one of the greatest European news agencies.”

“Ele covered the South African War, for instance,” added O’Neill. “There came an appalling tragedy in his life. The booze got him and he had reached the depths.... But always my friend—at least always when he had had several jolts of liquor—saw a turn in the road tomorrow. He was going to get himself together and get back to work. Well, he did get a job and got fired. When he realized that this tomorrow never would come. He solved everything by jumping to his death from the bedroom at Jimmy’s.”

The short story, written in the first person by a fictional character called Art, begins, “It was back in my sailor days, in the winter of my great down-and-outness, that all this happened.” The setting is “Tommy-the- Priest’s,” and Jimmy is Art’s roommate, a man who keeps a “dyspeptic geranium plant” that never blooms on the window sill of his room. Jimmy, forty-five, has wispy gray hair, a jowly face, faded blue eyes and a craving for affection. To the astonishment of his fellow boarders at Tommy’s, he goes on the wagon and lands a job on a newspaper. He returns from his first day’s work and starts drinking again. He confesses to Art that he couldn’t do the work. “I’m done—burnt out—wasted!” he says. “It’s time to dump the garbage. Nothing here.”

At his most drunken, Jimmy tells Art a long story he has told many times before, about his brilliant early career; but this time he adds the details of how he found his wife being unfaithful to him, and says that this discovery started him drinking ten years before. Finally he collapses dead drunk on his bed and Art goes downstairs to join his other friends. Not long after, they hear a crash in the courtyard outside; it is Jimmy’s geranium plant that has fallen, and soon after they hear another crash; this time it is Jimmy.

The story ends:

“We rushed into the hall and out to the yard. There it was—a motionless, dark huddle of clothes, a splintered, protruding bone or two, a widening pool of blood black against the gray flags—Jimmy!

“The sky was pale with the light of dawn. Tomorrow had come.” For his own suicide attempt, Eugene chose a less violent method.

He made the rounds of neighborhood drugstores, collecting veronal tablets, which at that time could be had in small doses without a doctor’s prescription. Returning to Jimmy the-Priest’s, he tossed down what he estimated to be a lethal dose and went to sleep in his room. A couple of his friends found him there, guessed his condition, and began walking him and pouring coffee down his throat. Eugene, coming to his senses, offered no objection. When his friends had put him back on his feet, they decided to have a doctor look him over. They took him to Bellevue Hospital. At the admitting office Eugene was pronounced fit and dismissed. His companions, however, were detained and thrown into the alcoholic ward.

The story of Eugene’s suicide attempt, like that of his departure from Princeton, has many versions. He himself told it to several people, each time embellishing it, like a true Irishman, with different details. In George Jean Nathan’s version, published in The Intimate Notebooks, an unconscious O’Neill was sped by ambulance to Bellevue, worked over by two interns, and revived three hours later. Nathan ended the story with Eugene’s friends rushing to James O’Neill and returning four hours later with part of the $50 they had received from him to pay the hospital fee; they divided what was left of the money with Eugene, who then “rolled over, grinned satisfiedly, and went happily and peacefully to sleep.”

O’Neill’s writings and his later jocularity in recalling this episode indicate that he was making a macabre gesture rather than a sincere attempt to kill himself. At least one friend (a doctor who attended him when he was in his fifties) has said that O’Neill specifically told him he changed his mind about wanting to die after swallowing the veronal. One thing seems clear. The attempt was a gesture aimed largely at his father. Eugene waited until James had returned from Denver, sometime in May, before going out to buy his veronal.

In 1919 O’Neill wrote Exorcism, a one-act play based on his suicide attempt. In it a bedeviled young man of good family descends to the gutter and decides to swallow poison; two drunken friends revive him and his initial despair at having been brought back to face the same dreary world changes to enlightenment and hope. He realizes that he is not the same man, that his devils have left him. The play ends with his awareness that the attempted suicide has actually killed his old self and that he is a new man with new hope in himself and life. The play, though it had a brief production, was never published because O’Neill had second thoughts about it and destroyed all the copies of the script he could obtain.

Exorcism, however, was neither the beginning nor the end of O’Neill’s literary preoccupation with death. The subject, like whores and the sea, is one that recurs consistently in his writing, starting as early as the plays he wrote in 1913. A psychiatrist, after analyzing him for six weeks when he was in his early thirties, concluded he had “a death wish.” Any layman, can draw the same conclusion from an analysis of his work—particularly Long Day’s Journey Into Night, in which O’Neill gave the character representing himself the name of his dead brother, Edmund, and referred to the dead brother as Eugene. Aside from this wishful exchange of names, other evidence of the death wish may be found in twenty- five of his forty-five published plays in which a total of forty characters suffer violent or unnatural deaths. Of these, nine are suicides. Twenty- one of the poisoned, diseased, mangled, strangled, sliced, drowned, electrocuted, cremated or bullet-riddled men, women and children meet their ends in full view of the audience. For plays not equipped with corpses O’Neill has provided dialogue in which the word “corpse” is used frequently, both in its literal sense and in a symbolic sense. Moreover, there is scarcely a play in which the word “ghost” does not appear— usually in conjunction with the word “haunted”—and in three plays— The Emperor Jones, The Fountain and Gold—ghosts or spirits materialize on stage. In Lazarus Laughed (four acts, four violent deaths, two on-stage corpses) there are seventy-seven references to death in Act I alone.

As was the case with the protagonist of Exorcism, Eugene’s attempted suicide seemed to have satisfied his inner rage, and for a time he was relatively calm. The attempt also had the desired effect of bringing James to a mood of remorse and forgiveness. James, in fact, had several things to be grateful for that spring.

Ella had left the sanitarium and seemed well enough to encourage James’s hope for her complete recovery. Eugene had succeeded in getting his first piece of writing published—it was the poem, “Free,” which he had written on the Charles Racine; it appeared in the Pleiades Club Year Book in April, and though the publication was limited to five hundred copies and distributed mainly among members of the club, it demonstrated (in James’s eyes) that Eugene was good for something. The Pleiades Club, which was composed of actors, artists and writers, who net at such places as the flotel Brevoort in Crccnwich Village, in the interest of what they called “Bohemian good fellowship,” had a discriminating membership. People like Mark Twain accepted invitations to address the club. James was proud of Eugene’s literary debut.

Not least among James’s reasons for satisfaction at this period was the fact that Eugene’s worrisome alliance with Kathleen was finally being severed, and on terms that he considered advantageous. James rejected the thought that he was a grandfather, and only recently he had been infuriated by a story Ella told him. She had been walking on Fifth Avenue with a friend, when a nurse, wheeling a beautiful child of about three, had passed them. The friend recognized the nurse and knew her to be employed by Kathleen’s mother. Being a woman of little tact, she turned to Ella and said:

“Do you see that little boy? That’s your grandson!”

Ella had never seen him before, and she returned to James badly shaken.

As for Kathleen, she appeared to be just as well satisfied as James that her relationship with his family was being ended, although she had been willing to leave all the arrangements in her mother’s hands, just as Eugene had submitted meekly to his father.

“My mother thought it was bad for my reputation to be a gay, grass widow,” she said, recalling her first marriage. “I was completely free, because my mother had a nurse and a maid, and after I nursed the baby for two weeks there was nothing to tie me down. But my mother felt I should either stop going out with men, or get divorced. When I agreed to the divorce, she said I mustn’t ask for a cent of alimony, as she would support me and the baby.”

The divorce trial took place before Supreme Court Justice Joseph Morschauser on June 10, 1912, in White Plains, New York, where Kathleen had gone to establish a legal residence. She was represented in her suit by the law firm of Van Schaick and Brice, of New York. The complaint alleged formally: “On the 29th day of December, 1911, at 140 West 45th Street ... in New York, the defendent [who did not appear in the case] committed adultery with a woman whose name is unknown to the plaintiff,” and that “at divers times during the months of June, July, August and September, 1911, the defendant committed adultery with a woman named Maude W------ ....”

Kathleen, who by law was precluded from giving testimony that would further the proof of adultery, testified only that the marriage was at Trinity Church in Hoboken, New Jersey, on July 26, 1909 (setting the date back two months for the sake of her reputation) that the issue was a son, and that at the time of the trial she was a resident of 17 Church Street, White Plains.

Testimony concerning the adultery was given by James C. Warren, of 34 East Fifty-eighth Street, New York, who explained to the court that he was a friend of Mrs. Kate Jenkins, as well as of Eugene O’Neill, and who described the circumstances of Eugene’s dalliance on the night of December 29, 1911. Mrs. Jenkins was called as a witness to identify a picture of O’Neill.

Kathleen was awarded an interlocutory decree of divorce on July 5, giving her the custody of the child. The final judgment was signed on October 11.

Eugene was wistful about Kathleen. To the end of his life he spoke of her with respect, sadly reflecting on one occasion (after several entanglements and another marriage): “The woman I gave the most trouble to has given me the least.”

By July James and Eugene had had a heart-to-heart talk about Eugene’s future, and Eugene had agreed to spend the summer in New London and try to do some writing—possibly for the New London Telegraph, where James thought he could arrange a job for him. Jamie would be there too, and James was almost afraid to believe in the prospect he foresaw of a united family enjoying a peaceful, productive summer together.

Part 2: The Birth of a Soul 1912—1920


The year 1912 was the most memorable in Eugene O’Neill’slife, for it was then that he determined to become a dramatist.

He made the significance of the date clear when he set the action of Long Days Journey Into Night in 1912 and underlined his dramatic intent by telescoping the events of several months into a single, supercharged day. For some reason, though, he could not bring himself to reveal, either in the play or in any of the dozens of public statements he made about his beginnings as a dramatist, that the idea for his lifework was already formed in the summer of 1912; he always preferred to give the impression that the thought of writing plays did not enter his head until early the following year, when a breakdown in health forced him to take stock of his life.

But a number of people who knew him well that summer have recalled that he was already making notes for plays, and several people have remembered the surprise and embarrassment they felt at hearing Eugene say to James on more than one occasion: “Someday you’ll be known as the father of Eugene O’Neill.”

In August, 1912, when Eugene was nearly twenty-four, he became a reporter on the New London Telegraph. Published daily except Sunday, the morning newspaper had been founded in 1885 and taken over in the early 1900’5 by an attorney named Frederick P. Latimer. Latimer was a man of liberal principles, integrity and warmth; as a friend of James O’Neill, he acceded to his request that Eugene be taken on.

The staff consisted mainly of editors whose lively and divergent interests in foreign and political news gave the Telegraph a far more cosmopolitan flavor than was the case with its more reserved and circumscribed competitor, the New London Day. The Telegraph devoted considerable space to national news, particularly of New York City’s underworld, and local coverage required only a handful of reporters. The newspaper employed a red-faced printer’s devil who fetched pitchers of ale for the reporters. As there were no copy readers on the Telegraph, the reporters wrote their own headlines.

Reporters and editors worked in a musty office and like most newspapermen of the era spent a good deal of time playing poker, gossiping and making up for lost sleep at their desks. The reporter’s desk was his card table, bar and bed—and sometimes the place where he wrote a story. Such local news as was covered ranged from fires and the fainting of fat women in the public square to the “classy scraps” that invariably took place among celebrating sailors on Saturday nights. The reports frequently were colorful. “Brandishing a razor in one hand and a bedpan in the other, John Jones of no certain address ran amuck in the city hospital yesterday” was the lead of one such story.

Staff members took their meals at an all-night hashery that featured a horseshoe bar flanked by mirrors. Jamie O’Neill made the bar a port of call around three in the morning and could be counted on to give the reporters an impromptu performance, highlighted by graphic grimacing before the mirror.

Eugene found himself among friends at the Telegraph. He was particularly encouraged by Latimer, with whom he hit it off at once.

“He’s the first one,” O’Neill once told the drama critic Barrett Clark, “who really thought I had something to say, and believed I could say it.” Clark, who was preparing a book about O’Neill in 1925, went to Latimer for confirmation.

“As we used to talk together and argue our different philosophies,” said Latimer, who had by that time sold his interest in the Telegraph, “I thought Eugene was the most stubborn and irreconcilable social rebel I had ever met. We appreciated each other’s sympathies, but to each, in the moralities and religious thought and political notions, the other was ‘all wet.’” (1912 was a year of blossoming for the socialist idea; an illustrated socialist monthly called The Masses was founded in New York, and the millionaire Harry Payne Whitney bought the Metropolitan Magazine and installed the British Fabian socialist, H. J. Wigham, as its editor. Jack London was holding court for young radicals in Greenwich Village; it was the year when O’Neill’s political consciousness was at its most acute.)

Latimer, who considered O’Neill the paper’s cub reporter, was impressed with his modesty, his native gentlemanliness, his wonderful eyes, and his literary style.

“It was evident at once that this was no ordinary boy,” Latimer recalled, “and I watched what he thought, wrote and did with extreme interest. From flashes in the quality of the stuff he gave the paper, and the poems and play-manuscripts he showed me, I was so struck that I told his father Eugene did not have merely talent, but a very high order of genius.” Latimer found O’Neill “emphatically different,” and admired his wit, his iconoclasm and his sympathy with the victims of man-made distress. He recognized O’Neill’s imagination and appreciated the vigor of his writing style, the heat of his spirit, and his scorn for commercial value or conventional fame. If he could be in only one of two places in a town—the church or the jail—I know where I would find him!” Latimer summed up.

O’Neill’s city editor, Malcolm Mollan, was less inclined to be tolerant of the cub reporter’s “genius.” Mollan wore a silk hat and carried a cane. He cheerfully admitted that he was the sort of city editor who “faithfully lived up to the tradition that such a creature must cut the hearts of his subordinates to ribbons with malignant criticism,” and once wrote, recalling O’Neill’s five-month stint on the Telegraph:

“Time was when ... I used to bawl out, ‘O’Neill!’ and O’Neill would come to my desk and say, ‘Yes, sir.’”

“This is a lovely story about that Bradley street cutting!” Mollan would say. “The smell of the rooms is made convincing; the amount of blood on the floor is precisely measured; you have drawn a nice picture of the squalor and stupidity and degradation of that household. But would you mind finding out the name of the gentleman who carved the lady and whether the lady is his wife or daughter or who? And phone the hospital for a hint as to whether she is dead or discharged or what. Then put the facts into a hundred and fifty words—and send this literary batik to the picture framer’s!”

Mollan remembered O’Neill’s abashed, puzzled look as he carried away his story and the way he “pulled his hair about his eyes while he tried to do a conventional, phlegmatic news item in newspaper style.”

Mollan was aware that facts, standing by themselves, did not surprise O’Neill and so did not interest him. “It was what they signified, what led to them and what they in turn led to, their proportionate values in the great canvas of life, that intrigued his rapt attention,” according to Mollan. “What difference did it make whether this particular brother of the ox, who had graven the proof of his upbringing on a woman’s body, was called Stan Pujak or Jo Wojnik? What difference whether the knife found a vital or missed it by a hair? What O’Neill saw in the affair was just one more exhibit in the case of Humanity vs. the State of Things, another dab of evidence of the puzzling perversion of mankind, with its needless conflicts and distorted passions. He saw squalid bestiality usurping normal humanism in human beings. What he saw he wrote, that others might see. He had to.”

O’Neill soon realized that he was misplaced as a newsgatherer. “I was a bum reporter,” he told friends and interviewers complacently in later years. Some of his fellow reporters on both the Telegraph and the Day would have amended that statement. One of them later wrote that Eugene was “The World’s Worst Reporter.” Under that headline, nineteen years later, Robert A. Woodworth, then writing for the Providence (R.I.) Journal, recalled that Eugene would sit in a corner of the city room smoking and dreaming while other members of the small stafl “ran their legs oft.

“Hey, Mal, when is that guy going to get busy and do some work?’ Woodworth would ask city editor Mollan in disgust. “As far as any of’ the crowd [at the Telegraph] can remember,” Woodworth added, “he never typed a thing in the late lamented Morning Telegraph office which savored of genius.”

One of the stories O’Neill covered, and for which he did manage to set the facts, concerned the arrival in New London on August 17, 1912, of Theodore Roosevelt. The story is a good example of his newspaper style:

Colonel Theodore Roosevelt, who is jocosely described by various pet names ranging from Bwana Tumbo to Chief Running Bull, passed through here on the east bound limited at 3:38 vesterday afternoon and his presence in a Pullman car at the Union Station drew a crowd of 15c people. The colonel was distinctly visible from the platform and he bowed de-e-e-lightedly to the onlookers. He did not offer to come to the car vestibule at first.

Among the assembled throng was the rotund and genial Attorney Thomas F. Dorsey, who made the acquaintance of Colonel Roosexelt some years ago when his train passed through here, Teddy wasn’t going to get away from New London without a handshake from somebody, not if Mr. Dorsey knew it. So the amicable disciple of Blackstone drew an engraved calling card from his pocket, carelully dusted it off and marched in with it to the hero of the jungle. The awestruck crowd without the portals watched the colonel accept the proffered pasteboard and give Mr D rsey the glad mit.

Then the engine bell sounded and the colonel accompanied Attorney Dorsey to the door of the car and waved a fareu ell to the spectators.

If O’Neill did not exactly distinguish himself as a newshound, he did earn a local reputation as a sardonic poet. A column entitled “Laconics” appeared on the editorial page of the telegraph, and consisted of contributions from members of the staff. It varied in form from day to dav—sometimes it was a string of topical jokes, sometimes anecdotes, and sometimes caustic editorial comment—and was usually written in a humorous vein. Eugene’s entries were invariable in the form of poetry, and his untitled poem (“with apologies to J. W. Riley) which appeared not long after Roosevelt’s visit, was one of his first contributions:

Our Teddy opens wide his mouth,
N’runs around n’yells all day,
N’calls some people naughty names
N’says things that he shouldn’t say,
N when he’s nothing else to do
He swell up like he’d like to bust,
N’pounds on something with his fist
N’tells us ’bout some wicked trust,
I always wondered why that was—
I guess it’s cause Taft never does.

He tells the farmers how to sow
N shows the cav’lry how to ride,
N’if you try to say a word
He’s angry, n’he says you lied.
N when it’s quiet over here
He goes way far acrost the seas
N’gets a great big gun n’shoots
The elephants n’chimpanzees
I always wondered why that was—
I guess it’s cause
Taft never does.

Eugene’s hours on the Telegraph were from five in the afternoon to one in the morning and he worked on Sundays to help get out Monday’s paper. He rode to work on a bicycle, presumably to save trolley fare, although cycling was a popular means of transportation even among local businessmen. (In one of his poems for “Laconics,” after enumerating the pangs felt by Caesar, Joan of Arc and Napoleon in their various hours of trial, he noted: “I grant you their sorrows were great and real/ But comparison makes them light/ With the gloom I feel as I ride my wheel/ To work on a Sunday night.”)

His salary was $12 a week, and there was an unconfirmed rumor among the Telegraph reporters that it was paid by James. One story that made the rounds not long after Eugene had begun to work concerned a night when som? inebriated reporters, in the old-fashioned newspaper tradition, showed up for work several hours late. One of them promptly fell asleep at his desk; two others were making noisy attempts to wake him when O’Neill walked in, only slightly drunk, but just in time to be spotted by the exasperated city editor, who promptly fired him.

“Hell, you can’t fire him,” the Telegraph’s manager, Charles Thompson, was reported to have said. “His father pays his salary.” Whether this was the fact or whether Mollan relented out of kindness, Eugene stayed on for a while longer, happily contributing his rebellious ideas to a paper that was prepared to embrace and endorse them. The Telegraph even printed Eugene’s lampoon of its own inner workings:

When my dreams come true—when my dreams come true—
I’ll be sitting in the office here with nothing else to do,
But to write a comic story or to spin a little rhyme,
I won’t have to do rewriting, I’ll have lots of leisure time
For to sit and chatter politics and dream the whole night through,
I will never cover socials when my dreams come true!

When my dreams come true I will never stoop to read
The proof of advertisements telling people what they need.
I will only write the stories that are sure to make a hit,
And the mighty city editor will never cut a bit,
But put them in just as they are and compliment me, too,
I’ll be the star reporter when my dreams come true.

When my dreams come true there will not be a mistake
In a single line of copy that the linotypers make
I will never have to count the letters framing up a head
And every night at twelve o’clock will find me home in bed.
I will shun the railroad station and the police station, too,
And only cover prize fights when my dreams come true,

When my dreams come true all my comments wise and sage
Will be featured double column on the editor’s own page.
Personals will be no object, I won’t have to go and hunt
The history of the tug-boats that infest the water-front.
Fire alarms may go to blazes, suicides and murders too,
I’ll be editing Laconics when my dreams come true.

Despite the fact that the mechanics of newsgathering were beyond him, Eugene found the Telegraph’s, policy congenial and its atmosphere stimulating. The paper had guts—so much so that it was doomed to failure in the stuffy climate of New London. (It folded in 1919, leaving the field to its more strait-laced competitor, the New London Day.)

An example of the open-mindedness of the Telegraph and its refusal to be bullied by its readers into any narrow channel of opinion is an editorial that appeared in its columns on October 5, 1912. Since Eugene, by that time, had contributed several more verses in the same satiric vein as his commentary on the methods of Teddy Roosevelt, including a stab (in the style of Rudyard Kipling) at his pet target, Standard Oil, and a parody of Hiawatha dealing snidely with a publicized New London waterways convention, he was probably as much as anybody the cause of the editorial’s being written.

Under the heading “Confidential,” the Telegraph declared:

Some months ago the Editor received a postal from an anonymous person, expressing his appreciation of the usefulness of The Telegraph but inquiring rather pointedly, “When in h—l will your paper make up its mind whether it is a republican or a democrat?”

Happily or unhappily no such decision seems imminent. As long as we keep the words “Independent Newspaper” at the head of the page we shall try as best we can to live up to the profession. If we ever take up a party affiliation we shall announce the fact with the boldest type in our fonts....

The ownership of this newspaper is in the hands of a Democrat and two Republicans, each with different personal bias and political tendencies as between conservatism and progression. Among these three are the editor and the business manager.

The city editor, who runs things while the rest of us are perforce in our beds, is a fierce Bull Moose. He divides his time between doing his work and cussing the owners.

Our genial chief news-gatherer, Joseph Smith, 2nd, is a wildly enthusiastic Democrat. For a long time he said his prayers as often as not to Champ Clark, and his democracy is just as much a part of his religion as his ideas of marriage. There is a faint suspicion in some quarters that Mr. Smith attended the Democratic rally Thursday evening.

Another important staff official may be a mixed “socialist and anarchist.” As far as possible we keep him off political assignments. But he writes satirical verse which is so really clever that we feel obliged to print it, albeit with the blue pencil in pretty constant use. [This, obviously, was a reference to O’Neill, and, just as obviously, he was not unappreciated.]

There are others.

Out in the composing room we have every shade of political opinion known since Brutus slew Caesar.

A few weeks later, just before the presidential election that was to decide between Roosevelt, Taft and Wilson, the Telegraph carried a tirade by “Eugene Gladstone O’Neill” that began:

There’s a speech within the hall, echoes back from wall to wall,
Where the campaign banners swing;
And the voters sit so patient, listening to the tale so ancient,
That the old spell binders sing.
You have heard the story of thieving Trusts
And their lawless lust for gain;
You have heard that song—how long! how long?
‘Tis the same old tale again!
We have fallen for that same bull, dear lass,
Many a season through,
Till we’re getting fed up with the old tale, the cold tale, thricetold tale,
Yes, we’re just about sick of that Long Tale, the tale that is never new ...

(Soon after, O’Neill cast his vote with the nearly one million others who, that year, supported the Socialist party’s candidate, Eugene V. Debs.), who was Eugene’s best friend in New London, also Art McGinley was a reporter on the Telegraph, despite his father’s association with the Day. (Art, who was to remain a newspaperman, had worked first on the Day and later went to the Hartford Times, where he became sports editor.) Eugene and his friend often drank together on their days off or after work. Many times Eugene would go home with McGinley in the early morning hours and rudely wake Art’s sister, who would obligingly move into a spare room so that Eugene could have her more comfortable bed. Or if there happened to be no one at home in Eugene’s house, the two would stay there. Once when they were making a noisy night of it a neighbor telephoned James in New York and complained that Eugene and his friend had a “concubine” in the house. James called his son to find out what was going on and was only partially reassured on hearing from Eugene that the charge was untrue.

“Gene and I wanted to drink America dry,” McGinley once said, referring to those days. In the bars of New London, particularly McGarry’s and Neagle’s, in which the two reporters spent a good part of their salaries, O’Neill enjoyed holding forth on anarchism, Irish kings and Irish independence. To McGinley he also confided his ambition to be a great writer, and he often recited his first attempt at a short story, written in his teens. About a boy on his way to visit his girl, it began, “Jimmy Trevalyan walked up the winding path.... It was early May and in the treetops the birds, drunk with the wine of spring, sang their roundelay.”

Ed Keele, O’Neill’s erstwhile roommate in New York, used to join them now and then and the three would make their way to Holt’s grocery store on Main Street, which, like many groceries of the period, had a barroom in the rear. The chief attraction for O’Neill at Holt’s was a bartender named Adam Scott. Scott was a powerfully built Negro of over six feet, with arms that hung below his knees, huge hands and a round, bald pate. Though he tended bar during the week, he was an elder of the Shiloh Baptist Church on Sundays. Before taking a drink himself, he would always rub a drop or two of the liquor into his head; then, raising his glass, he would exclaim; My best to every human being who breathes the breath of love.’ His rival for political leadership in New London’s ‘ egro community was a man named Jim Lewis, headwaiter at the Crocker House. O’Neill would tease Scott, pretending he had heard that Lewis wa- becoming a threat to Scott’s supremacy.

I’m a God fearing man,” Scott y. ould say, “but someday I’m going to forget my I foly Ghost and slap the bejeezus out of that baby.”

I low do you reconcile yourself, Adam,” McGinley or Keefe might ask him, “to being religious and tending bar?”

“Lrn a very religious man, Scott would reply, ‘but after Sunday, I lay my Jesus on the shelf.”

Scott, who appointed himself a kind of unofficial bodyguard to Eugene and his friends, would tell them, “I gotta look after you boys. I gotta see nothing happen” to you boys.”

Scott’s impressive personality y,as employed by G Neill in one of his major works, Lhe Emperor Jones. While part of the play came from other sources, it was Scott’s bravado, his superstition, his conviction that he was a religious man, that became the traits of Brutus Jones. O’Neill even reproduced some of his figures of speech, as in this line:

“Doesn’t you Inow dec’s got to deal wid a man was member in good standin’ o’ de Baptist Church’ ... _bub it don’t git me nothin’ to do missionary work for de Baptist Church. Ise after de coin, an’ I lays my Jesus on de shelf for de time bein’.’

O’Neill’s social life continued to be centered in Doc Caney’s Second Story Club, y.hich convened nearly every night during the summer of 1912. Sometimes, instead of meeting in Doc’s office-apartment, the club members would repair to a cottage Ganey had acquired on the Niantic River, on the other side of New London from the Thames. There they would take turns cooking, all except Eugene, who could no more share the amateur chef’s enthusiasm for preparing food than for eating it. Doc Gance, y.ho was subsequently married to and domesticated by a vivacious woman much ounoer than himself, was at that time interested in a woman named Kate. His relationship with Kate did not enhance his reputation among the respectable citizens of New London. Gn one occasion the members of the Second Story Club disguised Kate as a man in order to smuggle her into the all-male audience at a cockfight.

O’Neill and Keefe went to considerable trouble in New London to live up to their reputations as young roues, not by smuggling women into cockfights but by flouting the rules in equally outrageous ways. Although O’Neill’s relatives and his family’s acquaintances knew that he did not behave conventionally, they would have been horrified by some of his escapades. Once he and Keefe talked a doctor they knew into giving them a prescription for a drug containing hashish.

“I’ve been reading about it,” O’Neill told Keefe. “It’s not habit forming.” Keefe lost his nerve and the experiment was never carried out. Another time O’Neill and Keefe picked up two girls—both from nearby towns—and took them to a seedy hotel near the railroad station.

“We were so polluted,” Keefe later recalled, “that we signed our real names on the hotel register. We each took a room. After half an hour Gene came into my room and said, ‘Let’s get out of here. I’m sick of these pigs.’ That was a term he picked up from his brother. We left the two girls in the rooms and walked out without paying the bill.”

It had been three years since O’Neill’s marriage and the consequences had not inspired him to try respectability again. He endeavored to avoid the respectable girls of New London, but they sought him out. His good looks, shyness and apparent gentleness, his quality of seeming to suffer from some unfathomable wound, were irresistible to many. When compounded by his sinister reputation as a divorced man with a child, his glamour and desirability were magnets for all but the very timorous. And there were a number of distinctly untimorous maidens in New London. Luckily for most of them, Eugene had learned caution since his entanglement with Kathleen.

There was a girl, for example, who was spending the summer at Groton, across the Thames Irom New London. Apparently’ she sat glued to her window in the Griswold Hotel, which faced the river, watching for Eugene with field glasses; for every time he ventured into the Thames in his canoe, she sprang into her rented rowboat and met him more than hallway. When James learned of this idyll, he warned his son: “You just tell that young lady there’s no money here.”

A girl named Mabel Ilamagc was another with whom O’Neill spent some time that summer; she did not pursue him, but a certain amount of initiative was necessary on her part, as well as on the parts of all the New London girls he took up with, because of the taboo against him.

Mabel was dark-haired, blue eyed and fair-skinned. She worked in an elegant confectionery on State Street owned by Stavros Peterson, the most affluent member of the Second Story Club. His confectionery, patronized by the elite of New London, charged high prices for his superb concoctions. Like a chemist mixing a formula, Peterson blended his own chocolate and came up with a syrup so thick and rich that it could not be put through the fountain pump; it was poured, instead, from gleaming silver pitchers. His ice-cream sodas were served in precious white goblets. And no Du Pont, Morgan or Rockefeller would have thought of returning to his yacht without a supply of Peterson’s marrons glaces.

Mabel was one of fourteen girls who worked as glorified waitresses and were more decorative than utilitarian. Most of them were daughters of conventional New London families who wanted a taste of independence, and their work was light.

O’Neill generally visited Peterson’s on payday to cash his salary check and order a chocolate ice-cream soda. It was there that his eye fell on Mabel, in whom, as it happened, Peterson also was romantically interested.

Eugene would take Mabel walking.

“My mother was adamantly against my going out with Gene,” she has remembered. “He called for me once or twice at my home and my mother was openly hostile. He didn’t call there any more after that.”

Instead, he met her at the confectionery, to Peterson’s irritation. Mabel saw Eugene only about a half dozen times in all, but he left a vivid impression, as he did with every girl toward whom, however briefly, he turned his attention.

“I was fascinated with him,” she later said. “He seemed so mature and different from other boys. I was flattered to be getting attention from a man like that.”

Mabel could not reconcile what she had heard of Eugene’s evil reputation with his behavior to her.

“He never used bad language, and was always polite,” she recalled. “He was the perfect gentleman. He never even tried to kiss me. He used to call me ‘Queen Mab’ and he wrote a couple of poems for me, which I put inside a magazine to hide from my mother.” She added ruefully that the magazine was thrown out one day—with the poems.

Toward the end of September O’Neill met the girl who, exactly twenty years later, served as the model for the young heroine, Muriel McComber, in Ah, Wilderness! Although in 1912 O’Neill himself was nearly twenty- four, and by this time quite different from the Richard Miller of his play (and the girl was three years older than the play’s fifteen-year-old Muriel), their romance had very much of the same breathless, innocent quality with which O’Neill tenderly imbued the relationship between Muriel and Richard. The clandestine meetings, the parental disapproval, the exchange of notes through an intermediary, and the earnest plans for marriage were nostalgically recalled elements in O’Neill’s courtship of the girl he fell in love with in the early fall of 1912.

Her name was Maibelle Scott and some of her friends called her “Scotty.” She was tall and slender, with long, light-brown hair, large blue eyes, a peaches-and-cream complexion, enchanting dimples, and a soft, appealing voice. Doc Ganey, who was a connoisseur, and who had watched Maibelle stoop to make a graceful adjustment to her garter one day, regarded her without reservation as “a beauty.”

Maibelle was the granddaughter of Captain Thomas A. Scott, who had built Race Rock and Sarah’s Ledge, two famous lighthouses in Long Island Sound. Her father was a master diver, who had salvaged wrecks off the coast of Connecticut and later shifted to running a general store on Pequot Avenue. (Muriel McComber’s father, in Ah, Wilderness! is the proprietor of a dry goods store.) The Scotts, who lived a street away from the O’Neill’s, were an eminently respectable New London family and had been casually acquainted with the O’Neill’s for many years.

In the summer of 1912, a year after Maibelle’s graduation from high school, her married sister, Arlene, rented one of James O’Neill’s houses while awaiting completion of repairs on a permanent home she and her husband planned to occupy. Known as the Pink Cottage, the rented house was next to the one in which the O’Neill’s lived. Arlene and her husband, Byram Fones, became better acquainted with the O’Neill’s that summer and Maibelle, who dropped in on her sister frequently, had a glimpse of Eugene now and then, as he did of her.

One Sunday at the end of summer Eugene on his bicycle overtook Arlene as she was walking down Pequot Avenue. He dismounted and walked beside her, mumbling a few awkward pleasantries and then, summoning his courage, said, “I don’t know your sister well, but I’d like to.”

Arlene asked him smilingly if he would be at the wedding of a mutual friend, Bessie Young. The wedding was to take place on Tuesday at the Young home on Pequot Avenue. Eugene replied he would be there. “Well, then you’ll meet my sister,” said Arlene. Bessie had been a childhood friend of his. Her father, a deep-sea diver, had died in 1905 and her young, widowed mother took in table boarders. The O’Neill’s had been patrons there during periods when Ella found herself unable to cope with the problem of domestic help. All the O’Neill’s had been invited to the wedding, and although Ella declined, she invited Bessie to her house and asked her to accept the loan of table napkins for the reception. As a wedding gift, she gave Bessie two fine pieces of cut glass.

“Mrs. O’Neill was very refined,” Bessie recalled. “She always wore a hat, even when she came up the block to have her meals at our house. Often she’d skip a meal, and Mr. O’Neill would explain that she was ill. I always felt there was something strange about her.” But Bessie had no inkling that it was narcotics addiction.

As it happened, O’Neill was assigned by the Telegraph to cover the wedding—scheduled to take place in the evening. Fearful that he would not be able to impress Maibelle sufficiently in the role of a reporter, he got himself up in a black silk cape and top hat borrowed from his father. He had had the foresight to grow a small mustache—an adornment which periodically appeared and vanished that summer. With the garments he borrowed a bit of his father’s technique as well. Learning, when he arrived at the Youngs, that Maibelle was among a group of girls fluttering in last-minute excitement around the bride in an upstairs room, he stationed himself at the foot of the staircase. He could not descend a staircase in the style of Monte Cristo to achieve his effect, but he did the next best thing. As he heard girlish voices taking leave of the bride he majestically ascended the steps and managed to confront Maibelle on the landing. He made her a sweeping bow and murmured, “At last, we meet,” fixing his dark eyes on her astonished blue ones.

There was no time to pursue the effect, for O’Neill did have to take a few notes and make himself agreeable to the other guests, among whom was Mabel Ramage. After the ceremony O’Neill bundled up his cape and hat, mounted his bicycle and sped to the Telegraph office, where, inspired by thoughts of the delectable Maibelle, he dashed off the following story that appeared in the paper the next day, September 25. (He could not work Maibelle’s name into the story until the third paragraph, but it led a list of others):

A very pretty wedding took place last evening at 8 o’clock at the home of Mrs. Frances Young, 267 Pequot Avenue, when her daughter Bessie Eleanor Young was married to Percival Frazer Palmer of Noank. The marriage service was performed by the Rey. J. Romeyn Danforth of the First Congregational church in this city.

The bride wore a charming gown of crepe meteor over white satin trimmed with silk lace and carried a shower bouquet of Killarney roses. The bridesmaid was Miss Jennie Payne, who wore white lace over pink satin and carried a bouquet of pink roses. The best man was Frederick Anderson of Staten Island. Miss Faith Howard and Miss Mildred Howard acted as flower girls and preceded the couple carrying baskets of pink carnations. Miss Angenetta Appledorn was the pianist and played both the Mendelssohn wedding march and the one from Lohengrin.

The young ladies who served were: Miss Maibelle Scott, Miss Mildred Culver, Miss Jennie Strictland, Mrs. Byram Fones, Mrs. Eric Barr....

O’Neill did not trust the effect of the cape to last until the next day. He telephoned Maibelle at ten-thirty that night and asked if he could see her again. He need not have been anxious.

“I was terribly impressed with Eugene,” Maibelle said years later. “Aside from his being so handsome, he was vastly sophisticated—and, of course, I knew that he had been married and had a child; as a matter of fact, when I first began seeing him, he was still married.” Although an interlocutory decree had been awarded Kathleen in July, the divorce did not become final until October u. Critics have remarked that O’Neill’s omission, in Long Day’s Journey Into Night, of any reference to his married state in the summer of 1912 was rather extraordinary; here, again, the Freudians are quick to point out that the fact was on his mind, as indicated by his introduction into the play of a servant girl named Cathleen, the only member of the cast of characters who was not a Tyrone (or O’Neill).

It is easy to understand O’Neill’s fascination for a sheltered girl like Maihelle; the actress Lillian Gish, who became a friend of O’Neill’s years later, once remarked that she had found it “very impressive” to learn “how fully he had lived at such an early age!”

Although Maibelle was more than willing to be in Eugene’s company, she discovered that her family, with the exception of her sister, was far from happy about the relationship. Maibelle was hurt and bewildered by their attitude. She found Eugene gentle, well-mannered and considerate. He was always sober when she saw him and she couldn’t understand why his father thought it necessary to warn her father to keep her away from Eugene.

When she heard that James had told her father she was too good for Eugene, that he was a “no-good, drunken loafer,” it simply drew her closer to him, for she was absolutely convinced that there was no truth in James’s statements. She was intelligent, sensitive, surprisingly free of small-town prejudices, and self-confident enough to trust her own judgment. Even when James, trying to enlist the help of Maibelle’s mother in breaking up the romance, told her that his son “fell for every pretty face he saw,” Maibelle refused to believe anything bad of Eugene.

But there was no point in flaunting her defiance of her parents, so Maibelle took to visiting more and more often at her sister’s house. Arlene, despite the fact that her husband also disapproved of Maibelle’s seeing Eugene, refused to join forces with the rest of her family. She was convinced Maibelle could be trusted to follow her own judgment and that it was nobody’s affair but her own and Eugene’s.

Maibelle would come to Arlene’s house and, soon after, Eugene would amble over from next door. Arlene realized that the meeting had been prearranged.

Their dates consisted mostly of quiet walks on the outskirts of town, as any appearance in a public place was instantly reported as scandal and stirred up Maibelle’s family anew.

Once they went together to the Lyceum Theatre to see The Bohemian Girl, so incensing Maibelle’s family that they subsequently eschewed all public appearances. They had very few friends in common who were willing to flout public opinion by entertaining them together, but Eugene’s boss, Frederick Latimer, and his wife were among those willing to take the risk. The Latimers had them to dinner a number of times and a friend who lived up the Thames, near Norwich, risked censure by inviting them to his house occasionally. And once they spent a few hours together on a yacht belonging to a neighbor of the O’Neill’s.

Maibelle and Eugene saw each other nearly every day for more than a month. They generally met at three in the afternoon in front of Mitchell’s Woods, part of a large estate back of the O’Neill house, on Montauk Avenue, a thoroughfare that ran parallel to Pequot. They would walk toward Ocean Beach, a modest boardwalk and bathhouse establishment at the westerly tip of New London, about three miles from the O’Neill house. Or they would sit on the pier of the Pequot House, a casino that fronted on the Thames, and from which, at teatime, the strains of a dance orchestra floated out to them. They usually separated at dusk, since Eugene was supposed to be at the Telegraph by five o’clock.

Their relationship, as Maibelle later recalled it, was conducted largely on an intellectual plane, for Eugene could not help proselytizing and Maibelle was an avid pupil. He instructed her what to read and gave her, as his first gift, a copy of Thus Spake Zarathustra, which he inscribed with a quotation from the text that he believed was applicable to the atmosphere in which they found themselves:

Almost in the cradle we are given heavy words and values. “Good” and “Evil” such cradle-gift is called.

And we—we carry faithfully what we arc given, on hard shoulders over rough mountains! And when perspiring, we arc told: “Yea, life is hard to hear.” But man himself only is hard to hear! The reason is that he carrieth too many strange things on his shoulders!

But he hath discovered himself, who saith: “This is my good and evil.” Thereby he maketh mute the dwarf who saitli: “Good for all, evil for all.”

Maibelle not only read and labored to understand the book but tried to persuade her friends to read and accept it. This was one of the things that upset her family.

Eugene continued to present her with books. He gave her volumes of Schopenhauer and Wilde and she dutifully read and discussed them with him. They wrote each other several letters a day, even though they were going to meet later. Most of the letters, far from discussing sentimental matters, dealt with the texts of the books Maibelle was reading under Eugene’s supervision. In his letters Eugene would ask Maibelle to pay special attention to one or another passage or he would interpret some bit of philosophy he thought she might misunderstand.

There were, however, tenderer messages and poetry mixed in with the lectures, such as the following:

My Sentiments as expressed by Arthur Symons:

I wandered all these years among
A world of women, seeking you.
Ah, when our fingers met and clung,
The pulses of our bodies knew
Each other: our hearts leapt and sung

Like it?

Have you my Oscar Wilde with you? Just want to know, that’s all.

Answer all questions this time like a good Big Girl. [Maibclle had chided him for patronizing her with the endearment “little girl.”]

Eugene also sent Maibelle many poems of his own creation, which she kept even after O’Neill had disappeared from her life. In addition to these personal poems, he gave her the poetry subsequently printed in “Laconics,” and also the original, penciled version of “Free.” All the love poems he wrote for “Laconics” were written with Maibelle in mind. “Only You,” which appeared a few days after he met her, is typical:

We walk down the crowded city street
Thus, silently side by side
We loiter where mirth and misery meet
In an ever refluent tide.

You thrill with the joy of the passing throng
Or echo its weary sighs
You gaze at each face as it hurries along
—But I only see your eyes—

I only see your eyes, my love,
I only see your eyes
For happiness or misery
Are only real when seen by me
Reflected in your eyes.

We walk down the crowded city street
Lingeringly, side by side
You throb with the city’s ceaseless beat
While I in a dream abide.

For how can its harsh triumphant din
Make me shudder or rejoice?
When the only sound in the dream I’m in
Is the music of your voice.

The music of your voice, my love
The music of your voice.
The world’s vibrating symphony
Seems vague and most unreal to me
I only hear your voice.

Of the poems that were too personal or too serious to submit to the Telegraph two are interesting for their preoccupation with “phantoms grim,” “dead pleasure’s ghosts” and “murdered youth.” Eugene also copied for Maibelle an Ernest Dowson prayer, indicative of the struggle he was still waging with his Catholic heritage; it was sprinkled with references to “Thy Terrible Judgment Seat” and “Thy angry glance,” and was hopeful of “a choice of graces.”

Maibelle and Eugene had an eager ally in Mildred Culver, who was Maibelle’s best friend. (It was “Mid” Culver whom Eugene had in mind when he drew Mildred Miller in Ah, Wilderness!—the girl who carried Muriel’s notes to Richard.) Mildred, who had grown up in New London with Maibelle, was almost as fascinated by Eugene as was her friend and was delighted to act as go-between in the romance. In addition to carrying notes she also helped arrange a number of their secret meetings. Her mother was a schoolteacher, and the Culver house, three blocks away from the O’Neill’s, was often empty.

Mildred would leave Eugene and Maibelle alone in a room of her house, and keep a lookout for her mother, for Mrs. Culver, too, took a dim view of Eugene’s reputation.

Mildred, however, shared Maibelle’s opinion that Eugene was maligned by their elders and she was convinced that he had no evil intentions toward Maibelle. “I think he loved her because he knew she loved his true self. He wasn’t used to her kind of girl; she was a complete surprise to him,” Mildred once observed.

Eugene and Maibelle rarely quarreled and were nearly always happy together. Because he seldom showed Maibelle his brooding, somber side or breathed a hint to her of the painlul relationship with his parents and brother, she was startled by the revelations in Long Day’s Journey Into N ight.

“I have no recollection of Gene being disturbed about his family,” Maibelle said. “He never gave me the impression that he resented his father, and even took it calmly when James O’Neill warned my parents against him.”

Once Eugene told Maibelle, in rebuttal to those who claimed his reputation was unsavory, “I am not responsible for filling any of the orphanages or cemeteries in New London.” It never occurred to her to doubt him.

“I do remember,” Maibelle said, “that he was always short of cash, and didn’t dress especially smartly, but he was never sloppy.”

Maibelle knew that Ella was ailing but had no chance to observe her at close quarters; James she knew fairly well, and liked except for his— to her inexplicable—attitude toward Eugene. Jamie, although she barely exchanged two words with him, she detested.

“He really was a drunk and a slob,” she said. “And he had a nasty way of looking at people.”

Maibellc knew that Eugene had tried ro commit suicide. He told her about it one day, adding that the way he would like to die was by swimming out into the wake of the moon, so far that he could not return. Apparently that was an effective image, for he evoked it also for Mildred Culver and a number of other girls who never forgot it.

“To this day,” Mildred Culver remarked after O’Neill’s death, “whenever I look out my front window and see the full moon on the Sound, I think of Gene and wish he might have gone that way.”

Alter they had been seeing each other for a short time, Eugene and Maibelle began to talk of marriage.

His salary had been raised to $18 in October. But Maibclle thought that insufficient, and suggested they wait. She knew he had faith in himself as a writer; he often told her he would be a famous one, and she agreed with him. To prepare herself to be a good wife she enrolled in the local business college and studied shorthand.

“I did it so that if Gene, alter we were married, had a profound thought in the middle of the night, I’d be able to leap out of bed, take my pad and pencil, and record it for him.” How effectively this would have worked is in doubt, for Maibelle did not show talent as a secretary; on one of her tests, she spelled asparagus “asparroggross.”

Somewhere toward the middle of October—not in August, as Long Day’s Journey Into Night indicates—Eugene developed a bad cold, which he thought he had caught in a downpour while riding to work. He could not shake it off, and eventually was bedridden with a dry cough, fever, chills and night sweats. He couldn’t report for work at the Telegraph but continued to send poems to the “Laconics” column. One of these contributions, “The Call,” published in November, indicated the restlessness that his prolonged illness inspired:

I have eaten my share of “stock fish”
On a steel Norwegian bark;
With hands gripped hard to the royal yard
I have swung through the rain and the dark.
I have hauled upon the braces
And bawled the chanty song,
And the clutch of the wheel had a friendly feel,
And the Trade Wind’s kiss was strong.

So it’s back to the sea, my brothers,
Back again to the sea.
I’m keen to land on a foreign strand
Back again to the sea.

I have worked with a chipping hammer
And starved on a lime-juice tramp.
While she plunged and rolled, I have cleaned the hold
Or coughed in the bilges damp.
I have sweated a turn at trimming,
And faced the stoke-hold’s hell,
And strained my ear in attempt to hear
The relieving watch’s bell.

So it’s back to the sea, my brothers,
Back again to the sea.
And where I’ll go, I don’t quite know--
Just back again to the sea.

For it’s grand to lie on the hatches
In the glowing tropic night
When the sky is clear and the stars seem near
And the wake is a trail of light,
And the old hulk rolls so softly

On the swell of the southern sea
And the engines croon in a drowsy tune
And the world is mystery!

So it’s back to the sea, my brothers,
Back again to the sea.
Where regrets are dead and blood runs red,
Back again to the sea.

Then it’s ho! for the moonlit beaches,
Where the palm trees dip and sway,
And the noontide heat in the sleeping street
Where the restless burros bray.
I can hear the bands on the plazas
In towns of a far-off land,
And the words come strong of a deep sea song,
“We’re bound for the Rio Grande.

So it’s back to the sea, my brothers,
Back again to the sea.
Where regrets are dead and blood runs red,
Back again to the sea.

