Day, Another Dollar
In memory of Arthur Miller
By Barry Edelstein
day, another dollar" hardly has the ring of, "attention
must be paid," or "a smile and a shoeshine," or "there's
a universe of people out there and you're responsible to it,"
but it's the Arthur Miller line I like most.
Arthur (which I never could quite get used to calling him, but "Mr.
Miller" didn't seem right, either) said it to me in the lobby
of the Williamstown Theater Festival in the summer of 1996. I was
directing a revival of All My Sons staged to mark the play's
50th anniversary. The first performance had just concluded and the
audience was filing out of the auditorium. They were stunned, devastated.
Tears streamed down cheeks and reddened the many pairs of eyes that
struggled not to stare at the tall, bespectacled man -- you know,
the one who was once married to Marilyn -- standing in the corner.
They did stare, though, less in awe of his fame than in disbelief
that this distinguished, patrician-looking fellow in khakis and
a blazer could be responsible for the storm of emotion that had
just broken over them. The whole scene was weirdly quiet. There
was none of the usual post-play chatter about where to have dinner,
or which actor was good and which wasn't. Breathing was the only
sound, choked gasps, sad sighs. It was a kind of parade of stupor,
a halting processional of shell shock. In over fifteen years of
directing plays I've never seen its like.
In the midst of it, Arthur turned to me, shrugged, and said, in
his throwback-to-the-'40s, gravelly Brooklynese, "Another day,
It was the kind of comment made by a carpet installer looking at
a fine deep-pile he'd just put down, or a mechanic slamming the
hood on a set of plugs newly fastened into a V-8. It was something
a short-order cook says at the end of a shift, not the somber pronunciamento
of America's Greatest Living Playwright watching his first masterpiece
triumph once again.
I had seen the play make the crew tear-up at a dress rehearsal the
night before, and certainly it had overwhelmed me more than once
during the time I worked on it, but none of that prepared me for
the huge impact it had on a real audience. I would see it happen
again and again, in Williamstown and when the play transferred to
New York. Somehow this man, with his typewriter and some paper,
had unleashed an astonishing power, seismic enough to reduce to
rubble a random group of strangers, penetrating enough to reach
inside every kind of person: Young and old, male and female, sophisticated
and simple. Standing next to him in that lobby was like standing
next to an aircraft carrier, or to the Enola Gay. His lines were,
to use a phrase not yet current in the mid-nineties, weapons of
So I wanted to hear some that I could call my very own. I wanted
something for the ages, something that would help explain how it
was that when he was a young man Arthur Miller had conjured from
the air a story strong and resonant enough to reach five decades
into the future with its righteous anger and moral power intact.
I wanted some sagacity, an observation whose gravity would match
the power surging around us.
Nothing doing. Arthur just stood there grinning -- or, more accurately,
twinkling -- his big arms folded across a still-muscular chest puffed
proud with satisfaction. All I got was "Another day, another
dollar." He'd done his job and he'd done it well. What more
was there to say?
To Arthur, a job well done had worth. I think that's why his hobby
was carpentry. Take some wood, a saw, nails, and a hammer, work
for a few hours, and presto! You have a chair you can sit
on. It's finite, it's concrete. Someone in Death of a Salesman
says that Willy Loman was never happier than when he was laying
new bricks in his front stoop. Critics have seen in this a certain
romanticization of the working man, a kind of idealistic proto-Marxism.
But really, that's a misinterpretation. Whatever his politics, Arthur
didn't write about working men out of some agit-prop agenda. That
was Clifford Odets. Arthur wrote about salt-of-the-earth Americans
because he identified with them, because despite his Pulitzer Prize,
his friendships with intellectuals around the world, his meetings
with presidents and prime ministers, and even his marriage to the
modern world's Helen of Troy, he was, in every essential way, salt-of-the-earth
The very first time I met him, in the foyer of his surprisingly
modest Upper East Side apartment building, he pointed to a crew
of elevator repairmen hard at work on one of the cars. In tones
of hushed respect he told me that just a few days before, a repairman
had his legs crushed by the malfunctioning elevator. Later, over
lunch, he told me about Lee J. Cobb and Elia Kazan, about JFK watching
Salesman in Washington and Deng Xiaoping watching it in Beijing,
about cigars with Fidel Castro and tennis with Dustin Hoffman, and
about the time he saw All My Sons in Tel Aviv, and Yitzhak
Rabin whispered to him that even though he knew Arthur wrote it,
there was no way he would accept that this was an American play
because to him it was irrefutably and fundamentally Israeli.
But those glittering stories were for my benefit, told because I
had asked, or because, for all the accolades he'd collected in his
lifetime, Arthur was not above passing up a new opportunity to be
admired, even if only by a young director whose eyes had such big
stars in them that he would have been ecstatically happy just to
sit and beam, no stories necessary. The story about the elevator
repairman was different. It felt weightier, as though it had lodged
somewhere deep inside him, deeper than any anecdote about the A-listers
he knew. It seemed to have worked its way into the starting blocks
of his writer's imagination, into the place from where Eddie Carbone
could view the bridge, and to where Biff Loman no doubt sprinted
clutching the pen he'd nervously swiped from Bill Oliver's desk.
He told it to me not because it was dazzling or fancy in any way,
but because it was gnawing at him, stirring him, and it had to come
out. The movers and shakers may well have impressed Arthur Miller,
but the elevator repairman on disability, and his terrified wife,
and his confused children -- these were the people who moved
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