Arthur Miller: Biography Dilemma

In 2005, writer, author and playwright Arthur Miller died aged 89. Reactions Within the arts and entertainment industry weren't those of deep grief. Out of reflex, the lights were dimmed on Broadway. One newspaper cleared its front page while the rest commented in the 'other news' sections. Public praise was sparse and dissenters made themselves heard prominently. America’s most famous playwright had divided opinion before. Reactions to his death kept the tradition.

Paul Newman and Arthur Miller

If there hadn't been such ardent critics during his life, he probably would hardly have been noticed during his lifetime. These critics kept him in the public eye. In the eyes of the press, his provocative works were a godsend. Not his plays were newsworthy, but the clashes between theatre critics for and against his works secured the headlines. Arthur Miller had done everything right as far as marketing his plays was concerned.

A first biography has been published. Christopher Bigsby’s Arthur Miller is published by Weidenfield & Nicolson. The authorized biography covers the years 1915 to 1962 and ends with Miller’s divorce from Marilyn Monroe. The author is the director of the Arthur Miller Centre at the University of East Anglia. The biography out of his hands is no great surprise, therefore, and less so when you're told that he is a stout defender of Arthur Miller.

Arthur Miller had granted Christopher Bigsby access to his papers before his death. The biography (and its expected sequel) will become a standard work for future scholars due to its wealth in detail and data. On the down side, it's an eulogy. The book is one sided and uncritical. Future scholars will be able to use it as a reference book, the real biography waits to be written, though.

Christopher Bigsby's decision to end the first part of the biography in 1962 lets him off at least one major hook: To defend the play After The Fall of 1964, where Arthur Miller tried to cash in on Marilyn Monroe’s suicide.

The time-frame also helps him out of the quandary over Arthur Miller’s less then charming personality. Arthur Miller's behaviour in private life was always but Christopher Bigsby tries it all the same. Seriously, how can you defend a serial adulterer cashing in on his divorced wife’s suicide? What about the son with Down’s syndrome who was shunted off to an institution and then forgotten?

Wives and children played second fiddle to Arthur Miller’s career. Christopher Bigsby shows him even more as a cold and ruthless manipulator by his uncalled for defensive writing. It's possible that the essence of his writing wouldn't have been possible if he had been a functioning human being, husband and father. As things stand, that question must remain open until someone does the footwork.

Christopher Bigsby bails out by going into the story about the House of Un-American Activities Committee at the end of the book. Admittedly,  Arthur Miller’s refusal to name names before HUAC in 1956 was a major triumph. Standing strong against fascist McCarthy in fascistoid American society was brave and praiseworthy. Is a single good deed enough fro redemption, though?.

Arthur Miller had brought these hearings on himself with his play The Crucible. The play from 1953 deals outwardly with the Salem witch trials. In it, he draws a clear parallel between McCarthy's paranoid fear of Communists and the hysteria that led to the witch trials in 17th century Massachusetts. In hind sight, the parallel could maybe have been drawn with American society in general which is constantly in witch trial mode.

The Crucible angered fascist critics so much, they regularly called Arthur Miller’s plays bad on the simple grounds that it was written by him rather than on intrinsic merit or failure. Christopher Bigsby did his homework in this section of the book rather well and even names these fascist critics (writing into modern times, too). He also exposes them as paid pawns of the CIA which should surprise no one at all.

Further reading
Anna Goeldi, Last Witch
Bisexually Yours: The White House
Government Fraud and Cover Up