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About the Playwright: Arthur Miller

From Insights, 1991

 

Ever since he won the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award in 1947 for his second-produced play, All My Sons, Arthur Miller has been counted one of the most gifted playwrights on the American scene. The promise he showed then was more than fulfilled two years later with his overwhelming American tragedy, Death of a Salesman—which made a clean sweep in 1949 by winning both another New York Drama Critics' Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize.

Miller was born in New York City in 1915. The playwright-to-be was a high school football hero in Brooklyn (an experience he later incorporated into Death of a Salesman). When he graduated from high school during the depression of the early 1930s, he worked for two years at $15 a week in an auto parts warehouse to earn enough money to go to college. He entered the University of Michigan and at various times earned money as a truck-driver, waiter, and crewman on a tanker. For years after he attained play-writing fame and fortune he liked to spend a few weeks each year working in a factory because, by "standing eight hours a day at a machine in one place, you know what it's about."

He soon began writing radio scripts, which brought him to the attention of Hollywood, where he was assigned to write several movies, among them the Academy Award winning How Green Was My Valley and The Story of G.I. Joe.

In 1944, Miller won a Theatre Guild prize of $1,250 awarded for the most promising unproduced playwright, and 1945 brought his first Broadway production, a play called The Man Who Had All the Luck, which had little luck, running barely a week. He was inevitably sought out again for movie writing in Hollywood, but he refused this time.

In 1956, Miller made international headlines when he and his first wife were divorced and he married Marilyn Monroe, the sex-goddess symbol of her time. It is significant that during this marriage Miller wrote no plays, but did overcome his reluctance to write for films by turning out The Misfits, especially tailored as a screen-starring vehicle for Monroe.

Again Miller's private life made international headlines when he and Monroe were divorced, barely a year before she startled the world with her suicide. He returned to writing for the stage in 1964 with After the Fall, a play with so many parallels with his own life that it gained international attention.

Death of a Salesman was made into a notable television movie by CBS early in 1966, starring Lee J. Cobb (reprising his original Broadway role) in what is often referred to as "the ultimate Willy Loman" interpretation. In ensuing years, Miller wrote a book of short stories and wrote, directed, and produced the film The Reason Why, a treatise against war and violence.

In the fall of 1973, Miller was appointed professor-of-theatre-in-residence at the University of Michigan. Future years included some new works, revivals of older plays, and updates of previous scripts. In 1980,

Miller's made-for-television play, Playing for Time, was aired. The first Broadway production of A View from the Bridge as a full-length play opened on Broadway in 1983 to mixed critical responses. On March 29, 1984, a revival of Death of a Salesman, starring Dustin Hoffman, opened on Broadway to rave reviews, becoming one of the hit plays of the season.

Major Works
1945: The Man Who Had All the Luck
1947: All My Sons
1949: Death of a Salesman
1950: An Enemy of the People
1953: The Crucible
1955: A Memory of Two Mondays , A View from the Bridge
1960: The Misfits, the movie starring Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe.
1964: After the Fall
1964: Incident at Vichy
1968: The Price
1972: The Creation of the World and Other Business
1973: The American Clock
1980: Playing For Time, a television play.
1987: I Can't Remember Anything and Clara, two one-act plays performed under the collective title, Danger: Memory!


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