Arthur Miller was born on October 17, 1915, in New York City, the son of Isidore and Augusta Miller. His father lost his wealth during the Great Depression of the 1920s and the family, like many others, suffered economic hardship and could not afford to send him to college. Miller worked for two years in an automobile parts warehouse, earning enough money to attend the University of Michigan in 1934, where he studied history and economics. He graduated in 1938.
Benefitting from the U.S. Government’s Federal Theatre Project, Miller began learning about the craft of the theatre, working with such skilled writers and directors as Clifford Odets (Waiting for Lefty) and Elia Kazan (the famous film and theatre director who later produced Miller’s best-known work, Death of a Salesman). His first Broadway production, The Man Who Had All the Luck, opened in 1944 and ran for only four performances. After working as a journalist (work that included coverage of World War II) and writing a novel about anti-Semitism, Miller had his first real success on Broadway with All My Sons (1947). He followed this in 1949 with Death of a Salesman. Along with another early play, A View from the Bridge and The Crucible, these are the plays for which Miller is best known—though he has continued to write successfully, including a 1996 screenplay adaptation of The Crucible for a major motion picture.
In the 1940s and 1950s, because of his Jewish faith and his liberal political views, Miller was very much involved in contemporary debates that criticized the shortcomings of modern American society, particularly those dealing with inequalities in labor and race. It was also these political areas that were considered suspicious by Joseph McCarthy and his cronies, who sought to expose and erase Communism in America. Miller’s association with people and organizations targeted by McCarthy’s House Committee on Un-American Activities solidified his belief in the evils of blind persecution (while there may have been Communists who were bad people and a threat to America, this did not mean that all Communists were like-minded and posed a threat to the American way of life).
Earlier, Miller had written an adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s 1884 play, An Enemy of the People, which, according to his introduction, questioned “whether the democratic guarantees protecting political minorities ought to be set aside in time of crisis.” As his later writing in The Crucible suggests, Miller did not believe that Communism was a threat that warranted the response provided by McCarthyism. U.S. authorities disagreed, however, and in 1954 when Miller was invited to Brussels to see a production of that play, but the State Department denied him a visa. He then wrote a satirical piece called A Modest Proposal for the Pacification of the Public Temper, which denied that he supported the Communist cause. Nevertheless, he was called to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee where, although his passport was conditionally restored, he nonetheless refused to give the names of people he had seen at Communist meetings. Because he refused to expose these people, Miller was found guilty of contempt of Congress in 1957.
In his personal life, Miller married Mary Grace Slattery in 1940; in 1956 they were divorced. In June 1956 he married Marilyn Monroe, the famous actress, and their marriage ended in 1961. Monroe subsequently committed suicide. In 1962, Miller married to Ingeborg Morath, a photojournalist. He had four children, two each from his first and third marriages.