Harry Hope’s Saloon and Rooming House, the fictional setting of Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh, is based on a number of real saloons and dive bars that O’Neill frequented in his early 20s in Greenwich Village in the 1910s, such as Jimmy-The-Priest’s and The Golden Swan (better known as The Hell Hole). Saloons such as these were notorious for their clientele, a sordid mish-mash of drunks, petty criminals, struggling artists, political dissidents and prostitutes. O’Neill found a community within these walls and true friends among those who were “drowned at the bottom of a bottle,” and nowhere is the affection and sympathy the playwright had for this community more profoundly felt than in The Iceman Cometh. The gang at Harry Hope’s have all known each other for years and all ages, professions, nationalities and creeds are welcome under Harry’s roof. Since the cast is so large and the characters so varied, we’ve compiled an intro to these colorfully drawn characters, each with a history and a pipe dream that is uniquely their own.
An Irish immigrant, the proprietor of the saloon and (crucially) the primary source of free booze, Harry is a good-natured curmudgeon, constantly threatening his wayward boarders with eviction and calling a moratorium on house drinks. To date, it appears that an eviction threat has never been carried out and, in his own words, he has “never refused a drink to anyone needed it bad” in his life. Harry was once a prominent member of his local community; he knew “every man, women and child” in his ward and had friends in high places at Tammany Hall (a major political institution that played a key role in running New York City and helping immigrants, most notably the Irish, rise up in American politics.) However, just before he was to be nominated for the position of Alderman of the 9th Ward, his wife Bessie passed away and Harry has not left his establishment since. His once reputable business has declined and his community has shrunk to the floating population of boarders and regulars who occupy the back room of his bar.
Nicknamed “The Old Wise Guy,” Larry is the resident philosopher (or “foolosopher” as they say) at Harry Hope’s. He is a former anarchist who has denounced the Movement “after 30 years devotion to the Cause.” He claims to be content to be a drunken bum while he waits impatiently for death, although alcohol has in no way dulled his shrewd wit, keen observations and tendency to wax poetic about humanity. While the gang mock him for his philosophizing and his preoccupation with death, they also look to him for advice and validation and the three ladies of the pavement, in particular, adore him. Despite his gruff exterior, Larry has deep compassion for all of his “fellow inmates” and indulges their pipe dreams of yesterday and tomorrow, telling them what they want to hear to comfort them and bolster their illusions.
Bessie’s brother and Harry’s brother-in-law, Ed Mosher once worked for a circus in the ticket wagon. In the 20 years since the passing of his beloved sister, he has made a living as Harry’s “lifetime guest.” At the turn of the century, ticket wagon men were notorious grifters as a matter of course, legendary for their skill and dexterity and never leaving their clamoring patron with the correct change. Ed claims he used to be to able to “short change the Keeper of the Mint” and dreams of one day reliving his glory days with The Greatest Show on Earth. However, none of the other inmates seem to think he would be welcomed back to the circus lot with open arms. It is implied that Ed was dismissed when took his con game too far, even by circus standards. As Harry gleefully quips, “you even borrowed fish from the trained seals and peanuts from every elephant that remembered you!”
Piet Wetjoen (“The General”) and Cecil Lewis (“The Captain”)
Growing up as a farmer in veldt (plains) of South Africa, Piet was one of many civilian farmers turned soldiers who was forced to take up arms during the Boer Wars. Even the generals were farmers with no military training, appointed by political leaders to lead their army. Faced with the superior might of the British, the Boers relied on largely guerilla warfare. In 1900, the world was stunned and Britain was mortified by the fact that their professional military minds had been repeatedly forced into retreat by inexperienced and untrained “farmer generals.” However, Piet’s courage and honor on the battlefield was called into question and he fled to America. He made a living for a time in the Anglo-Boer War Spectacle in the St. Louis World’s Fair, where he first met Cecil “The Captain” Lewis, and has since washed up at Harry Hope’s with no job, limited English and his proclaimed great physical strength gone to seed through alcohol abuse.
Cecil was a captain in the British infantry, but now he mostly whiles away the hours with Piet, “in happy dispute over the brave days in South Africa.” It is implied that Cecil comes from a wealthy family with a considerable estate, although he no longer has access to this money. As a proper English gentleman who still holds fast to the trapping of propriety and breeding, he delights in mocking Piet for his rural upbringing. Piet, in turn, brags that he shot Limey officers “by the dozen,” but regrets not shooting Cecil—though, of course, the two men never met until long after the war. Despite their contempt for each other, Cecil and Piet are firm friends and share the dream of returning to their respective home countries one day.
As the one-time proprietor of a colored gambling house and the only African American regular at the saloon, the general consensus is that Joe Mott was “a hell of a sport” back in the day. He frequented Harry Hope’s when it was a high-class saloon, buying rounds of expensive whiskey for the whole gang without a second thought. Indicative of the implicit racism of the early twentieth century, Joe’s good fortune and generosity meant he was often complimented on being “white” and he boasts about the fact that he used be the only colored man allowed in white gambling houses. However, the days of his roaring success are long past and now he earns his keep at Harry’s by doing odd jobs around the bar, dreaming of winning big money again and opening a new gambling house.
