Eugene O’Neill Biography

Biography (Masterpieces of American Literature)

ph_0111200567-Oneill.jpgEugene O’Neill Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Eugene Gladstone O’Neill was born in the Barrett Hotel in New York City in 1888, son of James O’Neill, an actor celebrated for his portrayal of the count of Monte Cristo, and Ella Quinlan O’Neill, a sensitive woman who became a narcotics addict shortly after Eugene’s birth. His older brother Jamie was Eugene’s early idol; another brother, Edmund, had died in infancy, evoking a great guilt in his mother. As a child, Eugene toured much of the year with his parents and spent the summers in New London, Connecticut. At the age of seven, partly to protect him from knowledge of his mother’s drug addiction, he was sent to a boarding school outside New York City. Lonely and frightened, he retreated to his imagination and into the world of books. The discovery of his mother’s addiction, when he was almost fifteen, was traumatic; it resulted in his rejection of the Catholic faith and infused his life thereafter with grief for her suffering and guilt for his part in it.

After a year at Princeton University, O’Neill prospected for gold in Honduras, leaving behind a pregnant wife, Kathleen Jenkins, who named their son Eugene, Jr. Shortly after O’Neill’s return, he shipped out to Buenos Aires on the Charles Racine, one of the last sailing ships. The two-month voyage was a high point in his life, and the sea figures prominently in many of his plays, from Bound East for Cardiff (1916) to Long Day’s Journey into Night (1956). Back in New York, he drifted aimlessly, drinking and loafing in saloons such as Jimmy-the-Priest’s, which became the setting for Anna Christie (1921) and The Iceman Cometh (1946). Eventually, after cooperatively providing Kathleen with grounds for a divorce, he fell into a deep depression, culminating in a suicide attempt.

When he recovered, his father found him a job as a reporter on the New London Telegraph, but after a few months O’Neill contracted tuberculosis and spent the first half of 1913 at Gaylord Farm Sanatorium in Wallingford, Connecticut. Perhaps it was this confrontation with mortality that encouraged him to focus his literary talents. He wrote several one-act plays and in the fall of 1914 enrolled in...

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Eugene O’Neill Biography (Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Eugene Gladstone O’Neill’s parents were James O’Neill, an actor imprisoned by the material success of his role as the Count of Monte Cristo, and Ellen Quinlan O’Neill, a romantic and idealistic woman similarly trapped for much of her life by an addiction to morphine. The complex psychologies of O’Neill’s parents and his brother, and the relationships among all the family members, figure significantly as subjects of many of O’Neill’s best plays, particularly Long Day’s Journey into Night. Educated in Catholic schools, O’Neill entered Princeton University in 1906 but left before a year was over. His travels in 1910 and 1911 to South America and England provided background for his early plays of the sea, several of which he wrote during a six-month hospitalization for tuberculosis in 1912. The following year, he participated in George Pierce Baker’s Workshop 47 at Harvard University, where he formally studied playwriting. O’Neill was married three times: to Kathleen Jenkins in 1909, to Agnes Boulton in 1918, and to Carlotta Monterey in 1929. He had three children: Eugene, Jr., who was born to the first marriage and who committed suicide in 1950; and Shane and Oona, who were born to the second marriage. O’Neill won four Pulitzer Prizes for his plays: in 1920 for Beyond the Horizon, in 1922 for Anna Christie, in 1928 for Strange Interlude, and in 1957 for Long Day’s Journey into Night. In 1936, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Although ill for the last seventeen years of his life, O’Neill wrote several of his finest plays during that period.

Eugene O’Neill Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The American playwright Eugene Gladstone O’Neill is often regarded as the most important twentieth century writer for the theater. He was the son of the popular melodramatic actor James O’Neill and his wife, Ellen (Ella) Quinlan O’Neill. In O’Neill’s posthumous and frankly autobiographical play Long Day’s Journey into Night (completed by 1941 but neither published nor produced until 1956) the father appears as an improvident bohemian, lavish in speculation and with boon companions but parsimonious and unsatisfactory as the head of a family. The mother appears as a loving, somewhat conventional woman wrecked by a morphine addiction contracted during an illness and encouraged by the disorderliness of the domestic establishment.

