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Editor: Harley Hammerman
St. Louis, Missouri

Volume 5


What They Really Saw:
Using Archives to Reconstruct the
Censored Performance of
Eugene O’Neill’s Strange Interlude

Claudia Wilsch Case
Lehman College, City University of New York

Strange Interlude was the second Eugene O’Neill play staged by the Theatre Guild on Broadway, following the Guild’s 1928 premiere of Marco Millions. The Theatre Guild was founded in 1919 by former members of the Washington Square Players and made its name by producing artistically and financially successful plays for subscription audiences in New York and throughout the country. Written in the mid-1920s, Strange Interlude was unconventional in several ways for a commercial production: its theme was controversial (it expressed a belief in science over religion, and openly discussed the topics of abortion and adultery), its dialogue was interspersed with soliloquies and asides revealing the private thoughts of its characters, and its nine acts took nearly five hours to perform. The production was directed by Philip Moeller, a member of the Theatre Guild’s board of managers.

As he often did with his plays, O’Neill reworked Strange Interlude for publication, and the printed version does not correspond to the texts that were used in performance. Moeller’s director’s script and two different promptbooks reflect cuts and revisions made out of aesthetic and commercial considerations for the 1928 New York premiere and to appease the censors in Boston in 1929. In order to detail O’Neill’s process and to assess the influence of the Theatre Guild on the production of Strange Interlude, it is necessary to compare the published version to drafts of the play, the director’s script, and the promptbooks. These materials are housed in four different archives—the Billy Rose Theatre Division at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, the Beinecke Library at Yale, the Manuscripts and Archives Division of the New York Public Library, and a private collection—which makes these comparisons difficult, but not impossible. In the end, we are afforded a clearer, though still imperfect, picture of what the first audiences of this play actually saw performed onstage.

O’Neill submitted a first draft of Strange Interlude to the Theatre Guild in the spring of 1927. After much discussion among its six-member board of managers, the Guild took out an option on the play, but asked the author to trim his nine-act work before they would consider it for production.[1] O’Neill began discussing cuts and other textual changes with the producers, and the evolution of Strange Interlude from first draft to Broadway promptbook must be considered the result of these conversations. The manuscripts that are of particular interest when tracing the development of the New York performance text are a clean copy of O’Neill’s first draft, held by The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, an intermediate draft, Philip Moeller’s director’s script, and the promptbook typed at the conclusion of the Broadway run. The intermediate draft of Strange Interlude is archived in the Eugene O’Neill Papers at the Beinecke Library, the director’s script is housed in the Eugene O’Neill Papers at the Manuscripts and Archives Division of the New York Public Library, and the New York promptbook is held in the Beinecke’s Theatre Guild Collection.

Strange Interlude chronicles the life of Nina Leeds, who has experienced a nervous breakdown after she lost her fiancé Gordon Shaw in World War I. Following the advice of neurologist Dr. Ned Darrell, who has been studying her as a medical case, Nina marries the weak and devoted Sam Evans. When Sam’s mother realizes that Nina is pregnant, she feels compelled to divulge a family secret to her. She tells Nina that—unbeknownst to Sam—insanity has run in the Evans family for generations, and that Nina needs to abort Sam’s baby. Mrs. Evans warns Nina that abandoning Sam might precipitate his descent into madness, but she is sympathetic to Nina’s desire to find happiness in a child.

Having freed herself from the religious beliefs that used to limit her own choices, Mrs. Evans makes an unconventional suggestion. Echoing the concepts of Darwinism and Eugenics, she advises Nina to become pregnant by a man who can give her a healthy baby, and to pass the child off as Sam’s. Nina, who also claims to have lost her faith in God, but who experiences lingering moral scruples about committing adultery, asks Ned Darrell to confirm this idea from a scientific perspective. Darrell finds himself torn between his wish as their friend and doctor to help Nina and Sam have a healthy child, and his sexual attraction to Nina. He eventually suggests himself as the ideal father for Nina’s new baby and tries to design the child’s conception as an emotionally detached scientific experiment. The experiment succeeds, but has the unexpected side effect that Nina and Darrell fall in love.

