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Tymon Smith

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Footnotes: Eugene O’Neill

It is said that when he died in Room 401 of the Sheraton Hotel in Boston on November 27 1953 at the age of 65, Eugene Gladstone O’Neill, America’s greatest playwright, uttered these last words: “I knew it. I knew it. Born in a hotel room and, Goddamn it, died in a hotel room.”

The 1936 Nobel laureate and four-time Pulitzer Prize winner was born 123 years ago today in a room of the Barrett Hotel in what is now Times Square, New York (according to Wikipedia, the site is now home to a Starbucks coffee shop).

The son of an Irish immigrant actor, O’Neill spent several years at sea after expulsion from Princeton University and developed a great love of the ocean which became a prominent subject in many of his plays. He suffered from depression and alcoholism and spent a year at a sanatorium in 1912 recovering from tuberculosis. The events leading up to his departure for the sanatorium formed the basis for his most well-known play, Long Day’s Journey into Night.

Although not published until three years after his death, the autobiographical masterpiece received critical acclaim and earned him his fourth, posthumous Pulitzer Prize.

Credited with being a pioneer in American theatre of the realist genre popularised in Europe by Chekhov, Ibsen and Strindberg, O’Neill wrote mostly tragic works that are among the touchstones of theatre around the world and are still performed today.


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