I’m sick of the land and landsmen
And pining once more to roam,
For me there is rest on the long waves crest
Where the Red Gods make their home.
There’s a star on the far horizon
And a smell in the air that call,
And I cannot stay for I must obey
So good-bye, good luck to you all!

So it’s back to the sea, my brothers,
Back again to the sea.
Hear the seagulls cry as the land lights die!
Back again to the sea.

For a few weeks there was no suspicion that Eugene had tuberculosis, and Ella made frequent references to Eugene’s “bad cold” which would soon clear up. But here factual resemblance to Long Day’s Journey Into Night ceases for the moment. Jamie was not even at home at the time; he had gone to a sanitarium to undergo one of his periodic cures for alcoholism. James was in New York, except for weekends, making the motion-picture version of The Count of Monte Cristo for Daniel Frohman, who, with Adolph Zukor, had begun operating the Famous Players Film Company. Eugene was being treated by two doctors, both with excellent reputations, one of whom was the distinguished chief of staff of New Londons Lawrence Memorial Hospital. By November 15 his condition had been tentatively diagnosed as pleurisy, and he was devotedly being taken care of by a registered nurse he selected himself. Her name was Olive Evans.

The nurse, who had patience, understanding and a sense of humor, was about the same age as Eugene and had known him casually for many years. She was called on the case by Dr. Harold Heyer, who was assistant to New London’s leading surgeon, Dr. Daniel Sullivan. Both doctors were regarded highly and bore no resemblance to the “quack” O’Neill described as having taken care of him in Long Day’s Journey Into Night. (“I think Gene must have been out of his mind when he wrote that play,” Olive Evans once remarked without rancor.)

There was a New London doctor who was known as the town quack and to whom O’Neill may have been referring (as “Dr. Hardy”) in Long Day’s Journey Into Night. This doctor’s fee was twenty-five cents and stories of how he opened boils with a penknife and allowed children to die of ruptured appendixes were legion in the town, and it is conceivable, though unlikely, that Ella went to him for morphine prescriptions.

It was Dr. Heyer who ordered Eugene to bed when he developed fever, and suggested that a nurse attend him. Eugene asked him to send for Olive, in preference to a stranger.

“At first Gene was very ill with what we thought was a bad cold,” Olive later recalled. “He had a high fever and had to stay in bed and have cold bed baths to bring his temperature down. He was very shy and modest, and I had to put him at ease when I bathed him by repeating what I had often heard my nursing superintendent say to patients: ‘I think no more of washing a back than of washing that door.’”

Olive tended Eugene constantly, taking off only four hours a day. He coughed a great deal and fluid developed in his right lung. Dr. Heyer, who paid daily visits, called Dr. Sullivan to draw off the fluid with a hollow needle. He had to puncture the lung through the chest to do this.

“It was terribly painful,” Olive said, “but Gene was very brave; there was hardly a grunt from him.”

Once the liquid had been drained on November 26, Eugene felt much better. His fever went down and he was allowed to get out of bed and sit in a chair facing the sun. But he had to rest a great deal, for he was subject to occasional hemorrhages. Eugene occupied the front bedroom on the second floor, which overlooked the Sound. Olive had a room directly across the hall.

According to Olive, O’Neill’s was the best room in the house. He read a great deal in bed, spent considerable time writing, and showed Olive snatches of dialogue and sketches of characters and notations about settings for plays—including a description of a character called Chris. He informed Olive he had gone to sea partly because he thought he might want to write someday, and it was a way of obtaining material. He kept his notes in an old-fashioned bureau that had divided drawers. Olive thought him “a brilliant boy, but a little warped.”

Olive told Eugene that in her opinion a lot of his ideas for plays were “immoral.”

“You are so naive,” replied Eugene. “If I didn’t want to be polite, I’d say stupid.” Having discovered Olive’s weak spot, he pressed his advantage, and attempted to shock her with stories of his love affairs in New York and Buenos Aires and of the derelicts he had lived with at Jimmy-the-Priest’s. Once he told Olive that his parents happened to see him and Jamie with a couple of girls and Mr. O’Neill warned his wife, in earshot of the boys, “Now aren’t you proud of your sons. Look at those tarts!” O’Neill recalled the story in criticism of his father. “The old man is always throwing up what we do,” he said.

Now and then, O’Neill succeeded in embarassing Olive with his lurid stories.

“Later, other girls told me how he used to try to scandalize them,” Olive said. “But he didn’t only enjoy shocking women; he loved to shock men, too. A number of men I knew took a strong dislike to him—the man I later married was one of them.”

But Olive was not put out enough to consider leaving the case. She had, as a matter of fact, by this time become involved in his romance with Maibelle and was a coolly amused observer.

Ella had found out about the notes passed between Maibelle and Eugene and asked Olive not to act as messenger. Her reason, unlike James’s, for discouraging the romance was that Maibelle was not good enough for Eugene.

When Eugene started feeling better and was able to go outdoors occasionally, he found a different way to make use of Olive. On weekends Eugene would persuade her to suggest that James hire a carriage, on the grounds that an outing would expedite his recovery. After riding with her patient a few blocks, Olive accommodatingly left the carriage, and Eugene picked up Maibelle at a prearranged spot. (Somehow, despite Ella’s surveillance, he always managed to communicate with Maibelle.) After one such meeting, Eugene came home in a rage. He told Olive he had been riding with Maibelle an hour, and that she refused to remove her veil so that he could kiss her. His anger subsided long enough for him to compose a poem called “Love’s Lament.” He signed it “Tigean Te Oa’Neill” and sent it off to the Telegraph, where it was duly printed:

There ain’t no nothing much no more,
And nothin’ ain’t no use to me;
In vain I pace the lonely shore,
For I have seen the last of thee.

I seen a ship upon the deep
And signalled this here fond lament:
“I haven’t did a thing but weep
Since thou hast went.”

Alas! fur I ain’t one of they
What hasn’t got no faith in love.
And them fond words of yesterday
They was spoke true, by heaven above!

Is it all off twixt I and you?
Will you go and wed some other gent?
The things I done, I’d fain undo,
Since thou hast went.

O Love! I done what I have did,
Without no thought of no offense
Return, return, I sadly bid
Before my feelings get intense.

I have gave up all wealth and show
I have gave up all thoughts of fame,
But, oh! what joy ’twould be to know
That thou hadst came!

In a more tender style, and not for publication, Eugene wrote Maibelle:

Have I not known enough of doubt and dearth
O God, great God, that Thou shoulds’t sternly place
A wall between my lips and her fair face
And make me taste of Hell while still on earth? ...

O’Neill told Olive that Maibelle was the only girl he really loved. Soon after the episode in the carriage he left the house again, presumably to meet Maibelle, and with the same unsatisfactory results. This time he failed to come home long after dark. James telephoned the Crocker House and reached somebody who volunteered to find him.

Two men finally brought him home—so drunk he began smashing things.

“I don’t think Gene cared at that point whether he lived or died—he was just desperate about Maibelle,” Olive said.

“I yearn to see her all the time,” Eugene told Olive the next day.

Olive was aware of a strangeness in Ella O’Neill during her stay in the house on Pequot Avenue. Once in a while Ella would come into Gene’s room and urge him to sit in the sun in front of his window. He would do so, but with obvious irritation. Ella spent most of her time downstairs. Olive, hearing her sobbing quietly, concluded that she was distressed about Jamie being confined to a sanitarium. For Ella did not seem, to Olive, to be really worried about Eugene’s health. Olive would ask Eugene whether he wanted her to go to Ella to see if there was something she could do for her.

“No, leave her alone,” he would answer.

Olive found Ella quiet but “sweet.” She did little except play the piano and sit, usually with her hands folded, on the veranda or in the parlor.

Olive marveled that Ella was never demonstrative toward her son, but she recognized affection in her voice when she spoke to him. “Not that there was much conversation between them,” she observed. Sometimes Eugene would call downstairs, “Mama, will you please play something for me?” There was great tenderness in his voice when he made the request.

Another thing Ella would do to oblige Eugene was prepare eggnogs for him.

The O’Neill’s were keeping house in a sketchy fashion. Their only servant was a cleaning woman. According to Olive, “the house was clean, but it was not neat.” Eugene’s meals were brought over in a basket by a young Irish girl from Mrs. Young’s house, as were Ella’s. James ate out when he was in New London.

At this period Eugene was as hostile toward his father as he was tender toward his mother. The complexity of his conflicting and constantly’ shifting emotions toward James defy rational interpretation.

“The Old Man and I got to be good friends and understood each other the winter before he died,” Eugene wrote to Art McGinley in 1932, just after he had drawn an idealized James in Ah, Wilderness! “But in the days [1912] you speak of, I was full of secret bitterness about him— not stopping to consider all he took from me and kept on smiling.”

Eugene told Olive he resented his father, and he never said anything nice about him. He complained of the way he had been dragged about as a child. James, however, appeared to be genuinely concerned about Eugene.

“Of course, he was always a little theatrical,” Olive observed. “When he arrived home for the weekend, he would step out of his horse-drawn hack and come up the front steps with his arms flung wide, expecting Mrs. O’Neill to rush into them in greeting, which she did. Then he would go straight up to Gene’s room.”

“How are things going, son?” he would ask.

Eugene would mumble something and turn his back on James. He never invited him into the room. James would hesitate in the doorway, looking worried and uneasy. With his own robust constitution—he still liked to brag that he had never been sick a day in his life—he was always a little contemptuous of the physically weak or broken.

The tension between them was plain to see. One Sunday Olive heard Eugene ask his mother, “Has the Irish peasant gone to Mass?”

“Oh, Genie, please,’ Ella answered weakly.

James attended Mass every Sunday at St. Joseph’s Church, contrary to O’Neill’s description of James Tyrone, who is pictured as being negligent about his formal observance of religion. Ella’s relatives, in fact, were constantly after James to bring Ella with him to church. (They had long since given up on Eugene.)

But another aspect of James’s character, his miserliness, on which his son harped in Long Day’s Journey Into Night, is more difficult to evaluate. It is clear that James did not try to cut corners on medical expenses for Eugene during the early stage of his illness. As for James’s concern, constantly reiterated in the play, with turning off lights to save on electricity, this was a crotchet of many householders in the early 1900’s. In an era when a pound of ham cost 17 cents and a pound of best tub butter 32 cents, and when a family of four was used to dining at home very well for under $60 a month, the charge of between $7 and $10 a month for the newfangled commodity electric light seemed out of all proportion. There were few heads of families who did not feel, like James, that they were being duped into making the electric light company rich, and it was customary to burn only those lights which were essential to illuminate a small area.

Theodore J. Liebier, Jr., son of the founder of Licblcr and Company, who was devoted to James O’Neill, once recalled, in defense of James’s concern with saving on electricity: “In 1912, my family was worth about three quarters of a million dollars—and we always switched off lights.

Like the O’Neill’s and most of their friends, we had started converting to electricity in the early 1900’s, and we all tried to save on lights in those days. When electricity was first installed, the company figured that the users had to pay for the installation of dynamos and other equipment. They had to get some of their money back, so the original charges were high.”

The crux of the matter of James’s penury, however, seemed to revolve, for Eugene (if his preoccupation with it in Long Day’s Journey Into Night may be used as a guide), on James’s wish to send him to a state farm to be treated for tuberculosis. Edmund Tyrone, in the play, becomes almost inarticulate with rage at the thought that his wealthy father is going to allow him to be a charity patient. In this one instance, paradoxically, Eugene chose to distort the truth in his father’s favor. Although Long Day’s Journey Into Night indicates that James was shamed by his son into sending him to a heavily endowed, semiprivate sanitarium, the fact is that James did send Eugene first to the state farm.

James considered his financial condition at this time more precarious than ever. Actually, he was worth somewhere between $100,000 and $200,000 in cash and real estate. But his huge income from Monte Cristo was at an end; he knew he would never play Edmond Dantes again. In addition, another film company came out first with a three-reel Monte Cristo photoplay. James’s five-reel version could not be widely released; there was no market for two Monte Cristo movies.

“I remember how bitterly disappointed Mr. O’Neill was when it was decided the picture would not be released,” Olive Evans said. Although it was shown in a few theatres that had not taken the competing movie and was advertised as the first feature-length film ever produced in the United States, James’s Monte Cristo was soon withdrawn.

It is true that James had accepted a role in a projected Broadway play, for which his salary was to be $400 a week, but he had no guarantee that it would be a success; he was convinced that his earning days were over, and since neither of his sons was able to support himself, he saw the poorhousc looming. Perhaps he did feel, as Eugene accused him, that tuberculosis was a fatal disease and that it was useless to spend a lot of money treating it; the thought may have crossed his mind that, since Eugene was going to die anyway, it would be better to save his money for the living members of his family. Tuberculosis in the early 1900’s was called “The Great Killer” and was the leading cause of death in the country; the national death rate for the disease was 204 per 100,000 population.

By the end of November Eugene’s condition became a little worse and his doctors began making tests for tuberculosis. Ella apparently did not know of the doctors’ suspicion or else was too dazed to understand. In any case, she left Eugene alone with Olive on Thanksgiving Day. She may have gone to join James in New York. Eugene was accustomed to his family’s habit of ignoring holidays, but on this particular Thanksgiving, a gray day with a promise of snow in the cold air, he longed for company. Friends like Art McGinley had come in to visit him from time to time during his illness, but most of his New London companions were not acceptable to Ella, so that he was left pretty much to his own devices. Since a visit from Maibelle could not be arranged for some reason, Eugene in lonely despair asked Olive to call Mildred Culver.

“I talked my mother into letting me go to visit Gene,” Mildred recalled. “I made it a sob story—poor Gene, all alone and ill on Thanksgiving Day.” Early in the evening she wrapped herself in her brother-inlaw’s Navy boat cloak and walked through the softly falling snow to Eugene’s house. She sat by his bed and talked to him about Maibelle.

A few days later Eugene learned he had tuberculosis. His case was not severe, the doctors said, but it was advisable for him to go to a sanitarium. He met Maibelle that evening and told her about it.

“It didn’t occur to me to be frightened of contagion,” Maibelle later said, “and I kept on seeing him for a while, whenever he was well enough to get out of bed.” Early in December, however, Maibelle left for a trip tc Florida with her family.

Eugene had grown depressed. Late in November he wrote a poem called “The Lay of the Singer’s Fall,” in which he described a gifted youth whose spirit was plagued by the devil of doubt; first his faith, then his heart, then his soul died. “When Truth and Love and God are dead/ It is time, full time, to die!” says the Singer in the last stanza. The poem ended with these lines:

And the Devil in triumph chuckled low,
“There is always suicide,
It’s the only logical thing I know.”
—And the life of the singer died.

James had made his decision to send Eugene to the Fairfield County State Tuberculosis Sanitarium in Shelton, Connecticut, a few miles west of New Haven. The institution charged $4 a week for those who could pay; those who could not were supported by the state. Possibly Eugene even encouraged James’s decision, in order to wallow more (idly in sell pity; he was often seized by such masochistic impulses. Apparently his destination was an ugly secret between father and son, for neither Maibellc nor Olive—nor, indeed, any friend or relative of the O’Neill’s—has recalled hearing anything about it.

James’s behavior toward his son before he left for Shelton was incredible. He was sending Eugene off to what he knew was considered a pauper’s institution—and now he called in the best tailor in New London to fit Eugene out. The tailor’s name was Charles Perkins.

James asked Olive to stay in the living room during the fitting, because Eugene was not sure of his strength.

“Mr. O’Neill wanted me to be around all the time,” Olive said. “He sat in a rocker while Mr. Perkins fitted Gene for a beautiful suit and overcoat. Mr. Perkins was a very dignified man, and I was surprised when Mr. O’Neill called him just ‘Perkins.’ He sat there suggesting alterations and trying to be helpful, but Gene acted as though he didn’t hear him; he was very critical about the fit, and would pinch in a place where a pin should go to mark an alteration. He just ignored his father.”

On December 9, a Monday, Eugene’s signature appeared for the last time in the Telegraph, at the end of a poem called “To Winter”:

“Blow, blow, thou winter wind,”
Away from here,
And I shall greet thy passing breath
Without a tear.

I do not love thy snow and sleet
Or icy floes;
When I must jump or stamp to warm
My freezing toes.

For why should I be happy or
E‘n be merry
In weather only fitted for
Cook or Perry.

My eyes are red, my lips are blue
My ears frost bitt’n;
Thy numbing kiss doth e’n extend
Thro’ my mitten.

I am cold, no matter how I warm
Or clothe me;
O Winter, greater bards have sung
I loathe thee!

On that same day the Telegraph ran a story that began: “James O’Neill, the noted actor, will close his residence on Pequot Avenue today and will leave for New York, where he will begin rehearsing tomorrow for the wonderful scenic production, ‘The Deliverer,’ which will be played for the first time at the Century Theatre in about six weeks.” (The title was subsequently changed to Joseph and His Brethren; it was a biblical spectacle by Louis N. Parker.) There was no mention of Eugene in that story, but a separate item, that no one recalls having read, announced briefly that Eugene was leaving for Shelton for a “rest cure.”

Ella went to stay with relatives in New London. In the afternoon Eugene, James and Olive boarded a train for New Haven. Olive had no idea that she was taking Eugene, on December 9, on the first leg of a journey to the state sanitarium at Shelton. She thought he was on his way to a semiprivate institution in Wallingford, Connecticut, called Gaylord Farm. She always assumed that Eugene had gone directly to Gaylord Farm, as did everyone else.

She said good-by to Eugene at the station in New Haven. As Eugene stepped off the train, a baggage truck with three coffins rolled across his path.

“My God, what a reception,” she remembered Eugene saying.


James and his son arrived from the railroad station in ahack at the Fairfield County State Tuberculosis Sanitarium on the evening of December 9, 1912. They found it a crude and dismal place. It consisted of a farmhouse, converted into a primitive infirmary, and a row of wooden shacks. What James thought of the sanitarium to which he was consigning his son can only be conjectured. He left him there after meeting Dr. Edward Lynch, who was a good friend of Dr. Sullivan.

Dr. Lynch, who later rose to be superintendent of the sanitarium— it eventually became a fine, modern institution and its name was changed to Laurel Heights—never forgot his first meeting with Eugene.

“He was tall and thin,” Dr. Lynch recalled. “He was neatly dressed in a dark-gray, single-breasted suit. He had pleurisy with effusion, a form of tuberculosis.”

Eugene was Fairfield’s 547th patient and probably its most ephemeral. He stayed there for only two days. Although he had lived in hovels during his seafaring and beachcombing days, he preferred not to die in one. Dr. Lynch quickly realized that Eugene was miserable and that his mental condition would not favor his physical recovery. After making certain that Eugene did have some choice in the matter, which the indigent patients in the sanitarium did not, Dr. Lynch advised him to apply to Gaylord Farm in Wallingford.

“I told him he’d meet a better class of people at Gaylord,” Dr. Lynch recalled, “and that, since Gaylord took only minimal cases, his chances for recovery there would be much better.”

Dr. Lynch wrote to James O’Neill at the Lambs Club in New York, explaining that Eugene planned to leave for treatment elsewhere. He pointed out that his son’s condition was emphatically in need of adequate treatment but that the chances were “very good” for recovery.

Eugene arrived in New York on December 11. After some bitter wrangling, he persuaded his father to send him to the man regarded by many as the country’s leading chest surgeon and a pioneer in the treatment of tuberculosis—Dr. James Alexander Miller. Eugene gained Dr. Miller’s interest in his case and, on December 17, the surgeon wrote to the director of Gaylord, Dr. David R. Lyman, describing Eugene as a young man in “excellent general condition” and “a very favorable case.” He asked Dr. Lyman to let him know immediately if Gaylord could receive O’Neill.

Dr. Lyman wrote back that he could.

With the dramatic timing that so often characterized the rhythm of his life and with the aid of the elements with which he seemed attuned in some mystical fashion, Eugene contrived to arrive at Gaylord on Christmas Eve during a blizzard. This time James, although he was busy rehearsing for a January opening of Joseph and His Brethren, had set out with his son by car on the eighty-mile drive to Wallingford, Connecticut. They had a hazardous trip and Eugene arrived much later than expected by the sanitarium staff. One of the patients has remembered being told that the O’Neill car had broken down on the way.

Eugene’s impressions of Gaylord have been accurately recorded in his play, The Straw, written in 1918 and 1919. The play, most of whose action is laid in the Hill Farm Tuberculosis Sanitarium, has as its hero a tuberculous young newspaper reporter named Stephen Murray, who closely resembles the Eugene of 1912. Like Eugene, Murray begins writing seriously at the “san” during his enforced period of physical inactivity. In a number of ways O’Neill’s description of him is a selfportrait:

“... a tall, slender, rather unusual-looking fellow with a pale face, sunken under high cheek bones, lined about the eyes and mouth, jaded and worn for one still so young. His intelligent, large hazel eyes have a tired, dispirited expression in repose, but can quicken instantly with a concealment mechanism of mocking, careless humor whenever his inner privacy is threatened. His large mouth aids this process of protection by a quick change from its set apathy to a cheerful grin of cynical good nature. He gives off the impression of being somehow dissatisfied with himself but not yet embittered enough by it to take it out on others. His manner, as revealed by his speech—nervous, inquisitive, alert—seems more an acquired quality than any part of his real nature. He stoops a trifle, giving him a slightly round-shouldered appearance.”

In 1924, in dedicating a volume of his plays to a nurse at Gaylord with whom he had kept up a correspondence, O’Neill wrote: “I confess I believe there is a great deal of the ‘me’ of that period in ‘Murray’— intentionally!”

Unlike such private, profit-making institutions as the tuberculosis sanitariums at Saranac Lake in New York and at Asheville in North Carolina, which were large and expensive, Gaylord Farm was small, nonprofit and somewhat experimental. Situated in rolling farm and orchard country, its 293 acres had once been the home of three generations of Drs. Gaylord. The sanitarium was still called a farm because its immense barnyard and dairy made it almost self-sustaining. The Blue Hill mountains formed part of its scenic background, of which the most picturesque grouping was the Sleeping Giant—one flat hill representing the head, a broader one the paunch, and a third, flatter and longer, the legs. Viewed from Gaylord the mountains had a smoky blue color.

Gaylord Farm was established in 1904 with one doctor, one nurse and six patients. The Great White Plague was then considered incurable except, possibly, in one of the two well-established sanitariums, or in a high altitude such as Colorado or the Swiss Alps. Financed largely by the Anti-Tuberculosis Society of New Haven and aided by a small, annual state fund, Gaylord Farm dedicated itself to proving that tuberculosis could be checked in any climate where plain good care, with rest as its vital factor, was administered. Patients were charged $7 a week.

Eugene was immediately reassured by the atmosphere of Gaylord and the thoroughness of its procedures. Soon after his arrival he underwent a comprehensive examination and was put to bed. The examination confirmed previous diagnoses that his case was a light one, and noted that he caught cold easily, was subject to severe attacks of tonsillitis, was nervous and, though he could fall asleep easily, was in the habit of waking up six or seven times a night.

Long after he had recovered from tuberculosis he enjoyed telling friends about his stay at the sanitarium, attributing a variety of reasons to the onslaught of the disease. To McGinley he confided that he had probably picked it up in the Argentine when he was a beachcomber; to the critic Kenneth Macgowan, with whom he later became associated in the production of his plays, he said he had contracted tuberculosis at Jimmy-the-Priest’s, where, he maintained, he had slept in a bed previously occupied by a man who had died of the disease; to the theatrical press agent Joe Heidt, whom he met somewhat later, he declared that the disease had been brought on by riding his bicycle in the rain in New London. To the writer Benjamin De Casseres he once offered a more elaborate explanation:

“I got such a dose of those germs—at least, this seems to me the reasonable dope—while living at Jimmy-the-Priest’s with ‘lungers’ numerous among the lodgers of its airless rooms—cells, better—that later when I got run down after a long siege of booze, [and a] theatrical tour with its strain of free—not always—love and of pretending I was pretending to be an actor—the little bugs got me. And at that, thanks to a constitution from my father that I had done my damndest to wreck completely, I only contracted a very slight incipient case.”

Still later, while traveling in Europe and hearing of some London newspaper reports that he was dying of tuberculosis in Switzerland, he wrote to a friend in New York: “Even my old doc must laugh. I was the most incipient case he ever had—never coughed a cough in six months, and was pronounced entirely cured.”

Nevertheless, Eugene was concerned about his health and on one occasion, ten years after he had been pronounced cured at Gaylord, he was fearful the “little bugs” had returned to make an end of him. He was staying with a friend, Eben Given, in Provincetown, Massachusetts.

“Gene came down with tonsillitis,” Given later recalled. “He had a slight hemorrhage and he thought it was a recurrence of T.B.; he was convinced he was going to die. My father, who had some medical knowledge, examined him and was able to assure him that there was nothing wrong except a little burst blood vessel in his throat.”

There is no doubt that O’Neill grew acutely conscious of the state of his health once he seriously began writing, at twenty-five. He collected doctors the way a sportsman collects game trophies and proudly sustained friendships and correspondences with many of the dozens of physicians of various specialties and qualifications who were called in to attend him during the last forty years of his life. While it is true that during his final twelve years he was gravely ill—so ill that a series of specialists could do little to help him—it is also true that prior to this period he often imagined himself in worse condition than he actually was, and delighted in bagging a fresh doctor for his collection.

In 1912, when O’Neill became a patient at Gaylord, its guiding force was a thirty-six-year-old Buffalo born doctor named David Bussell Lyman, who had been educated in Virginia. He turned up in O’Neill’s play, The Straw, as Dr. Stanton, described by O’Neill as follows: “A handsome man ... with a grave, care-lined studious face lightened by a kindly, humorous smile. His gray eyes, saddened by the suffering they have witnessed, have the sympathetic quality of real understanding. The look they give is full of companionship, the courage-renewing, human companionship of a hope which is shared. He speaks with a slight Southern accent, soft and slurring.”

A former T.B. patient himself and later a member of the medical staff of Dr. Edward L. Trudeau’s Saranac sanitarium, Dr. Lyman had taken charge of Gaylord at its inception, when he was only twenty-eight. With the devoted assistance of a trained nurse named Florence R. Burgess, a widow nine years his senior, Dr. Lyman helped make Gaylord into a model tuberculosis sanitarium, where new methods were tried and proved. (Mrs. Burgess, in The Straw, became Mrs. Turner, “a stout, motherly, capable- looking woman with gray hair.”)

In 1912 X-ray had not yet been employed for diagnosis nor had any miracle drugs been discovered to fight the disease. Gaylord placed great emphasis on a homelike, benevolent atmosphere. Training in self-care was stressed, much in the same way that an educational institution might instruct its students. Gaylord patients, in fact, regarded themselves upon discharge as graduates of a beloved alma mater.

Some years after leaving Gaylord O’Neill humorously signed a letter to Dr. Lyman: “Your alumnus, Eugene O’Neill.” The patients looked on Dr. Lvman, whom they affectionately called “Dr. David,” as a heavensent benefactor devoted to their struggle to conquer the disease. Each step toward recovery was like the mastery of a difficult lesson, and was rewarded by a specific privilege.

During the first three or four months of a patient’s stay at Gavlord he was confined to bed in the main building, called Tuttle Infirmary, which accommodated thirty-one men and women. As he gained in weight and strength he was allowed, first, the privilege of walking unescorted to the bathroom and, second, taking an unassisted tub bath. If he continued to gain during the next two or three weeks, he was permitted to sit for an hour in a reclining chair between bed periods, then to be transferred to one of several cottages on the grounds, and later to leave bed for one meal, then two, and finally three. If no setback occurred during this time, he was allowed to go to the main hall for social activities, such as playing cards or checkers.

After that came sessions of regulated exercises—first, a daily walk of fifteen minutes, which was gradually increased to one hour in the morning and one hour in the afternoon. By the time he reached this point the patient was ready to be discharged.

Because he had only a touch of T.B., O’Neill moved more rapidly from one step to the next than the majority of patients, whose stays averaged about thirteen months. With the regimen of rest and wholesome food—milk was a diet requirement and most of the supply was produced on the farm—O’Neill gained twelve pounds within four weeks. By the end of January, with his weight up to 158, he was ready to move into a cottage.

Hart Cottage, the gift in 1905 of a New Haven businessman, was of the approved type for tuberculosis patients. Because fresh air was considered an important part of the treatment, O’Neill slept on one of the cottage’s two open porches—even in the bitterest winter weather. The enclosed middle section of the cottage, which accommodated four patients, consisted of a dressing room with clothes lockers. By the middle of February O’Neill’s weight was found to be above normal, and his appetite good. While he had no cough or fatigue and did not complain of pain, he still had a slight “drawing” sensation at “the right base.”

The staff and patients were aware that Eugene was the son of James O’Neill; many of them had seen James in Monte Cristo. Not long after his arrival, someone called Eugene’s attention to a copy of Vanity Fair, which contained an article about a wild champagne party and show put on at the Berkeley Theatre by the Friars Club during the first week of January. The show—a mock trial entitled “A Giggle”—listed James as a member of the cast. He played the defendant “charged with putting the bull in Bull Durham.” James was an avid clubman—he belonged to the Lambs and to the Knights of Columbus in addition to the Friars and The Players—and it was a part of his attitude never to let any personal sorrow interfere with his being a good fellow in public. Eugene, however, might have construed James’s participation in “A Giggle” as callous and it is not inconceivable that Eugene’s antagonism all his life toward joining anything was inspired by rebellion against his father’s overwhelming tendency to be hail-fellow-well-met.

Once he realized that he was making progress toward recovery Eugene ahowed himself to relax mentally and even enjoy his surroundings. He made friends with several staff members, among whom he was especially drawn to a nurse named Mary Clark. She, too, became a character in The Straw; O’Neill called her Miss Gilpin.

Miss Clark was as Irish as Eugene and could respond to him with wit and humor. She was thirty-three when Eugene met her at Gaylord—a tall, dark haired, dark-eyed, strong minded woman who had come to the sanitarium as a patient in 1910 and stayed on to work after her recovery. Eugene once referred to Miss Clark as the “angel of old pneumothorax” and his fondness for her is recorded in a stanza from a birthday poem he wrote to her on May 24, 1913, which he called “Ballad of the Birthday of the Most Gracious of Ladyes”:

Hope’s Hebe to the fever-toss’d!
(Some figure of speech, you’ll agree)
Kindest of bosses that e’er bossed!
I’m almost glad to have T.B.
Else I’d never have met you—see?
And real true friendship’s none so rife,
With all my heart I shout to thee—
Top of the morning and long life!

Writing to Miss Clark ten years later, after she had published the poem in a hospital magazine at Eagleville, Pennsylvania, O’Neill declared that although seeing the poem again had given him nostalgic pleasure, he realized its literary merits were negligible. “But—whisper!—I think as a poet I’m a very good playwright,” he added.

(In fairness to O’Neill it must be pointed out that he did not, as a mature artist, regard any of his early poetic flights as noteworthy. “Everybody writes poetry when he’s young,” he once said. And while he reluctantly allowed his Telegraph poems and a few more that had been printed in other publications to be collected in a limited-edition bibliography published in 1931, he resisted other efforts to bring out collections of his poetry. “It would be a shame to waste good type on such nonsense,” he wrote to one would-be editor in 1936.)

Eugene kept in touch with Mary Clark for many years, and sent her several volumes of his published plays. In one of them—a collection containing The Straw, The Emperor Jones and a play called Diff’rent, written in 1920—he wrote:

“To Miss Mary A. Clark, with affectionate remembrance of our friendship at Gaylord Farm and of her great and continued kindness to me while I was a patient there—the spirit of which kindness I have tried dimly to portray in ‘The Straw’ without, however, presuming to make any personal sketches out of the characters in that play.” (O’Neill had by that time fallen into the almost automatic habit of denying that any character in any play, however obvious the derivation appeared, was based on an actual person; since he knew that nearly all his plays contained characters recognizable to some people, a blanket denial that he ever drew from life was the safest way to guard himself against recrimination.)

Two other nurses of whom Eugene was fond were Wilhelmina Stam- berger and Catherine Murray. Miss Stamberger, when Eugene met her, was twenty seven—a tall, slender, blonde probationer, or nurse in training, on the Cottage side of the sanitarium. She, too, had previously been a patient at Gaylord; Dr. Lyman had not been optimistic about her chances for recovery, but she had a remarkable fighting spirit. After struggling back to health she studied nursing and returned to Gaylord to practice her new career. Miss Howard, in The Straw, is a composite of Miss Stamberger and Miss Murray, who died in the 1920’5.

“Catherine Murray was the nurse on duty all through O’Neill’s stay at Gaylord,” Miss Stamberger recalled after O’Neill’s death, when she was in her seventies. “I may have been the outward model for Miss Howard, but Catherine Murray was the one who used to have long chats with O’Neill.”

O’Neill has indicated that Miss Murray made a strong impression on him, by borrowing her surname for the hero of The Straw. And in a letter to Mary Clark in 1923, after he had lost touch with Miss Murray, he wrote: “How and where is she now, do you know? I remember her interest in my writing, her genuine friendship for me.”

The people who at this point in his life—and for the next year or two—took an interest in Eugene’s writing earned his undying admiration and gratitude. For Eugene had found what was to be more than his lifework—a reason for life itself, or, more precisely, his reason for having suffered and searched and struggled—his justification for having been born.

O’Neill expressed his public attitude about this discovery in 1923 to a reporter of a little magazine called the Journal of Outdoor Life:

“It was at Gaylord that my mind got the chance to establish itself, to digest and valuate the impressions of many past years in which one experience had crowded on another with never a second’s reflection. At Gaylord I really thought about my life for the first time, about past and future. Undoubtedly the inactivity forced upon me by the life forced me to mental activity, especially as I had always been highstrung and nervous temperamentally.”

He added, however: “No, it isn’t exactly true that my first urge to write came at the San. Previous to my breakdown I had done quite a lot of newspaper work ... and this experience started me, although the work itself was junk of a low order.”

Three years earlier, just after Beyond the Horizon had opened, calling widespread attention for the first time to O’Neill’s talents, he was asked, “What was your early ambition?”

“I didn’t have any idea,” he said. “My ambition, if you call it that, was to keep moving—to do as many things as I could. I just drifted along till I was twenty-four and then I got a jolt and sat up and took notice. Retribution overtook me and I went down with T.B. It gave me time to think about myself and what I was doing—or, rather, wasn’t doing. I got busy writing one-act plays.”

Since Eugene’s stay at Gaylord lasted less than six months, he only had time to make a tentative start on the one-acters; he completed only one play, A Wife for a Life, which he later destroyed and which gave no hint of the direction his creative mind was soon to follow. (This was the play with a mining-camp background, drawn from his Honduras experience.) He later said he had “dashed it off in one night,” adding that it had been intended as a vaudeville skit.

“But this was not a play,” he maintained. “In fact, my friends in vaudeville crudely insisted it was not a vaudeville skit, either! It was nothing.”

At the time he wrote it, though, he thought enough of it to apply for a copyright; the New London Telegraph caught his enthusiasm and printed the following item, soon after his return from Gaylord:

“Eugene O’Neill, son of James O’Neill the eminent actor, has written a vaudeville sketch. Mr. O’Neill yesterday received the copyright for the act from Washington. He expects to market it this fall. Mr. O’Neill has considerable literary talent, which was evidenced when he was a member of The Telegraph staff. He heretofore has confined himself to poetry and has written much worthy verse; this is his first venture into theatrical writing.”

It was not an auspicious venture, but because it was his first, a sampling of the dialogue should be recorded.

The young hero, Jack, has been in love for a year with his mining partner’s wife, Yvette. The partner, designated simply as the Older Man, suspects that his wife, who has since left him, had a lover, but does not know it was Jack, nor does Jack realize that his love is the wife of the Older Man. He proceeds to tell the Older Man about his sad affair:

“One rarely speaks of such things. I’ve never told you but I will now if you care to hear it.... She was the wife of a broken-down mining engineer from the States, over twenty years her senior ... he was a drunken brute who left her alone most of the time.... Personally I never saw him. It was probably better that I did not. You see I fell in love with her on the spot and the thought of how he treated her made my blood boil.”

The Older Man, beginning to tumble to the truth, asks, “in stifled tones,” which Jack does not notice:

“What was the name of the mining town you mention? I’ve been in that country [Perul myself—many years ago.”

“San Sebastien,” says Jack, naively. “Do you know it?”

The Older Man replies, “in a hoarse whisper,” that he does.

Jack, still unaware that he is addressing Yvette’s husband, tells him the rest of the story.

“I went to see her often,” he says. “He was always away it seemed. Finally, people began to talk. Then I realized that the time had come and I told her that I loved her. I shall never forget her face. She looked at me with great calm eyes but her lips trembled as she said: ‘I know you love me and I—I love you; but you must go away and we must never see each other again. I am his wife and I must keep my pledge.’”

‘You lie!” cries the Older Man, half-drawing his pistol.

“Why what do you mean? What is it,” asks Jack, still in the dark.

Nerves I guess,” says the Older Man. This satisfies Jack. After a few more similar exchanges the Older Man decides, nobly, to send Jack off to join Yvette, who now believes herself to be a widow.

“What tricks Fate plays with us,” soliloquizes the Older Man. “When he told me his name that first day I noticed that it was the same as the man’s I was looking for. But ... I never for an instant harbored the idea that he could be the John Sloan I was after.” His curtain line is: “Greater love hath no man than this that he giveth his wife for his friend.”

Awful as it was, A Wife for a Life established a new pattern of life for O’Neill. After completing the script he went on, while still at Gaylord, to make notes for several other short plays he was to complete within a year. Abruptly O’Neill found himself transformed from a man of action into a man of inaction. For seven years he had been in violent motion— hell-raising at Princeton, getting himself married and divorced, prospecting in Honduras, touring in vaudeville, shipping to sea, beachcombing, drinking, trying suicide. Finding himself no longer able to make a physical response of violence to everything in life that tormented him, he turned his fury inward—and made the miraculous discovery that he could be a creator instead of a destroyer.

At this crucial moment in his life he was tremendously influenced by two works he read: Dostoevski’s The Idiot and Strindberg’s recently translated play, The Dance of Death.

He once told Manuel Komroff, one of his editors at Boni and Liveright when that house was publishing his plays, that if it had not been for these two works he might never have begun writing. They were, in his words, tangible evidence that “a powerful emotional ecstasy, approaching a kind of frenzy,” could be communicated by a writer. The Idiot and The Dance of Death, said O’Neill, had “the feeling and sensation” he wished to coin municate to an audience.

Strindberg was by far the stronger of the two influences, for he had not only chosen the literary medium to which O’Neill felt drawn but had an outlook on certain aspects of life that came uncannily close to O’Neill’s own. The Dance of Death struck an overwhelmingly responsive chord. In that powerful and monstrous play Strindberg put into words what other people found incredible and repulsive, but what O’Neill had for a long time recognized as one of the motivating forces of his parents’ relationship with each other and the resultant effect upon him. Compare Jim’s speech in All God’s Chillun Got Wings—“I can’t leave her. She can’t leave me” —with Alice’s speech about her husband in The Dance of Death: “We have been trying to part every single day—but we are chained together and cannot break away.” And, in reply to the family friend’s comment, “Then he loves you,” Alice says, “Probably. But that does not prevent him from hating me.” Strindberg summed up what O’Neill had not before seen so pungently stated: “It is called love-hatred, and it hails from the pit!”

Even Strindberg’s ideas about the appropriate way to commit suicide matched O’Neill’s. In The Dance of Death, Alice’s daughter, Judith, suffering over the threat of separation from her young lover, speaks of killing herself with him by swimming out into the sea until they drown. “There would be style in that,” she says.

Strindberg was more than a literary kindred spirit to O’Neill; like O’Neill’s other literary hero, Nietzsche, he became in some ways a pattern for O’Neill’s life. The son of incompatible parents—his mother was a barmaid and his father believed he had married beneath him—Strindberg was constantly tortured; he was an iconoclast and a mystic, a bold innovator in the theatre, and often misunderstood and condemned. He too was driven by furies, unable to cope with marriage, fated to disastrous relationships with his wives, mistresses and children. He died in May, 1912— the month and year that O’Neill had tried to commit suicide.

In 1936, accepting the Nobel Prize, O’Neill acknowledged his debt to “that greatest genius of all modern dramatists, your August Strindberg.”

“It was reading his plays,” O’Neill said, “when I first started to write, back in the winter of 1913–14, that, above all else, first gave me the vision of what modern drama could be, and first inspired me with the urge to write for the theatre myself. If there is anything of lasting worth in my work, it is due to that original impulse from him, which has continued as my inspiration down all the years since then—to the ambition I received then to follow in the footsteps of his genius as worthily as my talent might permit, and with the same integrity of purpose.”

O’Neill found that in writing he could escape from a hostile world. He could belong. “As long as you have a job on hand that absorbs all your mental energy you haven’t much worry to spare over other things,” O’Neill informed a young author many years later, adding, “It serves as a suit of armor.” Once this realization took hold, Eugene found that writing was his life, that without writing as the focal point of his existence he had no life.

In 1924 O’Neill made a devastatingly revealing comment to Dr.

Lyman, who had sent him a routine medical inquiry for Gaylord’s records. In response to the printed query, “How much [working! time have you lost from vacations?” O’Neill wrote: “Writing is my vacation from living— so I don’t need vacations.”

O’Neill came to regard his recovery from illness at Gaylord and his simultaneous discovery that he was a dramatist as a kind of rebirth. He once described this period at Gaylord as “the time I should have been cast down by my fate—and wasn’t.” Seven months after he had left the sanitarium he wrote to Dr. Lyman: “I am looking forward to some fine spring day when I shall be able to pay the Farm a visit.... If, as they say, it is sweet to visit the place one was born in, then it will be doubly sweet for me to visit the place I was reborn in—for my second birth was the only one which had my full approval.”

A few years later—in 1919—he said in a letter to Dr. Lyman:

“In the measure that I love my work, and am proud to have been able to do the little I have, so much the more deep is my gratitude to you and to Gaylord Farm for saving me for it. My blessings on the Farm ‘spring eternal,’ and the recollections of my stay there are, and always will be, among the most pleasant of my memories.”

Perhaps only an O’Neill could have counted a bout with tuberculosis among his cherished moments. Certainly those moments, besides revealing his mission, continued to influence his work for many years. The firsthand knowledge of tuberculosis gained at Gaylord was applied in a number of his plays, starting with The Web, which he wrote right after leaving the sanitarium. The heroine of his second play is a victim of the disease, as is the hero of Beyond the Horizon, and, of course, the autobiographical protagonist of Long Day’s Journey Into Night. But O’Neill’s most vividly and distressingly tuberculous heroine and his most comprehensive discussion of the disease occur in The Straw.

Eileen Carmody was the name O’Neill chose for his pathetic heroine, and she, too, had an actual counterpart at Gaylord. Her story did not end as romantically or as sentimentally as Eileen’s, however.

Eileen was modeled on Catherine Mackay, a girl from Waterbury, Connecticut, nicknamed Kitty. Like Eileen, she was from a large, Irish, working-class family. A fellow patient at Gaylord described her as “not really pretty, but a girl with depth.” O’Neill’s description of Eileen in The Straw was probably applicable to Kitty Mackay, except for her age, from which he subtracted a few years:

“Her wavy mass of dark hair is parted in the middle and combed low on her forehead, covering her ears, to a knot at the back of her head. The oval of her face is spoiled by a long, rather heavy, Irish jaw contrasting with the delicacy of her other features. Her eyes are large and blue, confident in their compelling candor and sweetness; her lips, full and red, half-open, over strong even teeth, droop at the corners into an expression of wistful sadness; her clear complexion is unnaturally striking in its contrasting colors, rose and white; her figure is slight and undeveloped.”

When Eugene met Kitty in March, 1913, she was twenty-three. She had been a patient at Gaylord for five months about a year before, and though not as much improved as Dr. Lyman would have wished her to be, had been discharged in May, 1912, because, as the sanitarium report put it, she was “worrying greatly over home affairs.”

Her mother was dead and several young children at home were demanding her attention—a fact her father did not spare her on his visits to the sanitarium. Kitty had an aunt and a grandmother living in New Jersey and it was arranged for her to go there with the two younger children. “Relatives can look after them and patient can sleep out and take cure there,” Kitty’s report read. “Patient worrying so, the above course seems best under the circumstances.”

But by the end of the year Kitty’s condition had deteriorated, and after an exchange of letters with Dr. Lyman, she was readmitted to Gaylord, this time as a charity case, so that her father would not have to shoulder the expense. Her chances of arresting the disease were now considered only fair.

Kitty drew Eugene’s attention almost at once. Employing his usual technique, he set about educating her. An unworldly girl and an emotional one, she responded to Eugene with more fervor than he had anticipated and with far more than was healthy for her. Gavlord had a strict rule about emotional entanglements among its patients: “Scatter your attention; Do not concentrate.”

“The interference of the healthy heart with the cure of the sick lung is ... a real problem to me,” Dr. Lyman once wrote with specific reference to O’Neill and Kitty. There were, technically, two things for which a patient could be asked to leave Gaylord. One was a love affair and the other was drinking. Eugene broke both of these rules. He pursued a romance with Kitty and occasionally slipped into town at night for beer. Dr. Lvman later confided to Doc Ganey, whom he met in New London, that Eugene had been “a problem.” That he did not send him away was possibly due to the I act that Eugene was not there long enough for his misbehavior to be fully documented.

For Kitty, the problem was more serious. She was much sicker than Eugene and knew that being sent away from Gaylord would amount to a death warrant; no other institution was inclined to accept a patient who had proved undesirable elsewhere. And without care the patient was liable to die of the disease. Kitty took chances nevertheless—to her ultimate sorrow.

One of Kitty’s roommates, Emma Halper, later expressed astonishment that the romance could have flourished as it did, although she was aware that Kitty was emotionally involved and often unhappy. Emma considered herself responsible for the three fellow patients with whom she shared a bungalow. She was the oldest and had had a long bout with tuberculosis.

“It must have been almost impossible for them to meet and be alone,” Emma said. “Kitty was always in bed in our cottage at the proper time, and if she sneaked out later to meet Eugene, I certainly didn’t know about it. They couldn’t have had much time together during the day either. One of the ways Gaylord had of enforcing the nonromance rule was the manner in which the patients’ daily walks were scheduled; on one day the men would walk the Cheshire Road and the women would walk the Wallingford Road. Next day they’d switch. Patients of both sexes did congregate in the main hall at designated social hours, and that is where Eugene and Kitty first met.”

Emma had her initial inkling of Kitty’s interest in Eugene when she came back from Mass one day. Looking pensive, she told Emma, “Gene wasn’t there.” Emma soon realized that Kitty was falling in love. It began w’ith her borrowing books from Eugene (he had brought so many with him to Gaylord that the porter who cleaned his bungalow used to mutter, “That man and his damned books”). Much as it had been with Maibelle, the relationship between Eugene and Kitty revolved around her being a dutiful student. But Eugene did not treat Kitty as gingerly as he had Maibelle. He mocked her Catholicism and enjoyed shocking and confusing her. It was evident to the other patients that she cared far more for him than he did for her.

As a matter of fact, Eugene still fancied himself in love with Maibelle. He wrote her in Florida of his daily progress, sent her snapshots of himself and his nurses, and described his interest in Kitty. He may, however, have detected a coolness in Maibelle’s response, for one day he showed Kitty a picture of Maibelle and remarked, “See her? She’s through.”

Eugene wrote also to Olive Evans, and sent her a poem he had written about Kitty. For Maibelle, he composed a tender love poem called “To Maibelle from a Recliner.”

Having established himself, to his own satisfaction, as something of a rake, and full of assurance about his future, O’Neill found by the end of May that his case was arrested and that he was free to leave Gaylord. He now weighed 162 pounds—a gain of sixteen since his admission—and y, as considered as fit as anyone could be who had just had tuberculosis. He wrote to tell his father that he was ready to come home, and James responded to the news with an anxious letter to Dr. Lyman indicating his kar that Eugene’s condition might still be infectious; was it true, James asxed. chat no one, not even Eugene’s “ailing mother,” could become infooted with tuberculosis by “living in the same house and eating at the same table” with Eugene? James went on to imply that, rather than jeopardize Ella’s health, he would arrange to have Eugene go elsewhere for the summer.

