“…the truth, the first truth, probably, is that we are all connected, watching one another. Even the trees.”
Today marks the Centennial of Arthur Miller’s birth. This time of year, the Montana Rep begins turning much of its attention to gearing up for the National Tour. As many of the Rep’s audiences already know, the 2016 National Tour will present a production of Arthur Miller’s All My Sons, rehearsals for which will begin this coming January. Therefore, we feel it is important to focus our upcoming blog posts on Arthur Miller’s life, his works, and some important themes and ideas he explores in his plays, and most importantly, 1947’s All My Sons.
Born in Manhattan to an Austrian immigrant and a New Yorker, Arthur Miller spent his childhood living on the Upper West Side in relative wealth until his father’s business collapsed in the stock market crash of 1929. Miller spent his teens and early twenties living in Brooklyn, working odd jobs to help his family and pay for his college tuition at the University of Michigan, where he graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in English in 1938.
Miller’s early professional playwriting career began and ended quickly with the Federal Theatre Project, an agency of Roosevelt’s controversial New Deal, which congress shut down in 1939 due to suspicions of a Communist infiltration. 1940 saw the first Broadway production of a Miller play, The Man Who Had All the Luck, which won the Theatre Guild’s National Award, but was panned by the critics and closed after only four performances. At just 30 years old, Miller began writing All My Sons, his final attempt as a playwright. He decided that if the play did not succeed, he would abandon the form and focus solely on fiction and journalism. All My Sons opened on Broadway in January, 1947 and ran for 328 performances.
Despite being “a very depressing play in a time of great optimism” (Rifkin 1994), as Miller once called All My Sons, The New York Times’ Brooks Atkinson wrote two Sunday pieces and a glowing review, helping the play gain traction and go on to win New York Drama Critics’ Circle and Tony Awards for best author.
In 1948, Miller wrote what is often cited as the most studied and important American play ever written. Death of a Salesman opened on Broadway in 1949, ran for 742 performances, won New York Drama Critics’ Circle and Tony Awards for best author, and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama (The Montana Rep produced the play for its 2002 National Tour). Riding the momentum of this success, Miller began researching the Salem witch trials of 1692 and wrote The Crucible (1953), a period piece that serves as an allegory of the House Un-american Activities Committee (HUAC) search for Communist sympathizers within American arts industries. Miller himself was called on to testify before HUAC in 1956, refused to name names, and was acquitted. Today, The Crucible is Miller’s most frequently produced work both nationally and internationally. All My Sons, Death of a Salesman, and his 1955 tragedy chronicling the downfall of a Brooklyn Navy Yard dock worker, A View From the Bridge, comprise Miller’s next most frequently produced works.
Aside from his plays, Miller is perhaps most famous for his very public marriage to Hollywood actress and public figure Marilyn Monroe, a relationship he chronicles in some detail in his most overtly autobiographical play After the Fall (1964). The two were married on June 29, 1956 and divorced in 1961 shortly before the premier of the film
adaptation of Miller’s novella The Misfits (1957), in which Monroe starred. Monroe’s death in 1962 was classified as a probable suicide due to drug overdose.
Although Miller’s later career was also incredibly prolific, producing film adaptations of his plays and novels, including Death of a Salesman, starring Dustin Hoffman and John Malkovich in 1984, and a highly successful version of The Crucible in 1996, starring Paul Scofield, Winona Ryder, and Miller’s son-in-law Daniel Day-Lewis. In 1987, Miller published his autobiography, Timebends: a life, in which he perhaps best summarizes his own life and work:
And so the coyotes are out there earnestly trying to arrange their lives to make more coyotes possible, not knowing that it is my forest, of course. And I am in this room from which I can sometimes look out at dusk and see them warily moving through the barren winter trees, and I am, I suppose, doing what they are doing, making myself possible and those who come after me. At such moments I do not know whose land this is that I own, or whose bed I sleep in. In the darkness out there they see my light and pause, muzzles lifted, wondering who I am and what I am doing here in this cabin under my light. I am a mystery to them until they tire of it and move on, but the truth, the first truth, probably, is that we are all connected, watching one another. Even the trees.
Miller died in 2005 after battles with cancer, pneumonia, and heart disease at the age of 89. The Montana Rep is very proud to announce its National Tour of All My Sons during the centennial of Miller’s birth.