Yesterday I visited Eugene O'Neill's house in Danville, California. My friend and I had a plan to go for a little hike on the hills around the house as well, but the last bus coming back from the house was suddenly cancelled. We did get some sandwiches to go though, at least we could sit down in the house's garden and enjoy the spring day.
WHO WAS EUGENE O'NEILL?
Eugene O'Neill is the only American playwright to have won the Nobel Prize for Literature. He has also won the Pulitzer Prize 4 times. The most known of his plays are The Iceman Cometh, Long Day's Journey into Night, Desire Under the Elms, Mourning Becomes Elektra and A Moon for the Misbegotten. Some of these plays have also been filmed as movies and even composed into an opera. Big names like Sophia Loren and Jack Nicholson have acted in these plays or movies.
O'Neill was born in 1888 in New York. He started writing in 1913 when he was recovering from tuberculosis. During his life, he got married three times and he had three kids. His daughter, Oona O'Neill was known as the fourth and last wife of Charlie Chaplin. Eugene O'Neill's third wife, Charlotta Monterey was from San Francisco which is the reason they returned to California in 1937. O'Neill wrote his last plays in Danville, California, before he lost his ability to write due to Parkinson's disease. He died in 1953 in the Sheraton Hotel of Boston, and after that it was discovered that he didn't have Parkinson's, but in fact a rare, genetic neurological disease. His wife Charlotta published O'Neill's last play; "Long Day's Journey into Night" in 1956, and it is said to be the best of his plays.
EUGENE O'NEILL'S TAO HOUSE
Charlotta and Eugene O'Neill were very interested in Asian culture and art, and they built their house in Danville in the Tao style. Taoism is an Chinese religion or philosophy which emphasises nature's mysticism and living in harmony. They for example painted the ceiling dark blue to mimic the sky and the dark wooden floors symbolised the earth. By the staircase you will find Chinese guardian statues; lions, and the garden follows a zigzag pattern to scare away evil spirits. The O'Neills used most of Eugene's Nobel Prize money to build and decorate the house.
The house is not huge, so you will most likely walk through it in half an hour. Only a fraction of the original furniture is still in the house. The backyard view down to Danville is amazing and you can best see it from the pool. In 1980 the Tao House was passed into the management of the National Park Service. For the national park visitors though, the house is located in a difficult location since it is part of a gated community. So you will not be able to drive to the house, instead you will need to use the shuttle service provided by the National Park Service. Usually, the shuttle from Danville city center runs three times a day to the Tao House and it is free of charge. The time tables can be found from here. Right in front of the house is a huge park with some steep hills, Las Trampas Regional Wilderness, so you can also hike or ride your horse to the house. If you want to visit without using the shuttle, don't forget to make a reservation so the rangers can come open the doors for you. There is also a little book store by the house where you can buy publications about Eugene O'Neill or the National Parks.
The barn in front of the house often is a venue for different events, and even now there were kids rehearsing a play. If you walk further, you can find a grave of O'Neill's beloved dalmatian dog, Blemil, and you can read the Last Will that Eugene wrote for him.
Next time we will definitely plan a hiking trip to these surroundings. This place is beautiful, and on a clear day you can see quite far from the hills. The trails double as cow paths, so don't forget to close the gates behind you. Even though we were not hiking this time, we still managed to see some deer, squirrels and many kinds of birds. What a fun day!