“Prince Willie” is one of the younger residents of Harry Hope’s and also one of the most severely alcoholic, to the point that the rest of the gang regards him with pity. When deprived of booze, he suffers violently from delirium tremens (“the shakes”) and night terrors. He is consumed by his relationship with his now-deceased father, who made a fortune in the bucket shop game (an illegal establishment for betting on the stock market) but was eventually exposed and died in prison. Willie was once a brilliant student at Harvard and later at law school, under his father’s dictatorial guidance, but now has no practice except occasionally holding court in Harry’s back room. His grandiose humor and impoverished appearance often make him the subject of ridicule, but he is a member of the family nonetheless.
James Cameron (“Jimmy Tomorrow”)
Gentle Scotsman Jimmy Tomorrow is affectionately known as the “Leader of the Tomorrow Movement” at Harry Hope’s. He truly believes that he is going to spruce up and put up a good front and get his old job in the newspaper’s publicity department back—tomorrow. In his heyday, Jimmy was a journalist for an English paper and a correspondent in the Boer War. Jimmy remembers his travels and his time in Britain with a fond sentimentality, and often chides Cecil and Piet for discussing the more savage points of the conflict. Jimmy also fondly recalls his ex-wife Marjorie, who had a “beautiful voice and played the piano beautifully,” but whose infidelities, he claims, set him on a path to drunkenness.
Even in 1912, a time in the United States when the Anarchist Movement was a hub for serious political dissidence and a threat to public safety, it is hard to believe that Hugo was ever a “dangerous terrorist” or “demon bomb-tosser.” A one-time editor of anarchist periodicals, Hugo spent 10 years in prison in his home country for his beliefs and is half-blind from so much time spent in solitary confinement. Nowadays, he spends most of his time passed out at a table in Harry Hope’s, occasionally waking up to condemn his fellow inmates as traitors and bourgeois capitalists, to quote revolutionary poetry or to demand a drink. His outbursts reveal a certain amount of confusion about his position as an anarchist; his love for the proletariat is tempered by a desire to rule them, his hatred of bourgeois values tainted with hifalutin opinions on wine. As Larry Slade sadly notes, “No one takes him seriously. That’s his epitaph. Not even his comrades anymore.”
As Harry’s night bartender, Rocky is responsible for keeping order among the bums and supervising the flow of alcohol. Harry seems to perceive him as a petty criminal who is constantly skimming the cash register, but it is unclear whether Rocky is actually a crook or if these accusations are part of Harry’s general tendency to grouch. Rocky makes his real money from his two tarts, Margie and Pearl, who turn in their profits to him at the end of a hard night’s work. Rocky insists fervently that he is not a pimp, as he treats his girls well, never beats them up and doesn’t live off the money they bring in. Unlike most of the other denizens of Harry Hope’s, Rocky has no particular fondness for booze and will more often indulge in a cigar if someone else is buying.
Margie and Pearl
In a time when the average day for a working girl was 12 to 14 hours and factories had no regulations with regards to fire safety and decent working conditions, many women turned to the oldest profession in the world as a safer, easier and more lucrative way to make a living. Margie and Pearl are two such girls, although they insist that they are not whores; they are merely tarts. Whereas “whore” always meant a person who has sex for money, “tart” might simply imply a woman who dresses provocatively or is sexually promiscuous. In 1912, prostitution had just become effectively illegal under the White-Slave Traffic Act (Mann Act) of 1910, and so the girls are dependent on Rocky to pay off the police so “they can hustle without getting pinched.”
Chuck Morello and Cora
Chuck is the day bartender at Harry Hope’s. Cora is his long-term girlfriend and they room together in the saloon. Cora works as a street walker and she has considerably more experience than Margie and Pearl. They dream of giving up city life, getting married and buying a farm together, despite the fact that according to Rocky, “bot’ of ‘em was dragged up in dis ward and ain’t never been nearer a farm dan Coney Island!” At the time, there was a certain amount of romanticization around the idea of farm life and simple rural living. Chuck has a habit of going on “periodical drunks” (long stints of binge drinking) and getting in fights, but frequently goes “on the wagon for life” to appease Cora.
When Don arrives at Harry Hope’s looking for Larry, his fancy clothes and stingy attitude to buying drinks immediately mark him as an outsider. He was raised in the Movement, the only son of Rosa Parritt, a prominent anarchist and a former lover of Larry’s. Rosa was recently arrested with a group of other anarchists in connection with a bombing on the West Coast that killed several people. Don has fond memories of living with Larry and has travelled all the way to New York to seek him out in this time of crisis.
|Nathan Lane as Theodore “Hickey” Hickman, the quintessential purveyor and slayer of pipe dreams, in Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh directed by Robert Falls at Goodman Theatre.
Theodore “Hickey” Hickman
Hickey, a traveling salesman and an effervescent charmer, only comes to Harry Hope’s occasionally, but when he does, he buys drinks for everyone. He also throws a rip-roaring birthday party for Harry each year, an event the other men eagerly await. Raised in a “hick burg” in Indiana, Hickey married his childhood sweetheart, Evelyn. A devoted, loyal wife, Evelyn has always forgiven Hickey’s drunkenness and infidelities. When he’s in the saloon, Hickey frequently jokes that Evelyn is “in the hay with the iceman,” but as far as we can tell, she has never been unfaithful to him.