November 23: The Man Who Had All the Luck,Arthur Miller’s first Broadway play, opened on this day in 1944, the playwrightthen twenty-nine. The play is a study of Depression-era struggle, though itturns the tables: while others around him suffer hardships, Miller’s heroenjoys inexplicable prosperity, but his guilt and his personality will not lethim enjoy it. He gets the girl, the cash, and every sign of prolonged goodfortune, but finds in them only “treasures that rust, from which hisspirit has already fled.” Miller said that he wanted to raise “thequestion of the justice of fate, how it was that one man failed and another, nomore or less capable, achieved some glory in life.”
Miller first wrote thestory as a novel, one which nobody wanted. The play, too, was a flop, closingafter four performances and, as remembered in Miller’s memoir Timebends, not a minute too soon:
Standing at the back ofthe house during the single performance I could bear to watch, I could blamenobody. All I knew was that the whole thing was a well-meant botch, like musicplayed on the wrong instruments in a false scale. I would never write anotherplay, that was sure.
But in the five yearsafter The Man Who Had All the Luck Millerwrote both All My Sons and Death of a Salesman, each of which won ahandful of Broadway awards. The Man WhoHad All the Luck was not produced again for almost a half-century, asMiller’s illustrious career was drawing to a close, and then in 2002, it madeit back to Broadway, this time praised as “a fable about the AmericanDream,” and “a national admonishment that [Americans] are not achosen people but a fortunate one.”
John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men opened on Broadway onthis day in 1937, six months after book publication. Also a Depression-eratale, and also exploring the puzzle of fate—why some are born to “live offthe fat of the land” and some are not—Steinbeck’s play had a successfulsix-month run, winning the Best Play Award from the New York Drama Critics’Circle.
Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.