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Playwright Arthur Miller dead at 89

 
 
mac11
 
Reply Fri 11 Feb, 2005 11:59 am
Friday, February 11, 2005 Posted: 11:29 AM EST (1629 GMT)
Author and playwright Arthur Miller, who wrote "Death of a Salesman" and "The Crucible," has died at age 89.

ROXBURY, Connecticut (AP) -- Arthur Miller, the Pulitzer prize-winning playwright whose most famous fictional creation, Willy Loman in "Death of a Salesman," came to symbolize the American Dream gone awry, has died, his assistant said Friday. He was 89.

Miller, who had been hailed as America's greatest living playwright, died Thursday night at his home in Roxbury of heart failure, his assistant, Julia Bolus, said Friday. His family was at his bedside, she said.

His plays, with their strong emphasis on family, morality and personal responsibility, spoke to the growing fragmentation of American society.

"A lot of my work goes to the center of where we belong -- if there is any root to life -- because nowadays the family is broken up, and people don't live in the same place for very long," Miller said in a 1988 interview.

"Dislocation, maybe, is part of our uneasiness. It implants the feeling that nothing is really permanent."

Miller's career was marked by early success. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for "Death of a Salesman" in 1949, when he was just 33 years old.

His marriage to Marilyn Monroe in 1956 further catapulted the playwright to fame, though that was publicity he said he never pursued.

In a 1992 interview with a French newspaper, he called her "highly self-destructive" and said that during their marriage, "all my energy and attention were devoted to trying to help her solve her problems. Unfortunately, I didn't have much success."

"Death of a Salesman," which took Miller only six weeks to write, earned rave reviews when it opened on Broadway in February 1949, directed by Elia Kazan.

The story of Willy Loman, a man destroyed by his own stubborn belief in the glory of American capitalism and the redemptive power of success, was made into a movie and staged all over the world.

"I couldn't have predicted that a work like 'Death of a Salesman' would take on the proportions it has," Miller said in 1988. "Originally, it was a literal play about a literal salesman, but it has become a bit of a myth, not only here but in many other parts of the world."

In 1999, 50 years after it won the Tony Award as best play, "Death of a Salesman" won the Tony for best revival of the Broadway season. The show also won the top acting prize for Brian Dennehy, who played Loman.

Miller, then 83, received a lifetime achievement award.

"Just being around to receive it is a pleasure," he joked to the audience during the awards ceremony.

Miller won the New York Drama Critics' Circle's best play award twice in the 1940s, for "All My Sons" in 1947 and for "Death of a Salesman." In 1953, he received a Tony Award for "The Crucible," a play about mass hysteria during the Salem witch trials that was inspired by the repressive political environment of McCarthyism.

That play, still read by thousands of American high-school students each year, is Miller's most frequently performed work.

Miller and Monroe divorced after five years and in 1962 he married his third wife, photographer Inge Morath. That same year, Monroe committed suicide. Miller wrote the screenplay for the Monroe film "The Misfits," which came out in 1960, and reflected on their relationship in his 1963 play "After the Fall."

Reminiscing about Monroe in his 1987 autobiography, "Timebends: A Life," Miller lamented that she was rarely taken seriously as anything but a sex symbol.

"To have survived, she would have had to be either more cynical or even further from reality than she was," he wrote. "Instead, she was a poet on a street corner trying to recite to a crowd pulling at her clothes."

Miller's success, so overwhelming in the 1940s and '50s, seemed to be on the wane during the next two decades. But the 1980s brought a renewal of interest, beginning with a Broadway revival of "Death of a Salesman" starring Dustin Hoffman in 1984.

Enthusiasm for Miller's work was particularly strong in England, which marked his 75th birthday in 1990 with four major productions of his plays.

Miller also directed a Chinese production of "Death of a Salesman" at the Beijing Peoples' Art Theatre in 1983.

Those who saw the Beijing production may not have identified with Loman's career, Miller wrote, but they shared his desire, "which was to excel, to win out over anonymity and meaninglessness, to love and be loved, and above all, perhaps, to count."

In his later years, Miller became increasingly disillusioned with Broadway, and in 1991 he premiered a new play, "The Ride Down Mt. Morgan," in London -- the first time he had opened a play outside of the United States.

Miller said at the time he opted for the London opening to avoid the "dark defeatism" of the New York theater scene.

"There is an open terror of the critics (in New York) and of losing fortunes of money," Miller said in an interview that year. "I have always hated that myself. All in all, it seemed like we ought to do the play in London."

He returned to Broadway in 1994 with "Broken Glass," a drama about a dysfunctional family that won respectful reviews and a Tony nomination, but no big audiences. In London, it won an Olivier award as best play.

