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Arthur Miller is seen by many as the great chronicler of the American experience of the 20th century. He has been referred to variously as ‘America’s conscience’, ‘America’s great moralist’ and ‘the Shakespeare of our time’.
Arthur Asher Miller was born on 17 October 1915 in Harlem, New York, to a family of Polish-Jewish immigrants to the US. Whilst never poor, Miller’s childhood was far from wealthy. His father owned a dress shop, which was blighted by the Great Depression of 1929. Miller delivered bread in the mornings to help his family make ends meet; he also worked a series of menial jobs to help pay for his tuition at the University of Michigan, where he studied journalism. While there he began his first forays into playwriting.
His first Broadway play The Man Who Had All the Luck premiered in 1944 and closed after six performances. His second play opened on Broadway two-and-a-half years later, and launched Miller as a dramatist. The play was All My Sons. The play had a long and successful run on Broadway, Miller won his first of many Tony Awards for Best Play.
Miller wrote a series of plays which were all to become classics of not only the American stage but of world literature. Soon after All My Sons came Death of A Salesman, The Crucible and A View from the Bridge. These plays, all tragedies, elevated the ordinary heroism of ordinary men to the level of the epic. They explored the problem of how to be good in a world that palpably rewards evil. For many people they conferred a classical dignity onto the ordinary American experience. Flawed characters like John Proctor, Willy Loman, Eddie Carbone and Joe Keller explored different aspects of the American Dream and struck a chord with much of America.
During the 1950s, Miller was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) led by Senator Joseph McCarthy. The aim of the committee was to seek out subversive Communist activities in America. It was seen by many as a witch-hunt, and this period in American history formed the basis of the play The Crucible.
In 1956, Miller married the most famous Hollywood leading lady, Marilyn Monroe, which lasted less than four years. It was seen by many as the inspiration for plays such as After the Fall, The Misfits and Finishing the Picture. In 1962, he married Austrian photographer Inge Morath with whom he had two children, Rebecca and Daniel (to add to the two children from his first marriage).
Miller continued to write until his death, of heart failure, in 2005. He continued to be a tireless chronicler of the experiences of the ordinary people of modern America.