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The Iceman Cometh Back

Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Perhaps the defining sentence of one of our generation’s truly great actors, Michael Douglas. The now famous scene is from Oliver Stone’s 1987 epic Wall Street. The tale of “big ’80s money, and the no-holds-barred manner in which many attained it. It garnered Douglas his first and only acting Oscar, his second win overall. (His first Oscar was the result of his executive producing of the Ken Keasy film adaptation of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, starring Jack Nicholson, a role which earned Nicholson his first acting Oscar). In 2013 Douglas won his first Emmy for his stunning portrayal of Liberace in HBO’s Behind The Candelabra.

Prior to that, Douglas became a household name for his co-starring role with Karl Malden for six seasons in The Streets Of San Francisco. And yes, he truly is Hollywood Royalty, being the eldest son of Kirk Douglas, the acting legend who brought us Spartacus, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, and Lonely Are the Brave—himself an honorary Academy Award winner in 1996.

Not bad for a kid who started his acting career in Waterford. That’s correct, Michael Douglas first honed his acting craft at the Eugene O’Neill theater in Waterford, bartering his manual labor helping to actually build the now famous amphitheater in exchange for acting lessons and bit parts in theatrical productions, most of which gave him such terrible stage fright the actor took to keeping a bucket just off stage for the occasional, shall we say, nervous moment. “It took a long time to get over that,” he said recently in a CBS Sunday Morning interview. “I wondered early on why I was even doing it. It was a totally unnatural thing to me.”

“The O’Neill,” as it’s locally referred to, is steeped in an extraordinary amount of theatrical history. Founded in 1964 by George C. White in honor of America’s singular Nobel Prize winning playwright, the Long Island Sound setting has served as both a home and training grounds for such acting and writing giants as Meryl Streep, Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, Elizabeth Moss of Mad Men, Jeremy Piven, playwrights Edward Albee and August Wilson. And more recently, composer Lin-Manuel Miranda used his time at the O’Neill to perfect his Tony Award-winning musical, In the Heights. Composer Jeanine Tesori used her time at the O’Neill to compose her cur- rent Broadway smash hit Violet. “The O’Neill was the first place to say ‘Yes’ to me,” she says.

But the now cherished O’Neill almost fell to ruins. Out one summer afternoon on a routine sail with his wife, White took notice of the empty structures from the Sound. After a little local inquiring, White came to find that the structures, which many locals referred to as “eye-sores,” were soon to be used as training grounds for local fire fighters—essentially, burning the historic buildings to the ground. And most disturbingly to White, the famous “barn” structure. “And it’s a great barn!” White enthusiastically booms today.

Today, Waterford and the O’Neill are nearly synonymous, one almost unmentionable without the other. It is home to the National Playwrights Conference, The National Music Theater Conference, The National Puppetry Conference, Cabaret and Performance Conference, National Theater Institute, and the National Critics institute. Nationwide talent continues to flock there and Hollywood, Broadway, and television are most certainly the better for it.

Douglas proudly serves on the Board of Trustees to this day, while clearly recognizing the impact the place had on him, both as a person and an artist. “I wouldn’t be who or where I am today were it not for the The O’Neill.”

Seems after all, greed is pretty good…especially when it comes to preserving and cultivating our local artistic culture. Thank you, Mr. Gekko.

The Eugene O’Neill Theater is located at 305 Great Neck Road, Waterford, CT. 860.443.5378 or theaterlives@theoneill.org.

Image Credits: Photo courtesy of The O'Neill Organization

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