Eugene (Gladstone) O'Neill was born in a Broadway hotel room in New York City on October 16, 1888. O'Neill won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1936, and Pulitzer Prizes for four of his plays: Beyond the Horizon (1920); Anna Christie (1922); Strange Interlude (1928); and Long Day's Journey Into Night (1957). O'Neill is credited with raising American dramatic theater from its narrow origins to an art form respected around the world. He is regarded as America's premier playwright.
O'Neill's father, James O'Neill, was one of 19th Century America's most popular actors. Young Eugene spent much of his early years on national tours with his father. In 1906 he entered Princeton University but was soon expelled. In 1909 he married, had a son, and was divorced within three years. By 1912, O'Neill had worked as a gold prospector in Honduras, as a seaman, and had become a regular at New York City's flophouses and cheap saloons. That year he became ill with tuberculosis, and was inspired to become a playwright while reading during his recovery.
O'Neill's career as a playwright consisted of three periods. His early realist plays utilize his own experiences, especially as a seaman. In the 1920s he rejected realism in an effort to capture on the stage the forces behind human life. His expressionistic plays during this period were influenced by the ideas of philosopher Freidrich Nietzsche, psychologists Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, and Swedish playwright August Strindberg. During his final period O'Neill returned to realism. These later works, which most critics consider his best, depend on his life experiences for their story lines and themes.
O'Neill continued to write until 1944 when he was stricken with a debilitating neurodegenerative disease known as "cortical cerebellar atrophy" which prevented further work. Despite his illness, O'Neill lived his life to the fullest. As a young man of 35, he wrote in a letter to a friend, "I am far from being a pessimist ... On the contrary, in spite of my scars, I am tickled to death at life! I wouldn't 'go out' and miss the rest of the play for anything!" A revival of his work in 1956 lead to the first production of "Long Day's Journey Into Night," for which he won his final Pulizer Prize posthumously in 1957.
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