“The past is the present, isn’t it? It’s the future too.”-EUGENE O’NEILL, Long Day’s Journey Into Night
A real New Yorker was born today in 1888, playwright, Eugene O’Neill! I used to love reading all of his plays and I do remember seeing quite a few on Broadway with such stars as: Colleen Dewhurst, Liv Ullmann, Cherry Jones, Jason Robards. Many of the plays I saw were directed by the great Jose Quintero who was dedicated to O’Neill. Quintero had met O’Neill’s widow, Carlotta to ask permission to stage a revival of one of his plays. Here’s how the meeting went: “Dressed all in black, as was her custom, Mrs. O’Neill received Quintero and led him to her room. “She almost performed a ritual, a strange ritual, with her hats,” Quintero, who has been teaching at Cal State Fullerton for the last several years, recalled last week. After modeling one hat after another–all of them black–Mrs. O’Neill asked Quintero’s opinion of one in particular. “That one is the most beautiful of all,” he told her. It was the hat she had worn for her husband’s burial less than 3 years before. “That was the reason she gave me the rights to do ‘The Iceman Cometh,’ ” Quintero said. “It was almost like passing some kind of test.”–Rick Vanderknyff, Los Angeles Times, 5/21/89
Both playwright Eugene O’Neill and director Jose Quintero had illness in common. O’Neill couldn’t write for the last 10 years of his life due to tremors and Quintero developed cancer of the throat; also, their birthdays are one day apart.
If you’ve seen O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night then you know his dad, James, was an actor and theater was the family’s life. I’ll never forget the film version starring Katharine Hepburn as Eugene’s mom and the great Sir Ralph Richardson as the ever-domineering presence, James O’Neill. “Eugene, who was born in a hotel, spent his early childhood in hotel rooms, on trains, and backstage. Although he later deplored the nightmare insecurity of his early years and blamed his father for the difficult, rough-and-tumble life the family led–a life that resulted in his mother’s drug addiction–Eugene had the theatre in his blood. He was also, as a child, steeped in the peasant Irish Catholicism of his father and the more genteel, mystical piety of his mother, two influences, often in dramatic conflict, which account for the high sense of drama and the struggle with God and religion that distinguish O’Neill’s plays.”– © 1999-2000 Britannica.com and Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.
I also was fascinated with O’Neill’s daughter, Oona, who married a much older Charlie Chaplin…that’s another interesting story as well!