New Arrival

TLS On "Before Breakfast" and Whether "the Provincetown Players … allow their plays to be put on outside of their own theatre". Signed, "Sincerely, Eugene G. O'Neill" in green ink at lower right.

West Point Pleasant, New Jersey: March 7, 1919.

Price: $4,500.00


About the item

1 page on onion skin paper. A typed strike through of one word in the third paragraph. 4to (8-1/2 x 11 inches). Light wear, old paper folds . A minor break along the horizontal fold at the right margin has been so skillfully repaired verso as to be nearly invisible. A minor black ink smear is found along the left margin verso. Laid into a blue, cream, and burgundy feathered custom clamshell case with gilt leather spine reading "O'Neill / Letter to / Hunter." Measuring 9-1/2 x 13 inches.

Item #367572

O'Neill wrote this letter to fellow playwright Maurice Reginald "Rex" Hunter (1889-1960), a New Zealand-born playwright, poet, novelist, journalist, scenario writer, actor, and theatrical producer. Hunter had evidently expressed a wish to perform O'Neill's "Before Breakfast" with an unidentified troupe of "Players." O'Neill granted his permission, but urged Hunter to consider chipping in some royalties to both O'Neill and the acting troupe which had first performed "Before Breakfast" in 1916 in New York.

O'Neill writes in part:

"...I do not know whether 'Before Breakfast' is available for production by your group of Players at this time or not. At the request of the Great Northern Players [a movie company], I recently submitted several of my plays to them and 'Before Breakfast' was among the number…

As for waiving all royalty, that is another matter. It is not the custom for members of the Provincetown Players to allow their plays to be put on outside of their own theatre without receiving some return. We consider we are doing our part quite fully when we give our plays and services to our own productions, without ever letting the idea of money creep in. A line must be drawn somewhere. There is not one of us who can afford to be philanthropic, or it would be a different matter… Even we have to live. In my opinion, Little Theatre groups can best help each other by paying at least a small royalty for all plays they put on other than those written by members, or voluntarily submitted by outsiders on a royaltyless basis…

And my mercenary (?) howl above is a warning to you for the future - as playwright to playwright…"

The majority of Eugene O'Neill's early plays were first performed by the Provincetown Players . The Provincetown Players was a short-lived theatrical company established in Provincetown in 1915 by Greenwich Village intellectuals who formed a summer colony at Cape Cod. The founders of the bohemian theatre group embraced experimental theatre, both in format and in function, and launched many unknown or struggling playwrights, including Eugene O'Neill. The Provincetown Players performed for two seasons in Provincetown, in 1915 and in 1916, and for six seasons in Greenwich Village, between 1916-1922, before disbanding. In addition to "Before Breakfast" (1916), O'Neill's very first play "Bound East for Cardiff" (1914), as well as the later wildly successful play "The Emperor Jones" (1920), were both performed by the Provincetown Players.

We locate only a few O'Neill letters mentioning his beloved Provincetown Players, the most recent of which sold almost 30 years ago for over $4,000.

O'Neill's "Before Breakfast" was a one-act play featuring one on-stage character, a querulous matron named Mrs. Rowland, and one off-stage character, her husband Mr. Rowland, who briefly shows a hand emerging from the curtain. (In the original Provincetown Players production of "Before Breakfast" in 1916, O'Neill had played Mr. Rowland.) The play's surprise ending--Mr. Rowland's suicide off-stage--interrupts Mrs. Rowland's monologue with play-ending shrieks.

Provincetown also played an important role in O'Neill's personal life; there, he married second wife Agnes Boulton (1893-1968) in April 1918. O'Neill's letter to Rex Hunter was posted from Point Pleasant, New Jersey. The newly married couple lived at "Old House," Agnes's family home, during the winter of November 1918 through May 1919. While there, O'Neill wrote a lost play called "Honor Among the Bradleys" and also worked on the manuscript of what would become "Anna Christie" (1920).