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Editor: Frederick Wilkins
Suffolk University, Boston

Vol. XII, No. 1
Spring, 1988


(IN THIS ISSUE)

TURNED DOWN IN PROVINCETOWN:
O'NEILL'S DEBUT RE-EXAMINED*

The legend of Eugene O'Neill's discovery by the Provincetown Players in 1918 in the second summer of their existence is one of the more dramatic of many dramatic stories about the playwright's life. It is almost certainly, as I shall show, a dramatized version of what probably occurred. I will also attempt to reconstruct what probably happened in the summer of 1916.

In bare outline, the legend has O'Neill coming to Provincetown that summer with a "trunk full of plays," including Bound East for Cardiff, arriving on the Boston ferry at just that moment when the new theatre group was in need of another play to fill out its second summer bill of three one-act plays for the Wharf Theatre. The story was told in its fullest form by Susan Glaspell in her biography of her husband, George Cram Cook, The Road to the Temple, written just after his death. Speaking of July 1916, she writes:

We gave a first bill, then met at our house to read plays for a second. Two Irishmen, one old and one young, had arrived and taken a shack just up the street. "Terry," I said to one not young, "haven't you a play to read to us?"

"No," said Terry Carlin, "I don't write, I just think and sometimes talk, but Mr. O'Neill has got a whole trunk full of plays," he smiled.

That didn't sound too promising, but I said: "Well tell Mr. O'Neill to come to our house at eight o'clock tonight and bring some of his plays."

So Gene took "Bound East for Cardiff" from his trunk, and Freddie Burt read it to us. Gene slaying out in the dining room while the reading went on.

He was riot left alone in the dining room when the reading had finished.

Then we knew what we were for. We began in faith, and perhaps it is true, when you do that, "all these things shall be added unto you."1

Glaspell's story, with its intimations of Providence in Provincetown, has been repeated, sometimes verbatim and sometimes with embellishments, by all of O'Neill's biographers--Barrett Clark, Hamilton Basso, Croswell Bowen, Doris Alexander, Arthur and Barbara Gelb, and Louis Sheaffer. It was also repeated in Helen Deutsch and Stella Hanau's 1931 The Provincetown, A Story of the Theatre.2

There is, however, substantial evidence that O'Neill was in Provincetown, among the Players, well before the meeting about the second bill of plays to which Glaspell refers. There is also evidence, more circumstantial, that the group turned down several plays that O'Neill offered them before they accepted Cardiff.

That O'Neill was in the group earlier that summer is clear from a letter written that summer from Provincetown by one of the original group, journalist Hutchins Hapgood. He was writing to Mabel Dodge Luhan, the legendary hostess, patron, confidante, and sometimes lover to radicals, avant-garde artists, and writers. Dodge and Hapgood had become friends in 1913 and then lovers, and he had introduced her to some of the era's exciting figures. Dodge was planning to summer in Provincetown in 1916, and Hapgood wrote to tell her that the scene was bright with promise. Hapgood himself and some others of the theatre group had arrived by early June and resumed work on the make-shift theatre on Mary Heaton Vorse's wharf in which they had performed the previous summer. The summer regulars were soon joined by new arrivals, and, on July 1st, 1916, Hapgood wrote, with characteristic ebullience, to Dodge:

There is a bunch here now. In addition to the usual Provincetonians, there are Grace Potter, [Charles] Demuth, [Marsden] Hartley (visiting Jack [Reed]), [David] Carb (Bobby Rogers comes soon), Stella [Cominsky Ballantine] and her baby, Hippolyte [Havel] acting as cook for the Reed crowd. [Jack Reed's] house is full of guests. [Fred] Boyd is here helping him. Terry Carlin and [Eugene] O'Neill (son of James O'Neill) have taken [Bayard Boyeson's] studio. The play fever is on. Jig [George Cram Cook] and Susan [Glaspell], Neith [Boyce Hapgood] and Mary O'Brien [Vorse]. Reed, [Frederick] Burt, and O'Neill are the enthusiastic in our circle. The first bill will have a one-act play by Reed and Neith's Winter's Night.... [Justus] Sheffield arrives today for two or three days with us. I am trying to compose a book on Religions a social novel, a one-act play, and an essay! Mostly preliminary brooding....3

