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Reviewed by:
  • Eugene O'Neill Remembered eds. by Brenda Murphy and George Monteiro Monteiro
  • Kurt Eisen (bio)
BRENDA MURPHY AND GEORGE MONTEIRO, EDS. EUGENE O'NEILL REMEMBERED Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2017. xx + 378 pp. ISBN 978-0817319311

The fifth volume in the American Writers Remembered series edited by Jackson Bryer, Eugene O'Neill Remembered joins the array of primary resources about O'Neill already available in book form—letters, interviews, and full-length memoirs. It gathers a wide range of personal accounts of the playwright into what volume editors Brenda Murphy and George Monteiro call, aptly, "a composite portrait, more cubist than realist" (2). Some of their sources will be familiar, especially to O'Neillians, such as Susan Glaspell's 1926 biography of Jig Cook, The Road to the Temple, which established the origin tale of O'Neill's 1916 emergence as a playwright on the shores of Provincetown, and a lengthier excerpt from Part of a Long Story, the 1958 memoir by O'Neill's second wife, Agnes Boulton. A culling of the rich archive of interviews at Connecticut College by biographer Louis Sheaffer supplies much of the book's content, but Murphy and Monteiro also track down reminiscences of O'Neill in numerous daily newspapers such as the New London Day, Providence Journal, and Hartford Courant, as well as unlikely periodicals as Outdoor America, with its whimsical profile of the great playwright as angler by his friend Harold De Polo. While readers will not find here a sharply etched portrait of the artist or a coherent narrative of his life, they will find a complex, often contradictory collage of O'Neill's temperament as an artist and his presence in the world.

Like a standard biography, the book is organized chronologically. Its six sections begin with accounts from O'Neill's infancy through his early [End Page 179] adulthood and forays into playwriting, followed by his early collaborations with the Provincetown Players and eventual Broadway eminence. It concludes with the period of his retreat from the New York stage in the mid-1930s, his brief return with The Iceman Cometh in 1946, and his final years of decline leading to his death in 1953. A brief chronology of O'Neill's life is placed at the beginning of the book as a kind of map to the journey that follows, and the book's sixty-two entries are numbered continuously across the sections. The editors also helpfully provide a bibliography of "additional reminiscences" they have chosen not to include but that might be of interest to scholars.

The sheer range of these voices is one of the book's key strengths. Featured are such mandatory figures as Frederick P. Latimer, the hometown newspaper editor who recognized O'Neill's native literary talent, and critic George P. Nathan, O'Neill's longtime friend and supporter. Likewise, his third wife, Carlotta Monterey, makes a forceful entrance in the final two sections, while close friend and editor Saxe Commins provides a counternarrative to Carlotta's story of the tumultuous final years of the man she called "the Master." In fact, all three of O'Neill's wives make an appearance, the briefest of them understandably being Kathleen Jenkins Pitt-Smith, whom O'Neill married in 1909 after he impregnated her (though they never lived together), represented here with notes from Sheaffer's 1962 interview with her.

Several well-known figures whose careers only briefly linked to O'Neill's are heard, notably the poets Hart Crane and William Carlos Williams, the writer and critic Edmund Wilson, and actress Ingrid Bergman. Perhaps surprisingly, among the big names in the book several of his more significant collaborators are missing: Jig Cook, Robert Edmond Jones, Kenneth Macgowan, Philip Moeller, and James Light, for example, suggesting either that they didn't make the cut or that no worthy O'Neill reminiscences from them are extant. On the other hand, relatively unknown figures from his personal life offer vivid if not radically revisionist views of O'Neill's temperament, allowing the reader to see "Gene" the man as distinct from "O'Neill" the great American playwright.

Extending the old adage that no man is...


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pp. 179-182
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