The image shows the future playwright as a boy in full length profile, sitting on a rock, with pad and pencil as if he is about to sketch or write. The photo has been cropped at the top. On verso, docketed in pencil, are notations for further cutting to remove unwanted margins from the central focus of a charming portrait. The docketing reads, "Eugene O'Neill 25 years ago." The stamp of photographer, Nickolas Muray (1892-1965), shows upside down at the top edge indicating to whom credit should be given when reproductions would be made. Muray made other images of O'Neill as an adult. Note that Muray is the photographer named for reproduction credit. He is not here identified as the photographer of the original boyhood image. This print with Muray's stamp was likely made between 1918-20. Our research dates the original photograph as having been taken in 1893 or 1894 when O'Neill was 5 or 6 years old. His family had a summer home, the Monte Cristo Cottage, near the rock and the Thames River in New London The image of young O'Neill sitting on a rock with pad in hand was used as the basis for the statue of O'Neill in New London, CT, by Norman Legassie, honoring the centennial of the playwright's birth. The bronze statue sits at City Pier in New London. On the accompanying black bordered visiting card, O’Neill has crossed out his printed name and written his name in full below. The photograph and signed card would create a unique pairing together.
O'Neill's capacity for and commitment to work were staggering. Between 1920 and 1943 he completed 20 long plays and a number of shorter ones. His plays were among the first to include dialogue in American vernacular and involve characters on the fringes of society who ultimately slide into disillusionment and despair. This copy of the boyhood photograph would have been made at the beginning of O’Neill’s most prolific period.