I currently have columns running in 3 newspapers;
- Tri-Valley Herald : Looking Back
- Valley Times : Do You Remember?
- The Independent : Do You Remember?
The Articles appear in the Herald and Independent on Thursdays,
and the Times on Sundays.
They will also be found on this page each week as well.
If you've missed any please follow the links on the dates to catch up.
Danville celebrates its most famous citizen
By Barry Schrader.................................October
Sixty-one years after he left his house on the hillside, playwright
Eugene ONeill was recognized with a monument across from the Danville
Library on Front Street last week.
Danvilles most famous resident died 52 years ago. It took until
1974 for a local foundation to save the historic Tao House from the wreckers
ball and then turn it into a National Historic Site (legislation was signed
by President Gerald Ford in 1976, thanks to the efforts of state legislators
Daniel Boatwright, John Nejedly and others).
For those who dont follow the theater much, you should know that
ONeill was the first American playwright to ever receive the Nobel
Prize for Literature, awarded to him in 1936. He also earned four Pulitzer
prizes in drama for his plays Beyond the Horizon, Anna Christie, Strange
Interlude, and Long Days Journey into Night. His only comedy,
Ah, Wilderness! has been performed by thousands of high school
and thespian troups around the world.
ONeills early life was much like that of another Bay Area
literary figure, Jack London, my favorite writer who lived for two years
of his boyhood in Livermore. ONeill spent time at sea, lived the life
of a derelict, worked as a reporter on the New London Telegraph, submerged
himself in alcohol and attempted suicide, all before the age of 25.
It was much later, in 1937, that he and his wife Carlotta found the
isolated and picturesque hillside property above Danville and purchased
158 acres. They moved there and began building their dream homeTao
Housethree days before Christmas that same year. ONeill produced
some of his finest works during his residency thereincluding Long
Days Journey into Night, The Iceman Cometh, Hughie, and A
Moon for the Misbegotten. Despite continuing health problems and depression
over world affairs and the war, he proved to be very prolific during the
six years in the then-rural San Ramon Valley. Finally in 1944 after his
servants and driver left because of wartime, he and his wife sold the house
and moved to a San Francisco hotel. But he never wrote another play after
leaving Tao House.
The reason they chose Danville was because Carlotta had been raised
in this area, as well as her daughter and a grandson. She dedicated the
rest of her life to fulfilling her husbands wishes to live in an isolated,
fortress-like home and take guardianship of his creative life. She was his
muse and called the dragon lady due to her protectiveness. ONeill
loved the place because it was absolute country, no trace of suburbia or
city life, and had inspiring views of the valley below.
Danville residents didnt see much of the famous playwright, however,
as he had a chauffer-driven car, shopped and visited mostly in Oakland and
San Francisco, and the driver picked up the mail, dry cleaning and groceries
for them. But occasionally their wandering Dalmation named Blemie had to
be retrieved from the streets of town. All these tidbits I learned from
talking to Beverly Lane who is a resident expert on the ONeills, along
with several other locals on the foundation.
It is fitting that the town finally memorialized its most famous citizen
with the unveiling of the public artwork in Front Street Park. Thanks to
the longstanding efforts of the folks who operate the foundation (see website
at www.eugeneoneill.org) visitors can see a completely restored house and
grounds, plus have access to the research library as well as educational
and artistic programs. If it hadnt been for the foundation and legal
efforts of the National Park Service, the local Kuss Road Homeowners Association
would have cut off road access to Tao House and it wouldnt be available
to the public today.
The question about the famous alum of Valley Campus (now Las Positas)
generated a quick response from Dottie Laird of Pleasanton whose late husband
Ralph was a friend and fellow political memorabilia collector with former
Congressman Jim Rogan. The congressman paid tribute to his old friend with
a special resolution in Congress before Ralphs death.
Back in the early 1970s Jim dropped out of high school, but found new
direction and educational stimulation through Valley Campus and its supportive
staff when it first opened in 1975. In his book, Rough Edges, My Unlikely
Road from Welfare to Washington, he tells great anecdotes about Livermores
Straw Hat Pizza where he worked, about his poly sci instructor Esther Goldberg,
and then his encounters with Pleasanton-Livermore Democratic Club rabble-rouser
Birdie Bianchi, plus attorneys Allan Grossman and Dave Harris. Then-State
Assemblyman Floyd Mori also earned some ink in his chapter entitled The
Party of the Little Guy.
Rogan has not only been a Congressman, but also Majority Leader of the
State Assembly, a gang prosecutor in LA, and most recently Undersecretary
of the US Department of Commerce and Director of the Patent and Trademark
Office in the current Bush Administration. He will be the keynote speaker
at an upscale GOP fundraiser at Blackhawk later this month and said he hopes
to return to the Bay Area in November when he would like to visit his old
alma mater Las Positas and address the students there.
The question for next time: What is the name of the new book just published
by former Pleasanton resident and Vietnam War hero, Major Lee Basnar? He
visited here a year ago to introduce his book on his Vietnam War experiences,
and said he would next write an adventure story about his 16 years in the
Alaskan bush country, which he has now completed. Lee was once president
of the Tri-Valley Exchange Club and is remembered fondly by many club members
The columnist can be reached via email at :
or by snailmail at:
PO Box 446
Livermore, CA. 94551