Eugene (Gladstone) O'Neill

Definition

Theater

  • (1888 - 1953) US playwright, often regarded as the firstserious and distinctive voice in American drama. His father, JamesO'Neill, was a touring actor, and Eugene was born in a Broadway hotel.He attended Princeton University for one year but dropped out to becomea seaman, after which he led an itinerant existence in Europe andSouth America. During this period he became an alcoholic, attemptingsuicide on at least one occasion. While recovering from tuberculosisat a sanatorium in 1912 he began to write melodramas as part of his'rebirth'.

    O'Neill's first work to be produced was the one-act nauticaldrama Bound East for Cardiff, staged by the experimental ProvincetownPlayers in Massachusetts in 1916. The group established the Playwrights'Theatre in New York later that year and continued to produce his plays.His first full-length work, Beyond the Horizon, opened in1920 at Broadway's Morosco Theatre and won a Pulitzer Prize. Threemore Pulitzers were awarded for Anna Christie (1922), StrangeInterlude (1928), and the autobiographical Long Day'sJourney Into Night (posthumously awarded in 1957). He receivedthe Nobel Prize in 1936. Other full-length plays include DesireUnder the Elms (1924), about the love-hate relationship betweena New England farmer and his son, Mourning Becomes Electra(1931), a reworking of Aeschylus's Oresteia, Ah! Wilderness(1933), his only comedy, and The Iceman Cometh (1946), anemotionally charged drama of profound disillusion.

    O'Neill's tragic outlook on life may well have stemmed fromthe grim family background depicted in Long Day's Journey intoNight; it was undoubtedly exacerbated by his three disastrousmarriages and the problems he had with his children. He was devastatedby the suicide of his eldest son, Eugene, and furious when his daughter,Oonagh, married Charlie Chaplin, who was O'Neill's contemporary. Duringhis last years, O'Neill was crippled by Parkinson's disease. He died,as he had been born, in a hotel.

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