O’Neill, Eugene: Signed letter written to his agent from Bermuda about his original play entitled "The Fountain"

Playwright Eugene O’Neill writing to his agent from Bermuda about the production of his play The Fountain
Playwright Eugene O’Neill writing to his agent from Bermuda about the production of his play The Fountain

O’Neill, Eugene: Signed letter written to his agent from Bermuda about his original play entitled "The Fountain"

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O’Neill, Eugene (1888 – 1953)

Playwright Eugene O’Neill writing to his agent from Bermuda about the production of his play The Fountain 

Pulitzer and Nobel Prize-winning American playwright. Autograph letter signed. (“Gene”) 1 page, Tall 4to. (13 x 8 1/2 inches). Bermuda, 3 April 1925. To his literary agent, Richard J. Madden, upon hearing that the Theatre Guild had dropped its option to produce his 1923 play The Fountain.

Dear Dick, I’ve marked down some changes in the Belasco contract which you’d better try out on him at any rate. Your cable about Guild – “Fountain” was not unexpected. I wouldn’t be in too much of a hurry about tying up with Jones-Greene, not until I’ve seen Kenneth and had a talk with him, and after we’ve all had a chance to reread the play. I imagine I may want to do a lot of rewriting on it. And so much depends on the man for the part, perhaps for Walter Hampden and that Bobby, Kenneth & I might make some arrangement to cooperate with him on a production, if he should fancy the part that much. But all these notions are “in the air”. What I must do before deciding on anything definite is talk it all over with Kenneth & Bobby. They are coming down here soon, I believe. I’ve finished “The Great God Brown” and am having it typed. It is a “lulu”. I’m going to start another before very long and try and get it done before I see the States again. I’m the busy kid, what? All best! Gene

Critic and Academy Award-winning producer Kenneth MacGowan (1888 – 1963) and expressionist designer and “new stagecraft” pioneer Robert Edmond “Bobby” Jones (1887 – 1954) were close friends and collaborators with O’Neill. In 1923, the three men took the leadership of The Experimental Theatre, Inc., a reorganization of the Provincetown Players where O’Neill first got attention as a playwright. Jones did design work for O’Neill’s plays Desire Under the Elms, Anna Christie and The Great God Brown. Jones and MacGowan wrote several books together and both had lasting relationships with O’Neill.

In 1923, O’Neill completed The Fountain, a romance about a conquistador. However, he failed to find a production company interested in staging the work. Finally, in 1925, he produced it with MacGowan and Jones at the Greenwich Village Theater. The run lasted for a mere 28 performances. A scathing review in The New York Sun said, in part, ‘ “The Fountain,” as has been told here in the past, is no new venture – on the author’s part, at any rate. Mr. O’Neill wrote it all of a few years ago and sold it in turn to two other managerial organizations, both of which made wiser solutions of the bargain, forfeited their advances, and have no doubt freely added their blessings on the production as undertaken downtown by that triumvirate of which Mr. O’Neill is himself a member. And, if blessings avail, “The Fountain” needs a sea of them’, (Gilbert W. Gabriel, ‘De Leon in Search of His Spring’, New York Sun, 11 December 1925).

David Belasco (1853 – 1931) was a playwright, director and significant theatre impresario, perhaps best known for the plays Madame Butterfly and The Girl of the Golden West, which later became famous as Giacomo Puccini operas. ‘To most adherents of the Art Theatre movement, the name of David Belasco was anathema… Belasco’s imitation of surface appearances was slavish and dull, a trivial naturalism whose product was without truth or delight. It is a matter of some amusement, therefore, to visualize the moment when O’Neill and Jones, the chief young Turks of the anti-Belasco theatre, with hat and the script of Marco Millions [completed in 1925] in hand, approached the enemy to interest him in producing O’Neill’s new work. The proposal must have given even Belasco pause. As O’Neill wrote it, he told MacGowan, he let the sky be the limit and was putting “every fancy” …The producer was courteous, took an option on the play, and, it is said, offered to send Jones to China for two years to do research for the scenery. He dropped the option in April, 1926… It was not produced until 1928 when the Theatre Guild staged a much shortened version that O’Neill had prepared in 1927’, (Travis Bogard, Contour in Time: The Plays of Eugene O’Neill, Oxford University Press, 1972).

Walter Hamden (1879 – 1955) was the manager of Hamden’s Theatre from 1925 – 1931 as well as an actor especially known for his Shakespearean roles. Madden was a partner in the American Play Co. and represented O’Neill from 1918 until the playwright’s death. Despite declining to produce The Fountain, The Theatre Guild produced a total of seven Eugene O’Neill plays.

O’Neill believed that The Great God Brown, completed in Bermuda and mentioned in our letter, was his crowning achievement to date. His daughter, Oona, who would marry Charlie Chaplin at the age of 18 and be disowned by O’Neill because of it, was born in Bermuda on 14 May, only a few weeks after O’Neill wrote this letter.

Folded with some light creasing. Two small tears along the left edge affecting one word. Mounting traces on the verso. In very good condition.

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