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epilogue: The Haunted

On June 21, 1955, Yale University announced that " Carlotta Monterey O'Neill, widow of the Nobel-Prize-winning playwright Eugene O'Neill, has given the University the American and Canadian rights of Mr. O'Neill's unpublished play 'Long Day's Journey Into Night.' The Yale University Press will publish the new play next February 20, 1956." The announcement went on to say that the deed of the gift to Yale provides that income from publication of the play is to be used for "the upkeep of the Eugene O'Neill Collection in the Library, for the purchase of books on the drama, and for the Eugene O'Neill scholarships in the Yale Drama School."

The announcement immediately raised the question, what happened to the playwright's stipulation that Long Day's Journey was not to be published or produced until twenty-five years after his death? The answer was made public a year later when Carlotta revealed that her late husband himself had suggested an earlier release of the play. The provision for withholding the play had been made, she told The NewYork Times in June, 1956, "because he had been urged to do so by his son Eugene junior for his son's own personal reasons. Some time after his son's death, which took place in 1950, my husband told me that he could no longer see any reason for withholding production or publication of the play, and we had many discussions before my husband's death looking toward its early release."

When Long Day's Journey into Night appeared in the bookstores, a friend lent Shane a copy. Later, when the friend asked him what he thought of this tale of his O'Neill grandparents, his Uncle Jamie and his own father, Shane said, "I found the book very interesting but I can't understand why it should be of interest to anyone except a member of our family. It's very personal."

Shane's nocturnal wanderings around Point Pleasant caused complaints to be registered with the police. He sometimes walked along the street talking to himself. On one occasion, the early morning of May 2, 1956, an elderly lady in Point Pleasant told the police that she had been awakened by noises outside her ground-floor bedroom window, and in the moonlight she had seen Shane's gaunt face peering into the room. He was again booked on a charge of being a disorderly person, and he was sentenced to twenty days in the Ocean County jail.

Dr. W. G. Hayden, the prison doctor, examined him. Shane at this time would occasionally go for days without eating. One by one his teeth had fallen out, and he had let his hair grow long and bushy. "He was a complete physical wreck," Hayden said. "He had several hundred Benzedrine tablets on him when he was picked up. I have no doubt that his taking Benezdrine caused his difficulty." The doctor thought that Shane should be committed to a mental institution.

Agnes intervened and for a time it appeared that a way might be worked out for Shane to get medical and psychiatric help while remaining at home. Shane, however, objected so vigorously to getting any sort of help that the doctors decided to proceed with his commitment. He was admitted to Ancora State Hospital (for the mentally ill) on May 21. "He is suffering from malnutrition and vitamin deficiency. . . shows mental deterioration because of long indiscriminate use of drugs," his report read. "Insight and judgment poor. Has visible tremors of the hands and mouth. Appears depressed and discouraged." Shane was specifically committed for "treatment as a Benzedrine addict."

In June, Cathy received some of her inheritance in cash and she bought for $9,000 a small house with a two-car garage several blocks away from Old House. "I figured," she said, "that I'd fix it so that at least we'd always have a place to live."

Shane's health improved steadily at Ancora. He put on weight rapidly, partly the result of being outfitted with a set of false teeth. Agnes and Cathy came to visit him once a week, although it was a long trip from Point Pleasant. By the end of the summer he was able to come home for a temporary visit. He loved the home that Cathy had bought and begged her to help him get released from Ancora. Cathy talked to one of the psychiatrists at the hospital and he told her, she says, that there was "nothing really wrong with Shane." He added, of course, that it was important to his physical and mental health that Shane give up all drugs, including Benzedrine. Shane was released September 12, 1956.

That fall, Carlotta wrote to José Quintero and asked him to call at her suite at the Hotel Lowell on Sixty-eighth Street just off Madison Avenue. Carlotta and José had tea together.

"We were talking," Carlotta has said, "and I said, ' José, would you like to put on Long Day's Journey into Night?' I thought the man was going to faint. I really did, he was in such a state. I said, 'yes, I ask you this because you deserve it for what you did [with The Iceman Cometh.] You took a play that had been badly produced and revived it in New York where that is poison. . . Now I trust you, I have talked to you enough, I know you well enough, your subtlety; you know O'Neill, you know what he says, what he means by what he says and nobody else that I know of in this business does. . . .' He [Quintero] stumbled out and said, 'I'm a wreck.' But he did deserve it."

Quintero has described Carlotta that day in her apartment as "a lady of medium height, her black hair pulled back and cut short at the back of the neck. The dark penetrating eyes were arresting in the steadiness of their gaze. She was dressed in black, which she wore with distinction." He has said she talked about her husband's work almost as though he were in the room. There were pictures of him everywhere-when he was young, lean, handsome -- and of him and Carlotta on their honeymoon in Paris. On the bookshelves were three or four copies of each of his plays. She spoke feelingly of her husband's dedication to his work. She said, almost sadly, that the only thing he really cared about was his work.

"I left the apartment," Quintero has said, "almost believing that permission to do the play had come from the dead dramatist himself. It was less a permission than a sacred charge."

The American première of Long Day's Journey into Night was given in Boston on October 16, 1956, Eugene O'Neill's sixty-eighth birthday. (The world première had been given in Stockholm the previous February.) After Long Day's Journey opened in New York, Brooks Atkinson of The Times pointed out that O'Neill's "mother's drug addiction is the dramatic focus of the play. . . the characters are victims of fate. They cannot control dark forces that shape their destinies. . . The creative contribution. . . is the sense of doom that emerges from all parts of the story." In summing up, Atkinson wrote: "Let's agree it is a masterpiece. . . nothing he wrote has the size, perspective, patience and mercy of Long Day's Journey into Night. . . The pity, the understanding, and the forgiveness spread like a kind of sorrowful benediction and bring a relentless drama to a magnificent conclusion."