This letter places the young O'Neill, then identifiable chiefly as the son of actor James O'Neill, in the Players sometime before July 1st. He was, moreover, among "the enthusiastic" in the group. This means that O'Neill was with them well before the meeting about the second of bill of the summer to which Glaspell refers, well before Cardiff was chosen. Moreover, he was even there well before the first bill was performed and probably before its plays were selected. We know, from two sources, that the summer's first bill opened on July 13th, 1916, and played on the 14th and 15th.4 Glaspell's account suggests that the group met to evaluate plays for the second bill after the first bill had been performed, and it is unlikely that the group would have met any earlier, because, in the days just prior to the opening of the first bill, a serious fire threatened to destroy the Wharf Theatre and made hasty, late repairs necessary. Therefore, it is likely that the meeting about the second bill, at which O'Neill is supposed to have made his dramatic debut, took place on about July 16th or 17th. Hapgood's letter places him among the Players almost three weeks before.

The discrepancy between the Hapgood letter and Glaspell's account raises several interesting questions. First, if O'Neill was among the Players sometime before July 1st, why was there no O'Neill play on the first bill on July 13th? Certainly he would have brought with him (in the legendary trunk) the privately printed volume of his five one-act plays, Thirst and Other One Act Plays (1914), and would have offered them to the group. The question becomes a little more interesting when we learn that a third play was added to that first bill (three was the number of one-acts commonly done by the group). Hapgood says on July 1st that two plays were on the bill, Jack Reed's Freedom and Neith Hapgood's Winter's Night, but the bill on July 13th included a third, Suppressed Desires,5 by Glaspell and Cook, a play the group had done in the previous summer. Had the group turned down O'Neill's five one-act plays? Had he shown them Cardiff before July 1st and been turned down or told to revise it? Of did he not show it to them at all until the meeting on the second bill to which Glaspell refers? Is there any other evidence to corroborate the Hapgood letter, and, it if is accurate, why did Glaspell give the account that she did?

There is another eyewitness account of O'Neill's debut; it gives us a sequence of events that accords with the Hapgood letter and answers some of these questions. The account comes from one of the more eccentric of the Provincetowners, Harry Kemp. A familiar figure in Greenwich Village and Provincetown for years, Kemp was a poet and auto-didact variously known as the hobo-poet or the tramp-poet from his days of riding the rails, or as the poet of the dunes from his Provincetown days as a beachcomber. Jack Reed ogee described him in his 1913 poem, The Day in Bohemia, as "the unkempt Harry Kemp."6 Like others of the Provincetown/Village set, Kemp admired Nietzsche, Whitman, Shelley, and Keats and seems to have outdone the best of the free spirits in the group as a lifetime admirer of alcohol. Kemp sometimes acted with the Players, and, in 1917, the group produced his one-act play, The Prodigal Son, a take-off of the Biblical story that may have been intended as a timely joke on a David Belasco Biblical pageant that ran on Broadway that season, called The Wanderer, starring James O'Neill in the role of the prodigal's father.

Kemp wrote an account of O'Neill's discovery, published in Theatre Magazine in 1930, that seems not to have been much credited, probably because of doubts about his credibility. It differs from and may have been in response to the account Glaspell had given in her husband's biography around this same time. It corresponds with both the Hapgood letter and with other circumstances of the summer of 1916 much better than Glaspell's.

Kemp depicted O'Neill's arrival among the group as very inauspicious. Amidst a group that included a number of writers and artists of some achievement, including Glaspell, Reed, Vorse, and Hapgood, the son of James O'Neill made no favorable first impression. He seemed to Kemp, in fact, to be "one of those half-baked youngsters who persists in believing in their genius despite an equipment pitiably scant of education and general culture." "At first contact," Kemp remembered, "the group was dubious of their new member's ability and doubtful of his future worth to them. Nowadays they will hardly recall that reaction. All like to have been in on a winner." Then Kemp wrote: "That he proffered us a book of one-act plays for perusal, for the printing of which he admitted he had somehow paid, did not materially forward his case. That, too, was the usual stunt of people without ability." Apparently, then, O'Neill did show the Provincetown group the 1914 volume of one-acts (which his father had paid to have published). Also, apparently, those five plays were the first works he offered the Players. Kemp remembered that O'Neill then offered yet another play to the group, one that he read to them at a meeting. (This meeting would have been earlier than the one Glaspell describes--perhaps sometime in late June.) Kemp did not name this play but remembered it as being "frightfully bad, trite, and full of the most preposterous hokum," and he says it won O'Neill even less favor. Kemp described the play as being "something about an American movie man who financed a Mexican revolution for the sake of filming its battles."7

