Arthur Miller Biography Notes

Notes taken from Arthur Miller: his life and work by Martin Gottfried

Miller on Miller:

“They are waiting for wonders, I have always been in love with wonder – the wonder of how people and things got to be the way they are.”  – introduction to The Collected Plays

“A play requires language, which takes an effort of listening and interpretation; consequently the effort becomes part of the enjoyment; but if you have an audience trained not to put out effort, it arouses impatience.  Passivity always wins out because it’s easier.”  (426)

Quotes on Miller:

“Certainly, no modern playwright writes with such moral earnestness and has a greater sense of social responsibility.” – Professor Robert Corrigan frmIArthur Miller bio

From Arthur Miller biography:

“Miller considers himself a ‘social’ playwright, by which he means a playwright concerned with the  way people live.  His works pursue two of the great themes in contemporary western history: the improvement of society for the benefit of all, and the search for an understanding of the human consciousness.  In his finest dramas both these are present.” (xi)

“Students, Miller would later recall, ‘connected the Soviets with socialism and socialism with man’s redemption.’” (31)

Arthur Miller was his mother’s favorite (6).

Arthur Miller worked in a car factory after high school graduation (1933).  “Chadick-Delameter was a hulking shell of a place with high, wide and open floors holding rows of bins containing generators, clutches, brake shoes, fan belts, spark plugs, hubcaps and assorted gears – virtually every part of an automobile.  The building sat at the corner of Tenth Avenue and West Sixty-third street just off Lincoln Square, an area that thirty years later would be cleared of its inhabitants, demolished, gutted and reinvented as the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.” (19)

“The warehouse was a depressing place to work, a gapingly barrena dn airless place ith echoing cast-iron floors, freight elevators bigger than Miltex’s time.  Because those windows were sealed the warehouse was steamy in the summer and drigid in the winter, but Miller appreciated his good fortune in having any job at all.  As for the men who worked there, they were a crude bunch.  Fistfights were an everyday occurrence and here is wehre Miller first heard anti-Semitic slurs from adults, which he was forced to accept as a fact of life, at least in this place.” (20)

He had “a grim serious-mindedness and guilt about his brother, Kermit, ‘for having left him to prop up the family while I, the inferior student, went off to college.’” (21)

“Miller’s suspicions of Christians generally and Catholics in particular and his defensiveness, anger and narrow-mindedness can largely be ascribed to an insulated ethnic background and the psychology of an outsider as well as an insulated ethnic background and the psychology of an outsider as well as youthful insecurities.  More complicated and interesting is that so many of these feelings were harbored – even nurtured-well beyond his youth and over the course of a lifetime.”  (64)

Miller sailed to South America only a few weeks after he wed his first wife in 1940.  “His purpose was to research a play set on a merchant ship at the dawn of the Second Wrold War, and in 1940 war was obviously imminent.” (66)

-P. 66-68 (s. am. Play)

“In 1941…….He decided to try his hand at fiction, and even had an idea for a novel.  The story comes from Mary’s family history, about a young uncle who committed suicide by hanging himself in a barn for no apparent reason.  The man had been happily married.  He had been successful in business.  As his widow put it, “Everybody’d always like [Peter], he never wanted for a job…he was so cheerful.”  The why of it intrigued Miller; he demanded that life make sense.  Why would a man kill himself when he had everything going for him?  An editor at Atlantic Monthly Press found the propsed novel’s approach to this idea interesting enough to make inquiries about the would-be author to Professor R.W. Cowden, head of the English Department at the University of Michigan.  Cowden wrote back, “He is a wide awake Jewish boy and so much interested in writing that every now and then he jeopardized his scholastic standing here at Michigan in order to work on his plays.  He does have talent…I have been expecting to hear from him somewhere in the field of writing, because his heart is in it.”

This recommendation justified a small advance and Miller went to work, calling his novel The Man Who Had All the Luck, which he described as “an investigation to discover what exact part a man played in his own fate.””  (70)

Miller finally finished the book in 1942 while working the night shift at the navy ship yard during WWII.

-77-83 (the man who had all the luck)

Miller’s remarks on the Melish case (w/ communisim):

“The concept of intellectual honesty does not apply when peace is at stake.  I suggest to the FBI [and]I suggest to the powers diabolically leading our nation to fascism, that they should not be inquiring into what he is doing but why he is doing it.”  Milles “could only conclude that the country was intending to become a philosophical monolith where no real difference about anything important could be tolerated.”  (161)

Melish’s testimony:

“I believe it is not only the right but the duty of a Christian minister to consort with atheists, communists and anyone else who has or may have a humane concept for the running of theis world.”

A livid Miller wrote:

“he intended no such right as was being used in this case.  Which will give you an idea how political men, for political reasons, induced by hysteria and hate, can twiset even the ‘sacred’ things.”  (161)

p. 162-166, 186-189, 193-195, 200-202

Kazan received a private questioning by HUAC, however, a leak disclosed that he had not named names at this session.  Thus he was required to go before the committee a second time and name names (193).

Monroe and Miller’s affair was coming to a head during the writing/rehearsal/premiere of Memory of Two Mondays and View from a Bridge (one act).

