Arthur Miller 1915-2005
Arthur Miller was an American playwright and essayist, best known for his poignant critiques of twentieth century American culture. His prolific career spanned over seven decades, and produced over fifty plays, screenplays, and radio plays, as well as multitudes of essays and several short works of fiction. His best known works include Death of A Salesman, The Crucible, and All My Sons, plays which cemented his legacy as one of the most important and influential American dramatists, along with contemporaries such as Tennessee Williams and Eugene O’Neill.
Miller was born in New York City to a pair of comfortably middle class Jewish entrepreneurs, but the family was hit hard by the stock market crash of 1929, and he worked several menial jobs to pay for his post-secondary education at the University of Michigan, where he majored in journalism, later switching to English. He graduated in 1938 and in 1940 produced his first stage play, The Man Who Had All The Luck, which closed after only four performances and disastrous reviews. It wasn’t until 1947, with the success of All My Sons on Broadway, that Miller’s career really took off.
He began writing All My Sons in 1941, the same year the United States entered World War Two. It was based on a true story from an Ohio Newspaper, in which it was revealed that an aeronautical corporation had conspired with a group of army inspection officers to approve defective engines that were to be used in army aircraft. Miller also drew inspiration from The Wild Duck by Henrik Ibsen, a Norwegian playwright considered the “father of realism”, wherein the fuel for the plot is the relationship between two business partners. Miller often drew from the naturalism of Ibsen, aiding in his ability to write the superbly complex, conflicted, and realistic characters that drive his stories.
After shooting to fame following the 1949 critical and commercial success of Death of A Salesman, Miller was often in the public eye. His marriage to the glamorous but turbulent Marilyn Monroe also contributed to his fame. Against the backdrop of the Cold War, Miller’s criticisms of American culture brought him under the scrutiny of the House Un-American Activities Committee for suspected ties to Communism. This, and the McCarthy trials inspired The Crucible, Miller’s most frequently performed play. Nonetheless, he continued writing, producing more works and cementing his reputation as one of the most notable writers and public figures of American history.