From Publishers Weekly
Former New York Post drama critic Gottfried (Sondheim) shares an illuminating and profound picture of playwright Miller. Outraged at the shameful critical disrespect heaped in recent years on the author of Death of a Salesman and All My Sons, Gottfried carefully analyzes all Miller's plays to rebut the adverse comments. An indifferent student, son of a father barely literate yet successful as a women's clothing manufacturer, Miller (b. 1915) blossomed in college and produced promising works: Final Curtain, Honors at Dawn and They Too Arise. The Jewish Miller married Catholic Mary Grace Slattery, the daughter of anti-Semitic parents, and persevered despite the failure of his first production, The Man Who Had All the Luck (1944). After this rejection, Miller consciously aimed to create a commercial hit, accomplished with All My Sons. Gottfried leads readers through the playwright's meticulous work regimen-his attention to potential titles, dialogue and scene descriptions, pointing out that it took five years, six drafts and 700 pages before Miller was satisfied with his first hit. Material about Marilyn Monroe is incorporated seamlessly throughout the text, and Gottfried refuses to unbalance his overall literary study with sensationalism. He compellingly presents the Miller/Elia Kazan artistic collaborations and doesn't avoid unflattering details (e.g., his subject's tendency toward pomposity and his tight-fisted financial attitude) but also expresses admiration for Miller's willingness to offer informer Lee J. Cobb a starring role in A View from the Bridge. (Miller discussed his plays with Gottfried, but not his life.) Only Inge Morath, Miller's third wife, remains shadowy. Fortunately, personal stories are refreshingly secondary in one of the rare books that makes the playwriting process comprehensible and consistently involving.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
At the mid-century moment when psychological realism, moral seriousness, and progressive politics formed our dominant literary aesthetic, the Broadway success of "All My Sons" catapulted Miller to fame, not just as a playwright but as an exemplar: the intellectual as superstar, mighty enough to engage the country's conscience, sexy enough to make Marilyn Monroe his bride. Gottfried traces Miller's development from his family's devastation in the 1929 stock-market crash through his leftist indoctrination at the University of Michigan and his literary ascendancy and shows a man emotionally remote and professionally sanctimonious, who complained, for instance, that audiences were supposed to "think, not weep" at "Death of a Salesman." While Miller's own interest in psychology doubtless encourages such biographical scrutiny, the dutiful Ping-Ponging between life and writings unfortunately amplifies the sense of the playwright's self-involvement and mutes the sense of his achievement.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker