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December 02, 1973 - Image 3

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Text
Publication:
Michigan Daily, 1973-12-02

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'I'

editors:

tony schwartz
marty porter
contributing editors:
laura berman
howie brick

Sunday

magazine

inside:
books-page 4
gallagher reflects-page 5

Number 10 Page Three
PR'

December 2, 1973
OFILES

Miller's
artist
By TONY SCHWARTZ
"The play's the thing . ."
-Hamlet, Act III, Hamlet
BY FRIDAY MORNING, a little less than
a week after his arrival as the Uni-
versity's Adjunct-Theatre-Professor-in-Resi-
dence, Arthur Miller is visibly bummed
out. He is tired of answering the same ques-
tions, saturated with the constant center-
stage attention reaped upon him, and
frankly, he is bored. Nonetheless, he is off
to another class, another obligation, walk-
ing briskly across campus in the cold ear-
ly morning air. He is flanked on one side
by Richard Meyer, the theatre professor
who first convinced his old friend to come
back to the University, and by Robert
Coorigan, an English professor and friend
whose class on tragedy Miller has prom-
ised to meet. What makes it worse for Mil-
ler is that he is missing his favorite writ-
ing time, these early morning hours. In

return

to

the
his

'Ui

encounters

HE PAtJSES, considering the alterna-
tives. Then: "No I want to write to-
morrow morning."
"Well, then what about 1:00, for lunch?"
I persist, gambling that combining the un-
necessary activity, talking, with the neces-
sary one, eating, will make him more
amenable.
"I don't think I'll feel like eating," Miller
decides, "but call me then, and we'll see."
"I won't ask any academic questions," I
add, turning away.
"I should hope not," says Miller.
THERE ARE a couple of practical rea-
sons why Arthur Miller, who has turned
down innumerable invitations to teach in
the past, has accepted this one.
The first is that his old friend
Richard Meyer, the University's new Di-
rector of Theater Programs, made the offer
and convinced Miller that it would be mu-
tually valuable. Meyer promised his friend

of them did. The thing was that it was too
slow a process. You can't sit around wait-
ing for something to develop." Instead
Miller took two part-time jobs and joined
the Daily (I hadn't the nerve to think I
could make it as a playwright"). As a re-
porter he coveted a host of issues on the
politically volatile campus, but in the
spring of his sophomore year his first play
won a prestigious Hopwood and $250. So
went journalism. He quit the Daily and
he's been writing plays ever since.
TODAY, nearly three decades later, Mil-
ler is back, his packed schedule led by
a one-credit mini-course he is offering on
his own works.
Trueblood Auditorium holds about 500
people, but on this Monday, five minutes
before Miller's scheduled debut, less than
150 people are scattered through the room.
The special audit-ticket I'd picked up, os-
tensibly because there wouldn't be enough
seats to go around, rests obsolete in my
wallet. In the back of the room, Arthur
Miller is bantering with Meyer, and few
in the class seem to recognize the man
who many call America's greatest living
dramatist: the 1949 Pulitzer Prize winner
(for Death of a Salesman) and recinient of
nearly every major drama award in ex-
istence.
Tall and thin, Miller is dressed almost
exactly as he will be each day during his
stay. Pipe teetering characteristically from
mouth, he is wearing a buttondown shirt
and a red rep-tie beneath a grey v-neck
cardigan sweater and a light brown sport
coat. His baggy brown pants are cuffed
and he has on a pair of simple low-heeled
brown buckle shoes. He looks just like the
Iivy-League professor he will, by week's
end, so conclusively prove he is not.
THE SMALL size of the class turns out
to be a blessing. Miller sits a plastic
shell-chair at the front of the stage, sel-
dom using a microphone. The only evident
sign of Greatness is provided by the long
table directly behind him, over which is
spread an impressive collection of all his
work, published and unpublished, in the 25
years since his graduation. At 58 Miller is
balding, but there is a rich and vital look
about his face, at once healthy and in-
tense, the former probably acquired dur-
ing the days he spends outdoors tending
his Connecticut farm, the latter a func-
tion of his incredibly fecund and hyper-
active mind.
Later, as I look back over the copious
notes I'd taken during Miller's stay, I find
that despite the randomness of the ques-
tions he was asked, it is still possbile to
piece together a composite of his views on
writing as an art, the role of fiction in
general and theatre in particular, and of the
constant artistic struggle to find structure
in an increasing chaotic word. These mo-
ments, distilled, are Miller at his best.
"I hadn't seen or read many plays when
I started writing," he begins. "My plays
were tied into the social crisis that we lived
in. Naturally they were didactic. We had to
save the civilization in two weeks. The
crises passed though, and we are still here.
Now I can reflect a little more. I am more
sensitized to my own feeling that I hadn't
given enough depth to the human experi-
ence. Work itself is an experience. The
muscles get stronger, and so do the con-
trols. It is repetition, an appreciation of ex-
periences. It gets deeper as a result."
MILLER'S STYLE is straight, unaffect-
ed, and his you've-got-to-hear-it-to-be-
lieve-it Brooklyn accent gives him an extra
dose of believability. The voice is raspy,
coming from a gravelpit deep in his throat,
and the characteristic slur seems to creep
in each time he builds a point to a climax.
"You discover he's just another man," one
mini-class student told me. "When you
read about him he's 'Arthur Miller: Play-
wright'. But his humor and his speech give
you a feeling of warmth. It's so earthy,

