Arthur Asher Miller - biography
Arthur Asher Miller (October 17, 1915 – February 10, 2005) was an American playwright and essayist. He was a prominent figure in American theatre, writing dramas that include plays such as All My Sons, Death of a Salesman, and The Crucible. Miller was often in the public eye, particularly during the late 1940s, 1950s and early 1960s, a period during which he testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee, received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and was married to Marilyn Monroe.
Arthur Asher Miller was born on October 17, 1915, in New York City, the second of three children of Isidore and Augusta Miller, Polish-Jewish immigrants. His father, an illiterate but wealthy businessman, owned a women's clothing store employing 400 people. The family, including his younger sister Joan, lived on East 110th Street in Manhattan and owned a summer house in Far Rockaway, Queens. They employed a chauffeur. In the Wall Street Crash of 1929, the family lost almost everything and moved to Gravesend, Brooklyn. As a teenager, Miller delivered bread every morning before school to help the family make ends meet. After graduating in 1932 from Abraham Lincoln High School, he worked at several menial jobs to pay for his college tuition.
At the University of Michigan, Miller first majored in journalism and worked as a reporter and night editor for the student paper, the Michigan Daily. It was during this time that he wrote his first work, No Villain. Miller switched his major to English, and subsequently won the Avery Hopwood Award for No Villain. He was mentored by Professor Kenneth Rowe, who instructed him in his early forays into playwriting. Miller retained strong ties to his alma mater throughout the rest of his life, establishing the university's Arthur Miller Award in 1985 and Arthur Miller Award for Dramatic Writing in 1999, and lending his name to the Arthur Miller Theatre in 2000. In 1937, Miller wrote Honors at Dawn, which also received the Avery Hopwood Award.
In 1938, Miller received a BA in English. After graduation, he joined the Federal Theater Project, a New Deal agency established to provide jobs in the theater. He chose the theater project although he had an offer to work as a scriptwriter for 20th Century Fox. However, Congress, worried about possible Communist infiltration, closed the project in 1939. Miller began working in the Brooklyn Navy Yard while continuing to write radio plays, some of which were broadcast on CBS.
On August 5, 1940, he married his college sweetheart, Mary Slattery, the Catholic daughter of an insurance salesman. The couple had two children, Jane and Robert. Miller was exempted from military service during World War II because of a high-school football injury to his left kneecap. Robert, a writer and film director, produced the 1996 movie version of The Crucible.
In 1940 Miller wrote The Man Who Had All the Luck, which was produced in New Jersey in 1940 and won the Theatre Guild's National Award. The play closed after four performances and disastrous reviews. In his book Trinity of Passion, author Alan M. Wald conjectures that Miller was "a member of a writer's unit of the Communist Party around 1946", using the pseudonym Matt Wayne, and editing a drama column in the magazine The New Masses. In 1946 Miller's play All My Sons, the writing of which had commenced in 1941, was a success on Broadway (earning him his first Tony Award, for Best Author) and his reputation as a playwright was established.
In 1948 Miller built a small studio in Roxbury, Connecticut. There, in less than a day, he wrote Act I of Death of a Salesman. Within six weeks, he completed the rest of the play, one of the classics of world theater. Death of a Salesman premiered on Broadway on February 10, 1949 at the Morosco Theatre, directed by Elia Kazan, and starring Lee J. Cobb as Willy Loman, Mildred Dunnock as Linda, Arthur Kennedy as Biff, and Cameron Mitchell as Happy. The play was commercially successful and critically acclaimed, winning a Tony Award for Best Author, the New York Drama Circle Critics' Award, and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It was the first play to win all three of these major awards. The play was performed 742 times.
