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After many years of reading my grandfather's name and my mother's name in almost every account of the famous playwright, Eugene Gladstone O'Neill, and his wife, Agnes Boulton, I felt it appropriate to add to the information on the Boulton family, including Margery Boulton and Edward W. Boulton. Not only do they have their own fascinating history, but they are the other half of Shane and Oona's family, and like part of a large tapestry, are woven into the backgrounds of both.

Parts of this story will be familiar to historians and students of O'Neill, but the Boulton family tales and Oona's childhood history will surely add new dimensions. I am putting down what I remember of their lives, including the way I saw my family relating to Eugene O'Neill, each touched one way or another by his projected anger and personal pain, as well as by his fame. He was not present physically when I was a child, but his presence was strongly felt. It seems important to look closely at this powerful personality who has permeated our lives, and to become more aware of the tremendous impact O'Neill had on his family as I know them, and on me and on the Boulton family, even though some of us knew only the shadow of him.

The childhood of Oona O'Neill Chaplin, Eugene O'Neill's daughter and Charles Chaplin's wife, has been excluded from the books which have been written about her life as the Debutante of the Year in 1942, the daughter of one of the world's most famous playwrights, and the wife of one of the world's most famous actors. Oona would not talk about these early days in her past, to any of her large family or to those writers who wrote her history. As a close cousin and living next door during most of Oona's early days, I have included what I can remember of my childhood relationship with her during those years. Also, I cannot forget seeing the impact her famed father had on her as a young person, much of which has not been detailed because of the missing history of her early years. I shall try to tie in those lost threads of her time, and provide some of the answers to the mystery surrounding her early days.

So many memories and impressions of both families I still hold after almost a lifetime. These include my mother's memories of the years she was close to Gene and Agnes during the ten-year period they were married. Handy with a camera, young Margery acquired an impressive collection of O'Neill and Boulton photographs. The old photos and letters my mother, Margery, saved for seventy years, as well as the memories I have been able to hold, may help both families to better know the illustrious ones who have walked through their past. There has been a need on my part to put these remembrances down and tie together the many loose ends from those earlier times. I've written not a textbook with footnotes, but an account of two families as I believe they related to one another and how they dealt with the psychology of fame, fortune and abandonment.

As I write this down, I see a more complete picture of both families that are so much a part of me, and I gather a better understanding of the many characters…and myself. There is a sadness I feel when I think of The Old House on the Herbertsville Road being torn down after Agnes' death, and Peaked Hill Bars being washed away by the sea. Perhaps the old photos and written words will help to keep them as pictures in our minds to share with all the Boulton and O'Neill relatives, as well as introducing, to new and thoughtful readers, two families they have never met before. May they all be touched by these fascinating characters as I have been over these many years, and feel themselves gently woven into the fabric of the lives and characters they are meeting in this story.

D.C. Thomas


I wish to dedicate this story to three women who have shared their wisdoms with me – my two mothers, Margery Boulton Colman, and Hila Colman, step-mother and life-long friend, and Patricia L. Tully, close friend and counselor. Special love to the eight Chaplin children, with hopes they will find much in this story about the missing years of their mother's childhood.


Many thanks to my daughter, Miya Cline, grand-daughter, Bekah, who helped pull me through computer troubles several times, and to Kerry and Maura O'Neill Jones who stood by me with information and caring. Also unending thanks to Dan Stetkar from Cape Cod, who edited, encouraged and made inspiring suggestions! Thanks to Robin Berenbaum for the thoughtful and final editing, and to Susanna Walden who worked on the many pictures, and to all the others who helped along the way. Deep appreciation to Harley Hammerman for his part in the publication of A Formidable Shadow.

Photographs by Margery Boulton from the Louis Sheaffer-Eugene O'Neill Collection, now the Linda Lear Center for Special Collections and Archives at Connecticut College, The Hammerman Collection in St. Louis, Missouri, and Horowitz collection in New York City.

Quotes and letters from Eugene O'Neill: Used with permission from Kerry and Maura O'Neill Jones.

  Chapter I

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