"Dear Mrs. Olsson," Carlotta wrote on Tao House stationery. "Mr. O'Neill and I were deeply touched by your kindness to us today. And that kindness also gave us the pleasure of meeting you."
She continues to say that she and Eugene had been lost since Herbert Freeman, their driver and all-around handyman, left them to join the Marines. Freeman worked for the O'Neills for 10 years and made it possible for them to live in the seclusion of Tao House in the west Danville hills where O'Neill wrote "Long Day's Journey into Night" and other classics from 1937 to 1944.
This letter will be among the artifacts on display at "O'Neill's Global Legacy," an exhibit that opens tomorrow at the Museum of the San Ramon Valley.
Jack Hamel, who is co-chairing the exhibit with Ginny Iverson, said they have conjectured that Harriett and Edwin Olsson may have helped the O'Neills with shopping or some other errand. The Olssons owned the Shell service station on the corner of Hartz Avenue and Diablo Road.
"They lived right next to the service station," said Betty Dunlap, an Olsson relative who lives in Alamo. "I saw another letter that said thank you for driving them to the doctor in Berkeley."
Dunlap recalled the buzz when she was in high school about a visit by Eugene O'Neill's daughter Oona, who had just been named Debutante of the Year. The playwright later cut off communications with Oona when, at the age of 17, she married Charlie Chaplin, who was 56.
"We'd been led to believe there was almost no contact between the O'Neills and the Valley but this letter shows they had friends," said Hamel.
Also on display will be two tags for Christmas gifts from Eugene and Carlotta O'Neill to the Olssons, more indication that they considered them more than mere acquaintances.
This exhibit will focus on two aspects of the O'Neills' life in Danville, said Hamel. It will include nearly an hour of recorded music enjoyed by Eugene and Carlotta as it was played by Rosie, their antique player piano; and it will show how the ambiance in the Danville hills helped him write one of his two plays that won the Pulitzer, as well as five other plays.
"The isolation and privacy and the surrounding view allowed him to create," Hamel said.
The exhibit opens May 17; the next day, May 18, is a Blemie look-alike contest at the Museum and a play in the Old Barn theater at Tao House. It will be the second this month in the 2008 Playwrights' Theatre series, a partnership between the O'Neill Foundation and the National Park Service, which maintains Tao House as a National Historic Site. The 2008 O'Neill International Conference is being held in Danville from June 11-15 for scholars and fans of Eugene O'Neill.
Due to wartime shortages of help, the O'Neills moved away from Tao house in 1944 never to return. But the home they built in the hills continues to be a draw for O'Neill enthusiasts and local playgoers and historians.
Exhibit highlights Eugene O'Neill
What: O'Neill's Global Legacy, an exhibit focusing on memorabilia and music associated with Eugene and Carlotta O'Neill's days in Danville
Where: Museum of the San Ramon Valley, Railroad and Prospect avenues
When: May 17-June 14
Price: Admission is free but donations are welcomed.
Does your dog look like Blemie?
While they lived in Danville, Eugene and Carlotta O'Neill owned a beloved Dalmatian named Blemie who reportedly ate steak everyday and slept in a fine bed. He is buried on a knoll behind Tao House.
A Blemie look-alike contest will be held from noon to 1 p.m., Sunday, May 18, at the museum. Come join the fun - with or without a Dalmatian.