Project Description


(1986) Part 1 (RT 60:00) | Part 2 (RT 90:00)

In this in-depth film biography, dramatic and documentary techniques are freely combined to recreate the life, work and personality of Eugene O’Neill, great American playwright.  Eugene O’Neill is recognized as the pioneer who transformed American drama, experimenting with new techniques, modern Freudian ideas and controversial subjects. O’Neill detested the cloying sentimentality and the false, melodramatic dramas of his day. His plays overturned century-old styles of writing and performing, bringing a fresh approach to all aspects of theatrical production. To achieve the realism he sought, he incorporated American vernacular speech and found many of his characters in the outcasts of society.

The playwright’s personal story is as full of drama as his plays, many of which arise from his own experience. During his adventurous sea-going youth, he struggled with depression, alcoholism and tuberculosis. In Greenwich Village he met and married  writer Agnes Boulton. Two children were born. Some years later, O’Neill would abandon home and family for beauteous actress Carlotta Monterrey who became his wife and the muse who believed her mission was to keep the world at bay so that O’Neill was free to write. This included old friends and drinking pals, as well as his children. The playwright’s tangled relationships with his actor-father, his drug-addicted mother and his alcoholic older brother were powerful influences upon him and were reflected in some of his greatest plays.

To tell of O’Neill’s intricate life and work, Eugene O’Neill: A Glory of Ghosts mines film and photo archives as well as personal collections, and makes innovative use of actors in dual capacities, both as themselves and as characters in excerpts from O’Neill’s plays. The film features specially-staged dramatizations taken from eight of his plays. These are enacted by a distinguished cast including: Jason Robards, Zoe Caldwell, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Blythe Danner, James Naughton, Tony Lo Bianco and Frances Conroy. Penetrating insights into O’Neill’s personality and his dramas are presented on-camera by people close to him and his work.  These include comments from close personal friend, Theatre Guild producer Armina Marshall Langner, O’Neill scholar and critic Travis Bogard and actors who have frequently performed in O’Neill plays on Broadway.  Celebrated actress Colleen Dewhurst, who starred in many O’Neill productions, tells us: “With O’Neill, you can’t hold anything back.”  Playing O’Neill deeply affected the lives of certain actors. Jason Robards credits his playing the role of Jamie, an alcoholic, in O’Neill’s drama, Moon for the Misbegotten with his own break with alcohol.


“The high intent, the ingenious production with it rich background detail, command respect. Perry Miller Adato has raised the TV docudrama to the status of art.”

“A superb 2-hour electronic biography of playwright Eugene O’Neill is itself a long day’s journey into the night that was his personal life. Eugene O’Neill: A Glory of Ghosts is a masterwork of a documentary about the man who in his lifetime won four Pulitzer Prizes and the Nobel Prize for Literature but still died sad and unfulfilled.

Director Perry Miller Adato has taken an incisive script by Paul Shyre and turned it into a definitive profile of O’Neill, one that future scholars might well consult in their search to understand the man…

Eugene O’Neill was one of the most enigmatic figures on the American literary landscape, and Eugene O’Neill doesn’t yield to the temptation to oversimplify the complex elements which made him so.”
The Christian Science Monitor, Arthur Unger

“…the life and work of Eugene Gladstone O’Neill (1888-1953) are examined in an absorbing two-and-a half-hour presentation entitled Eugene O’Neill: A Glory of Ghosts. Perry Miller Adato, the co-producer with Megan Calloway, is an award-winning compiler of television biographies. Ms. Adato’s past subjects have included Georgia O’Keeffe, Pablo Picasso, Carl Sandburg and Dylan Thomas. The writer is Paul Shyre, whose work with biographies extends back to the 1950’s and his staged versions of Sean O’Casey’s Pictures in the Hallway. In other words, this O’Neill portrait is in capable and intelligent hands.

…the emphasis here is on the connections between the work and his own wandering through flophouses and saloons, experiences incorporated into his earliest plays, to his troubled relations with his actor father and drug addicted mother, relations that would be transformed into the powerful art of Long day’s Journey Into Night, the story of O’Neill is as compelling and fascinating as it is painful.

…Throughout, however, there emerges the haunted and haunting figure of O’Neill himself. His own words are read in voice-over by Jeffrey DeMunn. Brief scenes from several of his plays are supplemented with rare home movies illustrating that the playwright was, as the producer Armina Marshall Langner puts it, “this attractive Irish guy, as attractive as hell.” At the same time, this biography heeds an opening warning from Carlotta Monterey: “Don’t sentimentalize him. He was a rough, tough black Irishman.”

…Whether talking about the playwright or slipping into characterization from the plays Mr. Robards is nothing short of masterly. Colleen Dewhurst, another magnificent O’Neill interpreter, avoids performance but does explain in an interview about what she calls the playwright’s “stripping process” for an actor: “He will not permit you to do it on a tired night. There is no safety-net, you just have to jump.

