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Arthur Miller -
October 17, 1915–February 10, 2005


From "The Man Who Had All the Luck," in 1944, to his last new work, "Finishing the Picture," finished in 2004 at Chicago's Goodman Theatre when he turned 89, Arthur Miller never stopped writing.

The themes found in both -- family, friendship, love, duty and honor -- were themes that were examined and re-examined in many of Miller's best plays -- "All My Sons," "The Crucible" and the iconic "Death of a Salesman."

Running through all was a sense of morality and social responsibility. Miller was a moralist, who often was compared to the great Norwegian dramatist Henrik Ibsen, one of his heroes. He even did his own adaptation of one of Ibsen's most famous plays, "An Enemy of the People." Miller's characters took stands -- and usually paid the price.

John Proctor, the Puritan farmer in "The Crucible," Miller's allegory about the McCarthy witch hunts of the 1950s, refused to name names and dies for his convictions. Joe Keller, the corrupt businessman in "All My Sons," commits suicide after it is revealed he sold defective airplane parts.

And then there is Willy Loman, whose name has become synonymous with everything that went wrong with the American dream. Willy was a beaten-down true believer who fell victim to his own beliefs. For actors, it was a role that made new reputations and cemented old ones -- from Lee J. Cobb, Willy in the 1949 original, to the two very different Broadway Lomans of the last 20 years -- the diminutive Dustin Hoffman in the superb 1984 revival to a strapping Brian Dennehy 15 years later.

Miller was fortunate much of his best work was done during Broadway's golden age, the years after World War II, when theatergoing was more of a popular habit and a hit play could land you on the covers of national magazines and on that fledgling new mass medium, television. He also was able to work with some of the best directors of his day, from Elia Kazan to Jed Harris to Harold Clurman.

Miller attained a celebrity few American playwrights achieve, in part because of his marriage to film star Marilyn Monroe. He first dealt with their relationship in "After the Fall," his most autobiographical play. In it, everything is seen through the eyes of its tortured, driven protagonist, Quentin, who is involved with a tempestuous singer who bore a strong resemblance to Monroe.

Forty years later, Miller returned to a Monroe-like character in the under-appreciated "Finishing the Picture," a tale of the shenanigans on a film set not unlike "The Misfits," for which the playwright wrote the screenplay and his wife starred.

Only in the final year of his life was Miller in a more forgiving mood. "Finishing the Picture" was Miller's most elegiac play, the rueful remembrances of a man who has seen all human frailties and is willing to accept them as part of the human condition.
In person, Miller was uniquely American, direct and down-to-earth, especially in the way he talked -- in a distinct Brooklyn growl -- during interviews.

During one such conversation with The Associated Press, he talked about "Broken Glass," one of his little-known plays that had a short life on Broadway. "There's no dancing girls, no orchestra, no fireworks going off. It's just people on a stage talking to each other. But that's what theater is all about," he said.

Broadway became increasingly resistant to Miller's work in the 1970s and 1980s, a fact he accepted philosophically. "When I was coming up in the 1940s, Eugene O'Neill was ignored and his language considered outdated," the playwright said in a conversation with the AP a decade ago. "`Nobody spoke that way anymore,' people said. He was gone for a decade and a half before he became popular again."

Miller's later works may have not reached the stature of "Death of a Salesman," but the his major plays never went out of fashion.


Miller was born to Polish Jewish immigrants; Isadore, a clothing manufacturer, and Augusta, a housewife. They had two other children, Kermit and Joan. The family lived in a Manhattan penthouse overlooking Central Park until Isadore was ruined in the Great Depression.

In 1936, Miller's first play, Honors at Dawn, for which he won the Avery Hopwood Award, was produced at the University of Michigan. Two years later, he graduated from Michigan with a journalism degree. In 1940, Miller married his college sweetheart, Mary Slattery. They had two children, Jane and Robert. He was exempt from military service during World War II because of a football injury.

Miller's 1949 play Death of a Salesman won the Pulitzer Prize and three Tony Awards, as well as the New York Drama Critics Circle Award. It was the first play ever to win all three. His next play, The Crucible, opened on Broadway on January 22, 1953. In 1956, he divorced his wife. In June of the same year, he appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee, having been named by Elia Kazan as having attended Communist Party meetings, and at the end of the month (June 29), he married Marilyn Monroe, whom he had met eight years earlier through Kazan. (Monroe converted to Judaism for the marriage.)

On May 31, 1957, Miller was found guilty of contempt of Congress for refusing to reveal the names of members of a literary circle suspected of Communist affiliation. His conviction was reversed August 8, 1958, by the U.S. Court of Appeals. The same year, he published Collected Plays.

On January 24, 1961, he and Monroe divorced. He married Inge Morath a year later, on February 17, 1962. They had met when she and other photographers from the Magnum agency documented the making of The Misfits. They would have two children, Rebecca and Daniel. According to biographer Martin Gottfried, Daniel was born in 1962 with Down Syndrome. Miller placed Daniel in an institution in Roxbury, Connecticut, and never visited him (although Morath did). Miller fails to mention Daniel in Timebends, his 1987 autobiography, and the issue was ignored in the New York Times obituary of February 11, 2005 (though it was reported in the Los Angeles Times and elsewhere).

Miller was one of the original founders of International PEN's Writers in Prison committee, and in 1965 was elected the organization's president, a position he held for four years

In 1985, Miller visited Turkey and was honored at the American embassy. After his traveling companion Harold Pinter was thrown out of the country for discussing torture, Miller left in support.

On January 30, 2002, Inge Morath died. On May 1 of the same year, Miller was awarded Spain's Principe de Asturias Prize for Literature as "the undisputed master of modern drama". Previous winners include Doris Lessing, Günter Grass and Carlos Fuentes.

In December 2004, the 89-year-old Miller announced that he had been living with a 34-year-old artist named Agnes Barley at his Roxbury, Connecticut, farm since 2002, and that they were planning to marry. However, Miller died at home on February 10, 2005 from congestive heart failure.

Related Links For Arthur Miller

Arthur Miller Society


 
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