This play would have been O'Neill's one-act, The Movie Man, written in the spring of 1914. O'Neill had an interest in the recent Mexican war; like many Village rebels of the time, he was critical of what he believed was capitalistically motivated American intervention in that war. The plot of his play involves two brash American film makers who have come to Mexico seeking the cooperation of a Mexican general (modeled on Pancho Villa), so that they can film the general's battles. The plot is not wholly hokum; it was based on an actual story that is even more remarkable. In January of 1914, Pancho Villa had indeed signed a contract with Harry E. Aitken's Mutual Film Corporation to wage his battles in the daylight for the convenience of the photographers. Villa got $25,000 and a percentage of the revenues.8 O'Neill could have learned of it from newspaper accounts at the time.

Even if one regards Kemp's testimony cautiously, his account gains credibility with the mention of this particular play. When Kemp wrote his article in 1930, his knowledge of that play could have come only from memory, presumably the memory of that reading. The Movie Man had not yet been published; it remained, in fact, a "lost" play until 1950, when it was discovered with a group of other O'Neill plays in manuscript in the Library of Congress, sent in by O'Neill to secure copyrights. Their copyrights having been inadvertently allowed to expire, these plays were then published, without O'Neill's permission, as "lost plays."9 Further, it is very conceivable that O'Neill would have chosen The Movie Man as an early offering to the group. O'Neill knew well the political temper of the Village radicals who made up the Players, the most prominent of whom in that summer of 1916 was Jack Reed (Reed was one of the writers of the Players' constitution later that summer). Reed had made his fame by his dramatic (and highly dramatized) chronicles of the Mexican war for Metropolitan Magazine in 1914. The anxious, still unproduced young playwright might well have sought to favorably impress his prospective producers with this play. While we do not know whether Reed, Glaspell, Cook, or the others shared Kemp's opinion of The Movie Man, it was not produced by the group that summer nor thereafter (nor by anyone else to my knowledge), and O'Neill seems to have forgotten it.10

After failing to impress the group with The Movie Man, O'Neill's next step, according to Kemp's account, was to offer them Bound East for Cardiff. In this play, Kemp says, the group found a decisive demonstration of his talent:

O'Neill, wearing an old sweater and cotton trousers, sat motionless in a wicker chair, while he delivered in his low, deep, slightly monotonous but compelling voice the lines of a one-act play about seamen in a ship's fo'c'stle, the climax being the death of one of them in his bunk. We heard the actual speech of men who go to sea; we shared the reality of their lives; we felt the motion and windy, wavebeaten urge of a ship. This time no one doubted that here was a genuine playwright.11

The meeting Kemp describes here would have been the meeting to select the plays for the second bill on about July 17th, the meeting around which the legend grew. His account seems to be almost a deliberate deconstruction of Glaspell's more romantic account. In any case, it seems to provide an independent confirmation of the Hapgood letter's dating of O'Neill's early presence among the Players. The two quite independent accounts, taken together, suggest that by late June of 1916, O'Neill had shown the Provincetowners at least six of his early one-act plays, The Movie Man and the five pieces in his privately printed volume containing Thirst, Fog, Warnings, The Web, and Recklessness, and that the young playwright had been turned down or at least put off.12 The legend, as Glaspell passed it on, makes no mention of such preliminary fumblings; in the emotional biography of her late husband, who had been a prime mover in the Players, she weaves the discovery of O'Neill by the group into a drama of destiny in her husband's life. I shall return to this point. One final, small discrepancy between the Kemp and Glaspell accounts is interesting. Kemp reports that O'Neill himself read the play to the group; Glaspell says it was actor Frederick Burt (who probably was in the Wharf production). To have O'Neill himself reading the play would not have fit well with the picture Glaspell (and other biographers since) give us of the dramatic discovery of the shy, dark-eyed young poet.

To know the actual sequence of events is of value beyond lifting the veil of legend. Taken together with the matter of his revisions of Cardiff, it fills in our picture of O'Neill's early progress as a playwright and of the value to him of his experience with the Players.

