Death of a Salesman

“Death of a Salesman”

The Great American Play

 

Death of a Salesman is a 1949 play written by American playwright Arthur Miller. It was the recipient of the 1949 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and Tony Award for Best Play. The play premiered on Broadway in February 1949, running for 742 performances, and has been revived on Broadway five times, winning three Tony Awards for Best Revival.

Willy Loman returns home exhausted after a cancelled business trip. Worried over Willy’s state of mind and recent car accident, his wife Linda suggests that he ask his boss Howard Wagner to allow him to work in his home city so he will not have to travel. Willy complains to Linda that their son, Biff, has yet to make good on his life. Despite Biff’s promise as an athlete in high school, he flunked senior year math and never went to college.

The next day, Willy goes to ask his boss, Howard, for a job in town while Biff goes to make a business proposition, but neither is successful. Willy gets angry and ends up getting fired when the boss tells him he needs a rest and can no longer represent the company. Biff waits hours to see a former employer who does not remember him and turns him down. Biff impulsively steals a fountain pen. Willy then goes to the office of his neighbor Charley, where he runs into Charley’s son Bernard (now a successful lawyer); Bernard tells him that Biff originally wanted to do well in summer school, but something happened in Boston when Biff went to visit Willy that changed his mind.

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Lee J. Cobb, Arthur Kennedy, and Mildred Dunnock

Lee J. Cobb (December 8, 1911 February 11, 1976) was an American actor. He is best known for his performance in 12 Angry Men (1957), his Academy Award-nominated performance in On the Waterfront (1954), and one of his last films, The Exorcist (1973). He also played the role of Willy Loman in the original Broadway production of Arthur Miller’s 1949 play Death of a Salesman under the direction of Elia Kazan. On television, Cobb costarred in the first four seasons of the popular, long-running western series The Virginian. He typically played arrogant, intimidating, and abrasive characters, but often had roles as respectable figures such as judges and police officers.

 

Arthur Miller


 

Arthur Miller (October 17, 1915 – February 10, 2005) was an American playwright, essayist, and prominent figure in twentieth-century American theatre. Among his plays are All My Sons (1947), Death of a Salesman (1949), The Crucible (1953) and A View from the Bridge (1955, revised 1956).

In 1948, Miller built a small studio in Roxbury, Connecticut. There, in less than a day, he wrote Act I of Death of a Salesman. Within six weeks, he completed the rest of the play, one of the classics of world theatre. Death of a Salesman premiered on Broadway on February 10, 1949 at the Morosco Theatre, directed by Elia Kazan, and starring Lee J. Cobb as Willy Loman, Mildred Dunnock as Linda, Arthur Kennedy as Biff, and Cameron Mitchell as Happy. The play was commercially successful and critically acclaimed, winning a Tony Award for Best Author, the New York Drama Circle Critics Award, and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It was the first play to win all three of these major awards. The play was performed 742 times at the Morosco Theatre NYC.

He also wrote the screenplay for the film The Misfits (1961). Miller was often in the public eye, particularly during the late 1940s, 1950s and early 1960s. During this time, he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama; testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee; and was married to Marilyn Monroe. He received the Prince of Asturias Award in 2002 and Jerusalem Prize in 2003. See More on Arthur Miller at TheatreGold DataBase Here

 

 

Characters


 