Despite her affection for Darrell, Nina is unable to leave Sam, and reasons that she needs the love of three men—her husband, her lover, and her asexual fatherly friend Charles Marsden—to be happy (Fig. 1). Over the years, Nina and Darrell grow bitter and weary, while Sam thrives and enjoys the affection of the boy everyone believes to be his son. When Sam dies, following a happy and prosperous life that others helped him lead, Nina accepts a marriage proposal from Marsden, who has been looming in the background for decades, fulfilling the role of Nina’s paternal friend, but secretly desiring her. Nina and Marsden resolve to “rot away in peace” together and to forget about the “strange interlude” that has been Nina’s life.[2] Nina’s is the story of a woman looking to modern science to replace traditional religious values, and O’Neill’s critique of both religion and science is central to the play. By showing Nina’s struggle in a world she perceives as being manipulated by a cruel male god, and by presenting science as a promising but ultimately disappointing tool for human beings to assume control of their lives, O’Neill paints a bleak portrait of America in the 1920s and beyond.

Theatre Guild producers Lawrence Langner, Theresa Helburn, and Maurice Wertheim were supportive of Strange Interlude, and there is evidence that Helburn consulted O’Neill on textual revisions in May 1927 to prepare the play for a Broadway production.[3] Theresa Helburn had begun her career at the Guild as a play reader after studying with George Pierce Baker and working as a theatre critic for The Nation, and she herself was a playwright. As can be gleaned from O’Neill’s correspondence with her, held in the Beinecke’s Theatre Guild archive, Helburn assumed the role of dramaturg in her conversations with O’Neill, consulting him on the development of his modern characters and themes. In her role as producer, she also kept urging O’Neill to cut Strange Interlude as much as possible, so that the nine-act play could be performed in one evening. In this context, Helburn likely advised O’Neill to limit the number of asides, which prolong the play by interrupting the onstage action to reveal the characters’ intimate thoughts, and which bothered some of the Guild’s managers, particularly Lee Simonson, for aesthetic reasons.[4]

O’Neill’s correspondence with Theresa Helburn shows that, in her capacity as dramaturg, she was particularly concerned with the scenes involving Nina and Mrs. Evans and Nina and Darrell in acts three and four, where the sensitive subjects of abortion and adultery are discussed against a backdrop of religious critique and scientific inquiry.[5] Comparisons of O’Neill’s drafts with the director’s script, the New York promptbook, and the published version of Strange Interlude show that these parts underwent significant revision as O’Neill was preparing the play for production. After discussions with Helburn, O’Neill eliminated traces of melodrama from the scenes in question, in particular by fleshing out characters that appear as stereotypes in the first draft.

As an example, Helburn may have encouraged O’Neill to build up Mrs. Evans into a multifaceted character. In the first draft of Strange Interlude, Sam’s mother appears as a melodramatic villain, whose sole motive in recommending an abortion appears to be to inflict pain on Nina. In his intermediate draft, O’Neill cut such lines as Mrs. Evans’ thought, “Drive it into her! Make her suffer what you’ve suffered!” Nina’s obsessively repeated thought, “I hate Sam’s mother,” and her persistent idea that Mrs. Evans “hates” her in turn. O’Neill also eliminated passages indicating that Mrs. Evans is deliberately “torturing” Nina in this scene, that she is “jealous” of her daughter-in-law, intent on “revenging her [own] suffering” on her, and that she “wants to murder [Nina’s] baby.” Further, O’Neill took out Nina’s angry references to Mrs. Evans as a “stupid old fool,” an “imbecile” who is “halfwitted” and “insane.”[6] As a result of O’Neill’s changes, Mrs. Evans emerges as a reasonable and pragmatic modern woman, who introduces the radical idea of aborting a potentially diseased child not out of malice, but out of compassion for her daughter-in-law. By portraying Sam’s mother as a kind person with a morally problematic plan, O’Neill ultimately makes her argument of selective procreation more interesting and convincing to his audience (Fig. 2).

Another revision Helburn may have influenced is O’Neill’s refinement of Nina and Darrell’s interaction when they discuss Nina’s wish for a healthy baby. In O’Neill’s first draft, Darrell is the stereotype of a detached doctor, seeing Nina as a case study rather than a human being. After talking to Helburn, O’Neill made Darrell more genuinely concerned with Nina’s predicament, adding heft to the romantic spark between them. O’Neill cut such overtly melodramatic lines as Nina’s thought that Darrell must see her as “an interesting disease,” Darrell’s aside, “Careful! Don’t offend her or she’ll never tell anything!,” and Nina and Darrell’s repeated references to an “asylum.”[7] As a result, the audience can better appreciate the delicate and complex nature of Darrell and Nina’s project and their developing relationship.

