Appropriately enough, O'Neill was born on Broadway, the child of Irish immigrants, his father an actor. He went to boarding school and then to Princeton but he dropped out of college after a year, one story holding that he was kicked out for throwing a bottle in Professor Woodrow Wilson's window. O'Neill then worked as a merchant sailor, where the alcoholism and depression that made his plays so cheerful first developed.
His life got even more cheerful when he contracted tuberculosis, which led to him leaving the merchant sailor life and starting a literary career. His first published play, Beyond the Horizon, won the Pulitzer Prize and immediately made him famous in the theater world. He won the Pulitzer Prize four times in his career, including posthumously for Long Day's Journey Into Night, a play that O'Neill insisted not be staged until after his death due to its highly autobiographical story. He also won the Nobel Prize in Literature.
O'Neill's personal life was just as depressing as his plays. His brother drank himself to death. His second wife became a drug addict. His oldest son was an alcoholic who killed himself in 1950. His younger son was a heroin addict who killed himself in 1977. And he disowned his only daughter, Oona O'Neill, after 18-year-old Oona married 54-year-old Charlie Chaplin, a man almost Eugene's own age, in 1943.
Eugene O'Neill plays on the wiki:
- Beyond the Horizon (1920)
- The Emperor Jones (1920)
- Anna Christie (1921)
- Strange Interlude (1928)
- Long Day's Journey Into Night (1957)
- The Long Voyage Home (1940): John Ford film adapted from four one-act O'Neill plays about life in the merchant marine
Other works by Eugene O'Neill contains examples of:
- Greek Chorus: In Mourning Becomes Electra, a retelling of The Oresteia by Aeschylus set in a 1930s American town, the various townsfolk fill the role of a Greek chorus, commenting on the events of the play and the main characters' behavior.
- Literary Allusion Title: Ah, Wilderness! is from Edward FitzGerald's Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám:A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread—and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness—
Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!
- Only Known by Their Nickname: "Yank", the protagonist of The Hairy Ape. In one of the later scenes, he gives his name as Bob Smith, "but I been just Yank for so long."
- Setting Update: Mourning Becomes Electra is a classical Greek tragedy reset in America during the Depression.
- Title Drop: Played with in Ah, Wilderness!; the protagonist starts reciting the quatrain that the play took its name from, but is interrupted just before he actually says the title.