A celebrated playwright and Pulitzer Prize winner, Arthur Miller’s life was never short of drama. We’re rounding up some known along with some lesser-known facts about Arthur Miller.
Arthur Asher Miller
October 17, 1915 – February 10, 2005
Notable works: The Crucible, Death of a Salesman
Honors: Pulitzer Prize for Drama (1949), Kennedy Center Honors (1984)
Renowned playwright Arthur Miller’s work was often likened to Greek tragedies. The author made no bones about the fact that he did draw his inspiration from the great Greek tragedian, Sophocles. Miller’s characters represented a struggle to break away from the mundane, and yet retain a sense of moral responsibility.
His controversial choices regarding the topics he chose to write on, along with the ones he made in his private life ensured that he remained in the public eye throughout his life. In this post, we will chronicle his life, from his humble beginnings to being among the most celebrated figures in the world of American Literature.
Arthur Asher Miller was born on October 17, 1915 in Harlem, New York City, to Augusta and Isidore Miller.
His father was an Austrian Jewish immigrant, while his mother was born in New York in an Austrian Jewish family. Arthur was the second of their three children.
His younger sister is actress Joan Copeland, and his older brother was Kermit Miller.
Miller’s parents owned a clothing manufacturing unit and were consistently well-off, until the Wall Street Crash of 1929, which brought hard times upon the family.
Miller graduated from the Abraham Lincoln High School in 1932, following which he took up various small jobs to garner funds for his college education.
He went to college at the University of Michigan, where his initial major was journalism, which was later changed to English.
Miller was an active student on campus, working as a reporter/editor for the varsity newspaper.
He wrote his first play, No Villain while still in college, learning the ropes from playwright professor Kenneth Rowe.
Miller’s first play was The Man Who Had All the Luck (1940). It had a disastrous run on stage, with the production wrapping up after a mere four performances and scathing reviews.
His first Broadway success came in the form of All My Sons in 1947. Miller won a Tony Award for Best Author for the same.
All My Sons, of course, became the first of Miller’s many controversial plays, which garnered a lot of unfavorable attention from the U.S. government. Based on a true incident, the play was centered on the conflict of moral responsibility and service to the nation, and appeared to make light of the American Dream.
The theme of this play, along with Miller’s general disposition, made him appear as a Communist sympathizer, and earned him a summon to the Un-American Activities Committee.
In 1948, Miller wrote what was to become one of his most remembered work of art, Death of a Salesman. He wrote the first act of the play within a day, and went on to complete the draft in just over a month.
Death of a Salesman brought him critical and commercial acclaim, along with three awards―the Pulitzer Prize, the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award, and a Tony Award.
In 1953, Miller channeled the turmoil he underwent while being questioned by the Committee on Un-American Activities in The Crucible. The play was essentially based on the Salem Witch Trials, but was allegorical in nature, representing McCarthyism, when the U.S. government blacklisted him for alleged communist leanings.
The theme of the play did not go unnoticed, and the government denied a passport to Miller, as a result of which he was unable to attend the play’s opening in London.
The year 1956 saw the release of Miller’s verse drama, A View from the Bridge. Set in 1950s’ New York, the play featured Italian-American characters in a story laden with tragedy, crime, and passion.
His next play After the Fall (1964) was based on his marriage to actress Marilyn Monroe. The play came under heavy criticism for being a disturbingly personal account of their time spent together, especially following the mysterious death of Monroe only a few years earlier.
His other celebrated plays include:
- Incident at Vichy (1964)
- The Price (1968)
- Fame (1970)
- The American Clock (1980)
- Elegy for a Lady (1982)
- Some Kind of Love Story (1982)
- The Ride Down Mt. Morgan (1991)
- The Last Yankee (1993)
- Broken Glass (1994)
Arthur Miller’s first wife was Mary Grace Slattery. The couple married in 1940, and went on to have a daughter, Jane, and a son, Robert.
Miller’s high-profile relationship with Marilyn Monroe was tabloid fodder back in the time. He divorced his first wife in 1956 and married Monroe in the same year.
Monroe had famously accompanied him to the HUAC hearing in 1956 where he was found guilty of contempt of Congress. The conviction was overturned in 1958.
Miller was working on the script of The Misfits when his marriage to Monroe hit rough waters. The pair divorced in 1961, the year of the film’s release. Shortly thereafter, Marilyn Monroe died of a suspected drug overdose.
In 1962, Miller married Inge Morath, who had worked as a photographer documenting the film’s making. The couple had a daughter, Rebecca, and a son, Daniel. Daniel was born with Down syndrome, and was institutionalized not much later after he was born. Miller did not maintain a relationship with him. His marriage to Inge Morath lasted until her death from cancer in 2002.
He began to live with Agnes Barley, a 34-year-old painter since 2002, and expressed an intent to marry her.
Arthur Miller breathed his last, aged 89, on February 10, 2005 at his home in Roxbury, Connecticut. The cause of his death was attributed to heart failure. His family and close friends were present at the time.
Miller’s death coincided with the 56th anniversary of the Broadway debut of Death of a Salesman.