  • William Willy Loman: The salesman. He is 63 years old and very unstable, tending to imagine events from the past as if they are real. He vacillates between different perceptions of his life. Willy seems childlike and relies on others for support. His first name, Willy, reflects this childlike aspect as well as sounding like the question Will he? His last name gives the feel of Willy’s being a low man, someone low on the social ladder and unlikely to succeed; however, this popular interpretation of his last name has been dismissed by Miller.
  • Linda Loman: Willy’s wife. Linda is passively supportive and docile when Willy talks unrealistically about hopes for the future, although she seems to have a good knowledge of what is really going on. She chides her sons, particularly Biff, for not helping Willy more, and supports Willy lovingly, despite the fact that Willy sometimes treats her poorly, ignoring her opinions over those of others. She is the first to realize Willy is contemplating suicide at the beginning of the play, and urges Biff to make something of himself, while expecting Happy to help Biff do so.
  • Biff Loman: Willy’s older son. Biff was a football star with lots of potential in high school, but failed math his senior year and dropped out of summer school when he saw Willy with another woman while visiting him in Boston. He goes between going home to try to fulfill Willy’s dream for him to be a businessman and ignoring his father and going out West to be a farmhand where he is happiest. He likes being outdoors and working with his hands yet wants to do something worthwhile so Willy will be proud. Biff steals because he wants evidence of success, even if it is false evidence, but overall Biff remains a realist, and informs Willy that he is just a normal guy, and will not be a great man.
  • Harold Happy Loman: Willy’s younger son. He’s lived in the shadow of his older brother Biff most of his life and seems to be almost ignored, but he still tries to be supportive towards his family. He has a very restless lifestyle as a womanizer and dreams of moving beyond his current job as an assistant to the assistant buyer at the local store, but is unfortunately willing to cheat a little in order to do so, by taking bribes. He is always looking for approval from his parents, but rarely gets any, and he even goes as far as to make things up just for attention, such as telling his parents he is going to get married. He tries often to keep his family’s perceptions of each other positive or happy by defending each of them during their many arguments, but still has the most turbulent relationship with Linda, who looks down on him for his lifestyle and apparent cheapness, despite him giving them money.
  • Charley: Willy’s wisecracking yet understanding neighbor. He pities Willy and frequently lends him money and comes over to play cards with Willy, although Willy often treats him poorly. Willy is jealous of him because his son is more successful than Willy’s. Charley offers Willy a job many times during visits to his office, yet Willy declines every time, even after he loses his job as a salesman.
  • Bernard: Charley’s son. In Willy’s flashbacks, he is a nerd, and Willy forces him to give Biff test answers. He worships Biff and does anything for him. Later, he is a very successful lawyer, married, and expecting a second son. These successes are of the very kind that Willy wants for his sons, and in particular, Biff, making him contemplate where he had gone wrong as a father.
  • Uncle Ben: Willy’s older brother who became a diamond tycoon after a detour to Africa. He is dead but Willy frequently speaks to him in his hallucinations of the past. Ben frequently boasts, when I was seventeen I walked into the jungle, and when I was twenty-one I walked out. And by God I was rich.” He is Willy’s role model, although he is much older and has no real relationship with Willy, preferring to assert his superiority over his younger brother. He represents Willy’s idea of the American Dream success story, and is shown coming by the Loman’s house while on business trips to share stories.
  • Ms. Francis: A woman with whom Willy cheated on Linda.
  • Howard Wagner: Willy’s boss. He was named by Willy, but sees Willy as a liability for the company and fires him, ignoring all the years that Willy has given to the company. Howard is extremely proud of his wealth, which is manifested in his new wire recorder, and his family.
  • Jenny: Charley’s secretary.
  • Stanley: A waiter at the restaurant who seems to be friends or acquainted with Happy.
  • Miss Forsythe: A girl whom Happy picks up at the restaurant. She is very pretty and claims she was on several magazine covers. Happy lies to her, making himself and Biff look like they are important and successful. (Happy claims that he attended West Point and that Biff is a star football player.)
  • Letta: Miss Forsythe’s friend.

 

 

Broadway Productions


 

The original Broadway production was produced by Kermit Bloomgarden and opened at the Morosco Theatre on February 10, 1949, closing on November 18, 1950 after 742 performances. The play starred Lee J. Cobb as Willy Loman, Mildred Dunnock as Linda, Arthur Kennedy as Biff and Cameron Mitchell as Happy. Albert Dekker and Gene Lockhart later played Willy Loman during the original Broadway run. It won the Tony Award for Best Play, Best Supporting or Featured Actor (Arthur Kennedy), Best Scenic Design (Jo Mielziner), Producer (Dramatic), Author (Arthur Miller), and Director (Elia Kazan), as well as the 1949 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play. Jayne Mansfield performed in a production of the play in Dallas, Texas in October 1953. Her performance in the play attracted Paramount Pictures to hire her for the studio’s film productions.[2]

The play has been revived on Broadway four times:

  • June 26, 1975 at the Circle in the Square Theatre, running for 71 performances. George C. Scott starred as Willy.
  • March 29, 1984 at the Broadhurst Theatre, running for 97 performances. Dustin Hoffman played Willy. In a return engagement, this production re-opened on September 14, 1984 and ran for 88 performances. The production won the Tony Award for Best Revival and the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Revival.
  • February 10, 1999 at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre, running for 274 performances, with Brian Dennehy as Willy. The production won the Tony Award for: Best Revival of a Play; Best Actor in Play; Best Featured Actress in a Play (Elizabeth Franz); Best Direction of a Play (Robert Falls). This production was filmed.
  • February 13, 2012 at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, in a limited run of 16 weeks. Directed by Mike Nichols, Philip Seymour Hoffman played Willy, Andrew Garfield played Biff, and Linda Emond played Linda.[3]

It was also part of the inaugural season of the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Christopher Lloyd portrayed Willy Loman in a 2010 production by the Weston Playhouse in Weston, Vermont, which toured several New England venues. See More on Death of a Salesman at Theatregold DataBase Here

 

 

1949 Full Cast


 

Lee J. Cobb Willy Loman
Thomas Chalmers Uncle Ben
Mildred Dunnock Linda
Alan Hewitt Howard Wagner
Arthur Kennedy Biff
Cameron Mitchell Happy
Howard Smith Charley
Hope Cameron Letta
Winifred Cushing The Woman
Ann Driscoll Secretary
Constance Ford Miss Forsythe
Don Keefer Bernard
Tom Pedi Stanley

 

1949 Creative


 

Produced by Kermit Bloomgarden and Walter Fried
Written by Arthur Miller
Incidental music by Alex North
Staged by Elia Kazan
Scenic Design by Jo Mielziner
Lighting Design by Jo Mielziner
Costume Design by Julia Sze
Assistant to Mr. Mielziner: John Harvey
General Manager: Max Allentuck
Stage Manager: Leonard Patrick
Assistant Stage Mgr: James Gregory
Production Stage Manager: Del Hughes
Music Contractor: Joseph Haber
Trumpet: William Brooks
Clarinet: Louis Klein
Cello: Abe Kessler
Flute: Victor Harrisp

 

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Playbill Cast from Feb 14, 1949

 

 


 


 

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