Suddenly I became aware that so many of our family were
gone. We were totally devastated with the shocking news of Shane's
death. He died on June 23, 1977, only fifty-eight years old. There was
some mystery to this, as it appeared he had committed suicide, but some
of the family felt he might have been pushed from his apartment window.
At first the police would not discuss it or allow any of the family to
see their files. For all who loved him, it was a sad and very difficult
Louis Sheaffer, our friend, who was writing a two-volume
biography of O'Neill, had a distressing letter from Oona asking him to
find the truth of Shane's death. Lou talked to a police detective who
had been there moments after Shane's fall. He told Lou that he saw Shane
after the fall and just before he died. He had asked Shane why it
happened and Shane's reply was that he was tired of life and tired of
Louis Sheaffer to Budgie, July 8, 1977.
Louis Sheaffer to Budgie, July 29, 1977.
Oona to Budgie and Dallas about Shane, July 12, 1977.
Shane had suffered the rejections of both his mother and
father for most of his childhood. Living with the deep pain of
abandonment for his entire life certainly impacted this gentle soul.
Looking back, some might believe his life was wasted, but in his four
children we find a gift from him, for which the family can be grateful.
His gentle spirit lives on in each of them.
This was the same year Oona bought a penthouse in New
York City. Again, when she came to New York she would call and invite us
to go down and visit with her. The first time we went to see Oona in the
city, there were only three of us—Budgie, Aunt Cecil and I. We were
greeted at the door by Anna, Oona's maid. The hall was filled with fresh
flowers, and as we went in, Oona, looking very beautiful, led us into
the large, impressive living room. There were more flowers and many,
many family pictures and photographs.
After a lovely luncheon, served by Anna, Oona took us on
a tour of the penthouse. It had previously housed numerous dignitaries
previously, and sat high above the city. She laughingly pointed out
Woody Allen’s apartment several blocks away. The wide walk around the
edge of the building was adorned with vines and shrubbery, which the
gardener had planted. There was a small greenhouse room graced with a
large chair, inviting one to sit and smell the flowers and enjoy the
“My lawyers are upset with me for spending so much on
fresh flowers,” she told us. “But why not if it brings me some
pleasure?” I had to agree...why not?
Oona’s bedroom walls were covered with paintings from
our grandfather, Teddy
(Edward W. Boulton), and family photographs. There was also the large
Eakins portrait, which we believed to be of Nanna. We went from there
upstairs to her retreat from the world, which was decorated with deep,
soft red velvety furniture and patterned pillows. Here, Oona told us
she wrote letters and laughingly mentioned she had been asked over and
over to write her memoirs, which she doubted ever would happen.
Paintings from Andrew Wyeth hung on the living room
walls, and Oona had a fine collection of antique horses, including a
dignified and delicate wooden rocking horse, as well as stone-carved
horses from the Far East. I thought of Shane and his love, too, of
horses. And of course, there were walls with bookcases holding hundreds
of books. Oona had always been an avid reader.
During this time someone in the family had sent a
clipping to me about Oona's plan to marry Walter Bernstein, well known
director and screenwriter. We heard later that it never happened
because of Oona's problem with alcohol.
On one visit to Oona's, I was joined by her half-sister
Barbara, my mother Budgie, and our Aunt Cecil. Another visit included
my brother Bob (no longer called Robert) and his wife, Norma. One day I
received a call from Oona after she had arrived in New York once again.
She asked me to take my two youngest daughters down to see her. My older
daughters were living long distances away. Miya, next to the youngest,
was away visiting friends, so Teddi (named for my grandfather Teddy),
was the only one free to go with me and Oona invited her to take a
friend. During the visit Oona seemed to enjoy my vivacious
thirteen-year-old as they chatted back and forth. When leaving, the two
girls were most excited because we were to be driven to Grand Central
Station in the Chaplin limousine. Hopping into the elegant auto, the
girls pushed all the buttons they could find to open and close shades on
the windows, and change the height of the seats. We finally managed to
get to the station with the deluxe limo in one piece!
These visits were fun in some ways, but also
frustrating. No one seemed “real” to me. There were times I had a
feeling that our light conversations were covering up strong emotions.
There was another time when Oona was staying in Cornwall, Connecticut
with her close friend, the actress Clare Bloom. She rented a car to come
down to my home in Ridgefield. The rental car was very rickety and
somewhat battered, but with an apparently reliable driver. I believe Oona enjoyed the whole scene! I was happy to have her come to my dear
old house and see where I lived with my family. Shortly after this,
Clare called and invited Budgie and me up to her home for an afternoon
tea with her and Oona.
It was on one of our trips to the city to see Oona,
after Anna had served us a fine luncheon and we were comfortably sitting
around the table, when Oona announced that each time she came over from
Switzerland, she had been going for therapy to a doctor in New Jersey.
With great delight she stated, “I am finally able to
admit I hate my father!” I think I muttered a soft “Hurrah!” but the
others felt some discomfort so we changed the subject. Later as we drove
home, Barbara told us she couldn’t understand why Oona had said that,
because Gene was such a sweet man. I’m sure he may have been at times,
but Oona had been ignored and abandoned by him at a very early age and
would understandably hold much anger about it. Budgie's memory of Gene
O’Neill was not one of sweetness. She considered him to have been
selfish, self-centered and thoughtless. It did seem constructive on
Oona's part to be venting some of the feelings she held resulting from
her father's rejections. However, we changed the subject again.
It was interesting that Oona's maid had the same first
name as our beloved old Anna Gerber in West Point Pleasant. They were
two very good and kind women. Oona’s new Anna seemed devoted and caring
through the days she described to me when Oona had come over to
Manhattan and would hide in the penthouse. There were altercations
between them, which left Anna disturbed and concerned. Anna asked for my
phone number during one of our visits. She was worried about the state
Oona was in and felt it important to be able to contact the family. It
seemed she was bearing the brunt of Oona’s distressing anger. So much of
this had to be Oona's loneliness and resentment at losing Charlie,
adding to the terrible abandonments she suffered as a child.
Anna remained very protective of Oona through the bad
times during those New York periods. When Oona let her go, it was almost
as though she didn’t trust the kindness and loyalty Anna had
demonstrated. Anna was sent away with no notice or monetary
compensation. Oona's decision to leave New York had been very sudden. I called Anna later on to see how she was faring. She
told me she was preparing to go to school and train for a more rewarding