As a young man, O’Neill was unhappy and rebellious. He sometimes accompanied his father on tour. He was educated at Mount Saint Vincent Catholic Boarding School, 1895-1900, and at Bett’s Academy in Stamford, Connecticut, 1900-1906. He enrolled in Princeton University in 1906 but was dismissed at the end of his first year and spent five years as a drifter. As a common sailor he went on voyages to Honduras, South America, and Europe, and in 1912 he worked briefly in New London, Connecticut, as a reporter on the Telegraph. O’Neill married Kathleen Jenkins in 1909, and they had a son, Eugene, in 1910, before divorcing in 1912.

The six months O’Neill spent at Gaylord Farm tuberculosis sanatorium, beginning on December 24, 1912, marked the turning point in his life. In the hospital he read widely in the modern drama; profoundly impressed by Henrik Ibsen and, even more, August Strindberg, he determined to become a playwright. Beginning in 1914 he spent some time as a student in George Pierce Baker’s dramatic workshop at Harvard University. That same year he published his first book, Thirst, and Other One-Act Plays. In 1916 he moved to Provincetown, Massachusetts, where he saw one of his plays produced for the first time. An amateur group calling itself the Provincetown Players acted his short romantic melodrama, Bound East for Cardiff, first at Provincetown, then at its tiny theater in New York’s Greenwich Village.

While living in Greenwich Village in the fall of 1917, O’Neill met Agnes Boulton, whom he married the following spring. He and his wife had two children, Shane, born in 1919, and Oona, born in 1926, who later married Charlie Chaplin. It was during his marriage to Boulton that O’Neill wrote his greatest plays.

His first play was followed by other one-act melodramas, based, like the first, on his experience as a sailor, and in 1920 his first full-length, professionally produced play, Beyond the Horizon, won the Pulitzer Prize. He would receive this award again in 1921 for Anna Christie. Passionately committed to his task and extremely prolific, he was soon turning out a rapid succession of plays,...

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Eugene O’Neill Biography (Drama for Students)

Eugene O Published by Gale Cengage

In 1888, Eugene O'Neill was born in New York City to a theatrical family. His father was the noted actor James O'Neill, who became famous for his starring role in Alexander Dumas's Count of Monte Cristo. During his childhood, Eugene traveled with his family on the theatre circuit.

In 1906 O'Neill attended Princeton University before being expelled for a drunken prank later that year. In 1907, he moved to New York, where he held several jobs. In 1909 he sailed to Central America to prospect for gold. Critics believe that his experiences in Honduras provide the setting and background for one of his most successful plays, The Emperor Jones. Disillusioned with the work, O'Neill returned to New York.

O'Neill worked as a seaman on ships sailing to South America, Africa, and Europe. His experiences as a sailor and working odd jobs on foreign waterfronts became the basis of his early maritime plays, such as Thirst (1914), Bound East for Cardiff (1916), The Long Voyage Home (1917), and The Hairy Ape (1922).

O'Neill returned to New York in 1911 and supported himself working odd jobs and living among the poor and downtrodden. These experiences provided the background for such later plays as The Iceman Cometh (1946) and Long Day's Journey into Night (1956). He worked as an assistant stage manager and actor with his father's theatre company, which provided him with theater experience.

In 1912, O'Neill worked as a reporter for the New London Telegraph. Diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1913, he spent six months in the Gaylord Farm sanitarium.

During his convalescence, O'Neill decided to become a playwright. After recovery, he entered Harvard to study with George Pierce Baker. He became involved with an experimental theater group, the Provincetown Players, who in 1916 put on his first produced play, the one-act Bound East for Cardiff.

O'Neill won the Pulitzer Prize four times and received the Nobel Prize for literature in 1936. At the time, he was only the second American writer to receive that international honor, the first being novelist Sinclair Lewis.

Despite his financial and critical success, O'Neill retreated into seclusion in the late 1930s. Though he continued writing, theater companies infrequently performed his plays. He returned to the stage with The Iceman Cometh in 1946. He died in 1953.

It took the posthumous revival of Long Day's Journey into Night in 1956 to reestablish his esteemed position in the American theater. The success of O'Neill's plays since then proves his stature among the most prominent of American dramatists.

