Interesting Arthur Miller trivia
1. Arthur Miller’s father lost virtually everything in the 1929 Wall Street crash. Miller’s play Death of a Salesman (1949) was informed by personal experience: in 1929, when Miller was still a boy, his father Isidore lost much of his fortune in the famous stock-market crash of 1929. His father had owned a women’s clothing business, a chauffeur, and a staff of some 400 people; they lost virtually everything.
2. Indeed, Miller’s first play was about a man facing financial ruin. Written in 1936 while Miller was still a student at the University of Michigan, No Villain is about a man who, because of an industrial strike, is in danger of losing everything. This is a theme that Arthur Miller would return to in his later work, such as Death of a Salesman. No Villain was written in six days for a competition, which Miller duly won. The play was never performed in Miller’s own lifetime; its world premiere took place in London in December 2015, in the centenary year of Miller’s birth.
The structure of a play is always the story of how the birds came home to roost. – Arthur Miller
3. Miller wrote a celebrated essay in support of the ‘common man’ as a subject for tragedy. In response to negative reviews which his play Death of a Salesman received, Miller wrote ‘Tragedy and the Common Man’ (1949), in which he argued that modern tragedy in the theatre should not concern kings and queens but ordinary people and their ordinary lives.
4. Miller was famously married to Marilyn Monroe, and wrote the screenplay for her last film. Miller and Monroe had initially met in 1951 and had a brief affair, but in June 1956 Miller left his first wife and promptly married Monroe. He wrote the script for The Misfits, which was released in 1961 and starred his wife. During the production of the film their marriage fell apart. Monroe was dead a year later. The film was something of a poison chalice for one of its other stars, too: Clark Gable, who played the male lead, suffered a heart attack two days after completing the film, and died ten days later. The Hollywood connections don’t end there: Miller’s son-in-law is the actor Daniel Day-Lewis.
A good newspaper, I suppose, is a nation talking to itself. – Arthur Miller
5. The first production of Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible received hostile reviews. Despite its status as a twentieth-century classic of American theatre, and one of Miller’s best-known plays, the original run of The Crucible was in fact a critical flop when it premiered in January 1953. Even Miller didn’t like it. It was only the following year, when a more appropriate production of the play was put on, that it became a success. The play, of course, takes as its focus the 1692 Salem Witch Trials, which are used allegorically to comment on the McCarthy anti-Communist ‘witch hunts’ in the US in the 1950s. (The Crucible proved oddly prescient of Miller’s own experience with the House Un-American Activities Committee: in 1956 he would fall foul of the Committee when he refused to identify the other people who had been present at meetings he had attended.) Miller’s original title for the play was Those Unfamiliar Spirits.
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Image: Portrait of Arthur Miller by Eric Koch, 1966; Wikimedia Commons.