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A CurtainUp Feature
An Overview of Arthur Miller's Career
by Elyse Sommer

Arthur Miller died on February 10, 2005. Asked in a 1986 conversation with Mel Gussow: "Do you ever think about what your legacy would be? " he replied, "Some good parts for actors." He will always be remembered by the many actors who played those good parts and the audiences who saw the plays written to " deal with essential dilemmas of what it means to be human."
Topics Covered
Personal Statistics
Play Chronology
Trademarks Of Miller's Plays
Plays Reviewed and Books
Quotes From Miller Plays

Arthur Miller has lived long enough to become one of the theater world's living legends, the sort of committed citizen playwright for whom the theater is a vehicle for enlightenment and social consciousness raising.

Now in his ninth decade he is indeed enjoying what Alex Comfort called "a good old age" While not much performed on Broadway for a number of years, he has enjoyed great popularity in England and other parts of the world. In 1996, the Williamstown Theatre Festival presented the American premiere of The Ride Down Mt. Morgan which opened in London in 1991 (see review link below) and, since it was the 50th anniversary of All My Sons, (see review link below) that play was revived in a concurrent run at the Festival's smaller stage. Interestingly, the revival became a bigger hit than the new play ( in the larger theater so that many people had to be turned away. The following season, this production, practically intact, became one of the outstanding events of the Roundabout Theater's season (review links below). A revised, re-staged and recast version of The Ride Down Mt. Morgan opened at the Public Theater in November 1998 (see link)

Miller is the playwright to whom the Signature Theater is dedicating its 1997-98 season. As the first of the Signature's Miller plays, The American Clock (see review link below) drew to a close, the Roundabout prepared to follow up its success with All My Sons with a revival of A View From the Bridge. (see review links) With another lesser known Miller play, The Last Yankee slated for January at the Signature (plus two more plays to follow) you can understand why Miller, like Chekhov, ( Our Chekhov Page) warrants his own niche in the CurtainUp library.

Personal Statistics
  • 1915. Miller was born in Manhattan ( (the lower edge of Harlem), the son of a comfortably middle class manufacturer of ladies' coats and a schoolteacher mother. The family moved to Brooklyn during the Great Depression which plunged his family into financial straits and influenced many of his plays.
  • 1938. Graduated from the University of Michigan where he has all sorts of jobs to help pay for his education and also began to write plays.
  • 1940. His marriage to Mary Grace Slatter ended in divorce. (Two children--Jane and Robert)
  • 1956. His marriage to Marilyn Monroe entailed great notoriety, also ended in divorce.
  • 1962 Married photographer Ingeborg Morath with whom he still shares his Connecticut home. (One daughter--Rebecca married to actor Daniel-Day Lewis).

Play Chronology
(all theaters unless otherwise stated, Broadway theaters).
  • 1944. The Man Who Had All the Luck --closed after 4 performances
  • 1947. All My Sons, opened at the Coronet (1/29) and ran for 328 performances--Miller's first major success.
  • 1949. Death of A Salesman, (which Miller almost called In His Head) opened at the Morosco (2/10) for 742 performances. It became the masterpiece to which all Miller's future work was compared-- as well as the benchmark for judging new dramatists with their eye trained on social issues. Editor's Note, November 3, 1998L The Fall of 1998 saw a new production of the play mounted at Chicago's Goodman Theater, starring Brian Dennehy and Elizabeth Franz According to The New York Times critic Ben Brantley director Robert Falls perfectly exemplifies that "the play's images and rhythms have the patterns of poetry" and seem to use the opening stage directions for a setting that has the air of "a dream rising out of reality." He concluded that this production "achieves something rare and splendid in the theater: an interpretation that rejuvenates a familiar classic without ever betraying its soul." With praises like that the rumors that the production will come to NYC in 1999, on the play's 50th anniversary, are more than likely to become reality. (Editor's Note: And so they did -- and our review of the NY production is linked below)
  • 1950. The Enemy of the People, adapted from Ibsen's play, opened at the Broadhurst (12/28) for 36 performances.
  • 1953. The Crucible. Opened at the Martin Beck (1/12) for 197 performances.
  • 1956. A View From the Bridge, one-act version paired with another one-acter, A Memory of Two Mondays. Opened at the Coronet (9/29) for 149 performances.
  • 1956. A View From the Bridge, two-act version) opened at London's Comedy Theater (1/23) for a much more successful run. (It bears noting, that the American version failed partially because the American actors were unable to capture the accents of the Red Hook, Brooklyn people--but the Shakespeare-trained London actors were able to " into the vernacular").
  • 1964. After the Fall, opened at the ANTA Washington Square (1/23) for 208 performances.
  • 1964. Incident at Vichy. Opened at the ANTA Washington Square (12/3) for 99 performances.
  • 1972. The Creation of the World. The comic retelling of the story of Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel stories intended to make a philosophic statement opened at the Shubert and closed after just 20 performances. A year later he turned it into a musical called Up From Paradise. He wrote the lyrics and directed it at his alma mater the University of Michigan.
  • 1974. The Price. Opened at the Morosco ( (2/07) for 425 performances.
  • 1977. The Archbishop's Ceiling. Opened at the Kennedy Center in DC (4/30).
  • 1980. The American Clock, adapted from Studs Terkel's Hard Times, opened at the S.C. Spoleto Festival Spring 1980 and at the Biltmore in New York (11/21).
  • 1991. The Ride Down Mt. . Opened in London and at the Williamstown Theatre Festival (Summer 1996).
  • 1993. The Last Yankee (1/05) at Manhattan Theater Club (to be revived 1/98 at Signature Theater).
  • 1994. Broken Glass. Opened at the Long Wharf in New Haven (3/01/ and at the Booth (4/24).
  • 2005. Resurrection Blues, Miller's last play.

