Eugene O'Neill: Deep, Dark Irish Literary Genius

Eugene Gladstone O'Neill (1888 – 1953) was an American playwright and Nobel laureate in Literature. Born in a Broadway hotel room in Longacre Square (now Times Square), in the Barrett Hotel. He was the son of Irish immigrant actor James O'Neill, Rosbercon, County Kilkenny and Mary Ellen Quinlan, Ballyknock.

Because of his father's occupation, O'Neill was sent to St. Aloysius Academy for Boys, a Catholic boarding school in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, where he found his only solace in books. O'Neill spent his summers in New London, Connecticut. He attended Princeton University for one year. Accounts vary as to why he left: he may have been dropped for attending too few classes, been suspended for "conduct code violations," or "for breaking a window", or according to a more concrete but possibly apocryphal account, because he threw "a beer bottle into the window of Professor Woodrow Wilson", the future president of the United States. O'Neill spent several years at sea, during which he suffered from depression and alcoholism. O'Neill joined the Marine Transport Workers Union of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), which was fighting for improved living conditions for the working class utilizing quick 'on the job' direct action. O'Neill's parents and elder brother Jamie, died within three years of one another, not long after he had begun to make his mark in the theater. Despite his depression, he had a deep love for the sea, and it became a prominent theme in many of his plays, several of which are set on board ships like the ones that he worked on. When O'Neill knew that death was near, he tore up six of his unfinished plays rather than have someone else rewrite them. Suffering from a neuromuscular disorder that had robbed him of the ability to write O'Neill died in the Shelton Hotel in Boston. Autopsy showed late-onset cerebellar cortical atrophy. He had written 50 plays and seen 35 of them produced.

Oona, Lady Chaplin (née O'Neill) (May 14, 1925 – September 27, 1991) was the daughter of Nobel-and Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Eugene O'Neill and writer Agnes Boulton, and the fourth and last wife of British comic and filmmaker Sir Charles "Charlie" Chaplin. Oona O'Neill was born on May 14, 1925, in Bermuda. Eugene O'Neill disowned his daughter for marrying Chaplin when she was 18 and Chaplin was 54. He never saw Oona again.

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Tags: Ancestry, Diaspora History, Drama, Genealogy, Kilkenny, Literature, Theatre, United States

Comment by Bit Devine on September 10, 2014 at 10:33am

Som eof the most tortured souls have given us our best novels, poetry and plays... O'Neill among them

Comment by Gerry Regan on September 10, 2014 at 12:30pm

Fascinating story, well summarized, Dee! What's a good source to learn more?

Comment by Dee Notaro on September 10, 2014 at 1:08pm

The IMDB website - one of my favorites - you can find his works and go watch for days - he was so prolific. 

http://www.eoneill.com/biography.htm :   Eugene O’Neill National Historical Site: http://www.nps.gov/euon/index.htmhttp://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1936/on... : for his work turned into plays and videos: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0642156/

Comment by Sean Michael O'Neill on September 10, 2014 at 8:48pm
Wonderful piece Dee! And thanks for sharing the link too. Any favorites to start a beginner?
Comment by Dee Notaro on September 11, 2014 at 3:37am

see above reply to Gerry Regan for other info.

Long Day's Journey into Night movie – try youtube for other one act viewings and perople who will read to you  and http://www.imdb.com for more biography: “Many consider him the father of the modern American theatre; most of his plays were brutally realistic. They were all completely free of the stilted, melodramatic, overwritten language used in American nineteenth-century melodramas, and which seems unintentionally hilarious to modern audiences. His style, in one way or another, influenced all American dramatists who were either his contemporaries or who came after him.” 

Won a record four Pulitzer Prizes for drama: in 1920, for  Beyond the Horizon (1975); in 1921, for Anna Christie (1930); in 1928, for Strange Interlude (1932); and in 1956, posthumously, for Long Day's Journey Into Night (1962).

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