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Arthur Miller - Biography of an American Playwright

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Miller At Work
New York Times Co/Archive Photos/Getty Images

The Basics:

Born: October 17th, 1915

Died: February 10th, 2005

Over the course of seven decades, Arthur Miller created some of the most memorable stage plays in American Literature. He is the author of Death of a Salesman and The Crucible.

Born and raised in Manhattan, Miller witnessed the best and the worst of American society.

Arthur Miller's Childhood:


His father was a productive shop-keeper and clothing manufacturer until the Great Depression dried up virtually all business opportunities.

Yet, despite being faced with poverty, Miller made the best of his childhood. He was a very active young man, in love with such sports as football and baseball. When he wasn’t playing outside, he enjoyed reading adventure stories.

He was also kept busy by his many boyhood jobs. He often worked along side his father. During other times in his life, he delivered bakery goods and worked as a clerk in an auto parts warehouse.

College Bound:


In 1934, Miller left the east coast to attend the University of Michigan. He was accepted into their school of journalism.

His experiences during the depression made him skeptical towards religion. Politically, he began leaning towards the "Left." And since the theater was the cutting edge way for socio-economic liberals to express their views, he decided to enter the Hopwood Drama competition.

His first play, No Villain, received an award from the University. It was an impressive beginning for the young playwright; he had never studied plays or playwriting, and he had written his script in just five days!

Broadway Bound:


After graduation, he continued writing plays and radio dramas. During World War II, his writing career gradually became more successful. (He did not enter the military due to an old football injury).

In 1940 he crafted The Man Who Had All the Luck. It arrived on Broadway in 1944, but unfortunately it departed from Broadway four days later!

In 1947, his first Broadway success, a powerful drama titled All My Sons, earned him critical and popular acclaim. From that point on, his work was in high demand.

Death of a Salesman, his most famous work, debuted in 1949. It earned him international recognition.

Major Works:

  • All My Sons (1947)
  • Death of a Salesman (1949)
  • The Crucible (1953)
  • A View from the Bridge (1955)
  • After the Fall (1964)
  • Broken Glass (1994)
  • Resurrection Blues (2002)
  • Finishing the Picture (2004)

Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe:


During the 1950s, Arthur Miller became the most recognized playwright in the world. His renown wasn’t simply because of his literary genius. In 1956 he married his second wife, Marilyn Monroe. From then on, he was in the limelight. Photographers hounded the famous couple at all hours. The tabloids were often cruel, puzzling over why the “world’s most beautiful woman” would marry such a “homely writer."

A year after divorcing Marilyn Monroe in 1961 (a year before her death), Miller married his third wife, Inge Morath. They remained together until she passed away in 2002.

Controversial Playwright:


Since Miller was in the spotlight, he was a prime target for the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). In an age of anti-communism and McCarthyism, Miller’s political beliefs seemed threatening to some American politicians. In retrospect, this is quite amusing, considering the Soviet Union banned his plays.

In response to the hysteria of the time, he wrote one of his best plays, The Crucible. It is an insightful criticism of social and political paranoia set during the Salem Witch Trials.

Miller vs. McCarthyism:


Miller was summoned before the HUAC. He was expected to release names of any associate he knew to be a communist.

Before he sat before the committee, a congressman requested a signed Marilyn Monroe photograph, saying that the hearing would be dropped. Miller refused, just as he refused to give up any names. He stated, “I don’t believe a man has to become an informer in order to practice his profession freely in the United States.”

Unlike director Elia Kazan and other artists, Miller did not submit to the demands of the HUAC. He was charged with contempt of Congress, but the conviction was overturned.

Miller's Later Years:


Even into his late 80s, Miller continued to write. His newer stage plays did not gain the same amount of attention or acclaim as his earlier work. However, film adaptations of The Crucible and Death of a Salesman kept his fame very much alive.

In 1987, his autobiography was published. Much of his later plays dealt with personal experience. In particular, his final drama, Finishing the Picture mirrors the turbulent last days of his marriage to Marilyn Monroe.

In 2005, Arthur Miller passed away at the age of 89.

Tony Awards and Nominations:

1947 – Best Author (All My Sons)

1949 – Best Author and Best Play (Death of a Salesman)

1953 – Best Play (The Crucible)

1968 – Nominee for Best Play (The Price)

1994 – Nominee for Best Play (Broken Glass)

2000 – Lifetime Achievement Award

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