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Speaking Volumes: Celebrate the 70th anniversary of Arthur Miller’s ‘Death of a Salesman’

Seventy years ago on Feb. 10, Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” was first performed on Broadway at the Morosco Theatre in New York City.

It won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1949, as well as a Tony Award for best play.

“Death of a Salesman” tells the story of aging salesman Willy Loman, who loses his job and subsequently goes on a downward spiral.

Since it premiered, “Death of a Salesman” has been performed around the world, with many famous actors playing the lead as Willy Loman.

In the 1980’s, Dustin Hoffman played Loman on Broadway. Brian Dennehy played him in the 50th anniversary production. Before his death in 2014, Philip Seymour Hoffman became the fifth actor to play Loman on Broadway in 2012.

Many people likely are unaware of how the play was written. In 1948, at age 33, Miller set off into the woods of Connecticut to build a cabin so that he could write the play he’d been working through in his mind, which would later become “Death of a Salesman.”

In an interview Miller gave in 1999, published in the New Yorker, he describes his instinct to get away from it all to write, saying, “It was a purely instinctive act. And I had never built a building in my life. The impulse was to build some place and then sit in the middle of it, shut the door, and let this thing happen”.

According to Miller, once the cabin was finished, he wrote the play in one day.

Miller was born on Oct. 17, 1915, in Harlem, New York. While majoring in journalism at the University of Michigan, he wrote his first play, “No Villain,” in 1936 and switched his major to English.

After graduating, Miller joined the Federal Theatre Project, a New Deal agency established to provide theater jobs. Unfortunately, Congress closed the project a year later.

However, that didn’t stop Miller from becoming a prolific American playwright. While he’s most known for his theater work, including “The Crucible” (1953), Miller wrote essays, fiction and non-fiction.

He was married three times, most famously to the actress Marilyn Monroe. Arthur Miller died on Feb. 10, 2005.

Your local library has several of Miller’s plays, including “Death of a Salesman” (1949) and “The Crucible” (1953), as well as one of his later works “The Ride Down Mt. Morgan” (1991).

For more on Arthur Miller’s life and works, check out “Arthur Miller: His Life and Work” (2003) by Martin Gottfried.

Film lovers will enjoy “The Misfits” (1961), written by Miller, directed by John Huston and starring Monroe, Clark Gable and Montgomery Clift. It was during the filming of “The Misfits” that Miller’s marriage to Monroe began to unravel.

Be sure to check out the 1985 film version of “Death of a Salesman” starring Dustin Hoffman and John Malkovich.

The Manatee County Library System also has the 2016 Persian film “The Salesman,” which premiered at Cannes. The film tells the story of a couple whose relationship begins to turn sour during their performance of Miller’s “Death of a Salesman.”

Call your local branch for more information on available titles.

Central Library — 941-748-5555;

Braden River — 941-727-6079;

Island — 941-778-6341;

Palmetto — 941-722-3333;

Rocky Bluff — 941-723-4821;

South Manatee — 941-755-3892.

You also can access the library via the internet at mymanatee.org/library.

Kaitlin Crockett is a Librarian II and Assistant Supervisor at the Palmetto Library. Speaking Volumes, written by Manatee County Public Library System staff members, is published each Sunday in the Bradenton Herald.

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