About the Sheaffer-O'Neill Collection
Louis Slung was born and
raised in Louisville, Kentucky. He spent one year as an undergraduate at
the University of North Carolina, in the footsteps of his hero Thomas
Wolfe, but soon moved north to New York where he worked in a succession
of odd jobs before shipping out to sea for a trip to Seattle via the
Panama Canal. From 1934 he worked as a newspaperman and drama critic for
the Brooklyn Eagle until the demise of the newspaper in 1955, with a
hiatus for service during World War II. Somewhere along the line he
changed his surname from Slung to Sheaffer, which he amusingly called
his “pen” name, referring to the famous fountain pen company. Finding
himself unemployed and calling upon the experience and connections from
his years as a drama critic, Sheaffer became the press agent for José
Quintero’s production of The Iceman Cometh at the Circle in the
Square in 1956, which launched the revival of interest in the plays of
Eugene O’Neill. He was also the press agent for the first New York
production of Long Day’s Journey into Night, at the Helen Hayes
Theatre, starring Fredric March, Florence Eldridge and Jason Robards,
Jr. These events provided the galvanizing impetus for Sheaffer’s
decision to write a biography of Eugene O’Neill.
To his biography of Eugene O’Neill Louis Sheaffer brought the investigative skills, thoroughness and persistence in the pursuit of facts and sources of a good newspaperman, the insights and knowledge of the theater acquired during years of experience as a drama critic, and something else as well . William Phillips, the editor-in-chief at Little, Brown, and the last of a series of editors who worked with Sheaffer during the long project, wrote about him:
By the time he had published his biography of Eugene
O’Neill, Louis Sheaffer’s enormous mass of documents, photographs and
books accumulated during the course of his research had long outgrown
the space available in his small apartment on Montague Terrace and other
rented storage places. He realized that his collection would be a
treasure trove for other writers because his research had been so
exhaustive. Originally, it had been his hope that the papers would go to
the New York Public Library, or to the research libraries of one of the
large universities, and for many years he tried to sell the collection.
In 1991 he wrote to Brian Rogers, at that time the Librarian of the
College, with the proposal that Connecticut College buy his O’Neill
collection, the most important one in private hands.
The Sheaffer-O'Neill collection is an archive of the life and works of Eugene O'Neill formed by Sheaffer's work on his two-volume biography. The success of Sheaffer's biography derives in large part from the extensive research he carried out over some twenty years, and the detailed picture of O'Neill that emerged. All reviews referred to the wealth of information presented in both volumes. The voluminous documentary evidence comprising the Collection fills over 40 archive boxes.
A unique and notable feature of the Collection is the author's typewritten notes from the hundreds of interviews he conducted with individuals who knew O'Neill personally, or knew his relatives, friends or associates. Among the important figures in the O'Neill story with whom Sheaffer became friends and corresponded are the playwright's second wife, Agnes Boulton O'Neill, his third wife, Carlotta Monterey O'Neill, Agnes' daughter Barbara Burton and sister Margery Colman, Lady Oona O'Neill Chaplin (O'Neill's daughter), Jessica Rippin (one of the young O'Neill's New London friends), Beatrice Ashe Maher (O'Neill's most serious New London-era girlfriend), Dorothy Commins (the wife of O'Neill's editor, Saxe Commins), and Cynthia Chapman Stram (Carlotta O'Neill's daughter by an earlier marriage), as well as Mrs. Stram's husband and son.
In addition to 53 of Eugene O'Neill's original letters, the Collection includes several hundred copies or transcripts of important O'Neill letters held by other libraries. There are copies or transcripts of many letters written by Carlotta O'Neill, chiefly to friends, and several from Agnes O'Neill to Eugene. A complete set of Eugene's letters to Beatrice Ashe were copied by Sheaffer from the originals in the Berg Collection of the New York Public Library.
Alphabetical name files contain documents and clippings pertaining to most of the principal figures in the O'Neill story and many of the lesser ones: school classmates, New London-era friends, the Provincetown and Greenwich Village crowd, and those who were personally or professionally associated with him as he rose to the height of his fame in the 1930's. There are extensive clippings files on the plays and a collection of playbills. Several files are devoted to the Provincetown Players and the Theatre Guild.
A picture collection of about 400 prints and negatives includes many formal portraits and informal snapshots of O'Neill at all ages; his wives, children and friends, pictures of the places where they lived, and scenes from productions of his plays.
An extensive O'Neill book collection was formed at Connecticut College before the acquisition of the Sheaffer papers and includes first or limited editions of the plays, scholarly monographs on O'Neill and his works, article offprints, and complete files of the Eugene O'Neill Review and the Eugene O'Neill Newsletter
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