By all assessments, including O'Neill's own, Bound East for Cardiff marks the dawning of his artistic maturity. In later years, he told Richard Dana Skinner, when Skinner was compiling his chronology of O'Neill's plays, that this one-act was "very important from my point of view. In it can be seen, or felt the germ of the spirit, life attitude, etc., of all my more important future work."13 An early version of the play is O'Neill's one-act, Children of the Sea, written in the spring of 1914.14 We will consider its revision into Cardiff in a moment.

It is an unconventional play, both in its form and its vision, for an American playwright in 1914-1916. Its only action is the conversation between Yank, dying in his bunk in the forecastle of the Glencairn after having been seriously injured in a fall in the hold, and his friend, Driscoll, who tends to him. No medical help for Yank is possible, since the ship is a week out of port, and Driscoll tries to comfort him. They talk of the good and bad ships, ports, and bars they have shared; the bond between them--a very male bond--is strong. Gradually, Yank comes to confront the knowledge that he is dying. As the two talk, other seamen come and go around them on their watches, while the Glencairn slides blindly through the fog, its dismal, mournful whistle sent over the water every few minutes. Yank's death, with Driscoll kneeling beside him moving his lips "in some half-remembered prayer," ends the play. Death has come to a seaman, after a life on one ship after another in an endless cycle of voyages between unpromising ports. As Yank says of the seaman's life, "There ain't much in all that that'd make yuh sorry to lose it Drisc." He also tells him: "I ain't never had religion; but I know whatever it is what comes after, it can't be no worser'n this."15 As metaphor, the one-act presents a modern vision of life and death in the absence of traditional meanings, significance, or any divine destiny and of the human struggle to give meaning to the individual life. The author seeks our admiration for Driscoll's friendship and for Yank's attempt at courage in the face of death. We are given some lurid, naturalistic details of that death and even a bit of melodrama, but perhaps these are the excesses of a young playwright forcing our confrontation with mortality: "He chokes, his face convulsed with agony, his hands tearing at his shirt front. The dipper falls from his nerveless fingers." But O'Neill not only wants the seaman's lonely and difficult death to have impact; he wants this balanced with our compassion for the struggle of the two men to find meaning in it. It is in this modern tragic vision that the play carries the germ of his future work.

That the Provincetown Players not only gave O'Neill his critical first production but gave him another hearing after his unimpressive first submissions is to their credit. Certainly the play was commensurate with their goals, set down in resolutions framed by Jack Reed at the end of that summer of 1916, when the group was planning to bring its theatre to Greenwich Village: "Be it resolved that it is the primary object of the Provincetown Players to encourage the writing of American plays of real artistic, literary, and dramatic--as opposed to Broadway--merit. That such plays be considered without reference to their commercial value, since this theatre is not to be run for pecuniary profit."16 The play also had some immediate practical advantages to the group that summer: it was a sea play well suited to the Wharf Theatre, where the tides ran beneath stage and audience; it could be staged in the theatre's small acting area with a simple, single setting and a few properties; and while its cast of eleven men is large for a one-act, the burden is carried by the two main actors playing Yank and Driscoll.

To explore the question of whether O'Neill profited by his first experience of having one of his plays produced, we need to consider the stages of the revision of the play. Paul Voelker has argued that in the revision of Children of the Sea into Cardiff O'Neill was attempting "to modify significantly the focal point and thematic implications of the earlier version."17 Specifically, he shifted the focus onto Yank, added greater emphasis to his courage in facing death, and made both men more sympathetic. It would be convenient for my assessment of the value of O'Neill's experience wilts the Players to suggest maturation, during his work with the group that summer.18 But O'Neill's development is not so tidy. He appears to have revised Children into Cardiff just before or during his year at Harvard, 1914-1915.

