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Arthur Miller and the dream



Published: Thu, February 17, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Chicago Tribune: Arthur Miller was a storyteller who wrote of family, morality and power, the calamity of the Depression and the yearning to reach the elusive American dream. He created theater from the whole cloth of human experience and human frailty. He used ideas to entertain and to educate.

Miller's death on Thursday at 89 brought to a close an era of American theatrical history. He was an intellectual who never forgot his roots in New York, an artist whose tales reached the masses. He wasn't America's Shakespeare, but he provided Americans with a voice as tough and chiseled as the young country in which he lived.

He knew of poverty and wealth. His family's fortunes declined during the Depression. He drove a truck, worked in a warehouse and attended the University of Michigan. His personal fame rose in post-World War II America, his heyday on Broadway in the flash and exuberance of the late 1940s and 1950s, when words mattered and so did big ideas. He married and divorced a movie legend, Marilyn Monroe. He was married for 40 years to his third wife, photographer Inge Morath, who died in 2002.

Fresh angles

And he kept writing, long after the first wave of acclaim gave way to the difficult task of finding fresh angles to age-old human emotions and stories, long after Broadway seemed to lose interest in the drama of everyday experience. He was simply too good to retire. His "Finishing the Picture" opened in Chicago last fall.

His work endures on the printed page and on the theatrical boards, in thousands of community theaters and neighborhood schools, in places where people seek an American story through the eyes of an American original who saw hope amid despair.

He wrote of witch trials in "The Crucible," the Depression in "The American Clock" (a play that was inspired by Studs Terkel's oral history "Hard Times"), and revealed himself in "After the Fall." The strife between generations was a theme he examined repeatedly, in tales of families torn asunder by self-delusion, in plays such as "All My Sons" and "Death of a Salesman."

He told Terkel, "I don't care for a theater that is absolutely personal and has no resonance beyond that."

Willy Loman was Miller's most famous character, "Death of a Salesman" his masterpiece -- six weeks to write, a classic to savor. In Loman, the playwright found a flawed man who was "not the finest character that ever lived. But he's a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid," Loman's wife, Linda, said.

It was a plea for the common man by a playwright who never lost the ability to tell a good story well.




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