Arthur Miller was born on the 17th October 1915, the second child of Isidore and Augusta Miller. He was born in the city of New York, Harlem, to be precise, on 127 West 111th Street, but for a strange twist of fate Arthur Miller may never have been born in America. In fact he may never have been born at all.
His father Isidore was the youngest of seven children and in the late 1880s his family packed up to leave their home in Poland, to make the long arduous journey to begin a new life in America. Tickets had been purchased for his three older brothers and three older sisters. Isidore was left behind. For years the story was that he’d been left with an uncle and when he died he was supposedly passed from one relative to another. Later, Arthur and his older brother Kermit couldn’t understand why anyone could leave such a small child behind to endure his fate alone. Why, when tickets had been purchased for the six older children, what difference would one more ticket make to their finances? But even more shockingly, a six-year-old was left to his own devices to cross Europe, and then the Atlantic, alone, to join his family in America. Arthur and his brother delved deeper into the mystery and found that Isidore had actually been left in a mental institution, based on bits and pieces of conversation they’d heard years before. Their father had said he’d remembered how he had to sleep with idiots who’d howl all night and pee all over the beds. It was only when the rabbi, the only one with authority then, declared him to be sane or at least fit to travel, that Isidore was allowed to follow his family. That would also explain why, when he arrived alone in America, he was denied schooling that was offered to his brothers. Eventually the brothers found out that it was Isidore’s mother, their grandmother, who actually thought him to be mentally ill, because, in his short six years here on earth he’d hardly spoken a word. She would treat him with contempt from time to time, unable to accept that the child she abandoned turned out to be the most successful of her brood. Even later when Arthur became successful she could not bring herself to accept it was down to her son but rather more to do with her son’s wife. Isidore spent years trying to buy his mother’s love by showering her with expensive gifts, but he never succeeded – it seems she was incapable of giving it.
For the rest of his life Isidore Miller found it very difficult to come to terms with the abandonment, why he was left behind and consequently the lack of schooling that caused him to be illiterate and the sense of shame and embarrassment that bought with it. This also caused Arthur much embarrassment over the years too. Isidore did become competent at maths through necessity, but Arthur was never good at maths, failing it repeatedly.
When Augusta and Isidore married in 1911, it was nothing to do with love – not for the parents that is. Isidore’s accounts were scrutinised. Both fathers had long discussions before the pair were allowed to be wed. At the time it was a merging of two commercial empires and the state of the accounts was much more important than whether the two were physically attracted to each other. Arthur wrote After the Fall, which portrays two men arranging a marriage between their respective son and daughter, who hadn’t yet met about this. Arthur’s mother said at the time, that her two sisters had eloped because they did not want to be forced into an arranged marriage, but she did not want to break her mother’s heart so she went along with it.
Just like certain twists of fate ensured Arthur Miller would be born and raised in New York, fate once again intervened in 1915, the year of his birth, Isidore was approached by a man called William Fox, asking if he could lend him $50,000. He wanted it to help set up movie studios in California, and in return he would receive a percentage of the company profits. Isidore refused, because he did not trust him, thinking he’d disappear to California and he’d never see his money again. It was a decision he would regret. Just a few years later the stock markets crashed and he lost his hard earned fortune. How ironic that many years later his son would meet Marilyn Monroe on the set of a Twentieth Century Fox film in California. But not only that, but also have the boss of the company beg him to collaborate with the House of-un-American Activities Committee, so as not to bring their star into disrepute by association of communism, that had incidentally thrived in the sweat-shops of Lower East Side.
Arthur managed to get into the University of Michigan, when asked why he chose to study there, his reply was its educational repute, but also, he said that they didn’t require maths. He’d been rejected twice, and because of that he’d worked tirelessly for two years earning $15 a week, then as he reapplied he told them he’d found a new commitment to studying so they finally accepted him. Although he went to Michigan to study, Brooklyn, the place he grew up in, never left him and his first college play, No Villain is set in Brooklyn. Many of his plays were set in his home town including the most famous one; Death of a Salesman. Miller loved being at college, for him it had a small town urban feel. Not like at home in Brooklyn, the bleakness of a city, dawn to dusk labour and the constraints of the three bedroom house – college meant freedom. Although Arthur had always been close to his mother, he also shared many cultural interests with her, including classical music, and he would be an enthusiast all of his life and attended concerts whenever possible; he enjoyed the freedom of being away from home. Whilst away from home he was receiving letters from his mother and brother but he was totally unaware that his mother was becoming more suicidal by the day and his brother had joined the Communist party, something he himself never did. The depression was on going and they were finding it difficult to cope with the austerity at that time. In his second semester he began writing for the student newspaper the Michigan Daily. It had a circulation beyond campus and that’s when Arthur began to get deeper into politics, whilst still studying hard. He and the others writing for it were called the depression kids; it became a liberal paper, a forum for political debate. Working for the newspaper gave him valuable journalistic skills for later in his life. He was also becoming more involved with politics. He considered himself Marxist rather than a communist, though to most people they are the same thing.
