BACKSTAGE: Barbara Gelb and 'O'Neill


Oh, that Eugene O’Neill and his turbulent relations with women, his children, his family, well, almost everyone. That dramatic life is detailed — especially in his relations with his mother, lovers and three wives — in a new book by Arthur and Barbara Gelb, By Women Possessed: A Life of Eugene O’Neill. The pair’s third biography of the four-time Pulitzer Prize-winning author — and the only American playwright to earn the Nobel Prize in literature — is an intimate look at O’Neill, beginning with his boyhood in New London, where he spent his summers, to his death in 1953 and what happens after with his erratic widow.

I asked Barbara Gelb, who spent more than six decades writing about O’Neill with her husband, who died in 2014 at the age of 90, what productions of O’Neill’s play were her favorites?

“The original production of Long Day’s Journey Into Night with Frederic March and Jason Robards Jr.,” she says without missing a beat. (That’s the one set at Monte Cristo Cottage, his family’s summer home in New London.) Another favorite is the 2015 New York production of The Iceman Cometh with Nathan Lane as Hickey and Brian Dennehy as Larry Slade.

“I think O’Neill would have liked those productions,” she says, “though you could never do a production the way he originally planned.”

Barbara Gelb died on Feb. 9, shortly after this interview. She was 91.