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Death of a Salesman | 10 Things You Didn't Know

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In his 1949 play Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller stages a disillusioning portrait of one family's quest to define and achieve the American Dream. The play focuses on the meaning of happiness and suggests that measuring self-worth through material possession or social acceptance is a recipe for discontent. Death of a Salesman tackles the dichotomy between the desire to appear successful and the achievement of one's inner happiness, both through the eyes of Willy Loman, the protagonist, and his sons, Biff and Happy.

Revived on Broadway several times since its first debut, Death of a Salesman has been hailed as one of the greatest plays of the 20th century.

1. Miller wrote Act 1 of the Death of a Salesman in less than a day.

Miller wrote Death of a Salesman in a small cabin he built himself in Roxbury, Connecticut: "It was the feeling that I would keep the world completely out. And I had never built a building in my life. The impulse was to build some place and then sit in the middle of it, shut the door, and let this thing happen."

2. The play originally ran for 742 performances.

Miller's Death of a Salesman first ran on Broadway at the Morosco Theatre near Times Square in New York City for 742 shows. The show first opened on February 10, 1949, and ran until it closed on November 18, 1950.

3. Death of a Salesman won six Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize.

While the revivals of Death of a Salesman have been well-received by critics, the first production in 1949 was particularly highly praised. In addition to the Pulitzer, it won Tony Awards for Best Play, Best Supporting Actor, Best Scenic Design, Best Author, Best Producers, and Best Director

4. Miller died on the anniversary of the play's Broadway debut.

In 2005, on the 56th anniversary of the play's debut, Miller died in Roxbury, Connecticut. If Willy Loman's assessment that social recognition is a measure of achievement is correct, then the death of the playwright far surpassed the death of his salesman. Miller's plays continue to be reincarnated on the stage and in film as each new generation of Americans discovers his work.

5. Arthur Miller based protagonist Willy Loman on his father's business failures.

Living through the Great Depression, Miller watched his family's garment business deteriorate and fail. Miller mirrors the difficult and painful days of the Great Depression that fueled his father's desperation in the psyche of Willy Loman: "I think the tragic feeling is evoked in us when we are in the presence of a character who is ready to lay down his life, if need be, to secure one thing—his sense of personal dignity."

6. Arthur Miller went to Beijing in 1983 to direct a production of Death of a Salesman himself.

As Death of a Salesman was readied for opening at the Beijing People's Arts Theater in 1983, the stage crew had to import American props that were not available in China—particularly footballs, helmets, and shoulder pads—from across the Pacific for the performance.

7. Miller threatened to sue over a short-film version of the play.

Career of a Salesman, made in 1951, was a bit of studio propaganda commissioned by executives who worried that the story would be interpreted as un-American. The short film, to be shown before the feature film, claimed Willy Loman was not representative of the modern American salesman. Outraged that the short film undercut his work, Miller threatened to sue the studio, and the studio relented.

8. The 1951 film producers replaced an actor due to his "left-wing" politics.

In an age of severe paranoia regarding socialism in any shape or form, Lee J. Cobb, who acted in the original Broadway production, was cut from the film's cast for his past political affiliations. He was replaced with Fredric March for the role of Willy Loman, which may have contributed to Miller's overall disapproval of the film. Cobb would later star in a television adaptation of the play in 1966.

9. Christopher Lloyd once played Willy Loman in a production of the play.

Most famous for his role as Doc in the Back to the Future trilogy, Christopher Lloyd took up the role of Willy Loman for a 2010 production in Weston, Vermont. Lloyd was given the choice to play any role he wanted by the theater and landed on the iconic role after thinking about it overnight.

10. The TV show Sons of Anarchy pays homage to Death of a Salesman.

Sons of Anarchy, which ran from 2008 until 2014 and chronicles the exploits of a notorious biker gang, features a character named Happy Lowman. Much like Miller's character, the name Happy contrasts with the character's dissatisfaction and constant search for approval.

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