Biography Eugene O'Neill

Eugene O'Neill

photo of Eugene O'Neill
  • Time Period1888 - 1953
  • Place
  • CountryUnited States

Poet Biography

Eugene (Gladstone) O'Neill was born in a Broadway hotel room in New York City on October 16, 1888. O'Neill's father, James O'Neill, was one of Nineteenth Century America's most popular actors. As a youngster Eugene spent much of his time on national tours with his father. In 1906 he entered Princeton but was soon expelled. He married in 1909 but divorced within three years, however he did have a son during the time he was married. By 1912, O'Neill had held a multitude of odd jobs, including one as a gold prospector in Honduras and another as a seaman. He had also become a regular at New York City's flophouses and dingy saloons. That same year he became ill with tuberculosis and was inspired to become a playwright while reading during his recovery.

His career as playwright consisted of three periods. During his realist period, the plays utilize his own experiences, especially those he had as a seaman. In the 1920s he decided to try his hand at expressionism in am effort to capture the forces behind human life on stage. These plays were influenced by ideas of Freidrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and Swedish playwright August Strindberg. During the final of his three periods O'Neill returned to realism. These woks are considered to be his best. The plays in his final period once again draw on his own experiences for their story lines and themes.

O'Neill continued to write until 1944 when he was stricken by a debilitating neurodegenerative disease called cortical cerebellar atrophy. Despite that he lived his life to his fullest and in a letter to a friend he said, "I am far from being a pessimist ... On the contrary, in spite of my scars, I am tickled to death at life! I wouldn't 'go out' and miss the rest of the play for anything!" During his career he won several Pulitzer Prizes, the final being a posthumous win for the first production of "Long Days Journey Into Night".