Arthur Miller dies at 89

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-110857130924375.jpg’, ‘Photo courtesy of’, ‘Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe at the height of their fame, after their wedding in 1956.’);

A life long career as one of our legendary playwrights ended last week with the death of Arthur Miller. His latest work, Finishing the Picture played at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago last November.

Talk was that it would go on to Broadway. A thinly-disguised version of Marilyn Monroe’s movie The Misfits includes in its cast Flora and Jerome, the renowned teachers of drama from New York who manipulate Kitty (Marilyn). Matthew Modine played Kitty’s husband, a bland character completely incapable of dealing with his mad wife. The plot seems almost autobiographical.

The reality of the plot, its setting in the artificiality of a Nevada hotel make Finishing the Picture more a segment from Miller’s personal journal than a piece from an imaginative playwright.

Critics have not always been kind to Miller. Much of his work–Death of a Salesman, All My Sons, and The Crucible have become theater classics. His ability to portray the weakness of the American dream unsettles many. This aspect of his work may be what bothers his detractors.

Death of a Salesman was patterned on Miller’s uncle. Following the opening of All My Sons, a great success for one so young, he encountered his uncle, whose first remark was “My son is doing well.”

It was from this that Willie Loman and his son Biff emerged. Played on stage and in the movies by some of the great actors, Willie Loman has become the definition of failed dreams. Always looking for another plan, his failures literally destroy him. “He had the wrong dreams,” Biff says of his father. “All, all wrong.”

Arthur Miller’s marriage to Marilyn Monroe provided inflammatory copy for every journalist from The New York Times to The National Enquirer. The press dubbed the couple “the hourglass and the egg-head.” They were married in 1956, and the union collapsed in 1961 on the set of The Misfits, which the playwright scripted. Miller believed the marriage also attracted the attention of the House Un-American Activities Committee, headed by Joseph McCarthy, the bombastic senator from Wisconsin.

McCarthy tried his best to intimidate Miller and get him to rat on his colleagues, some of whom held communist sympathies, but Miller did not roll over, and McCarthy, who apparently had hoped to get back on the front pages of the nation with some startling revelations, was forced to fish other waters.

Miller blasted McCarthy and his traveling circus in his play The Crucible. Although the play was set in 17th century Salem, most who saw it knew exactly that its target was a warlock named Joe.

The playwright examined his turbulent relationship with Monroe in the 1962 play After the Fall. In his final work, Finishing the Picture, written in 2004, he took a backward look at the making of Monroe’s movie.

Theater writer and reviewer Lyn Gardner said: “He was the great conscience of the American nation–and a damn good playwright in every sense. Play writing is often seen as a young person’s art these days…but Miller, well into his 70s, was continuing to write elegant and beautifully constructed plays.”

His real life tragedies accurately reflect his drama. Playwrights survive. Great theater will always be with us after the writer is gone. Miller’s legacy of the unfulfilled dream is contemporary and will remain so.

Miller died at his home in Roxbury, Conn. He had been battling cancer, pneumonia and a heart condition.

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