As the play went into rehearsal, O’Neill collaborated principally with Philip Moeller on further condensing and revising the script, but the other five producers also remained involved in the process. Helen Westley was cast in the play, and, as a rule, all Guild producers committed to attending special “managers’ rehearsals” of every Theatre Guild production, which usually took place “two weeks and one week before the opening night.” After these rehearsals, known to insiders as the “death watch,” the producers commented on all aspects of a production, including the script.[8] In the case of Strange Interlude, most textual changes made during rehearsals are documented in Moeller’s director’s script. On an artistic level, those changes include cutting many clumsy Freudian allusions, such as Gordon’s instinctive envy of Darrell, which he expresses by kissing Nina after Darrell has kissed her and thinking, “That makes up for his kiss! That takes it off her mouth!” and deleting Marsden’s unrelenting declarations that he plans to write a novel about his observations, such as, “I’ll write the book of us!”[9]

On a commercial level, the Theatre Guild producers, who had good reason to be preoccupied with the propriety of their shows, encouraged O’Neill to temper Strange Interlude’s frank dialogue in preparation for its Broadway premiere. During the early 1920s, a number of plays with controversial themes, including O’Neill’s All God’s Chillun Got Wings and Desire Under the Elms, had provoked efforts to regulate what could be performed on the New York stage, and a citizens’ play jury was instituted to investigate theatrical productions deemed indecent. In early 1927, events such as the police raids on Edouard Bourdet’s play The Captive, William Dugan’s play The Virgin Man, and Mae West’s play Sex, as well as the banning of West’s The Drag, intensified the public debate on theatrical censorship. This led the New York legislature to contemplate two successive bills making censorship a government affair.

By the time the Theatre Guild received the first draft of Strange Interlude, Theresa Helburn had joined a committee of nine New York theatre professionals who—opposing state-regulated theatrical censorship—set out to “clean up the New York stage” from within.[10] Albany ultimately dismissed the censorship bills, but passed the Wales Padlock Law, which provided New York’s Commissioner of Licenses with the power to suspend a theatre’s operating license for up to one year if a production were convicted of being “obscene, indecent, immoral or impure tending to corrupt the morals of youth [sic] or others” in accordance with Section 1140A of the penal law. [11]

Certain instances of explicit language are cut or modified in the director’s script of Strange Interlude and are missing from the promptbook, but appear in the published play. Most of these alterations are small and do not impede an audience’s appreciation of O’Neill’s text in performance, such as deleting Marsden’s comparison of Nina with a “prostitute,” or eliminating Nina’s provocative line that she is “pregnant with the three” men in her life.[12] Some cuts, however, compromise the integrity of the plot and themes and, paradoxically, reverse the very work Theresa Helburn helped O’Neill accomplish in earlier revisions. For instance, in an effort to subdue the problematic themes of abortion and adultery, the producers may have asked O’Neill to make it less obvious that Mrs. Evans tells Nina to terminate her pregnancy and that Darrell urges her to commit to his experiment. Consequently, Nina’s line “And then Sam’s mother told me I couldn’t have my baby!” is condensed to “And then Sam’s mother told me,” and Darrell’s plea, “Sam’s wife should find a healthy father for Sam’s child at once. It is her sane duty to her husband,” is crossed out.[13] Another significant cut made for reasons of delicacy results in losing the important detail that Darrell proposes to father Nina’s new baby because he is sexually attracted to her. In the first draft and published version, some of Darrell’s private thoughts in act four read,

Let me see . . . I am in the laboratory and they are guinea pigs . . . in fact, in the interest of science, I can be, for the purpose of the experiment, a healthy guinea pig myself and still remain an observer . . . I observe my pulse is high, for example, and that’s obviously because I am stricken with a recurrence of an old desire . . . desire is a natural male reaction to the beauty of the female . . . her husband is my friend . . . I have always tried to help him . . .[14]

In the director’s script, this passage is condensed to the line, “Let me see. I am in the laboratory and they are guinea pigs... in fact, in the interest of science, I can be a healthy guinea pig myself and still remain an observer.”[15] Deleting Darrell’s admission that he is sexually drawn to Nina obscures the complexity of his character and obliterates Darrell’s selfish reasons for volunteering to father Nina’s baby. However, as will be shown later, the Guild’s cuts were not drastic enough to satisfy New York’s District Attorney, who, when called upon, enforced censorship legislation.

