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Arthur Miller Biography

(1915–2005), All My Sons, Death of a Salesman, The Crucible, A View from the Bridge

American dramatist, born in New York, educated at the University of Michigan. Miller is widely regarded as one of America's foremost playwrights, whose accomplishment bears comparison with Eugene O'Neill and Tennessee Williams. After the success of his earliest work, there followed a ten-year period of apprentice work with eight plays which were not commercially successful, but laid the foundations of Miller's increasing mastery of his art, culminating in two decades of work which earned him widespread critical and popular acclaim, beginning with All My Sons (1947), Death of a Salesman (1949; Pulitzer Prize), The Crucible (1953), A View from the Bridge (1955), and After the Fall (1964). In 1959 the American National Arts and Letters Institute awarded Miller the Gold Medal for Drama. Though he maintained a high level of productivity from the mid-1960s onwards with another dozen plays, his greatest successes in this time were in revivals of Death of a Salesman, After the Fall, and All My Sons which, along with The Crucible, have long been established as modern classics of the American theatre. In 1984 Miller wrote an account of a memorable production of Death of a Salesman in Beijing (formerly Peking), called ‘Salesman’ in Beijing.

Miller's other plays include The Great Disobedience (1938), The Golden Years (193940), The Man Who Had All the Luck (1944), That They May Win (1945), A Memory of Two Mondays (1955), Incident at Vichy (1961), The Price (1968), Fame (1970), The Reason Why (1970), The Creation of the World and Other Business (1972), Up From Paradise (1974), The Archbishop's Ceiling (1977), The American Clock (1980), Two-Way Mirror (1984), I Can't Remember Anything (1987), and Clara (1987). In 1950 he wrote an adaptation of Ibsen's An Enemy of the People; he also wrote the screenplays for Kingsley-International's film The Witches of Salem (1958), and for John Huston's film The Misfits (1961), starring Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe. Among his non-dramatic writings are the novel, Focus (1949), many short stories, and several critical essays about the theatre and its uses, later collected in an edition by Robert A. Martin, The Theatre Essays of Arthur Miller (1978). Miller has been extensively interviewed by journalists and academics, and thirty-seven of the most significant of these interviews are gathered in Matthew Roudane's collection, Conversations with Arthur Miller (1988).

Miller was always a writer of high seriousness, a moralist whose adversarial view of American society has earned him much respect. His achievement in Death of a Salesman reflected his capacity to dramatize the failure of the American dream through a narrative of ordinary people, where the temptations of the dream of material success are most persistently realized. The relationship between the private and public arenas of the moral life forms the basis of All My Sons and The Crucible, in the first where a war veteran son discovers his father's dishonesty in selling defective aeroplane parts to the Government, and the latter based loosely on the seventeenth-century witchcraft trials in Salem. A View from the Bridge is about the consequences of sexual jealousy in the family of a New York longshoreman, whilst After the Fall is a semiautobiographical play about Miller's marriage to Marilyn Monroe.

Miller's contribution to American theatre may be measured not only in his work as a playwright, but also in his tireless quest for a theatre which addresses the social issues of the day in a medium and in venues accessible to the ordinary public. These preoccupations are voiced in such essays as ‘Art and Commitment’ (1960), ‘Broadway, from O'Neill to Now’ (1969), ‘When Life Had at Least a Form’ (1972), ‘Politics as Theatre’ (1972), and ‘Every Play Has a Purpose’ (1979). His antagonism to the brash commercial values of Broadway forced his abandonment of Broadway from the 1960s, since when his plays have been produced at the Lincoln Center in New York, the Kennedy Center in Washington DC, and off-Broadway. His despair of the conditions of production, for actors, audiences, and writers in the American theatrical scene compelled him to bring The Ride Down Mount Morgan (1990), a play about marital infidelity and bigamy, to London for its première, where his work has always been well received and produced. Other more recent plays include The Last Yankee (1991), about personal relationships focused on two men who meet in a mental hospital where their wives are inpatients, and Broken Glass (1994). Miller's autobiography Timebends was published in 1987.

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: McTeague to Nancy [Freeman] Mitford Biography