In 1952, Kazan appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC); fearful of being blacklisted from Hollywood, Kazan named eight members of the Group Theatre, including Clifford Odets, Paula Strasberg, Lillian Hellman, Joe Bromberg, and John Garfield, who in recent years had been fellow members of the Communist Party. After speaking with Kazan about his testimony Miller traveled to Salem, Massachusetts to research the witch trials of 1692. The Crucible, in which Miller likened the situation with the House Un-American Activities Committee to the witch hunt in Salem, opened at the Beck Theatre on Broadway on January 22, 1953. Though widely considered only somewhat successful at the time of its initial release, today The Crucible is Miller's most frequently produced work throughout the world and was adapted into an opera by Robert Ward which won the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1962. Miller and Kazan remained close friends throughout the late 1940s and early 1950s, but after Kazan's testimony to the HUAC, the pair's friendship ended, and they did not speak to each other for the next ten years. The HUAC took an interest in Miller himself not long after The Crucible opened, denying him a passport to attend the play's London opening in 1954. Kazan defended his own actions through his film On the Waterfront, in which a dockworker heroically testifies against a corrupt union boss. Miller's experience with the HUAC affected him throughout his life. In the late 1970s he became very interested in the highly publicized Barbara Gibbons murder case, in which Gibbons' son Peter Reilly was convicted of his mother's murder based on what many felt was a coerced confession and little other evidence. City Confidential, an A&E Network program about the murder, postulated that part of the reason Miller took such an active interest (including supporting Reilly's defense and using his own celebrity to bring attention to Reilly's plight) was because he had felt similarly persecuted in his run-in with the HUAC. He sympathized with Reilly, whom he firmly believed to be innocent and to have been railroaded by the Connecticut State Police and the Attorney General who had initially prosecuted the case.
In 1956 a one-act version of Miller's verse drama, A View From The Bridge, opened on Broadway in a joint bill with one of Miller's lesser-known plays, A Memory of Two Mondays. The following year, Miller returned to A View from the Bridge, revising it into a two-act prose version, which Peter Brook produced in London.
In June 1956 Miller left his first wife Mary Slattery, and on June 29, he married Marilyn Monroe. Miller and Monroe had first met in April 1951, when they had a brief affair, and had remained in contact since then.
When Miller applied in 1956 for a routine renewal of his passport, the HUAC used this opportunity to subpoena him to appear before the committee. Before appearing, Miller asked the committee not to ask him to name names, to which the chairman agreed. When Miller attended the hearing, to which Monroe accompanied him, risking her own career, he gave the committee a detailed account of his political activities (leaving out the fact that he was a communist party member). Reneging on the chairman's promise, the committee asked him to reveal the names of friends and colleagues who had participated in similar activities. Miller refused to comply with the request, saying "I could not use the name of another person and bring trouble on him." As a result a judge found Miller guilty of contempt of Congress in May 1957. Miller was fined $500, sentenced to thirty days in prison, blacklisted, and disallowed a U.S. passport. In 1958 his conviction was overturned by the court of appeals, which ruled that Miller had been misled by the chairman of the HUAC.
After his conviction was overturned, Miller began work on The Misfits, starring his wife. Miller said that the filming was one of the lowest points in his life, and shortly before the film's premiere in 1961, the pair divorced. Nineteen months later, Monroe died of an apparent drug overdose.
Miller married photographer Inge Morath on February 17, 1962, and the first of their two children, Rebecca, was born that September. Their son Daniel was born with Down syndrome in November 1966, and was consequently institutionalized and excluded from the Millers' personal life at Arthur's insistence. The couple remained together until Inge's death in 2002. Arthur Miller's son-in-law, actor Daniel Day-Lewis is said to have visited Daniel frequently, and to have persuaded Arthur Miller to reunite with his adult son.
In 1964 Miller's next play was produced. After the Fall is a deeply personal view of Miller's experiences during his marriage to Monroe. The play reunited Miller with his former friend Kazan: they collaborated on both the script and the direction. After the Fall opened on January 23, 1964 at the ANTA Theatre in Washington Square Park amid a flurry of publicity and outrage at putting a Monroe-like character, called Maggie, on stage. That same year, Miller produced Incident at Vichy. In 1965, Miller was elected the first American president of International PEN, a position which he held for four years. During this period Miller wrote the penetrating family drama, The Price, produced in 1968. It was Miller's most successful play since Death of a Salesman.
In 1969, Miller's works were banned in the Soviet Union after he campaigned for the freedom of dissident writers. Throughout the 1970s, Miller spent much of his time experimenting with the theatre, producing one-act plays such as Fame and The Reason Why, and traveling with his wife, producing In The Country and Chinese Encounters with her. Both his 1972 comedy The Creation of the World and Other Business and its musical adaptation, Up from Paradise, were critical and commercial failures.
