Biographical Information:

Dates: 1888-1953Dates in Ridgefield: 1922-1927
plays, journalismNobel Prize-winning playwright, journalist
Eugene O'Neill rarely seemed a happy man. But America's only Nobel Prize-winning playwright seemed particularly unhappy in Ridgefield. He disliked the cold winters and what he considered a gloomy house. What's more, his marriage was in the process of breaking up. Nonetheless, Mr. O'Neill used Brook Farm on North Salem Road and its environs as the inspiration for the setting of one of his best plays, Desire Under the Elms, and he wrote at least five other plays while here (All God's Chillun Got Wings, Marco Millions, The Great God Brown, Lazarus Laughed, and Strange Interlude). A native of New York City, he was born in 1888, the son of an actor, and lived his first seven years mostly in hotels and on trains. He was expelled from Princeton, studied briefly at Harvard, and held many jobs, including a stint as a newspaper reporter. He began to write plays in 1913 and by 1920 he had won his first Pulitzer Prize for Beyond the Horizon. Mr. O'Neill bought Brook Farm in 1922 and moved here with his second wife, Agnes, and son Shane. Silvio Bedini, the Smithsonian historian, grew up nearby and, as a boy, played with Shane O'Neill, whom he found both lonely and spoiled. To Silvio and his brother Ferdinand Bedini, O'Neill was a stern, brooding, almost superhuman presence in and about the house. Indeed, the playwright suffered from depression and alcoholism (one biographer describes a famous binge in Brook Farm's cellar after O'Neill broke open a barrel of hard cider with poet Hart Crane and critic Malcolm Cowley. At one point, as the playwright poured pitchers of cider, the poet, waving a dead cigar, gave a recital as the equally drunk critic watched in admiration.) O’Neill found inspiration in Ridgefield’s trees and stone walls that he employed in Desire Under the Elms. In 1925, his daughter Oona was born; when she was 18, she married comedian-director Charlie Chaplin, because of which O’Neill disowned her, and never saw her again. In September 1927, shortly before he sold Brook Farm, O'Neill wrote in a letter, "Going to Ridgefield made me sad. It's so beautiful right now, and I couldn't help feeling more keenly than ever that that's where our family ought to be. I have half a mind to open [the house] myself, except that it would be so lonely all by myself." O'Neill went on to live in many other places here and abroad; write Long Day’s Journey Into Night, earning his fourth Pulitzer Prize; win the Nobel Prize in 1936. The only other individual to win as many Pulitzers is poet Robert Frost.
Titles (partial):Long Day’s Journey Into Night, 1956The Ice Man Cometh, 1957Three Great Plays: The Emperor Jones, Anna Christie, and The Hairy Ape, 2005A Moon for the Misbegotten, 2006Collected Shorter Plays, 2007
–-Sources: Notable Ridgefielders–Jack Sanders; Encyclopedia of World Biography; Wikipedia;;
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