March 17, 2018

ARTHUR MILLER’S DAUGHTER HUMANIZES PLAYWRIGHT IN NEW DOCUMENTARY: Some controversial behavior connected to the Communist Party gets played down.

Much worse is her fractured retelling of the events surrounding Miller’s confrontation with the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and its investigation of Hollywood’s Communist Party in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Director Elia Kazan, Miller’s best friend and stage collaborator, was an embittered ex-Communist who agreed to testify and name names of other party members. (“I hate the Communists and have for many years, and don’t feel right about giving up my career to defend them,” Kazan said.) Miller didn’t speak to him for 10 years, and also wrote a play, The Crucible, comparing HUAC and its witnesses as murderous witchhunters.

Eventually, Miller, too, got a subpoena. He denied ever being a Communist, even when HUAC confronted him with his written application for party membership. The manifest absurdity of his denial would be reinforced decades later when historians discovered Miller had been a secret writer for the Stalinist party cultural organ New Masses.

Nothing in Writer hints at Miller’s underground life, his false testimony to HUAC, or his secret allegiance to the most murderous dictator of the 20th century. Even making allowances for a daughter’s desire to put her father in the best possible light, that’s a little much.

As Mark Steyn wrote of screenwriter and novelist Dalton Trumbo in 2003, when the off-Broadway play that was a likely inspiration for the 2015 biopic starring Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston as one of Miller’s Communist contemporaries, “Though the play won’t tell you the answer to that famous question – ‘Are you now or have you ever…?’ – the answer is: yes, he was. The more interesting question is: How do you feel about getting one of the great moral questions of the century wrong?”

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