The evidence for this dating is a typescript of Cardiff in the Billy Rose Theatre Collection of the New York Public Library, Lincoln Center. A brief description of the bibliographic evidence will suffice here. The typed title page is as follows: / "Bound East for Cardiff" / A Play in One Act / By / Eugene G. O'Neill /. In the lower right hand corner of the title page is O'Neill's address in New London, Connecticut, written in his hand. The typescript is a ribbon copy, typed on a blue ink ribbon throughout. The entire manuscript, including the title page, has been typed on the same paper, each sheet bearing the same watermark, and all were once stapled to a gray backing sheet.19

This typescript was apparently prepared by O'Neill for George Pierce Baker, whose famous "English 47" playwriting course O'Neill took in 1914-1915. Its text is nearly that of the play as published later. (As we shall see, the published version shows further refinements.) At the time that O'Neill applied for admission to Baker's course, in July of 1914, he sent him two recently completed one-acts H, samples of his work. Louis Sheaffer has speculated that one of them was Cardiff.20 If so, then O'Neill himself seems to have confirmed this. He told Barrett Clark that Cardiff was "written before I entered the class," and, in the note about Cardiff's place in the chronology of his plays that he provided for Richard Skinner in 1935, O'Neill said again that it "was written before my work under Prof. Baker at Harvard."21 It is possible that O'Neill might have been remembering his writing of Children rather than his revision of it into Cardiff, blurring the two plays together in memory. The "English 47" on the title page of the Cardiff manuscript at Lincoln Center would seem to suggest that he revised the play while studying with Baker, not before. But perhaps it is worth noting that "English 47" is in parentheses and that it has been firmly crossed out by someone (O'Neill? Baker?). In either case, it is clear that the essential revision of Children into Cardiff was completed sometime in 1914-1915, well before O'Neill came to Provincetown in the summer of 1916.

We can only speculate on the question of why O'Neill did not submit this play to the players at first. I have suggested that he first offered The Movie Man thinking it would appeal to the radical Provincetowners. It could be speculated that he did not have much confidence in Cardiff, since, according to O'Neill's report to Barrett Clark in later years, Professor Baker had once said "he didn't think Bound East for Cardiff was a play at all," and, said O'Neill, "I respected his judgment."22 But I doubt that O'Neill was thinking of Baker that much that summer. This speculation would serve Travis Bogard's case that Baker's influence on O'Neill was nearly disastrous, but that is a case I do not find convincing.23

The English 47 typescript probably represents very nearly the text of the play as it was produced in Provincetown in July of 1916, although we cannot be sure. There exists in the Berg collection a partial ms. of the play in the form of a "side" in the handwriting of "Jig" Cook, who played Yank in the original Wharf Theatre production and again that fall in the Village production. The lines of Yank it provides are nearly identical to those in the English 47 typescript. At those points where there are differences between the typescript and the version of the play that was published by hank Shay in the fall of 1916, Cook's side is closer to the English 47 typescript.24 Shay's publication probably coincided with the November production in the Village, and so I presume that Cook's side reflects the text of the original summer production. The Cook side does not, however, give us a complete picture of the state of the summer script, because the four-page side does not go through to the end of the play, and it does not record O'Neill's stage directions in detail.

The text of the play published that fall shows interesting differences. Practical production considerations probably account for some of them. O'Neill dropped the stage directions prescribing the forecastle dimensions as "twenty feet wide, narrowing to about six, twenty-five feet deep, and eight feet high." The Wharf Theatre would not have allowed for this, its entire interior space for stage and audience having berg, as a estimated by Robert K. Sarlos, only about twenty-five by thirty-five feet.25 Also dropped from the English 47 script were the stage directions calling for oilskins swaying on the cabin wall and for the footsteps of a pacing lookout to be heard from deck overhead. Neither would have been practicable nor desirable.

Subtle but significant refinements have been made in the ending of the play. In the English 47 typescript, Cocky comes in from the deck to ask Driscoll to leave Yank for a moment and give him a hand, entering at the moment that Driscoll sinks to his knees beside Yank who has just died. As Driscoll kneels by the bunk, his lips moving "in some half-remembered prayer," Cocky stands staring at him "in blank amazement," then says, "Prayin'! Gawd Blimey!" After taking off his rain gear, Cocky stands "scratching his head perplexedly" as the curtain falls. In the published text, O'Neill does not bring Cocky in until after Driscoll has knelt beside Yank and made the attempt at the prayer. This allows Yank's death and Driscoll's compassion to have their full moment. Cocky is also given a new line for his entrance: "The fog's lifted." This line would probably play, first, as a foil to the still intensity of the death scene that Cocky comes in upon. It also has metaphoric possibilities, perhaps suggesting the release of Yank from his struggle or the passing of the shadow of death. O'Neill also adds stage directions for Cocky. Now when he sees Yank and Driscoll, it is not puzzlement that he registers. Rather, "an expression of awed understanding comes over his face," and as he removes his rain gear and stands scratching his head, he says, now "in a hushed whisper," the curtain line, "Gawd Blimey!" The adjustment refines the impact of the ending by clarifying Cocky's function as a chorus figure, giving voice to the audience's response to the play's final image. It is a careful, subtle adjustment, the kind of refinement that one expects to result from a sensitive author's experience with a play in production. We know that O'Neill was involved in the Wharf Theatre production of his play; he directed it,26 fulfilling an obligation the group put upon its playwrights, and he also acted in the small role of the Second Mate.

