O’Neill’s Way with Women

 Arthur and Barbara Gelb

Arthur and Barbara Gelb

Arthur and Barbara Gelb spent a lifetime examining Eugene O’Neill, arguably America’s greatest playwright, whose boyhood was shaped in New London and for whom Connecticut was an integral part of his plays and life.

Beginning in the 1950s—O’Neill died in 1953 at the age of 65—the Gelbs interviewed O’Neill’s widow, friends, family, associates, and intimates for O’Neill, their first biography of America’s only playwright to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

As more letters, documents, and details emerged over the decades, the couple pursued the new information in their subsequent books about the playwright who was awarded a record four Pulitzer Prizes: O’Neill: Life with Monte Cristo in 2000 and the recently published By Women Possessed: A Life of Eugene O’Neill.

Arthur Gelb died in 2014 at the age of 90, shortly before the final biography’s completion, but Barbara Gelb, his wife of 68 years, continued the work until her death on Feb. 9 at age 91, and the result is a fascinating study of the playwright, focusing on his relationship with the women of his life: his mother Ella (whom he evoked as Mary Tyrone in his play Long Day’s Journey Into Night), his obsession with writer and free-spirit Louis Bryant, O’Neill’s first wife Kathleen Jenkins, his second wife Agnes Boulton, and most famously, his third and final wife, Carlotta Monterey. (The Yale School of Drama’s Carlotta Festival held every May that features the work of Yale School of Drama playwrights is named after O’Neill’s widow.)

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