Strange Interlude opened on Broadway on January 30, 1928. The original cast included Lynn Fontanne as Nina Leeds, Glenn Anders as Ned Darrell, Earle Larimore as Sam Evans, Tom Powers as Charles Marsden, and Helen Westley as Mrs. Evans. The critics mostly praised the production, and the play became a significant artistic and financial success for the Theatre Guild and for O’Neill, winning the 1928 Pulitzer Prize—his third.

Less than two weeks before Strange Interlude received the award for “the original American play performed in New York which shall best represent the educational value and power of the stage in raising the standard of good morals, good taste and good manners,” Lee Shubert filed a complaint with the District Attorney’s office alleging that Strange Interlude contained “immoral and obscene situations.”[16] The press speculated that Shubert was upset that the District Attorney had forced him to close a production of Simon Gantillon’s Maya, invoking the Wales Padlock Law, and jealous that the Theatre Guild had booked its planned national tour of Strange Interlude through the Erlanger network of theaters.[17] Although District Attorney Joab Banton believed that Shubert had not made his complaint “in good faith,” and found, after inspecting script and performance, that Strange Interlude did not violate the law, he ordered the Guild to revise some offensive lines, and the company obliged.[18] “It would be a splendid idea if great dramatists like Mr. O’Neill . . . would have regard for the taste of the public and not try to offend good taste,” Banton commented.[19]

Lines that are still untouched in the director’s script but are missing from or were altered in the Broadway promptbook are likely examples of changes demanded by Banton. They include, for instance, the replacement of the word “abortion” with the word “operation,” and the further condensation of Darrell’s guinea pig speech.[20] In the promptbook, Darrell’s only remaining line that describes his complex experiment is, “Let me see. I am in the laboratory and they are guinea pigs. . . .” [21] Cutting Darrell’s reference to himself as “a healthy guinea pig” practicing “science” further obscures both the plan to replace a diseased baby with a healthy one and Darrell’s sense of himself as a sexual being. However, it also hides Darrell’s optimistic faith in the objectivity of science, which O’Neill intended to posit as a failed alternative to religious faith. As the Guild would later learn, the fallout from Shubert’s frivolous complaint was only a harbinger of more serious censorship problems to come.

Strange Interlude played on Broadway for a year and a half, with Judith Anderson taking over the role of Nina Leeds a few months into the run. After the production closed in New York, the Broadway cast took Strange Interlude on the road, joining a second Theatre Guild touring company headed by Pauline Lord that had been performing O’Neill’s play throughout the country. Two weeks before the New York company’s first scheduled out-of-town performance in Boston in September 1929, the Theatre Guild was confronted with censorship demands that dwarfed the difficulties in New York.

Boston’s mayor Malcolm Nichols, who was also the chairman of the city’s theatrical licensing board, determined that Strange Interlude was “not a fit spectacle for the public to witness,” and had Boston’s theatrical censor John Casey warn the Theatre Guild that the play would be banned in Boston.[22] Although Nichols was unfamiliar with O’Neill’s play as a whole, he had read excerpts of the more comprehensive published version and called Strange Interlude “a disgusting spectacle of immorality, an advocacy of atheism, of domestic infidelity and the destruction of unborn human life.”[23]

The Guild producers, who believed in the artistic value of Strange Interlude, and who had already sold $40,000 worth of tickets for the Boston showing after advertising it for months, were determined to fight the threatened ban. With the help of Walter Prichard Eaton, who was a member of the jury which awarded Strange Interlude the Pulitzer, Helburn and Langner organized a “citizens’ committee of protest” and discussed the matter on the radio.[24] Eaton commented, “The forces behind censorship in Boston are afraid not of obscenity, for there is plenty of that about, but of modernism and speculation.”[25] The producers contemplated taking legal action against the mayor, but stated they would prefer to work out a compromise so that Strange Interlude could be presented in Boston as planned.

