Tag Archives: Times Square

Eugene O’Neill: the sailor, the sickness, the stage

In December 1912, a young man experiencing the onset of tuberculosis committed himself to Gaylord Sanatorium in Connecticut. The third son of a well known Irish-American actor, the young man had up to that point led a somewhat dissolute life. Brought up in boarding schools, he was suspended from Princeton University after his first year . By the time he checked into Gaylord he’d been a miner in Honduras, married (and abandoned) his first wife, spent several years sailing the Atlantic , and survived at least one suicide attempt. A change came when at the sanatorium he began writing plays. He was 24 years old. His name was Eugene O’Neill.

Eugene Gladstone O’Neill,  son of actor James O’Neill, was born on October 16, 1888 at the Barrett House Hotel located in what was then known as Longacre Square.

Unknown. [Broadway north from 43rd Street.] 1896. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.11.943
The Barrett House Hotel is the distant building on the left side. It later became the Hotel Cadillac.

James O’Neill was a dramatic actor known best for his role as Edmond Dantes in a stage adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo. His declamatory style was in step with the kind of theater popular at the time: full of bold gestures, spectacle, and clear lines of morality.

In May of 1913, after receiving a clean bill of health, the young Eugene took up play writing in earnest.  He attended George Pierce Baker’s play writing class at Harvard University.  Sailing up to Cape Cod in 1916, he spent his first summer in the company of the Provincetown Players, a newly formed group of theatrical artists committed to working against the grandiose melodrama that dominated the American stage.  It was at the Players’ Wharf Theatre that O’Neill performed in his own Bound East for Cardiff.  (Shown on the far left in the image below).

Unknown. [From left to right: Eugene O'Neill, Fred Burt, David Carb, and George Cram Cook in "Bound East for Cardiff" in Provincetown Wharf Theatre.] 1916. Museum of the City of New York. 54.380.39

Bound East for Cardiff was the first in what would become the Glencairn Plays, so named for the fictional ship on which the one-act plays were set.  The S. S. Glencairn, its characters, and its journeys were inspired by O’Neill’s time aboard the British steamship S. S. Ikala.  These four plays include Moon of the Carribees, The Long Voyage Home, and In the Zone.  They focus on a group of sailors and what they carry: secrets, a longing for a different life, and sometimes a bottle of rum.

Though written second, In the Zone is considered the last play in the series in terms of the characters’ chronology. The play debuted on Broadway at the Comedy Theatre as part of an evening of one-acts.

Theater program for “In the Zone”. 1917. Museum of the City of New York. 74.72.2

White Studio (New York, N.Y.). [Left to right: Eugene Lincoln, Robert Strange, Frederick Roland, Jay Strong, Arthur Hohl, and Rienzi De Cordova in The Washington Square Players production of "In The Zone".] 1917. Museum of the City of New York. 47.59.18

The play was successful enough to allow for a 34 week tour giving O’Neill his first steady income as a playwright.  It wasn’t until 1924 that the Provincetown Playhouse put up the first full-scale production of the complete cycle in New York City. By that time O’Neill was an established playwright with a Pulitzer Prize under his belt.

Unknown. [Scene from "Moon of the Caribbees" at Provincetown Playhouse, NYC.] 1924. Museum of the City of New York. 75.130.12

In 1920 O’Neill’s Beyond the Horizon earned him his first in what would turn out to be four Pulizters for Drama.  His first full-length work, the play is set in a rural farm community not unlike the one dreamed of by the sailors aboard S.S. Glencairn.  The opening scene is a road.  Below is a sketch from a draft page of Beyond the Horizon and the realized scenery at the play’s debut at the Morosco Theatre.

Eugene O’Neill. First page of draft of “Beyond the Horizon”. 1918. Museum of the City of New York. 30.145.3A

White Studio (New York, N.Y.). [Setting for Act I, scene 1 of "Beyond the Horizon".] 1920. Museum of the City of New York. 34.157.24

The main character, Robert Mayo, is described in the opening stage directions as having “a touch of the poet” about him. He is a dreamer and longs to travel outside what he has known. (Robert was portrayed by Richard Bennett, below, seated at far right).

White Studio (New York, N.Y.). [Mary Jeffrey, Sidney Macy, Erville Alderson, Robert Kelly, and Richard Bennett.] 1920. Museum of the City of New York. 34.157.25

Robert’s older brother Andrew is content to work the land, but through the affections of a young woman, the brothers’ fates are reversed. Robert stays on the family farm while Andrew takes to the sea. Neither fares well. Robert ends up contracting tuberculosis. He dies in the final scene as the sun rises up from a disappearing road.

Eugene O’Neill’s own end came with a long illness, a neuromuscular disorder that rendered him unable to hold a pen. He died 59 years ago this week at the Sheraton Hotel in Boston, Massachusetts. He was 65 years old.

