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||Arthur Miller (1915-2005)|
American playwright who combined in his works social awareness with deep insights into personal weaknesses of his characters'. Miller is best known for the play Death of a Salesman (1949), or on the other hand, for his marriage to the actress Marilyn Monroe. Miller's plays continued the realistic tradition that began in the United States in the period between the two world wars. With Tennessee Williams, Miller was one of the best-known American playwrights after WW II. Several of his works were filmed by such director as John Huston, Sidney Lumet and Karel Reiz.
"Don't say he's a great man. Willy Loman never made a lot of money. His name was never in the paper. He's not the finest character that ever lived. But he's a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid. He's not to be allowed to fall into his grave like an old dog. Attention, attention must finally paid to such a person." (from Death of a Salesman)
Arthur Miller was born in Harlem, New York City; the family moved shortly afterwards to a six-storey building at 45110th Street between Lenox and Fifth Avenues. His father, Isidore Miller, was an illiterate Jewish immigrant from Poland. His succesfull ladies-wear manufacturer and shopkeeper was ruined in the depression. Augusta Barnett, Miller's mother, was born in New York, but her father came from the same Polish town as the Millers.
The sudden change in fortune had a strong influence on Miller. "This desire to move on, to metamorphose – or perhaps it is a talent for being contemporary – was given me as life's inevitable and righful condition," he wrote in Timebends: A Life (1987). The family moved to a small frame house in Brooklyn, which is said to the model for the Brooklyn home in Death of a Salesman. Miller spent his boyhood playing foorball and baseball, reading adventure stories, and appearing generally as a nonintellectual. "If I had any ideology at all it was what I had learned from Hearst newspapers," he once said. After graduating from a high school in 1932, Miller worked in automobile parts warehouse to earn money for college. Having read Dostoevsky's novel The Brothers Karamazov Miller decided to become a writer. To study journalism he entered the University of Michigan in 1934, where he won awards for playwriting – one of the other awarded playwright was Tennessee Williams.
After graduating in English in 1938, Miller returned to New York. There he joined the Federal Theatre Project, and wrote scripts for radio programs, such as Columbia Workshop (CBS) and Cavalcade of America (NBC). Because of a football injury, he was exempt from draft. In 1940 Miller married a Catholic girl, Mary Slattery, his college sweetheart, with whom he had two children. Miller's first play to appear on Broadway was The Man Who Had All The Luck (1944). It closed after four performances. Three years later produced All My Sons was about a factory owner who sells faulty aircraft parts during World War II. It won the New York Drama Critics Circle award and two Tony Awards. In 1944 Miller toured Army camps to collect background material for the screenplay The Story of G.I. Joe (1945). Miller's first novel, FOCUS (1945), was about anti-Semitism.
Miller's plays often depict how families are destroyed by false values. Especially his earliest efforts show his admiration for the classical Greek dramatists. "When I began to write," he said in an interview, "one assumed inevitably that one was in the mainstream that began with Aeschylus and went through about twenty-five hundred years of playwriting." (from The Cambridge Companion to Arthur Miller, ed. by Christopher Bigsby, 1997)
Death of a Salesman
brought Miller international fame, and become one of the major
achievements of modern American theatre. It relates the tragic story of
a salesman named Willy Loman, whose past and present are mingled in
expressionistic scenes. Loman is not the great success that he claims
to be to his family and friends. The postwar economic boom has shaken
up his life. He is eventually fired and he begins to hallucinate about
significant events from his past. Linda, his wife, believes in the
American Dream, but she also keeps her feet on the ground. Deciding
that he is worth more dead than alive, Willy kills himself in his car –
hoping that the insurance money will support his family and his son
Biff could get a new start in his life. Critics have disagreed whether
his suicide is an act of cowardice or a last sacrifice on the altar of
the American Dream. Before László Benedek's
screen adaptation of the play was released, Columbia Pictures asked
Miller to sign "an anti-Communist declaration". Miller refused to
WILLY: I'm not interested in stories about the past or any crap of that kind because the woods are burning, boys, you understand? There's a big blaze going on all around. I was fired today.
Some years before Budd Schulberg began working on the script for On the Waterfront,
directed by Elia Kazan, Miller wrote a play based on the murder of
Peter Panto (1911-1939), a dockworker turned union activist. Miller's The Bottom of the River (1949) was transformed into a screenplay titled The Hook,
but it was Schulberg's script that was eventually made into an
Oscar-winning film. Schulberg and Kazan insisted that they had not been
inspired by The Hook, but by "Crime on the New York," a series of acticles penned by Malcolm Johnson for the New York Sun.
