Biography of Famous Playwrights: Eugene O'Neill Part 1

About the famous American playwright Eugene O'Neill, history and biography about the master of drama.

Eugene O'Neill (1888-1953)

I find artificial light more appropriate for my work--man's light, not God's--man's feeble striving to understand himself, to exist for himself in the darkness!

Mourning Becomes Electra, Act II

(The Haunted)

Eugene O'Neill's decision to become a playwright came about after he was hospitalized for 5 months with tuberculosis in a sanatorium at Wallingford, Conn., in 1912. Forced to remain inactive, the ex-sailor decided to read the plays of Strindberg and Ibsen. During his long convalescence, he completed 11 one-act dramas and 2 full-length efforts. Six were eventually published as Thirst and Other Plays. The other 7 were destroyed.

The experiences O'Neill garnered while shipping out on freighters plying the North and South Atlantic provided the inspiration for his initial cycle of plays about the sea. Bound East for Cardiff, the one-act piece that 1st brought O'Neill to public attention, dealt with the last thoughts of a dying sailor. It was produced at Provincetown, on Cape Cod--so successfully that the company moved to New York City to continue as the famed Provincetown Players in Greenwich Village. In 1917, he wrote The Long Voyage Home, based on recollections about sailors in a London bar, and Ile (Oil), the story of a captain who, in the Melville Moby Dick tradition, relentlessly pursued a hunt for whales although his crew threatened to mutiny and his wife was losing her sanity. O'Neill concluded the initial series in 1918 with The Man of the Caribees (a crisis erupts on the ship Glencairn when women are brought aboard) and Where the Cross Is Made (a tale of another obsessed captain).

In 1920, O'Neill, turning his full attention to longer works, finished Beyond the Horizon. It ran over 100 performances and won for him the 1st of his many Pulitzer Prizes. Within the decade, he had added 2 more Pulitzers: for the tragic Anna Christie (1922), and Strange Interlude (1928), a psychological drama laced with searching soliloquies and asides.

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