Eager to demonstrate that many of the passages which the Boston authorities found objectionable were not contained in the “acting version” of Strange Interlude, Helburn and Langner presented Mayor Nichols with a “blue-penciled” copy of the more elaborate published edition and encouraged him to recommend further cuts.[26] Lawrence Langner told the Boston Post, “The deletion of a few pages from a great play cannot destroy the whole,” and Theresa Helburn commented, “The play does not depend upon mere words for its effect, and we can easily cut out every one of the words that the Mayor wishes deleted.”[27]

However, Nichols had already told Langner and Helburn that he was not interested in suggesting deletions and considered a “collaboration” with the Theatre Guild “of doubtful value” because he fundamentally “objected to both text and theme” of Strange Interlude.[28] It is likely that the Mayor’s attitude prompted the producers to make additional cuts to the play before they submitted it to him. As Eaton noted, on September 20th Langner and Helburn “spent several hours . . . deleting passages in the published version of the play, so it would correspond to the actual script used in the production.”[29] Yet the text that emerged from these efforts, to which the Guild referred as the “acting version,” was not the New York promptbook, but a substantially condensed version of Strange Interlude that anticipated a broad range of objections by the censor.

As Langner points out, “What upset the censors particularly, we were told, was the reference to an abortion in act 3.”[30] The Beinecke’s Theatre Guild archive preserves a set of notes, scribbled in blue pencil on Boston hotel stationery, that lists certain potentially offensive lines, such as Nina’s thoughts about abortion in act three—“she’s trying to kill my baby” and “I’ll have lost my baby.”[31] These lines, along with many other frankly worded passages from the New York promptbook, are missing from the typescript that emerged from Helburn and Langner’s endeavor to censor the play for Boston. This truncated text is held in Harley Hammerman’s O’Neill Collection in St. Louis. Although his collection is private, Dr. Hammerman has published a finding aid on his website,, and he made this manuscript available to me at Washington University’s library.

The censored script of Strange Interlude is a skeletal version of the performance text that was used on Broadway, and seriously undermines O’Neill’s plot, characterizations, and themes. Anxious to please the mayor and improve their chances for a Boston production, Helburn and Langner eliminated nearly all references to sexuality, religion, and science in the play, and even severely reduced indications of physical contact between the characters. They made these cuts without consulting or informing O’Neill, who by this time was living in Europe with Carlotta Monterey, and who only found out through a newspaper article that Strange Interlude had encountered censorship problems in Boston. “Can’t the Guild do anything to force this issue, I wonder?” O’Neill asked his agent Richard Madden in a letter written the very day Helburn and Langner sent their censored Interlude manuscript to Mayor Nichols.[32] It is unclear whether O’Neill ever found out to what extent the Guild had gone to make his play acceptable to the Boston authorities.

As they were censoring the play, Helburn and Langner made cuts to the crucial scenes where Nina and Mrs. Evans and Nina and Darrell discuss the termination of Nina’s pregnancy and the conception of a new baby—the very scenes Helburn initially helped O’Neill develop. In addition to the lines mentioned earlier, the producers’ deletions include the words “adultery,” “pregnancy,” and “pregnant.” The latter two were replaced with euphemisms, so that “pregnancy” became “condition,” and Nina’s line “because I’m not pregnant,” became “because there’s no child.”[33] In act three, together with Nina and Mrs. Evans’ discussions of sexuality and abortion (however veiled), Helburn and Langner deleted the characters’ Darwinian ideas and their dismissal of religious values. Cutting Nina’s assertion, “I love it too much to make it run that chance! And I hate it, too, now, because it’s diseased, it’s not my baby, it’s his!,” confuses the idea that Nina accepts Mrs. Evans’ suggestion to abort Sam’s baby because of the Evans’ history of mental illness.[34] Moreover, without Nina’s line, “I don’t believe in God the Father!” and Mrs. Evans’ reply, “Then it’d be easy for you. And I don’t believe in Him, either, not any more,” it is impossible to grasp that the women turn to what they believe is a reliable scientific idea because they have been disappointed by religion.[35]

The censored version of Strange Interlude thus cloaks Mrs. Evans’ influence on Nina and Nina’s motive for having an affair with Darrell, confusing O’Neill’s story line. Helburn and Langner’s deletion in act four of Darrell’s insistence that the ideal father for Nina’s baby ought to have a detached and “scientific” mind further undermines O’Neill’s concept that Nina replaces the values of religion with those of science and thus weakens O’Neill’s ultimate critique of science.[36]

