Arthur Miller (Interview, Paris Review, The Art of Theater No. 2)

Image result for arthur miller imagesArthur Miller was an American playwright whose biting criticism of societal problems defined his genius. His best known play is Death of a Salesman.

Born in Harlem, New York in 1915, Arthur Miller attended the University of Michigan before moving back east to produce plays for the stage. His first critical and popular success was Death of a Salesman, which opened on Broadway in 1949. His very colorful public life was painted in part by his rocky marriage to Marilyn Monroe, and his unwavering refusal to cooperate with the House of Un-American Activities Committee. He was married three times and died in 2005, at the age of 89.

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Arthur Miller’s white farmhouse is set high on the border of the roller-coaster hills of Roxbury and Woodbury, in Connecticut’s Litchfield County. The author, brought up in Brooklyn and Harlem, is now a county man. His house is surrounded by the trees he has raised—native dogwood, exotic katsura, Chinese scholar, tulip, and locust. Most of them were flowering as we approached his house for our interview in spring 1966. The only sound was a rhythmic hammering echoing from the other side of the hill. We walked to its source, a stately red barn, and there found the playwright, hammer in hand, standing in dim light, amid lumber, tools, and plumbing equipment. He welcomed us, a tall, rangy, good-looking man with a weathered face and sudden smile, a scholar-farmer in horn-rimmed glasses and high work shoes. He invited us in to judge his prowess: he was turning the barn into a guesthouse (partitions here, cedar closets there, shower over there . . . ). Carpentry, he said, was his oldest hobby—he had started at the age of five.

We walked back past the banked iris, past the hammock, and entered the house by way of the terrace, which was guarded by a suspicious basset named Hugo. Mr. Miller explained as we went in that the house was silent because his wife, photographer Inge Morath, had driven to Vermont to do a portrait of Bernard Malamud, and that their three-year-old daughter Rebecca was napping. The living room, glassed-in from the terrace, was eclectic, charming: white walls patterned with a Steinberg sketch, a splashy painting by neighbor Alexander Calder, posters of early Miller plays, photographs by Ms. Morath. It held colorful modern rugs and sofas; an antique rocker; oversized black Eames chair; a glass coffee table supporting a bright mobile; small peasant figurines—souvenirs of a recent trip to Russia—unique Mexican candlesticks, and strange pottery animals atop a very old carved Spanish table, these last from their Paris apartment; and plants, plants everywhere.

The author’s study was in total contrast. We walked up a green knoll to a spare single-roomed structure with small louvered windows. The electric light was on—he could not work by daylight, he confided. The room harbors a plain slab desk fashioned by the playwright, his chair, a rumpled gray day bed, another webbed chair from the thirties, and a bookshelf with half a dozen jacketless books. This is all, except for a snapshot of Inge and Rebecca, thumbtacked to the wall. Mr. Miller adjusted a microphone he had hung crookedly from the arm of his desk lamp. Then, quite casually, he picked up a rifle from the daybed and took a shot through the open louvers at a woodchuck that, scared but reprieved, scurried across the far slope. We were startled—he smiled at our lack of composure. He said that his study was also an excellent duck blind.

The interview began. His tone and expression were serious, interested. Often a secret grin surfaced, as he reminisced. He is a storyteller, a man with a marvelous memory, a simple man with a capacity for wonder, concerned with people and ideas. We listened at our ease at he responded to questions.

from Pocket

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