Wednesday, November 20, 2013

To some extent, Elizabeth Jordan’s depiction of Eugene O’Neill’s world as sunless and sinister was quite accurate. He suffered and saw the sins and suffering of others. Dorothy Day recounts the day when she and O’Neill witnessed O’Neill’s friend Louis Holliday inject enough heroin to kill himself in a Greenwich Village bar in 1918. The incident affected both Day and O’Neill deeply. Soon after Holliday’s death, Day left the Village and became a nursing student, and Eugene left for Provincetown. The death haunted O’Neill all his life.

Because of his illness, O’Neill was unable to grip a pen and write anything during the last seven years of his life. Having moved to Marblehead, Mass., he became isolated. He did not want to see others, nor did anyone wish to see him. In 1950, O’Neill’s son, Eugene Jr., committed suicide. The event was especially gruesome; some time after his son had slashed his wrists and one of his ankles in a bathtub, he tried to save himself and died on the floor of his house near the front door. O’Neill did not attend his son’s funeral. He was also estranged from his daughter, Oona, after she married Charlie Chaplin. Another son, Shane, was a heroin addict also disowned by his father. Shane O’Neill committed suicide in 1977. In the last years of his life, O’Neill made his third wife sole executor of his estate and made no mention of his children.

This was a dark world that was saturated with death and desire for death. But it is not, as Elizabeth Jordan pointed out in 1928, a world confined to Eugene O’Neill.

Read it all.

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