P. 249-253

“Waiting for Godot would have a profound effect on Arthur Miller.  The affair with Marilyn, his crisis with anticommunist America and the arrival of Waiting for Godot would create a divide in Miller’s work.  Everything written henceforth could be separated from everything written thus far in terms of his plays’ ambition, theme, assurance, consistency of attack, public reception, crticial attitude and certainly success.”

[he] “viewed Beckett’s play as ignoring the most basic elements of valid drama.  Waiting for Godot’s portrayal of life’s pointlessness and human ineffectuality, presented as man’s endearing and brave dance at the outer limits of futility, was read by Miller as an offense against the concept of self-determination.  Perhaps even worse, it wasn’t anything like the plays he admired and more to the point wrote.  In a moment of overkill Miller even indulged a spirit of theatrical McCarthyism, identifying the existentialism in Beckett’s play with Nazi appeasement – ‘When they get too comfortable with the inevitable defeat of human hope, with man as a creature who is doomed to slip on a banana peel, I smell fascism around the corner.’  While Arthur Miller and the Broadway establishment might (and did) reject this seminal work, none of them could stop the theatrical revolution it began.”  (278)

p. 281-285

“he believed the friends might have been confusing it [a remard “The only one I will ever love is my daughter”] with such a remark in a note mentioned in his later, patently autobiographical, play After the Fall.  Its notebook admissions also include conldness and remoteness, and there is an understandable temptation to take such references for fact and that play for journalism because some of it is so obviously based on known circumstances and events.  One I stempted, for instance, to read as Miller’s own admission his central character’s description of the notebook entry as a “letter from hell” from a man who “could not love.”  That would be a powerful and painful self-observation were it in fact a self-observation, but while the playwright surely identified with his protagonist in After the Fall, that is not necessarily the same thing as his own confession.” (303)

1959 writing to Professor Rowe regarding Third Play:

“I am at work on a kind of play which I think will sum up everything I know I am and which will combine everything into an image of what man is and might become.  I have been years arriving at the stylistic problem which is to infuse intelligence with passion and visceral action with a kind of speech and construction that will throw not only heat but light into the audience’s heart ….if it does come off I hope very much that it may change the direction of our stage [and] say a good word for mankind, finally.  I do believe Jason Robards would be the right man for the lead in my play but it’s impossible now to make the kind of commitment which only a completed work could justify.  I am not certain that I will be satisfied with the work at any set time.” (321)

“Our society – and I am speaking of every industrialized society in the world – is so complex, each person being so specialized an integer, that the moment any individual is dramatically characterized and set forth, as a hero, our common sense reduces him to the size of a complainer, a misfit.”  (335) – 1955 essay “On Social Plays”

“a dark, slender, tall, handsome, serious-minded thirty-seven year-old European (Miller was tehn forty-five), the all but complete opposite of Marilyn Monroe.  Born in Austria, she had grown up in Hitler’s Germany where two of her brothers were in the Wermacht-the regular German army – as was her uncle, a general.  That was not the fearsome Gestapo or the horrific SS, but even so, as Miller himself would point out in the later play, Incident at Vichy, the Wermacht was not exempted from enforcing the Racial Program.  That did not necessarily make Inge Morath’s family into Nazis but it did provide Elia Kazan with enough ammunition to taunt Miller for excusing them with the implication, in the forthcoming After the Fall, that all of humanity shared in the blame for the Holocaust and not just the Germans.  Even Miller’s producer and friend, Robert Whitehead, had to concede that such a notioin, which “inge [gave] him the motive to feel-that we’re all guilty for the crimes of germany – that was a bit of a stretch”.  (339)

Marilyn Monroe’s last words on their divorce:

“When the monster showed, Arthur couldn’t believe it.  I disappointed him when that happened.  But I felt he knew and loved all of me.  I wasn’t sweet all through.  He should love the monster too.  But maybe I’m too demanding.  I put Arthur through a lot, I know.  But he also put me through a lot.”  (340)

P. 343-347, 351—374, 398-399

Thacker on Miller’s success in Great Britain

“The way in which actors in Britain are used to cutting their teeth on Shakespeare, classical texts…if you bring that technique to Miller’s plays it’s quite helpful because they are plays that operate through language.  However emotionally truthful and psychologically powerful your performances are, if you don’t actually serve up the text, the text doesn’t land, and these are plays where the ideas come thick and fast.  You can’t mumble your way through these things and hope that they are actually going to communicate themselves.”

Mr. Peter’s Connections has a Marilyn character as well as a crude and violent character probably portraying her second husband Joe DiMaggio.  (444)

….the eighty-five-year-old Miller was finishing-and misbegetting-a new full-length play called resurrection Blues. It was his Henry VIII (Shakespeare’s last and best forgotten – indeed generally forgotten-play), a heavy-handed political satire about the televised crucifixion of a modern’day Chrsit, set in a fictitious South American country.  Clumsy in its satire, crudely making comic capital of the erection in Resurrection, the play left Robert Whitehead uncertain about producing it.  The issue became moot when the producer died in 2001, and the play was ultimately presented by the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis in summer 2002.  It was not well received, althought one of Miller’s most loyal British champions, Michael Billington of the Guardian, came to America to review it as “his best play in years.”  (445)


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