Aug 16, 2013
11:37 AM
Arts & Entertainment

Eugene O'Neill's Boxer Shorts for Sale at a Connecticut Bookshop

Eugene O'Neill's Boxer Shorts for Sale at a Connecticut Bookshop

Courtesy of Dan Dwyer/Johnnycake Books

A closeup of a pair of Eugene O'Neill's blue cotton boxers, showing the E.O'N. monogram.

There’s at least one obscure literary link between Litchfield County, Conn., and Nobel Prize-winning playwright Eugene O’Neill’s “dirty laundry,” but who knew that some of his actual laundry—a pair of blue boxer shorts—would end up being for sale as a collector’s item in one of Connecticut’s best antiquarian bookshops.

At Dan Dwyer’s Johnnycake Books in Salisbury, not only can you pick up a 1982 edition of O’Neill’s famous play “The Iceman Cometh,” with drawings by Leonard Baskin ($150), or what they call in the trade “reading copies” of  “Lazarus Laughed” and “Marco Millions," but you can also go home with an original pair of the playwright’s premium- grade cotton underwear.

That literary snippet was revealed to the world this week in a fun little Daily News blog post by Margaret Eby.

Reached by phone after he had emailed his friends and clients a link to the post, Dwyer recounted how he “acquired them from a book collector who bought them from a retired pair of booksellers in the Boston area.”

As this plot goes, the O’Neill family had summer place in Marblehead, Mass., and when the heirs to the estate finally sold it as a White Elephant, folks in the trade were called in to remove and sell the contents, which, Dwyer says, included a fine summer house library.

The Boston-area booksellers were among that group and acquired two pairs of the boxers. One they kept and another they sold to a book collector, and it’s from that person Dwyer acquired the boxers—so the chain of provenance on the underwear with the E. O’N. monogram is pretty solid.

An O’Neill fan—he saw “Strange Interlude” in London a couple of weeks ago—Dwyer is thrilled to have an unusual literary collector’s item, which, according to the Daily News, is displayed with a card pronouncing the underwear “A Longjohn’s Journey Into Night.”

As a conversation piece to go with a vintage copy of an O’Neill play, the size 34 boxers can be yours for $1,750.

Meanwhile, another connection between Litchfield County and the writer often deemed America’s greatest playwright is an unseemly bit of history from the annals of O’Neill’s relationship woes.


In one of the letters published by Yale University Press in Selected Letters of Eugene O’Neill, the playwright disparages and seeks dirt on his estranged wife, Agnes Boulton, whom he had left for the flamboyant actress Carlotta Monterey.

Writing to one of his laywers, Harry Weinberger, at the beginning of July 1928, amid divorce-settlement negotiations with Boulton, O’Neill alleges that Boulton’s daughter Barbara—supposedly from a first marriage to a Mr. Burton in England—was actually the child of “a Polish farmer” who lived near the Boulton family at its farm in Cornwall Bridge—a farmer who is described as the lover of Agnes Boulton’s mother at the same time he was in love with Anges.

“And people think my Desire, for example, is too sordid to be real!” O’Neill writes to his attorney, before going on to suggest the hiring of a private investigator to talk to the “natives of Cornwall Bridge” and find out the Boulton clan’s secrets, so O’Neill would have something to hold over Agnes Boulton’s head as divorce leverage. “Her friends have stuffed her with the idea that she has me by the balls or she would never have the guts to act as she is doing,” O’Neill writes.

Selected Letters is gripping reading for O’Neill fans—and as for those “balls,” an aficionado with a bit of cash to spare can now buy the underwear where they once resided.


Eugene O'Neill's Boxer Shorts for Sale at a Connecticut Bookshop

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