Arthur Miller – The Early Years – Part One

Arthur Miller was born on October 17, 1915, in Harlem, New York.  He was the second of three children born to Augusta and Isidore Miller and was of Polish-Jewish descent.  Miller’s father owned a successful clothing manufacturing business and the family led a comfortable life.  They owned a home in Manhattan, had a summer home in Queens and also employed a chauffeur.

In the Wall Street crash of 1929, the family lost everything and moved to Brooklyn.  Miller delivered bread each morning before school to help the family financially.  After graduating high school in 1932, he worked at several jobs to pay his college tuition.At the University of Michigan, Miller majored in journalism and worked for the student paper, The Michigan Daily.  It was during this time that he wrote his first play, No Villain.  Miller then switched his major to English, and won the Avery Hopwood Award for No Villain. The award brought him his first recognition and led him to believe he may have a future as a playwright, so he enrolled in a playwriting seminar taught by Professor Kenneth Rowe.  Rowe was a Professor at University of Michigan for six decades but was best known as an influential teacher of playwriting.

Following his graduation in 1938, Miller turned down a job writing for 20th Century Fox, instead joining the Federal Theatre Project.  However, Congress worried that it had Communist affiliations and had it closed down the following year.

In 1940 Miller married Mary Grace Slattery and they went on to have two children, Jane and Robert.  In the same year he was proven exempt from military duty and he produced his first play, The Man Who Had All The Luck.  The play won the Theatre Guild’s National Award but got terrible reviews and closed after just four performances.

In 1947, Miller won his first Tony for Best Author for his play All My Sons, which was enjoying a successful run on Broadway.  He built a small studio in Roxbury, Connecticut, where he went on to write Death Of A Salesman in six weeks.  Death of a Salesman premiered on Broadway in February 1949 and was directed by Miller’s friend Elia Kazan. The play was a huge success commercially and critically acclaimed, winning Miller his second Tony Award for Best Author, the New York Drama Circle Critics’ Award, and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.  It was the first play to win all three of these major awards.

In 1951 Kazan invited Miller to Los Angeles to meet with President of Columbia Pictures, Harry Cohn.  The pair wanted studio backing to make a movie based on a play Miller had written called The Hook.  Cohn suggested changes that Miller was unwilling to make, but it was during this trip that Kazan introduced him to Marilyn Monroe.  It is believed that Kazan and Marilyn were in the midst of an affair at the time.  Having spent time together during the trip, it became clear that both Marilyn and Miller were completely smitten with each other.

Miller fled home to New York and his family, later saying: “Flying homeward, her scent still on my hands, I knew my innocence was technical merely and the fact blackened my heart, but along with it came the certainty that I could afterall lose myself in sensuality.”