Description: Arthur Miller would have been 100 years old on October 17th this year. To mark the centenary BBC Radio 4, LA Theatre Works, and a stellar American cast have come together to produce four new dramas by Mike Walker and Jonathan Holloway.
As a writer Miller felt that to create a character, you had to understand how family, circumstances and events had shaped that character. ‘The fish is in the water and the water is in the fish’, as he famously put it. These specially commissioned plays recreate some of the experiences that shaped Miller himself, throwing light on how he would become one of the most influential playwrights in American literature.
1. Beginnings: Arthur Miller is born in New York on the 17th of October 1915 to a prosperous family in the clothing business. A poor school student, he loves making things with wood and dreams of becoming a crooner. But when the stock market crashes and the Millers face ruin, Arthur contemplates a different future.
2. The Lure: By the time he was 35, Arthur Miller had a very eclectic CV. He was the son of an illiterate Jewish immigrant, whose once flourishing coat business had failed during the Depression. He’d worked nights in an auto-parts warehouse, been a dock-yard worker, a jobbing writer for Orson Welles, a prize-winning student playwright, and a writer of radio drama for Roosevelt’s Federal Theatre Project. He was a communist activist and a highly skilled carpenter. In 1950 Death of A Salesman, directed by his good friend Elia Kazan, became a major Broadway hit. By that time Miller was the father of two children and had been married to his college sweetheart, Mary Slattery, for ten years. Now Hollywood beckoned, where a chance meeting with Marilyn Monroe would change everything.
3. Sin: Arthur Miller’s play ‘The Crucible’ opened in New York City in January 1953. The reviews were mixed. The parallels with Senator McCarthy’s witch hunt for Communists with the House Un-American Activities Committee were obvious. Few realised, however, that it also portrayed Miller’s dying marriage to his first wife and college sweetheart, Mary Slattery. One of Marilyn Monroe’s New Year resolutions of 1955 was to improve her acting by taking lessons. She moved to New York later that year to study with Lee Strasberg. Four years after she and Arthur had first met on the West Coast, they began to see each other again, in secret. The secret wouldn’t be kept for long. By Jonathan Holloway.
4. Dreams: 1982, Roxbury, Connecticut. Following his divorce from Marilyn Monroe, Arthur Miller has been happily married for many years to photographer Inge Morath, whom he met on the set of The Misfits. They live in the New England farmhouse he bought as a summer retreat after his first big Broadway success, All My Sons. Miller has always loved this place. It’s where, in 1948, he built a wooden studio, ten feet by twelve, and sat down to write Death of A Salesman. Now in his late sixties, it’s been a long time since he had a major success. In Mike Walker’s drama, a mysterious young visitor appears at the door and compels him to look back on his life.