The journalist Stephen Schwartz, defending Kazan in an article, said
that Miller's manuscript was "a quintessentially Stalinist
composition". "In reality, The Hook has no more in common with On the Waterfront,
in terms of authenticity of observation, quality of writing, or insight
into the lives of the working class, than any two Western, war,
science-fiction, crime, noir, or other genre films have with one another". ('Pete Panto's Story between Facts and Fiction: Jim Longhi and His Two Fingers of Pride' by Elisabetta Marino, in Harbors, Flows and Migrations: The USA in/and the World, edited by Vincenzo Bavaro, Gianna Fusco, Serena Fusco and Donatella Izzo, 2017, pp. 479-480)
In 1949 Miller was named an "Outstanding Father of the Year", which manifested his success as a famous writer. But the wheel of fortune was going down. In the 1950s Miller was subjected to a scrutiny by a committee of the United States Congress investigating Communist influence in the arts. The FBI read his play The Hook, about a militant union organizer, and he was denied a passport to attend the Brussels premiere of his play The Crucible (1953). It was based on court records and historical personages of the Salem witch trials of 1692. In Salem one could be hanged because of ''the inflamed human imagination, the poetry of suggestion.'' The daughter of Salem's minister falls mysteriously ill. Reverend Samuel Parris is a widower, and there is very little good to be said for him. He believes he is persecuted wherever he goes. Rumours of witchcraft spread throughout the people of Salem. "The times, to their eyes, must have been out of joint, and to the common folk must have seemed as insoluble and complicated as do ours today." The minister accuses Abigail Williams of wrongdoing, but she transforms the accusation into plea for help: her soul has been bewitched. Young girls, led by Abigail, make accusations of witchcraft against townspeople whom they do not like. Abigail accuses Elizabeth Proctor, the wife of an upstanding farmer, whom she had once seduced. Elizabeth's husband John Proctor reveals his past lechery. Elizabeth, unaware, fails to confirm his testimony. To protect him she testifies falsely that her husband has not been intimate with Abigail. Proctor is accused of witchcraft and condemned to death.
The Crucible, which received Antoinette Perry Award, was an allegory for the McCarthy era, its mass hysteria and climate of fear. Although its first Broadway production flopped, it become one of Miller's most-produced play. Miller wrote The Crucible in the atmosphere in which the author saw "accepted the notion that conscience was no longer a private matter but one of state administration." In the play he expressed his faith in the ability of an individual to resist conformist pressures.
"You know, sometimes God mixes up the people. We all love somebody, the wife, the kids – every man's got somebody he loves, heh? Bus sometimes... there's too much. You know? There's too much, and it goes where it mustn't. A man works hard, he brings up a child, sometimes it's niece, sometimes even a daughter, and he never realizes it, but through the years – there is too much love for the daughter, there is too much love for the niece." (from A View from the Bridge)
Elia Kazan, with whom Miller had shared an artistic vision and for a period a girlfriend, the motion-picture actress Marilyn Monroe, named in 1952 eight former reds, who had been in the Communist Party with him. Kazan virtually became a pariah overnight, Miller remained a hero of the Left. Two short plays under the collective title A View from the Bridge were successfully produced in 1955. The drama, dealing with incestuous love, jealousy and betrayal, was also an answer to Kazan's film On the Waterfront (1954), in which the director justified his naming names.
In 1956 Miller was awarded honorary degree at the University of Michigan but also called before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Miller admitted that he had attended certain meetings, but denied that he was a Communist. He had attended among others four or five writers's meetings sponsored by the Communist Party in 1947, supported a Peace Conference at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York, and signed many apppeals and protests. "Marilyn's fiance admits aiding reds," wrote the press. Refusing to offer other people's names, who had associated with leftist or suspected Communist groups, Miller was cited for contempt of Congress, but the ruling was reversed by the courts in 1958.
Miller – "the man who had all the luck" – married Marilyn
Monroe in 1956; they divorced in 1961. At that time Marilyn was beyond
saving. She died in 1962. Her desire to be a mother was never realized. Norman Mailer said of the difficult marriage in Marilyn: A Biography
(1973) that it was an union of "the Great American Brain" and "the
Great American Body." The press bluntly referred to the couple as "the
Egghead and the Hourglass." (Infertility and the Creative Spirit by Roxane Head Dinkin and Robert J. Dinkin, 2010, p. 312)
In the late 1950s Miller wrote nothing for the theatre. His screenplay Misfits was written with a role for his wife. The film was directed by John Huston, starring Mongomery Clift, Clark Gable, and Marilyn Monroe. Marilyn was always late getting to the set and used heavily drugs. The marriage was already breaking, and Miller was feeling lonely. John Huston wrote in his book of memoir, An Open Book, (1980): "One evening I was about to drive away from the location – miles out in the desert – when I saw Arthur standing alone. Marilyn and her friends hadn't offered him a ride back; they'd just left him. If I hadn't happened to see him, he would have been stranded out there. My sympathies were more and more with him." Later Miller said that there "should have been more long shots to remind us constantly how isolated there people were, physically and morally."
