February 11, 2005 by

Arthur Miller


Categories: Writers/Editors

amiller2.jpgPulitzer Prize-winning playwright Arthur Asher Miller died on Feb. 10 of congestive heart failure. He was 89.
The New York native was born into a middle-class Jewish family. His father, a Polish immigrant and clothing manufacturer, struggled and failed to keep the family business open after the stock market crashed in 1929. To make ends meet during the Depression, the Millers were forced to move from their spacious uptown Manhattan apartment to a small house in Brooklyn.
Since his parents were unable to afford his tuition, Miller worked a variety of jobs (truck driver, docker, singer, waiter) to save up enough money to attend the University of Michigan. In college, he supplemented his income by writing plays, entering them in contests and living off the prize money. After graduation, Miller supported himself by working at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and writing radio scripts.
It took Miller only six weeks to write the play, “Death of a Salesman,” which debuted on Broadway in 1949. The story of Willy Loman, a salesman destroyed by his own stubborn belief in the American Dream, earned Miller raved reviews and international fame. Directed by Elia Kazan, “Death of a Salesman” was the first play to take the New York Drama Critics Circle Award, the Tony Award and the Pulitzer Prize.
In 1953, Miller received another Tony for “The Crucible.” A play about the mass hysteria that occurred during the 1692 Salem witch trials also served as an allegory to Sen. Joe McCarthy’s communist investigations. Although “The Crucible” lasted only 197 performances on its first Broadway run, the play became immensely popular on high school and college campuses. The text sold more than 7 million copies and inspired a 1996 film, starring Joan Allen, Winona Ryder and Miller’s son-in-law, Daniel Day-Lewis.
Miller was summoned before the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1956, but refused to give up the names of Communist writers he met at a meeting a decade earlier. For his silence, Miller was fined $500 and given a suspended one-month jail sentence. The decision was reversed on appeal in the mid-1960s.
Miller wrote several plays over the next two decades, but few achieved critical or popular favor. Then in the 1980s, a Broadway revival of “Death of a Salesman,” starring Dustin Hoffman, and a Chinese production of the play which he directed at the Beijing Peoples’ Art Theatre, bought Miller back into the limelight. He became increasingly disillusioned with the New York theater scene, however, and premiered his 1991 play, “The Ride Down Mt. Morgan,” in London. When Miller returned to Broadway in 1994 with “Broken Glass,” the play earned a Tony nomination but failed to generate much interest with theatre patrons. In England, it won an Olivier Award.
Fifty years after it won a Tony for best play, “Death of a Salesman” received a Tony for best revival. That same year, Brian Dennehy (who played Loman) won the top acting prize. Elizabeth Franz won for featured actress, Robert Falls won for best play director and Miller received a lifetime achievement award.
Over the course of his six-decade career, Miller wrote numerous screenplays, a book of short stories (“I Don’t Need You Any More”), a novella (“Plain Girl”), two travel books and the 1987 autobiography, “Timebends: A Life.” His short story, “Beavers,” about a man who contemplates killing a beaver on his property, appears in the current issue of Harper’s magazine. The short story, “The Turpentine Still,” about a dying expatriate who ponders his own legacy, will appear in an upcoming issue of the Southwest Review.
Miller was married three times. With his first wife, Mary Slattery, he fathered a son and a daughter. They divorced soon after he had an affair with actress Marilyn Monroe. Although his marriage to Monroe ended in divorce after only five years, Miller found great inspiration from the union. He penned the screenplay for the 1960 film “The Misfits,” which starred Monroe, and later reflected on their relationship in the plays “After the Fall” and “Finishing the Picture.” Miller wed his third wife, Austrian photographer Inge Morath, in 1962, the same year Monroe committed suicide. They were together for 40 years and had one daughter before Morath died in 2002. For the past three years, he and artist Agnes Barley lived together on his Connecticut farm.
At the time of his death, Miller was editing an anthology for the Library of America and working on the London revival of “Death of a Salesman,” which will premiere in May. Earlier this evening, the lights of Broadway were dimmed in his honor.
Playlist From IBDb.com
Listen to Several Tributes From NPR
Complete Coverage From The New York Times

2 Responses to Arthur Miller

  1. roger laws

    The misfits is my favorite movie
    work is for suckers
    freedom beats wages
    what are you always runnin’ from?
    where you at?
    im just a trout bum but i have to say that
    the way this writer creates this beautiful crashup
    of misfit characters hit me with its
    sincerity and humanity in a way that has always
    stuck with me and really profoundly related
    with the way i think and have experienced life differently since the night i first saw the

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