Eugene O’Neill Biography (Drama for Students)

Eugene O Published by Gale Cengage

Eugene O’Neill was born on October 16, 1888, in New York City, to James and Mary Ellen O’Neill. The O’Neills led a transient life as the family followed James’ stage career. O’Neill’s father was a celebrated actor who became famous for his performance in The Count of Monte Cristo. The constant traveling and the life of the theatre caused tensions between O’Neill’s parents, exacerbated by Mary’s addiction to morphine, a habit she started after her son’s difficult delivery. Their decidedly dysfunctional family had an enormously negative effect on Eugene and his brother Jamie. After surviving his expulsion from Princeton, a suicide attempt, a bout of tuberculosis, and a failed marriage, O’Neill determined to devote his life to writing for the theatre. Familial tensions would become the subject of several of O’Neill’s plays, including his most successful, Long Day’s Journey into Night. In 1914, with his father’s help, O’Neill published Thirst and Other One Act Plays. The first staging of one of his plays did not occur until after his involvement with the Provincetown Players in Massachusetts in the summer of 1916. Their summer theater premiered his Bound East for Cardiff, which enjoyed solid reviews.

O’Neill’s successful playwriting continued for three decades and secured him the reputation as one of the world’s greatest dramatists. He won the Pulitzer Prize four times: in 1920 for Beyond the Horizon, in 1922 for Anna Christie, in 1928 for Strange Interlude, and in 1957 for Long Day’s Journey into Night. Other awards included the Gold Medal from the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1923, a Litt.D. from Yale University in 1923, the Nobel Prize in literature in 1936, and, for Long Day’s Journey into Night, the New York Drama Critics Circle Award in 1957. He died of pneumonia on November 27, 1953, in Boston, Massachusetts.

Eugene O’Neill Biography (Drama for Students)

Eugene O Published by Gale Cengage

O'Neill was born on October 16, 1888, in New York City, the son of a successful touring actor. His early life was spent on the road, a difficult life for a child. He later criticized the family's constant travelling, suggesting that the stress led to his mother's addiction to drugs and also led to heavy drinking by the other family members. O'Neill started his college education at Princeton University, but that came to an abrupt end when he was dismissed for a prank. He married Kathleen Jenkins in 1909, producing a son, but divorced her only three years later. He then spent two years working as a sailor and manual laborer in South American ports.

In 1912 O'Neill was diagnosed with tuberculosis and sent to a sanitarium. Forbidden any strenuous physical activity, he resolved to get serious about his writing. During his recuperation, he became interested in playwrights, in particular the works of August Strindberg (Miss Julie). His contact with such literary works convinced him that he wanted to be an artist; he moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, and began studying at Harvard. He stayed there for a year and then moved on to Greenwich Village in New York. From there, he went to Provincetown, Massachusetts, and met a group of artists and writers that included playwright Susan Glaspell (Trifles) and radical journalist John Reed. With these writers, O'Neill started the Provincetown Players, an amateur theater company dedicated to producing independent works. O'Neill's first play, the one-act Thirst, was produced in 1916.

O'Neill wrote and was produced regularly throughout his life, earning a worldwide reputation as a premier playwright. He is noted not only for the quality of his work but for the considerable volume of his creations; during his nearly forty years as a professional playwright he produced over fifty works for the stage. Many of his plays are today considered hallmarks of American drama, including The Hairy Ape (1922), Desire under the Elms (1924), Mourning Becomes Electra (1931), The Iceman Cometh (1946), and A Moon for the Misbegotten (1957). Of the many accolades bestowed upon him, he received four Pulitzer Prizes—for Beyond the Horizon (1920), Anna Christie (1922), Strange Interlude (1928), and Long Day's Journey into Night (1957)—and, in 1936, a Nobel Prize for literature.

O'Neill's stature is such that he is regarded as one of America's greatest dramatists, although there were periods during which his work was not held in such high regard. Critical and popular opinion turned firmly to the positive with the 1956 debut of Long Day's Journey into Night, an autobiographical work that frankly examines the dysfunction of the O'Neill family. Due to the sensitive nature of the material, the playwright stipulated in his will that the play not be produced until after his death. The emotional power of Long Day's Journey prompted a re-examination of O'Neill's earlier work, earning him newfound appreciation among theatergoers and critics.

