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Brian Dennehy

Brian Dennehy as James Tyrone 2002

Brian Dennehy as James Tyrone in Robert Falls’
2002 production of Long Day’s Journey Into Night
with Pamela Payton-Wright as Mary Tyrone.
Photo by Eric Y. Exit.

And so, the scar tissue, and the pain, and the tragedy that was the O’Neill family, which resulted in this great artist doing this great work, went on and on and on. And like most families, he passed it up. He had three children, his two sons were virtual suicides. One was an actual suicide and the other died of either an overdose or drank himself to death; and, of course, he had no relationship with his daughter, Oona O’Neill, who married [Charlie] Chaplin. And I got know Oona O’Neill because she was dating, after Chaplin died, she was dating a friend of mine—a writer, a wonderful writer, still alive, very old now—got to spend time with her, and I remember—what a great Jewish-American, immigrant family—and I remember him calling and saying, “I don’t know what I’m going to do about this relationship.” And I said, “What do you mean?”He says, “She never stops drinking.”I said, “She’s Eugene O’Neill’s daughter! She has a responsibility!”But she herself, she was pierced by that harrow of that family, the curse, the Irish curse, which of course, at the same time, produced some of the greatest literature.

Brian Dennehy as James Tyrone 2005

Brian Dennehy as James Tyrone in the 2005
Broadway Revival of Long Day’s Journey Into Night.
Photo from Entitled Entertainment.

In any case, this is the part of this speech, which I had the privilege of speaking on stage, and it’s the old man talking to his son at what you might call the emotional climax of the evening when they’re battling with each other. The younger son, Edmund, is Eugene O’Neill, of course at a young age, probably 20 or 21. Now get this—he calls himself “Edmund,”he wrote this play around 1940 or 41 or 42, he calls himself “Edmund.”Edmund was the name of his older brother who died at the age of six months of measles, probably inflicted deliberately by O’Neill’s other older brother Jamie, who was told to stay away from the baby because he had measles, he was 8 or 9 years old, and probably went in and played with the baby deliberately. There is no way of calculating the damage these people did to each other. In any case, Edmund and James Tyrone are sitting and playing cards, late at night, both very drunk, and the son Edmund lashes out at his father and calls him a “stinking old miser,”so I’ll start there…