Arthur Miller - A Biography by Christopher Bigsby

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BBC Radio 4, 25-29 November 2008


This abridged version of a newly-published book spent considerable time on Miller’s background. The child of a prosperous family of clothing manufacturers, he was born into a world of privilege in October 1915, but soon experienced hardship as a result of the Wall Street Crash fourteen years later. He took a job to raise the $500 necessary to study at the University of Michigan, where he began his playwriting career.


Miller’s professional life began in radio; his first stage work, The Man Who Had All the Luck (1944) flopped on Broadway. However his next effort All My Sons (1947), exploring the themes of guilt and the loss of idealism, proved successful, due in no small part to Brooks Atkinson’s enthusiastic notice in the New York Times. Other hits followed including Death of a Salesman and The Crucible.


Perhaps inevitably this radio version (read by Henry Goodman) concentrated more on Miller’s personal life – his politics (which led to his being questioned by the House Un-American Activities Committee) and his relationship with Marilyn Monroe. Although the two were initially besotted with one another, they had little chance to be alone. Perpetually hounded by the media – which constructed them as the egghead and the dumb blonde – they eventually tired of one another’s company. Miller wrote The Misfits for Monroe in 1960, but the experience of filming proved problematic, with Miller being sucked into Monroe’s fatal cycle of pills, alcohol and anxiety. During this period he met a young photographer Inge, whom he married two years later. However he still had a soft spot for Monroe; when the actress was found dead in 1962, Miller sorrowfully remarked that her demise was inevitable, given the pressure placed on her by the media.


The reading ended in the mid-1960s, with Miller coming to terms with his life – particularly after having visited the Nazi concentration camps – and gradually becoming more metaphysical in his writing-style. The conclusion was perhaps a little clichéd: Bigsby sees Miller’s life as a search to find a means of communication that encapsulates the experiences of men and women trying to live and overcome adversity. However the book as a whole represents a considerable effort of research, written in a clear, accessible style that proves especially congenial for radio. 



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