Despite the great number of works he saw produced during his life, O'Neill died with a number of unfinished or unproduced plays, including a cycle he was completing at the time of his death. A great number of his latter writings—like Long Day's Journey—were of a personal nature, and O'Neill ordered them destroyed before his death. A handful of these plays were spared, however, and the collections The Unknown O'Neill (1988) and Ten "Lost" Plays (1995) resurrected the playwright's unpublished work for future reading and production.

O'Neill remarried twice in his life, in 1918 to writer Agnes Boulton (a union that produced two children) and in 1929 to the actress Carlotta Monterey. He died from complications of pneumonia on November 27, 1953, in Boston, Massachusetts.

Eugene O’Neill Biography (Drama for Students)

It was because Long Day's Journey into Night was so transparently autobiographical that Eugene O'Neill forbade the play's production...

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Eugene O’Neill Biography (Drama for Students)

On October 16, 1888 Eugene O'Neill was born in a hotel on Broadway in New York City. His father was a professional actor, and O'Neill lived on the road with his parents until he began attending boarding school at the age of eight. O'Neill's mother, born into an affluent family, was unhappy with the nomadic theatre life, which she considered less than respectable. In part because of O'Neill's difficult birth, she became addicted to drugs. In 1903, she attempted suicide, and O'Neill, at the age of fifteen, learned for the first time of her addiction. That same year, he himself began drinking heavily in a pattern that would persist for most of his life.

O'Neill attended Princeton University, but a drunken prank resulted in his expulsion in 1907 after only nine months of study. Two years later, O'Neill married Kathleen Jenkins. The two had one child, a son, Eugene, Jr. O'Neill and Jenkins did not officially divorce until 1912, but within days of the marriage, O'Neill went to sea, traveling to Honduras and Buenos Aires, where he experienced first-hand the life of a penniless drifter. In 1911, O'Neill returned to New York, where he lived at Jimmy the Priest's, a saloon populated by drunkards, has-beens, and outcasts. Later in his life, O'Neill called Jimmy the Priest's ‘‘a hell hole’’ and said of the establishment, ‘‘One couldn't go any lower.’’ It was Jimmy the Priest's, with its atmosphere of failure, hopelessness, dashed dreams, and despair that, together with its miserable clientele, eventually became the model for Harry Hope's saloon in O'Neill's 1946 play, The Iceman Cometh.

In 1912, O'Neill developed tuberculosis, an event that became a turning point in his life. During the five months he spent in a sanatorium, he decided to become a playwright. He began reading modern dramatists and was particularly affected by the dark work of August Strindberg (Miss Julie), whom he later cited as one of his greatest influences. O'Neill studied playwriting at Harvard for one year. He then moved to Greenwich Village, New York, where he became involved with an avant-garde group of artists and radicals. A number of these people later formed the Provincetown Players, the first group to produce a play of O'Neill's, Bound East for Cardiff, in 1916.

In 1918 O'Neill married Agnes Boulton, with whom he had two children, Shane, in 1919, and Oona, in 1925; the marriage ended in divorce in 1929. In 1920, O'Neill's first full commercial success, Beyond the Horizon, was produced, resulting in the first of four Pulitzer Prizes for its author. That year also saw the production of The Emperor Jones, which focuses on the violence in human nature. In 1924, Desire under the Elms, which reflected O'Neill's interest in Freudian psychology, was produced. Other important plays in the O'Neill canon include the trilogy Mourning Becomes Electra (1931), modeled on the ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus's Oresteia; the autobiographical Long Day's Journey into Night, probably written around 1939 but produced and published after O'Neill's death (per his decree, given the intensely personal nature of the play); and The Iceman Cometh, written in 1939, produced in 1946, and considered by many to be O'Neill's greatest work. In 1936, O'Neill won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

During the last ten years of his life, O'Neill was in ill health, suffering from tremors in his hands, which eventually rendered him unable to write. He died of pneumonia November 27, 1953. He is considered by many to be America's greatest playwright.

Eugene O’Neill Biography (Drama for Students)

Apparently destined for a life in the theatre, Eugene O’Neill was not only born the son of an extremely popular American stage actor, James...

(The entire section is 479 words.)

Eugene O’Neill Biography (Drama for Students)

Eugene O’Neill was born on October 16, 1888, in New York City, the youngest son of James (an actor) and Ella Quinlan O’Neill. O’Neill...