After the first performance of the play on July 28th,27 O'Neill's potential was clear. Glaspell in her account says, "the old wharf shook with applause."28 Two journalists for the Boston Globe and the Boston Post, who were there at different times that summer, wrote of the deep impression O'Neill's plays had made on Provincetown audiences. The Post writer went so far as to predict a richer future for the American drama because of the Provincetown experiment, pointing to O'Neill in particular as "a young dramatist whose work was heretofore unproduced and whom they are confident is going to be heard from in places less remote."29 The Players opened their new theatre in the Village that fall with Bound East for Cardiff, and O'Neill's work was very likely one of the major reasons for their move there.

The picture of O'Neill himself that emerges here is not that of a shy young drifter, washed ashore by the tides of fate, but rather that of an earnest young writer, aggressive in h own behalf, seeking out the group he would have heard of in his haunts of the Village.30 This corresponds better to Louis Sheaffer's biography in which we see O'Neill aggressively promoting his work in the early years of his career.

One question remains: why did Susan Glaspell give the account of O'Neill's debut as she did? First, Glaspell was not the first to tell it in print. Edna Kenton, an avid disciple of Cook's and, in effect, a press agent for the group from 1916 to 1922, had told a similar story in Billboard magazine in August of 1922. It was part of a brief overview of the group's work, written, with some prescience, after what was to be their last season. Though less detailed than Glaspell's account, it, too, is neatly arranged to show, as Kenton puts it, how "the smiling Muse of drama was busy tying threads."31 suspect that the germ of the story originated with Cook himself. Glaspell thereafter refined on the story, placing O'Neill's arrival dramatically within the summer time frame and thus further implicating the hand of destiny.

Her reasons went deep. The account occurs in her husband's biography, written in grief after his unexpected death in 1924, at the age of fifty-one. He had died in Delphi, a self-exile in his beloved Greece, with Glaspell at his side. He had departed America in 1922, deeply disappointed that, as he saw it, he and his fellow Provincetowners had failed to build what he had envisioned as not only a theatre but an alternative community. He claimed that he had fostered amateurism and creative play, and he accused his friends of succumbing to ambitious professionalism. Cook himself, however, had not been without professional aspirations. He had been deeply disappointed when his own play, The Spring, premiered by the Players and then produced uptown by him, had failed uptown at the beginning of the 1921-1922 season, unlike O'Neill's The Emperor Jones, which had moved successfully from the Provincetown Playhouse to Broadway the year before. With The Spring had gone Cook's best hope for winning the major recognition that he long had believed was his due as a writer. It was a final blow to him when O'Neill insisted that someone other than Cook be brought in to dirct the Provincetown's premiere production of The Hairy Ape in the early months of 1922.32

At the end of the 1921-1922 season, the Players, in emotional disarray, announced a year's interim, ostensibly for a rest. But a year later, the Executive Committee legally dissolved the original Provincetown Players. In 1923, a new group was formed, The Experimental Theatre, Incorporated, using the Provincetown Playhouse. The intent of its leaders--O'Neill, Kenneth Macgowan, and Robert Edmond Jones, was to replace Cook and his blend of communalism and paternalism with a professional organization committed to finished productions of a wide range of drama, including new American plays, under the new art theatre aesthetic. To the distress of Glaspell, Cook and Kenton, the new group retained the name of the Provincetown Playhouse for the theatre itself, thus suggesting some continuity. Cook saw conspiracy and betrayal in all of this. From Delphi he wrote bitter letters to his old associates, some of which Glaspell never mailed.33 His spirits declined, and early in 1924 he contracted glanders, a disease of animals that is rare in humans, and died in January in the snowbound village of Delphi.

