Eugene Gladstone O’Neill
1888 – 1953
America’s First Major Playwright
When Eugene O’Neill began writing for the stage early in the 20th century, the American theatre was dominated by vaudeville and romantic melodramas. Influenced by Strindberg, Ibsen, and other European playwrights, O’Neill vowed to create a theatre in America, stripped of false sentimentality, which would explore the deepest stirrings of the human spirit. In 1914, he wrote: “I want to be an artist or nothing.”
During the 1920s, he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for three of his plays–Beyond the Horizon, “Anna Christie,” and Strange Interlude. Other popular successes, including The Emperor Jones, The Hairy Ape, Desire Under the Elms, The Great God Brown, and Mourning Becomes Electra, brought him international acclaim. In 1936, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature–the only American playwright to be so honored.
O’Neill experimented with new dramatic techniques and dared tackle such controversial issues as interracial marriage, the equality of the sexes, the power of the unconscious mind, and the hold of materialism on the American soul. In each of his plays, he sought to reveal the mysterious forces “behind life” which shape human destiny.
Three of his final works, written at Tao House, tower over the others: The Iceman Cometh, Long Day’s Journey into Night, and A Moon for the Misbegotten. These autobiographical plays portray, with “faithful realism,” the haunting figures of his father, mother, and brother who loom in the background of most of his other plays. He was awarded a fourth Pulitzer Prize, posthumously, in 1956 for Long Day’s Journey into Night.
In a career which spanned three decades, Eugene O’Neill changed the American theatre forever.