In addition to winning for the late playwright his fourth Pulitzer Prize for Drama, the play was voted by the drama critics the best play of the year. The play launched a new Eugene O'Neill revival. Plans were set in motion to revive A Moon for the Misbegotten. A musical comedy version of Anna Christie, to be called New Girl in Town, was put in rehearsal.

Shane and Cathy, without a telephone and seldom reading the newspapers, were almost unaware that his father's fame was once again in the ascendancy. The New York Post received a tip that Eugene O'Neill's son was "somewhere in New Jersey" and assigned Helen Dudar to get the story.

Miss Dudar spent almost an entire afternoon with Cathy and Shane in their Point Pleasant living room. To repeated questions as to whether he was bitter at the way his father had treated him over the years, Shane replied, "I don't bear him any resentment." He said he had "licked" his drug addiction. Why his father had stopped seeing him, he said he had never been able to figure out.

"I've thought a lot about it -- maybe he got mad because I didn't write. I wanted to write -- I wanted to write him about his plays -I thought I understood what he was saying."

Miss Dudar saw Shane as "tall, gaunt almost to the point of emaciation as he sits rocking nervously in his living room. . . choking out his words. . . his hands and his eyes betray defeat in some inner struggle. . . . Shane's hands tremble. He clutches one of his children's dolls to hide the tremor, but his speech will not hold still. He converses, not as if he wanted to, but as if he must in order not to incur displeasure. The words tumble out in disjointed, broken sentences, as uncertain as his own view of life." Shane had misplaced his false teeth that afternoon and Miss Dudar noted that "the deep crevices created by his missing teeth, the downward slope of the sad eyes, gave his face the look of an elongated Greek drama mask of tragedy." Miss Dudar saw him as she drove away "in the gathering twilight, the tall, shivering figure looks like a hesitant stranger, newly arrived, not quite at home."

One afternoon Carlotta asked Quintero to take her to the Helen Hayes Theatre where she could watch, unobserved, a rehearsal of Journey. She came dressed completely in black, Quintero has said, her intense dark eyes looking straight before her as she entered the theater. As the rehearsal progressed, she sat erect. She held her back like a ramrod, not even touching the back of her chair. Once or twice she relaxed and put her foot on the balcony rail.

When the rehearsal was over, Carlotta sat for a long time without saying a word and then asked one of Quintero's partners, "Do you think it would be proper for me to go backstage and speak to the actors?"

As the widow came on the stage with the assembled actors, there was a stunned silence. It lasted for what seemed like a long time.

"I don't know what to say," Carlotta said, "how to express it."

She walked over to Fredric March, and very solemnly shook his hand. Then she kissed Florence Eldridge, his wife. (The Marches played the parts of James and Mary Tyrone.) For a moment or two Carlotta looked from face to face among the actors.

"Where's my baby?" she said. "Where's my Gene?" Bradford Dilman, the young actor who had played the part of Edmund Tyrone, was standing near the stage door. She walked over and, according to Quintero, "embraced him with great tenderness."

After the cast had said good-by and left, Carlotta chatted some more with Quintero. Finally she took his hand and slipped a plain gold ring on his finger.

"Wear this," she said. "It's Gene's wedding ring. Wear it. It will bring you luck."

In July of 1957, Shane received a typewritten letter from the Wall Street law firm of Cadwalader, Wickersham and Taft.

"Dear Mr. O'Neill," the letter said, "We are writing on behalf of our client, your late father's widow, Carlotta Monterey O'Neill, in connection with a number of your father's United States copyrights in which you have or may have an interest." The letter stated that Shane, under a new court decision concerning another case but setting a precedent, was entitled, together with Oona, to $14,497.40 in accrued royalties earned by Strange Interlude and Dynamo. In March, 1958, he and Oona would have another $5,000 to divide. This meant also that in the future, Shane and Oona would share in Mourning Becomes Electra when it came up for copyright renewal in 1961.

Shane read the letter but threw it aside, entirely indifferent to his good fortune. Later, on urging from Cathy and his mother, he said he was willing to do whatever Oona wanted to do. He bought what he thought was "a pretty colored postcard" which he intended to send to Carlotta. He wrote her that he hoped she was well and happy. He carried the card around in his pocket for a long time and then lost it.

Late in the winter of 1958, Shane took a walk along the New Jersey shore with this writer. "I'm bored," he said, "with all this talk about me and my father. It doesn't interest me. I think people are bored with me. Now look over there at those fishing boats. They're beauties, perfect for lobstering. And there's the Caroline E and she's for sale. That's because she's old. I used to work on her fifteen years ago. I'd like to sail on her again.

"I don't understand this civilization. Sometimes I think we should export all the children to the Himalayas and develop a new, a superior civilization." His eyes turned toward the sea and fell on a fishing boat bobbing up and down on the horizon. "I'd like to go to sea again," he said. "I liked it out there."

On the way back to the house, I asked Shane if he didn't think he ought to pay some attention to money matters on account of Cathy and the children. No, he said, they would be taken care of. It didn't matter what he did or anyone did; things turned out just the same. You got by or you didn't.

"Things might have been different in the past," he said. "I would like to have kept Spithead, but everybody wanted to get something out of it.

"But it doesn't matter. What's done is done. What happens to me doesn't make much difference. Maybe I'll get a good job and keep it. In any case, it doesn't matter. It's of great indifference to me."

As Shane and I walked in the twilight along the marshes, a flock of ducks rose with a whir, beating their wings against the sky. Shane looked up, pleased and happy.

"I'm sure they have some language of their own," he said, "some way of speaking to each other."
 

Premieres of O'Neill Plays in America
 

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