Arthur Miller, Legendary American Playwright, Dead at 89

Arthur Miller dead at 89 (CNN)

Photo Arthur Miller dead at 89Arthur Miller, the American playwright whose works “Death of a Salesman,” “All My Sons” and “The Crucible” made him one of the leading lights of 20th-century theater, has died. He was 89. Miller died at home Thursday night of heart failure, his assistant Julia Bolus said Friday, according to The Associated Press. His family was at his bedside in Roxbury, Connecticut, she said.

Miller’s plays often involved families coping with ethical and moral dilemmas. In 1947’s “All My Sons,” the background was war profiteering. In 1955’s “A View from the Bridge,” it was the clash of immigrant generations. And in his most famous work, 1949’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Death of a Salesman” — written in six weeks — it was the question of loyalty and sacrifice, success and failure, both in business and among blood relations. “A lot of my work goes to the center of where we belong — if there is any root to life — because nowadays the family is broken up, and people don’t live in the same place for very long,” Miller said in a 1988 interview. “Dislocation, maybe, is part of our uneasiness. It implants the feeling that nothing is really permanent.”

Miller’s plays became some of the most read and performed in the world. Generations of schoolchildren have read and put on his 1953 play “The Crucible,” a play about the Salem witch trials that was a thinly veiled view of the Red Scare. Miller was a staunch liberal and refused to cooperate with the House Committee on Un-American Activities during the McCarthy era.

Arthur Miller, Legendary American Playwright, Is Dead (NYT rss)

Photo Arthur Miller, on stage with the cast members of a 1999 revival of Arthur Miller, one of the great American playwrights, whose work exposed the flaws in the fabric of the American dream, died Thursday night at his home in Roxbury, Conn. He was 89. The cause was congestive heart failure, said Julia Bolus, his assistant. The author of “Death of a Salesman,” a landmark of 20th-century drama, Mr. Miller grappled with the weightiest matters of social conscience in his plays. They often reflected or reinterpreted the stormy and very public elements of his own life, including his brief and rocky marriage to Marilyn Monroe and his staunch refusal to cooperate with the red-baiting House Committee on Un-American Activities.

“Death of a Salesman,” which opened on Broadway in 1949, established Mr. Miller as a giant of the American theater when he was only 33 years old. It won the triple crown of theatrical artistry that year: the Pulitzer Prize, the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award and the Tony Award. But the play’s enormous success also overshadowed Mr. Miller’s long career. Although “The Crucible,” a 1953 play about the Salem witch trials inspired by his virulent hatred of McCarthyism, and “A View From the Bridge,” a 1955 drama of obsession and betrayal, would ultimately take their place as popular classics of the international stage, Mr. Miller’s later plays never equaled his early successes. Although he wrote a total of 17 plays, “The Price,” produced on Broadway during the 1967-68 season, was his last solid critical and commercial hit.

Nevertheless, Mr. Miller wrote successfully in a wide variety of other media. Perhaps most notably, he supplied the screenplay for “The Misfits,” a 1961 movie directed by John Huston and starring Monroe, to whom he was married at the time. He also wrote essays, short stories and a 1987 autobiography, “Timebends: A Life.” His writing remained politically engaged until the end of his life.

But his reputation rests on a handful of his best-known plays, the dramas of guilt and betrayal and redemption that continue to be revived frequently at theaters all over the world. These dramas of social conscience were drawn from life and informed by the Great Depression, the event that he believed had had a more profound impact on the nation than any other in American history, except possibly the Civil War.

Not much to say, really. Miller lived a full life and left behind an enormous body of work. He’ll not be forgotten, which is more than most of us can say.

Arthur Miller Wrote Until His Death (AP)

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.