A Trip Up Broadway

From 1916 to 1921, Arthur Hosking photographed Broadway, from its southernmost leg at Bowling Green all the way north to Yonkers. Here are some highlights, all taken in 1920 unless otherwise noted.

Arthur Hosking. Broadway Series. Bowling Green looking north from Custom House steps. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.18.4

At the far right of this photo is the Produce Exchange, which was demolished in 1957. This photo was taken in 1921, when both street trolleys and horse-drawn carriages competed as viable means of transportation.

Arthur Hosking. Broadway Series. Broadway looking north from Rector Street. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.18.18

A photo taken a few blocks north at Broadway and Rector Street shows pedestrians, automobiles, and street trolleys competing with each other for space. Trinity Church is on the left.

Arthur Hosking. Broadway Series. Looking north from 2nd floor window at corner of Fulton Street. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.18.30

Broadway is bustling at the intersection of Fulton Street. St. Paul’s Chapel, seen on the left, was built from 1764 to 1766 and is Manhattan’s oldest continuously-used public building. In 1966, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and designated a landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. The City Hall Post Office on the right did not fare so well. Built in 1878, it was immediately despised by city officials and the public alike. It was razed in 1938 in anticipation of the 1939 World Fair. (See http://www.nyc-architecture.com/GON/GON022.htmfor more details.)

Arthur Hosking. Broadway Series. View of east side of Bway, looking north from Lispenard and Canal Street, where the two streets converge. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.18.58

Taken in TriBeCa, this photo shows an advertisement for Nehemiah Gitelson & Sons. Nehemiah Gitelson immigrated to the United States from Poland in 1880. In addition to running the family company, he supported Jewish scholarship. In honor of his patronage, the Jewish Theological Seminary named his donation of over 1,100 volumes the Nehemiah Gitelson Talmudic Library.

Arthur Hosking. Broadway Series. View looking south from 18th Street taken from 3rd floor fire escape. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.18.85

In 1815, the intersection of Broadway and the Bowery (now 4thAvenue) was designated a public meeting space and named Union Place for the convergence of the city’s main thoroughfares. The city gradually began to acquire surrounding land, and in 1832 Union Place was renamed Union Square.

Arthur Hosking. Broadway Series. View looking north from "El" station at 33rd Street and 6th Ave, showing Herald Square. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.18.108

This photo shows Saks & Co. on the left, then Macy’s. To the right is the New York Herald building. Only the Macy’s building survives today. Saks & Co. merged with Gimbels  to form Saks 5th Avenue in 1932. However, the original Saks building in this photo operated under the name Saks 34thStreet until its closure in 1965. The New York Herald building was designed by Stanford White of McKim, Mead & White in 1894 and demolished in 1921.

Arthur Hosking. Broadway Series. View looking north from 44th Street (Times Square), where Broadway crosses 7th Avenue. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.18.117

This photo shows the heart of Times Square. To the left is Hotel Astor, built in 1904. Before 1904, the area was known as Longacre Square, but Adolph Ochs, owner and publisher of the New York Times, convinced the city to officially rename the space Times Square. Hotel Astor remained until its demolition in 1967.

Arthur Hosking. View of the southeast corner of Broadway and 155th Street. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.18.158

Here is the Church of the Intercession in Hamilton Heights. It was only 8 years old when this photo was taken.

The photo below shows Broadway at a much slower pace in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. The Broadway Inn is to the left.

Arthur Hosking. Broadway Series. View looking north from Mosholu Ave with Broadway Inn at left. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.18.190

The “Dimming” of Times Square

Close your eyes. Think of Times Square. Imagine all the chaos, the sounds, the overwhelming rush of humanity illuminated by the never-ending glow of neon and electric lights. Would Times Square, not to mention the whole city, be the same without the  neon and glittering lights? During World War II, that question was a reality as the city enacted a nightly dim-out that was meant to protect New York from both air and naval attacks by disguising the recognizable skyline.

Dim - Out Traffic. Times Square during dim out. R.W. Shipman. Museum of the City of New York. Photo Archives.

The first mention of the dim-out was in January 1942. Over the next six months the various rules and regulations of the dim-out crystallized into a thorough document that covered everything from which direction light can escape from windows to the wattage of marquis signs.  The full text of a New York Times article on the subject is  here.  For the next eighteen months, the streets of the five boroughs were dark, there were no lights above street level, outdoor baseball games were banned, and Times Square was a “gloomy cavern.”

These pictures show Times Square in the height of both the dim-out and the war. The lack of light allows the moon and stars to be seen from the middle of Times Square – a phenomenon that the New York Timesclaimed hadn’t happened since 1917.

Constellation. Photograph by Frank Paine Baldwin. ca. 1945. Museum of the City of New York. Photo Archives.

Billboards are in shadows, marquis are dark, but Times Square was still the place to be.

Gone but Not Forgotten. Photograph by J.G. Suter. ca. 1945. Museum of the City of New York. Photo Archives.