Passages that were cut in other places dissolve Marsden’s characterization as a sexless being, such as his detailed description of his unpleasant sexual initiation, and his uses of the expressions “trollop” and “dollar tarts” to dismiss women.[37] In addition, the Guild eliminated Nina’s thoughts of sleeping in peace with Marsden once she has wearied of passion, and Marsden’s displays of fatherly affection for Nina, such as kissing her hair or forehead, which illuminate the nature of their relationship and later marriage.[38] Ultimately, hardly a character or theme escaped intact. However—although Helburn and Langner did their best to please the Boston mayor—after reading the newly created stage version, he still deemed Strange Interlude unacceptable and claimed it “glorifies an indefensible standard of conduct and an abject code of morals.”[39] Despite his public condemnation of the play, Mayor Nichols revealed his true colors in correspondence with the Guild. As Langner later noted in his autobiography, “We were given a message that the matter could be settled by paying the sum of $10,000,” an offer the Theatre Guild turned down .[40]

With Strange Interlude officially banned in Boston, the Guild producers considered offers to stage the play—in its censored form—from several Boston suburbs who welcomed the business a Theatre Guild production would bring to town. In the end, Strange Interlude was produced in Quincy, despite some opposition from local religious leaders. In what seems like an attempt to appease critics of the play, Quincy’s mayor Thomas McGrath selected a citizens’ play jury, which was supposed to pass judgment on Strange Interlude after attending the opening night performance on September 30, 1929.[41] The fact that several newspapers immediately reported McGrath’s favorable reaction to the play, which he expressed before hearing from all members of the jury, demonstrates that there was little doubt that Strange Interlude would continue its Quincy run.[42]

Yet, as can already be concluded from the discussion of the truncated text, watching the censored play performed must have been a confusing experience for the audience. Spectators who had seen Strange Interlude in New York confirmed that “the show had been cut drastically” and that it had been “considerable [sic] toned down.”[43] One journalist observed that the Quincy version omitted “many passages that are necessary to the comprehension of the play, . . . including several key passages essential to understanding the character and conduct of the heroine.”[44] The latter comment specifically refers to the cutting of Nina’s line, on hearing of Gordon’s death, “I’m still Gordon’s silly virgin!” which explains both the guilt she feels for never having slept with her fiancé and her promiscuous behavior before her marriage to Sam.[45]

Once the Theatre Guild allowed for Strange Interlude to be censored, the touring production never resembled the original New York performance again. Although Helburn and Langner permitted the cast to reinstate some important passages for the Chicago run of the play, they ordered the censored Boston version performed in Cleveland and Philadelphia.[46] When the Philadelphia censors asked the Guild to delete additional material, Theresa Helburn’s response was, “All we can do is to protest and if we don’t succeed, it’s best not to make an issue of the matter. It would not be wise to let people know that cuts are being made, and I don’t suppose . . . two or three more matter.”[47]

The Theatre Guild’s relationship to Strange Interlude was a complex and paradoxical one, motivated by a genuine desire to further the work of an important American playwright but clouded by the producers’ keen commercial interests. Although the Guild initially helped O’Neill refine Strange Interlude and continued to support and stage O’Neill’s work as long as he lived, Helburn and Langner’s willingness to acquiesce to the demands of censorship shows that their concern for profit ultimately outweighed their respect for the artistic integrity of O’Neill’s text. Since performance is ephemeral, there is no such thing as a perfect record of a play, and a reading of the published text of Strange Interlude cannot convey the look and feel of the play’s New York and Quincy productions. The drafts and promptbooks archived in libraries across the country—the New York Public Library and The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, the Beinecke Library, and Dr. Hammerman’s private collection—are the only reliable sources for scholars to appreciate the Theatre Guild’s influence on O’Neill’s play—and to reconstruct what Strange Interlude might have looked like onstage. Perhaps technological advances and digitization of archival material will make it easier for scholars to draw these types of comparisons in the future.


[1] Eugene O’Neill, letter to Lawrence Langner, May 1, 1927, Theatre Guild Correspondence, Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. The Theatre Guild’s board of managers included Lawrence Langner, Theresa Helburn, Philip Moeller, Lee Simonson, Helen Westley, and Maurice Wertheim.

[2] Eugene O’Neill, Strange Interlude, in Eugene O’Neill: Complete Plays, vol. 2, 19201931, (New York: Literary Classics of the United States, 1988), 815, 817.

