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Arthur Miller: His Life And Work Hardcover – August 14, 2003
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.
From The New Yorker
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
Top Customer Reviews
In his own country, Miller is, also as Gottfried says, unappreciated to the point of scorn. My only disappointment with this work-and it is a fine book-is that he does not explore this aspect of Miller's relationship to the "vox populi", whom his work, like that of Rockwell and Springsteen, is supposed to relate to. My own observation is that one's attitude to Miller-as playwright, as 'Mr.Marilyn Monroe', as human being-often is, like an artificial horizon indicator of one's own sociopolitical attitudes. Those listing to port will invariably uphold Miller as the great conscience of his generation whilst those heading starboard will dismiss him pretty perfunctorily as merely another "Intellectual", in the vein of those figures of derision Paul Johnson deftly skewers in his volume of that title.
Actors, or those considering themselves as such, place Miller's work on a great pedestal, and the technical merits of his work are considerable and generally undisputed. However,Miller's sense of life, so to speak, is not essentially noble, but essentially fatalist and indifferent.
Miller, personally, despite his wealth, critical success, and longevity-he's still working at 88-is not a figure one wants to view sympathetically, and I certainly do not. He left his first wife and ran off with a very public movie star whom he had ample reason to know would be very high maintenance, and, like an intricately built exotic car in the hands of a teenager, didn't maintain her well at all.Read more ›
Miller was once the ultimate playwright and perhaps unique as one known as a personality. Gottfried walks a sword's edge between academic appreciation of his works and biographical information, highlighting the places where one informs the other.
The book is the poorer because Miller chose not to cooperate with its biographical aspects. Thus, the title is a little unbalanced (it should almost be: His life and WORK). It also shares with the author's otherwise classy biography of George Burns the unavoidable flaw of having been written before the subjects death. You can see Gottfried straining a bit for an ending on the last page--how to tie up the mysteries of his subject into a neat little paragraph?
But this makes engaging reading for theatre-goers, and is highly recommended for struggling playwrights, actors, etc.
Arthur Miller is another so-called genius who turns out to be cold and self-righteous. He didn't attend either his mother's or his father's funerals because he "already had other plans" for those days (which were years apart). Additionally, he appears either stupid or oblivious to the feelings of human beings which goes beyond hubris and even conceit. He showed little to no empathy for his parents as well as his children, his wives, and many of his friends and contemporaries. Oh, and let's not forget what would appear to be total disregard to a son who is born with Down Syndrome and never again mentioned by Miller, even in his autobiography.
He also appears to have forgotten about his brother whom he considers a fool for not forging ahead with his own plans and career in lieu of caring for his parents. He even blamed his father for his own down-fall in the depression for being a working man in the first place. He showed no pity for him since he described his father, and other working men, as "never having expected to have a destiny" in the first place, and who "die of boredom". I have read a lot of biographies but this is the only time I have read quotes such as those.
How Arthur Miller became such a snob isn't clear. Lots of artists sense their calling at a young age and strive for recognition and to make a living at it, but most of them are not as callous as it seems he was.Read more ›