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Trademarks Of Miller's Plays
In an interview after his first big success (All My Sons), Miller declared that "In all my plays and books I try to take settings and dramatic situations from life which involve real questions of right and wrong." Following are key dramatic devices used to achieve this mission:
  • The idealist who pays too much for his inability to compromise. All My Sons' Chris Keller's insists on dredging up a past that holds unbearable truths. Victor Frank in The Price, sacrificed his career dreams to support his father but his virtue has brought the additional cost of resentment and the crippling inability to move forward when given the opportunity.
  • The Great Depression. The Great depression bankrupted Miller's father in real life, Victor Frank's father in The Price, the dozens of individuals and families who wander through the scenes of The American Clock. In All My Sons, the small time industrialist Joe Keller extricates himself from the cusp of late Depression bankruptcy by wartime profiteering.
  • The theme of man's responsibility to his fellow man. This was most strongly expressed in All My Sons, where one man's greed haunts him in the worst possible way -- in the death of his son.
  • The Guilt of the survivor. Chris Keller, unlike his father, bears no responsibility for the death of his brother and other victims of the war. Yet he is haunted by the fact that he's alive while others died.. This theme of the guilt of those who escape, dates back to the playwright's first play (and instant flop), The Man Who Had All the Luck and recurs in After the Fall.
  • An ordinary man's tragedy doubling as symbol of a larger societal flaw. The story of Willie Loman in Death of a Salesman is a realistic drama about one man's downfall on one level. On a broader symbolic level it is also an examination of the delusions attendant on the pursuit of the American dream. A View From the Bridge updates the Greek tragic mode to depict the downfall of a Brooklyn dock worker--taken in the context of its time, the 1950s, some audiences also saw the play as a metaphor for the betrayals associated with such colleagues as Elia Kazan to the the House Un-American Activities committee's (HUAC) investigation of Communists in government. Even more specific to those days of Communist witch hunting was The Crucible which probably escaped being dated precisely because Miller set it in a long-ago historic time frame.
  • A Penchant for Big Operatic Speeches.
  • Sometimes you could actually hear music playing -- and with several of his plays, The Crucible (Robert Ward) and A View from the Bridge, (William Bolcomb) those "arias" actually inspired operas.

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Links To Plays We Have Reviewed and Books You Might Want to Read
Reviews:This list of Arthur Miller's plays we've reviewed since launching CurtainUp is not frozen and we will add to it periodically.
Broken Glass (London 2011)
Incident at Vichy (Actors Company, 2009)
View From the Bridge(Broadway 2010)
A View From the Bridge (London 2009)
A View From the Bridge(Roundabout 1997)
Some Kind of Love Story(Los Angeles 2008)
After the Fall(Broadway-2004)
After the Fall(Los Angeles)
The Crucible (Broadway Revival)
The Crucible (Hartford Stage 2011)
The Crucible (Steppenwolf-Chicago, 2007)
The Creation of the World and Other Business
The Man Who Had All the Luck (New York)
The Man Who Had All the Luck (2008 London)
The Price in the Berkshires and NY
All My Sons (Barrington Stage 2012)
All My Sons/ Arthur Miller(London 2010)
All My Sons (2008 Broadway Revival)
All My Sons in NY and London
The American Clock
Conversations With Miller/Gussow, Mel
Death of a Salesmanr(Broadway 2012)
Death Of a Salesman Salesman --- Second Thoughts
Death Of a Salesman (London-2005)
Resurrection Blues (Philadelphia)
Resurrection Blues (London)
The Ride Down Mt. Morgan in the Berkshires and NY
Mr. Peter's Connections
A View From the Bridge and Second Thoughts
The Last Yankee& I Can't Remember Anything (with Joseph Chaikin)

Books: Miller's plays and other writings are widely anthologized . This is a selection of the ones we think fans and students would find most
Conversations With Miller by Mel Gussow
The Portable Arthur Miller. Penguin, 1995, 575 pp. This update of an earlier edition was compiled by the playwright and Christopher Bigsby, a Miller scholar. It's a good cross-section of Miller's 60-year career. Included in full are The Crucible, Death of a Salesman, and Broken Glass; also unpublished early works and a newly found radio play.