If Dr. Lxman was surprised by this letter, he gave James only the slightest hint of it. He replied that in Eugene’s case there was no danger of contagion, adding, “in his present condition he would not be a menace to anyone.”

Apparently James was shamed. He wrote to Eugene, asking him to return to New London.

Dr Lyman cautioned Eugene, in parting, to rest for the summer and to avoid strenuous exertion for the next year, though he could resume work in the fall. He was told he was in “A-I shape,” and the prognosis was excellent.

O’Neill left Gaylord on June 3. He said good-by to Kitty without a qualm. She was discharged six months later and returned to the tedium of her life in Waterbury. She never saw Eugene again.

In The Straw, O’Neill has his hero, Stephen, leave the sanitarium knowing that Eileen is in love with him but unable to reciprocate her love. He retrns four months later on a visit to find her dying and heroically determnines to marry her in an effort to restore her will to live. To his own astonishment he finds that he truly loves her and forces himself to believe that her life can be saved. “We’ll win together. We can! We must!” says Stephen to the nurse-superintendent. “Happiness will cure! Love is stronger than—Oh, why did you give me a hopeless hope?” The implication, however, is that they will win through, clutching “the straw” of the title.

But for Kitty there had been no hope at all. A little over a year after leaving Gaylord she was dead.


Eugene returned to new london with a dawning sense of tolerance for his father and a deeper sense of pity and compassion for his mother. Illness seemed to have broadened his capacity for understanding his family, and his newfound determination to write had somewhat increased his ability to be objective about them. “We were a very close family—too close,” he said later.

Dimly aware that Eugene was taking the first steps that might lead him out of the emotional miasma that bound all the O’Neill’s, the other members of the family regrouped. Ella and Jamie draw closer to each other, making James feel more an outsider; and James, in turn, attempted to ingratiate himself with Eugene by praising A Wife for a Life and offering to appear in the skit in vaudeville—if he could find backing.

Jamie, who had always believed that his mother needed to be protected from his father, considered himself her only mainstay. Sick in mind and soul, and without Eugene’s tough-mindedness and spiritual resources, Jamie could persuade himself that his tender devotion to his mother gave his own life some justification. He continued to drink steadily but quietly through the summer, spending most of his time in the house as a selfappointed buffer between Ella and occasional visitors—mostly family or friends of Eugene. On such occasions Jamie would usually find an excuse for his mother to withdraw, citing her poor health and her need for rest.

When Ella was up to it, she would accompany Jamie on short motor trips or visits. Once, out for a walk with Ella, Jamie suggested dropping in on a family in the undertaking business. Scandalized at the idea of visiting the “shanty Irish K s,” Ella said she preferred to call on the S------ s, a respectable but dull family. “What’s the difference?” asked Jamie. “You go to one you see stiffs; you go to the other you sec stiffs.”

Ella was amused by Jamie in spite of herself and appreciated his companionship. She found him easier to be with than Eugene, who made her feel guilty over her failure as a mother.

Though Jamie devoted himself to Ella, lie sometimes grumbled about his role to friends. He told his cousin Phil Sheridan, “I’m the goat for this family—not only the goat, but the nannygoat.”

Jamie, at this time, was suffering from the pangs of unrequited love for a beautiful and popular actress named Pauline Frederick, who was in the cast, with him and his father, of Joseph and His Brethren. (The play had been running successfully on Broadway since January, 1913, and was to go on tour in September, after a summer layoff.J Pauline had long, black hair and had been likened by at least one contemporary critic, to Cleopatra. She was fond of Jamie, but refused to mam him unless he gave up drinking. Though Jamie tried several times to meet this requirement, he could never stay on the wagon for more than a few weeks at a time. All during the summer he continued to woo her wistfully by sending her a dozen roses almost daily, with money he begged from his father.

Joseph and His Brethren, a lush biblical spectacle that featured fifty sheep, three camels, several donkeys and an elephant, in addition to a human cast of ninety—not counting supers—had been mounted by George Tyler at Broadway’s Century Theatre; it represented the public enthusiasm for Eastern pageantry that had been stirred a bit earlier, also by Tyler, with Garden of Allah.

James, who doubled in the roles of the 16-vear-old Jacob and Pharaoh, had scored a personal triumph in the play. as had Miss Frederick, who played Zuleika, and the young actor, Brandon Tvnan, who starred as Joseph. Jamie played the minor role of Naphtali.

Eugene, heeding Dr. Lyman’s advice, spent the summer relaxing and reading and making notes for future work. He began seeing Maibelle again, but less often than before his illness.

“I had matured,” Maibelle recalled, “and was less impressed with Gene’s worldliness; some of the glamour had worn off for me.” Eugene did not importune Maibelle, but saw her when she wished—and began expanding his field of operations among other “nice” girls of New London who, he had discovered, were neither as frightening nor as inaccessible as he had formerly thought.

His continued progress as a rake was made considerably easier for him by the fact that in September, when James and Ella closed the New’ London house and left with Jamie to rejoin Joseph and His Brethren, Eugene moved across Pequot Avenue to live and board with a family named Rippin, which included three attractive, unmarried daughters in their twenties—all, from Eugene’s point of view, in urgent need of intellectual enlightenment.

The Rippin family was a matriarchy dominated by Helen Maude Rippin. Tall, motherly, resourceful, she was the youngest of twenty children, who had grown up in the English village of Whitney on the Wye She married James Rippin in Rutland, England, and they came to New London one Guy Fawkes Day in the 1880’s. A wonderful cook and a lively raconteur, Mrs. Rippin had an endless supply of energy, humor and homely wisdom. With her husband, who was shorter, quieter and more self-effacing, she moved into a brown-shingle house, called “the Packard,” in 1907.

The front of the house faced Pequot Avenue and the back looked out on the Thames. In 1913 it was still one of the few houses on the river side of Pequot Avenue. Its high back porch, built over the basement, seemed suspended above the narrow beach and commanded a view of the harbor and the Groton shore line, then a serene expanse of greenery broken on by a few well-spaced, stately homes, set back from the riverbank. When a storm was brewing, and the harbor was crowded with schooners seeking shelter, yachts would tie up at the narrow Rippin dock; while waiting out the storm, their owners accepted the Rippins’ invitation to help themselves to water from the big, round well at the side of the house.

Not long after moving into the Packard, Helen Rippin began taking in boarders. The house, built on an incline, was bigger than it looked from the Pequot Avenue side. On the beach side, below the porch, a large dining room had been created, which was entered from a stairway in the upper—or living room—level of the house. The O’Neill’s occasionally took their midday meals at the Rippins’. One of the daughters, Jessica, who was still living in the Packard many years later, retained vivid memories of those summer days in the early 1900’s.

“James O’Neill wasn’t the only celebrity who boarded here,” she said. “A lot of famous people used to eat with us. People liked to come here. It was like a private home; my mother cooked, and my sisters and I helped serve. We didn’t take in strangers.”

But the O’Neill’s did not want to eat in the general dining room with the others, and so were served in a private alcove at one end of the room, at a table near the window that faced the river. When, as often happened, they were late for their meal, the Rippin sisters watched for them, because the sooner the girls could clean up, the sooner they could have time for themselves. James and Ella would walk together with Jamie and Gene following behind. They would poke along, single-file, down the stairs to the dining room. James would sit at the head of the tabic, his wife at the foot, and the two boys between them. To the Rippin girls, they all seemed taciturn and moody, although not impolite. They struck Jessica as “a funny bunch.”

Both Jessica and her sister Emily, who was the family beauty and served as waitress, were aware that there was something not quite right about Ella.

“On several occasions,” Emily once said, “Mrs. O’Neill acted as though she didn’t know me. She looked pale and strange, and at first I thought she was sick. When she was like that, she’d push the plates away from her, not seeming to notice when food spilled from them onto the table or floor. Mr. O’Neill and the boys ignored her, and went on eating as though nothing were wrong.”

Both sisters have remembered being startled once when Ella, after being served, moved her arm in a wooden gesture and swept off the table all the plates and cutlery that were before her. James, beyond making a brief apology to Emily, took no notice of the incident, nor did the boys. Jessica and Emily began to suspect that Ella drank; but their mother assured them that Ella was “not that kind of woman.” Mrs. Rippin had no satisfactory explanation for her behavior, however.

Sometimes, as had been the case when the O’Neill’s boarded at the Youngs’, Ella did not turn up at all at mealtime.

“Mamma won’t be down today. She doesn’t feel well,” Eugene would tell one of the Rippins. And a basket would be prepared for her, which the boys would take home. Often the basket would contain cornmeal muffins, of which Ella was fond.

Mrs. Rippin, who did all the cooking herself, was devoted to James, and James, who had an Irishman’s deep-rooted prejudice against the English, was willing to overlook Mrs. Rippin’s unfortunate origins, partly because she made excellent corned beef and cabbage and Irish stew. He treated her with the utmost gallantry, often bowing before addressing her in the stance of the old romantic actor, his head back, ard one shoulder held higher than the other.

“I’ve traveled all over the world,” he once told her, “and have never found anyone who could cook meat the way you do.” He fell into the habit of greeting Mrs. Rippin as his “Portia,” and amused her by coming into the kitchen after his meal and giving a private recitation. Sometimes he gave her lines to learn and would play a scene with her on the following day, to the delight of her daughters. Mrs. Rippin adored this, but her husband was inclined to be sulky about it, so the scenes were usually pl lyed behind his back.

Emily was about as close to being an intimate friend of Ella as anyone in New London. Ella indicated her fondness for Emily by inviting her on automobile rides from time to time. They would be driven five or six miles into the country and, though Ella did not talk much, she seemed to enjoy having Emily sit with her. She once told Emily that she had gone through two fortunes, and that was why her husband would not let her have any money. Another time she told her about Gene’s troubles with his first wife.

Ella occasionally visited Mrs. Rippin in the evening. Once she came to call with Jamie, who was always a welcome visitor at the Packard.

“He would keep you laughing,” Jessica recalled. “We all loved him; his only fault was liquor.” The Rippins, with the exception of the quiet father, were a high-spirited family, who enjoyed their own private jokes and were a trifle ill at ease in Ella’s presence. They stood on less ceremony with Jamie and Eugene. Jamie, in fact, took Emily out once on a date. When they returned, Eugene rudely teased Jamie, in front of Emily, by remarking, “What a drop from Pauline Frederick!”

When Eugene went to stay with the Rippins in the fall of 1913, it was understood that the arrangement was to be more in the nature of a personal favor to James O’Neill than a formal business arrangement. James undertook to send Mrs. Rippin a weekly check of $13, of which $12 was to pay for Eugene’s room and board and one was to be his personal allowance.

“If Eugene comes to stay with us,” Mrs. Rippin told James, “he’ll have to live as simply as we do.” James agreed to this, and Eugene found himself with no choice but to live a wholesome life.

“With his dollar a week he didn’t have much to spend on girls or liquor,” Emily later said. ‘He’d often walk into town because he didn’t have trolley fare. And quite often we would buy cigarettes for him because he couldn’t afford them. As far as I know, he didn’t drink; I certainly never saw him drunk during the nine or ten months he stayed with us.” Those months, in addition to proving the most healthful he had ever spent, were also the most productive. Shortly before Mrs. Rippin’s death in 1941 Eugene wrote her that living in her home had helped him become the playwright he was.

O’Neill was given a room that opened onto the back porch. He used the porch itself to sleep on, simulating conditions at the sanitarium. The Rippins hung rugs at one end of the porch to shelter him from the wind, and he slept out on the coldest winter nights, with the sound of small breakers washing up on the beach below him and the harsh call of gulls to wake him in the morning. He had a black-and white cat named Friday to keep him company. Friday, who was put out every night, considered Eugene a fellow outcast. Many years later, in a letter to the Rippins, O’Neill referred nostalgically to “that winter ... when Friday used to climb to my porch on zero nights and crawl into the bed with me, leaving the rat he had killed thoughtfully on the floor for me to step on in case Nature called me to get up.”

O’Neill built up his health by taking midwinter dips from the Rippins’ beach. “At the risk of gaining a. reputation for eccentricity before my literary fame warrants such an indulgence,” O’Neill wrote to Dr. Lyman, “I have gone in swimming in this Long Island Sound at least once a week ever since I left Gaylord last June. I haven’t missed a single week. The coldest the water has ever been when I took my plunge was thirty-three degrees. I haven’t had a cold (hear me rap wood) nor has the Demon Tonsillitis, formerly a familiar spirit of mine, paid me a single visit. I thought this might interest you as a ‘lunger’s’ experience.”

He enclosed a snapshot, taken by one of the Rippin sisters. It showed a well-muscled, scowling young man, dressed in a two-piece bathing suit, standing on a strip of beach with the water and the Groton shore line visible behind him. On the picture, O’Neill wrote, “Taken—(cross my heart)—Jan. i, 1914, New London, Conn. Water—390. At his feet, Eugene drew an arrow pointing to a patch of snow, and beneath this, he scribbled the quotation:

The uniform ’e wore
Was nothin’ much before
And rather less than ‘arf o’ that be’ind.

“I was in bed with tonsillitis one cold winter day, and my doctor was visiting,” Emily once said, “when Gene happened to walk past my door, wearing his bathing suit. The doctor wanted to know who that was and where he was going in that outfit. I told him Gene was going swimming. The doctor went outside and watched Gene run up and down the beach, which had clumps of ice on it, and then plunge into the icy water. The doctor came back and told me, ‘That boy is crazy.’”

Although O’Neill was supposed to have his meals with the family, Mrs. Rippin thought he would be more comfortable eating alone, and considerately served him a tray in his room. Ele ate ravenously and uncritically, with an appetite that had been trained at Gaylord.

“His coffee cup used to shake in his hands when he first came to stay with us,” Jessica observed. “But after about four months, the trembling got better.”

O’Neill seemed to relax and blend into his environment more thoroughly at the Rippins’ than he had ever done in New London. He grew extremely casual about the way he dressed. He went about in old, dirty, white ducks and the worn American Line jersey he had salvaged from his sea years, and often went barefoot—a habit that probably accounted for a three-month siege of hookworm, from which he was recovering in September.

“He felt fancy dressing was for the capitalists; he had all those anarchist ideas,” Jessica recalled tartly. “He would write long, radical poems and read them to us. One of them was published in Emma Goldman’s magazine” {Mother Earth).

Another poem was published in the New York Call, a socialist newspaper, in May, 1914. Called “Fratricide,” it was a scathing attack on capitalism, a defense of the labor movement, and a plea for pacifism rolled into one. A nineteen-stanza poem, these verses are typical:

Ho, ho, my friend, and think you so?
And have you not ready history?
This much of war, at least, we know:
The jingoes are the first to flee.
The plutocrats who cause the woe Are arrogant but cowardly....

The army of the poor must fight, New taxes come to crush them down. They feel the iron fist of Might Pr’ss on their brows the thorny crown. They see the oily smile of Right.

They don the sacrificial gown....
What cause could be more asinine
Thrn yours, ye slaves of bloody toil?
Is not your bravery sublime Be neath a tropic sun to broil And bleed and groan—for Guggenheim!
And give your lives for—Standard Oil! ...
Comrades, awaken to new birth!
New values on the tables write!
What is your vaunted courage worth

Unless you rise up in your might And cry: “All workers on the earth Are brothers and we will not fight!”

Although O’Neill knew how to be gravely and charmingly polite, he seldom bothered to produce any polish for the Rippin girls.

“He slouched, shuffled and mumbled,” Jessica said, with distaste. (O’Neill’s father had been trying for years to correct Eugene’s slovenliness. “Get that hump off your back; straighten up and let the words come out,” James would say.)

During the time O’Neill was boarding with her family Jessica was working at a school in Philadelphia. She came home only for weekends and holidays. (The third sister, Dolly, who lived at home, was less interested in O’Neill than her sisters. She held a job in a dentist’s office in New London, but was at home in the evening.)

Jessica, a year older than O’Neill, who was now twenty-five, was somewhat contemptuous of what she considered his parasitical existence. But she did not dislike him; actually, she found him rather appealing, in spite of her disapproval of his character. A tall brunette with blue eyes and a keen sense of humor, Jessica enjoyed watching O’Neill’s maneuvers. (“He was always trying to ‘make’ us,” she said.) He began in his usual way, by attacking what he considered her unenlightened mind; he gave her a copy of Boccaccio’s The Decameron, and sat and watched her reaction as she read it. Reacting like any properly brought up girl, Jessica was embarrassed—and delighted. Next O’Neill proceeded to tell her in detail of his sundry love affairs.

“He used to talk of girls as ‘pigs,’” Jessica said.

One day, when Jessica and O’Neill went for a walk, he told her about his plan for “the perfect marriage.” Jessica thought it was disgusting and cynical—precisely what O’Neill wanted her to think.

“My wife and I will live on a barge,” he said. “I’ll live at one end and she’ll live at the other, and we’ll never see each other except when the urge strikes us.”

Jessica was repelled by O’Neill’s ideas but enjoyed his companionship; what made it even more enjoyable was the knowledge that her father disliked the young man and disapproved of his presence in the Packard. Mr. Rippin, with three unmarried daughters in his house, had protested against taking O’Neill as a boarder. It was only because his wife was fond of Eugene and laughed at her husband’s fears that he finally accepted the plan.

Even before O’Neill began living at the Packard, Mr. Rippin would station himself in the basement when the O’Neill boys paid a call in the evening; much to the girls’ embarrassment, he would bang on the furnace as a signal that the visit had lasted long enough.

Jessica was usually careful not to give her father cause for alarm. Rut once she was frightened. O’Neill took her in his rowboat to a cove on the Groton side of the Thames. They went blueberry picking on the shore and O’Neill happend to sit down on a ripe blueberry patch. As they were about to row back home, Jessica noticed, not without mirth, that his white ducks had been stained a vivid blue. Fearful that her father would conclude that she had been dallying among the berries with O’Neill, she persuaded him to sit in the water and try to soak off the circumstantial evidence, but it stayed on. Jessica’s heart was in her mouth as she distracted her father’s cold eye from O’Neill, who sidled awkwardly into his room to change when they got home.

O’Neill, too, was afraid of Mr. Rippin. Once he was swimming off the Rippin dock and came up and found Jessica standing there. He joined her and started talking to her, but he happened to look toward the house and saw Mr. Rippin watching. “I see your father,” he mumbled, and hastily dived back into the water. (“You astound me by what you say of your father’s interest in articles about me!” O’Neill wrote to Jessica in 1926. “I had imagined I was forever in his bad graces. But perhaps he is looking for the resounding knocks, what?”) But his fear of Mr. Rippin in 1913 did not prevent his trying to kiss Jessica, whose interest in him did not extend along those lines.

“Who would want to kiss that cruel mouth?” Jessica once asked, with a recollective shudder.

Emily was slightly more receptive. She, too, came in for a share of Eugene’s educational program, and because she was the only sister who was always at home—it was her job to help her mother with the running of the household—she was more consistently exposed to Eugene’s persuasive personality. She also read The Decameron.

“My father knew the book,” she recalled, “and when he heard we were reading it he was furious; we had to hide it to finish it.”

Emily was less harsh than Jessica in her judgment of Eugene.

“He had a beautiful smile—when he smiled,” she remembered. “But he could get a mean look on his face at times.” Emily, who took after her father, was the shortest member of the Rippin family; a brunette, with hazel eyes, a rosebud mouth and a seductively full figure, she was a matter of some concern to Mr. Rippin, though her mother was not worried about her safety. Mrs. Rippin trusted O’Neill and considered that she had done her maternal duty by warning Emily never to let a man kiss her until she was engaged. Emily’s response to this advice was, “I couldn’t miss all those kisses,” and Mrs. Rippin would tell her jokingly that she was a bad girl, and smile indulgently.

“Gene was not a rapist,” Emily remarked. “You were safe with him as long as you wanted to be safe.” And Emily concluded, after allowing Eugene to give her an experimental kiss, that she wanted to be safe. But this did not alter the casual, friendly, flirtatious tenor of her relationship with him. This relationship was regarded with suspicion not only by her father but also by a married brother who was often at the house.

“One day my mother and father had to go uptown,” Emily recalled, “and Gene told me that he’d like to walk me uptown a little later on, when he had to go to the library to meet Maibelle. My brother, who happened to be visiting and had been about to leave, announced he was staying when he heard what Gene said. He was afraid to let me stay alone in the house with Gene. Later, when we walked uptown together, I told Gene why my brother had stayed home. From then on, he called my brother ‘Mr. Platitude.’”

O’Neill treated Emily to the same discourses on women with which he regaled Jessica. He told her, apropos of the girl-on-a-barge relationship, that he would leave the girl there to drift and shift for herself when he’d had enough of her. (Apparently this was an image that appealed strongly to him; he never carried out the plan, but some years later he set Anna Christie’s love affair with a sailor on a barge.)

According to Emily, “He was always talking about women. He seemed very lustful; he’d go into details about the nights he’d spent with women, and how long he’d stayed with each of them.” He also tried to speak to Emily of his mother but could seldom manage more than a halting reference to her.

“My room was near Gene’s, and he’d sometimes walk in and talk to me in the morning,” Emily said. “I think he suspected I knew something was wrong with his mother.” Once he told Emily that Ella had recently been away to a sanitarium.

“My mother was ill, but she’s better now,” he added.

O’Neill was treated pretty much as a member of the family, especially by Mrs. Rippin, of whom he grew extremely fond. Having never had her brand of warmth from his own mother, he accepted, almost with awe, the mothering she proffered; he would often stand or sit near her while she attended to domestic chores, listening to her homely advice and basking in the maternal strength she exuded. Mrs. Rippin was white-haired, with hazel eyes like Emily’s, a figure that was ample but not stout, and an erect carriage; her most distinguishing feature was a smooth, unwrinkled complexion, which she kept till the day she died.

Once, when O’Neill had been complaining to Emily that most girls grew to look like their mothers, Emily said, “I guess I’ll look like mine.” O’Neill regarded Emily with new interest. “That’s all right,” he replied.

Mrs. Rippin, aware that O’Neill lacked a sense of warmth in his own family, drew him as much as she could into the bosom of her own. That Christmas O’Neill had his first experience with a united family holiday. Mrs. Rippin gravely took his suggestion about the color of the winter bathrobes she was sewing as Christmas gifts for her daughters, and she was touched by his surprise and gratitude at finding gifts for himself from all the Rippins on Christmas Day. Later that evening he bought four boxes of candy for the Rippin women. He told Jessica that he had never bought a gift for a girl before.

“If he could get by on a poem,” Jessica later observed, “that pleased him no end.” O’Neill had presented Emily with a “Ballad to Emmy” three days before Christmas, which touched and flattered her. In it he referred to her “form divine” and her “sparkling eyes.”

Although Emily and O’Neill kept up a tender, if lighthearted flirtation, both were simultaneously occupied in other romantic pursuits. Not long after, Emily became engaged to the man she eventually married.

“Eugene always had a photograph of a girl in his room,” Emily recalled, “but it was not always the same girl. And he’d moon about whichever was the current one, while playing some popular record like ‘Song of Araby’ or ‘Tango’ on the victrola. I guess Maibelle was his strongest interest most of the time, but there were others.”

Actually O’Neill’s romance with Maibelle was drawing to an end. The truth was, as she confided to him not long after, that she had met and fallen in love with a young Coast Guard officer; this was early in 1914, and soon after she decided to marry him. He was handsome, soft-spoken, gentle-mannered and substantial; to Maibelle he appeared a far more promising matrimonial prospect than Eugene.


During his stay with the rippin family, from september, 1913, to March, 1914, O’Neill completed at least six one-act plays and a full length one. The exact number is difficult to determine because he destroyed some of his early efforts and gave conflicting accounts of the nature and scope of his work during this period.

He told the Rippin sisters, in 1926, that he had never done as much work in so short a space of time as he had in the winter spent at their home. Adding that he did not like to attract undue attention to the plays he wrote there, he said: “They are pretty bad and the less remembered about them, the better.”

In one published account of work accomplished during that period O’Neill listed ten plays. But ten years later, in 1935, he compiled for the critic Richard Dana Skinner a list which included for the same period only six plays; he stated at the time that “nothing of importance” had been written after that until the summer of 1916. Still later, in 1946, he revised the count to ten one-act plays and two full-length ones, “d hat’s the year I thought I was God,” he told an interviewer. “I’d finish them and rush down to the post office to ship them off to Washington to be copyrighted before somebody stole them.”

In any case, of the plays completed at the Rippins’ the only ones that have survived in published form—seven in all—are The Weh, Fog, Thirst, Recklessness, Warnings, Abortion (the script in which he evoked his Princeton days), and one three-act drama. Servitude. Abortion and Servitude, together with A Wife for a Life (which he completed at the tuberculosis sanitarium) and two plays written shortly after his stay at the Rippins’, were published without O’Neill’s permission in 1950 as The Lost Plays of Eugene O’Neill. A publisher had seized on O’Neill’s negligence in allowing the copyrights to expire; O’Neill would have preferred them to remain unknown.

His first attempt at the Rippins’ in the early fall of 1913 was The Web, originally entitled The Cough, about the tuberculous prostitute, the pimp and the gangster. Writing in 1944 to Mark Van Doren, teacher and poet, to whom, at Van Doren’s request, O’Neill was sending the original manuscript of The Web, O’Neill said, “I love it, but I sure don’t like it.” (He was parting with the manuscript for the benefit of a War Bond Drive, and it was later presented to Princeton University.)

When writing the play, he labored over the opening speech, delivered by the prostitute, Rose:

“Gawd! What a night! (laughing bitterly’) What a chance I got!” was the way he finally left it. His first draft also included such overwrought lines as: “and he’ll make me go, too (with sudden hatred) damn him! If I only had some coin I’d soon tell him what I think of him, him and his kind! But there ain’t a sou in the place.”

In The Web, melodramatic as it is, can be detected the first glimmer of what became one of O’Neill’s chief literary preoccupations—the inevitable crushing down of Man by Fate, the “hopeless hope” through which Man, striving for the unattainable, wills his own defeat, and the tragic nobility of this losing battle. The plight of the prostitute, Rose, though she is scarcely a figure of noble proportions, becomes briefly poignant when she seizes on the hopeless hope of a new life offered by the gangster; obviously, her dream has no chance of fulfillment, and when the pimp shoots the gangster, making it seem as though Rose has killed him, fate has her where it wants her. “She seems to be aware of something in the room which none of the others can see,” O’Neill wrote in the stage directions, “—perhaps the personification of the ironic life force that has crushed her.”

The same theme recurs in three more of the seven plays O’Neill is known to have written with hectic intensity in his little room at the Rippins’. In Thirst it is the sun, glaring down “like a great angry eye of God,” which symbolizes relentless fate. The play, representing O’Neill’s only recorded brush with cannibalism (a subject Tennessee Williams was to explore more thoroughly four decades later), focuses on a Dancer, a Gentleman and a West Indian Mulatto Sailor adrift on the life raft of a wrecked steamer. The Dancer and the Gentleman, driven mad by thirst, suspect the silent Sailor of hoarding water. The Dancer offers herself to him, but he resists her, stolidly insisting he has no water. The Dancer finally dies, and the Sailor takes out his knife, muttering, “We will live now.... We shall eat. We shall drink.” The horrified Gentleman pushes the Dancer’s body from the raft, the Sailor stabs the Gentleman and loses his own balance, and the two fall into the shark-infested water.

Fog, also set on the sea, takes place in a lifeboat and is a murky, symbolic exercise in which “a menacing silence, like the genius of the fog, broods over everything.” The play is interesting for two reasons: its fog symbol was to become a frequently employed background effect in O’Neill’s later plays, particularly Long Day’s Journey Into Night; and its three chief characters are symbolic types which O’Neill went on to develop, in various guises, in many of his mature works—the Business Man, representing materialism; the Poet, representing art and creativity (and O’Neill himself); and a Polish Peasant Woman, representing blind, hopeless faith. There is also a Dead Child, which seems to stand for the spiritual—or mystical—triumph over fate, for it is the crying of the Dead Child, unheard by the Poet or the Businessman, that guides a rescue craft to the lifeboat and results in saving their lives.

Warnings is a realistic play in two scenes about a ship’s wireless operator who has lost his hearing but failed to inform his captain; the operator’s handicap results in the ship sinking. The play contains several one-dimensional portraits of children, who held no attraction for O’Neill; none of the children in his mature works are much of an improvement over the four in Warnings. (“I don’t get them,” says Stephen Murray, in The Straw, tersely reflecting O’Neill’s own lifelong attitude.) Mrs. Knapp, the protagonist’s wife, is a forerunner of all the faded, irritable, narrow minded wives who, in later plays, turn up to bedevil their various oversensitive mates. Knapp himself is the Victim of Fate.

These four plays—The Web, Thirst, Fog and Warnings—have settings and characters with which O’Neill, at twenty-five, had been on intimate terms, and despite the stiffness of their language and their melodramatic denouements, they were significant for the authentic flavor of their backgrounds and for their concern with a large theme. (John Mason Brown once pointed out that, though O’Neill’s earliest one-act plays were “crude and sorry affairs ... they already betrayed one of the qualities which were to set his work apart from that of all his contemporaries. His characters were not merely in conflict with one another. They were at war with the agents controlling their destiny, and these agents were not indifferent to them. This link between mortals and forces shaping their lives was the mighty concern which gave a kind of majesty to the feeblest and poorest of his plays.”)

Another startling thing about these plays is that they were written as though their author lived in a theatrical vacuum. Eugene was by no means oblivious of the sort of thing to which the commercial theatre was dedicated. Yet he turned his back on every concept of that theatre: the subject matter, the language, the unrelieved tragedy were all alien to the Broadway theatre of that period. Only in the plays of the European dramatists was anything like O’Neill’s attempted symbolism or realism to be found. O’Neill had already determined to follow his inner vision without regard for what was popular.

The closest he came to aping his contemporaries of the New York stage was in a fifth play, called Recklessness. Set in the library of a rich man’s summer home in the Catskill Mountains, it was as contrived as a French farce but not at all funny; it was, in fact, exactly the sort of melodrama O’Neill himself considered outrageous.

The heroine, Mildred, young, beautiful, voluptuous, is in love with the young, handsome, earnest chauffeur of her nasty, rich, middle-aged husband. (“You have never loved me,” says Mildred to her husband. “I have been just a plaything with which you amused yourself.”) The husband, Baldwin, discovers the liaison and sends the chauffeur off to die in a defective automobile. He thoughtfully arranges to have the chauffeur’s body brought back for Mildred to see. On viewing the body Mildred shrieks and falls senseless to the floor. Soon after, she shoots herself. “Mrs. Baldwin has just shot herself,” says the nasty, rich, middle-aged— and now triumphant—husband to a trembling maid. “You had better phone for the doctor, Mary.” Curtain.

It is not surprising that O’Neill preferred to forget that play and another, longer one he called Bread and Butter, which was never published. At the time he was writing it, however, he had high hopes for it.

“I am hard at work finishing a four-act play which, by God’s grace, may see the footlights next season,” he wrote to Dr. Lyman in the winter of 1914.

He seemed impelled to justify himself to Dr. Lyman. He had been embarrassed by the question sheet that had reached him from Gaylord in January. In answer to the form question, “What have you worked at the last year since May 1, 1913,” he wrote: “The Art of Playwrighting— also prostitution of the same by Photo play composition.” And in answer to “W hat have been your average weekly earnings when at work?” he put down “$30.” Then he wrote a long winded accompanying letter, in which he went to childish lengths to impress Dr. Lyman.

“Fearing that the answers on my question sheet may prove misleading in the case of one who is unjustly suspected of being a member of the more-or-lcss Idle Poor Class,” he wrote, “I hasten to take advantage of your charitable offer to read the egotistic spasms of former patients.

“You must acknowledge that to ask a struggling young playwright with the Art for Art’s sake credo how much he earns per week in terms of contaminating gold, is nothing short of brutal ... while my adventures with High Art have been crowned with a sufficient amount of glory, I am bound to admit they have failed to be remunerative.”

It is conceivable that O’Neill did try his hand at a photoplay or two, through the good offices of his father, but the work could not have amounted to much. None of the Rippins has any recollection of his working at such a job; nor does the “$30” a week conform to their memories of his dollar-a-week allowance. As a matter of fact, it was Dolly who paid for the postage when O’Neill sent his manuscripts to producers and to the copyright office. When, he became famous, he promised, he’d pay her back. He never did.

None of the girls really believed he would become famous. Jessica, who considered his plays terrible, was nevertheless awed by his endurance. “He would work in his room, sometimes far into the night, banging away at his typewriter,” she recalled.

Although the girls thought the subject matter of his plays was “morbid,” they did once participate in a private production of one of them— but what it was they have been unable to remember. James Rippin, their brother, in spite of his suspicion about O’Neill’s morals, was more interested than the girls in his scripts; he read them and encouraged him.

Eugene also received encouragement of a sort from his father. Aside from offering to play in A Wife for a Life—a project that never materialized— James read and tried his best to admire Thirst, The Web, Warnings, Fog and Recklessness. He was pleased that Eugene was concentrating on something other than drink and dissipation, but the direction of his son’s literary interests bewildered him. Nevertheless, he urged producers he knew to read Eugene’s scripts.

“It’s funny now to look back and think of the bright way I behaved when James O’Neill used to bring me round the plays that his young son Gene had written and ask me to tell him what I thought of them,” George Tyler wrote in 1934. “I didn’t see any particular reason to suppose that Gene should be taken seriously. I figured it was just run-of-mine paternal pride that made his lather bring me those scripts of his. So I’d take them in and forget about them for a while—maybe read a little, but I wouldn’t take an oath I did that often, and I’m certain that I can’t remember at all what they were like—and then I’d give them back to his father with the customary polite remarks about how Gene undoubtedly showed signs of talent, and deserved encouragement, but needed more development and had better wait a while.”

James also asked Brandon Tynan, his fellow actor in Joseph and His Brethren to read the plays. Tynan was one of the young men upon whom James, to the ill-concealed annoyance of both Jamie and Eugene, bestowed fatherly affection. In his early thirties, Tynan, who was Dublin-born and had an attractive, boyish manner, was on his way up in the theatre. He had enough of the actor’s temperament and more than enough of all the qualities Jamie and Eugene lacked to endear himself to James from the beginning of their acquaintance in Joseph. Tynan returned James’s devotion. He respected and responded to him as neither of James’s sons was capable of doing. During the run of Joseph, for example, the two men attended church together every Sunday.

“I don’t think Mr. O’Neill really understood Eugene’s plays,” Tynan once said. “I thought they were interesting, though, and took them to Holbrook Blinn.” Blinn was a prominent actor who, at that time, was presenting what would now be called avant-garde plays, by American and European writers, at the Princess Theatre in New York. But he did not like Eugene’s plays, and James began to wonder if the scripts had any merit and it his son had any talent. He continued to encourage his writing, however, as at least a step toward independence. Besides, James welcomed the opportunity of drawing closer to his younger son, for he had been shut out almost completely by Jamie.

Earlier that year Eugene had motored with Art McGinley to Hartford to see Joseph and Uis Brethren. On entering the dining room of the hotel before the performance they found James and Jamie seated at tables at opposite ends of the room. The two were not on speaking terms, and Eugene and McGinley spent fifteen minutes with each of them.

“The camel in the first act is the only regular guy in the company,” Jamie confided to Eugene and McGinley. This was a sweeping statement in view of the fact that the camel had recently stepped on Jamie’s foot during a performance and spat at him; Jamie was convinced that a camel’s saliva was poisonous.

“Look at him—a thirty-five thousand dollar education and a thirty- five dollar a week earning capacity,” James jeered, when Eugene and McGinley shifted to his table.

But at that, Jamie was being overpaid. He maliciously twisted his lines on stage. In Chicago he delivered the line, “Let Beuben tell his own tale,” as “Let Beuben smell his own tail.” In a last act scene during which members of the company sat around a table loaded with fruit, Jamie chewed on grapes and aimed the pits at the other actors. One night he did something much worse. James had a scene in which he appeared as Pharaoh, seated on a throne at the top of twelve steps. His speech was long, and it was always a trying time for him because his memory was not what it had been. All the supers were simulating rapt attention. Jamie, playing an old wise man dressed in a flowing white robe, also was supposed to be absorbed. But he was drunker than usual and swayed from side to side. James’s eye fell on his son and he faltered. Then he began silently to weep.

One of the actors in the company, a young Englishman named Leslie Austin, had learned James’s speech so that he cpuld prompt if necessary. But Austin was so overcome by James’s anguish that he could barely utter the lines himself.

After this episode, James stopped speaking to his son. But he would not allow him to be dismissed from the company.

Jamie had a better excuse than usual for his behavior. He had lost hope of winning Pauline Frederick, after having made another unsuccessful effort to give up drinking.

“When a member of the Joseph company went on the wagon,” Brandon Tynan said in recalling that period, “he would join what the stage hands called ‘The Order of St. Joe.’ This was an informal walking group that I started during the tour. I used to take a five or six-mile hike every afternoon, no matter what the weather, in order to keep in trim. The stagehands would draw satirical sketches of us in action and post them backstage. They thought we were mad as March hares. We always ended our walks at a fountain, drinking chocolate sodas. The day Jamie joined our Order, the stagehands drew him drinking a soda and looking sick. He stayed on the wagon for about two months. Then it got to be too much for him.”

Tynan found it necessary to exercise because he had an unusually taxing role as Joseph. In addition to thirteen costume changes, he had to make three complete changes of make-up.

James had no small job of make-up and costuming himself; for a man of sixty-eight he was still surprisingly agile. Day after day he arrived at the theatre two hours before curtain time to make up as the 106-vear-old Jacob. For the second act he changed to the swarthy make-up of Pharaoh, and wrapped his loose robe in yards of bandages to conceal them beneath the tight-fitting costume he wore in that role; he didn’t have time before his reappearance as Jacob to make a complete costume change, and he could barely manage to switch make-up, remove the Pharaoh costume and loosen the bandages. Once, uncharacteristically, James put on his Jacob costume over his street trousers and prepared to go on that way. He did a little jig backstage just before the curtain went up and the stage manager noticed the trousers. He scolded James for being slipshod and James, not at all offended, apologized.

Leslie Austin, who was present when this happened, was astonished at the lack of temperament with which James took the reprimand. “Most stars of Mr. O’Neill’s stature would have exploded at such effrontery,” he recalled emotionally. “But James O’Neill was a memorable exception. There was a man who breathed truth and sincerity.”

One day, as the company was leaving Kansas City by train, Brandon Tynan handed Leslie Austin a telegram from his brother. It said, “Mother died this morning. Don’t leave the company.”

I sat in the coach, trying to make up my mind what to do, when Mrs. O’Neill, who had been told the news, slipped into the seat next to mine,” Austin recalled. “She was wearing something dark and her face was pale; she reminded me of my own mother. I don’t remember what she said, but she sat with me for half an hour and then she kissed me on the cheek and left. I felt better, and must have told her I’d stay with the company, because Mr. O’Neill took her place next to me and told me I was doing the right thing in not leaving.”

James assured Austin that he knew how he felt. He said that years ago, when appearing in San Francisco, he had received word of his mother’s death but continued playing “for the sake of the company and the theatre.”

Ella traveled with the company until the spring of 1914. On April 1, a New London newspaper carried the announcement that James, who had left the Joseph company in Indianapolis the week before “because of the serious sickness of his wife,” would not rejoin the play that season. It is possible that Jamie’s behavior had something to do with his decision.

In spite of his troubles James, when he returned to New London, found time to gratify a wish of Eugene’s to have his five completed one-act plays published. Richard C. Badger, head of a Boston publishing company called Gorham Press, which had brought out plays by Augustus Thomas and Rachel Crothers, among others, liked Eugene’s scripts and was willing to publish them under his firm’s imprint—with the stipulation that the author bear the printing cost. In a spurt of generosity James gave Eugene the $450 Badger wanted for the job, and on March 30, 1914, a contract was signed, guaranteeing Eugene 25 per cent of the gross proceeds from the sale of the book. Badger contracted to print a thousand copies.

The 168-page book, a thin, gray-and-tan volume bearing the title Thirst And Other One-Act Plays, came out in August and had an unspectacular sale. Eugene gave copies to most of his friends and relatives. Not long after this Badger offered Eugene the unsold volumes (which included practically the entire edition) at thirty cents a copy.

“With the usual financial acumen of an author,” O’Neill informed Mark Van Doren in 1944, “I scorned his offer as a waste of good money on my lousy drama!” (Eventually Badger found a buyer in Frances Steloff, who, in 1920, became the proprietor of a bibliophilic gold mine in New York called the Gotham Book Mart. Miss Stelott bought Badger’s stock of Thirst plus his contract with O’Neill for $200; she had not read thirst before making the purchase, but her, instinct proved sounder than O’Neill’s. Less than twenty-five years later thirst became a collector’s item, selling for as much as $150 a copy.)

If Thirst did not sell at first, it was not the fault of Eugene’s earliest and stanchest supporter, Clayton Hamilton. Reviewing the Thirst volume in a magazine called The Bookman, early in 1915, Hamilton wrote:

“This writer’s favorite mood is one of horror. He deals with grim and ghastly situations that would become intolerable if they were protracted beyond the limits of a single sudden act. He seems to be familiar with the sea; for three of these five plays deal with terrors that attend the tragedy of shipwreck. He shows a keen sense of the reactions of characters under stress of violent emotion; and his dialogue is almost brutal in its power. More than one of these plays should be available for such an institution as the Princess Theatre in New York.”

(Years later, O’Neill attempted to cheer a friend whose book had received indifferent notices with these words: “... to me it is actually a surprise that it got as much comment as it did. This sounds a bit over-cynical perhaps, but I have reason! My first book of one-act plays— Thirst—received just one review in the whole U.S.A.—a very brief one written by a critic who happened to know me slightly.”)

Hamilton’s interest in O’Neill caught fire in the spring of 1914, when with his bride of a few months he visited New London to look at a beach cottage he was thinking of renting for the summer. In his early thirties, Hamilton was the drama editor of The Bookman and Voqtie and a lecturer in playwrighting at Columbia University. He was considered something of a boy wonder, and O’Neill knew him by reputation and as an acquaintance of his father’s.

I lamilton, who had met James at The players, had spent his vacations in New London in previous years and was a friend of the Rippin family, who called him “Mr. Ham.” Described once as a “snow-capped mountain of a man,” Hamilton was rotund, easygoing and prematurely white haired; he had a Rabelaisian sense of humor and a gusto for life and art.

He and his wife, Gladys, a slender, aristocratic-looking woman, were dining at the Rippins’ one afternoon when Eugene entered.

“I didn’t pay any special attention when he came in,” Mrs. Hamilton later recalled, “but suddenly I was aware of his two eyes and his silence sitting opposite me.”

“I looked the lad over,” Hamilton said, recalling his own first impression of O’Neill. “He had large and dreamy eyes, a slender, somewhat frail and yet athletic body, a habit of silence and an evident disease of shyness.” On another occasion Hamilton remarked that, since O’Neill’s speech was “rather hesitant and he never said very much, he was less impressive to listen to than to look at.”

O’Neill, instinctively hostile toward anyone who was a friend of his father’s, commented to Jessica, when the Hamiltons had left the dining room, that he found Hamilton patronizing. Jessica bristled. She respected Hamilton more than anyone else she knew. He was one of the few people with whom she could talk freely—and from whom she believed she could learn about the theatre and literature; Hamilton was a part of a cultured world, and he fascinated her. Hamilton also could amuse her, as he did most people; his cheerful, sophisticated humor made O’Neill’s groping, self-centered morbidity particularly exasperating to Jessica by contrast.

Hamilton referred to the Rippin girls as “The Seventeen Daughters of the House of Rippin.” He enjoyed teasing Mrs. Rippin by referring, whenever possible, to his bulldog as his “bitch.” Mrs. Rippin considered this ungenteel and retaliated by chiding him for sleeping late in the morning and being lazy. Hamilton and his wife rented a cottage on Alewife Cove, beyond Ocean Beach and about a mile and a half from the Rippin house, and O’Neill decided to give Hamilton the benefit of the doubt; shyly he began making overtures. He would swim from the beach in the cove, and one day he walked into the house uninvited.

“I’ve been writing some one-act plays,” he said to Hamilton. “Would you read them and tell me if I’m any good?”

Hamilton read them. What he thought he recorded later in his review. But, more important than his opinion of the plays, Hamilton gave encouragement and suggestions for future development. He refused O’Neill’s request for advice about technique, explaining that the technical problem was less important than the primary problem of what to write about.

Hamilton then advised him to find out what aspect of life, if any, he was familiar with at first hand, what characters in life he had really observed. “It happened that the life he knew best was the life of the sea, because he had so lately been a sailor; and I made the obvious suggestion that this might be a fortunate fact,” Hamilton later said. “There had been several novelists of the sea and poets of the sea—Mr. Conrad and Mr. Kipling and Mr. Masefield, for example—but there never yet had been a dramatist of the sea. The average playwright knew nothing whatsoever of the sea; and any one who really knew the sea and who could learn to say something about it in dramatic form would find a new field open to him.”

Hamilton had in mind something a little more concrete then the Thirst plays, though he assured O’Neill that even those showed “appreciable promise.”

O’Neill responded to this advice by writing a one-act play in May, called Children of the Sea. This play, with only minor changes, was later produced as Bound East for Cardiff and eventually was published as the second of the four S.S. Glencairn plays. (One of the changes involved Driscoll’s praying when Yank dies at the play’s end. In the original Children of the Sea Driscoll speaks the line, “Our Father who art in Heaven.” In the published version Driscoll does not speak the words; instead, his “lips move in some halt-remembered prayer” and he makes the sign of the cross.)

“Very important from my point of view,” O’Neill said of Botind East for Cardiff when in 1935 he compiled a chronological list of his plays. “In it can be seen, or felt, the germ of the spirit, life-attitude, etc., of all my more important future work.”

Bound East for Cardiff is the simple story of the sailor Yank dying in his bunk aboard a tramp steamer.

“It ain’t as bad as people think—dyin’,” Yank says to his friend Driscoll. “I ain’t had religion; but I know whatever it is what comes after it can’t be no worser’n this.” Yank speaks of the hard life of a sailor and of his regret at never having settled down on a farm—”Just a small one, just enough to live on”—and worries briefly that God might “hold it up against” him for having stabbed a man during a dock fight; he asks Driscoll to buy a box of candy for a barmaid in Cardiff who has been good to him—”She tried to lend me half a crown when I was broke there last trip.” Finally, saying “S’long, Drisc!” he dies.

The “spirit” and “life-attitude” revealed by Bound East for Cardiff were tragic. No one had dared to write contemporary tragedy for the American stage, but it was the only aspect of life that O’Neill was moved to express; and in the beginning it was often misunderstood.

“I know you’re impervious to what they are pleased to call my ‘pessimism,’” he wrote to Mary Clark, his Gaylord nurse, in 1923. “I mean, that you can sec behind that superficial aspect of my work to the truth. I’m far from being a pessimist. I sec life as a gorgeously-ironical, beautifully- indifferent, splendidly-suffering bit of chaos, the tragedy of which gives Man a tremendous significance, while without his losing fight with fate he would be a tepid, silly animal. I say ‘losing fight’ only symbolically, for the brave individual always wins. Fate can never conquer his—or her— spirit. So you see I’m no pessimist. On the contrary, in spite of my scars, I’m tickled to death with life!”

Clayton Hamilton, in addition to pointing the way for O’Neill, supplied a bit of essential advice one day when the two happened to meet at the New London railroad station. O’Neill told Hamilton he had just mailed the script of what he described as “really my first long play” to a Broadway manager. He innocently expected the play to be read at once, and thought a reply—possibly an acceptance—would be forthcoming within a week. He asked Hamilton what he thought the chances of acceptance were for an unknown author’s play.

“When you send off a play.” Hamilton told him, “remember there is not one chance in a thousand it will ever be read; not one chance in a million of its ever being accepted—(and if accepted it will probably never be produced); but if it is accepted and produced, say to yourself it’s a miracle which can never happen again.”

O’Neill left the railroad station slightly dazed. But, as he later told Hamilton: “I reflected that you knew whereof you spoke, that I was up against a hard game and might as well realize it and hew to the line without thought of commercial stage production. Your advice gradually bred in me a gloomy and soothing fatalism which kismeted many a rebuff and helped me to take my disappointments as all an inevitable part of the game.”

