"Arthur Miller: Writer" is an Intimate Portrait of the Playwright as Told by His Daughter
Photo: Archive/Robert Miller/Courtesy of HBO
"Arthur Miller: Writer" Premieres Monday, March19 at 8 PM ET/PT on HBO
One of the greatest playwrights of the 20th century, Arthur Miller created such celebrated works as “Death of a Salesman” and “The Crucible,” which continue to move audiences around the world today. He also made headlines for being targeted by the House Un-American Activities Committee at the height of the McCarthy Era and entering into a tumultuous marriage with Hollywood icon Marilyn Monroe.
Told from the unique perspective of his daughter, filmmaker Rebecca Miller, ARTHUR MILLER: WRITER is an illuminating portrait that combines interviews spanning decades and a wealth of personal archival material. Providing new insights into Miller’s life as an artist and exploring his character in all its complexity, the documentary debuts MONDAY, MARCH 19 (8:00-9:45 p.m. ET/PT), on HBO.
Featuring previously unseen material, including in-depth interviews, candid photographs, private letters and journal entries, and home movies, the documentary reveals the man behind the icon, delving into his childhood, his roots as an artist and the ways major events of the 20th century shaped his life on a personal and political level. In addition to Rebecca Miller’s revealing interviews with her father and his readings of selected passages from his autobiography, “Timebends: A Life,” ARTHUR MILLER: WRITER features interviews with those who knew the writer best, among them his siblings, his children, his third wife, Inge Morath, playwright Tony Kushner and director Mike Nichols (who directed and won a Tony Award for the 2012 revival of “Death of a Salesman”).
A bracing look at the creative process, and at enormous success and palpable failure in the public eye, the film celebrates an American life lived on a grand scale, covering such subjects as Miller’s breakout theater success in the ‘40s and ‘50s, his stormy relationship with Marilyn Monroe, his trial in Congress by the House Un-American Activities Committee, his 40-year marriage to photographer Inge Morath, and his evolution as a writer through the decades, as he refused to repeat himself as an artist, remaining true to his own voice to the end.
Above all, ARTHUR MILLER: WRITER is a profound and poignant tribute to a father by a daughter – and to one artist from another. The film charts Miller’s professional and personal life in six parts: Origins: The son of an illiterate, Jewish immigrant father who started a successful garment business and an artistic-minded mother, Miller had an affluent childhood in Manhattan until the stock market crash of 1929 destroyed the family business. The trauma of that uncertainty and chaos left a deep mark on the future writer. Miller saved up to enroll at the University of Michigan, where he wrote his first play in five days during a school break; it won the Hopwood Award and solidified his feeling that “writing meant freedom.” He also met his first wife, Midwestern intellectual Mary Slattery, who worked in publishing and was very much his opposite, at the university.
Photo: Dennis Stock/Magnum Photos/Courtesy of HBO
Broadway: After Miller’s 1944 Broadway debut, “The Man Who Had All the Luck,” was poorly reviewed, he took two years to write his next play, “All My Sons,” which garnered critical acclaim. His next work, “Death of a Salesman,” was conceived while he was building a writing studio at his home. Its main character, Willy Loman, was based on Miller’s uncle, but universally relatable. The play’s success, along with the writer’s newfound celebrity, threatened his marriage, just as he was growing close to actress Marilyn Monroe.
Touching the Flame: The chaos wrought by the House Un-American Activities Committee inspired Miller’s next work, “The Crucible,” set during the Salem witch trials. Following his divorce from Mary Slattery, he married Monroe, making him of particular interest to the Committee, which seized on the “chance to get a lot of publicity.” Miller refused to name names when he testified and was found guilty of contempt. Though his all-consuming second marriage to Monroe saw him produce little work, he wrote the screenplay of “The Misfits” for her. Sadly, Monroe’s emotional difficulties and personal struggles prolonged production of the movie, and led to the end of their marriage. When she died not long after their divorce, Miller channeled his pain into writing “After the Fall,” which was inspired by their relationship.
Home: A wounded Miller met his third wife, Austrian photographer Inge Morath, on the set of “The Misfits.” Described by Rebecca Miller as “a hugely positive dynamo of a woman,” Morath gave him new life, making their house a home. While Miller’s older children from his first marriage often felt they had to compete with his writing for attention, Rebecca remembers her father confiding in her about his doubts about writing as he sheltered himself with his family. In addition to Rebecca, Arthur and Inge had a son, Daniel, who was born with Down syndrome and sent to an institution, though Morath visited him frequently. Rebecca reveals that her brother “has a very happy life now,” and discusses how difficult it was for either of her parents to talk about him. Although Arthur agreed to an interview about her brother, Rebecca put it off, had her own family and started making other films. Ultimately, her father died before the interview could be completed.
Out of Place: Mystified by the counterculture of the ‘60s and ‘70s, Miller felt less able to express his feeling of the time as he realized “young folks were looking in an entirely different direction” than the theater. Though “The Price,” his first explicitly Jewish play, was a critical success, he admitted feeling “out of place” and faced critical disappointments.
The Last Beginning: Despite a lack of support for his later works from American critics, Miller enjoyed a career renaissance when his early plays, including some that had been poorly reviewed in their original productions (such as “A View from the Bridge”), were revived onstage around the world and adapted for film. Through it all, he never stopped writing, even collaborating on books with Morath, whose sudden death from lymphoma greatly affected him. Asked in a late interview what his epitaph should say, his response was simple: “writer.”