Long Day's Journey into Night: Biography: Eugene O'Neill
Eugene O'Neill, who is generally regarded as America's finest playwright, was born on October 16, 1888, in New York City, the youngest son of James (a successful actor) and Mary Ellen (Quinlan) O'Neill. The family was Irish-Catholic, and O'Neill was sent to a Catholic boarding school and then to Betts Academy in Stamford, Connecticut, before enrolling at Princeton University in 1906. He left Princeton a year later.
O'Neill was emotionally scarred by his mother's addition to morphine, and the fact that it was his birth that precipitated her addiction. She tried to commit suicide in 1902.
In 1909, O'Neill married Kathleen Jenkins, and went to Honduras on a gold-prospecting expedition. He returned to New York in 1910, the year his son, Eugene Gladstone Jr., was born. He then sailed to Argentina, where he worked various jobs but spent much of his time drinking. Returning the following year, he then sailed from New York to Southampton, England, returning to New York in August, 1911.
The year 1912 was a crucial one for O'Neill. He continued to drink heavily, and lacking stable employment, was forced to depend on his father for financial assistance. He attempted suicide by taking a drug overdose, and he also divorced his wife. During the summer and fall, his father took him to their summer house in New London, Connecticut. This is the period of O'Neill's life that appears in the character of Edmund in O'Neill's play, Long Day's Journey Into Night, which is set in 1912.
At the end of the year, O'Neill entered a sanatorium for treatment of tuberculosis, and he remained there for six months. In the sanatorium, he read widely and wrote his first play, A Wife for a Life, as well as eight one-act plays and two long plays.
Now with a firm desire to become a playwright, O'Neill completed a year of study in the playwriting course at Harvard University from 1914 to 1915. A year later, two of his plays, Bound East for Cardiff and Thirst, were produced by an amateur group.
In 1918, O'Neill married Agnes Boulton, a writer. They were to have two children. It was not long before O'Neill's work attracted attention, and his first important play, Beyond the Horizon (1920) was produced in New York and won the Pulitzer Prize. His next play, The Emperor Jones (1920), met with international success, and in 1921, his play Anna Christie won O'Neill a second Pulitzer Prize. The following year, The Hairy Ape received widespread acclaim, and O'Neill was established as the leading American dramatist of the day. The financial rewards of success enabled him to buy a farm at Ridgefield, Connecticut.
During the remainder of the 1920s, O'Neill wrote several major plays, including Desire Under the Elms (1924), The Great God Brown (1926), Lazarus Laughed (1927), and Strange Interlude (1928). Strange Interlude, which lasted for nearly five hours in performance, is often regarded as the first play in which O'Neill revealed his full power as a dramatist. It won for him his third Pulitzer Prize. It was followed by Dynamo in 1929.
In 1929, O'Neill divorced his wife and married an actress, Carlotta Monterey. They traveled extensively and finally settled in California in 1937. During the early 1930s, O'Neill wrote Mourning Becomes Electra (1931), the comedy Ah, Wilderness! (1933) and Days Without End (1933). In 1936, O'Neill won the Nobel Prize for Literature, the first American dramatist to receive the award.
Although he was regularly dogged by ill-health, O'Neill still had enough creative energy to write the two plays that are now the most highly regarded by critics: The Iceman Cometh (written in 1939 and produced in 1946), and Long Day's Journey Into Night, written in 1941 but not staged until three years after his death. This autobiographical play about the troubles of the O'Neill family won O'Neill's fourth Pulitzer Prize, in 1957.
Illness prevented O'Neill writing any plays during the last decade of his life. He died of pneumonia on November 27, 1953, in Boston, Massachusetts.
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