Arthur Miller was an American playwright, born in 1915 in Harlem, New York City. He is best known for his award-winning and frequently produced plays "The Crucible," "After the Fall" and "Death of a Salesman," but is also remembered for being the husband of Marilyn Monroe from 1956 to 1961.
After finishing his education at the University of Michigan, Miller began writing theater and radio plays and was even offered a screenwriting position at 20th Century Fox, which he turned down. His first big success was the play “All My Sons” in 1946, it was produced on Broadway and won Miller a Tony Award for Best Author, a now retired Tony award category. It also firmly established his reputation as an important voice in American arts and letters.
"Death of a Salesman"
Considered one of the greatest plays of the 20th century, the original production of “Death of a Salesman” in 1949 starred Lee Cobb as the iconic “Willy Loman,” an aging and mentally disintegrating salesman trying to secure a future for his two sons. It was directed by Elia Kazan and went on to win a Tony Award for Best Author, a New York Drama Circle Critics’ Award and a Pulitzer Prize for Drama. A film version of the play was released in 1951 and there have been subsequent versions for both the large and small screens. Miller himself adapted the play for a TV version directed by Volker Schlondorff and starring Dustin Hoffman in 1985.
The Crucible Years
At the time of the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings in the early 1950s, director Elia Kazan betrayed a number of Miller’s close theater colleagues as communist sympathizers. Miller simultaneously began researching the Salem witch trials of 1692. “The Crucible,” which opened on Broadway in 1953, insinuated a connection between the two. As a result, Miller himself was called before the House, fined and denied a passport to attend the London, England opening of the play in 1954. “The Crucible” remains one of Miller’s most frequently produced plays.
"After the Fall"
"After the Fall" opened on Broadway in 1964. Theater critics dubbed it a thinly veiled autobiographical depiction of Miller's marriage to Marilyn Monroe, who died in 1962. In the play, the female protagonist commits suicide. The play was not well received -- it is the most abstract and experimental of Miller's plays. But it is nonetheless considered a significant contribution to the American theater canon by the Pulitzer Prize winning playwright.
Later Works and Legacies
Not all of Miller’s plays became famous -- flops such as “The Creation of the World and Other Business” in 1972 and 1992's “The Last Yankee” faded into obscurity. Throughout his life, Miller flirted with Hollywood in between writing plays for the stage. In 1961, he wrote the screenplay for “The Misfits,” the final movie made by Clark Gable and Miller’s then-wife Marilyn Monroe. Miller’s own final work, a play called “Finishing the Picture,” was said to be based on that screenwriting experience. It opened in Chicago in 2004. Miller died the next year at the age of 89.
Margot Callahan has Bachelor of Arts degrees in philosophy and film studies. She has written for newspapers and magazines such as the "Toronto Star" and "Toronto Life Fashion" since 1991, in addition to producing and directing documentary films.