TYRONE: I’d lost the great talent I once had through years of easy repetition, never learning a new part, never really working hard. Thirty-five to forty thousand dollars net profit a season like snapping your fingers! It was too great a temptation. Yet before I bought the damned thing I was considered one of the three or four young actors with the greatest artistic promise in America. I’d worked like hell. I’d left a good job as a machinist to take supers’ parts because I loved the theater. I was wild with ambition. I read all the plays ever written. I studied Shakespeare as you’d study the Bible. I educated myself. I got rid of an Irish brogue you could cut with a knife. I loved Shakespeare. I would have acted in any of his plays for nothing, for the joy of being alive in his great poetry. And I acted well in him. I felt inspired by him. I could have been a great Shakespearean actor, if I’d kept on. I know that! In 1874 when Edwin Booth came to the theater in Chicago where I was leading man, I played Cassius to his Brutus one night, Brutus to his Cassius the next, Othello to this Iago, and so on. The first night I played Othello, he said to our manager, “That young man is playing Othello better than I ever did!”
That from Booth, the greatest actor of his day or any other! And it was true! And I was only twenty-seven years old! As I look back on it now, that night was the high spot in my career. I had life where I wanted it! And for a time after that I kept on upward with ambition high. Married your mother. Ask here what I was like in those days. Her love was an added incentive to ambition. But a few years later my good bad luck made me find the big money-maker. It wasn’t that in my eyes at first. It was a great romantic part I knew I could play better than anyone. But it was a great box office success from the start-and then life had me where it wanted me-at from thirty-five to forty thousand net profit a season! A fortune in those days-or even in these.
What the hell was it I wanted to buy, I wonder, that was worth-
Well, no matter. It’s a late day for regrets…
TYRONE: No, I don’t know what the hell it was I wanted to buy.
[He clicks out one bulb.]
On my solemn oath, Edmund, I’d gladly face not having an acre of land to call my own, nor a penny in the bank-
[He clicks out another bulb.]
I’d be willing to have no home but the poorhouse in my old age if I could look back now on having been the fine artist I might have been…
—Eugene O’Neill, Long Day’s Journey Into Night