Even in his later years, Miller continued to write.

"It is what I do," he said in a 1996 interview with The Associated Press.

"It is my art. I am better at it than I ever was. And I will do it as long as I can. When you reach a certain age you can slough off what is unnecessary and concentrate on what is. And why not?"

"Resurrection Blues" had its world premiere at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis in the summer of 2002 when Miller was 86. Set in an unnamed banana republic, the satire dealt with the possible televised execution of a revolutionary.

In recent years New York even rediscovered Miller's first Broadway play, "The Man Who Had All the Luck," which was a four-performance flop in 1944, but had a successful revival, starring Chris O'Donnell, nearly six decades later.

Last October, another new play, "Finishing the Picture," premiered at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago. It was based on an episode of his marriage to Monroe.

In accepting his lifetime achievement award at the 1999 Tony awards ceremony, Miller lamented that Broadway had become too narrow.

"I hope that a new dimension and fresh resolve will inspire the powers that be to welcome fiercely ambitious playwrights," Miller said. "And that the time will come again when they will find a welcome for their big, world-challenging plays, somewhere west of London and somewhere east of the Hudson River."

He was born October 17, 1915, Miller was one of three children in a middle-class Jewish family. His father, a manufacturer of women's coats, was hard hit by the Depression in the 1930s, and could not afford to send Miller to college when the time came.

Miller worked as a loader and shipping clerk at a New York warehouse to earn tuition money and eventually attended the University of Michigan, where he earned a bachelor's degree in 1938.

He wrote his first plays in college, where they were awarded numerous prizes. He also published several novels and collections of short stories.

He wrote several screenplays, including "The Misfits" (1961), which became Monroe's last movie, and "Playing for Time," (1981) a controversial television movie about the women's orchestra at Auschwitz.

He also wrote a number of books with Morath, mainly about their travels in Russia and China.

Miller had two children, Jane Ellen and Robert, by his first wife, Mary Slattery, and he and Morath had one daughter, Rebecca.
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Raggedyaggie
 
  1  
Reply Fri 11 Feb, 2005 01:07 pm
Thanks for posting this thread, Mac.

Death of a Salesman is my favorite Miller play, but "All My Sons" runs a close second. Edward G. Robinson starred in the movie and Burt Lancaster played one of the sons. The play opened in New York on Jan 29, 1947. It was staged by Elia Kazan with Ed Begley in the lead role.

"American Voices: All My Sons
The first great success of Arthur Miller's supremely influential career, All My Sons is a compelling story of love, guilt and the corrupting power of greed. The action of the play is set in August 1947, in the mid-west. Joe Keller, the chief character, is a man who loves his family above all else, and has sacrificed everything, including his honor, in his struggle to make the family prosperous. He is now sixty-one. Keller is alleged to have supplied World War II fighter planes with defective engines, leading to the deaths of innocent pilots - a crime for which his business partner took the fall. One of Keller's sons, himself a pilot, is thought to have been killed in action. But his mother can't accept his death and equally, can't accept that her dead son's financee has transferred her affections to her other son. The confrontation that ensue lead to the uncovering of a shameful family secret."
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dlowan
 
  1  
Reply Fri 11 Feb, 2005 05:41 pm
I grew up loving Miller - I especially loved "The Crucible" - it is hard to imagine him not being there.
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Merry Andrew
 
  1  
Reply Fri 11 Feb, 2005 06:39 pm
Just rereading The Crucible a little while ago with my students. Amazing how well it stands up in today's climate, after all these years. Miller had a unique talent for seeing the universal in the particular, and for sharing that vision.
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Noddy24
 
  1  
Reply Fri 11 Feb, 2005 08:06 pm
A swathe of the fabric of my universe has ossified. Arthur Miller enlarged my world.

RIP.
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dupre
 
  1  
Reply Fri 11 Feb, 2005 08:26 pm
A wonderful tribute to a great man, Noddy24.

He will be missed, but never forgotten.
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mac11
 
  1  
Reply Fri 11 Feb, 2005 09:01 pm
That's so true, dupre. Miller's work will stand up well in the future. Surely he knew that his work would outlast him.
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msolga
 
  1  
Reply Sat 12 Feb, 2005 07:20 am
I loved his plays. But I admire his integrity & courage enormously, too. You have to admire a man who stood up to the Un-American Activities Committee by refusing to name names:

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAmillerA.htm
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Merry Andrew
 
  1  
Reply Sat 12 Feb, 2005 09:41 am
Yes, msolga, so right. I'm surprised that the AP obit does not mention that fact.
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Raggedyaggie
 
  1  
Reply Sat 12 Feb, 2005 10:06 am
Ironically, Miller's "All My Sons' was stage directed by Elia Kazan, who did name names.
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PDiddie
 
  1  
Reply Sat 12 Feb, 2005 10:25 am
Billy Crystal:

Quote:
When I auditioned unsuccessfully, for "Death of a Salesman" with Dustin Hoffman, I met Arthur Miller and got him to autograph a copy of the play for me. He told me that he was fascinated by stand-up comedy and that his earliest writing, in fact, had been a pair of humorous monologues for himself. Miller said he learned quickly, however, that he was better at making people cry than laugh.