In 1983, Miller traveled to the People's Republic of China to produce and direct Death of a Salesman at the People's Art Theatre in Beijing. The play was a success in China and in 1984, Salesman in Beijing, a book about Miller's experiences in Beijing, was published. Around the same time, Death of a Salesman was made into a TV movie starring Dustin Hoffman as Willy Loman. Shown on CBS, it attracted 25 million viewers. In late 1987, Miller's autobiographical work, Timebends, was published. Before it was published, it was well-known that Miller would not talk about Monroe in interviews; in Timebends Miller talks about his experiences with Monroe in detail. During the early 1990s Miller wrote three new plays, The Ride Down Mt. Morgan (1991), The Last Yankee (1992), and Broken Glass (1994). In 1996, a film of The Crucible starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Winona Ryder opened. Miller spent much of 1996 working on the screenplay to the film. Mr. Peters' Connections was staged off-Broadway in 1998, and Death of a Salesman was revived on Broadway in 1999 to celebrate its fiftieth anniversary. The play, once again, was a large critical success, winning a Tony Award for best revival of a play.
In 1993, he was awarded the National Medal of Arts. In 2001 the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) selected Miller for the Jefferson Lecture, the U.S. federal government's highest honor for achievement in the humanities. Miller's lecture was entitled "On Politics and the Art of Acting." Miller's lecture analyzed political events (including the recent U.S. presidential election of 2000) in terms of the "arts of performance", and it drew attacks from some conservatives such as Jay Nordlinger, who called it "a disgrace", and George Will, who argued that Miller was not legitimately a "scholar".
In 1999 Miller was awarded The Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize, one of the richest prizes in the arts, given annually to “a man or woman who has made an outstanding contribution to the beauty of the world and to mankind’s enjoyment and understanding of life.” On May 1, 2002, Miller was awarded Spain's Principe de Asturias Prize for Literature as "the undisputed master of modern drama". Later that year, Ingeborg Morath died of lymphatic cancer at the age of 78. The following year Miller won the Jerusalem Prize.
In December 2004, the 89-year-old Miller announced that he had been in love with 34-year-old minimalist painter Agnes Barley and had been living with her at his Connecticut farm since 2002, and that they intended to marry. Within hours of her father's death, Rebecca Miller ordered Barley to vacate the premises, having consistently opposed the relationship.Miller's final play, Finishing the Picture, opened at the Goodman Theatre, Chicago, in the fall of 2004, with one character said to be based on Barley. Miller said that the work was based on the experience of filming The Misfits.
When interviewed by BBC4 for The Atheism Tapes, he stated that he had been an atheist since his teens.
Miller died of heart failure after a battle against cancer, pneumonia and congestive heart disease at his home in Roxbury, Connecticut. He had been in hospice care at his sister's apartment in New York since his release from hospital the previous month. He died on the evening of February 10, 2005 (the 56th anniversary of the Broadway debut of Death of a Salesman), aged 89, surrounded by Barley, family and friends.
Miller's career as a writer spanned over seven decades, and at the time of his death, Miller was considered to be one of the greatest dramatists of the twentieth century. After his death, many respected actors, directors, and producers paid tribute to Miller,some calling him the last great practitioner of the American stage, and Broadway theatres darkened their lights in a show of respect. Miller's alma mater, the University of Michigan opened the Arthur Miller Theatre in March, 2007. Per his express wish, it is the only theatre in the world that bears Miller's name. Christopher Bigsby wrote Arthur Miller: The Definitive Biography based on boxes of papers Miller made available to him before his death in 2005. The book was published in November 2008, and is reported to reveal unpublished works in which Miller "bitterly attack[ed] the injustices of American racism long before it was taken up by the civil rights movement".
Miller's papers are housed at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at The University of Texas at Austin.