Miller was politically active throughout his life. In 1965 he
was elected president of P.E.N., the international literary
organization. At the 1968 Democratic Party Convention he was a delegate
for Eugene McCarthy. In 1964 Miller returned to stage after a nine-year
absence with the play After the Fall,
a strongly autobiographical work, which dealt with the questions of
guilt and innocence. The play also united Kazan and Miller, but their
close friendship was over, destroyed by the blacklist. Many critics
consider that Maggie, the self-destructive central character, was
modelled on Monroe, though Miller denied this. A year after his
divorce, Miller married the Austrian photographer Inge Morath
(1923-2002), whom he had met during the filming of The Misfits.
With her Miller co-operated on two books about China and Russia. After
Inge Morath's death, Miller fell in love with Agnes Barley, a 34-year-old
minimalist painter. They first met at a dinner party; Miller was immediately attracted by her vitality and liveliness.
In 1985 Miller went to Turkey with the playwright Harold
Pinter. Their journey was arranged by PEN in conjunction with the
Helsinki Watch Committee. One of their guides in Istanbul was Orhan
Pamuk, who recalled: "I clearly remember one image: at one end of a
very long corridor in the Islanbul Hilton, my friend and I are
whispering to each other with some agitation, while at the other end,
Miller and Pinter are whispering in the shadows with the same dsark
intensity. This image remained egraved in my troubled mind, I think,
because it illustrated the great distance between our complicated
histories and theirs, while suggesting at the same time that a
consoling solidarity among writers was possible." ('Freedom to Write' by Orhan Pamuk, The New York Review of Books, May 25, 2006) On returning to the U.S., Milller wrote an article which was rejected by the New York Times and the New Yorker – it touched the subject of political prisoners in Turkey, a Nato country since 1952, and Washington's policy of silence.
In the 1990s Miller wrote such plays as The Ride Down Mount Morgan (prod.
1991) and The Last Yankee (prod.
1993), but in an interview he stated that "It happens to be a very bad
historical moment for playwriting, because the theater is getting more
and more difficult to find actors for, since television pays so much
and the movies even more than that. If you're young, you'll probably be
writing about young people, and that's easier -- you can find young
actors -- but you can't readily find mature actors."
('We're Probably in an Art That Is -- Not Dying' , The New York Times, January 17,
1993) In 2002 Miller was honored with Spain's prestigious
Principe de Asturias Prize for Literature, making him the first U.S.
recipient of the award.
Miller died of heart failure at home in
Roxbury, Connecticut, on February 10, 2005. Agnes Barley was ordered to
leave the Connecticut farm, where she had lived with the author since
2002. Miller's final play, Finishing the Picture, which premiered at the Goodman Theatre in 2004, depicted the making of Misfits.
Miller himself insisted that it was a work of fiction. He was
buried in Roxbury Center Cemetery, Roxbury, Connecticut, alongside with
For further reading: Arthur Miller: 1962-2005 by Christopher Bigsby (2011); Arthur Miller: 1915-1962 by Christopher Bigsby (2009); Arthur Miller by Martin Gottfried (2003); Conversations with Miller by Mel Gussow (2002); The Cambridge Companion to Arthur Miller, ed. by Christopher Bigsby (1997); Approaches to Teaching Miller's Death of a Salesman, ed. by Matthew C. Roudane (1995); Arthur Miller and His Plays by P. Singh (1990); Arthur Miller by B. Glassman (1990); File on Miller, ed. by C.W.E. Bigsby (1988); Arthur Miller, ed. by H. Bloom (1987); Arthur Miller by J. Schlueter and J.K. Flanagan (1987); Convesations with Arthur Miller, M.C. Roudané (1987); Arthur Miller: Social Drama as Tragedy by S.K. Bhatia (1985); Twentieth Century Interpretations of Death of a Salesman, ed. by H.W. Koon (1983); Arthur Miller by N. Carson (1982); Arthur Miller by L. Moss (1980); Arthur Miller by R. Hayman (1972); Arthur Miller by R. Hogan (1964); Arthur Miller, ed. by R.W. Corrigan (1962)