O’Neill never forgot Hamilton’s counsel. “Yes, of all the help you were in those years, I think that bit [of advice] ranks brightest in memory,” he informed Hamilton on still a later date. “It was a bitter dose to swallow that day but it sure proved a vital shock absorbing tonic in the long run. It taught me to ‘take it’—and God knows that’s the first thing most apprentice playwrights need to learn if they are not to turn into chronic whiners against fate or quitters before their good break comes.”

His new philosophy was that tough breaks for a beginner were, as he put it, “a test you have to pass through to prove yourself to yourself.”

If the “first long play”-—presumably O’Neill had dismissed Bread and Butter as too clumsy an effort to be included even among his forgotten works—had been read by the manager to whom it was addressed, it is doubtful he would have been impressed. It was the three-act Servitude, and it had nothing of the firsthand familiarity with a phase of life advocated by Hamilton. It was, in fact, an inane and immature drawing room melodrama. If it owed its inspiration to Ibsen or to Strindberg, those two authors would not have been proud to acknowledge the debt.

Its plot has to do with a successful and egotistical novelist who does not appreciate his wife. Various intricate complications, including the introduction of a second, unhappily married woman, reunite the novelist and his wife. The play is noteworthy among its author’s works for only two reasons: it contains neither violence .nor sexual aberration, and it has an unequivocally pat and happy ending. It, too, was later listed by O’Neill as “destroyed,” but was included, without his permission, in the volume published in 1950 as The Lost Plays of Eugene O’Neill.

Possibly the most interesting item in that volume is a sketch called The Movie Man (also listed by O’Neill as destroyed), written in July, 1914, after O’Neill left the Rippin home to rejoin his father in the family house. It is a broad, one-act farce that mocks both the Mexican Revolution and the brash techniques of the American movie makers. Set in the suburb of a large town in northern Mexico, it deals with the efforts of a couple of Americans to persuade a Mexican general to live up to the terms of a contract he signed with a motion-picture company, stipulating that he fight his battles at the movie makers’ convenience. The general, Pancho Gomez, was clearly modeled on the formidable Pancho Villa.

More interesting than the play itself is the fact that it was inspired by the enfant terrible of American journalism, John Reed, whom O’Neill had met earlier in the year in Greenwich Village (where O’Neill occasionally strayed when he could muster enough money to leave New London). Reed was covering the Mexican Revolution for the Metropolitan Magazine. Young, good-looking, quixotic and a passionate rebel, he personified the brilliant, glamorous foreign correspondent of the era. His colorful articles on Pancho Villa for the Metropolitan were drawing international attention between the end of 1913 and April, 1914. The Metropolitan, editorially socialistic, listed among its contributors at that time Booth Tarkington, Joseph Conrad, Richard Harding Davis, H. G. Wells, George Bernard Shaw, Havelock Ellis, Rudyard Kipling, Lincoln Steffens and Fannie Hurst—as well as the violently antisocialistic Theodore Roosevelt. Reed was the Metropolitans pet.

At twenty-six he was almost a legend. Members of literary and journalistic circles spread stories of his exploits. Recently he had been arrested in Paterson, New Jersey, and spent four days in jail with other victims of the Paterson silk strike. One anecdote that O’Neill helped circulate concerned Reed and Theodore Roosevelt, who had recently been defeated for the Presidency by Woodrow Wilson. Roosevelt detested Villa and Reed detested Roosevelt. When the two men chanced to meet in the offices of the Metropolitan, the air crackled with animosity.

“Villa is a murderer and a rapist,” Roosevelt said.

“What’s wrong with that?” asked Reed aggressively. “I believe in rape.”

Roosevelt grinned. “I’m glad,” he said, “to find a young man who believes in something.”

Reed, who met O’Neill before leaving for his assignment in Mexico, was enormously taken with him. Himself an idealist, poet and incurable romantic, Reed was enchanted with O’Neill’s stories of his wild youth, his adventures at sea, and his moody charm. O’Neill was equally taken with Reed and when Reed suggested that he join him in covering the war O’Neill agreed eagerly.

Sonya Hovey, who later became a screen writer, and whose husband, Carl, was managing editor of the Metropolitan, recalled that Reed told her husband he had met “a talented young man who had to get away and had nowhere to go.” Reed was held in such esteem that he could not be denied. Mrs. Hovey said that the magazine advanced Reed $300 to cover O’Neill’s expenses, and agreed to consider any articles he might submit. Hovey had no hope that the articles would be of value; he was humoring his star reporter and regarded O’Neill as Reed’s companion rather than as a correspondent.

Mrs. Hovey said she had a clear recollection of receiving several short pieces from O’Neill, but whether they came from Mexico and whether, in fact, O’Neill ever got to Mexico at all, is a riddle. O’Neill, who loved to tell of his days at sea, who spoke often of his trip to Honduras, who relished recalling all his “he-man” exploits, never said a word for publication about having gone to Mexico. The Rippins have not recalled any prolonged absence of Eugene’s during the period Reed was in Mexico, nor have other friends remembered his mentioning such a trip. Either he went for a very short time and kept singularly quiet about it or something happened at the last moment to prevent his leaving. The only indication from O’Neill himself of a fleeting interest in the Mexican Revolution is The Movie Man.

With the writing of that play, in July of 1914, Eugene marked the end of one phase of his literary launching. Once again he turned to Clayton Hamilton for help and advice. “My father doesn’t think my plays arc any good,” he said, “and won’t think of staking me.”

“The problem,” as Hamilton once recorded, “was to get around his father. Eugene did not want to be put to work; he wanted to write plays; and he did not relish the idea of another winter in New London. So he asked me if I could not get the old gentleman to ... send him to Harvard to study with Professor Baker. Eugene allowed me to infer, with all due respect to Professor Baker, that his main idea was to get out of New London and that Harvard might be a good excuse; but his father was rather difficult to get around, because Mr. O’Neill had the ready argument that he had sent Eugene to college once before and that the boy had run away.”

Hamilton suggested that, since some of the one-act plays which Eugene had been trying to write were rather prQmising, it might be a good plan to send one or two to Professor Baker to find out what he thought about them.

George Pierce Baker had been conducting a postgraduate course at Harvard called English 47 since 1905. The course and its teacher had become famous when one of its first pupils, Edward Sheldon, wrote Salvation Nell while still a student there.

O’Neill, acting on Hamilton’s advice, wrote to Professor Baker on July 16, 1914. His letter was at once cocky and defensive.

“Let me explain my exact position,” he stated. “My university training consists of one year (Freshman) at Princeton University, Class of 1910.... All my life I have been closely connected with the dramatic profession. My father is James O’Neill, the actor, of whom you may perhaps have heard....”

He went on to inform Professor Baker that, while he had read “all the modern plays I could lay my hands on, and many books on the subject of the Drama,” he realized such a system of study was inadequate. “With my present training I might hope to become a mediocre journeyman playwright,” he said. “It is just because I do not wish to be one, because I want to be an artist or nothing, that I am writing to you.”

O’Neill ended his letter with the hope that Professor Baker would “look favorably upon this earnest desire of mine to become your student ...”

Baker did look favorably and replied that O’Neill could enter, pending his submission of a sample of his dramatic writing. O’Neill complied and was duly notified that he was accepted.

O’Neill’s cousin Lil Brennan added her urging to that of Clayton Hamilton and, according to Hamilton, “Mr. O’Neill was finally persuaded to send Eugene to Harvard, although he still maintained that the boy would never amount to anything.” It had probably slipped his mind that nearly twenty years earlier, in an interview for the New York Mirror, James had expressed an emphatic conviction that America needed a training school for persons who wished to learn the techniques of playwrighting.

“Now and then,” James had said, “a genius may write a play without any great degree of technical knowledge.... The average writer for the stage, however, has to serve a dramatic apprenticeship of some sort before he is qualified to write a play of any practical value.”

In 1914 James was more interested in investing in real estate and in gadgets than in Eugene’s education as a playwright. It was about this time that he put some money into a device he said would be “wonderful for the ladies”; it was the recently invented zipper.

Toward the end of August James went to New York to rehearse with new members of the cast of Joseph and His Brethren, which was about to take to the road again. The war in Europe, affecting international trade, was having a corollary effect on the health of the Broadway theatre, and the new tour of Joseph and His Brethren, one of Liebier’s big money-makers, was almost their last hope of staying in business. Tynan, Pauline Frederick and Jamie were all to rejoin the cast.

On August 29, the New London Telegraph deemed it newsworthy to announce:

“Eugene G. O’Neill of Pequot Avenue has been admitted to the class in higher English at Harvard University conducted by Professor Baker. This is a post-graduate course and specializes in playwrighting ..

Perhaps O’Neill’s only regret at the prospect of leaving New London was a romantic attachment he had lately developed for a spirited brunette named Beatrice Ashe. His romance with Maibelle was tapering off, and he was desultorily pursuing the Rippin girls and various other young ladies of New London. He was so determined not to miss any opportunity that he once slipped a note under the door of a neighbor of Maibelle’s sister, who was being visited by a young niece. It was addressed, simply, “To the Beautiful Unknown.” Nor had O’Neill neglected, during this period, to leave his mark, with either casually distributed poems or extravagant protestations, on such girls as Maibelle’s friend, Mildred Culver, and his former nurse, Olive Evans.

Many girls in that innocent era carried about autograph books in which they invited friends to set down facetious or sentimental remarks. O’Neill, despite his stature as a twenty-five-year-old dramatist and cynical man of the world, wrote in Mildred’s book: “I Hereby Confess that I love parsnips, that I once wrote a love letter to Lena Cavalieri [sic] in English, which I afterwards found out she cannot read, that I have read ‘Mademoiselle de Maupin’ (sh!) and liked it, that I do not think State Street and Broadway have much in common, that politics are my idea of the acme of futility, that I voted for Eugene Debs because I dislike John D. Rockefeller’s bald head.” This nonsense was followed by the printed line, “For This I Am Prepared To Pay A Penalty.” On a second, concealed page, O’Neill declared that his “Idea of Utter Bliss” was “Being the tenor in a Broadway musical comedy and singing a kiss song—with appropriate pantomime”; that for him “The Acme of Discomfort” was “Trying to write a poem in this book with three people bending over my shoulder saying ‘how clever’”; and that his conception of “The Supremely Ridiculous” was “Getting into a crowded car with One Girl and her mother (?) and finding coin of the realm is in one’s other suit—and Mother pays the fare.”

In a companion book, kept by Mildred Gulver, O’Neill answered a few questions and signed his entry with an ink drawing of a skull and crossbones. In Olive Evans’ book O’Neill wrote only, “I do not like parsnips.”

By contrast with O’Neill’s wordy contribution, Maibelle’s effort in Mildred Culver’s book seems sophisticated. She “confessed” to “having murdered my second husband just before marrying the first” and declared the custom of breakfast in bed to be the height of her ambition.

It was early in August that Maibelle told Eugene of her decision to marry her Coast Guard cadet. She asked Eugene to return all her letters, and she burned all of his—over two hundred of them—saving only the poems. Their final meeting took place at Ocean Beach. As Maibelle later recalled it, Eugene did not seem devastated by the parting. But many years after, just as his second marriage was breaking up, O’Neill wrote to Maibelle’s aunt that there had been only two women in his life whom he truly respected; one was his mother, he said, and the other was Maibelle. When he said good-by to Maibelle he presented her with a copy of Thirst, which he had inscribed:

“To Scotty—In memory of all those sweet minutes and days and hours which have Tone glimmering thro’ the dream of things that were’

‘Youth, take hand to the prayer of these!
Many there be by the dusty way,
Many that cry to the rocks and seas—
Give us, ah give us but Yesterday!’”

He signed the inscription with a formal. “Eugene G. O’Neill,” indicating a strong sense of his future worth, which overbalanced any inclination to set down a more intimate signature.

It was about this time that O’Neill fell in love, or so he persuaded himself, with Beatrice Ashe. His fondness for Beatrice was later celebrated publicly in a poem called “Speaking, to the Shade of Dante, of Beatrices,” and begins:

“Lo, even I am Beatrice!”
That line keeps singing in my bean.
I felt the same ecstatic bliss
As did the fluent Florentine
Who heard the well-known hell-flame hiss.

(The poem was printed in July, 1915, in the New York Tribune column “The Conning Tower” and undoubtedly made O’Neill feel he had arrived. E. B. White, in an obituary tribute in The New Yorker to the “Tower” instigator, F.P.A., has written: “There are still plenty of writers alive today who will testify that the high point in their lives was not the first check in the mail from a publication but the first time at the top of the Tower looking down in the morning at the whole city of New York. Making the Tower was a dizzy experience. No money changed hands, and this made it unique.... If you were skilled in French verse forms, you could even make love to your girl in full view of a carload of subway riders who held the right newspaper opened to the right page.... Frank Adams gave a young writer three precious gifts: discipline, a sense of gaiety, a brief moment in the sun.”)

Beatrice Ashe, although she was younger than Maibclle, moved in the same circle. She was the daughter of Peter Ashe, the superintendent of the trolley-car system for the district of New London and lived with her parents on West Street, in the town proper. She had a pleasant singing voice and was studying music.

“I used to drive my neighbors mad, practicing scales early in the morning,” she has said.

Beatrice had a smooth skin and high color and a flair for clothes. Her New London contemporaries were struck by her various flamboyant costumes. Jessica, for instance, recalled years later a Scotch-plaid skirt and jaunty Scotch cap with a feather; another acquaintance recalled a costume of bright purple; Maibelle remembered her in a gold turban and big loop earrings; and a fourth acquaintance—male—wistfully remembered that she was breath-taking in a bathing suit.

According to her own account, Beatrice met O’Neill for the first time not long after his discharge from the sanitarium; he had asked a mutual friend to introduce them. The romance lasted through O’Neill’s stay at Harvard. It was, according to Beatrice, marked by a brisk exchange of letters. Unlike Maibelle, Beatrice did not destroy her letters when her romance with Eugene ended. (Like Maibelle, she married a seaman—a naval lieutenant—in April, 1918.)

According to Emily Rippin, Beatrice once told her Eugene had asked her to marry him and come with him to New York. But, continued Emily, Beatrice’s father was strongly opposed to the match. Art McGinley has confirmed this, adding: “Gene had no job at the time. Can you blame her for turning him down?”

The relationship had not yet been severed, however, when, late in September, 1914, O’Neill took a train for Cambridge—and to his goal of becoming “an artist or nothing.”


Within a few hours of O’Neill’s arrival at cambridge, heheaded for a small house on Massachusetts Avenue not far from Harvard Square. The address, one of several offering rooms to students, had been posted on a bulletin board near the Harvard admitting office.

On the second floor were two apartments, one occupied by Katherine and Bartel Ebel and the other by Katherine’s brother, Daniel Hiebert, and Bartel’s brother, August. All four had arrived from Hillsboro, Kansas— Bartel, a teacher at a Mennonite institution in Kansas, to take a postgraduate course in Greek at Harvard; his brother to study art in Boston; and Daniel to study medicine at Boston University. Bartel filled the post of minister at a Baptist church in nearby Jamaica Plains, but to stretch the combined family resources a bit further, August and Dan advertised for a paying guest to share the expense of their apartment.

O’Neill liked the arrangement and promptly moved in. His father was sending him a weekly allowance, which he considered inadequate. O’Neill’s widow, recalling his petulance over his small allowance, once said: “Monte Cristo gave him the magnificent sum of ten dollars a week. He was to pay his board, his room, his streetcar fare, his laundry.” She added that he considered himself fortunate that Katherine Ebel was a very good cook, and that he had plenty to eat.

When O’Neill entered the playwrighting class, George Pierce Baker was in his late forties. He was conducting two seminars, each limited to twelve students, one at Radcliffe and one at Harvard, and an advanced seminar composed of four men and four women from the previous year’s workshop. Professor Baker was a stage-struck New Englander.

John Mason Brown, who had studied with him, once wrote: “This Professor Baker who dared to teach such an unteachable subject as playwrighting was the least dogmatic of men. He had no Golden Rules of Dramaturgy. He did not pretend to be able to turn out playwrights in ten easy lessons. Indeed he did not claim to be able to turn them out at all. He was among the first to admit that dramatists are born, not made. But he did hope to be able to shorten the playwright’s period of apprenticeship by granting him the same instruction in the essentials of his craft that the architect, the painter, the sculptor and the musician enjoyed in theirs.”

Baker’s methods were effective but unorthodox—he had no precedent at any other college or university. He worked at a large oak table with his students, who were familiarly known as Baker’s Dozen. At the beginning of the semester he outlined the year’s schedule. First his students were to select three short stories from any source and, with Baker’s approval, settle on one of them to be dramatized into a one act play. Next, they wrote an original one-act play and, toward the end of the term, a full-length play. They could also submit any other work for Baker’s comment if they wished.

Thomas Wolfe, who was one of Baker’s students, immortalized him in Of Time and the River. Wolfe called him Professor James Graves Hatcher and described him as “a man whose professional career had been made difficult by two circumstances: all the professors thought he looked like an actor and all the actors thought he looked like a professor.”

Though not uncritical of Professor “Hatcher’s” little vanities and crotchets, Wolfe found him imposing: “a well-set-up figure of a man ... somewhat above the middle height, strongly built and verging toward stockiness, with an air of vital driving energy that was always filled with authority and a sense of sure purpose, and that never degenerated into the cheap exuberance of the professional hustler ...

“He wore eye-glasses of the pince-nez variety, and they dangled in a fashionable manner from a black silk cord; it was better than going to a show to see him put them on, his manner was so urbane, casual and distinguished when he did so. His humor, although suave, was also quick and rich and gave an engaging warmth and humanity to a personality that sometimes needed them.”

O’Neill was attracted by Baker as a person and impatient with him as a teacher. When Barrett Clark once asked him what he had got out of the course in playwriting, O’Neill said, “Not much out of the actual classwork itself. Necessarily, most of what Baker had to teach the beginners about the theatre as a physical medium was old stuff to me.”

O’Neill resented the fact that Baker had told him Bound East for Cardiff was not a play. He was particularly offended by Baker’s methods when Augustus Thomas, then the dean of American playwrights and the personification of all that was successful, admired—and hackneyed—on the Broadway stage, took over the class as guest lecturer for two morning sessions (a total of six hours). Thomas, who was then fifty-eight, had been writing plays since he was fourteen. Fie had been an actor, newspaperman, and advance agent for a mind reader; this last job had given him the background for his enormously popular play, The Witching Hour, produced in 1907, during which occurred the memorable scene in which a man intent on homicide is hypnotized by another: “You can’t shoot—that —gun. You can’t pull the trigger. (Paused) You can’t even hold the gun. (Pause. The derringer drops . ..)” His plays dealt mostly with contemporary social themes, such as Alabama, his first success, produced in 1891, which concerned the reunited country.

Thomas, with lightning inventiveness and a glibness that revolted O’Neill, proceeded to define the method for writing a sure-fire Broadway success.

“Suggest the name of a star,” Thomas invited the class. (It was unthinkable not to write a play for a specific actor’s talents.) One of Baker’s young men suggested Margaret Anglin and O’Neill scowled and hunched his shoulders in disgust—not because Miss Anglin had threatened to kiss him when he w’as five but because he did not care for her lurid acting.

Several other names were suggested, a vote was taken, and Miss Anglin won.

“All right,” said Thomas, “we’ll write a play for Anglin. She’s broad at hip, w’ell-developed—so our story will have to fit a woman of that physical type. She’s no longer young or beautiful, so it must be a role for an older woman—a woman with deep emotions; we’ll make her a mother—and since we have to have drama—a mother threatened with losing her child.”

As the students, with the exception of O’Neill, listened in awe, occasionally catching fire from Thomas’ swift outline of detail and offering refinements of their own, Thomas wove a full-length, standard melodrama for them. Within an hour the soupy plot was complete.

“The mother lives in a puritan New England community,” Thomas said. “Her townspeople find out she’s had a lover. They are shocked. They decide she’s not a fit mother for the child. There’s a great scene with Anglin, abandoned by all, defending her right to keep the child against all the w’orld.”

When he had finished, Thomas told the class, “If you write this up as a scenario, I will put in the dialogue, and guarantee a production.”

Baker commented mildly that it sounded a little too commercial. O’Neill was furious. He went from the classroom straight to Boston to get drunk. He had not come to Harvard to study how to write carbon copies of the kind of palatable tripe then being consumed on Broadway. He summed up his feeling some years later when he commented that during this era a popular author was one who built up a thesis for three acts and then proceeded in the fourth act to knock over what he had constructed. “The managers,” he said, “felt they knew what the public would accept and the plays had to conform to their ideas. The very fact that I was brought up in the theatre made me hate this artificiality and this slavish acceptance of these traditions.”

O’Neill loftily determined not only tQ write plays about what he chose but also to make the managers and the public accept them. His arrogant conviction that he could do this was the first visible sign of his genius— though Baker failed to see it at the time. Yet it is true that long before anyone else recognized the fact that the vogue of Clyde Fitch and Augustus Thomas was doomed, O’Neill saw through their hollowness and glib, philosophical posturing. He wanted the stage to come to grips with the big themes, the realities of life.

“If a person is to get at the meaning of life,” he said, “he must learn to like the facts about himself—ugly as they may seem to his sentimental vanity—before he can lay hold on the truth behind the facts; and the truth is never ugly.” O’Neill wanted to reveal the souls of his characters, not with artificial situations into which the contemporary writers wedged their protagonists, and from which they melodramatically extricated them, but through showing them naked, against their natural environment. “Why not give the public a chance to see how the other fellow lives?” he asked. “Give it an insight into the underdog’s existence, a momentary glimpse of his burdens, his sufferings, his handicaps.”

Though he wrote feverishly during his eight months at Harvard—nearly always in bed, propped up on pillows, in the position he had been obliged to assume at Gaylord—O’Neill did not make much headway with his big plan. His one-act play for Baker was called The Dear Doctor. Baker thought it good enough to sell for vaudeville production, but when O’Neill tried to market it he discovered the short story on which he had based it had been pirated from an existing vaudeville sketch. His long play, The Personal Equation, first called The Second Engineer, involved a seamen’s strike and was an attempt to portray the background and atmosphere of the I.W.W.—which he later did more successfully in The Hairy Ape. He said on several occasions in later years that the plays he wrote at Harvard were “rotten.”

In addition to the required plays, he collaborated with a classmate, Colin Ford, on a biblical drama in six scenes, called Belshazzar, which he destroyed. He also completed a one-acter called The Sniper, which he listed as destroyed. But a script of the play was unearthed years later in the copyright office and included in the East Plays volume.

The Sniper is interesting because of its realistic, almost propagandistic treatment of a contemporary social theme—something O’Neill was later to eschew. It is set on the outskirts of a Belgian village during the early days of World War I and concerns an elderly peasant whose son has just been shot by the “Prussians.” When the peasant learns that his wife, too, has been killed, he fires from his house on some Prussians and is himself shot down at the order of one of their officers. The play ends when a priest, who has been praying for the peasant, looks down “with infinite compassion at the still bodies of father and son.”

“Alas, the laws of men,” he says, as the curtain falls.

According to Heywood Broun, columnist and critic, who had been one of Baker’s pupils, O’Neill’s bad plays were no worse than most of those turned out in the class.

“There is no denying the fact that a certain number of dramatists have come out of Harvard’s English 47, but the course also has a splendid record of cures” was the way Broun put it in 1919 in an article for Vanity Fair called “Nipping the Budding Playwright in the Bud.”

“People who come to English 47 may talk about their plays as much as they choose but they must write them, too,” he went on. “Often a cure follows within forty-eight hours after the completion of a play. Sometimes it is enough for the author to read a thing through for himself. But if that does not avail, there is an excellent chance for him. After his play has been read aloud by Professor Baker and criticized by the class, if a pupil still wishes to write plays, there is no question that he belongs in the business.”

Broun added that Professor Baker deserved the thanks of the community not only for Edward Sheldon and Eugene O’Neill but also for the number of “excellent young men who have gone straight from his classroom to Wall Street and the ministry and automobile accessories with all the nascent enthusiasm of a man just liberated from a great delusion.”

Describing the sort of plays written by Baker’s students, Broun said: “Somebody has figured out that there are 2.983 more rapes in the average English 47 plays than in the usual non-collegiate specimen of commercial drama. We feel comparatively certain that there is nothing in the personality of Professor Baker to account for this.”

Nowhere in the world, Broun added, was a woman quite so unsafe as in an English 47 play.

“When I was in English 47,” he said, “I remember that all our plays dealt with Life. None of us thought much of it, at that. Lew respected it and certainly no one was in favor of it.... Some of the playwrights in English 47 said that Life was a terrific tragedy. In their plays the hero shot himself or the heroine or both, as the circumstances might warrant, in the last act. The opposing school held that life was a joke, a grim jest to be sure, cosmic rather than comic, but still mirthful. The plays by these authors ended with somebody ordering ‘another small bottle of Pommerey’ and laughing mockingly like a worldwise cynic. Bolshevism had not been invented at that time, but Capital was severely handled, just the same. All our villains were recruited from the upper classes.

“Yet capitalism had an easy time of it compared to marriage. I do not remember that a single play which I heard all year in 47, whether from Harvard or Radcliffe, had a single word of toleration, let alone praise, for marriage.”

Professor Baker, explained Broun, was “wise enough to realize that it is impossible that he should furnish or even attempt to mold in any way the philosophy which his students bring into English 47 each year.

“He can’t attempt to tell the fledgling playwright what things to say and of course he doesn’t,” Broun went on. “When a man is done with Baker he has begun to grasp some of the things that he must not do in writing a play. With that much ground cleared, all he has to do is acquire a knowledge of life, to devise a plot and find a manager.”

One of Eugene’s classmates at Harvard—who, like Broun, emerged from Baker’s training to pursue a calling outside the theatre—was Bruce Carpenter. Carpenter, who had begun earning a living as an actor at fifteen, eventually settled down to an academic career as an English professor at New York University. He has recalled Eugene’s English 47 plays as bad and his personality as haughty.

“O’Neill fitted the old definition of a gentleman—‘A man who never offends, except intentionally,’” Carpenter once said. “When I first met him I was impressed. I had seen his father play Monte Cristo and Marc Antony—the finest Marc Antony I have ever seen. I pretended to be older than I was and more educated; I had come Irom New York and had been on the stage. But I had nothing on O’Neill. He let us all know that he had shipped before the mast. He was very much the gentleman when he wanted to be, but he had an indifference almost bordering on contempt.”

When Professor Baker read a manuscript aloud, he would ask for everyone’s comment, going around the table. Often, when he got to O’Neill, O’Neill’s comment would be, “I luhI” According to Carpenter, nobody else would have dared to be so abrupt; but Baker generally pretended to take no notice of O’Neill’s reaction. Baker’s method was to read the play without revealing its author and often without identifying the characters by name or even by sex.

O’Neill would sit slouched back in his chair, usually with a sneer on his face. Since he sat with his chair pushed back from the table more than the others, Carpenter always had to turn his head back to see him. Although most of the members of the class wore the Harvard costume of unpressed Brooks Brothers suit, white shirt, tie, and a pummeled hat, O’Neill generally attended class in corduroy trousers, a flannel shirt open at the throat, and as often as not, no tie. Carpenter never remembered seeing O’Neill smile or hearing him say a pleasant word.

“He was self-centered and indifferent,” Carpenter said. “He seemed to feel the rest of us hadn’t lived. I realize now there was something in his heart that he wouldn’t let us see; I couldn’t reconcile the O’Neill I knew at Harvard with the genius who later wrote such human plays.”

According to Carpenter, O’Neill received no special recognition from Baker at the time. And it is a fact that the play Baker selected for production in his Workshop that year was not by O’Neill, but by a since-forgotten playwright named Edward Massey.

Called Plots and Playwrights, Massey’s effort was a departure, of sorts, from the standard theatre and even presumed to spoof—in a mild way—the Augustus Thomas method of playwrighting. The play, later produced successfully by the Washington Square Players, concerned a successful playwright, at a loss for a plot, who encountered a young shortstory writer during an aimless stroll in Greenwich Village. The writer proposed to illustrate to the playwright that material for drama existed in the apartments of the three-story rooming house before which they had chanced to meet. Snatches of life were then acted out in each of the apartments, with no attempt at a unifying thread of plot. The playwright pointed out that such a “play” would never be a success on Broadway, and proceeded to tie up the isolated scenes in a luridly melodramatic fashion.

The play ended, after the brief introduction of a Shavian waiter, with the suggestion that the short-story writer and the jaded playwright must collaborate to arrive at a more stimulating dramatic form. This represented the limits to which Baker was prepared to encourage his students to revolt against conventional theatre. It was not neaily far enough for O’Neill.

Another of O’Neill’s classmates—William Laurence, whose seasoning in English 47 ultimately fitted him for the role of science editor of The New York Times—was more aware than any one else of the sulky young man’s ambitions and frustrations. The only man at Harvard, according to Carpenter, of whom O’Neill stood in awe (certainly lie was not the least in awe of Baker) was Laurence. One of the reasons was that Laurence was a Nietzsche worshiper and had read Thus Spake Zarathustra in German.

Laurence, who had worked his way through Harvard as an undergraduate, first doing such menial labor as shoveling snow, tending furnaces and reading gas jneters, and later tutoring other students, had a background filled with enough color and struggle to command O’Neill’s respect. In addition, he was a garrulous intellectual, and had all sorts of arcane literary knowledge O’Neill admired and envied..To top all, Laurence was more than willing to impart his knowledge to O’Neill; Laurence recalled he rarely stopped talking and O’Neill was a good listener.

A Latvian Jew, subject to an education quota in the port city of Libau, where he was brought up, Laurence had been obliged to provide his own education. He read German and Russian and, like O’Neill, had devoured at random all the books he could find. Nietzsche was his private discovery, come upon in the Libau library. He then saved and skimped to buy a copy of Zarathustra, which he carried about with him, as had O’Neill, wherever he went. A copy of Zarathustra constituted Laurence’s total luggage when he arrived in America in 1905. Still in his teens, he was by then a political exile from Russia.

Stimulated by his reading, which had included Ibsen, Dostoevski and Gorky, Laurence had been traveling about Russia trying to educate the peasants and awaken them to a sense of their social responsibility. The failure of the revolution of 1905 put a stop to his activities and he had to flee the country.

On arriving in America Laurence transferred his proselytizing from the Russian peasants to his Yankee contemporaries. “I wanted to make people hate philistinism,” he once said. “I thought the state of literature and culture was generally poor in this country. Everything was so vulgarized. Even people who came here from Russia with taste and hopes became corroded. I wanted to instill the love of good literature in my friends.”

O’Neill was, of course, already a literary convert. Laurence attacked his politics—not because they were conventional but because, so Laurence believed, they were confused.

“Intellectually,” Laurence said, “Eugene was a philosophical anarchist; politically, a philosophical socialist. I tried to give him a sense of consciousness about the value of labor and the struggle between labor and capital. The play he wrote for the course was a violent labor play. I thought it was the best one written. It had the same impact as Hauptmann’s The Weavers.”

Laurence had discovered O’Neill soon after Baker’s class began meeting —”a strange, taciturn fellow,” Laurence found him. “I remember thinking he’d make a good Mephistopheles for Faust. For some time he didn’t talk at all. Then he began talking, and I found out he was the son of James O’Neill and that he had just had a volume of plays published.” Laurence, a devoted theatregoer, hit it off with O’Neill from that point.

O’Neill listened to him talk and talk. He seemed to Laurence to have a hunger to fill in the blank spots in his education. He would often visit Laurence’s room in Thayer Hall, which overlooked the Yard.

“We talked about Nietzsche, of course,” Laurence recalled. “And I talked my head off about Ibsen’s Brand and about Peer Gynt. I told O’Neill Brand and Gynt were expressions of the Nietzschean idea of the individualist. I also talked about Greek drama and Gorky. These seemed to open new worlds to O’Neill.”

Laurence, who had seen Alla Nazimova’s troupe perform in New York a few years earlier, told O’Neill about the troupe’s background. Nazimova had come to the United States as an exile the same year as Laurence, bringing with her her entire company, none of whose members spoke English. Renting the first floor of a three-story stable on East Third Street, they built a makeshift stage and installed benches. There they presented, in Russian, plays by Gorky, Ibsen, Chekhoy, and Dostoevski. Sometimes during performances the stamping of hooves could be heard from upstairs. Admission was ten cents, but Laurence, when he could not pay, was allowed to attend anyway He went every night.

He told O’Neill about one backstage crisis, when the actors ran out of cigarettes. They could not perform without cigarettes, which cost only five cents a pack, but among them they could not produce a nickel. Laurence, momentarily flush, bought them a pack and they then gave an impassioned performance. They were a dedicated troupe who did not just want to make money, Laurence pointed out; O’Neill remarked that that was the kind of theatre the country needed.

Laurence, like Carpenter, never saw O’Neill smile. “He used to talk in monosyllables, saying a biting, cutting thing every once in a while,” Laurence added.

The two young men used to take long walks through Cambridge and Boston. Once, crossing the Charles River Bridge, Laurence told O’Neill about a paper he had written for a course on rational and irrational fear; to prove his points, he had tried to scare himself by walking to a cemetery at night, and before long he had found himself fleeing in fear. O’Neill appeared to be greatly interested and, Laurence later concluded, may have remembered it when he wrote The Emperor Jones.

During the course of other nocturnal walks O’Neill and Laurence would get drunk together.

“At times we were like a combination of Joyce’s Bloom and Mulligan,” Laurence said. “When we were drunk enough, we’d go to the Boston Common and stand under a huge elm and lecture passers-by, who, at that hour, usually consisted of sailors and their girls. We’d argue for universal sterilization, as the best solution for the human race. We maintained that the advantage of sterilization was freedom to fornicate to our hearts’ content and put the abortionists out of business. We were loud, but our audiences seemed to be amused, and we somehow managed to escape arrest.”

Laurence was not aware that O’Neill, on a solo lecture tour, was once taken by a policeman to the station house. This occurred, typically, at a time when O’Neill knew his father was in Boston, or nearby; James was notified and obtained his son’s release.

But O’Neill had the tact to stay away from his room on Massachusetts Avenue during his drunken weekends. Often he would not be seen by Hiebert or the Ebels from Friday to the following Monday. In their soberer moments O’Neill and Laurence, together with Carpenter and some of their other classmates, would congregate at a Boston spaghetti place to encourage each other’s work and compare idea on the theatre. According to Carpenter, Baker found out about the meetings and discouraged them; he thought his students would get some wrong ideas without his guidance.

One member of this group was a man named John Weaver, who came from a wealthy Chicago family. Baker once predicted that it would take Weaver eight years to get somewhere in the theatre; it was exactly eight years later that his first successlul play, Love ’Em and. Leave ‘Em was produced. W’eaver once recalled that O’Neill’s classmates found him forbidding and unapproachable until, one day, Professor Baker read aloud a particularly earnest and lugubrious scenario by a student.

“Several of us gave timid suggestions,” Weaver said. “It came O’Neill’s turn. He waited some moments. Finally he said, without a smile, ‘Cut it to twenty minutes, give it a couple of tunes and it’s sure-fire burly-cue.’”

Weaver went on to describe a number of wild evenings spent by him, O’Neill and a wealthy classmate named “Pinky” Elkins. The flavor of those drinking, ranting evenings was much like that of the nights O’Neill had spent with his Princeton classmates eight years before. Elkins frequently entertained Weaver and O’Neill for dinner at his Beacon Street mansion.

“I, very callow and greatly impressed,” Weaver later wrote, “and Gene, jocularly insolent, in a brown flannel shirt, feasted amidst quiet elegance and flunkies. An incongruous sight, surely. Always, afterwards, we would go to some new show. Elkins would buy up a whole box, and once we were seated, tear up the rest of the tickets. He was a good scout. He knew what he wanted, and he could afford it. Why not?

“Women were forever calling for Gene. There was something appatently irresistible in his strange combination of cruelty (around the mouth), intelligence (in his eyes) and sympathy (in his voice). I would not say that he was good looking. But one girl told me she could not get his face out of her thoughts. He was hard-boiled and whimsical. He was brutal and tender, so I was told. From shop girl to ‘sassiety’ queen, they all seemed to develop certain tendencies in his presence.”

Weaver maintained that Baker “recognized the smoldering genius which was five years later to flame.” This was not quite true. According to Carpenter, the year after O’Neill left, Baker, in response to a question about O’Neill, said: “I’m not sure whether he has any promise or not.” This may have been partly pique over O’Neill’s failure to return for a second year; at the end of the term in June, 1915, Baker selected O’Neill as one of the four members of the class for advanced work the following fall. Later, Baker said:

“By the end of the year [O’Neill] showed that he already knew how to write well in the one-act form, but he could not as yet manage the longer forms. I was very eager that he should return for a second year of work in these longer forms, but did not know until later that, though equally eager, his means at the moment made this impossible.”

O’Neill was even more grudging toward Baker. Laurence recalled that he often derided Baker, accusing him of teaching commercial drama. Nevertheless, he accepted Baker’s invitation to join the advanced class and when he left Harvard that spring he had every intention of returning— probably because it seemed the most convenient way for him to go on writing without having to support himself.

Both men subsequently did their best to forget the mutual misgivings that had existed in 1915. Once O’Neill had begun to show his mettle Baker not only became O’Neill’s ardent supporter but recalled that he always had been. “He was a most delightful man to work with,” Baker said, on one occasion, of his sulky ex-pupil. O’Neill became equally gallant, publicly singing Baker’s praises on several occasions and admitting privately that Baker had, more than anything else, given him faith in himself.

During his months at Harvard O’Neill kept in contact with his New London friends—especially with Beatrice. He also corresponded sporadi cally with Mrs. Rippin, to whom he expressed his gratitude for her care during the previous year. Emily, who had taken a job in a New London jewelry store, saw O’Neill drunk for the first time that winter. He entered the shop with a girl, who was carrying a basket filled with Christmas presents.

O’Neill spent the summer uneventfully in New London, living at his Father’s house and boarding at the Rippins’. He wrote a one-act comedy, A Knock at the Door, which he subsequently destroyed, and made notes for several others; among these were a three-act “farce-comedy” called Now I Ask You, a one-act “farce-comedy” entitled The G.A.M., and a pantomime called Atrocity, all of which he completed before 1918—by which time he had virtually abandoned the comedy form. With the exception of two one-acters written in 1919—one was Exorcism and the other was called The Trumpet and he labeled them both comedies—he concentrated on tragedy during the rest of his career. Ah, Wilderness! was the one major exception.

O’Neill continued seeing Beatrice and flirting with Emily that summer. One day when he and his father were dining at the Rippins’ house Eugene said, “We heard something nice about you, Emily—didn’t we, Papa?”

“Yes, Miss Emily, we did,” James said.

“The bartender at the Crocker House said you have the best figure in town,” Eugene elaborated.

“That’s right, Miss Emily,” echoed James.

A little later, when Emily became engaged, Eugene studied her fiance and mumbled, “Emily, I wish you’d let me be the father of your second child.”

A clipping from a New London paper preserved in one of O’Neill’s scrapbooks at Yale University announced that summer:

“Mr. O’Neill is one of the four chosen from the Harvard class this year and plans to return in the fall for the advanced class.”

O’Neill must have had his father’s promise of continuing support, for in a letter to Hiebert, mailed from New London on September 21, 1915— just a few days before the opening of the term—he asked Hiebert to find him a place to stay, adding that he would arrive in Boston “Monday about 2:15 P.M.”

“I am coming back to Harvard to enter Professor Baker’s second year course,” O’Neill wrote.

“I want to locate in Boston this year,” he explained. “Cambridge is too darn dead.”

Whether it was a last-minute refusal of James to finance him or some whim of Eugene’s that prevented his return to Harvard is not known, but he never got to Cambridge.

To Professor Baker he wrote, four years later: “A word of explanation as to why I failed to come back for your second year. I wanted to. It was none of my choice. I just didn’t have the money, couldn’t get it, and had to take a job as a New York dramatic critic on a new theatrical magazine which never got beyond the promotion stage, although I was religiously paid a small salary for doing nothing for three months or so.... Oh, indeed, I wanted to come back!”

It seems inconceivable that O’Neill could have thought, just a few days before the term started, that he had the money, only to have it withdrawn by his father at the last moment. But there is much unexplained in the relationship between father and son, and in lieu of any other explanation, the one offered Professor Baker will have to serve.

Whatever the reason for his change of plans, O’Neill, in the fall of 1915, headed for New York. The next nine months, unproductive in literary output, marked a period of gestation, from which emerged a distinctly recognizable genius.


O’Neill found himself in greenwich village in the fall of 1915 with an evaporated job on a nonexistent magazine. Not since he had attempted suicide nearly three years earlier had he been so completely on his own—with no father, or fatherly substitute like Latimer, Dr. Lyman or Professor Baker to dictate a constructive course. O’Neill knew that his father expected him to look for an “honest” job, perhaps as a reporter, and that James had no intention of coddling him while he tried to find his way as a dramatist.

O’Neill also knew he had no immediate hope of earning a living from playwrighting. All the scripts he had sent to producers had been returned —even the two mailed to George Tyler from New London. Tyler’s firm (Liebier and Company), which began losing $3,000 a day toward the end of 1914, became bankrupt early in 1915. Brooding about this experience twenty-five years later, O’Neill tried to cheer a discouraged author:

“Here’s one rejection experience you will never tic: I sent my first two long plays to a famous Broadway producer. Fie was an old friend of my father’s. That should have given me an ‘in,’ one would think. Well, I waited and waited. Then I wrote letters. Never a reply. Then I wrote asking for my scripts back. Nothing happened. Finally a year and a half later, after a season in which he put on lousy plays and they all failed, he went into bankruptcy. Six months or so later I got my scripts back— from the Receiver. They were in the same wrapping in which I had sent them. It had never even been opened!”

O’Neill scorned the idea of taking a humdrum job and trying to write plays on the side. Since he couldn’t have what he wanted, he plunged into another bout with the bottle.

Greenwich Village was a good place for a drunken spree. In the years just before the United States entered the war, the Village was aflame with radical ideas, violent soul-searching and monumental egotism. Its eager, young and not so-young artists were investigating their newly discovered libidos, and many of them were pleased to wear not only their hearts but their souls on their sleeves. Uninhibitedly pursuing love and art, emancipated women lived alone or in various freewheeling alliances, in sparsely furnished and cheaply rented rooms, where candles were the sole illumination and a batik mat the only decorative note. Journalists like John Reed and Lincoln Steffens met in little restaurants and musty saloons, where meals could be put on the cuff, or at the continental Brevoort and Lafayette Hotels, to exchange ideas on stopping the war and saving humanity. Writers like Harry Kemp and Maxwell Bodenheim and anarchists like the long-suffering Emma Goldman pursued their various chimeras. Mabel Dodge, recently separated from a rich husband, collected people such as Big Bill Haywood and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn in her salon on lower Fifth Avenue—where controversy centered on sex, cubism, and Freud, and voices were raised to extol or decry anarchism, socialism and yellow journalism. The only point on which everyone agreed was that “uptowners,” representing middle-class conventions and narrow tastes in literature, art and politics, were contemptible. The Greenwich Villagers were all passionately striving to be and to express themselves, and if the result of this individualism sometimes appeared as naivete, exhibitionism or even borderline lunacy, it was undeniably alive. Some of them had money but none of them worried about it—that would have been bourgeois.

O’Neill, tenuously connected to this milieu through Louis Holliday— who, with his sister, Polly, was among the first of the Greenwich Village bohemians—blended unobtrusively into his new surroundings. Another friend, George Bellows, was in the Village, along with John Sloan and Art Young, helping to stun intellectual New Yorkers with pictorial contributions to The Masses. Neither Bellows nor any of the others who drew and wrote for the magazine were paid. Theoretically run as a co-operative venture, The Masses was kept supplied with material by such contributors as Carl Sandburg, Sherwood Anderson, Amy Lowell, Babette Deutsch, Bertrand Russell, Maxim Gorky and Vachel Lindsay. Max Eastman, who had let himself be talked into editing the magazine at no salary, only recently had managed to vote himself a small monthly stipend.

In the era before the war, the Village was part New York slum, part Western boom town, part Paris Left Bank. The area had remained a backwater while the rest of Manhattan grew toward the sky and moved north along Broadway and Fifth Avenue. Most of the Village houses were small and shabby, but they had an Old World flavor their occupants found charming and the streets were a narrow, erratic tangle of curvings and crossings. Only the north side of Washington Square, the uptown boundary of the Village, was still fashionable. A few blocks south of Washington Arch, which dominated the square, the area ceased to make any claim to elegance. In the early 1900’s a Negro slum appeared a few blocks south of the arch—devaluating nearby real estate and placing rentals within reach of artists escaping from middle-class backgrounds all over the country.

One of the places a few of these artists were just beginning to investigate was a ramshackle saloon-hotel called, euphemistically, the Golden Swan. Its clientele, which, in 1915, included far more truck drivers, teamsters, gamblers and gangsters than artists, had long since bestowed on the Golden Swan a more descriptive name. They called it the Hell Hole, and with this designation it ultimately achieved some fame as the favorite haunt of Eugene O’Neill. John Sloan and Charles Demuth were among a number of artists who made paintings or etchings of the Hell Hole’s seedily picturesque interior.

The Hell Hole was a representative Irish saloon. It had a sawdust-covered floor, rude wooden tables, and was filled with the smell of sour beer and mingled sounds of alcoholic woe and laughter. Its barroom was entered from the corner of Sixth Avenue and Fourth Street—the “front room,” in which women were not allowed. Above the doorway swung a wooden sign decorated with a tarnished gilt swan. Farther east, on Fourth Street, was the “family entrance,” a glass door that gave access to a small, dank, gaslit chamber known as the “backroom.” Wooden tables clustered about a smoking potbellied stove, and it was here that respectable Irish widows came to cry into their five-cent mugs of beer.

Between front and back rooms was a stairway leading to the gloomy regions of the flats above, where Tom Wallace, proprietor of the Hell Hole, lived and rented rooms. In the front room O’Neill could join, with morose pleasure, a group of men every bit as down and out as the denizens of Jimmy-the-Priest’s. Here Tom Wallace, large, lugubrious, clean-shaven, an ex-prizefighter and friend of the Tammany Hall leader Richard Croker, would occasionally join his customers in a shot of five-cent whiskey, having emerged from his upstairs quarters. He rarely went out of doors.

Members of a ferocious gang, the Hudson Dusters, made the Hell Hole their headquarters, as did ex-politicians, anarchists (recently out of jail or on their way in), gamblers, touts and pimps. Lefty Louie, the bouncer, presided behind the bar. On the clouded mirror hung a portrait of Richard Croker decorated by crossed shillelaghs and a wreath of encircling shamrocks. The mirror reflected shelves lined with plates of free food. Like most saloons of the era, the Hell Hole served free lunch to its customers and sometimes, inadvertently, to the neighborhood children. A man who grew up near the Hell Hole fondly recalled roller-skating through its swinging barroom doors, grabbing a fistful of food, and skating out through the family entrance; Wallace would thrust his head out of of an upstairs window and shout abuses.

Two other decorative features of the Hell Hole were a grandfather clock and a glass case mounted on a wall in the back room, containing a bedraggled, stuffed swan “floating” on gilded, wooden lily pads. There was also a dumbwaiter, which carried supplies between the barroom and some mysterious, interior region, and served as a speaking tube for Lefty Louie, below, and Wallace, above. A large window was set into the Sixth Avenue side of the saloon, but such light as filtered through its dusty panes was dimmed by the massive structure of the Sixth Avenue el, whose thunder provided a steady background to the barroom noises.

O’Neill learned to know and wait for the pattern of sounds made by the el. In his one-act play Hughie, written in 1942, he described the thoughts of the night clerk of a cheap West Side hotel located near the el in the Forties. He wrote: “The Clerk’s mind remains in the street to greet the noise of a far off El train. Its approach is pleasantly like a memory of hope; then it roars and rocks and rattles past the nearby corner, and the noise pleasantly deafens; then it recedes and dies, and there is something melancholy about that. But there is hope. Only so many El trains pass in one night, and each one passing leaves one less to pass, so the night recedes too, until at last it must die and join all the other long nights in Nirvana, the Big Night of Nights. And that’s life.”

