From Elia Kazan’s famed 1949 production of Death of a Salesman until the end of his life in 2005, Arthur Miller was a towering figure in American letters. In a 1966 interview in the Paris Review, he looked back on the humble origins of his career as a playwright. An excerpt:
Interviewer: Would you tell us a little about the beginning of your writing career?
Arthur Miller: The first play I wrote was in Michigan in 1935. It was written on a spring vacation in six days. I was so young that I dared to do such things, begin it and finish it in a week. I’d seen about two plays in my life, so I didn’t know how long an act was supposed to be, but across the hall there was a fellow who did the costumes for the University theater, and he said, “Well, it’s roughly forty minutes.” I had written an enormous amount of material and I got an alarm clock. It was all a lark to me, and not to be taken too seriously…that’s what I told myself. As it turned out the acts were longer than that, but the sense of the timing was in me even from the beginning, and the play had a form right from the start.
Being a playwright was always the maximum idea. I’d always felt that the theater was the most exciting and the most demanding form one could master. When I began to write, one assumed inevitably that one was in the mainstream that began with Aeschylus and went through about 2500 years of playwriting. There are so few masterpieces in the theater, as opposed to the other arts, that one can pretty much encompass them all by the age of nineteen.”