O’Neill once said “the theater must give us what the church no longer gives us-a meaning.” Some disagree. His father, after seeing Beyond the Horizon, said: “It’s all right if that’s what you want to do, but people come to the theater to be entertained, not be depressed.” Tonight’s A Glory of Ghosts is an eloquent rejoinder to that hoary and still current bromide”
John J. Connor, New York Times


Director: Perry Miller Adato
Producers Perry Miller Adato, Megan Callaway
Writer: Paul ShyreCast:
Zoe Caldwell
Frances Conroy
Frank Converse
Blythe Danner
Joel Fabiani
Bette Henritze
Tom Hulce
Tony LoBianco
James Naughton
Jason Robards
Mario Van Peebles
Geraldine FitzgeraldVoice of Eugene O’Neill: Jeffrey DeMunn

Scholar Advisors:
Prof. Normand Berlin
Prof. Travis Bogard
Dr. Virginia Floyd
Dr. Donald Gallup
Prof. Gerald Rabkin

Editor: Jason Rosenfield
Music Composed & Conducted by: Robert Dennis
Music Supervisor: John Adams
Assistant: Rosemary Fischel

Camera: Robert Baldwin
Additional Camera: Michael Livesey, Jeff Wayman

Jason Robards- actor
Colleen Dewhurst- actress
Armina Marshall Langner, Producer, Theater Guild
Travis Bogard: O’Neill Scholar & Critic
Walter Abel, Actor

Camera Animation: Henry Lykes
Title Design: Christopher Kogler, Neil Sandstad
First Assistant Director & Production Manager; Bruce Nalepinski
Second Assist. Director: Peter Pastorelli
Sound Recording: Nigel Noble, Kevin Lombard
Sound Editor: Neil Kaufman
Sound Mixer: Rick Dior
Costumes: Helen Butler
Wardrobe Assistant: Barbara P. West
Makeup: Leslie Fuller
Hair: Aaron Quarles
Property Master: Ron Stone
Script Supervisor: Mary Kelly
Assist. Film Editor: Marc S. Shaw
Researcher: Erika Gottfried
Production Controller: Alan Ziring
Camera Assist: David Dunlap
Boom Operator: Jerome Vitucci
Gaffer: Craig Nelson, Aristides Pappidas
Key Grip: Mitch Lillian
Second Grip: Richard Kerekes
Best Boy: Kyle Kibbe
Production Assistants: Carice Witte, Monte Farber
Apprentice Editor: Sally Boldt
Research Assistant: Cara Mertes
Production Secretary: Mary M. DePoto
Assistant to the Producers: Shelly Kirk

John Gregory
Ernest Bellocq
Charles Clulee
Stephen B. Collins
Jerry Dantzic
Walker Evans
Gjon Mili
Nicholas Muray
Edward Steichen
Martha Swope
Alfredo Valente
Carl Van Vechten
Sailing Film: Alan Villiers
O’Neill Bermuda Film: Nicholas Muray

Special Acknowledgements:
Staff & Students Connecticut College New London, Conn.
Monte Christo Cottage New London, Conn.
Collection of American Literature, The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University
Humanities Research Center Univ. of Texas, Austin
National Park Service
Eugene O’Neill Foundation Tao House, California

Our Thanks to:
Collections of the Brooklyn Museum
Special Collections UCLA Library
Dorothy Commins
Doyle Auctioneers + Appraisers
Lee Friedlander
Hampden-Booth Library
Harvard University Theater Collection Houghton Library, Harvard University
Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY
Mount St. Vincent, NY
Museum of the City of New York
Mystic Seaport Museum
National Maritime Museum
National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution
New York Public Library Astor, Lenox & Tilden Foundations
New York Historical Society
Provincetown Heritage Museum
St. Mary’s College, Notre Dame
Stamford Historical Society
South Street Seaport Museum
Walker Evans Estate
Wharf Theater, Provincetown
William Seymour Theater Collection
Princeton University

Executive Producers: Susan Lacy, Jac Venza

A Presentation of WNET New York
© 1985 Educational Broadcasting Corporation

American Masters
Executive Producers: Susan Lacy
Coordinating Producer: Harlene Freezer
Executive Director: Jac Venza
Hosted by Joanne Woodward

Post Production Supervisor: Roger Downey
Production Manager: Cynthia Mitchell
Production Controller: Mitch Owgang
Production Assistant: Deborah Reissman
Title Design: B.T. Whitehill
Series Theme music by: Jonathan Tunick

Host segment directed by David Heeley
Written by John L. Miller
Producer by Joan Kramer
Director of Photography Rick Malkames
Sound: Michael Lonsdale

National Endowment for the Arts
Public Television Stations
Rosalind P. Walters
National Endowment for the Humanities
Pew Memorial Trust