Academic journal article Michigan Quarterly Review

An Interview with Arthur Miller

Academic journal article Michigan Quarterly Review

An Interview with Arthur Miller

Article excerpt

In April of 2004 Arthur Miller, a loyal alumnus, made the last of many visits to the University of Michigan. Students had prepared a performance of scenes from his plays for the occasion, and Miller visited a rehearsal and spoke with them about their work. He conferred with administrators about plans to build the Arthur Miller Theatre on campus, a project that has reached completion and is scheduled to open next season with a production of Playing for Time. During his visit Mark Lamos, who had directed Miller's work in the past, hosted a symposium for the author at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre. The following transcript of their conversation was prepared by Ayelet Ammitay of the MQR staff.

[Standing ovation]

ML: The last time you were on this stage did you get that kind of a response?

AM: Nobody knew I was there [laughter]. I was on this stage . . . well, it's a hundred years ago. I played a bishop in Henry the Eighth and, thank God, had no lines. But I had a big hat. On cue I walked on stage, with about eight other bishops who were consecrating Henry's marriage, or one of them, and on cue we all had had to go like that [bows] and I did.

ML: I suppose I should say welcome home, because the university had a kind of immense influence on you as a young man. And I wonder how much of your artistic vision was based on your experiences here. You said, "I loved the idea of being separated from the nation by leaving Brooklyn and coming to Ann Arbor, because the spirit of the nation like its soil was being blown by crazy winds."

You said, "My affection for the University of Michigan was due simply to their accepting me. They had already turned me down twice because of my academic record. I had flunked algebra three times in my Brooklyn high school. It was so low as to be practically invisible. But the dean reversed himself after two letters, in which I wrote that since working for two years in a warehouse at fifteen dollars a week, I had turned into a much more serious fellow. He said he would give me a try, but I had better make some grades. I could not conceive of a dean at Columbia or Harvard doing that. When I arrived in 1934, at the bottom of the Depression, I fell in love with the place, groggy as I was from the bus ride, because I was out of the warehouse at last and at least formally part of a beautiful town, the college town of Ann Arbor."

You've said that the function of the writer is to remember, to be a rememberer. What are your memories of the place offhand?

AM: Well, the first experience I had of Ann Arbor was, in those days, you had a cheap bus from New York to wherever you were going. It cost twelve dollars to go from New York to Ann Arbor. But, on the way, [the driver] had passengers to drop off in some place in Pennsylvania, another place in New Jersey, somewhere in Ohio. He just wandered around and at one point got caught in a field; he got lost. By the time I got here I must have been on that bus for, I don't know, two days. I was simply cross-eyed. I got out of the bus, and I had never been in a taxi of course, but I saw a line of taxis. I got in one taxi and I said, "I'm supposed to go to the Michigan Union" and he said OK. We drove around for a few minutes and he brought me, I thought, back to where we had started [laughter]. But I was so tired that I couldn't be sure. (Two or three years passed, and one day I was walking past the Michigan Union and I saw a line of cabs and I thought, that guy took me around the block!) But I was grateful anyway. I got a room from a Mrs. Nelson. It was the first room that I looked at but I saw that bed and I said, this is it, I'll take this. The next thing I knew, somebody was shaking me. I opened my eyes and there was this elderly lady. She said, I was just about to call the ambulance. I said, why? And she said, well, you've been here for two days.

It was a remarkable house. I don't remember anymore where it was. Because on the third floor there was an attic, and in the attic (I don't know what I was doing up there) there was a big barrel filled with teeth. …

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