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BOOK REVIEW: Conversations With Miller – Centenary Edition

Author: Mel Gussow
Reviewer: Glen Pearce

 

ConvomillerA writers life is often a solitary one and for their audience the only insight into the personality of playwrights is the work they share on stage.

While Arthur Miller’s personal life may have been as interesting as his stage work, his life is somewhat overshadowed by his impressive catalogue of work, something this enthralling book, part essay, part diary, part biography seeks to address.

Starting at the time of one of those life moments, Miller’s marriage to Marilyn Monroe, Mel Gussow, New York Times drama critic, shares transcripts of thirteen conversations between the pair that took place over a 38 year period.

Reissued in a new addition to mark the centenary of Miller’s birth, Conversation’s With Miller offers a glimpse behind the award-winning plays.

The pair’s conversations capture a huge expanse of topic. Theatre, writing and acting are, as one would expect, covered extensively but what surprises is the breadth of conversation. Family, politics, belief all feature extensively as does reflections on Miller’s own personal life.

Talking of the death of Monroe, Gussow asks if Miller believes he could have saved her. It’s not a straightforward answer, one that reflects the complexity of Monroe and those who surrounded her. “She was beyond help. It’s a failing in me, no doubt, but also a failing in every other human being she came into contact with, including, as I say, some of the most competent and devoted doctors.”

It’s a frank insight that sheds light on the pair’s destructive relationship but Gussow and Miller extend the conversation to look at the wider issues of fame, teenage thoughts of invincibility and the power of image.

It is these twists that move Gussow and Miller’s conversations beyond mere interview, here are two men at ease with each other willing to share thoughts and engage in debate and challenge.

Spread out across nearly 40 years, the book captures the changing face of the industry, something Miller doesn’t always seem comfortable with. Discussing The Actors Studio, Miller states that “I always thought that was a training ground for television and film, if that”. It’s a theme that Miller returns to several times, the growth of television and film luring away writers, actors and directors from the theatre.

It is one of those actors who now rarely sets foot on stage that Gussow speaks to, to gain an outside view of Miller. Dustin Hoffman was playing Willy Lowman in Death Of A Salesman when interviewed and gives a hint of the personal present in Millers work. “The day I got married in Roxbury, I woke up and went for a run and went past this house. I later learned that it was the house where Salesman was written… He built this house with his own hands when he was 32 and he went in and wrote Salesman.”

In his forward to this anniversary issue, Richard Eyre talks of his frustration at a newspaper article that asked ‘Will Arthur Miller be remembered as the man who married Marilyn Monroe?’. This delightful and accessible book will surely answer that with a resounding no. Miller’s place as a giant in American literature is assured and Gussow’s transcripts will bring a new level of insight into those both familiar and unfamiliar with the legends work.

Conversations With Miller, Centenary Edition is published by Nick Hern Books.

For more information visit www.nickhernbooks.co.uk

 

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