just not what you'd expect from a super-
star."
This is, of course, no good time for sup-
erstars, and Arthur Miller knows that as
well as anyone. Perhaps the campus dis-
illusionment with heroes, those to whom
students once looked for answers and in-
spiration, is one reason why Miller isn't
tal~king ,to a full-house today. And perhaps

critics
"Writer's are afflicted people," he ex-
plains, puffing away at his pipe. "Their
glory is that they make of their wounds
something beautiful . . ." It is a natural
yet sageful phrasing, and one Miller often
uses. He delays the object of the verb,
building dramatic tension within a single
sentence, a playwright even as he speaks.
THAT MILLER often talks like a char-
acter out of one of his plays shouldn't come
as much of a surprise: "A play will read
of it speaks well. I'm acting all the parts
all the time. This is a period when lan-
guage itself is suspect. There is a sus-
pician of anything that is willed, but that
will pass when cultural confidence re-
turns." On his own enormous success, Mil-
ler was modest yet direct, speculating
that a certain inherent talent is necessary
but adding, "There is nothing spontaneous
about writing. I learned to do it and I de-
cided to do it and I do it. Writing is a cure
for a feeling of total uselessness."
The questions wander and repeat through
the week, and at the beginning Miller makes
an admirable effort to treat even the most
idiotic ones seriously. When his answers
finally began to show a bit of annoyance
or boredom, it is mostly because he is be-
ing treated as a professor, asked to didact-
ically answer questions about his plays
when he'd much rather they spoke for
themselves. He tires less of questions about
the theater as a medium, and about the
direction in which he thinks it is headed.
"I think academic theater provides a
certain continuity which professional thea-
ter lacks. There is theater here all the time,
not a hit or flop situation. And there is no
reason why it can't relate itself to profes-
sional theater. Outside New York there is
no haste or rush. I'd like to see young
people brought into theater on a realistic
basis.
"New York theater is expensive because
real estate is so high. They're pricing peo-
ple out. The only people who come are
these rich women in Mamaroneck who drag
their husbands to the show. But who needs
'em? At Lincoln Center 1000 students show
up for 50 student-rush seats."
MILLER TALKED more about the fu-
ture of the theater at his only press con-
ference, an awful, contrived affair held in
the Michigan League. Prior to its start, he
is cornered next to a window in the or-
nate room, positioned and repositioned for
twenty minutes by a mob of seven or eight
photographers.. He stands, Bloody Mary
in hand, trying hard to look relaxed. In-
stead he is consummately uptight, as near-
ly any sane person in a like situation
would be. Finally he escapes from the

An

Daily Photo by TERRY McCARTHY

other theatre weakens itself, and is less
and less relevant to people.
"The young believe the only way is to
copy the most far-out styles. Fashion is a
terrible jail, a load to carry on your back.
It is all smashing categories. The young
artist should express his vision rather than
show how well he can manipulate styles. In
theater, it still amounts to the same thing:
the good stuff endures and most goes."
ARTHUR MILLER does not, of course,
write in a social vacuum, and the coun-
try's political atmosphere, to which ' he
makes numerous wry allusions, is very
much on his mind during this visit. Each
fresh Watergate revelation, each new high
level atrocity makes it more difficult to
make sense of the current scene. As Miller
responds to the innumerable students who
question him about the struggle to find
lasting values, the tenor of his comments
is often markedly ambivalent.
"I allegedly have found meaning in life
where the rest of literature is nihilistic,"
he said to his first class. "I am compelled
to seek for some kind of order. I can't settle

Doily Photo by TERRY McCARTHY

the spare moments he has had this week,
he's been working mostly on An American
Clock, a play reportedly based loosely on
Studs. Terkel's Hard Times, scheduled to
premier at the Power Center in the spring.
Perhaps Miller is reflecting on the lost
hours when Meyer opens up a sheet con-
taining a revised appointment schedule.
"You've got that radio interview this
afternoon."
"I didn't say I'd do that" Miller ans-
wers curtly.
"I'll cancel it. What about this get to-
gether with theater students on Sunday?"
Meyer asks.
"I don't know if I'll do that," Miller says
deferring.
MEYER SMILES understandingly. His
friend is cancelling appointments
wherever he can. Enough has become
enough, and it isn't as if the change comes
as a total surprise. Miller made it clear
early on that the academic environment
wasn't his favorite, the lightness of his
comment belying its seriousness:
"I usually don't talk to people- much. In
fact I usually don't say anything before
7:00 p.m. But every once in a while I like
to talk to people. I think may be I'll have
one conversation in a week here that might
lead somewhere. I'll be simple about it.
I'm not a teacher. My mind doesn't organ-
ize itself that way."
As I wait for Miller outside his Friday

