The curtains closed Thursday evening on the life of Arthur Miller, one of America’s greatest playwrights. The 89-year-old writer of “Death of a Salesman” and “The Crucible” died of heart failure with his family alongside his bed in Roxbury, Connecticut.
Although he wrote 1949’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Salesman” in only six weeks, its themes of loyalty, failure and family made it his most celebrated work. The continued relevance of the story of Willy Loman has been celebrated by acting greats such as Dustin Hoffman (on Broadway and in a critically praised TV production), as well as the countless aspiring thespians who still invoke Miller’s monologues in auditions.
“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 told CNN during a 1988 interview. “Dislocation, maybe, is part of our uneasiness. It implants the feeling that nothing is really permanent.”
Permanence, unfortunately, was an ideal that escaped the playwright all too often. Married three times, Miller became tabloid fodder with his 1956 union to blond bombshell Marilyn Monroe. Portrayed at the time as the glasses-wearing manifestation of ’50s intellectuals, Miller had forged an imagined merger between brains and beauty. The relationship behind the façade, however, was far from being such a complete circle, and the couple divorced five years later. Headlines during those turbulent years ranged from “Egghead Weds Hourglass” to “Miller Walks Out On Marilyn.”
Miller wrote the screenplay for the 1961 film “The Misfits,” which would become Monroe’s last movie. Two years after her death, his “After the Fall” stage production contained a Monroe-esque character named “Maggie,” a self-destructive entertainer who can’t be helped. Miller’s public confrontations with the ghost of Monroe resurfaced in “Finishing the Picture,” a play based on the creation of “The Misfits” that premiered in September and would be the last of his plays produced during his lifetime.
Even well into his ninth decade, Arthur Miller’s influence over both stage and screen could still be felt. Michael Douglas is reportedly attached to star in and produce a film adaptation of Miller’s “The Ride Down Mt. Morgan.” The playwright himself appeared in a small role in the 2001 Samantha Morton film “Eden” (based on his novel), and he continues to have his name invoked by appreciative writers, directors and actors alike.
“He’s been part of the cultural universe of this country since the war, and that’s 60 years,” Brian Dennehy, who will once again be playing Loman in a London production of “Salesman” this spring, told The Associated Press. “It’s most of our lives. It’s a kind of shattering awareness that he’s not going to be there, but his work will be there, thank God.”
Well-reviewed for plays including “All My Sons,” “A View From the Bridge” and “The Price,” it was “Salesman” and “Crucible” that brought his greatest fame. The latter, a drama set against the witch trials of a Puritan New England community in Salem, Massachusetts, has served as required reading for generations of schoolchildren. The play has been adapted four times as theatrical and television films, most recently in 1996 with Winona Ryder and Daniel Day-Lewis.
Filmmaker Rebecca Miller, writer/director of the upcoming “The Ballad of Jack and Rose,” is one of the playwright’s three surviving children. His third wife, Inge Morath, was married to Miller for 40 years until her death in 2002.
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