And all I kept thinking, standing with this brilliant man, was: This guy slept with Marilyn Monroe.


http://www.salon.com/ent/feature/2005/02/11/miller/story.jpg

John Updike:

Quote:
To the Soviet Union [in 1964] for a month as part of a cultural exchange program ...

I came way from that month ... with a hardened antipathy to communism ...

There was something bullying egocentric about my admirable Soviet friends, a preoccupation with their own tortured situations that shut out all light from beyond. They were like residents of a planet so heavy that even their gazes were sucked back into its dark center. Arthur Miller, no reactionary, said it best when, a few years later, he and I and some other Americans riding the cultural-exchange bandwagon had entertained, in New York or Connecticut, several visiting Soviet colleagues. The encounter was handsomely catered, the dialogue loud and lively, the will toward friendship was earnest and in its way intoxicating, but upon our ebullient guests' departure Miller looked at me and said sighingly, "Jesus, don't they make you glad you're an American?"

(From "Self-Consciousness: Memoirs")


Andy Warhol:

Quote:
Arthur Miller was at the screening [of "The Deer Hunter"]. It was interesting to see him. He's very good-looking. I guess people like that work at it, the rich-kind-of-Jewish look ... Arthur Miller looked refined, and a straighter face than Richard Avedon, but like that. Like a Lehman. I guess they marry good-looking wives and get good-looking children.

(From "Diaries")
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msolga
 
  1  
Reply Sat 12 Feb, 2005 05:03 pm
Merry Andrew wrote:
Yes, msolga, so right. I'm surprised that the AP obit does not mention that fact.


Yes, a curious omission in many of the media reports I've read since his death, Andrew. But then, perhaps not so surprising, given the "interesting" times we live in? He & others who took such a principled stance should be greatly admired & respected for their courage in the face of the intimidating political climate that prevailed during that shameful period.
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msolga
 
  1  
Reply Sat 12 Feb, 2005 05:09 pm
Raggedyaggie wrote:
Ironically, Miller's "All My Sons' was stage directed by Elia Kazan, who did name names.


Yes, interesting that, Raggedyaggie. There must have been some very strained relationships & lost friendships in the arts world in the midst of all that madness.
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dancingnancy
 
  1  
Reply Sun 13 Feb, 2005 05:56 pm
Oh my -- Billy Crystal's quote is priceless. And poignant.
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mac11
 
  1  
Reply Sun 13 Feb, 2005 06:21 pm
And probably quite true!

Welcome to a2k, nancy.
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PDiddie
 
  1  
Reply Sun 13 Feb, 2005 06:29 pm
dancingnancy, I should have linked in the rest of Salon's reminiscences from those who knew Miller better than the rest of us, so there it is.

They also have a separate retrospective on his life, which includes excerpts and essays and audio clips and other goodies. Here's one of my favorite quotations:

Quote:
Look, we're all the same; a man is a fourteen-room house--in the bedroom he's asleep with his intelligent wife, in the living-room he's rolling around with some bareass girl, in the library he's paying his taxes, in the yard he's raising tomatoes, and in the cellar he's making a bomb to blow it all up.


Clicking herewill get you to a 7-minute MP3 excerpt from "Death of A Salesman." (Salon is subscriber-only but you can get a day pass by watching a short ad.)

And I join mac11 in welcoming you to the forum.
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bree
 
  1  
Reply Mon 14 Feb, 2005 08:18 am
Here's Bob Herbert's tribute to Arthur Miller, in his op-ed column in today's New York Times:

The Public Thinker
By BOB HERBERT

Arthur Miller, in his autobiography, "Timebends," quoted the great physicist Hans Bethe as saying, "Well, I come down in the morning and I take up a pencil and I try to think. ..."

It's a notion that appears to have gone the way of the rotary phone. Americans not only seem to be doing less serious thinking lately, they seem to have less and less tolerance for those who spend their time wrestling with important and complex matters.