he'd make all the arrangements; Miller, in
turn, said he'd come and agreed to an hon-
orarium less than he often commands for
a single speech.
The second reason Miller has accepted
is an intellectual one. He's written in the
past about getting more good theater off-
Broadway and onto places like campuses
with good facilities and a non-pressured
atmosphere. This is an ideal opportunity.
In addition, Miller feels his pointedly non-
academic orientation might be a valuable
perspective at the University: "I think if I
can knock down what I call some of the
over-intellectualization, if I can say one
line that sticks in someone's head, it will
be worth it. I'm not anti-intellectual. But I
don't want to lose perspective. Here's where
the young are. This is where it's gotta
change. They've got to get a vitalistic at-
titude toward this whole thing. I don't think
it's the only place the young are, and I'm
not going to make a habit of coming here,
but it's one place to start."
IT IS a third motivation, however, which
has most persuaded Miller to accept
Meyer's invitation, and that one is just
plain emotional. "I have a special affec-
tion for this school, I suppose, because they
let me in - and no other school could make
that statement." A kindly dean, in the days
before computerized admissions, decided to
make a special exception for Miller de-
spite his horrendously low math grades.
Two years after graduating from high

"I think if I can knock down some of the over-
intellectualization, if I can say one line that sticks
in someone's head here, it will be worth it. The
critics have tried to dominate the theater . . . In
the facof passion they can't imagine what it is
like to feel. They get suspicious, uneasy."
4: :...I}.."J:.... ..:::s S S v:S::.p'{;.v. :SSS*rW.*. . . . . . ..?

is what level it "-and ends hopefully: "But
we must find a way to live with it. Some-
where in the back of my mind there exists
another set of values."
It is only when a student brings the In-
congruity to Miller's attention - the strug-
gle for values at a time when they seem
nonexistent - that Miller hits home, de-
fining the balance he attempts to strike as
a person and as an artist:
"You don't achieve a victory in life.
Rather you live fruitfully in tension. To
create, and I don't only mean writing, is
to be under tension. Paradise, and that's
what I was saying in Creation of the
World, is a state of inertia where nothing
happens. It is a form of death. The ten-
sion is necessary. Once it's over you drop
dead in six months."
JTIS PRECISELY the glory of this cre-
ative struggle which Miller sees as the
reason fiction maintains primacy over other
forms of writing. "The artist," he explains
to a press conference full of reporters, "is
more likely to be in tune with a developing
dilemma than more objective people like
journalists. The artist finds an image of
what others subliminally know but is un-
formed. He objectifies symbolic meaning
so we can get hold of it." Miller seems
annoyed by the Tom Wolfe-inspired sug-
gestion that the New Journalism is sup-
planting fiction.
"I think the forms of writing which im-
press us most are the ones which are hard-
est to do, the ones which require the
greatest depth of feeling. That's as hard
now as ever. The New Journalism is a legi-
timate art form, but not a supplanting one.
Later, when we talk together, Miller is
more explicit: "Fiction is the hardest form.
You create instead of recreate. I read In
Cold Blood, and I admire Truman Capote,
he's written some great novels, but pick up
any novel, any great novel and the feeling
there is so much more. I think that jour-
nalists don't want to work so hard."
THROUGHOUT the week, Miller side-
steps questions about perhaps his least
favorite New Journalist, N. Mailer. He does,
however, have a couple of indirect jibes
for the man who treated him so unkindly
in his controversial book Marilyn. "The
New Journalists are experts at self- ad-
vertisement as no novelists ever were" he
says to laughs. "Hemingway and Twain
were pikers compared to the New Journal-
ist's self-advertisements."
When I finally meet Miller alone at the
week's end, he is more open: "Mailer said
it himself, on the Mike Douglas' show I
think it was. The research was nominal.
You take it from there. Miller crunches
down hard on a cherry lifesaver and con-
tinues: "He didn't talk to me till after the
book was written. He didn't ask me any

clicks, moves to the head table, takes a
moment to relax and waits for lunch to be
served. When the food arrives, Miller im-
mediately lays to rest any notion that he
is a picky eater; he goes at it with relish
and gusto. Arthur Miller is the kind of
guy who unashamedly rubs his toast on
the plate to soak up the smeary egg-re-
mains at breakfast, washes it all down-
unpausing-with a full gulp of coffee, and
swipes himself clean with an open napkin.
After he has finished, Miller sits back,
lights up his pipe, parries the ludricrous
questions of a self-important reporter at
the front of the room, maintains his dis-
tance from the rest, and begins talking:
"Deterioration of theater implies that we

for reveling in the fact that life is chaotic.
"What is right and wrong define funda-
mental themes. We are all dealing with the
same problem - how to make of this hos-
tile world a home, that we may live with
what we are doing." Miller undoubtedlly
struck a responsive chord when he said
"I just tell it the way I see it", but in the
same breath he acknowledged his uncer-
tainty. "It gets harder and harder to make
value judgements. I want to know 'What
is it in man that keeps positing idealism
when life squashes everything on the same
level.
"WHEN THERE is little relationship be-
tn tween man's activities and his life,
then he begins to lose his human integrity.

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