The noise of the el also could be heard and felt in the Hell Hole’s backroom, where a smaller window let in only a sinister ray of light.

It was from the Hell Hole that O’Neill, twenty-four years later, drew most of his major characters for The Iceman Cometh—notably Hickey, who, though he contains elements of several other people, including O’Neill’s brother, was partly inspired by a man known as “Happy.” Happy, a collector for a laundry chain, made regular Friday visits to the Hell Hole, and on such occasions would dispense cheer and free drinks. One Friday he failed to appear, and it was learned he had absconded with the laundry funds. Happy headed west and was never heard from again.

Although the physical setting of The Iceman Cometh resembles Jimmy-the-Priest’s and takes place in 1912, the year O’Neill lived in that waterfront saloon, the play’s most striking characters are modeled on people he met in 1915 at the Hell Hole. Especially significant is the portrayal of Willie Oban, who fits neatly into the gallery of O’Neill’s self-portraits.

Like a number of O’Neill’s principal characters, Oban is part Jamie as well as part Eugene. Willie Oban is described as a Harvard Law School alumnus and a roomer at Harry Hope’s, the setting for The Iceman Cometh. (Harry Hope is Tom Wallace, and his name, aside from the symbolism conveyed by the word “hope,” is deliberately suggestive of Hell Hole, just as Oban, an odd surname, suggests O’Neill.) Oban is given to blurting, from the depths of an alcoholic dream, “Papa! Papa!” He has the same sort of resentful emotional dependence on his father as Jamie and Eugene had and feels overshadowed by him; there are references to his family sending for him in the saloon periodically to “give him the rush to a cure,” and Oban’s reference to his father as “The King of the Bucket Shops” is suggestive of Eugene’s derisive references to James as “My father, The Count of Monte Cristo.”

In the winter of 1915, O’Neill was as sodden, self-pitying, hopeless and self-destructive as Willie Oban. Several people who met him that year were convinced he was drinking himself to death.

The Hell Hole habitue who made the most searing impression on O’Neill was an incredible man named 1 erry Carlin, who in The Iceman Cometh, is called Larry Slade. Only a suggestion of this man’s personality and background and his impact on O’Neill’s thinking emerge from the play. Actually Carlin had a greater effect on O’Neill’s philosophy than any other living man. O’Neill’s physical description of Larry Slade in The Iceman Cometh applied accurately to Carlin: “tall, raw-boned, with coarse straight white hair, worn long and raggedly cut.” Larry is sixty, a roomer at Harry Hope’s and a one-time syndicalist-anarchist.

“He has a gaunt Irish face with a big nose, high cheekbones, a lantern jaw with a week’s stubble of beard, a mystic’s meditative pale-blue eves with a gleam of sharp sardonic humor in them.... Elis clothes are dirty and much slept in. His gray flannel shirt, open at the neck, has the appearance of having never been washed. From the way he methodically scratches himself with his long-fingered, hairy hands, he is lousy and reconciled to being so.... His face [has] the quality of a piling but weary old priest’s.”

When O’Neill met Terry Carlin that winter in the Elell Hole, Terry was in his fifties. He was thin and his hair was still dark. His blue-gray eyes had flecks in the irises from a gunpowder explosion, and he had long yellow teeth and long bony fingers. He was unkempt and unclean by choice. He had not worked for a living in many years, but he always found someone to keep him in liquor.

Terry lived entirely on his Irish charm. Jack London and Theodore Dreiser liked and admired him. He was a facile, often brilliant talker. A disciple, like O’Neill, of iNietzschc, Terry took the German philosophei more literally than O’Neill and considered himself superhuman, in the image of Nietzsche’s spiritual and intellectual superman. By his own standards, he was a compassionate man; to those who could not follow the mystical turn of his mind he appeared cold blooded, almost inhuman.

There was much in Terry’s background that paralleled O’Neill’s and drew the two men close. In addition, O’Neill found in Terry another fatherly mentor.

Born Terence O’Carolan, Terry shortened his name for reasons of his own. Like James O’Neill, he sprang from Irish peasant stock and his family, too, migrated to America when Terry was a boy. The O’Carolan family, including mother, father and seven children, settled in New York in the 1860’s and tried to subsist on the father’s salary of $8 a week. As James had done, Terry went to work at an early age in a sweatshop. And though Terry could be as winning and outgoing as James, he was far more sensitive and imaginative. His thoughts turned on the social injustice he saw around him and, long before he embraced anarchy as a creed, his thinking was socialistic.

Terry worked for ten years—until he was twenty—as a journeyman tanner and currier; he soon excelled at his trade, but his heart was in reading, not work. He spent his spare time with books, giving himself a remarkable, if one-sided, education.

Like the O’Neill family, the O’Carolans were an emotionally interdependent clan. “We clung desperately to one another long after the necessity was past,” Terry once informed the journalist Hutchins Hap- good, who described Terry at length in a volume called An Anarchist Woman. This book, actually the story of a young woman named Marie, who had been Terry’s mistress, had been published a few years before O’Neill arrived in Greenwich Village; whatever details of his life and philosophy Terry did not personally impart to O’Neill during the winter of 1915–16, O’Neill found in An Anarchist Woman, which he read with fascination.

Terry, like O’Neill, had a dearly loved brother named Jim, whom he once described as “my other ego.” It was because of an experience involving Jim that Terry decided, when he was in his early thirties, to become a social exile. His brother, who had a good job with a Pittsburgh tannery and owned $25,000 worth of stock in the company, asked Terry, who by then was regarded as an expert in the leather manufacturing field, to come to Pittsburgh. Jim’s firm was losing thousands of dollars a week because of a flaw in the manufacturing process, and Jim thought Terry could find and correct the flaw. Terry had been happily living in a Chicago slum with Marie, whom he had rescued from a career of prostitution; he worked only occasionally to provide the bare necessities for himself and Maric.

“It was with the utmost repugnance that I quit my happy slum life,” Terry wrote to Hapgood, “but I loved Jim, and it was the call of the ancient clan in my blood. When I arrived in Pittsburgh, without a trunk, and with other marks of the proletarian on me, Mr. Kirkman, the millionnaire tanner, showered me with every luxury—every luxury except that of thought and true emotion. Never before did I realize so intensely my indifference to what money can buy. My private office in the shop was stocked with wines and imported cigarettes: but I was not so well off as in my happy slum.”

Terry toiled for a month and finally found the source of the trouble, in an obscure process. He was able to advise Kirkman how to correct it and was responsible for saving the firm a fortune.

“I had put no price on my services,” Terry continued. “For Jim’s sake, I had worked like a Trojan, physically and mentally, for a month. With unlimited money at my disposal, I had drawn only twenty dollars altogether, and this I sent to Marie, to keep the wolf away.”

Kirkman offered Terry the job of running the shop at a large salary and with the chance to buy $2,000 worth of stock. But Terry said he would not exploit the workers, who earned only $7 or $8 a week and that he would not permit any worker to be discharged for incompetency. He had never met a man he could not teach, he told Kirkman, nor had he ever discharged a man. Not even Jim could persuade Terry to stay, and he departed with nothing but his railroad fare to Chicago, though Jim assured him that Kirkman would send him between $500 and $1,000 for his services. But within a few days Jim found that Kirkman had no intention of sending Terry a penny; he was angry at the spurned offer, and used the excuse that no written or verbal contract had been made for Terry’s services. Jim resigned from the firm in protest, in spite of the fact that he had a wife and children to support.

Terry was crushed by the chaos he had brought on Jim and by the lopsidedness of a world in which love of money could play such a vindictive role.

“Mr. Kirkman thought all the world of Jim and could not run the shop without him. Nor could he recover from the blow, for he loved my brother, as everybody did,” Terry wrote to Flapgood. “Mr. Kirkman died a few weeks afterward, and alter a year or two the firm went into the hands of a receiver. All this happened because of a few paltry dollars, which I did not ask for, for which I did not care a damn—and this is business! I heartily rejoice, if not in Mr. Kirkman’s death, at least in the dispersion of his family and their being forced into our ranks, where there is some hope for them.”

Regarding his brother, Terry added: “Jim was one of the maimed ones in my family.... Years ago, defective machinery and a surgeon’s malpractice made one arm useless. The Pittsburgh affair broke up his beautiful home.”

Although Jim O’Carolan and Jamie O’Neill had been maimed by life in different ways, the resemblance between the two was startling and provided yet another bond between Terry and Eugene. In his last years Jim O’Carolan withdrew from life, just as Eugene believed Jamie was doing. “I have ... a desire to be considered a dead one,” Jim wrote to Terry, “and am doing all but the one thing that will make my wish a reality. I am long tired of the game.... The chase for dollars I am performing here is very disgusting to me.... It is a hell of a life and I wish it were done.”

Jim O’Carolan had been dead many years when Terry and O’Neill met, but Terry still held poignant memories of him. “He died of that great loneliness of soul which made of his wasted body a battered barricade against the stupidity which finally engulfed him,” Terry said. Some years later, when Jamie O’Neill died, Eugene said almost the same thing about his ou n brother.

Another area of sympathetic understanding between Terry and Eugene was their lost Catholicism. “Though we were Catholics on the surface,” Terry once said, describing his family during their early years in America, “we were pagans at bottom.” Terry described his brother’s deathbed comment, when it was proposed that a priest be sent for: “I hire no spiritual nurse,” said Jim.

“There must be some meaning,” Terry wrote, “for all this ancient agony. Oh, that I might expand my written words into an Epic of the Slums, into an Iliad of the Proletaire! If an oyster can turn its pain into a pearl, then, verily, when we have suffered enough, something must arise out of our torture—else the world has no meaning.... It cannot be that I came up out of the depths for nothing. If I could pierce my heart and write red lines, I might perhaps tell the truth. But only a High Silence meets me, and I do not understand.... I feel like a diver who has nigh strangled himself to bring up a handful of seaweed, and so feels he must go down again—and again—until he attains somewhere the holy meaning of Life.”

Terry left it to O’Neill to pierce his heart and write with red lines. O’Neill became, in a way clearly discernible from his plays, Terry’s spokesman. “How be a mouthpiece for the poor?” Terry had asked, many years before he met O’Neill. “How can art master the master-problem? They who have nothing much to say, often say it well and in a popular form; they are unhampered by weighty matters. It takes an eagle to soar with a heavy weight in its grasp. The human being, rocking to and fro with his little grief, must give way in depth of meaning to him who is rocked with the grief of generations past, present, and to come. It is then that love might rise, love so close to agony that agony cannot last: the love that will search ceaselessly, in the slums, in the dives, throughout all life, for the inevitable, and will accept no alternative and no compromise.”

O’Neill became Terry’s eagle. Terry put into words for him many of his own hall-formed ideas and gave him insight into others. For example, O’Neill’s own early attitude toward prostitutes was strengthened by Terry’s more articulate one.

“The kind of prostitution you contemplate is no worse than the kind often called marriage,” Terry once told a friend of Marie’s who came to him for advice on following a career in the streets. “Selling your body for a lifetime is perhaps worse than selling it for an hour or for a day. But the immediate result of this kind of prostitution which you plan is very terrible practically. It generally leads to frightful diseases which will waste your bodies and perhaps injure your minds.... Perhaps you will be better off so than in domestic drudgery. It is a choice of evils, but if you are very brave and courageous you may perhaps get along without cither. But if forced to one or the other, I recommend prostitution. It may be worse for you but, as a protest, it is better for society, in the long run.”

It was Terry or, rather, his Marie who provided O’Neill with the basis of his characterization of Anna Christie. Marie, like Anna, had tried being a “nurse girl” at one time, before taking to the streets. After being rescued and redeemed by Terry, Marie eventually abandoned him and went off to a mountain retreat. The sense of being washed clean, of being reborn, that Anna found at sea on her father’s barge, Marie found in the hills of California. She described her feelings in a letter she wrote to Terry:

“I am intoxicated by all this beauty and love the very air and earth. I feel the ecstasy of the aesthetic fanatic ... I feel newborn and free. The air is scented with balsam and bay, and a pure crystal stream flows through this valley between two hills covered with giant redwood trees, and rare orchids ... toss wantonly in the breeze on the tree and hilltops.... At night I sleep as I have never slept—a deep dreamless slumber. I awake to a cold plunge in the stream. Oh, it just suits me! I am tired of people, tired of tears and laughter, of men that ‘laugh and weep,’ and ‘ol what may come hereafter, for men that sow to reap.’ ... Everything in the past is dead.... I have become happy, healthy, and free, free without hardness.... I will now lave myself with the pure crystal waters and make myself clean again, and then look on the sun once more.”

The speech O’Neill wrote for Anna—the sort of speech he once described as “the native eloquence of us fog people”—echoes the words of Marie’s letter:

“I feel old ... like I’d been living a long, long time—out here in the fog.... It’s like I’d come home after a long visit away some place. It all seems like I’d been here before lots of times ... why d’you s’pose I feel so—so—like I’d found something I’d missed and been looking for ... And I seem to have forgot—everything that’s happened—like it didn’t matter no more. And I feel clean, somehow—like you feel yust after you’ve took a bath. And I feel happy for once—yes, honest!—happier than I ever been anywhere before!”

Marie also could have been pointing the way for a Nina Leeds and Strange Interlude when she wrote to Hapgood, of a friend: “I am fascinated by Rose.... I always like to be near her when there is no one else around. She reveals herself to me then; in fact quite throws off the mask which all women wear. In order to encourage her to do this, I apparently throw down my own mask. Oh, how I gloat over her then, when she shows me a side of her life and betrays secret thoughts and feelings to me half unconsciously! Sometimes I succeed in having her do this when there is a third person present, and the look of hatred which passes across her face when she perceives she has made a mistake, is a most interesting thing to see.”

Terry effectively discussed with O’Neill the concept of the mask worn by all men to conceal their souls. “Words only conceal thought and do not express it,” he said; O’Neill repeated this remark, as his own, to countless friends in the following years.

Terry eventually gave up everything. He ceased to be interested in the anarchist movement, with which he had been intellectually, if not physically, involved; he refused even to try to earn a living, explaining that he was “driven to be a parasite, for honest living there is none.”

“Never have I seen Life more triumphant and rampant, more brimming over with hope and defiant of all conditions, hygienic and otherwise,” he wrote to Llapgood, after becoming a hobo. “I am very ‘crummy,’ badly flea bitten, overrun with bed bugs, but, redemption of it all, I am free and always drunk.” He was also, on occasion, drugged. “I had to seek surcease in my old remedy of hashish and chloroform, which was a change from suffering to stupidity,” he wrote to Hapgood.

By the time O’Neill met him, Terry had, like Larry Slade, retired totally from life. He stayed drunk, or drugged, content to sleep where he could, eat what little he could beg—and talk to anyone who would listen. Unfortunately for O’Neill, in the process of absorbing Terry’s ideas, he also absorbed, for the moment, Terry’s nihilism.

Terry’s hobo existence was what held the strongest appeal for O’Neill that winter. But long before Terry’s creative thinking took a grip on O’Neill’s own, many of the destructive aspects of Terry’s personality influenced O’Neill.

Once more O’Neill became a derelict. He did no writing except some poetry, though he put on a brave front for Dr. Lyman, whose yearly questionnaire followed him to New York early in 1916. Listing his address as a “hotel” at 38 Washington Square, he declared that he was working as a dramatic critic and receiving $25 a week, and that he spent six or seven hours a day writing. He did, on occasion, occupy a room at 38 Washington Square, a rooming house; but he infrequently went to bed at all, preferring to doze, when he was exhausted, at a table in the back room of the Hell Hole. Occasionally he and Terry slept in empty lofts.

In his long career as a parasite Terry had got to know all the methods of survival. A favorite device was to send a presentable-looking friend to one of the Greenwich Village real estate agents in search of quarters. The friend would be taken to see a flat, and in leaving, would press a lump of clay against the door latch, to prevent it from locking. Then he would tell Terry or O’Neill the address of the empty flat, and the two would, move in with a couple of mattresses and some orange crates, on which they arranged their books and bottles of whiskey; if they couldn’t find mattresses, they slept on newspapers. Their food was the Hell Hole’s free soup, and sometimes oysters which they could buy cheaply by the sack at the Fulton fish market.

In the spring of 1916 O’Neill and Terry were joined by a temporarily affluent newspaper reporter, with whom they rented a spacious unfurnished flat on Fourth Street between Washington Square and Sixth Avenue. Because the three occupants tossed empty oyster shells, cigarette butts and other refuse into a corner and let it accumulate, the premises came to be known as the “Garbage Flat.” Writing to a friend many years later, O’Neill said he remembered the flat “fondly and vividly.”

“I ought to,” he added. “I christened it.... it continued to be unfurnished except for piles of sacking as beds, newspapers as bed linen, and packing boxes for chairs and tables. Also, it remained unswept. Toward the end of our tenancy, there was a nice even carpet of cigarette butts, reminding one of the snow scene in an old melodrama. And—well, in short, the name I gave it was by no means in any way a libel.”

Like Terry, O’Neill made it a point never to be sober. O’Neill was by this time in an advanced state of alcoholism. It was essential for him to have a shot of whiskey on waking up in the morning, but often it was agony for him to get it down.

Robert Carlton Brown, who was a successful writer of magazine fiction and also a contributor to The Masses, once recalled meeting O’Neill during that winter and being appalled by his condition.

“I used to see a lot of Gene at the Hell Hole,” Brown said. “I liked him because of his Irish temperament, his wanting to drink, and his love for travel. Often, he had no place to sleep, and sometimes, after a night spent drinking at the Hell Hole, I’d take him with me to the apartment of a friend who was out of town. I’d buy a pint of whiskey before we went to sleep somewhere around dawn, fill an eight-ounce tumbler and put it near Gene’s bed. He looked so weak I thought he was going to die. Sometime during the next afternoon I’d be awakened by a low, feeble call from him. He’d want me to help him lift the glass to his lips.”

Brown, who also knew Terry, remembered O’Neill’s great affection for him and believed it was Terry who saved O’Neill’s life that year by forcing him to take food once in a while.

Terry seemed to have a genuine fondness for O’Neill, even if the immediate result of his affection was to help drag O’Neill into the gutter which he himself inhabited so cozily. When they were living together, it was often Terry who ambled over to the Hell Hole with an empty tin container for soup. He would also beg free whiskey, which, as often as not, he got.

One day Terry returned with soup and whiskey to a flat on Third Street, recently discovered by him and O’Neill and furnished with the unexpected luxury of a big brass bed. O’Neill was lying on the bed, awake and trembling, but with determination in his eyes. He told Terry he had made up his mind to quit drinking.

Advising him against quitting cold, Terry suggested tapering off and then sticking to a regimen of moderate drinking. But O’Neill said he had to quit completely and at once. Terry shook his head pityingly, polished off the whiskey he had brought for O’Neill, and vanished, leaving his roommate twitching on the bed.

Within an hour, Terry had rounded up ten of the most unsavory characters he could find, including an aged whore, a drug addict and several thugs. He sent each one, in turn, to stare silently at O’Neill, who was using all his self-control to pull out of his hangover. By the time the last of Terry’s little army had gone, O’Neill was begging for a drink— which Terry happily supplied.

Back on his alcoholic routine, O’Neill moved with Terry into an abandoned loft on Fulton Street, probably to be nearer to the supply of oysters. Unfortunately, when O’Neill ran out of cash on Fulton Street, it was harder to come by free whiskey. When Terry was not around to panhandle for a drink, O’Neill would drag himself off his mattress in the morning and walk al] the way to the northeast corner of Twentyseventh Street and Madison Avenue. This was the only place where his credit was always good—the barroom of the Garden Hotel.

Trembling from the effort of his hike, O’Neill would prop himself against the bar and order his shot. The bartender knew him, and would place the glass in front of him, toss a towel across the bar, as though absentmindedly forgetting it, and move away. Arranging the towel around his neck, O’Neill would grasp the glass of whiskey and an end of the towel in one hand and clutch the other end of the towel with his other hand. Using the towel as a pulley, he would laboriously hoist the glass to his lips. His hands trembled so violently that even with this aid he could scarcely pour the whiskey down his throat, and often spilled part of it. (“Bartenders are the most sympathetic people in the world,” O’Neill often told friends years later.)

The Garden Hotel was a place where O’Neill had felt at home for a long time. A four-story, red-brick building without an elevator, it was more rooming house than hotel. James had lived there on and off since 1911 or 1912, when he was in town without Ella. Jamie stayed there with him, and Eugene sometimes joined them between his bouts of wandering. The hotel was across the street from the original Madison Square Garden and was a gathering point for fight promoters, circus people, six-day bicycle racers, gamblers and racketeers, as well as actors.

“The circus men who stayed there I knew very well,” O’Neill once said. “Not only the circus men, but the poultry men, the horse breeders and all others who displayed their wares at the old Madison Square Garden. I used to meet them all in the bar.”

More recently James had taken a suite at the Prince George Hotel, a luxurious establishment on Twenty-seventh Street and Fifth Avenue, a block and a half from the Garden Hotel. James and Ella now considered the Prince George their permanent New York home. But James continued to drop in for a drink now and then at the Garden Hotel and to take some of his meals there. Jamie preferred the Garden to the Prince George as a place to live.

That winter, the tour of Joseph and His Brethren having ended with its producers’ bankruptcy, James regarded himself as retired from the stage. Liebier and Tyler had managed to raise just enough money to move the company out of St. Louis, where Brandon Tynan played Joseph for the last time with tears in his eyes. James was now nearly seventy. Without touring or rehearsing to occupy him, he had nothing much to do but watch helplessly as Jamie disintegrated and Eugene drifted, apparently in the same direction as his brother.

James and Ella lived comfortably in an eighth-floor suite at the Prince George, consisting of a bedroom, parlor and bath. According to an Irish porter named Dan Foley, the O’Neill’s’ routine went something like this: Every morning at about 8:30 or 9:00, James would breakfast in the hotel dining room. About 9:30 James left to drink with his cronies at The Players or the Lambs. Soon after his departure Jamie arrived from the Garden Hotel to visit his mother—a daily duty he rarely shirked. He sometimes brought her freshly baked rolls, which she loved with her morning coffee.

“He’d give his mother a couple of kisses and stay there with her for two or three hours,” Foley has recalled. “Fie helped himself to his father’s whiskey. I’d see him leave, all smiles.”

Jamie safely departed, his father returned to the hotel at about four in the afternoon. At six James and Ella would go down to the dining room. Sometimes Ella would accompany James to the theatre, or else she would return to her room while James joined friends in the Prince George d ap Room, where women were not allowed. If James was reasonably sure he would not run into Jamie or Eugene, he might stroll the short distance to the Garden Hotel bar. But he could not often be sure of missing Jamie.

“I used to go over to the Garden Hotel bar on my way home after work,” Foley once recalled. “Jamie was usually there drinking, and sometimes his brother was with him. One night I remember seeing Gene and Jamie on the sidewalk outside the Garden I Intel, with their arms around each other. They were talking and kissing each other, both as high as kites.”

Although James found it painful to sec his sons, he still could not bring himself to abandon them. He eased his conscience by continuing to keep them both on dole; every day he left a dollar for each of them at the cashier’s cage of the Prince George Hotel.

Louis Bergen, who was one of four bartenders at the Garden Hotel, recalled a period when James and his two sons lived in rooms on the first floor. This was during a time Ella was in a sanitarium.

“Every morning James O’Neill and the boys would come into the bar, and Mr. O’Neill would go through a routine of giving each boy his daily allowance,” Bergen said. “Usually, there’d be an argument. The old man would tell the boys they’d never amount to anything. The boys drank the bar rye—ten cents a shot, from a bottle I kept on ice; it was the worst thing you could drink. I knew it would kill Jamie eventually. The old man liked old-fashioneds; he’d usually wait until I wasn’t busy, so I could take time to fix one the way he liked it. I’d crush the orange in it for him.”

When the boys ran out of money, Bergen would ask them, “How are you fixed?” And if they shook their heads ruefully, he would put a bottle on the bar near them and walk away.

“The old man was very generous to me,” Bergen added. “He offered to set me up in a cafe, once. He also wanted me, at one time, to take care of some property he owned in New Jersey. I turned down his offers, because I liked it at the Garden. It was a good bar; good food and no phony liquor.”

The Garden bar was one of the busiest in the neighborhood. It, too, had a back room, which served as a restaurant, and it, too, provided O’Neill with a number of acquaintances whose characteristics later turned up in The Iceman Cometh. Before The Iceman Cometh was produced, O’Neill said that the setting was a combination of “three places I actually lived in.” He did not specify the places, but they were obviously Jimmy-the-Priest’s, to which he still paid occasional visits in 1915 and 1916, the Hell Hole, and the Garden Hotel.

Among the customers at the Garden Hotel was the policeman who had arrested Harry Thaw for shooting Stanford White on the roof of Madison Square Garden. Another regular was a man nicknamed “the Colonel”; months behind in his rent, he solved his financial problems one day by marrying the elderly proprietress of his boardinghouse. There was a doctor, who had been barred from practice for drunkenness, and a young, department store publicity man named Frank, who was married to a beautiful, vacuous blonde. “What do you talk to her about?” O’Neill once asked Frank, to Bergen’s amusement.

“Gene spoke so seldom,” Bergen recalled, “that a lot of people thought he was a dummy. But when he did say something, it had meaning.” Bergen was aware that O’Neill wanted to be a playwright and used to watch him making notes for plays on the margins of a Bartender’s Guide.

Bergen, who recalled that one of the favorite anecdotes of his customers at the Garden involved James O’Neill, liked to tell it this way: One day the old man knocked off early from rehearsals and came into the bar, where everyone was placing bets on the day’s big race— the annual Brooklyn handicap. Some of Mr. O’Neill’s friends coaxed him to place a bet, but he didn’t like to gamble on horses. Finally, though, he asked what horses were running, and when he heard that one of the entries was Irish Lad, he decided to place a ten-dollar bet on him. The odds on Irish Lad were forty to one, and everyone laughed at O’Neill. He asked who was riding Irish Lad, and when he was told it was a jockey called Frankie O’Neill, he bet another ten dollars. Someone called out that his colors were green and white, and O’Neill put down another ten dollars. By this time everyone in the bar was laughing like crazy. Irish Lad won, and then nobody laughed except Mr. O’Neill.”

Jamie was an avid horseplayer when he had the cash and would sometimes place Bergen’s bets for him, along with his own. Although Eugene was only mildly interested in horse racing, he was devoted to boxing and six-day bicycle racing, and often attended these events at Madison Square Garden. Several friends with whom, in later years, he attended sports events, attributed O’Neill’s enthusiasm for sports to the natural admiration of a man not physically robust for men who lived by their physical endurance. All his life O’Neill admired feats of strength, and often sought the acquaintance of outstanding fighters, ballplayers and other athletes.

While O’Neill did not share his brother’s passion for gambling, he had an intimate knowledge of gamblers and their argot, most of which he picked up at the Garden Hotel and which he used in his one-acter Hughie. Although the play is set in 1928 in a West Side hotel, the two characters in the script, a seedy gambler and a night clerk, were modeled on people he met at the Garden. The hotel’s patrons also provided members of the raffish crew portrayed in The Iceman Cometh. Ed Mosher in The Iceman Cometh was based on a circus man named Bill Clarke, known affectionately as “Clarkey,” whom O’Neill met that winter at the Garden Hotel.

Clarke, whom O’Neill later helped support, often paid for the drinks; compared with O’Neill, Clarke was affluent. Like O’Neill, he was willing to drink anything, and when funds for whiskey had been depleted lie would sample wood alcohol flavored with Worcestershire sauce. Clarke, using the name Volo, had been the first man to perform a daring bicycle stunt called the loop-the-loop.

“One of my old chums,” O’Neill once said, “was Volo the Volitant, a bicycle rider whose specialty was in precipitating himself down a steep incline and turning a loop or so in the air.” A good Catholic, Clarke always said a Hail Mary when he began his stunt. Nevertheless, shortly before O’Neill met him, he fell and broke his back. After recovering from his accident he became a guide with a Manhattan sightseeing bus service.

Another man O’Neill met at the Garden Hotel, and who remained a friend for many years, was a Scotsman named William Stuart. Known to everyone as “Scotty,” he was a brawny, big-featured man who had fought in the Boer War and later had been apprenticed to a woodcarver who worked on ships. Scotty earned his living by teaching a woodcarving class at a settlement house in Greenwich Village. With Scotty or Robert Brown or one of his other drinking companions O’Neill would thread his way between the Garden Hotel and the Hell Hole and sometimes, when the proprietor did not feel like extending his hospitality beyond the legal closing hour, he would move on to one of the nonalcoholic meeting places of Greenwich Village, such as Romany Marie’s or Polly Holliday’s. These were dimly lit cafes that stayed open all night, where the proprietors knew all their customers by their first names and were usually willing to stake those who couldn’t pay to coffee and food.

Polly Holliday had opened the first cafe in the Village that became a meeting place for intellectuals. She was living with a man named Hippolyte Havel, whom O’Neill later portrayed as Hugo Kalmar in The Iceman Cometh. Hippolyte, a short, stocky, black-haired man, once likened by a friend to a ragged chrysanthemum, was a well-known figure in the Village. When O’Neill met him he was doubling as Pollv’s lover and cook. Born in Hungary of a gvpsy mother, Hippolyte had been released from an insane asylum in Europe after the psychiatrist Krafft-Ebing pronounced him sane—an opinion that was not wholeheartedly shared by all his Village friends. After the asylum had come jail, from which he had escaped to London. In London he met Emma Goldman, became her lover, was helped by her to reach Chicago, and joined her radical circle, editing the anarchist newspaper Arbeiterzeitnng.

Hippolyte was usually the center of attraction at Polly’s, with his extravagant and profane denunciations of the bourgeoisie and his temper tantrums. He and Polly did not live peacefully, for Polly had a roving eye, and though Hippolyte was theoretically committed to a tolerant attitude about sexual freedom, he tended to lose his perspective where Polly was concerned. Polly’s grievance against Hippolyte was of a different nature. One night, after Hippolyte had made a particularly noisy scene at the restaurant, she complained to one of her customers that Hippolyte was not acting in good faith, because he hadn’t committed suicide. ‘Tie promised me over and over again,” she said, “but he just won’t keep his word.”

Theodore Dreiser, while living in the Village and struggling to gain recognition, once told a friend, “Havel is one of those men who ought to be supported by the community; he is a valuable person for life, but can’t take care of himself.”

Although O’Neill enjoyed Polly’s because of Hippolyte and also because he often ran into Louis Holliday there, his favorite place after the Hell Hole closed for the night was Romany Marie’s, in Sheridan Square. Marie was Mrs. Damon Marchand, a buxom, flamboyant woman with a heavily accented, throaty voice who, though her family had been conservative Rumanians and she was respectably married, dressed like a gypsy and pretended to be one. She recalled that O’Neill turned up at the restaurant she operated with her husband almost every night during that winter.

“There was never a question of anyone having enough to eat,” Marie said, “as long as there was food on my stove.” Marie’s specialty was Turkish coffee and she served no liquor.

One day, not too long after Marie and her husband had begun operating the little restaurant—as at Polly’s, the male member of the partnership presided in the kitchen—half a dozen members of the Hudson Dusters gang paid them a visit. Organized in the late 1890’s, when other vicious gangs like the Gophers, the Five Pointers, the Marginals and the Pearl Buttons terrorized Manhattan, the Dusters commandeered an old house below Horatio Street, on Hudson, which paralleled Sixth Avenue. This was their club, and here, to the helpless fury of their lawabiding neighbors, they entertained the waterfront prostitutes at all-night parties, with refreshments supplied by the merchants of the area. No one dared complain, for the Dusters became irritated when they were thwarted. One local saloonkeeper who refused to donate six kegs of beer for a party was subsequently robbed of his entire stock of liquor and his establishment was wrecked. Prominent members of the Dusters bore names like Kid Yorke, Circular Jack, Goo Goo Knox, Rubber Shaw, Honcy Stewart and Ding Dong. Many of them were cocaine addicts and their narcotics-inspired courage made them a menace not only to the merchants but to the police.

One of their best-known feats of daring and revenge had taken place shortly before O’Neill came to the Village, and people were still talking about it. A policeman named Dennis Sullivan, who was assigned to the Charles Street Station, declared his intention of singlehandedly smashing the Hudson Dusters gang. He got ten of them arrested and the Dusters, after deliberation, set out to teach Sullivan a lesson. They did so one night when Sullivan was about to arrest another of their members in Greenwich Street. Four of them jumped on him, grabbed his coat, nightstick, shield and revolver, and beat him unconscious with blackjacks and stones. They rolled him on his back and ground their heels in his face to make a lasting impression.

Sullivan was hospitalized for many weeks, and the triumph of the Dusters was joyously celebrated not only locally but by gangdom in general. A member of the Gophers was so impressed by the Dusters’ feat that he was moved to congratulate them in a poem (his name was One Lung Curran, and he was the acknowledged poet laureate of the West Side gangs):

Says Dinny, “Here’s me only chance
To gain meself a name;
I’ll clean up the Hudson Dusters,
And reach the hall of fame.”
He lost his stick and cannon,
And his shield they took away,
It was then that he remembered
Every dog has got his day.

He went on through half a dozen more stanzas, which described the attack in detail, and the Dusters had the poem printed and distributed among the Village saloons and barbershops.

Naturally, Romany Marie did not welcome the Dusters’ patronage.

“They were a fierce-looking gang, and everyone knew them by reputation,” Marie said. “It was early in the evening and our place was packed, but when they came in, the customers quietly began to melt away.”

Marie watched helplessly as her place emptied out, and regretted that O’Neill was not there, for she knew that they liked and respected him.

“Give us the strongest drink you have in the house,” one of the Dusters demanded.

“The strongest drink is Turkish coffee,” Marie said nervously.

“Serve it,” ordered the tough.

Marie served three rounds of coffee, her husband looking on apprehensively from the kitchen. Then Marie, emboldened by her knowledge that she could call on O’Neill for protection, looked the leader straight in the eye, and told him, “You’ve had enough coffee.” She presented her bill, which came to $4.50. She charged 25 cents a cup for her coffee, and was sure the thugs would consider this exorbitant. To her astonishment, the leader reached into his pocket and brought out the cash, pushed back his chair, and swaggered out, followed by his men. They made straight for the Hell Hole, where they encountered O’Neill.

“That Romany Marie is some dame,” the leader told him. “She put us out of her place, and made us pay for our coffee; her husband was scared, but she wasn’t.” O’Neill, angry, asked the gangsters to keep out of Marie’s place in the future, and his request was obeyed.

The Hudson Dusters, who were predominantly Irish, admired O’Neill and considered his friendship a privilege. His appeal to such people was extraordinary. Somehow he evoked and held their respect and admiration, and in many cases a dogged love. They called him “the Kid,” and when a fight broke out in a saloon one of them always shouted protectively, “Look out for the Kid!”

Early that winter one of the Hudson Dusters—possibly Ding Dong, whose accomplishments as a thief were highly respected—noticing that O’Neill went about in a threadbare overcoat, or just a jacket lined with newspapers to keep out the cold, told him: “You shouldn’t oughta dress like that, Gene. Tell you what. You make a trip up Sixth Avenue right away. Pick out any overcoat you want and tell me the store. I’ll hand you over the coat tomorrow.”

O’Neill was touched, but declined the offer.

O’Neill’s main concern that winter, when he was sober enough to think clearly, was with the revolutionary theories that occupied his anarchist and socialist friends; the handful of poems he scribbled—most of them while sitting in the back room of the Hell Hole—included a ballad called “Revolution” and one called “Dirty Bricks of Buildings.” But several others indicated a gloomy interest in the condition of his heart. “What Do You See, Wan One?” “Good Night,” and “The White Night” do not have a political ring to their titles.

O’Neill was still exchanging letters with Beatrice, but since he seemed unable to consolidate that relationship he took advantage of more accessible prospects. He did not have to extend himself, for women still gravitated toward him in spite of his ragged condition.

For a while he amused himself with a beautiful, black-haired woman named Becky, who was also the mistress of Big Bill Haywood and various others who lived in or passed through the Village. But it was not until late in the winter that he felt the stirrings of love again. There was, as with most of O’Neill’s romances, an obstacle. The new object of O’Neill’s affection was an exquisite, twenty-four-year-old, married woman named Louise Bryant Trullinger. The fact that she was married was not what bothered O’Neill, however; what upset him was that his friend John Reed had met her first and that she had recently become his mistress.

Reed, home from covering the European War for the Metropolitan Magazine and nursing bruises from a tempestuous affair with Mabel Dodge, had gone to visit his family in Portland, Oregon, and while there had fallen in love with Louise. She had chestnut hair with a blonde sheen, eyes that could deepen from gray to blue, a slender figure, and a provocative, gamine quality. Within a few weeks of the meeting she had left Portland and her husband, Paul, who was a dentist, to follow Reed to New York, where she moved into his Washington Square apartment. Reed, lyrically in love, displayed her proudly. “I think I’ve found Hei at last,” he wrote to a friend. “She’s wild, brave and straight—and graceful and lovely to look at.”

Louise was undeniably wild—and brave, too, in the sense of being recklessly eager to squander herself; she was avid for romance and adventure and determined to make something of herself as a writer. She had attempted journalism with some success; in alliance with Reed, to whom she was genuinely devoted in her own way, she began to advance her writing career in New York. But she was also very much subject to her emotions and found it difficult to resist anyone who seemed to need her. Louise wanted to be all things to all men. She was, by instinct, a vivandiere.

In his naivete O’Neill was slow to recognize this quality in her. For weeks he adored her silently, resigned to the fact that she was Reed’s girl and ashamed of himself for hoping that she could ever be his. It was understood by Reed’s friends that he and Louise would be married as soon as she could arrange a divorce. Troubled though he was by Louise’s relationship with Reed, something made O’Neill hang on to his dream of getting Louise for himself. When, in the spring, he learned that Reed and Louise were planning to spend the summer in Provincetown among a group of writers and artists, many of them from Greenwich Village, he decided he would go too.

His long mood of despair was over. Perhaps he had needed the plunge into the depths to make him aware, once again, of the possibilities of life. Miraculously, he was not only alive but still in fairly good health.

In the spring of 1916 O’Neill headed for Provincetown, where he was finally to find recognition.


Only recently discovered by a small group of greenwich village artists and writers, the Provincetown to which O’Neill journeyed in 1916 was a quiet fishing settlement, proud of its whaling background, at the tip of Cape Cod. The town’s two narrow streets, Commercial and Bradford—connected by a multitude of tiny alleyways— ran parallel to the Provincetown harbor. Along these streets were clustered the cottages and shops of the village. Wharves were strung out from most of the houses lining the bay side of Commercial Street. Behind Bradford Street stretched miles of dunes and scrub grass extending to the Atlantic. Provincetown’s population was divided among three groups—families of the early Portuguese settlers, descendants of the first Puritan arrivals, and “outsiders,” who included such year-round residents as the town doctor, businessmen and a few artists.

Provincetown had been claimed as a haven for Manhattan’s avant-garde by Mary Heaton Vorse. Widowed in 1915 for the second time, Mrs. Vorse supported herself and her children by free-lance writing. She first visited Provincetown during the summer of 1906 to give her children sea air, fell in love with the village, and bought an old house that she later turned into a year-round residence. Hutchins Hapgood, a college friend of Mrs. Vorse’s first husband, was the second of the writers to arrive, and after him came other New Yorkers in search of a summer refuge. Two among them were George Cram Cook and his wife, Susan Glaspell.

Cook, called “Jig” by his friends, was the next in the series of older men to cast a notable influence on O’Neill’s life. O’Neill’s senior by fifteen years, he was a Greek scholar and university professor from Davenport, Iowa. He had left a wife and children to marry Susan Glaspell, a burgeoning writer. Cook loved working with his hands. He was six feet tall, powerfully built and had enormous vitality and a contagious enthusiasm for history and the arts. Although not a first-rate writer himself, he sensed genius in others and had the ability to stimulate other people’s talent. Erudite and mystical, Jig regretted not having been born a Greek of the fourth century b.c. He yearned to re-create the Athenian cradle of art and philosophy and spent his life trying to impose his dream on his surroundings.

Cook had a mane of white hair and a habit of twisting a shaggy lock between his fingers when moved or excited. Kind, patient, visionary, he inclined to be pontifical and vain. He could be hurt by any slight of his well-meant guidance. Susan Glaspell, a delicate, sad-eyed, witty woman, worshiped her husband and devoted herself in equal measure to him and to her writing; it was she who provided the backbone of their income.

Cook and Susan Glaspell had participated in the birth of the Washington Square Players in Greenwich Village in the winter of 1914. Although that little group, which became the foundation for the Theatre Guild, was organized in protest against the commercialism of Broadway, it was not experimental enough for Cook. The Washington Square Players were interested in giving American writers a hearing, but were even more attracted to the European experimentalists. Cook dreamed of a theatre that would exist solely for the expression of native talent—that would, in fact, inspire the emergence of such talent—”a threshing floor,” he said, “on which a young and growing culture could find its voice.” In the summer of 1915 he made a beginning toward the realization of this dream by inviting his friends to write one-act plays as “an experiment.”

None of Cook’s friends were professional playwrights, but several were short-story writers. Their unfamiliarity with the dramatic form was, in Cook’s opinion, precisely what suited them to be pioneers on his threshing floor and to break up some of the old theatre molds. They were not to adhere to any rules or precepts of the Broadway theatre, which, Cook assured them, existed only as a money-making enterprise. They were to stumble and blunder and grope their way toward a native dramatic art. The idea appealed to Cook’s friends. All of them—journalists like Hapgood; artists like Charles Demuth, Bror Nordfeldt, and William and Marguerite Zorach; short-story writers like Wilbur Daniel Steele; novelists like Neith Boyce (Hapgood’s wife) and Susan Glaspell; magazine writers like Mary Vorse and even a few professional theatre people like the actor Frederic Burt—warmed to the project.

One-acters were then the vogue among young intellectuals who wanted to make a pointed protest against the aridity of Broadway and transform the drama into an art seriously related to life. The one-act form was easier to sustain for both the writer and the experimental producing ensemble. Like the short story, which had developed as a literary form by the end of the nineteenth century, the one-acter was the natural means by which to express a single impression, mood or idea effectively.

It had, of course, become familiar in Europe, and little theatres in various parts of America had started providing an outlet for short plays by amateur dramatists, both gifted and commonplace.

The movement took hold in New York in 1914. A few members of the Liberal Club—an organization of earnest thinkers and tireless talkers that congregated on the ground floor of a MacDougal Street brownstone in Greenwich Village—were inspired to begin their own theatre. Lawrence Langner, a patent lawyer with a fervor for the drama, and Ida Rauh, the stage-struck wife of Max Eastman, proposed renting a playhouse and forming an acting group. Albert Boni, who, with his brother Charles, had recently opened the Washington Square Book Shop next door to the Liberal Club, protested that a stage was an unnecessary appendage to the presentation of plays.

The matter had been resolved when Robert Edmond Jones, one of the few members of the Liberal Club with professional experience in the theatre, wandered into the Boni bookshop. Jones, a reddish-haired, bearded New Englander who had attended Harvard with Albert Boni, was just back from E urope, where he had studied stage design.

“Do you have to have a stage to put on a play, Bobby?” asked Boni.

“Of course not,” answered Jones. “You can put on a play right here.”

The Washington Square Book Shop was as much a social center as a commercial enterprise—an adjoining wall of the Liberal Club had recently been broken through to allow members easier access to the store —and a number of Boni’s friends were on hand during this exchange. One of them suggested staging a production then and there. Since the Boni brothers seldom had a paying customer in the shop, nothing stood in the way of the impromptu performance. The store consisted of two large rooms, each thirty feet square, with ceilings fourteen feet high. The rooms were divided by sliding mahogany doors, and their frames served as the proscenium. The group separated into actors and audience, and selected Lord Dunsany’s The Glittering Gate as its vehicle—simply because there were several copies of the play on the shop’s shelves. Bobby Jones tore off ten feet of wrapping paper and with it improvised two columns. Two tall men stripped to the waist and stationed themselves at the columns to play guards of the glittering gate, and the scene was lorth-with acted.

It took a few more months and a good deal of fast talking by the enthusiastic participants in this production before the money was raised to rent a real theatre. Such was the beginning of the Washington Square Players. The Bandbox Theatre, on Fifty seventh Street near Third Avenue, became their headquarters in February, 1915, and their first bill was a catholic mixture of one-act plays by Maurice Maeterlinck, Lawrence Langner (writing as Basil Lawrence, not to offend his associates in the legal world), and Edward Goodman, who was appointed head of the group because he had had some experience producing one-acters for an organization called the Socialist Press Club. The following month the group presented plays by Leonid Andreyey, John Reed and Philip Moeller, who was a founder of the company. Before the season was out two more plays by Maeterlinck, one by Octave Feuillet and one by Chekhoy had been presented.

On the day the group became a corporate body, the writer Hiram Kelly Motherwell interviewed several members in the back room of the bookshop on MacDougal Street.

“We’ve got to assert the rights of the human soul,” Philip Moeller told him. “The American theatre has no place for the subtler nuances of drama. The whole system is wrong. The acting is mechanical, the production lifeless and the scenery damn—no, it is worse, it is positively mid-Victorian. The trouble is that the whole system is commercial. The American theatre is aiming at nothing but the dollar.”

In spite of the lofty aims of the Washington Square Players, they rejected a play submitted by Jig Cook and Susan Glaspell, called Suppressed Desires, as being too much of a departure. Out of pique Cook and his wife decided to stage the play on their own, and it was this decision that initiated the second of America’s most famous “little theatre” groups—the Provincetown Players.

The Provincetown Players, however, were not yet thought of when, the following summer, Bobby Jones mounted Suppressed Desires on an improvised stage and with makeshift scenery in the Hapgood house on the Cape.

Described by its authors as “a Freudian comedy,” the play was a spoof of the prevalent misinterpretations of the theories of Sigmund Freud, and was an amusing example of the advanced ideas held by the Cooks and their friends. They were so modern, as the local Provincetown newspaper pointed out admiringly, “that they not only write about modern things, but satirize them.”

On the same program with Sttppressed Desires in the Hutchins Hap- goods’ home was Constancy, a one-act play that Tapgood’s wife, Neith Boyce, had based on the love affair between John Reed and Mabel Dodge. 7. ■ casual production of the double bill came to be reverently regarded as the birth of the Provincetown Players (which was officially organized the following year). Jones sat the audience in a room facing Hapgood’s wide, seaside veranda to watch Constancy. Behind the backs of the audience he set the stage for Suppressed Desires and, when Constancy was over, the audience turned its chairs to face an alcoved room representing a Greenwich Village apartment.

Stimulated by their successful experiment, the Cooks, Hapgoods and several other friends commandeered an old fishhouse at the end of a tumble-down wharf owned by Mary Vorse and proceeded to turn it into a theatre.

Christened the Wharf Theatre and characterized by Jig Cook as the “shining object” on which artistic native drama could make its long-delayed arrival, the playhouse—twenty five feet square and fifteen feet high—was little more than a shell. Through the planks of its floor at high tide the bay could be seen and heard and smelled. Linder Cook’s direction an ingenious stage was built. Only ten by twelve feet, it was sectional and mobile and could be slid backward onto the end of the wharf through the two wide doors at the rear of the theatre, to provide an effect of distance. Those doors, through which fishermen had once hurled their catch, could be flung apart to expose the most realistic sea backdrop any theatre ever had. The vast bay was revealed, dotted by lights of passing vessels and swept by the beacon of a lighthouse.

A five-dollar contribution by each of the members of the company— by then it numbered thirty—provided for the needed tools and equipment. Two days before the opening, after the group had been toiling over arrangements for several weeks, the fishing shack caught fire; though the flames were quickly subdued, two of the interior walls were blackened and the curtain was destroyed. The troupe inventively stained the uncharred walls black to match the burned ones, hung them with old fishing nets for added atmosphere, and replaced the curtain.

As lumber was scarce in Provincetown, nothing could be done about building scats during the summer of 1915. Consequently, in that first season—when Constancy and Suppressed Desires were revived (along with another satire by Jig Cook called Change Your Style, about two rival art schools, and a symbolic political play by Wilbur Daniel Steele called Contemporaries’)—members of the audience carried their own chairs to and from the theatre.

