On this day in 1725, the great political radical John Wilkes was born. At that time, a radical believed in things like democracy. Also of note, he supported the American rebels. But as he got older, he became conservative. I think of him as the 18th century version of Christopher Hitchens.
Actor Irene Ryan was born in 1902. She is best known for playing Granny in The Beverly Hillbillies. However, I know her best as Berthe in the original cast of Pippin. Unfortunately, the only version of her doing “No Time at All” is not available for embedding. (Why do people do that?!) You can listen to it on YouTube, but it is not even the version that is on the original cast album. She was an interesting woman and a fine actor.
Other birthdays: actor Jean Arthur (1990); actor Rita Hayworth (1918); poet George Mackay Brown (1921); creepy stuntman Evel Knievel (1938); film and theater director Rob Marshall (53); comedian Norm Macdonald (50); and actor Matthew Macfadyen (39).
The day, however, belongs to the great playwright Arthur Miller who was born on this day in 1915. He is best known for All My Sons, The Crucible, and Death of a Salesman. That last one will likely be remembered as the best play of the 20th century. It is an amazing play. And it seems to be performed as much now as ever. That makes sense because it is more relevant than ever. In fact, now, Willy Loman seems like an especially tragic character because his delusion about the economic system he finds himself in is so rare. Most people I know take it for granted that hard work and intelligence will not guarantee even a modicum of success. We have become a nation of many cynical Biff Lomans and a small number (1%?!) of self-impressed Howard Wagners. Here is Dustin Hoffman as Willy and a very young Jon Polito as Howard in a film version of the play. I especially love the bit about the tape recorder. You don’t even need the rest of the scene or even the play. In that couple of minutes you know everything you need to know about America. There are people who can afford the latest gadgets but they can’t afford to support the men who made them rich. “You can’t eat the orange and throw the peel away—a man is not a piece of fruit.” But Willy is wrong. A man is a piece of fruit in our society.
Of course, Miller was far more than Death of a Salesman. For one thing, he created a massive body of work that went well beyond the theater. I especially like his essays. He was a very insightful guy. He was also very liberal as well as being an atheist.
Happy birthday Arthur Miller.