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BERNARD WEINRAUB’S FALL: A NEW LENS ON ARTHUR MILLER

When great American playwright Arthur Miller died in 2005, The New York Times wrote in his obituary: “Mr. Miller grappled with the weightiest matters of social conscience in his plays and in them often reflected or reinterpreted the stormy and very public elements of his own life.” But there was one story that Arthur Miller never told, and that even The New York Times did not mention — a son that Miller and Inge Morath had in 1966 named Daniel Miller. This child is not mentioned in Arthur Miller’s autobiography, and was not mentioned at or invited to his parents’ funeral — because Daniel Miller has Down syndrome.

From the view of playwright Bernard Weinraub, Daniel Miller was “deleted” from Miller’s life. Few knew of him, even in Miller’s close circle, until Vanity Fair published a 2007 article detailing Daniel Miller’s life. Weinraub read that piece at the time, and the contradiction of Arthur Miller’s actions stuck with him. If we believe Arthur Miller spoke as the moral conscience of a generation, what do we make of his public and private abandonment of his own son? How does looking at Arthur Miller’s story spur us to investigate our own moral blindspots? “One can only feel compassion for the pain that Arthur Miller and Inge felt after the birth of Daniel. But Miller’s decision to erase Daniel from his life was a puzzle and a source of criticism in recent years, especially among the parents of disabled children: how could he do this?,” Weinraub says.

Weinraub is quick to note that Miller and Morath were, in some ways, typical parents of their generation in how they dealt with having a child with Down syndrome. Though Down syndrome had been named by physician John Down in 1866, 100 years later, when Daniel Miller was born, doctors still did not know what caused the extra chromosome that is responsible for Down syndrome, nor did they understand how that extra genetic material led to the physical and mental effects of the syndrome on those who have it. Parents were regularly counseled to give up children who had Down syndrome, believing at the time that it was more humane for them to be cared for by specialists. “In the ‘60s, it was very commonplace that doctors recommended — urged — that these children be placed in institutions,” Weinraub says. “Within the next decade, it changed dramatically where they urged the closing of these same institutions and recommended the child either be taken home or placed in special housing units or foster care and be part of the community — but there had already been a great cost to these institutionalized children’s development, their personalities, and their education.”

Late in Arthur Miller’s life, there was one exception to the exclusion: a will that he revised close to his death that newly included Daniel in the division of the estate. What did the creation of that will say about the shift in Arthur’s psychology over his lifetime? Weinraub set out to dramatize the arc of that change and reversal — from omission to inclusion. “It was important to me that no one see Arthur and Inge as the villans in this situation,” Weinraub says. “Daniel was the victim. The conditions at the institution where they placed him were so horrific that the government said it had to be closed, and in some way they were all victims. I wanted to know how the Millers lived with that and with each other. In some ways, the play is the story of a marriage confronting a tragedy. There was a sadness and a sense of guilt about both of them, I felt.”

In creating the play, Weinraub, a reporter for many years, has conducted new interviews with individuals close to the real-life situation: social workers, caretakers, and acquaintances who could shed new light on the complicated story of Daniel Miller. Arthur Miller’s greatest plays — All My Sons, The Crucible, Death of a Salesman, and A View from the Bridge — examine the tragedy of the American family, a pathos born from the ethical failures of a nation and of individuals. But in Fall, Bernard Weinraub asks if the most difficult lesson of Miller’s life was left untold. “In speaking to people, I have come to believe that Arthur Miller carried a deep sense of shame about this,” Weinraub says. “He was a very private person, and I don’t want to speak for him. But his great plays were all about fathers and sons: the responsibility of a father and the responsibility of a son. After Daniel Miller was born, he never really wrote about that again. I kept wondering what the effect of this was on him and what he carried with him.”

– CHARLES HAUGLAND


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