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Posts Tagged ‘Eugene O’Neill’

The Good Life

A little while ago, in my post on Edgar Allan Poe, I talked about a creative genius whose life would suffer through poverty and hardship and end in tragedy and mystery.

Today, I’m posting about another great literary figure whose life progressed quite differently: Nobel- and Pulitzer-prize winning playright, Eugene O’Neill.

I am, admittedly, not “well read”. I’ve only read one or two of the classics, and only because certain college courses demanded it. I also don’t attend a lot of theater, although I will attend plays by Shakespeare whenever our local playhouses present one. So I really don’t know that much about O’Neill or his plays, other than a forced reading of “The Hairy Ape” for that three-credit “art domain” course at the state university. But there is no denying the man is one of the giants in American literature, having penned renowned plays such as “Morning Becomes Electra” and “The Iceman Cometh”.

Porch © 2009 America In ContextWhen you visit his home in the hills of Contra Costa County, California, it becomes abundantly clear that he, unlike Poe, enjoyed the fruits of his labors. It’s a beautiful Spanish Colonial house, set on a wonderfully landscaped lot, overlooking the valley below, and backed by the rocky, wooded hills of the Las Trampas Regional Wilderness. It’s a truly elegant setting, fit for a man clearly loved for his dramatic creations. The only tragedy here is his wife, Carlotta, was extremely light-sensitive and kept the windows covered by thick wood blinds and shades. Such tremendous views wasted, although I don’t fault her. I suffer slightly from light sensitivity, I can empathize with her dilemma.

I’m not quite sure what else to say about Eugene O’Neill, except for this: I never begrudge artists, whether authors or playwrights or actors or musicians, from living well off their talents. Artists are special, and art advances us as a species like nothing else can. Art is more influential than technology or governance or business or medicine in that regard. Art is the gateway to the spirit of mankind, and it is that spirit that advances us.

I know this sounds trite and packaged. Aren’t we all supposed to say “art is the gateway to the spirit of mankind” or some such crud? Sounds like it’s right from the mouth of a guest star on Oprah. But I’m convinced it’s true. There’s something personal and unique about an encounter with art. You see it, or read it, or listen to it, or watch it, and your initial reaction is unique to you and you alone. Art tends to cut through all those social filters that muddy up our society and sends a message straight to the individual (instead of the huddled masses).

Friends © 2009 America In ContextNow, that message might be: “Hi. I’m really, really ugly. Please take note.” And that’s fine, because the next guy, totally independently, can receive a message: “Hi. I’m you. You really need to take a hard look at this, and change your life before it’s too late,” and that can be a really powerful message.

Famous and beloved artists tend to touch more people, send out those messages that give them hope, or give them insight, or give them motivation to change. Technology can’t do that, it only provides a vehicle to get things done. Politicians can’t do that, all they can do is further enslave us into dependency on government. Theocrats can’t do that, all they can do is entrap us deeper into the constraints of dogma. Only artists can do that. Or maybe a real, good friend.

Folks like O’Neill, Bob Dylan, George Carlin, Steven Spielberg, Robert Plant, Stephen King, and a host of others, all manage to reach out and touch lots and lots of people, and I have no problem when these folks living well. In fact, I hope they do so.

Now Brittany Spears, well, that’s an entirely different topic …

Front View © 2009 America In Context

On a side note, I do want to mention one key difference between Poe’s and O’Neill’s NPS sites. In my prior post, I remarked how the Poe site’s neighbors seemed to like having Poe in the neighborhood. They do readings for local kids, and no one has ever defaced that wonderful mural of the author, even though it doesn’t seem like a pleasant neighborhood. It’s sad to say so, but it certainly appears that O’Neill’s neighbors aren’t particularly interested in having his site in their neighborhood. It’s a very upscale, expensive neighborhood, and you have to be bused in from a commuter parking lot (no tourist cars are allowed), and there doesn’t seem to be the connection between the neighborhood and the site or the man. In all fairness, the winding roads and limited parking are not conducive to lots of tourists, but you definitely get the feeling folks int he area don’t care too much for having a National Park unit in their vicinity. It’s sad, and in my view, it doesn’t speak well to their character.

I hope someone from the area can post here contradicting me. It was just an observation, drawn from a particular moment in time and seen through my jaded eyes. Hopefully reality is different. If you have direct experience with this site and its neighborhoods, and you think I’m full of crap, please post & tell me (just keep it civil 😉 ).

[Photos on this post are mine and copyrighted thusly. See other photos of Eugene O’Neill’s home on my Photobucket page.]

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Links:

Eugene O’Neill National Historic Site

Eugene O’Neill Archives

Google map to E.O. NHS

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