American Experience (1988– )
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Eugene O'Neill: A Documentary Film 

The life and career of American playwright Eugene O'Neill.


Ric Burns


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Episode credited cast:
Robert Brustein Robert Brustein ... Himself
Zoe Caldwell ... Herself / Mary Tyrone
Arthur Gelb Arthur Gelb ... Himself
Barbara Gelb Barbara Gelb ... Herself
John Guare ... Himself
Tony Kushner ... Himself
Robert Sean Leonard ... Himself / Edmund Tyrone
Sidney Lumet ... Himself
Liam Neeson ... Himself / James Tyrone Jr.
Al Pacino ... Himself / Hickey
Christopher Plummer ... Narrator / James Tyrone
Robert Redford ... Don Parritt (archive footage)
Vanessa Redgrave ... Herself / Mary Tyrone
Lloyd Richards Lloyd Richards ... Himself
Natasha Richardson ... Herself


Eugene O'Neill tells the haunting story of the life and work of America's greatest and only Nobel Prize-winning playwright -- set within the context of the harrowing family dramas and personal upheavals that shaped him, and that he in turn struggled all his life to give form to in his art. More than a biography of the greatest literary genius the American theater has produced, this American Experience production is a moving meditation on loss and redemption, family and memory, the cost of being an artist, and the inescapability of the past. It is also a penetrating exploration of the masterpieces O'Neill created only at the very end of his career -- "The Iceman Cometh" and "Long Day's Journey Into Night" pre-eminent among them -- brought to life in mesmerizing scenes performed especially for the production by some of the most gifted actors working in theater today, including Al Pacino, Zoe Caldwell, Christopher Plummer, Robert Sean Leonard, Liam Neeson, and Vanessa Redgrave. (taken ... Written by

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Release Date:

21 March 2006 (USA) See more »

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WGBH See more »
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User Reviews

Yes, the man was scum....but he was gifted nonetheless.
2 February 2012 | by MartinHaferSee all my reviews

I was confused by one of the reviews for this episode of "The American Experience". Instead of reviewing the quality of this biography, they seemed to be reviewing Eugen O'Neill--the man. While I could completely agree that he was a selfish jerk who deserved to be beaten with a dead halibut, you cannot completely write off this show just because O'Neill was in love with himself as well as a completely horrible person. Yes, he WAS a horrible person--barely someone I would even call a man (due to his great willingness to completely abandon his wives and kids--without having ANY further contact with them). But, you cannot completely write him off due to his great talents and because of that "American Experience" SHOULD have made this film.

What makes this film interesting is WHY. Why was O'Neill a horrible person? What about his childhood made him this disconnected from his fellow man? And, what about all this emotional turmoil actually helped him make his great plays? After all, O'Neill DID have a crazy childhood and it really became a great theme throughout his best plays--family dysfunction and alienation. All this made the film interesting. Another aspect of this biography that was interesting (though I am not sure if I liked it or not) was having some of the premier actors of the day acting out O'Neill--doing monologues as O'Neill. So, the likes of Christopher Plummer, Al Pacino, Liam Neeson and others act out O'Neill's inner struggles.

All in all, yet another very good episode of the life of a famous American. It creates great respect for O'Neill's work without whitewashing his MANY deficiencies. Well worth seeing and interesting.

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