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Arthur Miller

[mil-er]

Arthur Asher Miller (October 17, 1915 – February 10, 2005) was an American playwright and essayist. He was a prominent figure in American literature and cinema for over 61 years, writing a wide variety of plays, including celebrated plays such as The Crucible, A View from the Bridge, All My Sons, and Death of a Salesman, which are still studied and performed worldwide. Miller was often in the public eye, most famously for refusing to give evidence against others to the House Un-American Activities Committee, being the recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama among countless other awards, and for his marriage to Marilyn Monroe. Miller is considered by audiences and scholars as one of America's greatest playwrights, and his plays are lauded throughout the world.

Biography

Early life

Arthur Asher Miller was born to moderately affluent Jewish-American parents, Isidore and Augusta Miller, in Manhattan, New York City, in 1915. His father owned a women's clothes/coat-manufacturing business, which failed in the Wall Street Crash of 1929 after which his family moved to humbler quarters in Brooklyn.

Because of the effects of the Great Depression on his family, Miller had little money for college after graduating in 1932 from Abraham Lincoln High School (New York). Before securing a place at the University of Michigan, he worked in a number of menial jobs to pay for his tuition. He continued working in Ann Arbor to supplement his income.

At the University of Michigan, Miller first majored in journalism, where he became the reporter and night editor on 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 playwrighting. 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 his bachelor's degree 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. 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. Robert became a director, writer and producer who was, among other things, producer of the 1996 movie version of The Crucible.

Miller was exempted from military service during World War II because of a high-school american football injury to his left kneecap.

Early career In 1944 Miller wrote The Man Who Had All the Luck, which was produced in New York and won the Theater Guild's National Award.

In 1948 Miller built a small studio in Roxbury, Connecticut, a town that was to be his long time home. 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 works for which he is best known. Death of a Salesman premiered on Broadway on February 10, 1949 at the Morosco Theatre, directed by 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 play, the New York City Drama Circle Critics Award, and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It was the first play to win all three of these major awards. The searing drama ran for 742 performances.

In 1952, Elia Kazan appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and, under fear of being blacklisted from Hollywood, named eight black men from the Group Theatre 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, an allegorical play 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. Miller and Kazan had been close friends throughout the late 1940s and early 1950s, but after Kazan's testimony to HUAC, the pair's friendship ended, and they did not speak to each other for the next ten years. 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 was in turn to respond with the play A View from the Bridge, in which another dockworker's decision to inform on two illegal immigrants is based on ignoble, self-serving motives. Miller did have his case overturned and his passport returned. His feelings about HUAC never changed.

Miller's experience with 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 program about the murder, postulates 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 1955 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.

1956 - 1964

In June 1956 Miller divorced Mary Slattery, and on June 29, he married Marilyn Monroe. Miller and Monroe had first met in 1951, when they had a brief affair, and had remained in contact since then.

Taking advantage of the publicity of Miller's marriage, HUAC subpoenaed him to appear before the committee shortly before the nuptials. 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. Reneging on the chairman's promise, the committee asked him to reveal to the names of friends and colleagues who had partaken 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 HUAC.

After his conviction was overturned, Miller began work on The Misfits, which starred 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 Miller'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 .

Later career

In 1964 Miller's next play was produced. After the Fall is a deeply personal view of Miller's own 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. Also in the 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 experience 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 autobiography, Timebends was published. Before his autobiography was published, it was well known that 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. On May 1, 2002, 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. 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 has been living with a 34-year-old minimalist painter Agnes Barley 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. He stated that the work was based on the experience of filming The Misfits.

Miller died at his home in Roxbury of congestive heart failure on the evening of February 10, 2005 (the 56th anniversary of the Broadway debut of Death of a Salesman) at the age of 89, surrounded by his family.

Legacy

Miller's career as a writer spanned over seven decades, and at the time of his death in 2005, Miller was considered to be one of the greatest dramatists of the twentieth century, among the likes of Harold Pinter, Eugene O'Neill, Luigi Pirandello, Samuel Beckett, Jean-Paul Sartre, Bertolt Brecht, and Tennessee Williams. 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 theaters 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 theater in the world that bears Miller's name.

Miller's friend Professor Christopher Bigsby is currently working on Arthur Miller: The Definitive Biography, based on boxes of papers Miller made available to him before his death in 2005. The book will be 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".

Works

Fiction

Non-fiction

  • 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.

Collections

  • 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

See also

References

Sources

  • Martin Gottfried: Arthur Miller, A Life, Da Capo Press (US)/Faber and Faber (UK), 2003 ISBN 0571219462
  • Moss, Leonard. Arthur Miller, Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1980.
  • Martin, Robert A. (ed.), "The theater essays of Arthur Miller", foreword by Arthur Miller. NY: Viking Press, 1978.

Notes

External links

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