[3] Lawrence Langner, The Magic Curtain: The Story of a Life in Two Fields, Theatre and Invention, (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1951), 233; Theresa Helburn, “Eugene O’Neill: An Impression,” Theatre Guild Correspondence, Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

[4] Langner, Magic Curtain, 233.

[5] Eugene O’Neill, letter to Theresa Helburn, n.d., Theatre Guild Correspondence.

[6] Eugene O’Neill, Strange Interlude, intermediate draft, Eugene O’Neill Papers, Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, 61–64.

[7] These phrases are present in O’Neill’s first draft of Strange Interlude (Billy Rose Theatre Division, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, act 4, p. 87, 88, 90), but are crossed out in O’Neill’s intermediate draft (act 4, p. 87, 88, 90).

[8] Theresa Helburn, “Behind the Scenes with the Executive Director,” in Walter Prichard Eaton, The Theatre Guild: The First Ten Years, with Articles by the Directors, 1929, (Freeport, NY: Books for Libraries Press, 1970), 133–137.

[9] Gordon’s line is crossed out in the director’s script of Strange Interlude, (Eugene O’Neill Papers, Manuscripts and Archives Division, New York Public Library, act 7, p. 44) and is not present in the Broadway promptbook (Theatre Guild Collection, Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, see act 7, p. 38). Marsden’s line is crossed out in the director’s script (act 8, p. 40) and is not present in the Broadway promptbook (see act 8, p. 38).

[10] “New York Stage Faces Clean-Up by Its Own Folk,” Christian Science Monitor, Jan. 29, 1927. Theresa Helburn Papers, Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

[11] Quoted in Roy H. Fricken, “Stage Censorship—Past, Present and Future,” Part 2, Theatre Magazine (June 1927), 64.

[12] These lines are crossed out in the director’s script (act 2, p. 3; act 6, p. 55–56) and are not present in the Broadway promptbook (see act 2, p. 3; act 6, p. 44), but appear in the published version of Strange Interlude (654; 756).

[13] Nina’s line is crossed out in the director’s script (act 4, p. 38), and is not present in the Broadway promptbook (see act 4, p. 34), but appears in the published version of Strange Interlude (708). Darrell’s line is crossed out in the director’s script (act 4, p. 44), and is not present in the Broadway promptbook (see act 3, p. 38–39), but appears in the published version of Strange Interlude (710).

[14] O’Neill, Strange Interlude, first draft, 95; O’Neill, Strange Interlude, in Complete Plays, vol. 2, 1920–1931, 710.

[15] O’Neill, Strange Interlude, director’s script, act 4, p. 43–44.

[16] “Wilder Novel Wins Pulitzer Award,” New York Times, May 8, 1928, Theatre Guild Press Book 81, Theatre Guild Collection; quoted in John H. Houchin, Censorship of the American Theatre in the Twentieth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 106–107.

[17] Alexander Woollcott, “The Infuriating Theatre Guild,” Second Thought on First Nights, New York World, May 6, 1928, Theatre Guild Press Book 81, Theatre Guild Collection.

[18] Interlude, Volpone called Raw,” New York Telegram, April 25, 1928, Theatre Guild Press Book 80, Theatre Guild Collection; “Banton O.K.’s Interlude; Guild to Renovate Play,” New York Evening Post, May 1, 1928, Maya Clipping File, Billy Rose Theatre Division, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.

[19] “Prosecutor Says Plays Can Go On,” New York Telegraph, May 2, 1928, Theatre Guild Press Book 81, Theatre Guild Collection.

[20] In the director’s script of Strange Interlude, the word “abortion” is still present (act 4, p. 19). In the Broadway promptbook, however, it is replaced with the word “operation,” (act 4, p. 17), yet the published version contains the word “abortion” (700).

[21] O’Neill, Strange Interlude, Broadway promptbook, act 4, p. 38.

[22] “O’Neill’s Interlude Banned by Mayor,” Boston Globe, Sept. 17, 1929, Theatre Guild Correspondence.

[23] “Calls Play Disgusting Spectacle,” Boston Post, Sept. 19, 1929, Theatre Guild Correspondence.

[24] “Theater Guild to Combat Ban On Interlude: Citizens’ Protest Committee Will Be Formed in Boston as Opening Is Barred,” New York Herald Tribune, Sept. 18, 1929, Theatre Guild Correspondence.