(The entire section is 490 words.)

Eugene O’Neill Biography (Drama for Students)

Eugene O Published by Gale Cengage

Eugene O’Neill was born on October 16, 1888, in New York City to James and Mary Ellen O’Neill. The O’Neill’s led a transient life as the family followed James’s stage career. James was a celebrated actor who became famous for his performance in The Count of Monte Cristo. The constant traveling and the life of the theatre caused tensions between O’Neill’s parents, which were exacerbated by Mary’s addiction to morphine, a habit she started after her son’s difficult delivery. Their decidedly dysfunctional family had an enormously negative effect on Eugene and his brother Jamie. After surviving his expulsion from Princeton, a suicide attempt, a bout of tuberculosis, and a failed marriage, O’Neill determined to devote his life to writing for the theatre. Familial tensions would become the subject of several of O’Neill’s plays, including his most successful, Long Day’s Journey into Night and Anna Christie.

In 1914, with his father’s help, O’Neill published Thirst and Other One Act Plays. The first staging of one of his plays did not occur until after his involvement with the Provincetown Players in Massachusetts in the summer of 1916. The summer theater premiered his Bound East for Cardiff, which enjoyed solid reviews. O’Neill’s successful playwriting continued for three decades and secured him the reputation as one of the world’s greatest dramatists. When he died of pneumonia on November 27, 1953, in Boston, Massachusetts, he had earned several awards for his work including the Pulitzer Prize in 1920 for Beyond the Horizon, in 1922 for Anna Christie, in 1928 for Strange Interlude, and in 1957 for Long Day’s Journey into Night; the Gold Medal from the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1923; a Litt.D. (Doctor of Letters) from Yale University in 1923; the Nobel Prize in literature in 1936; and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award in 1957, for Long Day’s Journey into Night.

Eugene O’Neill Biography (Drama for Students)

Eugene O’Neill Published by Gale Cengage

Eugene O’Neill was born on October 16, 1888, in New York City, into a dysfunctional family. O’Neill’s mother, Mary, became addicted to morphine as a result of pain suffered during Eugene’s birth. O’Neill’s father, James, was a famous actor and was so obsessed with his poor background that he only acted in plays that were surefire financial successes, such as The Count of Monte Cristo. As a result, critics widely proclaimed the waste of James’s talent.

O’Neill lived his early life on the road; his family accompanied James on acting tours. In 1902, when he was fourteen, O’Neill learned of his mother’s addiction when she ran out of morphine and tried to drown herself. As a result, the boy renounced his mother’s Catholic faith. O’Neill’s education took place in several different boarding schools while he was on the road with his father, and later the future playwright flunked out of Princeton. He eloped, in the first of three ill-fated marriages, with Kathleen Jenkins. Unable to deal with the responsibility of marriage or fatherhood, O’Neill did not live with his first wife and instead devoted his energies to a string of odd jobs that his father found for him, including assistant stage manager (1910), actor (1912), and sailor.

O’Neill found new strength at sea, and when he returned, he arranged to be caught with a prostitute so that he could legally get a divorce from his first wife. He then attempted suicide, and when he recovered, he found out that he had the lung disease tuberculosis. In 1914, while recuperating in a sanitarium, O’Neill decided to become a playwright and spent a year at Harvard taking a playwriting course. His first plays were short, one-act productions, many of which drew on his experiences at sea. These short plays led to some success. In 1918 O’Neill wrote his first full-length play that went into production, Beyond the Horizon. The play marked his debut on Broadway, in 1920, and won the Pulitzer Prize the same year. O’Neill received many other awards for his plays, including Pulitzer Prizes for Anna Christie (1922) and Strange Interlude (1928).

Although he received the Nobel Prize in literature in 1936, O’Neill’s tragedies were no longer enjoyed by an America that was, at this point, in the grips of the Great Depression. Days Without End (1933), for example, was not received well. O’Neill shunned theater production for the rest of his life and concentrated on writing distinctly autobiographical plays, including The Iceman Cometh (1946) and Long Day’s Journey into Night (1957), a painful play that was so close to O’Neill’s experiences that he delayed publication until after his death. O’Neill died on November 27, 1953, in Boston, Massachusetts.