When Glaspell came to write his biography, it was important that the story of the Players' discovery of O'Neill be written large; important that there be a record of Cook's ephemeral contribution as the charismatic dreamer who had made the Provincetown experiment possible. There is no mention in her biography of any conflicts between Cook and O'Neill, though certainly there had been conflicts over the years; it would not have served her purpose. The Road to the Temple is an emotional biography that presents his life as a dramatic progress toward destiny, seeking to give meaning and cosmic design to her husband's life, to assure him immortality--which Cook himself had believed to be his birthright.

The kind of highly dramatic self-perception that we find in Glaspell's biography and in Cook's own papers is not uncommon among the early American moderns who made up the Players. One sees it in the lives of Jack Reed, Louise Bryant, and Edna St. Vincent Millay, and in the autobiographies of Hutchins Hapgood, Floyd Dell. and Max Eastman as they each seek new faiths. Such dramatic self-perception is another manifestation of that struggle for personal meaning in the absence of traditional meanings, significance, or any divine destiny that O'Neill saw as the modern tragic struggle.

O'Neill himself never corrected the legend. He knew his debt to Cook and would have been disinclined either to detract from Cook's achievement or to distress Glaspell, with whom he remained friends. The reality of his debt was more complex and less dramatic, but the legend had its consolations.

--Gary Jay Williams

*This essay is the author's revision of his 1984 Conference article of the same title that appeared in Theatre Journal, 37, 2 (May 1985), 155-166. Research for it was supported in part by a grant from the National Endowment of the Humanities to Adele Heller, President of the Provincetown Playhouse-on-the-Wharf.

NOTES

1The Road to the Temple (New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company, 1927), pp. 253-254.

2Barrett Clark, Eugene O'Neill, The Man and His Plays, rev. ed. (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1947), pp. 29-30; Hamilton Basso, "The Tragic Sense," The New Yorker, 28 February 1948, p. 40; Croswell Bowen, with Shane O'Neill, The Curse of the Misbegotten (New York: McGraw Hill Book Co., 1959), pp. 79-80; Doris Alexander, The Tempering of Eugene O'Neill (New York: Harcourt, Brace, and World, Inc., 1962), pp. 221-222; Arthur and Barbara Gelb, O'Neill (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1982), p. 309; Louis Sheaffer, O'Neill, Son and Playwright (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1968), pp. 346-347; Deutsch and Hanau, The Provincetown, A Story of the Theatre (New York: Farrar and Rinehart, Inc., 1931), pp. 11-12. The story is also repeated by Travis Bogard in Contour in Time: The Plays of Eugene O'Neill (New York: Oxford University Press, 1972), p. 79. Robert K. Sarl6s, in Jig Cook and the Provincetown Players (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1982), p. 22, uses the legend but does register a question about it. As to variations on it, Bowen has the two living In the hull of a wrecked ship in Truro; and Hutchins Hapgood, in his A Victorian in the Modern World (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, Inc., 1939), p. 396, has O'Neill and Carlin coming to his house in Provincetown to borrow ten dollars to drink on.

3Mabel Dodge Luhan, Intimate Memories, III: Movers and Shakers (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1933-1937), p. 478. That some of the group was there in early June is suggested by a news note in the Provincetown Advocate of 8 June 1916, noting that carpenters were making "sundry changes" in the Wharf Theatre.

4The first bill's opening date is derived from a printed card announcement in the Theatre Collection, Museum of the City of New York. That there were three performances is established by a letter from Neith Boyce Hapgood to her father-in-law, Charles Hapgood, on 16 July 1916, among the Hapgood papers, Beinecke Library, Yale.

5That Suppressed Desires was on the first bill is indicated in a printed listing of all the seasons of the Players and of the Provincetown Playhouse, from 1915-1929, published by the Playhouse, probably for promotional purposes (Edna Kenton scrapbooks, Fales Collection, Elmer Bobst Library, New York University). The printed card announcement referred to in the previous note lists only the two plays.

6Jack Reed, The Day in Bohemia . . . (New York: Published by the Author, 1913), p. 43.

