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|All My Sons|
|Written by||Arthur Miller|
|Setting||The Kellers' yard in late August, 1946|
||This article may contain original research. (June 2010)|
The play opened on Broadway at the Coronet Theatre in New York City on January 29, 1947, closed on November 8, 1947 and ran for 328 performances. It was directed by Elia Kazan (to whom it is dedicated) and won the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award, beating Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh. It starred Ed Begley, Beth Miller, Arthur Kennedy, and Karl Malden and won both the Tony Award for Best Author and the Tony Award for Best Direction of a Play.
Miller wrote All My Sons after his first play The Man Who Had All the Luck failed on Broadway, lasting only four performances. Miller wrote All My Sons as a final attempt at writing a commercially successful play; he vowed to "find some other line of work" if the play did not find an audience.
All My Sons is based upon a true story, which Arthur Miller's then mother-in-law pointed out in an Ohio newspaper. The story described how a woman informed on her father who had sold faulty parts to the U.S. military during World War II.
Henrik Ibsen's influence on Miller is evidenced from the Ibsen play The Wild Duck, where Miller took the idea of two partners in a business where one is forced to take moral and legal responsibility for the other. This is mirrored in All My Sons. He also borrowed the idea of a character’s idealism being the source of a problem.
The criticism of the American Dream, which lies at the heart of All My Sons, was one reason why Arthur Miller was called to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee during the 1950s, when America was gripped by anti-communist hysteria. Miller sent a copy of the play to Elia Kazan who directed the original stage version of All My Sons. Kazan was a former member of the Communist Party who shared Miller's left-wing views. However, their relationship was destroyed when Kazan gave names of suspected Communists to the House Un-American Activities Committee during the Red Scare.
Joe Keller - Joe, 61, was exonerated after being charged with shipping damaged plane cylinder heads (for P-40s) out of his factory during WWII, inadvertently causing the deaths of 21 pilots. For three and a half years he has placed the blame on his partner and former neighbor, Steve Deever. When the truth comes out, Joe justifies his actions by claiming that he did it for his family. At the end of the play he kills himself in a sad attempt to rid his family of the problems he has caused them and perhaps also to stop Kate from hating him.
Kate Keller (Mother) - Kate knows that Joe is guilty but lives in denial while mourning for her younger son Larry, who has been MIA for three years. She refuses to believe that Larry is dead and maintains that Ann Deever - who returns for a visit at the request of Larry's brother Chris - is still "Larry's girl" and also believes that he is coming back.
Chris Keller – Chris, 32, returned home from World War II two years before the play begins, disturbed by the realization that the world was continuing as if nothing had happened. He has summoned Ann Deever to the Keller house in order to ask her hand in marriage, but they're faced with the obstacle of Kate's unreasonable conviction that Larry will someday return. Chris's idolization of his father results in his devastation when he finds out the truth about what Joe did.
Ann Deever - Ann, 26, arrives at the Keller home having shunned their 'guilty' father since his imprisonment. Throughout the play, Ann is often referred to as pretty, beautiful, and intelligent-looking and as "Annie". She had a relationship with Larry Keller before his disappearance, and has since moved on because she knows the truth of his fate. She hopes that the Kellers will consent to her marriage with Larry's brother, Chris, with whom she has corresponded by mail for two years. Ann soon finds out that the neighbors all believe that Joe is guilty, and eventually finds out the truth after a visit from her older brother George. Ann is the knowledge-bearer in the play: finally, unable to convince Kate that Larry is gone forever, Ann reveals a letter from Larry stating his intention to commit suicide having heard of his father’s imprisonment.
George Deever – George, 31, is Ann’s older brother: a successful New York lawyer and WWII veteran, and a childhood friend of Chris. He initially believed in his father’s guilt, but upon visiting Steve in jail, realizes his innocence and becomes enraged at the Kellers for deceiving him. He returns to save his sister from her marriage to Chris, creating the catalyst that destroys the Keller family.
Jim Bayliss – Jim is a successful doctor, but is frustrated with the stifling domesticity of his life. He wants to become a medical researcher, but continues in his job as it pays the bills. He is a close friend to the Keller family and spends a lot of time in their backyard.
Sue Bayliss - Sue is Jim's wife: needling and dangerous but affectionate, she too is a friend of the Keller family, but is secretly resentful of what she sees as Chris's bad idealistic influence on Jim. Sue confronts Ann about her resentment of Chris in a particularly volatile scene, revealing to Ann that the neighbors all think Joe is guilty.