- No Villain (1936)
- They Too Arise (1937, based on No Villain)
- Honors at Dawn (1938, based on They Too Arise)
- The Grass Still Grows (1938, based on They Too Arise)
- The Great Disobedience (1938)
- Listen My Children (1939, with Norman Rosten)
- The Golden Years (1940)
- The Man Who Had All the Luck (1940)
- The Half-Bridge (1943)
- All My Sons (1947)
- Death of a Salesman (1949)
- An Enemy of the People (1950, based on Henrik Ibsen's play 'An Enemy of the People')
- The Crucible (1953)
- A View from the Bridge (1955)
- A Memory of Two Mondays (1955)
- After the Fall (1964)
- Incident at Vichy (1964)
- The Price (1968)
- Fame (television play, 1970)
- The Creation of the World and Other Business (1972)
- The Archbishop's Ceiling (1977)
- The American Clock (1980)
- Playing For Time (television play, 1980)
- Elegy for a Lady (short play, 1982, first part of Two Way Mirror)
- Some Kind of Love Story (short play, 1982, second part of Two Way Mirror)
- I Think About You a Great Deal (1986)
- Playing for Time (stage version, 1985)
- I Can’t Remember Anything (1987, collected in Danger: Memory!)
- Clara (1987, collected in Danger: Memory!)
- The Last Yankee (1991)
- The Ride Down Mt. Morgan (1991)
- Broken Glass (1994)
- Mr Peter’s Connections (1998)
- Resurrection Blues (2002)
- Finishing the Picture (2004)
- Situation Normal (1944) is based on his experiences researching the war *correspondence of Ernie Pyle.
- In Russia (1969), the first of three books created with his photographer wife Inge Morath, offers Miller's impressions of Russia and Russian society.
- In the Country (1977), with photographs by Morath and text by Miller, provides insight into how Miller spent his time in Roxbury, Connecticut and profiles of his various neighbors.
- Chinese Encounters (1979) is a travel journal with photographs by Morath. It depicts the Chinese society in the state of flux which followed the end of the Cultural Revolution. Miller discusses the hardships of many writers, professors, and artists as they try to regain the sense of freedom and place they lost during Mao Zedong's regime.
- Salesman in Beijing (1984) details Miller's experiences with the 1983 Beijing People's Theatre production of Death of a Salesman. He describes the idiosyncrasies, understandings, and insights encountered in directing a Chinese cast in a decidedly American play.
- Timebends: A Life, Methuen London (1987) ISBN 0413414809. Like Death of a Salesman, the book follows the structure of memory itself, each passage linked to and triggered by the one before.
- The Pussycat and the Plumber Who Was a Man(1941)
- William Ireland’s Confession (1941)
- Joel Chandler Harris (1941)
- Captain Paul (1941)
- The Battle of the Ovens (1942)
- Thunder from the Mountains (1942)
- I Was Married in Bataan (1942)
- Toward a Farther Star (1942)
- The Eagle’s Nest (1942)
- The Four Freedoms (1942)
- That They May Win (1943)
- Listen for the Sound of Wings (1943)
- Bernardine (1944)
- I Love You (1944)
- Grandpa and the Statue (1944)
- The Philippines Never Surrendered (1944)
- The Guardsman (1944, based on Ferenc Molnár’s play)
- Pride and Prejudice (radio play, 1944, based on Jane Austen’s novel)
- The Story of Gus (1947)
- The Reason Why(1970)
- Focus (novel, 1945)
- The Misfits (short story, 1957)
- I Don’t Need You Anymore (short stories, 1967)
- Homely Girl (short story, 1992, published UK as Plain Girl: A Life 1995)
- The Performance (short story)
- Presence: Stories (short stories, 2007)
- The Hook (1947)
- The Misfits (1961)
- Everybody Wins (1984)
- The Crucible (1995)
- Kushner, Tony, ed. Arthur Miller, Collected Plays 1944–1961 (Library of America, 2006) ISBN 978-1-93108291-4.
- Martin, Robert A. (ed.), "The theater essays of Arthur Miller", foreword by Arthur Miller. NY: Viking Press, 1978 ISBN 0140049037.
- Steven R Centola, ed. Echoes Down the Corridor: Arthur Miller, Collected Essays 1944-2000, Viking Penguin (US)/Methuen (UK), 2000 ISBN 0413756904