Arthur Miller, playwright, Died at 89


Arthur Asher Miller died on February 10, 2005 at the age of 89, was a prolific American playwright, essayist, and prominent figure in twentieth-century American theatre.

Born on October 17, 1915, in Harlem, in the New York City borough of Manhattan, the second of three children of Augusta (Barnett) and Isidore Miller. Miller was Jewish.

His father was born in Radomyśl Wielki, Galicia (then part of Austria-Hungary), and his mother was a native of New York whose parents also arrived from that town.

Isidore owned a women’s clothing manufacturing business employing 400 people.

He became a wealthy and respected man in the community. The family, including his younger sister Joan, lived on West110th Street in Manhattan, owned a summer house in Far Rockaway, Queens, and 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. 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, theNew 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.

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 were 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.

In 1983 Miller himself directed a staging of “Salesman” in Chinese at the Beijing Peoples’ Art Theatre.

He said that while the Chinese, then largely ignorant of capitalism, might not have understood Loman’s career choice, they did have empathy for his desire to drink from the Grail of the American Dream.

They understood this dream, which Miller characterizes as the desire “to excel, to win out over anonymity and meaninglessness, to love and be loved, and above all, perhaps, to count.”

It is this desire to sup at the table of the great American Capitalists, even if one is just scrounging for crumbs, in a country of which President Calvin Coolidge said, “The business of America is business,” this desire to be recognized, to be somebody, that so moves “Salesman” audiences, whether in New York, London or Beijing.

In his own autobiography, “A Life,” Kazan said that he could not understand the marriage.

Monroe, who had slept with Kazan on a casual basis, as she did with many other Hollywood players, was the type of woman someone took as a mistress, not as a wife. Miller, however, was a man of principle.

He was in love. “[A]ll my energy and attention were devoted to trying to help her solve her problems,” Miller confessed to a French newspaper in 1992.