Arthur graduated from Michigan in 1938; he can remember waving goodbye to Mary Grace Slattery, whom he met a year earlier; she was to become his first wife. (Not that getting married was on his mind at the time.) Part of their attraction for each other was their political views. She revolted against her catholic upbringing; she was stubborn, principled and an admirer of the Russians and this is why Miller fell for her, but her stubbornness was to be one of the reasons for their divorce. It’s said she was much more radical than he, and in 1944, when she was giving birth to their first born, Jane, and Yugoslavia was being invaded by the Germans, she screamed, “Oh, those poor Yugoslavs!” But unbeknownst to Arthur he left Michigan with a first entry in an FBI file that would eventually grow to a staggering six hundred and fifty four pages.
By the end of his final year, Arthur was ready to move on. One thing he knew for sure was that he could write and he was ready to prove it. He turned down the first offer of a $250 a week job as a writer for Twentieth Century Fox because he said that in those days the films were junk and now they are classic junk – he said he’d had higher aspirations. There is also a slight feeling of irony in this offer as William Fox was the one who asked the Miller family for investment funds. Because he turned down this offer he had to move back into the family home until he could start selling his writing; not a move he made lightly. The confidence he left Michigan with soon waned when he realised it was going to take him much longer than he at first thought to get noticed and become successful.
In 1940 he wrote The Man Who Had All the Luck. It was presented on Broadway in 1944, but it was dropped after just four days. Ever since he left Michigan he had written three short stories, not published, two plays, not produced, a revue not produced, radio plays and sketches not produced either. The problem was that his stories were far too obscene; no one would publish them. He was told his plays were far too radical and Miller, at that time, was not prepared to compromise. It was going to take him until 1947 and a play called All My Sons before he could reliably say he’d made it.
Arthur married Mary Slattery in August 1940 and although he was not a religious, practicing Jew he was not made very welcome at Mary’s parent’s home as her parents were catholic and according to Arthur, she seemed to be in a state of permanent apology for her family. Years later she vehemently denied this saying that her family had been very kind to Arthur.
After so many years of producing work that no one wanted, Arthur was beginning to contemplate defeat; he still wanted to write but he was considering having to join the work force once more. He said that they wanted his talent but not what he was writing. But looking at it from a positive side he said, being amongst the workers would give him access to more material. His problem he thought was similar to that of his main character in The Man Who Had All the Luck, who perfects skills in his basement that paradoxically disqualify him from the career he’s chosen. It seems to me he’d written this subconsciously about himself.
In 1946, Harold Clurman wrote to Arthur, saying that he was interested in his work, and if he had a new play he’d be interested in reading it, quickly. It sounded like an offer to Arthur so he sat down and wrote All My Sons. This was in 1947 and is the story of a man who sells faulty parts to the military. He received the Tony Award for best author. This was the beginning of Arthur Millers success, and All My Sons was also the prelude to Death of a Salesman two years later in 1949. This is a famous modern tragedy about failed business man Willy Loman. It can be seen as a brutal study of the American Dream. He received another Tony Award for best author and best play. Although he was now becoming successful, or maybe because of his success, there was still much controversy about his subject matter and his right-winged views, and also his views on capitalism. The FBI was still building a file on him. It seems after this there was no holding him back. He was now earning $100,000 a year.
In May 1947, Mary gave birth to their second child Robert. His new found wealth changed his life completely and he and Mary were able to buy a large property in Connecticut, two hours drive from Brooklyn, a property that belonged to Mary’s ex boss. Ironically with all of his success came also a crisis in his marriage; which if the truth be known, had already been in trouble for some time. Arthur travelled to Europe in 1947 – because of his success and as a professional he knew he could not exist on one play. He said his home town of Brooklyn was bad because of the depression, but war torn Europe was much worse. He visited France then on to Italy – he was hoping to meet Jean Paul Sartre but he only caught site of him across the room – it was the closest he would get. He travelled to Sicily and met one of America’s most notorious gangsters, Lucky Luciano.