A View From the Bridge. Viking paperback, 1987. With the play enjoying one of its most dynamic productions ever at the Roundabout, (see link to reviewed plays above), we included this for people who like to read a play before or after seeing a play as well as those who for one reason or another can't get to this revival.

The Last Yankee: With a New Essay About Theatre Language. Penguin paperback, 98 pp, 1994.Not one of Miller's best-known plays but we've included it since it's the second Miller play to be featured in the Signature Theater's 1997-98 season.

Timebends : A Life. Penguin, 1995. This is the paperback edition of Miller's very readable autobiography. It moves from his childhood at the edge of Harlem through his life and career, failures and successes-- and includes plenty of portraits of famous people who played walk-on and major parts in his life; to name just a few: Marilyn Monroe, Orson Welles, Lucky Luciano, Clark Gable, Tennessee Williams, John F. Kennedy, Mikhail Gorbachev. . . Penguin Audio Book edition (2 Cassettes).

The Theater Essays of Arthur Miller Da Capo (paperback), 1996. This reprint edition is packed with a wealth of essays including "Tragedy and the Common Man," "The Nature of Tragedy". . ." Salesman Has a Birthday". . . "Many Writers: Few Plays". . . "Journey to The &"The American Theater&". . ."On Social Plays". . ."The Family in Modern Drama". Also included are the introduction to the original edition (by Robert A. Martin), this expanded Edition (by Steven R. Centola) and a foreword by the playwright titled "Sorting Things Out." A good value.

Arthur Miller in Conversation. Contemporary Research Press, paperback, 1993. This lengthy interview between Steve Centola and Arthur Miller provides the playwright with ample opportunity to voice his views on playwriting, the state of the theater and the acting profession. Centola is clearly an admirer and a fine interviewer. The title isn't likely to be found in your neighborhood book store but it is available to those prepared to wait for their order to be filled.

Homely Girl, a Life : And Other Stories. Penguin paperback, 128 pp, 1997. In his long conversation with Stephen Centola, Miller spoke about his disaffection with playwriting and intention to do more fiction. This collection of short stories, is newly anthologized but not newly written. The stories are worth reading but it should be noted that writers who've built their reputation on the short story (i.e. Pritchett) or short stories and novels (Updike) tend to focus for many years on these particular forms. Thus, this book is more interesting for showing another side of Miller, than as a launching point for a short-story writing career. When you think of Miller, it's still going to be in terms of his plays.
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Quotes From Miller Plays
A little man makes a mistake and they hang him by the thumbs; the big ones become ambassadors
--Joe Keller in Act 2, All My Sons.

Once and for all you must know that there's a universe of people outside, and you're responsible to it. --Chris Keller (to his mother) in Act 3, All My Sons

Since God made everything, and God is Good, why did he make Lucifer?---Arthur Miller

He's not the finest character that ever lived. But he's a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid. He's not to be allowed to fall into his grave like an old dog. Attention, attention must be finally paid to such a person
-- Linda Loman, Act 1, Death of a Salesman.

You can't eat the orange and throw the peel away--a man is not a piece of fruit!
Willy, Act 2, Death of a Salesman.

(A Salesman) He's a man way out there in the blue riding on a smile and a shoeshine. And when they start not smiling back--that's an earthquake!
Charley, Requiem, Death of a Salesman.

There are times when you want to spread an alarm, but nothing has happened —-Alfieri, A View from the Bridge, Act 1.

The only thing you can do today without a license is you'll go up the elevator and jump out the window --Gregory Solomon in The Price, Act 1 Solomon, the character who brings the play its light touch, thus amplifies his statement that he is both registered and licensed as an appraiser

He allowed himself to be wholly known --Alfieri in Arthur Miller's A View from the Bridge, Act 2.

The  Playbill Broadway YearBook
The Playbill Broadway YearBook

Leonard Maltin's Classic Movie Guide
Leonard Maltin's 2007 Movie Guide


©Copyright 2007, Elyse Sommer.
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