In New York durina the winter of 101 5–16—the winter O’Neill drifted about Greenwich Village—the “Provincetowncrs” made plans for the following summer; they thought longingly and talked ambitiously of their theatre on the wharf and of the native American drama they were trying to fan into existence. And during that time, packed among O’Neill’s scanty belongings, lay Bound East for Cardiff, a script Professor Baker scorned, and no producer would mount—a script that awaited adoption by a group of idealistic artists.

Though the Provincetowners were not aware of O’Neill when they hastened back to their theatre in the late spring of 1916, O’Neill was aware of them. Years later he acknowledged it was John Reed who first brought him to Provincetown. Reed had not been there the summer of 1915, but by 1916 he had become Jig Cook’s most ardent disciple. Eagerly he echoed Cook in his desire to “get back to Greece”—to create an atmosphere in which the American equivalent of the Dionysiac dance could be born. Reed, who had seen native drama in Mexico, agreed with Cook that such theatre could be created out of group spirit and free expression of ideas on an experimental stage.

Although O’Neill had an idea of what was going on in Provincetown, he did not hurry to become a part of the group, because he dreaded groups of any kind. Nor, in spite of Reed’s invitation, did he head directly for Provincetown that summer. Instead, he and Terry Carlin, like a pair of stray dogs cautiously sniffing a doubtful bone, made for the adjoining town of Truro. Living was cheap in Provincetown, but it was even cheaper in the hull of the wreck on the Truro beach where O’Neill and Terry established squatters’ rights.

Terry read and O’Neill swam, gradually working off the effects of his drunken winter. He kept his eye on Provincetown, warily watching the progress of the new theatre. Having adopted the name Provincetown Players, the group had managed to drum up a subscription audience of eighty-seven, each member paying $2.50 for a pair of tickets to each bill.

With this fund the Players installed lighting and bought enough lumber to build benches. They optimistically announced a season of four bills of three one-act plays each, although not more than six playlets were even partially committed to paper. They got off swimmingly with a revival of Suppressed Desires and a satire by Reed, called Freedom, about four prisoners with divergent ideas on the meaning of what it is to be free (like Suppressed Desires, it had been turned down by the Washington Square Players). The third play was apparently so unremarkable that its plot has been forgotten by all concerned; by Neith Boyce, it was entitled Winter’s Night.

By the time these plays had been mounted, the group’s treasury was all but depleted—even though $13 was the biggest outlay ever made for a production. Jig found it necessary, therefore, to solicit single admissions to supplement the funds from subscribers. The money came in, for Provincetown’s growing summer colony was excited about the theatre.

But that still left the problem of a second bill. Wilbur Steele completed an insignificant play called Not Smart and several other members of the group submitted scripts, but nobody could agree on a bill strong enough to carry the next program.

O’Neill had an infallible sense of timing; most of his entrances into and exits from the lives of the people he affected were achieved with a flourish. What drew him to Provincetown at this moment of the theatre’s crisis was the fact that he and Terry had exhausted their funds. Terry, who thought of Hapgood as a likely source, took O’Neill with him to Provincetown to borrow $10. Presumably O’Neill returned to Truro with his share of the loan, while Terry strolled about Provincetown greeting people he knew from Greenwich Village. Susan Glaspell, encountering Terry just at the time she was near desperation over the format of the Players’ second bill, asked: “Haven’t you a play to read to us?”

“No,” answered Terry, according to Miss Glaspell’s account in her book, The Road to the Temple. “I don’t write, I just think, and sometimes talk. But Mr. O’Neill has got a whole trunk full of plays.”

Hapgood’s version, however, set down twelve years after Miss Glas- pell’s, was that O’Neill showed him and Neith Boyce Bound East for Cardiff and that Neith took it to Jig and urged him to stage it.

In any case, it was arranged for O’Neill to go to the Cooks’ house the evening the final vote was to be taken on which three plays would comprise the second bill at the Wharf Theatre. Bound East for Cardiff was read aloud to the assembled group, which by now included Harry Kemp, the “hobo” poet, his beautiful red-haired wife, Mary Pyne, and Kyra Markham, an attractive young woman from Chicago who wanted to act.

Frederic Burt read the play in the living room, while O’Neill sat moodily in the dining room, afraid to hear, afraid to see the faces of the listeners. As soon as the reading ended, a smile lit the face of John Reed. Louise Bryant, who had joined Reed in Provincetown and was writing one-acters like the rest of the group, regarded O’Neill with new interest. As for Jig Cook, he was all but stunned by the realization that he had found the dramatist who could express his idea of native theatre. Hie group’s response to O’Neill’s genius was immediate and wholehearted.

Susan Glaspell later summed up the mass enthusiasm for O’Neill’s play:

“He was not left alone in the dining room when the reading had finished. Then we knew what we were for.”

The voting became a mere formality. Bound East for Cardiff was put into rehearsal and two weeks later led Wilbur Steele’s Not Smart and a pallid morality play by Louise Bryant called The Game on the second bill of the Provincetown Players’ 1916 summer season.

Jig Cook played the dying sailor, Yank, on the tiny stage arranged to represent the forecastle. The scenic effects were largely supplied by nature.

“The sea has been good to Eugene O’Neill,” Susan Glaspell wrote later. “It was there for his opening. There was a fog, just as the script demanded, fog bell in the harbor. The tide was in, and it washed under us and around, spraying through the holes in the floor, giving us the rhythm and the flavor of the sea while the big dying sailor talked to his friend Drisc of the life he had always wanted deep in the land, where you’d never see a ship or smell the sea. It is not merely figurative language to say the old wharf shook with applause.”

O’Neill himself recalled his debut as a dramatist more laconically: “It’s rather a curious coincidence that my first production should have been on a wharf in a sea town.... Bound East for Cardiff ... was laid on shipboard; and while it was being acted you could hear the waves washing in and out under the wharf.”

E. J. (“Teddy”) Ballantine, an actor who had come from England with Mrs. Pat Campbell’s production of Pygmalion and was vacationing in Provincetown, staged the production. John Reed played one of the seamen, Harry Kemp another, and O’Neill, undaunted by his previous acting disaster in Monte Cristo, played the Mate, speaking one line: “Isn’t this your watch on deck, Driscoll?” He also doubled as prompter, standing behind a board partition and breathing so nervously that he distracted the other performers.

O’Neill was now not only a published but a produced dramatist. Even though his producers were experimental amateurs, they appreciated his work and stimulated him to go on writing—an incentive that had nearly left him the winter before.

He and Terry moved into a shack diagonally across the street from the house occupied by Louise and Reed. They ate out of cans and threw the empty cans out their back door. Occasionally they varied their diet with fish presented to them by the Portuguese fishermen. A sign reading “Go to Hell” was nailed to the front door. In spite of the enthusiasm of the Provincetowners for O’Neill’s work and their eagerness to befriend him, he held somewhat aloof; his shyness rendered him incapable of mingling, and he didn’t know the meaning of the phrase “small talk.” During the conversations of his peers he habitually maintained a morose silence. It was only with a subject he considered important that he would talk—and then it was sometimes all but impossible to interrupt him; he could carry on a monologue in a low, halting voice until he had exhausted every facet.

Because there were few people with whom he could relax, many of his acquaintances considered him taciturn; and no one—not even those with whom he felt at ease—found him chatty. For companions he preferred the Portuguese fishermen and members of the Coast Guard station who stood lonely watch over Provincetown’s treacherous waters. It was partly because of his social malaise that he continued to drink, but he worked, between alcoholic binges, with new vigor.

O’Neill’s shack had a long ramp running down to almost the water’s edge. Day after day he would stand leaning against the wide door frame gazing out to sea, sometimes for hours. When, at last, he had drunk his fill of gazing, or the sun, or whatever held him so immobile, he moved swiftly, but not running, into the water and began to swim. He swam straight out without swerving to right or left. Kyra Markham, who happened to live next door to O’Neill that summer, used to worry about him. “His head became a tiny dot in the distance,” she said, “and sometimes he went so far that I could not see him at all.”

Others experienced a similar sense of misgiving while watching O’Neill in the sea. Louise Bryant was spellbound by his marathon swims. She would watch for him from her window and join him on the beach. She and Reed always entertained a houseful of guests, drawn there mainly by the fact that Flippolyte Havel was the cook. Hippolyte’s menus were inventive and his after dinner conversations provocative. Once, after Reed had expounded on some radical cause, Hippolyte furiously accused him of being “a parlor socialist,” to which Reed retorted, “And you’re a kitchen anarchist!”

Hippolyte’s fickle love, Polly Holliday, also was in Provincetown that summer, as was her brother, Louis, and Reed’s house resounded to their talk. Although Reed was as gregarious as O’Neill was withdrawn, he found the bustle of his household distracting when he wanted to work. He would often glance enviously at O’Neill’s “Go to Hell” sign across the street—and he was grateful to be able to escape from Provincetown from time to time for magazine assignments, even though it meant parting, momentarily, from Louise. Reed was not in the best of health; he was having a recurrence of a chronic kidney ailment, and Louise was restless. Knowledgeable friends watched Louise indulgently and were amused when her glance appeared to focus on O’Neill.

To O’Neill it was not a laughing matter. He was deeply and unhappily in love with her. Because, with him, to fall in love was to idealize, he was convinced that Louise, committed (although not yet married) to Reed, would be offended by his love. He not only concealed his feelings but tried to avoid her; he was the only one to whom it was not plain that Louise was pursuing him. Finally contriving to see O’Neill alone one day, she confided that because of Reed’s illness they lived together as brother and sister.

O’Neill and Louise became lovers. What Reed’s position was no one could quite understand, but all three seemed to find the arrangement satisfactory and they continued to work amicably together that summer. Mabel Dodge, Reed’s recently discarded mistress, familiarized herself with the situation when she arrived in Provincetown and decided Reed might need consolation. “I thought Reed would be glad to see me if things were like that between him and Louise—but he wasn’t,” Mabel has candidly recorded.

When The Players chose O’Neill’s Thirst for their fourth bill (plus a revival of Contemporaries and Change Your Style), Louise portrayed the thirst-crazed Dancer and O’Neill the taciturn West Indian Mulatto Sailor who entertained the notion of dining on her. The production gave O’Neill and Louise a chance to play (with deadly earnestness) a love scene remarkable for the stiffness of its dialogue and the bizarreness of its action:

Dancer (putting her hand on [the sailor’s] shoulder she bends forward with her golden hair almost in his lap and smiles up into his face): I like you, Sailor. You are bio and strong. We are ooino to be great friends, are we not? (The Negro is hardly looking at her. He is watching the sharks.) Surely you will not refuse me a little sip of your water?

Sailor: I have no water.

Dancer: Oh, why will you keep up this subterfuge? Am I not offering you price enough? (Putting her arm around his neck and half whispering in his ear.) Do you not understand? I will love you, Sailor! Noblemen and millionaires ... have loved me, have fought for me. I have never loved any of them as I will love you. Look in my eyes, Sailor, look in my eyes! (Compelled in spite of himself by something in her voice, the Negro gazes deep into her eyes. For a second his nostrils dilate—he draws in his breath with a hissing sound—his body grows tense and it seems as if he is about to sweep her into his arms. Then his expression grows apathetic again. He turns to the sharks.)

Dancer: Oh, will you never understand? Are you so stupid that you do not know what I mean? ... I have promised to love youa Negro sailor—if you will give me one small drink of water. Is that not humiliation enough that you must keep me waiting so? ... Will you give me that water?

Sailor (without even turning to look at her): I have no water.

Dancer (shaking with jury’): Great God, have I abased myself for this? Have I humbled myself before this black animal only to be spurned like a wench of the streets? It is too much! You lie, you dirty slave! You have water. You have stolen my share of the water. (In a frenzy she clutches the sailor about the throat with both hands.) Give it to me! Give it to me!

Sailor (takes her hands from his neck and pushes her roughly away. She falls face downward in the middle of the raft.) Let me alone! I have no water.

The play was not very successful and was never produced again, but one member of the group—the writer Edna Kenton—has recalled that it was, at least, realistically mounted. “By some fine trick of lighting and by sliding the stage back through the rear door, the players playing over the sea seemed to be literally floating in it in their perilous raft,” she added.

However, William Zorach, the sculptor, who, with his artist wife, Marguerite, designed some of the settings for the Provincetown productions, later remembered irritably that O’Neill insisted on using a sea cloth with someone wriggling around underneath it, much in the style of the Chateau d’lf scene in Monte Cristo.

O’Neill did not confine himself to acting in his own plays. He took a small role in a play by Reed, and Wilbur Steele, who also was in the cast, recalled that though the part consisted of only two lines O’Neill used to shake with fright every time he walked on stage.

O’Neill also managed to complete one short play that summer. Entitled Before Breakfast, it was probably the first of his scripts that was recognizably Strindbergian. He had been influenced by The Stronger, a two-character play in which one docs all the talking. Like most of the one-acters he completed during the next year or two, Before Breakfast was written in the comfortable knowledge that he would have an experimental stage on which to produce it exactly as he pleased.

It is a monologue by a shrewish, unimaginative wife, who has become embittered by her forced marriage to a sensitive, unsuccessful writer and whose incessant nagging leads to her husbands off-stage suicide. The play evolved from O’Neill’s curiosity to test the staving power of an audience subjected to a one-character diatribe, and it paved the way for the expository monologues he wrote into his long plays.

O’Neill also made notes for, but did not write until later, another one-acter called lie, about a whaling captain whose frustration over an unsuccessful voyage develops into monomania. The play was suggested to O’Neill by Mary Vorse, who had known the man on whom O’Neill modeled the central figure of lie. His name was Captain John Cook— O’Neill, in the play, called him Captain Keeney—and he drove his men to the point of mutiny by insisting on staying at sea for two years, in order to harvest his quota of whale oil; his wife, Viola, who accompanied him on the voyage in 1903, went mad from a combination of monotony and witnessing her husband’s cruelty to his men. She spent the rest of her deranged life in Provincetown.

O’Neill advised Mary Vorse to write the story, but when she said she couldn’t, because she knew the Cook family too well, he told her he would use it. Several years passed before O’Neill met Mrs. Cook. One winter night, as he was walking along a snowy street in Provincetown, he noticed her some ten paces in front of him. Suddenly a black cat crossed her path. She gave it a kick that sent it sailing onto the steps of a barbershop several yards away and called out in a clear voice, “No goddam black cat is going to cross my bow!”

On nights when the moon was full she could be heard wailing hymns. She took pains to keep all her kitchen knives sharp and had a habit of greeting her husband, when he came home from a trip, with “There’s blood on the deck, John Cook! What do you know about that, John Cook?” It was rumored that Cook barricaded his door at night. But when he was away his wife would be heard talking to herself about her husband with pride. In her yard, while brushing out his shore clothes, including a derby hat, she would chant: “Never better a pair of legs went into any pants than Johnny Cook’s legs” and “Never a better head went in any hat than Johnny Cook’s head.” When she hung up his drawers, she would say, “Takes a big rear to fill these drawers!”

O’Neill discussed his ideas for lie and other plays with Louise in the summer of 1916 and also encouraged her with her own writing—which was more ambitious than inspired. While she had a high opinion of her abilities, she was perceptive enough to appreciate O’Neill’s superior talent and took a strong interest in his work. He showed her what he was currently writing, including the usual love poems. The titles of two poems, neither of them ever published, were “Moonlight” and “Silence.”

As the summer drew to a close, Jig Cook and John Reed decided they would take their theatre with them to New York that winter. Susan Glaspell has written of her concern over this plan:

“I was afraid for [Jig] ... I was afraid people would laugh at him, starting a theatre in New York—new playwrights, amateur acting, somewhere in an old house or a stable.... I said I did not think we were ready to go to New York; I leared we couldn’t make it go. Jack Reed thinks we can make it go,’ he said. Those two were the first to believe— adventurers both, men of faith.”

O’Neill later described Cook as “a really imaginative man, imaginative in every way,” adding that “he was against everything that suggested the worn-out conventions and cheap artificialities of the commercial stage.” On another occasion he told a friend, “If I hadn’t had the Provincetown Theatre, I would have had to write commercial plays like Sam Shipman.”

There is no doubt that O’Neill owed a great deal to Cook. He was the first man to have enough faith in O’Neill to devote his full time, talent and energy to seeing that he had a hearing.

“You don’t know Gene yet,” Cook told Edna Kenton, shortly before he left Provincetown that summer. “You don’t know his plays. But you will. All the world will know Gene’s plays some day. This year, on the night he first came to Provincetown and read us Bound East for Cardiff, we knew we had something to go on with. Some day this little theatre will be famous; some day the little theatre in New York will be famous— this fall the Provincetown Players go into New York with Cardiff on their first bill. We’ve got our group of playwrights and they’ve got to have their stage. Gene’s plays aren’t the plays of Broadway; he’s got to have the sort of stage we’re going to found in New York.”

On September 5 The Players met to draw up their manifesto. The setting forth of a credo posed something of a dilemma for such an anarchic group, and it was worded, finally, with such looseness as to make it almost inoperable.

“Organization is death!” cried Hutchins Hapgood with individualistic fervor. The group ended in resolving “that it is the primary object of the Provincetown Players to encourage the writing of American plays of artistic, literary and dramatic—as opposed to Broadway—merit.

“That such plays be considered without reference to their commercial value, since this theatre is not to be run for pecuniary profit....

“That the president shall cooperate with the author in producing the play under the author’s direction. The resources of the theatre ... shall be placed at the disposal of the author.... The author shall produce the play without hindrance according to his own ideas.”

O’Neill approved of the name, Provincetown Players, but suggested adding “The Playwrights’ Theatre.” He was very much aware that this little theatre could give him his real opportunity to prove himself. He knew of the experimental Intimate Theatre, opened in 1907 in Stockholm, for which Strindberg had written what he called “Chamber Plays” and which presented only new plays, most of them by Strindberg; O’Neill had a good idea of his own potentialities. No doubt he saw himself as the future Strindberg, and the Playwrights’ Theatre as America’s Intimate Theatre.

The amended name was unanimously adopted. No one except two officers—the president and the secretary—were to be paid. (Jig Cook, subsequently voted in as president, received $153 week, as did Mrs. Bror Nordfeldt, secretary.)

Cook was instructed to find a theatre that would fit into The Players’ working budget of $320—$80 was left over from the summer’s productions and eight contributions of $30 each had been made by the betterheeled members.

Enjoining everyone to “write another play,” Jig Cook departed happily for New York, leaving O’Neill inspired by his vision.

A Provincetown newspaper expressed Jig’s faith when it stated:

“They [The Players] have put on two plays by Eugene O’Neil [sic], a young dramatist whose work was heretofore unproduced and who, they are confident, is going to be heard from in places less remote than Provincetown.”


“even knowing we did it, I am disposed to say what we did that first year couldn t be done,” Susan Glaspell has written of the Provincetown Players’ initial season in New York.

Jig Cook found his “theatre” on the day he arrived in New York from Provincetown in mid-September—the parlor floor of an ancient brownstone at 139 MacDougal Street, a block south of Washington Square. It was owned, as were the adjoining buildings that housed the Liberal Club and the Washington Square Book Shop, by Jenny Belardi, a handsome, amiable Italian woman.

Mrs. Belardi in her early forties was still wistful about a frustrated ambition to be an actress. With her sister, Mary, she had struggled to make a living in the business world to please her mother and by 1904 the two women had managed to save enough to buy the brownstones at 135 and 137 MacDougal Street. Renting these out as apartments, they reserved a flat for themselves at Number 137 and eventually acquired 133 and 139 as well.

Still stage-struck, and numbering the Liberal Club and the Washington Square Book Shop among her tenants, Mrs. Belardi was used to the ways of artists and bohemians; she was delighted to rent the parlor floor of 139 to Jig Cook—for $100 a month—and to add her name to the Provincetown Players’ list of subscribing members.

While renovating the three and a half rooms of the parlor floor into auditorium, stage and dressing room, the Provincetowners mailed a circular announcing their aims to a select group of a thousand New Yorkers. Three hundred became subscribers immediately and two hundred followed within two months. The Playwrights’ Theatre was obliged to operate as a private club in order to sidestep various city building ordinances. Tickets could, therefore, be sold by subscription only.

A season subscription cost $5, in addition to annual membership dues of $4. Among those chosen to receive the circular were a few theatre critics of whose taste the Provincetown Players approved. These critics were invited to become paying patrons, not reviewers. The Provincetowners wanted no publicity; they were experimenting for the sake of their own artistic growth and sought the sympathetic support of friends, not evaluation by Broadway standards.

Toward the end of October the two front rooms of Number 139 had been converted into an auditorium and the rear room into a stage measuring only tolA by 14 feet; the theatre itself was 44 feet long by 15 feet wide and held 140 seats. Tiered benches were erected, precariously supported on stilts and having low wooden backs that added elan but little comfort; the walls of the auditorium were painted a soft, dark gray; the proscenium arch was decorated in blues, reds and gold; a limp canvas curtain, neither decorative nor opaque, was hung and a minimum of lighting equipment was installed.

The building was unheated, the seating accommodations were crude, the single dressing room was no bigger than a closet, and the state of scenery, costumes and actors was chaotic, but on October 27 the Playwrights’ Theatre was ready to announce its opening bill. Balloting by the members on October 7 at John Reed’s Washington Square apartment had determined that the premiere would consist of O’Neill’s Bound East for Cardiff, Louise Bryant’s The Game, and a comedy called King Arthtir’s Socks by Floyd Dell, who was on the staff of The Masses.

O’Neill, having followed the others down from Provincetown, reluctantly assumed his share of the labor involved in preparing the first bill. lie was assigned to supervise the staging of Bound East for Cardiff, which, as no one was more aware than he himself, would be the first production of an O’Neill play in New York. Once again he agreed to play the Mate. Louise was on hand to supervise The Game, and Teddy Ballantine took over the direction of King Arthur’s Socks from its panicky author.

Opening on Friday, November 3, the program did not create the slightest ripple in the world of the commercial theatre. Broadway, pursuing its traditional course, was oblivious of the dynamite fuse lit in the Village, which would glow and sputter and then in a few years explode. Liptown that week the critics had cheerfully reviewed, among other works, Ohl Lady 31, by Rachel Crothers and Good Gracious, Annabelle, by Clare Kummer. They were getting ready to welcome, during the coming week, a mixed bag that included a revival of Ben Hur at the Manhattan Opera House; a play with music by Victor Herbert and Irving Berlin called The Century Girl; and the premiere of George Bernard Shaw’s Getting Married.

Although a couple of critics attended the Provincctowncrs’ first bill as paying guests, none of them mentioned the fact in print. But the subscription audiences spread the news that here was a group worth watching. James O’Neill, who saw his son’s play, was among many who offered their congratulations. For Bound East for Cardiff was the hit of the triple bill, as it had been in Provincetown. With the second program, presented two weeks later, the ranks of subscribers multiplied. This bill included Suppressed Desires (finally, to Jig and Susan’s satisfaction, making its debut in Aew York); a dialogue between a husband and wile called Enemies, by Hutchins Hapgood and Neith Boyce, and John Reed’s Freedom, previously produced on the Cape.

The Provincetowners settled into a harum-scarum existence of writing, building, rehearsing and acting. Everything except the writing was accomplished on a scrupulously amateur scale. Practically any young visitor to the Village could affiliate himself with a production if he showed the proper enthusiasm for the troupe’s artistic aims and lacked professional training. If an actor demonstrated during his audition that he knew too many of the facile Broadway practices, he was rejected. The Provincetowners were impatient with all the uptown conventions, including salaries. They were much freer and had more fun, but their lack of professional standards and discipline often caused last-minute scrambles about misplaced costumes, half-painted sets and defecting thespians.

O’Neill, too self absorbed to concern himself with the theatre’s problems except as they directly affected him, did not participate in the productions of his fellow playwrights; nor was he even particularly friendly with more than a few of the members. He attended some of their meetings so that he could vote on selections of plays and on policy, but, as in Provincetown, he did not allow anyone but the Cooks, Reed and Louise, Hutch Collins (O’Neill’s New London friend who had joined the group as an actor), and another friend, “Scotty” Stuart, to know him well. O’Neill had persuaded Scotty to take the important role of Yank’s friend, Driscoll, in Bound East for Cardiff.

There were a few others, on the fringe of the group, with whom O’Neill was on close terms—Louis Holliday, the indestructible Terry Carlin, and one new friend, Frank Shay, who also played a role in Bound East for Cardiff.

Shay had inherited the Washington Square Book Shop from the Boni brothers, who had gone on to bigger things. Shay was as Irish as O’Neill in temperament and enjoyed nothing better than a rousing, hypothetical argument with O’Neill as to which of them was descended from the more illustrious Gaelic line. The two Irishmen made a striking picture—Shay, with his blazing, blue eyes, tawny shock of hair and sandy mustache, and O’Neill, dark-eyed, dark-haired, dark-mustached and glowering—as they traded extravagant verbal blows with esoteric Celtic references, all designed to prove that the O’Shays or the O’Neill’s were really the purest, the strongest and the most anciently established clan.

It was Shay who, that year, published Bound East for Cardiff and Before Breakfast, as part of a pamphlet series entitled “The Provincetown Plays.” Bound East was issued in November and included also the two plays that had been presented on the same bill at the Playwrights’ Theatre. Although Shay printed 1,200 copies for sale at fifty cents each, most of them were distributed free to writers, actors and others interested in the work of the Provincetown group, and the pamphlet brought O’Neill no more income than had the Thirst volume. Since he earned nothing from the theatre either, he was still obliged to live on the dollar a day provided by his father, for he would not, or could not, take a part-time paying job, as did many of the Provincetowners.

He kept up his reports of a mythical income to Dr. Lyman, however, declaring, in the 1919 Gaylord Farm questionnaire, that he had earned an average of $40 a week from the writing of plays during 1917 and 1918. Actually, he was not stretching the truth too much, for by the end of 1917 he began drawing a small weekly income in royalties. But in the fall of 1916, and up until the fall of 1917, he had nothing to depend on except his father’s dole. He supplemented this by eating at places like Marie’s and Polly’s at his hostesses’ expense, bunking with friends when he could and sleeping for a while in an abandoned store on Christopher Street. His father wanted him to live at the Prince George with him, O’Neill told Art McGinley later that year. But O’Neill preferred to be alone— so much so that he rented a second-floor room he could not afford in a boardinghouse in Washington Square, operated by Mrs. Adele Marchesini. When he was $46 in arrears he did what any true son of an old touring actor would have done; he melted away, leaving behind a trunkful of manuscripts and clothing. He confessed to this episode in 1924, apropos of an inquiry by a friend as to whether he had read a certain book. O’Neill said he had owned the book once “but a hardhearted landlady on the square requisitioned it, along with my extra clothes and trunk and other works, for a matter of neglected rent.” (The trunk was thrown out by Mrs. Marchesini after she had stored it for a time, when a rainstorm flooded her cellar and damaged its contents bevond salvage.)

One manuscript O’Neill had the foresight to take with him was Before Breakfast, the one-act monologue he had written in Provincetown. The Provincetown players presented it as part of their third bill on November 17, along with a play by Neith Boyce called The Two Sons and a verse play by Alfred Kreymborg called Erma Beans. Lima Beans was so advanced that not even the Provincetowners understood it. Its cast of characters was listed as the Wife, the Husband, the Huckster and the Curtain.

In his stage directions Kreymborg had loftily written: “If there must be a prelude of music, let it be nothing more consequential than one of the innocuous parlor rondos of Carl Maria von Weber. As a background color scheme, black and white might not prove amiss.” He went on to enjoin the Curtain, which was to be “painted in festoons of vegetables,” to rise “gravely.”

Kreymborg was the editor of Others, a magazine dedicated to the radical movement in poetry; it was printed at cost by a Russian anarchist who lived in the Bronx and called himself Mr. Liberty. O’Neill showed Kreymborg some of his own poems, but Kreymborg found them “rather sketchy.” The Masses, however, accepted a poem, “Submarine,” and printed it in its issue of February, 1917. For some reason, O’Neill did not sign it:

My soul is a submarine.
My aspirations are torpedoes.
I will hide unseen
Beneath the surface of life
Witching for ships,
Dull, heavy-laden merchant ships,
Rust-eaten, grimy galleons of commerce
Wallowing with obese assurance,
Too sluggish to fear or wonder,
Mocked by the laughter of waves
And the spit of disdainful spray.

I will destroy them
Because the sea is beautiful.

That is why I lurk
In green depths.

The third bill presented by the Provincetown Players was not successful, but it is noteworthy because it marked O’Neill’s final appearance as an actor. In Before Breakfast, he played the off-stage role of the husband, Alfred, whose hand is seen reaching for a bowl of shaving water and whose voice is heard in a death gurgle as he slashes his throat.

O’Neill clearly had himself in mind as the model for the suicidal husband, for even his brief stage note about the hand is autobiographical: “It is a sensitive hand with slender fingers. It trembles ...” He once said that he had cast himself in the production because he wanted to measure from the stage the reaction of the audience to a lengthy monologue. For the role of the nagging wife, Mrs. Rowland, the Provincetowners chose Mary Pyne, who concealed her good looks with the make-up of a drab, pinched virago.

The bill received no reviews in the press, but when Before Breakfast was revived at the Provincetown Playhouse a dozen years later as the curtain raiser for a longer play, the critic for the New York Times, who was then signing himself J. Brooks Atkinson, called it ‘a turgid one-act monologue.’ “If memory serves,” he added, “it was never an enthralling piece with its assembly of all the stock gloom of the theatre in the space of one act.... Mr. O’Neill was ... a glutton when he composed this familiar interlude of drink, poverty, infidelity and domestic horrors.”

James O’Neill expressed somewhat similar sentiments when he saw Before Breakfast in rehearsal for the first time.

“My boy, w hy don’t you write pleasanter plays?” he asked. But he was pleased that his son was getting recognition, even on so circumscribed a plane; and in a burst of love and gratitude he offered to help with the staging of Before Breakfast. O’Neill might have received this offer more graciously had he not been smarting over his father’s recently expressed espousal of a play written by Brandon Tynan. Called Melody of Youth, it was a romantic comedy that had opened in February, 1916, at the Fulton Theatre. In it James had insisted on playing the twenty-line role of a blind beggar.

“I don’t care how small the part is,” James had written in a publicized letter to Tynan. “As one of the older generation of players I want to make a little offering to one of the most promising representatives of the younger generation.” James had played the part for two weeks, waiving his salary as a public tribute to the young man he lovingly referred to as my son.

Thus the real son was not mollified by his father’s offer of interest in the production of Before Breakfast, though in later years he denied having resented his lather’s staging suggestions. Several accounts of a battle between father and son over Mary Pyne’s interpretation of her role were subscqucntly related and O’Neill’s recorded comment, on reading one of these accounts, was “Nuts!”

“There was no question of his directing “ O’Neill once noted. “I got him down to make suggestions on the acting. He made some I didn’t agree with, but also some I thought were fine and which the actors were glad to follow.”

According to eyewitnesses, Mary Pyne had the sense to do everything James O’Neill told her—grandiloquent gestures, melodramatic inflections and all. And James, gratified, said to her: “You are a most intelligent young actress. I don’t need to give you any further instruction.”

As soon as he had gone, his son redirected her from beginning to end and, still according to eyewitnesses, mumbled about his father’s “old f°gey” approach. It was not easy for Eugene to forgive his father for regarding Brandon Tynan as “one of the most promising representatives of the younger generation.”

The fourth bill was no more successful than the third had been. It included a play called The Obituary, by a dentist from Rochester, New York, who was a nephew of Emma Goldman’s. His name was Saxe Comminsky, but he had abbreviated it for professional purposes to Saxe Commins, and his connection with the Provincetown group was through Teddy Ballantine, who had married Commins’ sister, Stella. Commins was unhappy in his adopted profession and longed for a foothold among the artists of Greenwich Village. The Obituary, however, did not further his literary ambitions and it was not until some time later that he managed to make a rather spectacular exchange of his dentist’s chair for an editor’s desk.

Because O’Neill had written no new plays since Before Breakfast, the group, for its fifth bill—on January 5—somewhat desperately pulled O’Neill’s Fog out of the Thirst volume. Hutch Collins played the Business Man whose ideology clashes with that of the Poet as they drift in a lifeboat through the fog banks of Newfoundland. The two plays that accompanied Fog were not much better, and The Players showed signs of faltering. Jig Cook was unable to elicit the kind of professional discipline that the Provincetowners were beginning to realize was necessary for sustained artistic effort. And he no longer had the support of John Reed, whose flair for organization was somewhat more compelling.

Reed had left New York on November 12 to enter Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore; he went for tests but, as he had anticipated, it was decided he must be operated on for the removal of a kidney. He and Louise Bryant had been married in Poughkeepsie a few days before. Louise went to Baltimore for the operation and stayed until she was assured Reed’s condition was satisfactory. Then she returned to New York. The fact that she was now Mrs. Reed did not inhibit her relationship with O’Neill. Reed was not discharged from the hospital until December 13, and then he had to work hard and often far afield to pay his hospital expenses.

Reed’s absence was convenient for O’Neill, as he was now able to move into the Reed apartment. Marguerite and Bill Zorach, who lived next door to the Reeds, were among a number of friends who noted the arrangement. As one of these friends later observed, We all had a rationale about sex—we had discovered Freud—and we considered being libidinous a kind of sacred duty.” The tangled personal relationships of that period were conducted with an air of righteous innocence; monogamy, in fact, was practiced somewhat sheepishly. Moral indignation was reserved for the big issues, such as art versus philistinism and pacifism versus participation in the European War.

To Louise, O’Neill’s need of her was the justification for her devotion. She told Marguerite Zorach of her faith in O’Neill’s writing. Reed needed her too. “You have no idea what it’s like living with Jack,” she said to Marguerite. “His war images come back to him—he goes through hell.”

O’Neill, though he may have had some misgivings as to how it would all end, was painfully happy with Louise and dramatized his great love for her.

“When Louise touches me with her fingernail, it’s like a prairie fire,” he told Terry Carlin exultantly.

His love throve, but his writing did not. The Provincetown’s sixth bill had no play by O’Neill. It had become clear not only to him but to most of the other writing members of the group that personal supervision of their own plays and active participation in the production of other members’ plays left little time for creative effort. O’Neill in particular discovered that it was impossible to write amid the distractions of the Village. He needed more than a locked door to insulate him. It was hard to say no to a friend who wanted a drinking companion or a good argument. He needed complete seclusion, a wide, physical barrier between himself and his friends.

The fortuitous arrival of Nina Moise, a young woman who had staged some plays with small stock companies in California and Massachusetts, raised the faltering spirits of The Players. Nina wanted to act and was planning to apply for a role with the Provincetown Players. But a friend told her the company had all the actors it needed and apprised her of its urgent need of a director with professional experience. Nina went to the Samovar, a cafe on West Fourth Street which provided meals for the Provincetowners under a club arrangement. She presented herself to Jig Cook, who asked her to meet him later at the theatre. When she arrived, she found the sixth bill in rehearsal—Neith Boyce’s Winter’s Night, reconstructed from Provincetown, and two trifles called Pan and The Dollar.

“I’d never seen anything like it,” Nina later recalled. “The actors didn’t know enough not to bump into each other.”

She lent a hand with the bill and accepted an offer to stay permanently by the all but deleated amateurs. After going uptown to collect her belongings she moved into a three-dollar-a-week garret on Washington Square.

“I wasn’t paid anything, and I rarely went north of Fourteenth Street again,” she once said.

She received program credit as director of two of the three plays on the next bill, which opened on February 16. The Provincetowners called this “the war bill” and for it they unearthed The Sniper, the antiwar play O’Neill had written at Harvard. O’Neill watched Nina take competent control and in mid-February he fled to Provincetown. Although he was interested in hearing how his plays were received, he was not interested in seeing the end product and rarely witnessed a public performance of his plays. But he nearly always attended rehearsals scrupulously, through the final dress rehearsal, helping with background suggestions, making additions or deletions of dialogue when he deemed it absolutely necessary, and suggesting stage business—although he believed he had included all essentials in the script.

“Gene’s plays were foolproof and almost directorproof,” Nina Moise has said. O’Neill tried his best to make them actorproof, as well, by detailing every nuance he wanted his actors to convey; while his written instructions about characters turning pale or sweating or, as in one instance, chewing gum “like a sacred cow forgetting time with an eternal end,” seem pointless and impossible to project, they are actually important road signs for the intelligent actor, and many of O’Neill’s actors have expressed gratitude for them. Most good actors who have played O’Neill are also aware that he had the experienced craftsman’s knowledge of the number of words an actor can handle comfortably on each intake of breath.

After the opening night of one of his early plays Nina Moise asked O’Neill, “Gene, how did you like it?”

“I didn’t see it,” he answered, to her amazement. “The theatre on opening night is no place for a nervous man.” Later he told Nina, “When I finish writing a play. I’m through with it.”

“Gene was concerned with plays, not theatre,” she said. And this held true of O’Neill throughout his career. Some years later he explained to a friend why he staved away from his own plays after they had opened.

“A play may be damn well acted from an acting standpoint,” he said, “and still be far from the creator’s intention.” Many productions of his plays, he added, had featured excellent acting, but there had never been a production he recognized as being “deeply” his play- “That’s why I never see them,” he said. “A play is written about living and is seen on the stage as acting.”

Heywood Broun, who had switched from sports writer to drama critic of the Tribune in 1915, found the Provincetowners’ work of sufficient worth, in March of that year, to write one of the Erst reviews the group received. Although The Players still refused to seek recognition or to give free tickets to critics, a few of the more enterprising reviewers continued to pay their way. The bill Broun reviewed was the eighth and, while O’Neill was not represented, it featured an interesting play by Pendleton King called Cocaine, about two penniless, dope-addicted lovers who decide to commit suicide by turning on the gas, only to discover that the gas has been shut off because they have not paid their bill.

After the ninth and last bill, which was also O’Neill-less, Burns Mantle expressed his opinion in the Evening Mail that the season’s achievement was “as sound as it is modest,” adding: “We never thought anything could live for a year in New York without a press agent.”

Crayton Hamilton also deemed the work of the Provincetowners worthy of comment. He passed over the more professional Washington Square Players, who, having moved from the Bandbox to the Comedy Theatre on West Thirty-eighth Street, continued to mix foreign plays with the native efforts of writers such as Ben llecht and Edward Massey. Hamilton lauded the Provincetowners for writing, acting and producing plays “merely for the love of doing so.”

He pointed out, however, that the Provincetown players’ staging was “for the most part unworthy of serious consideration” and that their acting was “amateurish and uncertain.” “But,” he concluded, “the plays produced by the Provincetown Players arc strangely interesting and strikingly impressive.”

Actually, O’Neill’s only major contribution that first season, as he himself realized, had been Bound Exist for Cardiff. He preferred to forget Fog and The Sniper, and allowed Before Breakfast to be preserved only because he considered it an interesting experiment.

Once in Provincetown, O’Neill found he could concentrate again on writing. In a short period, before the end of April, 1917, he turned out four plays—lie, The Moon of the Caribbees, The Long Voyage Horne and In the Zone—all of which have survived the test of time. The last three are today considered classic examples of their form and continue to be revived regularly by both professional and amateur groups throughout the world. O’Neill, while conceiving of the plays as units in a series, did not write them to be played together in any particular order, nor did he regard them as a connected story; he felt that each was complete in itself and independent of the others. But it was The Moon of the Caribbees that was his own favorite because, as he later noted, it was his “first real break with theatrical traditions.” It was, as he often declared, the only one-act play of which he was “really fond.”

The break with tradition lay in the play’s disregard for plot or action and its concentration on the creation of pure, poetic mood. A languorous dialogue among a group of lonely seamen afloat under a West Indian moon, it set the tone for such later, fragile mood plays as The Glass Menagerie of Tennessee Williams. Brooks Atkinson once described The Moon of the Caribbees as “a drama of silences.”

O’Neill worked on the play in a small hotel called the Atlantic House, where he had rented a room, and occasionally he wrote on the beach with a blanket wrapped around him. (He believed the cold sea air was good for his lungs.) The proprietor of the Atlantic House, who was also its chef, amused himself by shouting a customer’s order to the kitchen, then hurrying to his stove to cook it himself.

That spring Provincetown, like the rest of the country, was swept up in war hysteria. America’s participation in the war seemed inevitable. Threats of German U-boat invasions were a daily topic of conversation on the exposed Cape and safety precautions along the coast were tightened. O’Neill was not popular among the patriotic villagers, for he was known as a member of a group of outspoken pacifists—Reed notable among them. He was a natural object of suspicion, somewhat like Smitty, of In the Zone, which O’Neill was to write a few weeks later.

One day in late March O’Neill and a friend, Harold De Polo, who was a short-story writer, returned from a walk across the dunes and sat down to a meal in a hotel grandly named the New Central. A local constable, Reuben Kelly, informed them they were under arrest. The charge, he said, was vagrancy, but it soon evolved that the arrest had been made at the instigation of the chief of the United States radio station in North Truro, who had somehow persuaded himself that O’Neill and De Polo were German spies. (A much-embellished later account had Constable Kelly trailing O’Neill across the dunes, hiding while he watched O’Neill take out “a little instrument that flashed in the sun,” and leaping to the conclusion that O’Neill was using a “wireless gadget” to signal to an enemy ship. The “gadget” turned out to be a typewriter.)

Actually, as reported the next day (March 29) by the Provincetown Advocate, the arrest was made “for the purpose of ascertaining if O’Neill and De Polo were the men who had been seen ... prowling about the radio grounds.” O’Neill preserved this story in a scrapbook that later went to Yale University.

“I was the victim of war hysteria,” he once said in recalling the episode. “Somebody over at the wireless station watched us and decided we were German spies. We were having dinner in a hotel in town one evening when some Secret Service men pounced on us at the point of a revolver and carried us to the lockup in the basement of the Town Hall. We were held incommunicado for several hours. They wouldn’t even let us see a lawyer.”

From the account in the Provincetown Advocate it is evident that the incident caused quite a local stir:

“All manner of rumors were rife Wednesday afternoon and evening regarding incidents of the arrest,” the Advocate reported, in part. “The street statements to the effect that the arrested men drew revolvers upon the arresting officer, that the pair were found armed, that plans of the radio station and grounds and Provincetown Harbor were found in the possession of the pair were all wholly false statements.

“Not only were they not identified as the men who when queried by radio guards some time ago as to their presence near the wireless grounds replied, ‘Our doctor has advised us to walk for health,’ but they were fully able to explain the reason for their presence here and account for their movements in a manner satisfactory to their inquisitors.”

One local policeman, who was not quite convinced of O’Neill’s innocence in spite of the Advocate’s assurances, appointed himself O’Neill’s shadow, and took to steaming open O’Neill’s mail. If he happened to see O’Neill before his mail had been officially delivered, the policeman would present a brief resume of what he could expect. “Your Ma’s writ, but your girl’s let you down,” he might say.

His girl, as a matter of fact, had been toiling in his behalf and his mail was professionally productive. Louise knew Waldo Frank, who, with James Oppenheim and Van Wyck Brooks, was running a literary magazine called Fhe Seven Arts, and she spoke to him about the possibility of publishing O’Neill. (Among its contributors were Robert Frost, Amy Lowell, Theodore Dreiser and Sherwood Anderson; Reed had recently contributed an essay called “This Unpopular War.”)

“Our magazine was very serious, almost religious—we considered ourselves the organ of cultural nationalism,” Waldo Frank once said. “We were disciples of Walt Whitman and were creating the voice Whitman wanted. Louise was just around; she was a ‘flaming youth’ girl, an Irish beauty, thin, with pale skin, very romantic. She was intellectually alive and responsive, although not profound. She told me about O’Neill, and said he had written a story we might want. We laid our main stress on stories, although we used poetry and nonfiction articles, too.”

Frank liked the O’Neill story Louise showed him—it was “Tomorrow,” the first draft of which he had written in 1916. Frank wrote O’Neill an inquiring and encouraging letter to Provincetown, and O’Neill mailed Frank another copy of the story, promising to send scripts of several one-act plays as soon as they were typed.

Frank sent back the story with suggestions for changes and O’Neill devoted an afternoon and evening to revising and cutting it by a thousand words. He returned the manuscript with its handwritten corrections, having been unwilling or unable to retype it. Conceding that Frank’s editorial suggestions had been valid, he explained:

“When I first wrote the story I planned it as the first of a series of Tommy the Priest’s yarns in which the story teller was to hog most of the limelight—a sort of Conrad’s Marlow—and once I had that idea I couldn’t let go, and it rode me into the anti-climax.”

The story was accepted for publication. (Twenty-seven years later O’Neill said of “Tomorrow”: “I thought it was pretty devastating stuff at the time, and so evidently did Van Wyck Brooks, Waldo Frank, etc., although I doubt if they were as overwhelmed by its hideous beauty as I was. )

About a week later, O’Neill sent Frank, at his request, a neatly typed page of biographical data for the magazine’s “Notes on Names” department, and on April 30 O’Neill mailed copies to Frank of In the Zone, The Long Voyage Home and The Moon of the Caribbees. Frank thought the plays good, but The Seven Arts decided against publishing them. The magazine did publish “Tomorrow” that June and sent O’Neill a check for $50—the first respectable sum he had earned from creative writing.

By the end of May, O’Neill was in New London, staying with his family. The United States had entered the war on April 6, and O’Neill’s principal concern was to keep himself out of it. He decided to consult with his father, and take up a position of watchful waiting near his draft board, since 325 Pequot Avenue was still his official address.

O’Neill’s lack of patriotic fervor, while it ostensibly annoyed his father, was heartily endorsed by his New York and Provincetown friends. Reed, testifying before the House Judiciary Committee on conscription, was declaring that nothing could induce him to serve in the Army.

“You can shoot me if you want,” he told the committee. He had no personal objection to fighting, he said, but he was convinced that this particular war was a commercial conflict, that it was unjustified on both sides, that Europe was “mad ’ and that America should keep out of it. His stand was based on principle, for he was certain he would not be called to serve because of his poor health. In June he leapt to the defense of Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman when they held an anticonscription meeting in the Bronx.

Louise Bryant echoed Reed’s unpopular stand and approved of O’Neill’s disinclination to be drafted. But she was restless and unhappy. After quarreling with Reed she went to New London to spend a few days with O’Neill and his family. It is a matter of conjecture how Louise was received by Ella and James or whether they were even aware of her relationship with their son. The Rippin sisters, however, to whom O’Neill introduced Louise, saw at once that he was in love.

“Gene brought Louise Bryant to have dinner at our house,” Jessica recalled many years later. “It was obvious that he thought she was pretty terrific.” Emily added that O’Neill made no secret of being in love with her.

After dinner O’Neill asked Jessica and Emily what they thought of Louise. The girls were noncommittal, but agreed, privately, that she was “sloppy.”

Apparently Louise did not find what she wanted in New London; but neither did she choose to rejoin Reed in New York. Instead, early in June and defying the German submarine menace, she sailed for France.

O’Neill was hurt by Louise’s departure, but he was even more worried about his standing with the Army. He had already claimed exemption on the grounds that he was an arrested tubercular case, but, anxious that his motives not be misconstrued as cowardice or lack of patriotism, he now tried to enlist Dr. Lyman’s help.

“I am not trying to dodge service but, from what I hear, conditions in the camps and at the front are the very worst possible for one susceptible to T.B.,” he wrote Dr. Lyman. “I would be very grateful for your advice. I want to serve my country but it seems silly to commit suicide for it.”

Dr. Lyman replied promptly but not, from O’Neill’s point of view, reassuringly, that only the examining Army surgeon could decide whether or not an arrested tubercular case should be exempted.

Hierc was nothing to do but wait, brood and drink—and upset his father with anarchist-pacifist jargon and noisy denunciations of his country’s military policy.

