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Arthur Miller

Arthur Miller

Arthur Miller: Success and Scandal

Things soon took a turn for the better. In 1947, Miller's play All My Sons premiered on Broadway. Based on a true story from World War II, the play dealt with a corrupt man who sold faulty parts to the U.S. military, leading to the deaths of American servicemen. Practically overnight, Miller's life changed. "With the production of 'All My Sons,' at the Coronet last evening, the theatre has acquired a genuine new talent,"7 wrote the New York Times' theater critic of Miller the morning after the show. The play won the Tony Award and the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award.

Two years later, Miller followed up on the success of All My Sons with Death of a Salesman. It was the story of Willy Loman, a salesman and middle-class dad who is nearing the end of his life and career. As the finish line approaches, Loman is gripped by the realization that the grandiose dreams he set for himself will never come true, and his subsequent pain and disillusionment form the basis of his tragedy. The play delved into the dark flip side of the American dream—the ability to see greatness, but not reach it—and was a colossal success among audiences and critics alike. "Writing like a man who understands people," theater critic Brooks Atkinson said, "Mr. Miller has looked with compassion into the hearts of some ordinary Americans and quietly transferred their hope and anguish to the theatre." The play, directed by Miller's close friend Elia Kazan, won the Tony, the Pulitzer and the Drama Critics' Circle Award—the first time a play had ever performed that particular hat trick.

The following year Miller adapted Henrik Ibsen's play An Enemy of the People, which looked at the ostracism of a man who speaks out against a popular—but environmentally harmful—public project. Shortly after, Elia Kazan asked Miller to escort a woman he was dating for the evening so that he could go out with someone else. The woman was actress Marilyn Monroe. The two fell in love, and had a brief affair. They soon parted ways, but their meeting put a crack in Miller and Kazan's friendship.

1953 saw the premiere of Miller's next play, The Crucible. It was set in the Salem Witch Trials, but everyone knew what Miller was really writing about. The U.S. government was at that time embroiled in the Cold War, and engaged in a virtual witch hunt against Americans suspected of Communist ties. (Miller had attended meetings of the Communist party, but never joined the party.) The search was led by the House Committee on Un-American Activities, or HUAC, and by Senator Joseph McCarthy, who acted as sort of one-man anticommunist wrecking crew. People ranging from Communist Party members to innocent civilians whose only crime may have been attendance at a single meeting in their youth—and sometimes, not even that—were hauled before Congress and pressed to name other suspected Communists. HUAC zeroed in on the movie industry. People whose names surfaced in the hearings were blacklisted by the studios, killing their career prospects. Using Salem as an allegory, The Crucible showed portrayed the ongoing Red Scare as a kind of deranged paranoia, leading to madness and injustice. The play's overtly political message did not go unnoticed by the government. The following year the State Department denied Miller's request for a passport in order to travel to a performance of The Crucible in Brussels, citing a law that denied passports to suspected Communist sympathizers.

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