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With the Death of a Salesman during the winter of 1949 on Broadway, Arthur Miller began to live--as a playwright who has since been called one of this century's three great American dramatists, along with Eugene O'Neill and Tennessee Williams.
There have also been other powerful, often mind-altering plays: The Crucible, A View from the Bridge, A Memory of Two Mondays, After the Fall, Incident at Vichy, and The Price. There was the film The Misfits and the dramatic special Playing for Time.
Death of a Salesman was not Arthur Miller's first success on Broadway. Two years before, when his All My Sons opened at the Coronet Theater, Brooks Atkinson of the New York Times wrote: "The theater has acquired a genuine new talent." The play also won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award and the Donaldson Award (voted upon by Billboard subscribers).
Miller noted afterward: "The success of a play, especially one's first success, is somewhat like pushing against a door which is suddenly opened that was always securely shut until then. For myself, the experience was invigorating. It suddenly seemed that the audience was a mass of blood relations, and I sensed a warmth in the world that had not been there before. It made it possible to dream of daring more and risking more."
He did dare and risk with Death of a Salesman. And he gained more.
In addition to winning the Pulitzer Prize and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award, he was catapulted into the realm of the great living American playwrights and also compared to Ibsen and the Greek tragedians.
After his graduation from Abraham Lincoln High School in Brooklyn, young Miller worked as a stock clerk in an automobile parts warehouse for two and a half years until he had enough money to pay for his first year at the University of Michigan. He finished college with the financial aid of the National Youth Administration supplemented by his salary as night editor on the Michigan Daily newspaper. Before his graduation with a B.A. degree in 1938, he had written a number of plays, winning a $500 Avery Hopwood Award in 1936 and a $1,200 Theater Guild National Award in 1938 for an effort entitled The Grass Still Grows.
After having returned to New York in 1938, he joined the Federal Theater Project, but, before his first play had been produced, the Project ended. He worked in the Brooklyn Navy Yard and wrote radio scripts heard on the Columbia Workshop and the Calvacade of America. He also wrote two books during this period: Situation Normal (1944) and Focus, a novel about anti-semitism (1945).
He had not, however, given up playwrighting. In November, 1944, his The Man Who Had All the Luck opened on Broadway but proved to be unlucky. Its favorable reception disheartened Miller, and he decided he would write one more play. If that were not successful, he would give up.
In 1947 he wrote All My Sons, his first real success, which established him as a significant American playwright.
The Crucible, his 1953 Broadway hit, which won a Tony Award, was about witch trials and hangings in 1692 Salem, Massachusetts, but reflected the practices of the McCarthy era of the time it was written.
The autobiographical tone of After the Fall in 1964 also evoked controversy as well as praise. His knowledge of the Brooklyn waterfront helped to form his characters in A View from the Bridge in 1955, and more of his native city came through in The Price about a New York policeman (1968).
Miller's later works include The Creation of the Word and Other Business (1972) and The American Clock (1980).
Miller also wrote the script for Playing for Time the true-life dramatic special about the experiences of an all-woman orchestra in a Nazi concentration camp, which won four Emmy Awards following its television debut in 1980. It received an Emmy an Outstanding Drama Special. Miller received one for Outstanding Writing. Vanessa Redgrave won as Outstanding Actress, and Jane Alexander, as Outstanding Supporting Actress.
In addition to his novels, Miller has written two books of reportage: In Russia and Chinese Encounters, both accompanied by photographs by his wife Inge Morath, a professional photographer. His book Salesman in Bejing is based on his experience in China, where he directed Death of a Salesman.
In 1987, Miller published his autobiography Timebends: A Life, in which he recalls his childhood in Brooklyn, the political turmoil of the 1950s, and the later half of the century. Miller continued to write until his death, winning the 1995 Olivier for his play Broken Glass -- in total a career that spanned six decades. He died of heart failure in February, 2005 at his Roxbury, Connecticut home.