His gloom reached a peak by mid-August, when Louise—who had returned from France—wrote to tell him that she was going to Russia with Reed to report on the Revolution. Reed, having been exempted Irom military service because of his kidney operation, was accredited as a correspondent for The Masses, The Call, and The Seven Arts. (None of the well-paying newspapers and magazines were now willing to use his material because of his widely publicized antiwar stand, and the money for his passage was raised by friends.) Louise had found the tonic for her depression by becoming a free-lance correspondent. She and Reed sailed from New York on August 17. There had been no formal break with O’Neill. He was still in love with her and she professed to be still in love with him, but her chance for adventure and personal recognition lay with Reed. O’Neill, angry with himself for being unable to offer her any comparably glamorous opportunity, went on a binge.

When he drank excessively, Eugene grew increasingly abusive toward his father. James was on vacation from a play called The Wanderer, which bad opened February 1, 1917, at the Manhattan Opera House and was to resume its run in the fall. A biblical drama based on a German book about the prodigal son, it featured James, aptly enough, in the role of the father. James thought the play a classic and Eugene thought it was a waste of his father’s ability.

One night Eugene came home very drunk and told his father it had dawned on him that James was the worst actor in America. Then he amended his statement. An actor named Corse Payton, he shouted, was the worst.

“You are the second worst,” he said.

James had had enough. He called Art McGinley, who was helping Eugene console himself that summer, and urged him to take Eugene to Provincetown.

“Gene needs a change,” James told McGinley dryly. “I think it would be a good thing for both of us if there were at least a temporary separation.”

McGinley jocularly recalled the incident. “We left New London by popular request,” he said. “There was no shedding of tears in the public square when O’Neill and I departed.”

The two men, far from sober when they boarded the Provincetown boat at Boston, enjoyed their crossing. They shared their bottle with members of the crew until the captain, getting wind of their activities, threatened to put them in irons. When they arrived at Provincetown Jig Cook was waiting to greet them.

O’Neill and McGinley moved into a small apartment over a general store on Commercial Street owned by John Francis, the most generous and accommodating of landlords. Francis had got the rooms ready for O’Neill earlier that spring, shortly after his arrest as a “German spy.”

Francis was one of the most popular residents in Provincetown. In the evenings the sea captains congregated in his store around the cracker barrel, smoking and chewing tobacco and basking in the warmth of his personality. They good-humoredly ignored a sign that read: “Please loaf in the back room.” A rotund, baby-faced man with kindly eyes framed by steel-rimmed glasses, Francis was so tenderhearted that people often wondered how he managed to eke out a living. He never collected the rent on his apartments from anyone who seemed hard up and he extended unlimited credit. He subsidized O’Neill for nearly a year.

Francis loved O’Neill, as he loved all strays, and O’Neill loved him. When Francis died in 1937, a friend sent O’Neill a newspaper obituary. “I feel a genuine sorrow,” O’Neill wrote in thanking his friend for the clipping. “He was a fine person—and a unique character. I am glad the article speaks of him as my friend. He was all of that, and I know he knew my gratitude, for I often expressed it.”

Francis had allowed Terry Carlin to live rent-free in the rooms reserved for O’Neill, pending O’Neill’s arrival. In the summer of 1917 O’Neill, Carlin and McGinley shared the apartment. Harry Kemp and his wife lived across the hall, and the rest of the Provincetown Players also had settled down in various houses and apartments.

Sometime during the period O’Neill was living in the Francis apartments the ceiling beams of his room acquired a decorative inscription from Hindu philosophy:

“Before the ear can hear it must have lost its sensitiveness. Before the eves can see they must be incapable of tears. Before the soul can fly its wings must be washed in the blood of the heart. Before the voice can speak it must have lost its power to wound.”

The inscription, burned by a poker deep into the wooden rafters, its letters formed boldly and with uniform precision, has been cited by many Province towners as O’Neill’s handiwork, though no one can recall having witnessed the job or hearing him say he did it. In fact, it is more likely that Terry Carlin, whose hand was steadier and more skilled, was the artisan.

Jig Cook was delighted to have O’Neill back and even more delighted to be able to discuss the casting of his new plays, which would be presented at the Playwrights’ Theatre in the fall and winter. Jig tried to take care of his cherished playwright, encouraging him to eat when O’Neill seemed inclined to neglect himself and urging him to open a bank account with his small fund of cash, to forestall his spending everything on liquor.

“Everyone there admired O’Neill’s work,” McGinley said, recalling his first exposure to O’Neill’s intellectual friends. “1 remember a reading of an O’Neill play at Cook’s house. The actress reading it interrupted her recitation every few minutes to say ‘Here’s the great new American playwright in the making.’ No one disputed her.

I was definitely the unlettered member of the aggregation. The conversation was often so far above my level, it might have been in another tongue. The whole colony was preaching internationalism—one world, one flag and so on. They used to call me ‘McGinley the Patriot’ because I admired Wilson and supported the country’s stand in the war.”

Bewildered one day by a particulary esoteric conversation about psychoanalysis, McGinley told O’Neill he didn’t know what some of the Provincetowners were talking about.

“Don’t pay any attention,” O’Neill said. “A lot of them are pretenders.”

But McGinley was flattered (although it came to nothing) when Jig, trying to line up a cast for the fall production of The Long Voyage Home, pointed out McGinley as “a natural for the part of the drunken Russian.”

Unwilling to take unlimited advantage of John Francis’ generosity, O’Neill and McGinley lived mainly on oatmeal, which they cooked in their room in an ancient double boiler over a hot plate. James had arranged for them to have their meals at a hotel, but the paid-for meals were largely liquid. One day they found the beach littered with squid, and tried to cook them. They quickly went back to oatmeal. Despite an urgent need for cash, O’Neill, according to McGinley, refused an assignment he believed would compromise his literary talents.

“Gene was a man of principle,” McGinley said. “He got an offer from a Broadway producer who had seen his work in New York. He wanted Gene to write a play about submarine warfare. There was a substantial advance payment attached to the offer.’

“All they want is a story to wrap around a lot of spectacular stage effects,” O’Neill told McGinley. “That would be cheap theatre, melodrama, claptrap, and I’ll have nothing to do with it.”

McGinley has recalled O’Neill’s routine that summer as being one of alternate drinking, working and swimming. His swimming had grown even bolder than the year before; he would swim to the fishing boats and often board them, to their occupants’ astonishment and dismay. More than once he was warned by the fishermen that he would surely drown.

“Gene would spend a few weeks swimming, boating, fishing and so on,” McGinley related. “Then he would decide to go to work, and all else would be off his slate. I have seen him work from sunup all through the long day and into the small hours of the next morning. He would shut himself up and write and then pound away at the typewriter hours on end. He would write something, not like it, and then rewrite it until he was satisfied with the result. He had a tenacity that was amazing.”

Sometime during that summer Professor Baker visited Provincetown and one day encountered O’Neill in town. It was their first meeting since O’Neill had been at Harvard. Baker knew about the Playwrights’ Theatre and closely questioned O’Neill about his part in it. They discussed the group’s production of Bound East for Cardiff, and O’Neill reminded Baker he had not considered it a play when it was first submitted to him at Harvard. Baker made it clear to O’Neill that he was interested in his work and asked O’Neill to keep him informed about his future productions.

In O’Neill’s official list of work accomplished during the summer of 1917 he has mentioned only two projects—a short story (never published) about stokers, “containing the germ idea of The Hairy Ape” (which he finally wrote as a play during three weeks in 1921), and an outline for the idea of Beyond the Horizon, which was to be his first full-length play to reach the stage. In both of these works O’Neill expressed for the first time on a large scale his “hopeless hope” philosophy, painting with sweep and grandeur the tragic theme that was soon to distinguish him from all American playwrights who had come before.

The story has been told by several of O’Neill’s friends that the title for Beyond the Horizon was suggested by a conversation he had with a feebleminded boy on a Provincetown beach.

“What’s out there?” asked tne boy, gazing out over the Atlantic.

“The horizon,” O’Neill is said to have replied.

“And what’s beyond the horizon?” asked the boy.

The story may be true. It is always difficult in the case of an O’Neill play, to evaluate the many sources from which he drew inspiration. Beyond the Horizon, like most of his major works, was written on several levels, all of them discernible but so well blended by the undefinable catalyst of his genius that probably even he was unaware where one level began and the other ended.

He drew elements of the physical setting for Beyond the Horizon from his immediate surroundings. The farm was one he had seen tucked away in the hills of Truro, beyond Pilgrim Heights. Great poplars lined the approach to the farmhouse and the roar of the sea could be heard, always, in the near-distance. A byway across the dunes, called the Atkins-Mayo Road, lent its name to the two families who are the play’s protagonists.

O’Neill’s personal situation with regard to Louise inspired some elements (but not literally) of the plot. Beyond the Horizon is in one respect a triangle play. Two brothers are in love with the same girl—Ruth Atkins. O’Neill wrote himself into the part of Robert Mayo, the younger, who has a touch of the poet.” Robert makes the mistake of declaring his love for Ruth and staying with her on the farm, instead of following the sea as he had planned. Thus by winning he loses. There is something of Reed in the hardier older brother, Andrew, who, having lost Ruth, takes Robert’s place as a sailor. But it was pure art that enabled O’Neill to alter an unresolved personal situation into one in which the poet wins the girl while losing his soul and the adventurer grows materialistic in the face of poetic experience he cannot appreciate. O’Neill believed that Reed had made off with his Louise; Robert, in the play, believes that Andrew has robbed him of his birthright.

On another level O’Neill interpreted the conflict between the two men in terms of the brother rivalry he understood so well from his own relationship with Jamie. He added the ingredient of father-son antagonism, infusing the Mayo family with the passions and conflicts that governed his own family. James O’Neill’s disappointment that Jamie had not followed him successfully in the theatre evolved as the farmer Mayo’s stony unforgiveness of Andrew, when he abandons the farm. The father’s first name, significantly, is James.

On yet another level O’Neill drew on his experiences as a sailor and as a tubercular, fusing literal fact with artistic symbolism. Robert dies of tuberculosis. And if James Mayo is a New England version of James O’Neill, and Andrew is part Reed, part Jamie and part symbol, Robert is not only O’Neill himself in many guises but also part Olsen, the sailor who, a few months earlier, had been the model, in The Long Voyage Home, for the Swedish seaman who has run away from the farm and longs to return. This particular source of the characterization of Robert was conceded by O’Neill and is an interesting example of the way inspiration sometimes struck.

“At exactly the right moment, when I was floundering about in the maze of the novel-play [Beyond the Horizon] he [Olsen] turned up in my memory,” O’Neill once said. “I thought, ‘What if he had stayed on the farm, with his instincts. What would have happened?’ But I realized at once he never would have staved, not even if he had saddled himself with the wife and kids. It amused him to pretend he craved the farm. He was too harmonious a creation of the God of Things as They are. As well expect a sea gull to remain in a barnvard—for ethical reasons.

“And from that point I started to think of a more intellectual, civilized type—a weaker type from the standpoint of the above-mentioned God—a man who would have [Olsen’s] inborn craving for the sea’s unrest, only in him it would be conscious, too conscious, intellectually diluted into a vague, intangible, romantic wanderlust. His powers of resistance, both moral and physical, would also probably be correspondingly watered. He would throw away his instinctive dream and accept the thralldom of the farm lor, why for almost any nice little poetical craving—the romance of sex, say.

“And so Robert Mayo was born, and developed from that beginning, and Ruth and the others, and finally the complete play.”

Elsewhere O’Neill explained the genesis of the play in more general terms.

“I have never written anything which did not come directly or indirectly from some event or impression of my own, but these things develop very differently from what you expect. For example, I intended at first in Beyond the Horizon to portray in a series of disconnected scenes the life of a dreamer who pursues his vision over the world, apparently without success or a completed deed in his life. At the same time, it was my intention to show at last a real accretion from his wandering and dreaming, a thing intangible but real and precious beyond compare, which he had successfully made his own. But the technical difficulty of the task proved enormous and I was led to a grimmer thing: the tragedy of the man who looks over the horizon, who longs with his whole soul to depart on the quest, but whom destiny confines to a place and a task that are not his.”

Whatever combination of environment and intuition it was that sparked Beyond the Horizon, it marked O’Neill’s first coming to grips with his long-held dream of being a writer of tragedy.

“I have an innate feeling of exultance about tragedy,” he said, in one of his innumerable attempts to explain and justify the form of expression to which he irrevocably committed himself in the summer of 1917. “The tragedy of Man is perhaps the only significant thing about him. What I am after is to get an audience to leave the theatre with an exultant feeling from seeing somebody on the stage facing life, fighting against the eternal odds, not conquering, but perhaps inevitably being conquered. The individual life is made significant just by the struggle.

“The struggle of man to dominate life, to assert and insist that life has no meaning outside himself where he comes in conflict with life, which he does at every turn; and his attempt to adapt life to his own needs, in which he doesn’t succeed, is what I mean when I say that Man is the hero. If one out of ten thousand can grasp what the author means, if that one can formulate within himself his identity with the person in the play, and at the same time get the emotional thrill of being that person in the play, then the theatre will get back to the fundamental meaning of the drama, which contains something of the religious spirit which the Greek theatre had—and something of the exultance which is completely lacking in modern life.”

Elaborating on this theme on another occasion, he said:

“The tragedy of life is what makes it worthwhile. I think that any life which merits living lies in the effort to realize some dream, and the higher that dream is the harder it is to realize. Most decidedly we must all have our dreams. If one hasn’t them, one might as well be dead. The only success is in failure. Any man who has a big enough dream must be a failure and must accept this as one of the conditions of being alive. If he ever thinks for a moment that he is a success, then he is finished.”


Leaving some of his personal possessions in the safekeeping of his accommodating landlord, John Francis, O’Neill followed the Provincetown Players back to New York in the fall of 1917. He brought with him his melancholy over Louise’s departure, and displayed it with self-conscious martyrdom. His gloom, in fact, was so palpable that some of the Provincetowners feared it would affect his creativity.

James O’Neill was less considerate of his son’s feelings and still not entirely convinced of his talents. Although he soon came to regret and even vigorously deny his lack of faith in Eugene, there is no doubt he believed at this time that his son was a parasitical dilettante. He had no intention of allowing Eugene to become his permanent ward, as had Jamie. He kept after Eugene to take a job and threatened to withdraw his allowance.

“If you want to write, why don’t you write for a newspaper?” James asked, with what he deemed utter reasonableness. Eugene grumbled to his friends about his father’s ultimatum. How could he be a playwright if he had to devote himself to a job? Eugene made halfhearted attempts to find work, but when his father left town he gave up.

The Wanderer reopened in Philadelphia, and on October 11, less than three weeks before Eugene was to receive his first important recognition from the New York critics, James O’Neill celebrated his fiftieth anniversary as an actor. The Wanderer was to be his last play; after a half century in the theatre, he had read his final press notices. Nevertheless, he was still making the kind of public pronouncements about the theatre that made Eugene shudder. They seemed, to Eugene, to be oblique slaps at his own efforts.

“There is but one-kind of acting for me—that of the classic drama,” declared James to a reporter for the Philadelphia Record, lumping The Wanderer with the plays of Shakespeare. “It has the old heart quality in it, the appeal that the public cannot resist.” In Boston, where The Wanderer also toured, James befriended an eighteen year-old student, Harry Crowley, who wanted to go on the stage. “Oh, Harry,” James told him, “I wish my boy Gene loved the stage as you do. All Gene wants to do is scribble.”

Ella O’Neill, who was more heartened than James by her son’s literary progress, had accompanied her husband to Boston. Crowley met them both there in a quiet family hotel where he worked as a desk clerk in order to pay his way at the New England Conservatory of Music. (The hotel was run by a woman named Miss Fritz, and her establishment was called the Fritz-Carlton.) James, remarkably spry for a man of seventy-one, would occasionally cross the hotel lobby to Crowley’s desk in a lively hornpipe. Ella walked a little behind her husband. At sixty she was gray-haired but erect and dressed in dark colors. That October, she candidly displayed her pleasure over Eugene’s triumph at having a play published in The Smart Set.

Isn’t this wonderful?” she said to a young relative, proudly showing the magazine. “Eugene has made seventy-five dollars!”

The Smart Set was a leading literary magazine. It called itself “a magazine of cleverness” and the two men who ran it, George Jean Nathan and H. L. Mencken, had absolute faith in their ability to recognize cleverness when they saw it. They saw it in O’Neill’s The Long Voyage Home, the first of three one-act plays by him which they published, (lie appeared in the May, 1918, issue and The Moon of the Caribbees in August, 1918.)

The Smart Set provoked a good deal of controversy in intellectual circles. Nathan and Mencken were sometimes vulgar, often brilliant, and always irreverent. Their iconoclasm held a vast appeal for O’Neill. One of the leaflets issued from The Smart Set offices, for example, announced that “A woman Secretary is in attendance at all interviews between the Editors, or either of them, and lady authors. Hence, it will be unnecessary for such visitors to provide themselves with either duennas or police whistles.”

O’Neill did not expect The Smart Set to publish his plays. When he submitted them he wrote to Mencken that he knew they were not the sort of thing the magazine used but that he would like an opinion on them. Mencken replied that he liked them, and had turned them over to George Jean Nathan, who served as the magazine’s drama critic. O’Neill then received a letter from Nathan praising the plays, and was astonished when all three were subsequently accepted for publication.

This was the beginning of a long friendship between O’Neill and Nathan. Nathan, six years O’Neill’s senior, had been a drama critic since 1908— first for the New York Herald and later on a contributing basis for various magazines including Harper’s Weekly. He had been coeditor of The Smart Set since 1914.

Having studied in Germany, Nathan was an advocate of the European drama and had long been deploring, in a lone but strident voice, the shoddy state of the American theatre, holding up for his readers such examples of vigorous drama as the plays of Strindberg and Ibsen and ridiculing, often with the wildest abandon, the plays of such sacrosanct Americans as Augustus Thomas, Charles Klem and Eugene Walter. Handsome, vain, sybaritic and didactic, Nathan throve on controversy, loved stepping on toes, and was a gallant fighter in any intellectual cause he believed in. He believed in O’Neill and did not content himself with merely saying so in print. He pushed O’Neill’s cause personally and fervently with a number of the younger and more daring Broadway managers. Some years after publishing The Moon of the Carihbees in The Smart Set, Nathan wrote, in an introduction to the published play:

In O’Neill [the American] theatre has found its first really important dramatist. To it he has brought a sense of splendid color, a sense of vital drama and a sense of throbbing English that no native playwright before him was able to bring....

O’Neill came into the American drama at a propitious moment. His entrance clicked with all the precision and critical timeliness of the entrance of the United States Marines in a piece of popular Whang-doodle. Just as this drama seemed about to be laid low by unremitting stereotyped dullness and preposterous affectation, he jumped upon the scene with a bundle of life and fancy under his arm, hurled it onto the stage, and there let it break open with its hundred smashing hues to confound the drab and desolate boards. Instantly—or so it seemed—the stage began to breathe again; instantly the painted back-drop became real and instantly the canvas rocks became solid, substantial....

The essential difference between O’Neill and the majority of his contemporaries in the field of American drama lies in the circumstance that where the latter think of life (where they think of it at all) in terms of drama, O’Neill thinks of drama in terms of life.

If O’Neill’s first important literary recognition came from publication in J he Smart Set, his first impact in the theatre came with the production of In the Zone. Considered not experimental enough for the Playwrights’ Theatre (an opinion in which O’Neill concurred), the play was presented on October 31, 1917, by the Washington Square Players, whose production standards were more professional than those of the Provincetown Players. The cast included William Gillette (Olsen), Frederick Roland (Smitty), and Bicnzi de Cordova (Cocky). On the bill with In the Zone were The Avenue, by Fcnimorc Merrill; His Widow’s Husband by Jacinto Benaventc; and Blind Alleys by Grace Latimer Wright, in which Katharine Cornell, who had made her debut with the Washington Square Players tl c scar before, acted a major role. Most of the critics singled out the O’Neill play for their highest praise.

An anonymous critic tor 1 he I imes devoted three quarters of his review of the tour-play bill to In the Zone, describing it as ‘ heartfelt,” “vivid with picturesque character,” and “tense with excitement.” “‘In the Zone’ was of a very high order, both as a thriller and as a document in human character and emotion,” he said.

The equally anon vinous critic for the Evening World declared that the Washington Square Players “fired their best shot with ‘In the Zone’ by Eugene O’Neill, who, Im told, is the son of that fine old actor, James O’Neill.” The Herald reported, also anonymously, that the O’Neill play ‘registered sr; realistically that several spectators laughed awkwardly in its tense moments as a result of the nervous strain of the sustained thrill.”

In a signed review in the American, Alan Dale called In the Zone “perhaps the best and most agreeably acted of the playlets,” adding: “The idea is well worked up. It is all quite thrillingly suggested. The scene itself ib capital. I he atmosphere is rife with danger.” For the Glohe, Louis Sherwin reported that “the best of them all is ‘In the Zone,’ by Eugene O’Neill, whose remark Tic-talent for drama was first shown by his ‘Bound East for Cardiff.’ I don t know where this young man got his knowledge of the speech of seafaring men, but this is the second play he has written about them with remarkable power and penetration. He makes the sailors in the forecastle of a tramp steamer passing through the submarine zone live for you with a vividness that is quite astonishing.”

In the minority. were P.alph Block, of the Tribune, who did not even mention In the Zone in his review of the bill, and an anonymous critic for the Sun. who took O’Neill to tad; for being repetitious, a charge O’Neill was to hear often during his career.

But the reviews, on the whohe were so good—and the audience re action so enthusiastic—that O’Neill suspected In the Zone was not a very good play.

“When everybody likes something, watch out!” he once told an interviewer, recalling his first hit. And to Barrett Clark, who praised In the Zone when it was published in 1919, O’Neill wrote:

“I by no means agree with you in your high estimate of In the Zone. To me it seems the least significant of all the plays. It is too facile in its conventional technique, too full of clever theatrical tricks ... this play in no way represents the true me or what I desire to express. It is a situation drama lacking in all spiritual import—there is no big feeling for life inspiring it. Given the plot and a moderate ability to characterize, any industrious playwright could have reeled it off...

In the Zone was also the first play from whose production O’Neill made any money—further proof, in his opinion, of its artistic worthlessness.

While tasting the beginnings of fame through his popular one-acter O’Neill had not neglected his development with the Provincetown Players, by now claiming a subscription audience of nine hundred. The Players opened their season with The Long Voyage Home, on November 2, 1917, two days after the Washington Square Players had presented In the Zone. Nina Moise directed the production and Jig Cook and Hutch Collins were in the cast.

The Playwrights’ Theatre had been refurbished. Though the audience still sat on benches, the backstage accommodations had been greatly enhanced. The troupe rented the floor above the parlor for cloak room, lounging room, business office, dressing rooms and storage of scenery. They also added two salaried workers. One was a property man-cum-carpenter, Lewis Ell, who designed sets, walked on in minor roles, and immortalized himself as the author of a sign on a backstage door: “Cloze the door was you born in a stabel.” Nina Moise was the other new salaried member, with the title of general coach.

In addition to The Long Voyage Home, the season’s first bill included Close the Book, a thin comedy by Susan Glaspell about an emancipated girl, and a murky “dramatic poem” by James Oppenheim called Night- The program was favorably reviewed, though not on the same scale as that of the Washington Square Players; the Playwrights’ Theatre still maintained a policy of no free tickets to critics and an attitude of indifference to fame. However, the success of In the Zone impelled several critics to buy tickets for the bill featuring another O’Neill play.

The first public recognition of O’Neill as a figure of growing importance came on November 4, 1917, two days after the premiere of The Long Voyage Home. He was the subject of a feature article in the Sunday drama section of The Times, under the provocative two-column headline, “Who Is Eugene O’Neill?” The mystery of Eugene O’Neill’s identity was solved in about four hundred words in space surrounded by ads for current Broadway productions: Tiger Bose, by William Mack, at the Lyceum, and Polly with a Past, by Guy Bolton and George Middleton, at the Belasco; Morris Gest’s production of Chu Chin Chow, and the Charles Dillingham and Florcnz Ziegfeld. Jr., production of Miss 1917. There was also an ad for the new Theda Bara movie, Cleopatra, playing at the Lyric:

What Anthony paid for Cleo’s clothes
Only the Great Sahara knows.
In Thedapatra she wears a rose!

In Greenwich Village that season the Provincetown Players acquired several new members who were to devote themselves to the Playwrights’ Theatre. Among them was a slender, handsome intellectual, James Light, who had been studying English literature and philosophy at Ohio State University and had accepted a scholarship at Columbia University in New York. His education began at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Tech, where he majored in architecture and painting. One day he looked critically at bis drawings and decided they were not first-rate. He concluded he would never be as good as Michelangelo or El Greco, the two painters he most admired, and he abandoned painting.

When he reached New York in October Light headed for the Village to find a place to live. He ran into Charles Ellis, also a former student at Ohio State, who had arrived in New York to study painting at the Art Students League. They decided to share expenses and rented a big room above the theatre at 139 MacDougal Street. While unpacking, Light listened curiously to the sounds of hammering below and investigated.

“There were four people there—Jig Cook, Hutch Collins, O’Neill and Lewis Ell,” Light said in recalling his introduction to the Provincetown Players. “Ell was doing the hammering. He was working on the benches in the auditorium. The other three were on the floor, a half bottle of whiskey near them, shooting craps. They asked me to join them, and since I had a few dollars in my pocket, I did. O’Neill’s hands were very big and the others watched him suspiciously when he picked up the dice.”

When the game was over, Light and O’Neill fell into conversation. O’Neill mentioned something about swimming—Light’s sport at Ohio State—and a bond was quickly established. Light, whose father had been a carpenter and builder, then ventured to criticize the construction of the benches. He pointed out that the job could be more efficiently handled with a ripsaw. Jig Cook promptly turned over the project to him.

“I started sawing immediately,” Light said. He was also pressed into service as an actor. Susan Glaspcll’s Close the Book had not been completely cast, and one day when Light, looking professorial, happened to pass with an armload of books an actor suggested him for the role of Peyton Root, an English instructor. Light acquitted himself so well as both carpenter and actor that he became permanently attached to the Playwrights’ Theatre. He attended lecture courses at Columbia, but abandoned his plan for a degree.

Light’s second appearance was on the bill which opened November 30 and ended December 4. The troupe, grown a trifle overambitious, staged four one-acters—two of them by the eccentric poet Maxwell Boden- heim, one by Rita Wellman, who had caused a minor flurry the year before with an antiwar play entitled Barbarians, and O’Neill’s lie. The first Bodenheim play was called Knot-Holes, was set on “a road by a graveyard ... anytime,” and its cast consisted of the Sleepy Mayor, the Jaunty Bricklayer and two Ghosts. Opus number two was The Gentle Furniture Shop, also set “anytime,” and also peopled by symbols. Light appeared in Rita Wellman’s play and Hutch Collins portrayed Captain Keeney in lie. Only the O’Neill play, which Nina Moise directed, was considered successful by the Provincetowners; it was responsible for increasing the subscription audience and necessitated the scheduling of extra performances.

Jimmy Light’s roommate, Charles Ellis, also had been pressed into service. Starting, like Light, on the physical side of a production, he soon found himself on stage, entrusted with major roles.

It was Jig Cook who discovered his acting ability. Ellis was painting scenery for a three-act play by Cook called The Athenian Women— the theatre’s fifth bill in March, 1918, and its most ambitious one to date. It had a cast of thirty-three.

“I was painting my heart out on a cutout of the Acropolis,” Ellis recalled. “Suddenly I heard Jig’s voice call out from the back of the auditorium.”

“You are going to play the part of the boy who designed the Acropolis,” pronounced Cook, and promptly dismissed the actor who had already been cast for the role.

Two bills earlier, in December, 1917, Cook had discovered another gifted amateur—Edna St. Vincent Millay. Recently out of Vassar and already preceded by a reputation as a poet, she went to see Cook for an acting role and was engaged for Floyd Dell’s play, The Angel Intrudes. Miss Millay, who was fix ing in tfie Village with her two sisters, Norma and Kathleen, told them about her new job but did not suggest that they join her. It was Charles Ellis who finally drew Norma into the group, where she became one of its leading actresses.

“Charlie started taking out Vincent and ended up living with me,” Norma Millay once recalled with satisfaction, adding casually, “We were married in 1921—my mother thought it was high time.”

Though enjoying his success, O’Neill was again finding the strain of the city an impediment to work, and he now added the excuse of his melancholy over Louise to do some intensive drinking. Sometime before the end of 1917 he had managed, however, to write a three-act play called Now I ask You, which he described as a farce; a one-acter, about the I.W.W., called The G.A.M., which he described as a “farce-comedy”; and another one-acter called Atrocity, which he described as a “pantomime.” None of these was ever produced and he later listed them among his “destroyed” works. He also wrote two poems during this period, neither of them ever published. One was called “Eyes,” presumably dedicated to Louise, and the other “Tis of Thee.” Both were written in saloons, where he was then spending most of his time.

One of the saloons popular with the Provincetown group was Columbia Gardens, run by Luke O’Connor. It was here that Jig Cook and Susan Glaspell had first made their plans to produce plays in Provincetown. O’Connor, who possessed the Irish charm and temperament O’Neill admired, had a red face, wore stiff high collars that squeezed his neck, and excelled as a bouncer. His greatest pride lay in the fact that the poet John Masefield had once worked for him as bar boy. Masefield remained loval after he achieved fame and from time to time sent a copy of his latest book to O’Connor, who kept the volumes behind the bar and needed no urging to display them to his customers.

O’Connor was respected for his generosity in cashing checks for his customers. The writer Holger Cahill, for whom O’Connor once cashed a $50 check, told him: “Gee, Luke, that was nice of you. Don’t you ever get any rubber checks?”

O’Connor vanished for a moment behind the bar, then reappeared with a stack of checks a foot high. They had all bounced.

O’Connor’s saloon, decorated with cut-glass mirrors and tall Chinese vases, was on Eighth Street and Sixth Avenue, four blocks north of the Hell Hole, and across the street from night court. Like the Hell Hole, it was rarely referred to by its formal name. It was known as the Working Girls’ Home, a name bestowed one afternoon by Mary Heaton Vorse, after observing a trio of prostitutes push through the swinging door of O’Connor’s.

To O’Connor’s on occasion came Jamie O’Neill, seeking his brother—not quite able to conceal his resentment of Eugene’s success, not quite able to decide whether to praise Gene or disparage him.

“See my brother’s play last night?” he once asked Romany Marie. “Isn’t he great?”

“Why aren’t you?” retorted Marie.

“Someday I’m going to be,” answered Jamie, with heavy irony.

He was forty. His face had become flabby with alcohol, his eyes puffed and glazed. But he still kept up a,mechanical pretense of being a Broadway playboy and behaved as though he was slumming when he looked in on his brother at the Hell Hole or at Romany Marie’s or Polly Holliday’s. One friend of O’Neill’s has described Jamie coming into the Hell Hole “looking down his long nose.” Jamie’s attitude was so patronizing that the friend could not refrain from asking Eugene why he stood for it, and offered to punch Jamie for him.

One time Holger Cahill and Jamie were having a discussion at O’Connor’s about comedy and tragedy in literature and Jamie said, “People think my life is a comedy, but it’s a goddam tragedy.”

“Gene and his brother were both soaked in self-pity,” Cahill later remarked. “Jamie was jealous of Gene; he once told me Gene was overrated.”

Few of O’Neill’s Greenwich Village friends liked Jamie. One exception was Art McGinley, who roomed with Jamie briefly that winter, and sometimes joined him in idling before the Film Cafe on West Fortyninth Street. Occasionally Eugene would seek them out there.

“All the actors would go by,” McGinley recalled. “Sometimes one of them would snub Jamie, and then he’d tell me he had once gotten that actor a job with his old man’s company.”

So futile was Jamie’s present, so dismal his future, that he was willing to take refuge even in his sorry past. The contrast between him and his brother reached its height that year. For both Jamie and Eugene knew that Jamie’s life was over—and that Eugene’s was on the verge of triumph. If this knowledge made Jamie sullen, it made Eugene gentle. He treated Jamie with tenderness and affection. But he was no longer Jamie’s worshipful kid brother.

Eugene went his own way, regretfully leaving Jamie behind. His way often led to the Hell Hole; and by now most of the Provincetown group had learned to follow him there. Maxwell Bodenheim later described an encounter with the young playwright in The New Yorker:

“When I first met O’Neill ten years ago he was seated in the back room of the Flell Hole.... He was talking to the Hudson Dusters on the subject of a friend of his—Scotty, who had defrauded the gangsters in a furniture deal—and he managed to smother their rage and induce them to forgo their intended vengeance. He did this with a curious mixture of restrained profanity, mild contempt and blunt camaraderie, which showed that he shared the spirit of these roughnecks and yet failed to share it.”

What it was that O’Neill shared with a Sioux Indian who one day drifted into the Village, wearing fringed leather pants, a red shirt and a dour expression, no one ever found out; but the two would sit together for hours at a table in the Hell Hole, glumly drinking, in apparently compatible silence.

O’Neill’s friendship with a man named Joe Smith was more obvious. Joe was in his forties, a light-skinned Negro with Caucasian features, broad shoulders and a slim waist. He was married to a white woman, known as Miss Viola—a big blonde who blazed with supposedly “hot” diamonds; whenever she and Joe were hard up she would pawn her jewelry. Joe was a watchman for an auction company and, it was rumored, supplemented his income with a pair of loaded dice. On several occasions, when O’Neill had drunk himself insensible, Joe took him home to his sister’s house and saw that he was nursed back to health; more than once Joe fed him during a lean period. After his wife died Joe moved into a second-floor flat in an old frame building on Cornelia Street. His friends knew he was at home if they saw a bottle of gin in the window—his signal of welcome.

“You’re as welcome as the flowers in May” was his habitual greeting to whoever climbed the stairs to his rooms. In his apartment he had an old player piano. He was fond of music, particularly of “To a Wild Rose,” and kept the instrument going while entertaining visitors.

O’Neill loved to go to Joe’s place or join Joe in the Hell Hole. He found it amusing to watch Joe tinker with the Hell Hole’s player piano untill it disgorged its nickels; these Joe distributed to anyone who couldn’t afford the price of a beer. Joe also had a way with pigs. Wallace, the proprietor, had bought a pig and fed it on garbage in the cellar of the Hell Hole. He was planning to cook it for Christmas. As the holiday approached, O’Neill and his friends got into the habit of fetching the pig from the cellar and offering it whiskey. It was a strong pig, and when it was drunk it became unmanageable, rushing about the backroom, upsetting chairs, and behaving as O’Neill was apt to behave when he had exceeded his limit. Because of the pig’s eccentricity, the I Hell Hole habitues referred to it as “O’Neill’s son.” Joe Smith, the only one who was able to subdue the pig at such times, would croon into its ear until it grew quiet and could be led back to the cellar.

“You got to reason with him,” Joe would explain.

That was the sort of thing O’Neill enjoyed. Not that he laughed or showed his mirth with anything approaching abandonment.

“Gene would try to keep his laughter down, to strangle it,” James Light once said. “Sometimes he’d walk into a corner and get it over with. He couldn’t abandon himself to laughter; that would have stopped all thought activity. Instead, he was busy seeing the extension of the joke— he was ready to carry the humor of the situation a step further in his mind.”

Dudley Nichols, who became a friend of O’Neill’s in later years, once expressed a similar opinion:

“The loud laugh was not for him. Very likely because his mind was too humorous for that. Think of the loud laughers you have known. No, I’m sure the really humorous men have never been loud laughers. But I suppose it is nothing either for or against a man. I do know that I have never laughed so delightedly and with my whole being so much as I did on several memorable occasions with O’Neill, for the simple reason that he was making me see something funny through his own rich mind, something that I had not perceived to be side-splitting until he pointed it out. On these occasions he would chuckle until he would become speechless—yet only a soft chuckle.

“Sometimes the wittiest people do not understand the nature of humor, for wit is generally compounded of quick intellect, imagination and—malice, deny it as we may. O’Neill had no trace of malice, but I daresay its manifestation in others amused him at times, as it does all of us.

“I have always remembered a motto of the great art critic, Elie Faure. He said: ‘We must take everything tragically, nothing seriously.’ That is precisely what O’Neill did. For the tragic view of life embraces all the humor and absurdity of human beings.”

Sean O’Casey, with whom O’Neill had a brief but felicitous friendship, recalled that O’Neill made him laugh many times. According to O’Casey, O’Neill told him jokes that “only two Irishmen can share.” “This man could be gay,” O’Casey said. “It was good to have heard his laughter.”

Few people with whom O’Neill was on intimate terms, however, whether or not they were Irish, failed to perceive or respond to his peculiar brand of humor. From cultivated and sophisticated men like Nichols and Light, from the poet and wit O’Cascy, to a self-educated, rough hewn ex-sailor like Slim Martin, an Irishman with whom O’Neill spent much time in the Village, they all seemed able to analyze and appreciate it.

“Gene smiled often,” Martin once said. “He had smiling eyes, always, among friends. If a thing amused him, he’d tip back his head with a quiet little laugh—rather, a chuckle. He never laughed out loud; who does, but children? He had an excellent sense of humor, but a poor sense of comedy, as he was kindly, and comedy invariably seems based on cruelty.”

O’Neill did not often contribute to the lively conversations that went on around him. He regarded the Hell Hole much in the same way that certain pubs in Ireland are regarded: as places in which to listen. His ear was extraordinarily sensitive, as the flavor of his dialogue often attests. Much of that dialogue was absorbed in the saloons of Greenwich Village. But, although O’Neill was reluctant to talk, there was one story— an enormously complex and drawn-out joke—that he never tired of repeating.

Sometimes it took him over half an hour to tell it. Almost everyone O’Neill knew for any length of time heard him tell it at least once and many heard it several times. George Jean Nathan vowed that O’Neill told it to him regularly twice a year, including a time that it lasted the duration of a seven-mile walk. It was the story known as “The Old Bean” and concerned the adventures of an old drunkard who was convinced that he could and did cope with every obstacle that fate placed in his path.

One episode of the Old Bean saga concerns the drunkard’s triumph over D.T.’s. This is the way O’Neill would tell it:

“There was a guy in the bar very drunk. He told everyone how he used his old bean. ‘Look at me,’ he said. ‘When I take my ninth I’ll use my bean and go home and go to bed—not like you guys.’ He drank his ninth and left.

“One night, two weeks later, he turned up at the bar, covered with bandages and walking with a limp. ‘Where you been?’ everyone asked him.

“‘Yes, boys,’ he said, ‘If I hadn’t used the old bean, I wouldn’t be here now. Remember the last time I was here? Well, I went home that night, got undressed and got into bed. Then I heard a knock at the door. I opened it and in came a little guy in uniform with a rifle on his shoulder. He marched up and down near my bed. I wanted to go to sleep, so I grabbed him by the back of his neck like I would a cat and threw him out. I went back to bed and five minutes later I heard a loud bang on the door. I opened it and in marched the same little guy, this time with a squad of little guys. He pulls out a sword and veils to the squad, ‘Ready, Aim—’ and just before he said ‘Fire!’ I used the old bean and jumped out the window!’”


There were two patrons of the hell hole with whom O’Neill relaxed completely and talked endlessly. One was Terry Carlin and the other was Slim Martin, whose full name was James Joseph Martin. Slim was tall, rangy and rugged, with a strong jaw, beak nose, blue-gray eyes and an engaging grin. An average-sized friend once compared the experience of walking with him to strolling with a giraffe. Slim had the weathered complexion of a sailor, which he had been for several years; the powerful muscles of an ironworker, his trade for the past year, and a strong philosophical bent. He was also Irish and a poet and a member of the I.W.W.

In 1917 Slim’s work was sporadic. He might find a job on the construction of a new apartment house, and remain employed for a month or two, earning $30 to $40 a week—good pay in that day. Then he would be out of work until he could find another building project. He would spend his mornings looking for work and, if he failed to find a job by lunchtime, would drift into the Hell Hole. He had no ties, no obligations, except to an aunt in Brooklyn who fed and housed him. In the Hell Hole, he believed he was rounding out his education. He did odd jobs for the Provincetown Players, just to be allowed a niche in their company.

At the Hell Hole in the afternoon he usually encountered Terry Carlin and O’Neill.

The exchanges between Martin, Carlin and O’Neill came close to reproducing the conversations of a Dublin pub. The brogue that renders Irish pub talk lyrical, no matter how mundane the topic, was lacking from the speech of the three American Irishmen, but their range was probably wider and certainly more unconventional. (Their talk has been reconstructed partly from Slim’s uncannily accurate memory, partly from correspondence, and partly from the recollections of other contemporaries.) Often they devoted themselves to pulling apart their three “old-country, dumb, Irish fathers”—Slim’s phrase.

Slim: “The comical ideas that they brought from the old country!” tfrry: “With them, it’s obey, or feel a touch of the stick.”

O’Neill: “Always a conflict between the old-country parents and the new-country offspring,”

Terry: “And the Irish ghost stories!”

Slim: “Always the fog, the bog, the will-o’-the-wisp and the dog or pig turned to the devil before your eyes!”

But always, too, the blazing pride of their Irish ancestry, felt by all three, despite parental despotism, despite rejection of the faith of their Irish parents.

Slim claimed to be agnostic, like O’Neill. But Terry disdained that label; he was a mystic.

Slim: “You’re as pantheistic as Omar, Terry. You’re a mystic only when you’ve been looking too long at the wine when it’s red.”

Terry: “Like now?”

Slim: “‘Scuse me, Terry. I’ll buy a drink.”

Appreciative grin from O’Neill.

Literature was not neglected by the three philosophers. One day Joseph Conrad was the subject.

Slim: “Never heard of Conrad.”

O’Neill: “What? You’ll have to read The Nigger of the Narcissus, Slim.”

Slim: “Oh, I’ve read that—in Portland, in the Wobbly hall. Talked it over with Jack Reed.”

O’Neill: “But you said you didn’t know Conrad.”

Slim: “Hell, I let a book drop open at a page and start reading. If I like it I read it to the end and then go back to the beginning. I never look at who wrote the book.”

O’Neill: “You should.”

Slim: “Ever walk over the Brooklyn Bridge?”

O’Neill: Sure.

Slim: “Who built it?”

Blank look from O’Neill. Equally blank look from Terry.

Slim: “The authors’ names are cast on steel plates and put up at both towers of the bridge to be read from the footway.’”

O’Neill: “That’s not the same. That bridge will last only a few years. A book or a poem may last for thousands.”

Slim: “The author hopes.”

O’Neill: “My plays will, I hope.”

Slim: “I hope for you, too, Gene.”

Quiet laughter from Terry.

O’Neill’s ideas for future plays were often the subject of discussion.

He was still mulling over his short story, which he was soon to expand into The Hairy Ape, and had asked Slim to take him to a meeting of the I.W.W. But there were other ideas for plays, far in the future.

“Some day,” said O’Neill, “I’ll do a .play about Marco Polo”—this, six years before Marco Millions was drafted.

And another time:

“I want to write a play about the sons of Mary and the sons of Martha”—this, eight years before writing Lazarus Laughed.

Recurrently the theme of Greek tragedy came up, explained and elaborated upon by O’Neill and Terry for the furtherance of Slim’s education.

O’Neill: “In Greek tragedy the characters are inexorably pushed on the road by fate. Once a Greek tragedian started to write a play, his characters never could deviate from that road on which fate was pushing them. Life itself is the same as that. You get on a road and no matter what you do or how you try to change or correct your life, you can’t do it, because Fate, or Kismet, or whatever you call it, will push you down the road.”

But Slim could enlighten O’Neill, too, on a variety of odd subjects:

“There’s no such thing as skid row. It’s skid road—a lumberjack term—the road you drag the logs along to load them on the skidway. It takes us hoboes to tell you about things like that, Gene.”

And sometimes their knowledge blended with and supplemented each other’s.

Slim: “What do you mean by ‘symbolism,’ Gene?”

O’Neill: “The Cherry Orchard is a symbol, and The Sea Grdl and— in Hamlet—take the phrase ‘When we have shuffled off this mortal coil’ —the coil is a symbol for life. The coil would be a line like a ship’s hawser.”

Slim (the ex-sailor, grasping the idea): “Yes, the hawser is coiled up, and as you throw it to the dock it goes shuffling off—and if the other end isn’t secure, the line will go.” (Thoughtful pause.) “And what do you think Shakespeare meant by ‘I know a hawk from a handsaw’? What sort of hawk do you think he meant, Gene?”

O’Neill: “Why, a bird, Slim.”

Slim: “No, you’re wrong there. A hawk is also a tool. A handsaw is one of the main tools of the carpenter, but a hawk is a plasterer’s tool—a little square with a round handle in the bottom, to hold mortar.”

O’Neill: “I never understood that. I thought it was a hawk flying in the air.”

They went on to discuss the fact that Shakespeare had lifted his plots from other writers.

Terry: “True, he plagiarized. But he said it better.”

O’Neill: “Everything has been said before. There’s nothing new to write about—always the same old things, the same old lies and the same old loves and the same old tragedy and joy. But you can write about them in a new way, in your own way.”

On philosophy:

Slim: “Terry, your Schopenhauer and Nietzsche and Marx, and your Plato and Spinoza—I’ve read them. They’re all nuts. They contradict themselves from chapter to chapter, book to book.

Terry: “Of course. That’s what philosophers are for.”

On women:

Terry: “If you go fishing and a woman comes along, you’re not going to pay attention to the fish. She can’t get a worm on the hook—you’ve got to do it. Thev’re insatiable in their demands. If you want to buy an automobile, you go and look at the engine and braking and other mechanical features. But she opens the door to look at the seats, the color, the upholstery. They’re forever demanding. Nothing is good enough for them.”

Slim: “That’s terrible, Terry. After all, the demanding women are the ones that are pushing you up the road and are causing you to progress and bring on innovations, new inventions. We’d be satisfied to get along with an old pick and shovel. But they say maybe they’d like a steam shovel. So we find a steam shovel.”

Terry: “You can’t trust them. You can’t depend on them. You’re a sap to idealize them, Slim. I know. I know. I’m a lot older than you.”

Slim: “Well, that’s right. Go back to Kipling’s ladies and ‘learn about women from me’ (singing mockingly’):

“I’ve taken my fun where I’ve found it,
And now I must pay for my fun,
For the more you ’ave known o’ the others
The less you will settle to one ..

(Twenty-five years later in Ah, Wilderness! O’Neill slightly misquoted two other lines from the same poem. Richard Miller drunkenly declaims to the tart, Belle: “But I wouldn’t do such, ‘cause I loved her too much/ But I learned about women from her.”)

O’Neill (after a long, barely audible seizure of chuckling): “Don t you do it, Slim. Learn about women on your own. The hell with what Terry tells you.”

Terry: “Slim, you believe women are wonderful and that you’ll fall in love and be happily married someday;, and Gene believes he’s going to be a great playwright. That’s only to keep you going. That’s your pipe dream. Everyone needs a pipe dream to keep him going. You’re both kidding yourselves. It won’t work out. But you have to have pipe d-eams to live in this dizzy world.”

O’Neill and Slim often talked about the sea and when they did Terry fell silent.

Gene: “One of the greatest kicks I ever got was when I became an A.B. The sea calls to the blood of all the Irish.”

Slim: “Yes, there isn’t a square foot of Ireland more than sixty-five miles from the sea. In the pre-Christian days the Irish fared to North America in curraghs. Who built the Druid worship places in Massachusetts, if not the Druid-Irish?”

Terry accused Slim of romanticizing.

On the subject of masks:

O’Neill: “If people would take off their masks, we’d know more about them. The truth is always concealed.”

Terry: “That’s what Pilate said when he sentenced Jesus. What is the truth?”

O’Neill: “If I could only find a way to let people’s inner thoughts be known on the stage—if I could use masks—if I could take off the mask to let the inner thoughts be known to the audience, and put on the mask to show the outer thoughts—I’m planning to write a play using masks.”

On health (Slim, like O’Neill, was something of a hypochondriac):

Slim: “I’ll probably wind up with T.B., working out in the rain and cold all the time.”

O’Neill: “T.B.! You give me a pain in the neck. You and Terry, both with chests like barrels, and you’re both worried about T.B. They wouldn’t be able to kill either of you with an axe.”

Slim, who outlived O’Neill, did finally contract tuberculosis. When O’Neill died in 1953, Slim reflected from his hospital bed:

“Gene’s life was tragic. He never achieved what he really wanted, artistically. The gap between his achievements and his frustrations was so great, they didn’t at all balance.

