Arthur Miller Biography


Personal Background

Arthur Miller was born in Harlem on October 17, 1915, the son of Polish immigrants, Isidore and Augusta Miller. Miller's father had established a successful clothing store upon coming to America, so the family enjoyed wealth; however, this prosperity ended with the Wall Street Crash of 1929. Financial hardship compelled the Miller family to move to Brooklyn in 1929.

Miller graduated from high school in New York in 1933. He applied to Cornell University and the University of Michigan, but both schools refused him admission. Miller worked a variety of odd jobs — including hosting a radio program — before the University of Michigan accepted him. At school, he studied journalism, became the night editor of the Michigan Daily, and began experimenting with theater.

In addition to hosting a radio program, Miller held a variety of jobs during his early career. After he left the University of Michigan, Miller wrote plays for the Federal Theatre in 1939. The Federal Theatre provided work for unemployed writers, actors, directors, and designers. Congress closed the Federal Theatre late in 1939.

Miller died on February 10, 2005, of heart failure. He was 89 years old.

Career Highlights

Miller's prolific writing career spans a period of over sixty years. During this time, Miller has written twenty-six plays, a novel entitled Focus (1945), several travel journals, a collection of short stories entitled I Don't Need You Anymore (1967), and an autobiography entitled Timebends: A Life (1987). Miller's plays generally address social issues and center around an individual in a social dilemma, or an individual at the mercy of society.

Miller's first play, No Villain, produced in 1936, explores Marxist theory and inner conflict through an individual facing ruin as a result of a strike. Honors at Dawn, 1937, also centers around a strike and contrasting views of the economy, but focuses on an individual's inability to express himself. The Great Disobedience, 1938, makes a connection between the prison system and capitalism. The Golden Years, 1940, tells the story of Cortes despoiling Mexico, as well as the effects of capitalism and fate on the individual.

Miller produced two radio plays in 1941: The Pussycat and the Expert Plumber Who Was a Man, and William Ireland's Confession. Miller's third radio play, The Four Freedoms, was produced in 1942.

The Man Who Had All the Luck, 1944, revolves around a person who believes he has no control over his life, but is instead the victim of chance. All My Sons, 1947, explores the effect of past decisions on the present and future of the individual. Death of a Salesman, 1949, addresses the loss of identity, as well as a man's inability to accept change within himself and society. The Crucible, 1953, recreates the Salem witch trials, focusing on paranoid hysteria as well as the individual's struggle to remain true to ideals and convictions.

A View from the Bridge, 1955, details three people and their experiences in crime. After the Fall, 1964, focuses on betrayal as a trait of humanity. Incident at Vichy, 1964, confronts a person's struggle with guilt and responsibility. The Price, 1968, tells the story of an individual confronted with free will and the burden of responsibility.

Fame, 1970, tells the story of a famous playwright who is confronted but not recognized. The American Clock, 1980, focuses on the Depression and its effects on the individual, while, Elegy for a Lady, 1982, addresses death and its effects on relationships. Some Kind of Love Story, 1982, centers on society and the corruption of justice.

The Ride Down Mountain Morgan, 1991, centers around a man who believes he can obtain everything he wants. The Last Yankee, 1993, explores the changing needs of individuals and the resulting tension that arises within a marriage. Broken Glass, 1994, tells the story of individuals using denial as a tool to escape pain.

Miller wrote the screenplay for the movie version of The Crucible, which was produced in 1996.

Miller has received numerous honors and awards throughout his career. Miller's accolades include: the Michigan's Avery Hopwood Award, 1936 and 1937; the Theatre Guild's Bureau of New Plays Award, 1937; the New York Drama Critic's Circle Award, 1947; the Pulitzer Prize, 1949; the New York Drama Critic's Circle Award, 1949; the Antoinette Perry and Donaldson Awards, 1953; and the Gold Medal for Drama by the National Institutes of Arts and Letters, 1959. Miller was also elected President of PEN (Poets, Essayists, and Novelists) in 1965.