Century Spotlight: Arthur Miller
By: Linnea Crowther
2 years ago
A century after Arthur Miller was born, we remember the prolific playwright's legacy.
Arthur Miller reflected the American experience in his work, exploring topics that resonated with his mid-20th-century audiences. So critically acclaimed and widely popular were his plays and movies that he's one of the few American playwrights to become a household name. Of course, his four-year marriage to megastar Marilyn Monroe didn't hurt ... but his work is what cemented his reputation. His high-profile love affair merely kept him in the spotlight.
Born Oct. 17, 1915, Miller grew up in Manhattan, the son of a successful factory owner, raised in relative luxury that included a summer home and a chauffeur. The prosperity came to a screeching halt for Miller's family, as for so many others, in the Wall Street Crash of 1929. His father lost everything, and the rest of Miller's teenage years were lived much differently, with the family scraping to get by in a working-class area of Brooklyn. It was an experience that had to have shaped the direction Miller's writing would take, as he showed working men chasing dreams that they wouldn't always be able to catch. His salesman, Willy Loman, didn't make it out alive from the destruction of his dreams in Death of a Salesman; neither did Eddie Carbone live to the end of his play - circumstances and desire undid him in A View From the Bridge. Miller got out of Brooklyn and made it big, but the memory of the tragedies of American life always simmered in his plays.
So, too, did Miller's experiences with the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in the early 1950s affect his writing. Dismayed by his friend, director Elia Kazan's, willingness to "name names" - turning in fellow artists with ties to the Communist Party - Miller wrote The Crucible, a dramatization of the Salem Witch Trials that shone a light on the modern-day witch hunt being conducted by HUAC. In the wake of its production, Miller was called to testify before HUAC, and, when he refused to name names himself, he was ruled in contempt of Congress, subsequently blacklisted, fined, and denied a U.S. passport.
Miller's tragedies became American classics, just as relevant today in revivals as they were when they first hit the Broadway stage. Here's a playlist of a few of his greatest works for the stage and screen, including the movie adaptations of Death of a Salesman, All My Sons and The Crucible, for which he wrote the screenplays, as well as footage of Miller himself.