The Crucible was his third successful play. It had been in his mind since taking a history course at Michigan but he never thought it would take off. It is a play about the Salem witch trials of 1692 but it is also said to be another take on the witch hunt for communists in the 1950s. If you consider Arthur’s life as a writer it is easy to see where the similarities lie and especially the year it was written – the time of Joseph McCarthy and the House of Un-American Activities (HUAC) The Crucible won the Antoinette Perry and Donaldson Awards. It ran for more than two years and became his most successful play, long after HUAC and Joseph McCarthy were forgotten.
Arthur Miller first met Marilyn Monroe on the Fox film lot in Los Angeles; she was walking with Cameron Mitchell (who had in the previous year appeared in Death of a Salesman). He watched her at work on the set of As Young as You Feel. It was at a party a few days later that the relationship between the two really began. The party was actually thrown for Miller and a number of young women were invited. Marilyn and Arthur danced together; later he said he’d tried in vain to find a fault in the architecture of her form, to make her just like other girls, but to no avail. He felt protective of her right from the start. The contrast between her and his wife at home was cavernous. That Marilyn should prove so disturbing to Miller is not surprising, that she should be attracted to him, when he was not part of the Hollywood machine and with not much to offer in the way of advancement to her career would be surprising only if she saw relationships purely in such terms. The attraction was immediate. They talked together into the early hours; he was impressed by her sensitivity and her sense of reality. She responded to his gentility, he suggested she should train as an actor; this is why she later enrolled at UCLA, taking a course on literature. They didn’t meet again until four years later. Arthur left California the next day, not because of the problems with the screenplay but because he was running away from his feelings for Marilyn. Back home, Mary knew something had happened on his trip. He was restless; she remembered also that she’d recognised something of their relationship in the plays he wrote on his return. In A View from a Bridge the sexual entrapment of Eddie Carbane and Beatrice was an accurate reflexion of her own relationship. For his part Arthur was not ready to suffer the pain a breakup would bring, but he had to admit defeat and now his marriage would be characterised by a series of withdrawals. He retreated into the privacy of his art, she into a reactive affront, angrily closing the door on intimacy. When Arthur and Mary finally split, it was not without bitterness. He walked out, saying if he hadn’t she eventually would have; he didn’t blame her, but himself and his affair with Marilyn. He was yearning for a better life, tired of the continuous disapproval; he found it impossible to live with Mary any longer. Suddenly, here was a woman who didn’t wish to constantly dampen his spirits; she just seemed to take each moment for what it was. Of course, some time later she developed a form of paranoia, thinking everybody wanted to exploit her; in the end she was the same as everyone else.
Arthur and Marilyn finally married in 1956. On the 29th June they drove to White Plains, New York and found a judge who would marry them, Seymour Rabinowitz. He was willing to conduct a civil ceremony at short notice. Two days later they married again but this time it was a Jewish ceremony in Waccabuc, Westchester; the home of his literary agent Kay Brown. Later Arthur said Marilyn, had a yearning; she just wanted to belong.
It was not long before the cracks began to appear. What Arthur had thought he had left behind in his first marriage, he realised almost instantly that he had traded them for something much worse and much more destructive. This was the price he would have to pay for marrying the most glamorous and most famous woman in America. What he was hoping for was someone to be supportive of his career, but he found himself having to put his own career on hold whilst he supported hers.
His long list of plays, From All My Sons, Death of a Salesman, An Enemy of the People, The Crucible, A Memory of Two Mondays and last but not least A View from a Bridge; they all followed in quick succession over eight years. It all came to a sudden halt.
In 1961 their marriage ended and as most people know Marilyn died in 1962.
In 1968 he wrote The Price, a drama about two brothers who hate each other and only come together after their father’s death.
In 1962 he married Ingeborg Morath, with whom he stayed married until she died on the 30th January 2002. She was a photographer and his soul mate; she understood him and his art. Although he didn’t write any major works after the late 60s he won many awards the last ones in 2001; the New York City College Alumni Association Medal for the artistic devotion to New York, and the Japan Art Association Life Time Achievement Award 2001.
He had two children with his first marriage to Mary and two with Ingeborg. I think people in general don’t know that he was such a great writer, for the most part people remember Arthur Miller for being Mr Marilyn Monroe.