Perhaps you will be wondering why someone so up beat, mildly funny and marginally entertaining and who is more likely to be known for writing ‘on the fence’ music reviews would, like a bolt out of the blue,’ be writing about an American Jewish playwright of the 20th Century who gave us not just intensely depressing and heavy going plays but thought provoking, suicidal and soul twisting literature. Well, it certainly isn’t for the way he styled his hair or cooked chops that has led me to take this rather disturbing career move, but I however, feel the need, every once in a while to take a stand and point out some of the stranger sides of my sobriety.
Arthur Miller may forever roam the minds of the average individual as that geeky, bespectacled guy who, under some pretence, married one of the most beautiful women of our time. Although he was, very briefly Mr Marilyn Monroe, their five year marriage has left a giant dent in the history of modern times. We should then, with this episode, begin to understand the fickleness of mankind and the ‘swoop for a scoop’ behaviour of the press. Just when we thought we can die in the contented knowledge that we once belonged to a race of superior and intellectually designed species, think again. All we will remember of a great playwright and author is that he got to share a bed with the stunning, yet, troubled actress.
As so often, these masterful beings are inspired at such an early age to accomplish all that they were destined to do. Miller, however, was not. After becoming so intoxicated with the depth of the famous novel, ‘The Brothers Karamazov,’ by Dostoevsky, (so well known even spell check didn’t query it..) he decided to study Journalism and English at the University of Michigan where, after he enrolled in 1934, he went on to win awards for his plays whilst a student. Ironically, he was attending the University at the same time as another then unknown playwright, Tennessee Williams. How the evenings after supper must have flown by. One can actually begin to form a picture of these two young men, studying hard at their craft of literature – discussing, cross questioning and dissecting prose into the small hours each night. Not out, like their fellow students, being sick in supermarket trolleys, getting drunk, or even more unimaginable – getting laid.
Beginning to analyse his extraordinary understanding of the hum an mind is like trying to fathom out the reasons why Darwin decided to cut open a frog to see how it worked. We can though, easily see that the young boy was exposed to such great social pressure. Miller had come from a harsh background within his family than most would consider. From Jewish tradition, his father was a man who worked all his life in a manufacturing trade. As a retailer of fine fashions for women, he fought another, doomed inner battle, a battle of his mind and soul. By the time the thirties came, times were desperately hard for men to find work. The Depression, as it was historically known saw the destruction of every fighting spirit. Men with families were pushed to the limits of their self worth and beyond. As Miller was born in 1915, straight into the angst of WWI, he was at a vulnerable and impressionable age by the time such social change was raw.
Surrounded with hardship, the depression and a heart wrenching move from New York to Brooklyn after his father’s business had failed, t would have appeared that Miller had gather all sides of the human soul just by being born. However, lifting his spirits, he worked briefly writing radio plays back in New York whilst sitting the Second World War out due to a sports injury.
All the best people struggle to achieve their success where as, many other mediocre beings with average talent tend to have everything slipped onto a plate for them and served with chips. You can begin to imagine that Miller, despite all his incredible material and life experience of all that is desperate and doomed of a human existence would not be the type of person to, again, struggle in his life. Yet it appeared that he did. On a more of an up beat level and even though it had won a prize at the New York City’s Theatre Guild, his first play for Broadway only opened for four days. So, it’s not just poor Andrew Lloyd Webber and Jim Davidson pantos that close so suddenly (!) Even the greater than great Miller struggled to be recognised. ‘The Man With All The Luck,’ in 1944 (sounds hopeful) seemed the right tonic for theatre towards the end of the War. It was with his second play, ‘All My Sons,’ that Miller finally found the recognition his deserved. Opening on Broadway three years after the first flop, it proceeded to become a film a year later in 1948.
There have been many writers who have been captivated by social impact on the human spirit in the last Century. All appearing to echo the depth and characterisations of those who were acted out in Greek plays. There have been many comparisons throughout Miller’s life with the great Greek playwrights; Sophocles who wrote the frightening powerful, ‘Antigone,’ Aeschylus who penned ‘Agamemnon,’ and Euripedes, who wrote ‘Helen.’ All plays that spark depression, death and suicide. (Perhaps it is now we wonder how Goth music became to be Goth, surely everyone listening to The Mission, should have wondering around wearing togas.)
Settling down into becoming a firm fixture like usherettes in Broadway, he continued his career of soul searching and human dissecting over the next forty years and still, even today, teenage boys are subjected to complete scripts of Arthur Miller plays as a part of their private school curriculum. Subjecting his audiences for decades to stories of guilt, reconciliation, depression, rage and hope, he has earned a golden throne in the history of human struggle. He used his childhood experiences throughout his life, working on the theory that the human life was continually failing to become knowledgeable in feeling self assured. All of his characters were always far from self satisfied people. Many were torn from this emotion and another. They fought inner battles against morality and self worth. As you can see, every few plays had happy endings.
He was, in my mind, a psychiatrists worst nightmare. A client who had just about sorted out every conceivable failing and anguish of the human brain. A short lived affair would have been Miller on the couch. He was then, the introspective man’s Disney. Yet, by the time he had created probably the most engaging pieces of theatre of our time in, ‘Death Of A Salesman,’ in 1949, he was dripping with awards. Before it was made into a film in monroe roof repair 1952, in which Fredric March was nominated for an Academy Award, Miller was already aware that he was being allowed by his audience to walk within the anxiety of the human life but opening up the soul and exposing the terrors, dreams and failings of a human being. Pretty tough stuff considering Rock and Roll hadn’t even taken a jump in to unknown laps yet! He was, and perhaps not the wisest of moves, about to embark on something as controversial but more political than his plays.
Perhaps not noted on the surface, as a man who would go out of his way to expel the underlying activities of the American Congress in the early 1950’s, yet when his play, ‘The Crucible,’ was produced on Broadway the same year, twitching were taking place on a more threatening and darker side. In 1950, a certain paranoid and dogmatic Senator Joseph McCarthy produced a white paper at a speech in West Virginia allegedly accusing more than 200 workers at the State Department of being communists. The names were never spoken . Surprisingly and almost unbelievable, a large amount of names were of those in the film industry. Hollywood was almost crippled and many had their career’s so shattered by these unfounded accusations that some never worked again. ‘The Crucible,’ was Miller’s most damming and powerful piece of work yet. The fundamental basis of the tale was about the events that took place at the Salem witch hunt of 1692. ‘Self contained,’ and