[25] “Asks $12,000 to Protest Mayor’s Ban,” Boston Transcript, Sept. 18, 1929, Theatre Guild Correspondence.

[26] “See Hope For Play in Court,” Boston Post, Sept. 20, 1929, Theatre Guild Correspondence; “Hub Mayor Firm On Interlude Ban,” New York Telegraph, Sept. 25, 1929, Theatre Guild Correspondence.

[27] “See Hope For Play in Court.”

[28] Quoted in “Calls Play Disgusting Spectacle.”

[29]Strange Interlude Cut, Sent Mayor,” Boston Globe, Sept. 22, 1929, Theatre Guild Press Book 91, Theatre Guild Collection.

[30] Langner, Magic Curtain, 238.

[31] These undated and unsigned notes were likely authored by Lawrence Langner or Theresa Helburn; these lines are present in the Broadway promptbook of Strange Interlude (act 3, p. 21; act 3, p. 29).

[32] Eugene O’Neill, Selected Letters of Eugene O’Neill, ed. Travis Bogard and Jackson Bryer (New York: Limelight, 1994), 352. This letter is dated Sept. 20, 1929, the same day, according to newspaper clippings in the Beinecke’s Theatre Guild archive, that Helburn and Langner submitted an “acting version” of Strange Interlude to Mayor Nichols.

[33] Nina’s line, “It’s adultery!” is omitted in the censored version (Quincy promptbook) of Strange Interlude (Hammerman Collection, St. Louis, Missouri, see act 4, p. 38), but is present in the Broadway promptbook (act 4, p. 40); “pregnancy” is replaced with “condition” in the censored version (Quincy promptbook) (act 3, p. 8); Nina’s line, “because I’m not pregnant” is changed to “because there’s no child” in the censored version (Quincy promptbook) (act 4, p. 10).

[34] This passage is omitted in the censored version (Quincy promptbook) of Strange Interlude (see act 3, p. 26), but is present in the Broadway promptbook (act 3, p. 27).

[35] These lines are omitted in the censored version (Quincy promptbook) of Strange Interlude (see act 3, p. 29), but are present in the Broadway promptbook (act 3, p. 31).

[36] The word “scientific” is crossed out in the censored version (Quincy promptbook) of Strange Interlude (act 4, p. 38).

[37] The word “trollop” is crossed out in the censored version (Quincy promptbook) of Strange Interlude (act 2, p. 38), and the phrase, “no kinder at heart than dollar tarts!,” which is present in the Broadway promptbook (act 2, p. 32–33), is omitted in the corresponding passage in the censored version (Quincy promptbook).

[38] Nina’s line, “to love each other’s peace – to sleep with peace together – !” is crossed out in the censored version (Quincy promptbook) of Strange Interlude (act 9, p 28). Moreover, several stage directions indicating that Marsden kisses Nina’s hair or forehead are crossed out (for instance, act 2, p. 35, act 2, pages 40-41). These stage directions accompany dialogue and asides in which Nina and Marsden view each other as father and daughter.

[39] “Flat and Final Interlude Ban,” Boston Post, Sept. 24, 1929, Theatre Guild Correspondence.

[40] Langner, Magic Curtain, 238-39.

[41] A penciled note on the manuscript indicates that the censored version of Strange Interlude in Dr. Hammerman’s collection was used as the promptbook for the Quincy performances.

[42]Interlude wins Quincy Approval,” Boston Globe, Oct. 1, 1929, Theatre Guild Press Book 106, Theatre Guild Collection.

[43] Ibid.

[44] William F. McDermott, “Boston Censorship Extends Unofficially to Cleveland,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, Nov. 23, 1929, Theatre Guild Press Book 106, Theatre Guild Collection.

[45] This line is present in the Broadway promptbook of Strange Interlude (act 1, p. 30), but is omitted in the censored version (Quincy promptbook) (see act 1, p. 30).

[46] Theresa Helburn, telegram to Maurice McRae, Nov. 22, 1929, Theatre Guild Correspondence; McDermott, “Boston Censorship”; [Theresa Helburn], letter to Maurice McRae, Feb. 11, 1930, Theatre Guild Correspondence.

[47] Theresa Helburn, letter to Elmer Kenyon, March 3, 1930, Theatre Guild Correspondence.

[Originally published in Performing Arts Resources, Volume 26, 2008.]



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