Frank Lubey – Frank, 32, was always one year ahead of the draft, so he never served in World War II, instead staying home to marry George's former sweetheart, Lydia. He draws up Larry's horoscope and tells Kate that Larry must still be alive, because the day he died was meant to be his 'favorable day.' This strengthens Kate's faith and makes it much harder for Ann to reveal the letter to her.
Lydia Lubey - Lydia, 27, was George's love interest before the war; after he went away, she married Frank and they quickly had three children. She is a model of peaceful domesticity and lends a much-needed cheerful air to several moments of the play.
Bert – Bert is a little boy who lives in the neighborhood; he is friends with the Bayliss' son Tommy and frequently visits the Kellers' yard to play "jail" with Joe. He only appears twice in the play. The first time he appears, his part seems pretty unimportant, but the second time he appears his character gets more important as he sparks a verbal attack from mother when mentioning "jail," which highlights Joe's secret.
Larry Keller - Larry has been MIA for some years at the start of the play, however he has an effect in the play through his mother's insistence that he is still alive and his brother's love for his childhood sweetheart. Comparisons are made in the story between Larry and Chris with their father describing Larry as the more sensible one with a "head" for business. At the end of the play, Ann reveals a letter written by Larry pronouncing him committing suicide out of shame for what his father did.
Steve Deever - ("Herbert Deever" in the 1948 movie) George and Ann's father. Steve is sent to prison for the shipping of faulty parts - a crime which he and the successfully exonerated Keller committed.
Deever does appear in the 1948 film, in an additional scene not found in the play. In this scene, Chris goes to visit Steve in prison, where Steve reveals the truth about what Joe Keller did.
In August 1946 Joe Keller, a self-made businessman, is visited by neighbor, Frank. At the request of Kate, Joe's wife, Frank is trying to figure out the horoscope of the Kellers' missing son Larry, who disappeared three years ago. While Kate still believes Larry is coming back, the Kellers' other son Chris believes otherwise. Furthermore, Chris wishes to propose to Ann Deever, who was Larry's girlfriend at the time he went missing and who has been corresponding with Chris for two years. Joe and Kate react to this news with shock but are interrupted by Bert, the neighbor boy next door. When Bert brings up the jail Kate reacts sharply. After Ann Deever enters, it is revealed that Ann's father, Steve Deever, is in prison for selling cracked cylinder heads to the Air Force, causing twenty-one planes to crash. Joe was his partner but was exonerated of the crime. Ann admits that neither she nor her brother keep in touch with their father anymore and wonders aloud whether this was responsible for Larry's death. After a heated argument Chris breaks in and later proposes to Ann, who says yes. Chris also reveals that, while leading a company, he lost all his men and is experiencing survivor's guilt. Meanwhile, Joe receives a phone call from George, Ann's brother, who is coming there to settle something.
While Chris avoids telling his mom about the engagement, their next door neighbor Sue emerges and reveals that everyone on the block still thinks Joe is guilty. Shortly thereafter George arrives and reveals that he has just been to visit his father. Steve Deever had been told by Joe to cover up the cracked cylinders and send them out; Joe is equally guilty of the crime. George insists Ann will not marry Chris, son of the man who destroyed their family. Joe and the rest of the family deny this, but Kate reveals that Joe hasn't been sick in fifteen years. Since Joe's story was that the flu laid him up on that fateful day, George attacks them once more. Frank comes in with the horoscope, which implies that Larry is alive, which is just what Kate wants to hear. Chris, however, is furious at his father despite Joe's explanations that he was merely building a business for his sons.
Chris has gone missing. Kate, having finally believed the accusations, tells Joe that should Chris come back, Joe must turn himself in. Joe, who only made money because his family wanted to, is stunned at how they are turning on him. Ann emerges soon after and reveals to Kate that she has a letter from Larry. She hadn't wanted to share it, but she knows that Kate must face reality. In the letter, Larry confesses that he plans to kill himself because of his father's guilt. With this final blow, Joe says he'll turn himself in, goes inside to get his coat, then kills himself with a gunshot to the head. At the end, Chris reveals this, and Kate tells him to not blame himself.
The precise date of events in the play are unclear, however it is possible to construct a timeline of the back-story to All My Sons using the dialogue of the play. The play is set in August 1946, in the mid-west of the USA with the main story set between Sunday morning and a little after two o'clock the following morning.