“Gene was a thoroughgoing, loyal, kindly, warmhearted, generous and lovable gentleman from his heart out and to all people. The downtrodden, especially if they were courageous, were heroes and friends, and when he had success and adulation he would leave a group of befurred and jeweled and tophatted socialites and those he dubbed ‘the sons of Mary’ to walk over and say hello and chat with one of those he called ‘the sons of Martha.’

“And you could be in shirt sleeves with the soil of labor black in the sweat of your face. He was truly a man and a friend.”


The winter of 1917–18 was one of the coldest in memory. It was also a year of high tensions and fast-vanishing romantic visions. It was the final year of the war, the dawn of the Russian Revolution. The aging children of Greenwich Village burned brighter than ever with idealism—and waited breathlessly for the millennium. Some believed it would dawn in Bolshevist Russia, others that it would emerge in a renaissance of Art.

It was the end of an era of innocence and pure romance, the prelude to Prohibition and the roaring twenties. Two of the voices of radical idealism were already being smothered; The Seven Arts and The Masses could not survive the antiwar policy they had espoused. Max Eastman, Floyd Dell and Jack Reed were under indictment for articles said to have sought obstruction of recruiting and enlistment. It was becoming more difficult, even in the freedom of Greenwich Village, to be a radical, unfettered, freewheeling, individualist. Labels were beginning to be applied--communist, pacifist, immoralist, coward.

The artists and writers of Greenwich Village clung together in a sort of valedictory frenzy, sensing the end of their golden era. They huddled in saloons, in each other’s apartments, in the club rooms above the Playwrights’ Theatre, seeking shelter around the punch bowl and the whiskey bottle and the schooner of beer, trying to ward off the cold winds and the even colder climate of antipathy in which they would all have to shoulder the responsibilities of a postwar world. The winter of 5917–18 marked the end of a way of life.

For many of the Provincetowners the last-ditch battle against the violation of their glorious adolescence was fought in the Flell Hole. O’Neill lived there, almost literally. If he was late to a meeting or a rehearsal, someone would be sent to fetch him from the Flell Hole—not from his home, for no one really knew where he lived; as one of his friends has recalled, “Gene would just show up and vanish.” Soon someone would have to be sent to find whoever had gone to find O’Neill and before long the whole group would be at the Hell Hole, drinking, talking, singing. No one wanted to go to sleep and often they would stay up all night, warming themselves on Wallace’s liquor, his potbellied stove, and their dreams.

In the early part of that winter O’Neill conscientiously fanned the flame of the torch he carried for the still-absent Louise. At times it seemed to some of his friends that his suffering was less acute than his sense of drama. They believed he was playing the role of the heartbroken lover rather than feeling it. In any case there were at least four other women ready to console him. (Two of them he later used as characters in his plays and from the others he borrowed suggestions of character, and possibly their names.)

One was Nina Moise. (Although Nina lent nothing discernible of her personality to the heroine of one of his later plays, Strange Interlude, the first part of the drama is set in the period during which O’Neill knew her, and he had a trick of mind that caused him to incorporate in his scripts the names of people who influenced or impressed him during a time in his life that paralleled the one he was writing about; the name, therefore, may have sprung to his mind when he was creating Nina Leeds.)

“I didn’t like Gene when I first met him during the production of The Sniper,” Nina said. “He was morose, sullen, uncommunicative.” It wasn’t long, however, before she fell under the spell of his “moody, tormented eves” and felt the power of the man, “terribly potent, terribly lonely.” He told her of his love for Louise—”She’s the only woman I love or ever will love”—and Nina was moved, even though she thought he was exaggerating.

Nina was wary of O’Neill’s group and rarely joined them in the Hell Hole. She did go to Luke O’Connor’s, though, and to some of the private parties, and sat by rather timorously, watching the others drink.

One night, at a birthday party, she was sitting by O’Neill, holding an untouched glass of punch—a blend of wine and gin. O’Neill taunted her about her abstinence and she impulsively drained the glass.

“You’re a god-damned fool,” said O’Neill, with a mocking grin. I wouldn’t drink that trash.” And he took a deep draught from the bottle he carried with him.

One time O’Neill sat in Nina’s room until five in the morning, telling her the story of his life—with a few deletions. He never mentioned his mother or discussed his childhood, nor did lie dwell on his bout with T.B. He did refer to his former illness once, however, when Nina asked him how he stood in the draft.

“They wouldn’t have me any more than they would a rattlesnake,” he told her. LIis fears on that score had been put to rest; the Army had told him it did not want him.

“I got married before I left for South America,” O’Neill interposed casually, at one point in his narrative. “You know, Nina, somewhere in the world I have a son.”

Nina gasped, as he had intended her to do.

“Don’t be so god-damned sentimental,” said O’Neill. “I’ve never seen him.”

O’Neill enjoyed playing on her emotions.

“Nina,” he murmured once, “I make the poet’s plea in Candida.”

Nina was caught off her guard and stammered an inadequate answer. Later she recalled that the poet’s name was Eugene; and when she studied the Shaw comedy she found that the poet had many of O’Neill’s characteristics, such as shyness, awkwardness and a “haunted, tormented expression.” She read the scene in the last act to which O’Neill had referred and grew even more distressed. It was the scene in which Candida, confronted by the husband who needs her and the poet who worships her, asks each what inducement he has to offer for her love. The poet’s plea is: “My weakness. My desolation. My heart’s need.” If Nina had only remembered Candida’s answer (“That’s a good bid, Eugene”) it would have had the virtue of being both graceful and noncommittal, for Candida, of course, rejects the poet.

“Gene took his women and left them,” she later observed. “He ran with a crowd of people I then considered supreme sophisticates, and I certainly was not sophisticated. Maybe that interested him.”

W hat probably attracted O’Neill most was Nina’s sympathetic understanding of his work. He approved her handling of the plays she had already directed for the Provincetowners, and that winter he showed her a script of The Moon of the Caribbees. Although O’Neill knew it would not be produced until the following season, he carried the script about with him lovingly and allowed friends to read it as a mark of trust and as a test of their sensitivity. Nina passed the test; she understood how much of himself he had put into the play.

The second of the women to whom O’Neill found himself attracted that winter was Dorothy Day. Dorothy, the daughter of a newspaperman, was tall, slender and attractive. She chose her father’s profession, working first as a reporter on the Caff, then as assistant to Max Eastman and Flovd Dell on The Masses, and finally on The Liberator when The Masses was suppressed by the government. Although caught up in the bohemianism of the Village, she had a hidden side to her personality, a side as unfathomable and untouchable, in its way, as O’Neill’s dark reserve. Her family was Protestant, but there was in her, even during her most thoughtless moments, a half-submerged, mystic urge toward Catholicism. She played and drank and sang with the crowd; yet, after a night spent joyously in the Hell Hole, she would find herself drawn to St. Joseph’s Church, on Sixth Avenue. There in the icy dawn, knowing nothing of the tenets of Catholicism, she would kneel during early morning Mass.

It was Michael Gold who introduced Dorothy to O’Neill. Gold, who, like John Reed, later became a Communist, was then an unlabeled radical. O’Neill liked him but disagreed with his idea that art should express a political point of view.

Art and politics don’t mix,” O’Neill once told Gold, when urged by him to dramatize the “class struggle.”

“When a playwright starts writing propaganda he ceases to be an artist and becomes, instead, a politician,” said O’Neill.

Gold was one of Jig Cook’s discoveries. He was an assistant truck driver when he brought Cook a one-act play he had written. Wasn’t Cook urging everyone to write a play—to express something native on the threshing floor of the Playwrights’ Theatre? Gold found Cook strangely impressive, even at first sight, and overwhelming when he began to talk “like a character in a Dostoevski novel.” Cook studied Gold’s play—it was staged later that year—and interpreted it for the young truck driver.

“He talked as though he had known me for years,” Gold has written. “He made me feel like a god! It was what he did for everyone, great, small, dumb or literate.”

Gold knew Dorothy from The Masses, to which he had been a contributor, and brought her to the Playwrights’ Theatre, where she would occasionally fill in for an actor who had failed to show up for rehearsal. After rehearsals Dorothy mingled with the others at the Hell Hole.

“We’d sit around and talk,” she recalled. “In the back room of the Hell Hole you couldn’t talk without the others hearing you. Everyone tablehopped. We were very happy and very young. There was such joy in the discovery of people and ideas. Mike Gold discussed art and revolution. Hippolyte Havel talked about his past and drank. Gene recited ‘The Hound of Heaven,’ which was my first real link to Catholicism.”

The Francis Thompson poem had replaced Baudelaire and Swinburne in O’Neill’s repertory. The farther he withdrew, personally and artistically, from his Catholic roots the more keenly he felt the terror of his flight. “The Hound of Heaven” by the ardently Catholic poet, exemplified for O’Neill the exhilarating terror of the flight.

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways Of my own mind ...

O’Neill could recite the 183 lines of the poem. He had been studying it since 1913, when a nurse from Gaylord Farm sent it to him in New London. Hearing O’Neill recite “The Hound of Heaven” had a lasting effect on Dorothy Day. The idea of the pursuit by God’s love fascinated her, stirred in her a feeling that someday she would have to pause in her own flight.

“I used to ask Gene to recite it over again,” she said. “He didn’t need any urging. He recited it with his head down, in a monotonous voice.” He would also recite Thompson’s “To the Dead Cardinal of Westminster,” lingering over the lines:

Life is coquetry
Of death, which wearies me,
Too sure
Of the amour;

A tiring-room where I
Death’s divers garments try,
Till fit
Some fashions sit.

It seemeth me too much
I do rehearse for such
A mean
And single scene.

“Gene would recite over and over again, ‘It seemeth me too much/I do rehearse for such/A mean/And single scene,’” Miss Day said. “I had the feeling he considered drinking his rehearsal for death. He drank his whiskey straight, and not to get drunl, but to keep going.”

When the Flell Hole closed, O’Neill and Dorothy would often walk down to the waterfront, stopping at taverns on the way. One of O’Neill’s favorite saloons was in the fish-market section.

“We went there to get away from the Village,” Dorothy Day said. “Many times we’d stay up all night. Gene seemed to have a great deal of physical strength.”

Sometimes Mike Gold would walk with them and when they arrived at South Street they would sit on a pier and Gold would sing melancholy Jewish songs. Once in a while, they rode down to the piers with a truck driver who had come into the Hell Hole. Then they would walk—perhaps to Hiram Motherwell’s apartment on Lexington Avenue in the Thirties. O’Neill would ring Motherwell’s bell and wake him up at two or three in the morning, and Motherwell would serve them coffee. Other nights they would go to Romany Marie’s and stay there till the Hell Hole opened again at six.

Wed clean up in the wash room, send out for more coffee, and sit around some more,” Dorothy said. “After a while, I’d get into a cab and go to The Liberator.” Often O’Neill would telephone Dorothy there and ask her to return to the Hell Hole; she was wasting her time working, he said. She would spend three or four hours at The Liberator and go to her apartment for a nap.

“Then I’d meet Gene for dinner—and start all over again,” she said.

Dorothy, too, knew that O’Neill was suffering over Louise. She considered O’Neill “a one-woman man” and was convinced Louise was the great love of his life. She, too, gave him sympathy and was entrusted with a copy of The Moon of the Caribbees. She sat by him in the Hell Hole while he wrote poetry and on one occasion she, Bodenheim and O’Neill collaborated on a poem to which each contributed a verse. And she listened while he talked about Strindberg and Ibsen and recited from Peer Gynt or while he tried to explain Hippolyte Havel to her.

Dorothy and some of her young friends considered Hippolyte a decrepit old man, a character out of the past. From time to time he would leap up from his chair and do a little dance or raise a sodden head to cry out, to whoever had violated one or another of his cherished concepts, “Bourgeois pig!”

That year, having given up trying to conquer his jealousy of Polly Holliday, Hippolyte had attached himself to a visiting suffragette. He turned his room over to her and slept on the floor outside the door. “I am her little doggie,” he would announce dolefully in the Hell Hole. When the others laughed at Hippolyte, O’Neill came to his defense.

“He’s been in every jail in Europe. He’s suffered,” O’Neill would say quietly. Echoing some of Hippolyte’s phrases, O’Neill once told Dorothy: “The bourgeois concept of marriage is baby carriages, rubber pants and a conventional apartment.”

Dorothy felt that O’Neill was haunted by the fear of death. When she later joined the Catholic Church she came to believe that O’Neill, like many other people she subsequently encountered, suffered from rejection of the love of God.

“People don’t want that love,” she once said. “Man fights against the Light.” Miss Day, who eventually became a founder and editor of The Catholic Worker and head of a Catholic mission house in lower Manhattan, often reflected about the man she had known as a groping young genius. In her mission, where outcasts and derelicts waited to be fed and clothed and to try to kiss her hand with the reverence tendered a saint, she thought many times of that cold, wild, hqppy winter in Greenwich Village, and of O’Neill.

“Gene was single-minded in his objective,” she once said after his death. “Nothing could distract him. Nothing could devour him. In that sense, there was a kind of purity in him. He was not attracted to evil, but to darkness. He was absorbed by death and darkness.”

“One day recently, when I was saying the rosary, I noticed a candle dripping, and I was suddenly reminded of a line from ‘The Hound of Heaven’—‘Life’s dripping taper.’ It made me think of Gene.

“I pray for him even now. There is no time with God. All the prayers said for him after his death would be of avail at the moment of his death. I pray that Gene turns to the Light.”

The third woman in whom O’Neill was compassionately interested that winter was Christine Ell. Christine undoubtedly served as the model for the purehearted Irish giantess, Josie Hogan, in A Moon for the Misbegotten. There are elements of her personality and history also in Anna Christie, and she was probably in O’Neill’s mind when he drew the Mother Earth prostitute, Cybel, in The Great God Brown.

Like Josie Hogan, Christine Ell was a large woman, five feet nine inches tall, wide-hipped and big-breasted. Charles Dcmuth, Bror Nord- feldt and other artists painted her green eved, leonine face and thick, shining, untidy, tawny hair. Some of them captured the quality of pain and love that lay under the surface of her bawdy smile. She was self-conscious of her bulk and made fun of herself. Also like Josie, she was convinced that she was basically unattractive to men. The illegitimate child of a Danish peasant woman and a Danish Army captain, she had been brought to America by her mother and stcplatlicr and forced into domestic service and then into factory work. At fourteen her stepfather seduced her, and soon after that she broke away from her family and began to have casual love affairs. She considered herself an outcast until, one day, she chanced to hear Emma Goldman speak in Denver on the subject of society’s blame for, and abandonment of, woman of her class. Christine discovered that in espousing the concept of anarchy she could feel the sense of self-respect and dignity that had eluded her. At Emma’s urging she went to New York and opened a small restaurant. She married Lewis Ell and together they moved back and forth between Greenwich Village and Provincetown.

Christine was joylessly unfaithful to Lewis, and he alternated between moods of murderous jealousy and abject forgiveness. To Hutchins Hapgood, who first met her in Provincetown, Christine confided that she was miserably unhappy. She hated herself for the way she treated Lewis, she said.

“Why is it that I must act as I do?” she asked Hapgood, weeping. “I long to have a perfect lover, one that satisfies me. Lewis doesn’t know how to express himself to me. If all goes well he is quiet, never says anything, and doesn’t go out with me to the theatres or our parties. It is only when he is jealous that he can express himself, and I want him to be near me all the time and he cannot be. When I see how far away he is I cannot stand it. I try to console myself with other men, but Lewis is always there in my thought, standing between me and them and making it impossible for me to realize the dream of my life, of an utter sympathy with some man. So I hurt him all the time, yet I know too that I help and stimulate him, that through me life is richer and more interesting to him.”

That winter the Provincetowners had installed Christine and her stove on the second floor of the playhouse, so that a club dining room would be available to The Players during rehearsals and after performances. The Players, including O’Neill, paid a minimum fee for their meals and held many of their opening night, closing night, and unclassified celebrations there.

“In the afternoons,” according to Edna Kenton, “Christine would bring in pots of tea, several packages of biscuit, salt and sweet, a jar of jam or a wedge of cheese, and then sit down again to the peeling of potatoes or the stringing of beans for dinner while she talked with us on aesthetics or free will versus determinism, or the latest upset in our always creaking machinery of ‘organization.’ She made milk toast for the half sick or wholly weary, let us choose between cherry cobbler and lemon pie, gave us corn bread or Boston brown on demand, treated us not only to ‘home cooking’ of the very best, but to home privilege of choice, as well.”

Christine was more than a good cook and conversationalist; she took small roles in the productions and was ready to be helpful or entertaining in any capacity required of her. She was a gifted mimic and often provided the chief amusement at parties with an imitation of Mary Vorse growing drunk in her ladylike way in the Hell Hole, or of Ida Bauh, who had earned the sobriquet “Duse of MacDougal Street, practicing dramatic grimaces before a mirror. But the pathos of her personality was always close to the surface. To O’Neill, who became one of her casual lovers, she personified what he once called “a female Christ.”

Although he was as much amused by her wit and her escapades as anyone, O’Neill was acutely aware of her inner agony. Several of her lovers have recalled the strangely virginal quality that belied the affected coarseness of her manner. There was a paradoxical delicacy of spirit concealed in her hulking body, of which she was both proud and ashamed, a quality keenly felt by O’Neill and later reproduced by him in the character of Josie Hogan.

In October of 1917 a friend of Christine’s turned up in the Village, seeking to support herself and assorted members of her family.

Her name was Agnes Boulton and within six months she would be O’Neill’s wife. She was twenty-four years old, pretty in a way that superficially resembled Louise’s Irish loveliness (although she was of English descent), and clever enough to have gained a modest reputation as a writer of novelettes and short stories that appeared, for the most part, in pulp magazines. Agnes had a pale, bony face and large, gray-blue eyes. Her hair was light brown and fell to her waist when she did not confine it, as she usually did, in a conch-shaped bun at the back of her neck. Unsure of herself and rather shy, she often seemed even younger and more ingenuous than she was. Uncertain about where she was going, she assumed an air of breezy bohemianism.

Agnes was one of four sisters, and the daughter of a gentle, blue-eyed, white-mustached portrait painter from Philadelphia, Edward William Boulton.

Born on September 19, 1893, while her parents were visiting London, she had been brought up in the New Jersey seaside town of West Point Pleasant. She arrived in Greenwich Village that fall from a farm she owned near Cornwall Bridge, Connecticut; she had left behind her mother, father and two-year-old daughter, Barbara, whose father—a man named Burton—had been dead for some time.

Agnes had met Christine on a previous trip to New’ York. She was also acquainted w ith Harry Kemp and Mary Pyne, w’ho spent the summer of 1917 at her farm.

Recalling her arrival in New York the fall of 1917 Agnes has written in her memoir, Part of a Long Story: “Well, I hoped doubtfully that my family would be happy on the farm ... I was going back in the spring ... I had to go to New York for their sake and mine, to make more money, and I would return!”

Agnes arrived with $100, an order for a novelette, and the hope of finding a part-time job to round out her income. She took a room at the Brevoort, recommended by Mary Pyne as a “very cheap” hotel. She then went in search of Christine, who had told her about a factory where it was possible to work short shifts and where she thought she might apply for a job. After finally reaching Christine by telephone at her restaurant above the Playwrights’ Theatre, she accepted an invitation to meet her at the Hell Hole at ten-thirty that night.

Entering the saloon a few minutes early, Agnes settled herself nervously at a table in the back room where, before long, she felt herself being scrutinized by a dark man wearing a seaman’s sweater under his jacket and a suit that looked to her as though it had been slept in. She found his look disturbing—”both sad and cruel,” as she has described it. The man was O’Neill, and he was, as a matter of fact, brooding about her resemblance to Louise.

Agnes had almost made up her mind to leave the Hell Hole when Christine swept in, embraced her, greeted the somber, staring man and introduced him as “Gene O’Neill.”

After several hours in the Hell Hole, during the course of which Jamie joined them, O’Neill walked Agnes across Washington Square to the Brevoort. Standing in front of the hotel, O’Neill, who had been silent in the Hell Hole, began to talk.

“I wish I could remember what he said,” Agnes later wrote in her memoir. “I don’t think I quite knew, even then.”

But he conveyed an impression of sadness and his eyes were dramatic as Jw told her, finally, something she did remember:

“I want to spend every night of my life from now on with you. I mean this. Every night of my life.”

Agnes parted from O’Neill in bewilderment. She heard nothing from him for several days and saw him next at a party to which Christine had invited her. O’Neill treated her with polite indifference, although to her it appeared obvious that he was very much aware of her presence and way trying to arouse her jealousy. He was attentive to Nina Moise and made a dramatic gesture that was designed to startle everyone present with his suffering over Louise. Climbing onto a chair in front of the mantelpiece, he opened the glass face of a large clock and pushed back the hands, chanting: “Turn back the universe and give me yesterday!”

Agnes, preparing to leave the party, encountered Mary Pyne and Susan Glaspell. From them she learned that she resembled Louise Bryant, who, she was told, had broken O’Neill’s heart.

It was not long before Agnes realized she was in love with O’Neill and she was convinced that sooner or later he would fall in love with her. She discovered he was a playwright, but this did not particularly impress her, as she was uninterested in the theatre. Her main concern was with disentangling O’Neill from the various women who appeared to have a prior claim. This she managed to do, and it was soon generally conceded in O’Neill’s circle that Agnes was his girl, although no one regarded the relationship as permanent.

Aware that Louise would not stay in, Russia forever, O’Neill’s friends were convinced she would reclaim O’Neill on her return. But not all of them approved of his new temporary arrangement. Scotty, for example, detested Agnes, and she detested him in return. And Dorothy, with whom Agnes had become friendly—on several occasions, Dorothy took Agnes along to Mass at St. Joseph’s—also felt uneasy about the relationship. Like a number of others, Dorothy was waiting for O’Neill to make good his promise to leave the Village and go to Provincetown, where he could work. The Provincetowners were in need of plays; they had, in fact, found it necessary to resort to advertising for new playwrights in drama publications. Some of them were vaguely worried that Agnes, with her unconcealed lack of interest in the theatre, might not have a stimulating effect upon their prize playwright.

“During this time Gene was going to the Provincetown Theatre ... almost every afternoon and evening and often I was with him,” Agnes has written, adding casually, “‘Ue’ was produced and ‘The Long Voyage Home,’ and there was much happening that may be of importance to those interested in the theatre.”

By mid-January a malaise had settled on the Provincetowners; they all seemed to be waiting for O’Neill to come to some sort of decision. He had told Dorothy and Agnes and many others that he planned to go to Provincetown soon to work, but he kept postponing his departure. Meanwhile he continued to visit his favorite haunts, usually accompanied by Agnes.

There were frequent tiffs and lovers’ quarrels, some of them remarked upon by O’Neill’s friends. Holger Cahill, for example, recalled one night in the I loll I foie when Agnes suddcnly pushed back her chair and ran from the saloon. O’Neil] pursued her, and neither of them was seen for several hours.

Cahill thought O’Neill was ridiculous with women, wasting his energy chasing girls who were only too willing to capitulate. Once, for example, he and O’Neill met a couple of pathetically willing voting nurses in a barroom, and O’Neill insisted on lengthily wooing, with poctry, the one who was earmarked for him—as though deliberately putting off the moment of too easy conquest. “The trouble was that O’Neill was nearly always the seduced, instead of the seducer,” said Cahill. “Sometimes he resented it, though there seemed to be nothing he could do about it.” One of the things that was keeping O’Neill in New York that winter was the impending arrival of Louis Holliday, who had been in the West for several months establishing himself as a fruit grower. Very much in love, Holliday had left the city at his girl’s request that he cure himself of drinking and find dependable work that would enable them to marry. Holliday had abstained from drinking, had grown fit and happy at his labor, and saved enough money to keep himself and a wife. As soon as he returned to New York in January he telephoned his girl and asked his friends to stand by for a celebration. Everyone was in high spirits, for Holliday, in his newly found strength, was particularly endearing.

On January 22 they gathered at the Hell Hole—O’Neill, Agnes, Dorothy, Christine and other old friends, including Charles Demuth and Terry Carlin. No one realized, at first, what had gone wrong. Holliday was drinking. When he got drunk enough he announced that his girl had fallen in love with someone else.

Holliday was a quiet man, and he did what he had to do quietly. Sometime during the evening he induced Terry Carlin to give him a large dose of heroin. Terry took narcotics from time to time, and it was entirely within his code of ethics to provide a friend with what he could not help but know was a lethal dose; if someone wanted to kill himself, Terry could summon no moral reason for trying to prevent him.

The party moved from the Hell Hole to Romany Marie’s. It was not until Holliday began to look ill that O’Neill found out about the heroin. Ill with shock himself, O’Neill left. Dorothy, who also knew what Holliday had done, stayed on at Marie’s, thinking she could help him.

A little before six-thirty in the morning Holliday, foaming at the mouth, collapsed at a table. Marie called for an ambulance, but before it arrived Holliday was dead. His sister, Polly, who had been summoned, informed the doctor that Holliday had suffered Irom a weak heart, and the doctor diagnosed the cause of death as heart trouble. Arriving a few minutes later, the police accepted the diagnosis. No one ever quite understood why, since at least a dozen people knew about the heroin, no mention of narcotics was entered into the official records of Holliday’s death; for a time many of Holliday’s friends were haunted by the possibility of a police investigation.

The episode had an appalling effect on I lollidav’s friends. The abrupt, senseless, vicious end of a life that had been filled with vitality and hope became an omen of disaster. They suddenly felt mortal and threatened. Christine wept hysterically. Charles Demuth went about like a man in a trance. Dorothy fled from the Village and threw herself into a nursing career at a municipal hospital, probably inspiring the manner in which O’Neill later caused his Nina Leeds in Strange Interhide to expiate her sense of guilt over her fiance’s death. O’Neill plunged into drunkenness.

Holliday’s death was a painful memory O’Neill carried with him always. Years later he spoke of it to his closest friends, and of his great fondness for Holliday, indicating that he had partly based the character of Don Parritt, in The Iceman Cometh, on Holliday. Parritt is a youth who has betrayed his anarchist mother to the police and comes to be judged for his treachery by Larry Slade, his mother’s former lover. While these details were O’Neill’s invention, the relationship between Larry (based on Terry Carlin) and Parritt symbolized the one between Terry and Holliday. In the play Larry falls into the role of Parritt’s executioner, in the sense that he endorses Parritt’s decision to commit suicide. O’Neill considered Terry to have been Holliday’s executioner in the same sense. He held no rancor for Terry, but he pondered on the “why” of his action.

When O’Neill finally roused himself from his drinking spell he had come to a decision. No one was surprised when he packed his things and left for Provincetown. What did startle some of his friends was that he took Agnes with him.


O’Neill’s selection of agnes boulton was made with characteristic lack of insight about what he wanted or could reasonably expect from a woman. He had married one woman he did not love and had been in love with three women who would not marry him. Now he was about to marry a woman he did love, but who did not fulfill his stringent requirements for a wife. He demanded an all but impossible ideal of wife-mistress-mother-sceretary; a foil for his self-dramatization; a woman who could understand and appreciate him and devote herself entirely to his artistic aims. He was not prepared to compromise and few women could have lived up to this ideal.

O’Neill may not have been able to put it into words at that time, but in letters he wrote years later to friends he clearly indicated that what he wanted—and needed—was a woman who had the force of character and the zeal to meet and match him on a matrimonial battleground. He craved a Strindbergian, love-hate relationship.

Two months after he rushed off with Agnes and three days before he married her O’Neill hinted to Nina Moise about his confused feelings and tried to apologize for and justify his seemingly inconsistent behavior.

“I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to have a long talk with you before I left—or, rather, I’m not sorry,” he wrote. “What use for Mr. Hyde to discuss Dr. Jekyll....

“One part of me fiddles betimes while Rome burneth, while the other part perishes in the flames—a martyr giving birth to the soul of an idea. One part of me is the author of my life—tearing his hair in a piteous frenzy as he watches his ‘worser’ half playing the lead in distorting the theme by many strange grimaces. Believe me, from line to line, the poor wretch can never tell whether the play is farce or tragedy— so perverse a spirit is his star.”

Agnes respected O’Neill’s work but considered her own career to be of almost equal importance. Although she was frightened of his Irish temper, she did not appear to be in awe of him as an artist, nor willing to coddle his moody artistic temperament. Being basically uninterested in the theatre, she sometimes felt left out of O’Neill’s friendships with members of the Provincetown group. (Susan Glaspell, for instance, made her feel inadequate.)

She had not given much thought to housekeeping as an art and was casual in her domestic arrangements. O’Neill lived haphazardly and Agnes drifted with him.

Though initially shy, she enjoyed being with people she knew— enjoyed society for its own sake and found it painless, and even fun, to exchange the pleasantries and banter from which O’Neill shrank. She was instinctively generous and easygoing and found it difficult to understand O’Neill’s miserliness of self, his hoarding of energy and resources, in order to pour everything into his work.

But most of all, from O’Neill’s egotistically demanding point of view, she failed to rise to the challenge of his possessive love. Lacking his requisite sense of drama, she apparently found it difficult to sustain the high voltage pitch of agony-ecstasy that O’Neill was bent on attaining— an emotional pitch that was, conceivably, a substitute for the violent physical passion he did not seem capable of achieving.

Agnes and O’Neill were, however, in accord on a relationship that excluded children. When Agnes accompanied O’Neill to Provincetown she had not seen her daughter in three months nor did she make an effort to sec her for many more. (“I ... wrote my family,” she has recorded, “but as I recall it, everything was all right everywhere and there was nothing to take us out of this co-operation of work and living.”) She was shocked, however, when O’Neill told her casually, several months after their marriage, that he had a child he had never seen.

O’Neill and Agnes moved into two rooms provided by John Francis, one of them furnished with a primitive stove, and there settled down to writing. It took O’Neill only a few days to taper off his drinking, and soon he was happily continuing his work on Beyond the Horizon and toying with ideas for a couple of short plays. Agnes devoted herself to turning out novelettes.

Not long after they arrived O’Neill and Agnes made the acquaintance of Alice Woods, a charming, sophisticated, fortv-sevcn-ycar-old writer who had come to Provincetown from Europe when the war started. Born in Goshen, Indiana, where she included Booth Tarkington among her friends, she went to Paris early in the century to study art, and lived on the Left Bank. Miss Woods, who divorced her husband, an Impressionist artist named Eugene P. Ullman, in 1903, was the author of several books, a contributor of short stories to The Smart Set and other literary magazines, and the mother of two schoolboys whom she had brought up in France.

She discussed writing with O’Neill and received his encouragement to turn one of her published short stories into a one-act play called The Devil’s Glow, which was presented by the Provincetown Players that March. She also entertained him with stories of the life she had led in Europe, where she had moved in a circle that included Gertrude Stein and Henri Matisse.

In recalling her acquaintance with O’Neill and Agnes in Provincetown Miss Woods said that Agnes, whom she rather liked, appeared to be “out of place.”

“I thought it was shocking for a woman to live under those conditions,” she added. “Agnes looked like a typical young American girl. She wasn’t subtle enough to play the game that Gene seemed to be playing.”

One day O’Neill and Agnes arrived at Miss Woods’s house for tea. Agnes was in tears. She told Miss Woods that O’Neill wanted to marry her but that she would not agree.

“Why not?” asked Miss Woods. Sobbing, Agnes said that O’Neill was still in love with “that girl.”

O’Neill looked haggard, said nothing, and stared out the window at Miss Woods’s orchard, brown and bare under melting snow.

The girl about whom Agnes was concerned was Louise. Recently returned from Russia, Louise had written to O’Neill saying she must see him, and O’Neill believed he was obligated to meet her and explain his new attachment. Louise, in Agnes’ mind, was “invested with all the wiles of the serpent.”

Louise had left Russia on January 20—perhaps, as Agnes assumed in her memoir, because rumors of O’Neill’s new love had reached her, but more likely because she was eager to break into print with a firsthand account of what was happening in Russia. She left ahead of Reed, who had decided to stay abroad and attend the third All-Russian Congress of Soviets. Louise arrived in New York February 18 on a neutral ship, the Norwegian Bergensfjord, and began preparing a series describing her experiences in Russia for the New York American. Published early in the spring, the articles caused quite a splash. Louise wrote of the bloody events in Russia, managing to imbue her reports with a personal flavoi of daring and risk. Her stories were colorful and colored, filled with idealism about the revolution, but often moving. She became a kind of martyr —undoubtedly she saw herself as a combination of St. Joan and Mata Hari—when she later appeared before a Congressional committee to testify about bolshevist activities, and goaded some senators into denouncing her as a menace.

With her beauty, daring and journalistic flair, Louise quickly established herself as a heroine. It is small wonder that Agnes was uneasy. Letters from Louise continued to arrive. Agnes could “see” O’Neill remembering the “dark, passionate travail of their love.”

O’Neill was in a dilemma, and Alice Woods took it upon herself to help smooth the way for him and Agnes. She consulted with a local druggist, John Adams, who was fond of O’Neill and had once got him out of the Provincetown jail, where he had been held for drunkenness. In a long talk with O’Neill, Adams evidently convinced him that he must reassure Agnes by breaking off with Louise unequivocally. O’Neill finally decided to write a letter of explanation to Louise and, on April 12, 1918, he and Agnes were married.

Miss Woods helped arrange the details of the wedding, but was called away to Boston on business on April 12 and could not accept O’Neill’s and Agnes’ invitation to be a witness at the ceremony. They were married by a Methodist minister because there was no justice of the peace available.

Two days later O’Neill described the wedding to Nina Moise, who was working in New York on the production of his recently finished one-act play, The Rope:

“We were married two evenings ago—in the best parlor of a parsonage by the most delightful ... Godhelpus, mincing Methodist minister that ever prayed through his nose. I don’t mean to sneer, really. The worthy divine is an utterly lovable old idiot and the ceremony gained a strange, unique simplicity from his sweet, childlike sincerity. I caught myself wishing I could believe in the same gentle God he seemed so sure of. This sounds like sentimentality but it isn’t. It’s hard to describe—the wedding of two serious children he made out of it; but it was startlingly impressive. The meaning behind the lines ‘got across with a punch’ to both of us....”

Soon after the wedding Agnes and Alice Woods were invited to dinner by an architect, whose first name happened to be Starling, and his Bostonian wife, who disapproved of O’Neill. They did not invite Miss W oods’s sons either, and the two women made a pretense of hauteur as they went ofl unescorted. O’Neill and the two boys spent the following morning with an encyclopedia and the Book of Knowledge, compiling a list of all the nastier characteristics of starlings, whose ornithological name, they gleefully discovered, was Sturuus vulgaris.

‘I he younger of Alice Woods’s two sons—Allen LUlman, in later years an artist—was eleven that spring. O’Neill and Agnes had a significant effect on him, which grew even more potent as he entered adolescence.

He dwelt on Agnes’ beauty, the soulful looks she and O’Neill exchanged, and the jealousy they displayed toward each other. He worried about their fights and about O’Neill’s violent drinking bouts and thought them the most tempestuously romantic couple outside the pages of a book.

O’Neill’s prospects at this time were looking up a little. He had recently stumbled on a source of income that could keep him in modest comfort (it was this that had helped persuade him he could support a wife). His windfall came from the unexpected success of In the Zone as a vaudeville vehicle.

The team responsible for the project consisted of an advance publicity man recently out of high school and a nine teen-year-old actor. The exactor, Albert Lewis, and the ex-advance man, Max Gordon, had recently formed a flourishing producing partnership.

Gordon was in charge of booking and Lewis presided over production. They produced only one-act plays for vaudeville, sending out the whole package with the star, and averaged fifteen shows on the circuit at the same time—usually the Keith or the Orpheum.

Lewis would read or go to see anything that promised to be a twenty-five- or thirty-minute vehicle for vaudeville, and had at one point considered Bottnd East for Cardiff, but reluctantly rejected it on the advice of a co-worker in his office, who thought it “too highbrow for vaudeville.”

But the following year, after seeing In the Zone at the Comedy Theatre, he was convinced it would be a hit in vaudeville.

Lewis spent several days trying to track down O’Neill, and was finally put in touch with him by Edward Goodman, the head of the Washington Square Players. Lewis made his offer, but O’Neill rejected it. “He thought the vaudeville proposition was degrading,” Lewis said.

O’Neill changed his mind, however, after Lewis persuaded Martin Beck, then in charge of the Orpheum Circuit, to see In the Zone. Beck told Lewis that if he could stage the one-acter as well as the Washington Square Players had done, he would book it, guaranteeing a 25 to 40 week run.

“This was a terrific proposition,” Lewis added, “and O’Neill finally decided that he just couldn’t turn it down; he really needed the money.” (This was the point at which he had decided to get married.)

O’Neill received a $200 advance, and $70 a week in royalties, which was split fifty-fifty between him and the Washington Square Players. Lewis staged the play with Horace Brahan, a well-known actor, in the leading role of Smitty. Pie sent it first to Proctor’s Theatre in Newark, then to the Palace in Chicago, and then, for a week each, to the various towns on the Orpheum Circuit. It was an immediate success and toured for thirty-four weeks.

Even James O’Neill was amazed at ,the play’s success and held his temper when Eugene wrote to announce his marriage to Agnes. James had not met Agnes and could neither approve nor disapprove of her as a wife for Eugene. The fact that she was English born did not predispose him to think well of her, but at least he would not be called upon to support her as he had once assumed the case would be with Kathleen.

James actually began changing his tune about his “scribbler” son in June, 1918. Still playing in The Wanderer, he was interviewed in New York by a reporter for Town Talk who was a Eugene O’Neill fan. James included Jamie in his paternal pronouncement, although he had to stretch his imagination to find something about his middle-aged first-born of which he could brag.

“James O’Neill Jr.... is an actor and has had success on the stage and in films,” the Town Talk man reported from facts supplied by James. “He was bitterly disappointed recently when the Army doctors rejected him, for the O’Neill’s are fighters. The other son is Eugene O’Neill who has several one-act plays to his credit, all of them successfully. We saw one of them lately at the Orpheum and all of us liked it immensely. It was called ‘In the Zone.’”

The royalties from In the Zone were the first “big” money O’Neill ever made—it proved to be the most popular of all his one-acters, both in the United States and abroad—and he followed its fortunes zealously. (In later years he often pointed out to friends what he considered the incongruity of the play’s success: “a large cast, all men, no love interest, no star.”)

Much more impressive than the financial success of In the Zone though, was the fact that an important Broadway producer had taken an option on his three-act tragedy, Beyond the Horizon. Soon after completing the play, in early April, O’Neill sent it to Nathan at The Smart Set. Nathan read it immediately and took it to John D. Williams.

Williams had produced John Galsworthy’s Justice two years earlier and, together with Arthur Hopkins, Winthrop Ames and Brock Pemberton, was leading a revolt against the tingle-and-tinsel tradition of David Bclasco and Charles Frohman. Although Beyond the Horizon was a departure far beyond anything that Williams had yet dared, Nathan thought he had the courage and imagination to take it on.

An oddity in the managerial ranks, Williams was a soundly educated college man. He had attended Harvard, where he had been a member of one of Professor Baker’s early classes. He had received his theatrical training as Charles Frohman’s business manager. He produced plays he liked (along with those he knew were commercial) even though he often lost money on them. With rueful self-mockery he once declared:

“Intelligence and good taste, both or either, is fatal to successful play producing anywhere in America, because, handicapped by either of these, you are apt to produce the kind of play you think other college graduates will go to see. I found that out when I put Mrs. Fiske in Erstwhile Susan, John Barrymore in Galsworthy’s Justice and his brother, Lionel Barrymore, in The Copperhead and Richard Bennett in a comedy of Manchester life called Zack by the author of Hobson’s Choice; and again the same truth smote me amidships when I produced Our Betters, Three for Diana, etc., plays of substance, some taste, real acting and containing some interesting angles on life. And what happened?

“Every college graduate ran as fast as he could past the theatres containing these handstitched college graduate plays, put on by a college graduate. And they didn’t stop running until they landed in the front row of the Eollies; failing that, they ran over to see Girls, Girls, and Nothing but Girls, Oh, You Girls, or The Skidding of Tottie Coughdrop. In fact, if it hadn’t been for what I used to call hoi polloi, unfortunate illiterates, poorly bred people, lowbrows, in short, the vast majority who never have and never will get nearer to a college than the Germans will to honesty, this brief chronicle of an eye-opening, exciting but perilous career would be dated either from Mills Hotel, a dairy lunch, or the Poorhouse.”

Putting his faith once more in substance and taste, Williams, in one of the most rapid transactions in the history of show business, at once sent O’Neill a check for $500 as an option for six months. O’Neill, believing the time had come when he would make Broadway accept him on his own terms, was elated. He did not drcam it would be nearly two years before Beyond the Horizon finally reached the stage.

In addition to writing the long play, Beyond the Horizon, and the one-acter, The Rope, between the beginning of February and the end of April, 1918, O’Neill also wrote a short play called Till We Meet (which he tore up). His working life out of town was as austere as his social life in New York was hectic. He never took a drink during a working period, even when it extended over several months, and early in his career he dispelled the legend that had begun to circulate about his writing while drunk.

“Altogether too much damn nonsense has been written since the beginning of time about the dissipation of artists,” he said, in a statement to Barrett Clark that was widely quoted during the twenties. “Why, there are fifty times more real drunkards among Bohemians who only play at art, and probably more than that among the people who never think about art at all. The artist drinks, when he drinks at all, for relaxation, forgetfulness, excitement, for any purpose except his art. You’ve got to have all your critical and creative faculties about you when you’re working. I never try to write a line when I’m not strictly on the wagon. I don’t think anything worth reading was ever written by anyone who was drunk or even half-drunk when he wrote it. This is not morality, it’s plain physiology.”

While he was deep in a project, he worked with iron-willed concentration. When he was finishing the last act of Beyond the Horizon he kept at it for as much as seven hours a day. He was ruthless in his editing, as witness the unhesitant destruction of whole scripts he considered unworthy. By the time he had completed Beyond the Horizon— less than five years after he began to write plays—he had decided to disown or had actually torn up eight of his twenty one-act plays (all but one of them—The Sniper—before production) and five long plays. Beyond the Horizon was the first long play he did not destroy. All the plays he kept were rewritten, occasionally as many as a dozen times. In addition, and contrary to legend, he made cuts—and big ones—when he believed, or could be persuaded to believe, that they were warranted.

But he often disagreed with a producer or director on the nature of cuts, and in these instances it was difficult, sometimes impossible, to shake him. He was usually convinced, while he was writing a play, that it was going to be his best, or most interesting, or most startling, or most original; when he finished, he continued to live in this state of euphoria— until he was seized with an even better or more startling idea. Then that became his biggest, or finest, or most original.

Most of the time he seethed with ideas and could barely get his thoughts down on paper as fast as they came. Characters, themes, situations, crowded unbidden into his mind. Plots came to him even in his dreams. Often he wrote a play in mosaic-like segments; although he usually began with a scenario, he did not necessarily proceed from there to the first act. Sometimes he wrote a complete scene for the second or third act before he wrote a line of dialogue for the first. He said he wrote scenarios to get rid of mistakes before tackling the actual play.

Sometimes his ideas would develop fully and clearly before he had set down a word, and sometimes not. But even in the cases where he wrote a detailed scenario, he rarely referred to it when he tackled the actual writing of the play.

In addition to a scenario, O’Neill frequently made sketches of his stage settings and outlined the genealogy, history, habits and other important facts regarding his characters.

While his conception was always grand and boundless, his work habits were prim. He had to have twelve sharpened pencils neatly laid out on a table before him at the beginning of his workday. His papers and reference books were always in organized piles and bundles. Often he penciled his notes and scenarios in small notebooks. His handwriting was precise and minute, and a number of theories have been advanced by his friends for this peculiarity—among them a thrifty desire to conserve paper, a need to conserve physical energy, and the control that small writing gave him over the slight tremor of his hand. O’Neill himself once offered an explanation when he was asked about the relatively large handwriting he used in his early correspondence with George Tyler (later presented to Princeton University).

Writing to the Princeton Library, in 1943, O’Neill said:

“I made myself write larger in letters so they could be read easily. And my handwriting was naturally a bit larger, anyway, when I wasn’t absorbed in creative work. The more concentrated and lost to myself my mind became, the smaller the handwriting. At least, this seemed to be the general rule then. If you ever look over the early one-act sea play scripts ... you will find the handwriting large by comparison with later work. The minute stvle grew on me. I did not wish it on myself, God knows, because it made it so hard to get my scripts typed—forced me to type a lot of them, which was a damn nuisance.”

O’Neill’s power of concentration, in those early months in Provincetown, was so complete that he could write in a kind of open balcony above the room he and Agnes shared, undisturbed by her moving about to cook or work below.

The Rope, which O’Neill wrote on that balcony while also working on Beyond, is one of his most interesting plays for several reasons. Set in a barn, it contains the germ of a plot and character for the important long play Desire Under the Elms, completed five years later. One of its chief characters is Abraham Bentley, who is a grotesque version of Ephraim Cabot, of Desire. Bentley is a “tall, lean, stoop shouldered old man of sixtv-five.... His face is gaunt.... Elis eyes peer weakly from beneath bushy black brows ...” (Ephraim Cabot is “seventy-five, tall and gaunt ... but stoop-shouldered from toil.... His eyes are small ... and extremely near-sighted ...”)

Bentley, like Cabot, is given to enhancing his bitter denunciations of his family with quotations from the Bible. He is, also like Cabot, held responsible by one of his children (in this case a daughter) for having driven his first wife to her death with oyerwork, and he is resented by his child, as is Cabot, for having married a flamboyant young woman after his wife’s death. The second wife is not a character in The Rope, as she is in Desire, but it develops, through exposition, that she has had a son who was probably not Bentley’s.

This son, unlike the one in Desire, lives to grow up and is a young man when The Rope opens. He has run away from the farm, having stolen some of his father’s money. Here the intricacies of family relationships and plot differ from Desire, but the similarity of theme is still obvious. Both plays, of course, were rooted in O’Neill’s own submerged feelings toward his father and mother. A psychiatrist, who has made a study of the longer play, has described it as “unconscious autobiography.”

The rope of the title refers to a noose that Bentley has rigged up to a rafter in the barn, which, he has indicated with hideous cheerfulness, is there to await his young son’s return. The son, a ruffian almost as unpleasant as Bentley, does return. He sneers at, but superstitiously avoids touching, the rope, which his father invites him to hang himself on, and goes off to plot with his half-sister’s husband to steal the rest of Bentley’s money, hidden somewhere on the farm. The ironic twist comes when Bentley’s granddaughter, a slightly imbecilic child of ten, enters the barn alone, climbs on a chair and grabs at the suspended noose, preparatory to having a swing. The rope separates from the beam at her touch, and a bag of twenty dollar gold pieces drops to the floor. Bentley’s little joke turns out even better than he had planned, for the child, an infant spendthrift, sends each coin in turn spinning over the edge of the cliff, below which lies the ocean. The curtain comes down as she is flinging handfuls of money into the sea, gleefully calling out, “Skip! Skip!”

The child’s name, as it happens, is Mary, which was often O’Neill’s symbolic designation for his mother. There is also a little girl named Mary in Beyond the Horizon, and another little girl named Mary in The Straw, written a few months later.

The two Marys in The Rope and Beyond arc sickly, either in mind or in body: the Mary in Beyond actually goes to the extreme of dying, and the Mary in The Straw, to stretch the symbolism just a bit further, is the sister of a tubercular who is on the point of death.

None of the Marys, incidentally, is a recognizable human child. The Mary in Beyond is just one of a scries of children whom O’Neill killed off in his plays by one device or another. He did not understand or like children. He did not want to have any with Agnes; he thought they would threaten the perfection of his love and violate the sanctity of his artistic life. When he and his wife made a brief trip to New London that spring, Mrs. Rippin asked Agnes if she and Gene expected to have children and Agnes, according to the Rippins, replied that probably all they would have was a book.

O’Neill did not think too highly of The Rope by the time it was in production because by then he was engrossed in the much more exciting project of Beyond the Horizon. He was content to leave casting and direction of The Rope to Nina Moise, though he did take the time to discuss some aspects of the production wi