7Kemp, "Out of Provincetown," Theatre Magazine, April 1930, p. 22.

8Terry Ramsaye, A Million and One Nights (New York: Simon and Schuster, c. 1926; reprint, London, 1964), p. 223. See also Louis Sheaffer, "Correcting Some Errors in Annals of O'Neill," Comparative Drama, 17 3 (Fall 1983), 207-208.

9Lawrence Gellert, ed., Lost Plays of Eugene O'Neill (New York: The Citadel Press, c. 1950).

10Had it been a less sophomoric piece, Reed still might not have found it wholly agreeable, since it satirizes pretty equally the Mexicans and the movie makers, and Reed had effectively dramatized Villa as a romantic revolutionary hero, never mentioning this filming incident in his coverage.

11Kemp, Theatre Magazine, p. 22.

12The group did produce Thirst later that summer, after Cardiff; and Fog was produced late In their first season in the Village, 1916-1917.

13Skinner, A Poet's Quest (New York: Longmans, Green and Co., 1935), p. viii.

14Jennifer McCabe Atkinson, ed., "Children of the Sea" and Three Other Unpublished Plays by Eugene O'Neill (Washington. D.C.: NCR Microcard Editions, 1972).

15O'Neill, Seven Plays of the Sea (New York: Vintage Books, 1972), p. 45, pp. 45-46. This collection was first published by Horace Liveright in 1919 under the title, The Moon of the Caribbees and Six Other Plays.

16Minutes Book of the Provincetown Players, Billy Rose Theatre Collection of the New York Public Library, Lincoln Center.

17Voelker, "The Uncertain Origins of Eugene O'Neill's 'Bound East for Cardiff,'" Studies in Bibliography, 32 (1979), 275. Voelker has been refining his studies of the two plays and their relationship in recent papers, including one delivered at the American Society of Theatre Research at Indiana University in 1985, and has generously shared this and all his research with me.

18This hypothesis was part of my early version of this paper, presented at the Eugene O'Neill conference in March 1984 at Suffolk University in Boston.

19Librarian Dorothy Swerdlove has informed me that there is no record of the provenance of this typescript.

20Sheaffer, SP, p. 242.

21Clark, pp. 27-28; Skinner, viii.

22Clark, pp. 27-28.

23Bogard, Contour in Time, pp. 48-62. There are several testimonies by O'Neill himself to Baker's positive influence, including his praise for Baker in the unpublished letters that he wrote to Beatrice Ashe in early 1915, while he was at Harvard.

24An example is a line for Driscoll in the published text, in which he remembers giving a black eye to the piano player in Barracas (Seven Plays, p. 47). Neither Cook's side nor the English 47 typescript include it.

25Sarls, Jig Cook and the Provincetown Players, p. 201.

26O'Neill letter to Beatrice Ashe, Tuesday, July 25th, 1916, Berg Collection, NYPL.

27This important date was first established by Sheaffer, SP, p. 348, derived from a letter that Wilbur Daniel Steele wrote to relatives on this date (Steele papers, Special Collections, Stanford University Library), in which he says he, Steele, has a play on the bill for that evening, clearly his one act play Not Smart, given his description. Cardiff was on that same bill. The date can also be derived from the letter, cited above, that O'Neill wrote to Beatrice Ashe on Tuesday, July 25, in which he says he is directing his play that is to be performed "next Friday and Saturday nights."

28Road to the Temple, p. 254.

29[Anon.], "Many Lights Among Provincetown Players," Boston Sunday Post, September 10, 1916, p. 4; A. J. Philpott, "Laboratory of the Drama on Cape Cod's Farthest Wharf," The Boston Sunday Globe, August 13, 1916.

30Contradicting the Gelbs' story (p. 308) that "in later years" O'Neill "acknowledged" that Jack Reed brought him to Provincetown, is a holograph note that O'Neill made in the margin of Barrett Clark's manuscript used in preparation of the 1947 edition of Clark's biography; the page is reproduced there (following p. 22), and in it O'Neill says he knew none of the group until he came to Provincetown.

31Kenton, "The Provincetown Players and the Playwrights' Theatre," The Billboard, 34 (5 August 1922), 6.

32An account of the sequence of events will be found in Sarls, pp. 133-140.

33These are among Glaspell's papers in the Berg Collection, NYPL.

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