If you can't say it in 30 seconds, you have to move on. God made man and the godless evolutionists are on the run. Donald Trump ("You're fired!") and Paris Hilton ("That's hot!") are cultural icons. Ignorance is in. The nation is at war and its appetite for torture may be undermining the very essence of the American character, but the public at large seems much more interested in what Martha will do when she gets out of prison and what Jacko will do if he has to go in.

Mr. Miller's death last week meant more than the loss of an outstanding playwright. It was the loss of a great public thinker who believed strongly, as Archibald MacLeish had written, that the essence of America - its greatness - was in its promises. Mr. Miller knew what ignorance and fear and the madness of crowds, especially when exploited by sinister leadership, could do to those promises.

His greatest concerns, as Charles Isherwood wrote in Saturday's Times, "were with the moral corruption brought on by bending one's ideals to society's dictates, buying into the values of a group when they conflict with the voice of personal conscience."

The individual, in Mr. Miller's view, had an abiding moral responsibility for his or her own behavior, and for the behavior of society as a whole. He said that while writing "The Crucible," "The longer I worked the more certain I felt that as improbable as it might seem, there were moments when an individual conscience was all that could keep a world from falling."

For the United States, which launched a misguided, pre-emptive war in Iraq, is shipping prisoners off to foreign countries to be tortured and has pressed the rewind button on matters of social progress, this may be one of those moments.

Reading Miller again, and looking back on his life, it's interesting to see some of the differences he has spotlighted in two sharply defined eras: the Depression-wracked 1930's and the prosperous, postwar 1950's. "It was not that people were more altruistic," he wrote in "Timebends," "but that a point arrived - perhaps around 1936 - when for the first time unpolitical people began thinking of common action as a way out of their impossible conditions. Out of dire necessity came the surge of mass trade unionism and the federal government's first systematic relief programs, the resurgent farm cooperative movement, the TVA and other public projects that put people to work and brought electricity to vast new areas, repaired and built new bridges and aqueducts, carried out vast reforestation projects, funded student loans and research into the country's folk history - its songs and tales collected and published for the first time - and this burst of imaginative action created the sense of a government that for all its blunders and waste was on the side of the people."

By the early 50's the agony of the Depression was gone. McCarthyism was in flower and the dean of Mr. Miller's alma mater, the University of Michigan, was complaining that his students' highest goal was to fit in with corporate America rather than separating truth from falsehood.

The dean, Erich Walter, said, "They become experts at grade-getting, but there's less hanging round the lamppost now, no more chewing the fat," or, as Mr. Miller put it, "speculating about the wrongs of the world and ideal solutions, something no employer was interested in, and might even suspect."

Mr. Miller understood early that keeping the population entertained was becoming the paramount imperative of the U.S. We're now all but buried in entertainment and the republic is running amok. Mr. Miller is gone, and if we're not wise enough to pay attention, his uncomfortable truths will die with him. (He felt, among other things, that most men and women knew "little or nothing" about the forces manipulating their lives.)

Anyway, the Grammys were last night and Michael Jackson's trial resumes today.

Arthur Miller? Broadway dimmed its lights Friday night. His country may decide that's enough of a tribute and it's time to move on.
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mac11
 
  1  
Reply Mon 14 Feb, 2005 08:53 am
Wow, great column. There's a lot to think about there.

I'd like to read Miller's autobiography.
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msolga
 
  1  
Reply Tue 15 Feb, 2005 03:50 am
bree

A very fitting biography. Thank you for posting it. (a relief after all the ones concentrating on his life with MM, as if this was the high point of his existence! Rolling Eyes )
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boomerang
 
  1  
Reply Sat 19 Feb, 2005 08:04 pm
I don't want to rain on anyone's memories but I came across this curious letter in today's editorials in my newspaper (no, not the Enquirer) and .... well....

(It isn't posted online so any typing errors are mine)

In his column on the death of Arthur Miller, E.J. Dionne Jr. writes, "And Miller's understanding of human frailty created one of the great ethical imperatives of his work: the demand that respect be offered to other human beings despite their shortcomings."

In 1962, Miller had a son born with Down syndrome. His name is Daniel. He was immediately institutionalized at Southbury Training School in Connecticut. Miller seldom or never visited his son and did not mention him in his autobiography or acknowledge him in any way.

Daniel is still there, having been abandoned by his family at birth and deprived of all trappings of a normal life.

As the father of a teenager who has Down syndrome I fee profound sadness not only for the chld but for the father.

When Miller wrote "All MY Sons" it is a shame that he did not, truly, include all of his sons. A genetic aberration in his child was apparently one "shortcoming" that Miller, in spite of his genius, could not abide.

Michael T. Bailery
Northeast Portland
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