In 1937, Eugene O'Neill and his wife, Carlotta, purchased a 158-acre ranch in the hills above Danville, California where they built Tao House, a refuge that they hoped would be their final home. The name "Tao House" was inspired by O'Neill's interest in Eastern thought and Carlotta's passion for Oriental art and decor. Tao, a pivotal concept in ancient Chinese philosophy and religion may be translated as knowledge, morality, ultimate truth, or simply as "the Way." Isolated from the world within the walls of Tao House, O'Neill would write his final and most masterful plays, including The Iceman Cometh, A Moon for the Misbegotten, and Long Day's Journey Into Night. Today, Tao House is the Eugene O'Neill National Historic Site.
In 1916, Eugene O'Neill became involved with a group of writers and other theatre artists who founded the Provincetown Players, a theatre company whose primary goal was the production of new and experimental plays. By producing what were generally considered "non-commercial" plays, the Provincetown Players allowed writers to experiment with new ideas and theatrical styles. Freed from the commercial restraints that had typically forced playwrights and directors to take the safe and already trodden path, a truly American theatre began to develop. O'Neill quickly became the group's most prolific and successful playwright, and when, in 1929, he decided to deal directly with Broadway, the group disbanded. Other writers associated with the Provincetown Players include Susan Glaspell, Mary Heaton Vorse, Djuna Barnes, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and e.e. cummings.
Long Day's Journey Into Night tells the story of the Tyrone family: James Tyrone Sr., a famous actor who gave up successful career as a Shakespearean actor to appear in a long-running and commercially succesful, but artistically unfulfilling play; Mary Cavan Tyrone, his wife, long lost in the haze of a morphine addiction acquired when the difficult delivery of her son Edmund was complicated further by the incompetence of her doctor; Edmund, the Tyrone's youngest son, a poet suffering from a respiratory condition and deep disillusionment with the world; and James Jr., Edmund's alcoholic ne'er-do-well brother. The play is autobiographical, and each of the characters represents a member of O'Neill's own family. It was written for his wife Carlotta, to whom O'Neill presented it on the occasion of their twelfth wedding anniversary in 1941. Not produced until three years after O'Neill's death, Long Day's Journey Into Night earned him a posthumous Pulitzer Prize and returned him to his rightful place at the forefront of American drama.
In 1943, Eugene O'Neill disinherited his only daughter, Oona, for marrying the actor Charlie Chaplin -- Oona was only 18 and Chaplin was 54. In spite of the age difference, however, it turned out to be a perfect match. The couple remained married until Charlie's death in 1977 and had 8 children, including Geraldine, their oldest daughter, who became an actress and appeared in many movies such as Dr. Zhivago (1965) and Chaplin (1992) in which she portrayed her own grandmother. After her husband's death, Oona, who had devoted herself completely to supporting his career, finally fulfilled her own dream of becoming a film actress, appearing in the movie Broken English (1981). She died of pancreatic cancer in 1991.
In Mourning Becomes Electra -- a trilogy consisting of the plays Homecoming, The Hunted, and The Haunted -- Eugene O'Neill transplants the Greek myth of Orestes into Civil War-era New England. Mourning Becomes Electra tells the tale of the cursed Mannon family which is thrown into turmoil when General Ezra Mannon returns a hero from the Civil War only to be murdered by his wife Christine who has been having an affair with Captain Adam Brant. The general's two children, Lavinia and Orin, take revenge on their mother and her lover but afterwards find themselves overwhelmed with guilt. Eventually, Orin commits suicide, and Lavinia boards herself up in the family's decaying mansion, resigned to spend eternity with the doomed Mannon ghosts.
Eugene O'Neill died on November 27, 1953, at the age of 65, and was buried in Forest Hills Cemetery in Boston. The first American Playwright to win the Nobel Prize in Literature (1936), O'Neill is generally considered to be the first truly great American dramatist.