|About this Recording
NA199712 - MILLER, A.: Death of a Salesman (Abridged) (Original Cast Production, 1950)
Arthur Miller (1915–2005)
Willy Loman - Thomas Mitchell
Director Elia Kazan
– All Members of the Original Cast Production
The action of the play takes place in Willy Loman’s house—its bedrooms, kitchen, basement, backyard—and in various offices and places he visits in New York City and Boston.
Act 1: Willy and Linda’s bedroom—the boys’ bedroom—the kitchen—the backyard in the past—a Boston hotel as remembered by Willy—the backyard in the past—the kitchen—the backyard in Willy’s imagination—the kitchen—Willy and Linda’s bedroom
Act 2: The kitchen—Howard Wagner’s office—the backyard in Willy’s imagination—Charley’s office—a small restaurant—a scene in Willy’s mind—the small restaurant—a Boston hotel as remembered by Willy— the small restaurant—the kitchen—the garden—the kitchen—the cemetery
On 10 February 1949, Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman opened on Broadway. It was the play that was to establish Miller as a major American playwright, winning the Drama Critics Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize. Its subsequent worldwide success established Miller as an international writer of significance; the play has been translated into hundreds of languages and produced in nearly every country in the world.
Though ostensibly set in small-town America, it has proved to have a universality that resonates in all cultures, everywhere. Most people can relate to its main theme of family, a father’s relationship with his wife and sons, and his desperate attempt to regain the love of his eldest son. The original director, Elia Kazan, who was of Turkish origin, claimed he recognised his own father in the central character, Willy Loman, and when Thomas Mitchell played Willy, the play was hailed as the best Irish play ever. Such diverse reaction can be explained by Miller creating in Willy Loman a real human being, an everyman, with flaws and prejudices that all nationalities and people in all walks of life can recognise, and with whom they can identify.
Willy is presented as a likeable rogue, an over-grown adolescent. He was, wrote Miller, ‘A man way out there in the blue, riding on a smile and a shoeshine.’ He has humour, but his idealistic values do not equip him for the tough world of business in the second half of the 20th century. They are out-dated and naïve. He places emphasis on a salesman’s personality rather than his achievements; the pursuit of success for its own sake, whether a man has the requisite skills or not, as if it was a virtue to be won. Miller is attacking the so-called American dream, the belief, encouraged by advertising and the media, that every American has the right to achieve material success, and shows the utter desolation facing a man when he realises too late the dream is an empty sham.
Revisiting episodes in his dubious past, that gather like shadows around him, Willy is forced to face issues he has ignored, and his self-delusion, though ultimately he is unable to reconcile the hopes he had for his life with the one he has actually lived. He begins to realise his life is an utter failure. The struggles of Willy Loman to come to terms with this, as he spirals towards his end, take on almost heroic proportions in Miller’s drama, and with his death he comes close to achieving the status of a figure from classical Greek tragedy. Miller himself has described the play as, ‘The tragedy of a common man.’
It could be said that the part of Willy Loman is the King Lear of American drama. It has certainly attracted some of America’s greatest actors who have seen it as a test of their talents in the same way Lear or Hamlet is to actors in Britain. The part was created on Broadway by Lee J. Cobb, while the first national tour brought Thomas Mitchell to the role, later taking over from Cobb on Broadway and appearing on this recording. Frederic March gave arguably the performance of his career in the film version (1951), and later exponents have been George C. Scott, Brian Dennehy, and in a memorable TV version, Dustin Hoffmann (1985).
The well-known Hollywood actor Thomas Mitchell plays Willy Loman in this recording made in New York on 24 April 1950 and released simultaneously on 78rpm records and as an LP. The text has been heavily cut and re-shaped, presumably to fit the single LP format, though the original sleeve note describes it as improving the flow a little. There also seems to be evidence of censorship, as expletives are cut or shortened, which may have been record company policy in the 1950s. Whether the adaptation was done by Arthur Miller himself, who also speaks the brief narrations, is not clear.
Thomas Mitchell is supported by the original Broadway cast, including superb performances from Arthur Kennedy as Biff and Mildred Dunnock as Willy’s wife Linda .
Notes and biographies compiled by David Timson
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