O'Neill's father was James O'Neill, a popular actor noted for his portrayal of the Count of Monte Cristo. Young O'Neill, his mother, and his older brother lived an unsettled life traveling with James on tour. The tortured relationships in his family haunted O'Neill all his life and are reflected in many of his plays. From boarding school he entered Princeton in 1906 but remained there only a year. During the next few years he traveled widely and held a variety of jobs, acquiring experience that familiarized him with the life of sailors, stevedores, and the outcasts who populate many of his plays.
O'Neill was stricken with tuberculosis in 1912 and spent six months in a sanatorium, where he decided to become a playwright. In the next two years he wrote 13 plays. He studied with George Pierce Baker at Harvard (1914–15) and in the summer of the following year began his association with the Provincetown Players, a theatrical group that produced many of his one-act plays.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.