But before that time, he had written Long Day’s Journey, wrote it in Tao House, in California, and only Eugene O’Neill could write a letter to his friend Saxe Cummins, his lawyer and his friend, during the writing of Long Day’s Journey, and say in the letter, “I had to get away from”—he called it the “family play”—“I had to get away from the family play for a while, so I’ve written something as a lighter exercise, and I’m thinking of calling it The Iceman Cometh.” Only Eugene O’Neill could write The Iceman Cometh for fun! In any case, contrary to most experience with most artists, O’Neill did his greatest work at the end of his career. And this speech, which is recited by James Tyrone…James Tyrone is a pretty close version of O’Neill’s father, James O’Neill, who was a famous actor in the 19th century; but as you’ll hear from the reading, it didn’t start out that way. Nothing was given to James O’Neill. In fact, as he says, Eugene O’Neill had enormous benefits, because he was James O’Neill’s son. But one of the topics of our discussion here is the Irish experience—the immigrant experience—because this experience as related by James Tyrone can be virtually for any American immigrant family, whether it be Slavic, it could be Mexican, it could be South American, it could be Italian or Polish, but it happens to be Irish.
My grandfather, who was born in 1885 to an incredibly impoverished family in Cork, was easily the toughest man I’ve ever known. Mean, tough, drunk—but a guy who worked, who made a life here for himself. And as I get older—and there are many of us here in this room I think that must have the same experience—you realize that those people making that great leap out into the unknown had to be extraordinary people. O’Neill himself felt that way about his father, and about his grandfather whom he did not know. But anyway, it sets up this speech towards the end of Long Day’s Journey, this one day, nightmarish day, in the family of Eugene O’Neill when his mother, whose real name was Ella, but who was Mary Tyrone in the play, has after about a 3-month period of being cured, trying to be cured, she had been in the hospital…she was a heroin addict, mainline, morphine addict—made so, these are the elements which make Nobel Prize winners, made a mainline morphine addict in the very painful process of giving birth to Eugene O’Neill. Which she took no opportunity to miss telling him.