Arthur Miller’s writing in All My Sons often shows great respect for the great Grecian tragedies of the likes of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides. In these plays the tragic hero or protagonist will commit an offence, often unknowingly, which will return to haunt him, sometimes many years later. The play encapsulates all the fallout from the offense into a 24 hour time span. During that day, the protagonist must learn his fault and suffer as a result, and perhaps even die. In this way the gods are shown to be just and moral order is restored. In All My Sons, these elements are all present; it takes place within a 24 hour period, has a protagonist suffering from a previous offense, and punishment for that offense. Additionally, it explores the father-son relationship, also a common theme in Grecian tragedies. Ann Deever could also be seen to parallel a messenger as her letter is proof of Larry's death.
In Joe Keller, Arthur Miller creates just a representative type. Joe is a very ordinary man, decent, hard-working and charitable, a man no-one could dislike. But, like the protagonist of the ancient drama, he has a flaw or weakness. This, in turn, causes him to act wrongly. He is forced to accept responsibility - his suicide is necessary to restore the moral order of the universe, and allows his son, Chris, to live free from guilt and persecution. Arthur Miller later uses the everyman in a criticism of the American Dream in Death of a Salesman, which is in many ways similar to All My Sons.
At the start of Arthur Miller's Collected Plays he commented on his feelings on watching an audience's reaction to a performance of his first successful play:
The success of a play, especially one's first success, is somewhat like pushing against a door which is suddenly opened from the other side. One may fall on one's face or not, but certainly a new room is opened that was always securely shut until then. For myself, the experience was invigorating. It made it possible to dream of daring more and risking more. The audience sat in silence before the unwinding of All My Sons and gasped when they should have, and I tasted that power which is reserved, I imagine, for playwrights, which is to know that by one's invention a mass of strangers has been publicly transfixed.
- Arthur Miller describing an audience's reaction to All My Sons
In 1948, All My Sons was turned into a film. Edward G. Robinson played Joe Keller, Burt Lancaster Chris Keller, Mady Christians Kate Keller, and Louisa Horton Ann Deever. It was directed by Irving Reis and gained two award nominations, Best Written American Drama and The Robert Meltzer Award for the film's co-writer Chester Erskine.
In 1987, All My Sons was made into a made-for-TV film. This version is more faithful to Arthur Miller's original play than the 1948 film version. The main roles are James Whitmore who plays Joe Keller, Aidan Quinn is Chris Keller, Michael Learned as Kate Keller and Joan Allen who plays Ann Deever. This version was directed by Jack O'Brien. Unlike the 1948 version, this version refers to George's father as Steve as in the play rather than Herb or Herbert.
In 1950, Lux Radio Theater broadcast a radio play of All My Sons with Burt Lancaster as Joe. The play was adapted by S. H. Barnett and, in an interesting twist, featured the character of Steve Deever in a speaking role.
In 1958, the play was adapted for television by Stanley Mann and directed by Cliff Owen. This production starred Albert Dekker as Joe Keller, Megs Jenkins as Kate Keller, Patrick McGoohan as Chris Keller and Betta St. John as Ann Deever.
In 1987, the Broadway Revival of All My Sons won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play starring Richard Kiley ( Tony Award Nominee Best Actor in a Play), Joyce Ebert, Jamey Sheridan (Tony Award Nominee Best Featured Actor in a Play) and Jayne Atkinson. It was produced by Jay H. Fuchs and Steven Warnick in association with Charles Patsos. It was originally produced by The Long Wharf Theatre (M. Edgar Rosenblum, Executive Director, Arvin Brown, Artistic Director). The production was directed by Arvin Brown, scenic design by Hugh Landwehr, costume design by Bill Walker, lighting design by Ronald Wallace. It opened on April 22, 1987 at the John Golden Theatre and closed May 17, 1987.
A Broadway revival began previews at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre on September 18, 2008 and officially opened on October 16, 2008. The limited engagement ran through until January 4, 2009. Official site
The production starred Tony Award winner John Lithgow, Academy Award winner Dianne Wiest, Tony Award nominee Patrick Wilson, and Katie Holmes, in her Broadway debut. The other featured actors were Becky Ann Baker, Christian Camargo, Jordan Gelber, Danielle Ferland, Damian Young, and Michael D'Addario. It was directed by Simon McBurney. According to his biography, McBurney's "work on the production of All My Sons grew out of a meeting with Arthur Miller in 2001, shortly after the playwright saw the New York premiere of Mnemonic."
The creative team consisted of scenic and costume design by Tony Award nominee Tom Pye, lighting design by Paul Anderson, sound design by Christopher Shutt and Carolyn Downing, projection design by Finn Ross, and wig and hair design by Paul Huntley.
Some controversy surrounded the production, as the internet group Anonymous staged an anti-Scientology protest at the first night of preview performances in New York City (due to cast member Katie Holmes).
The cast dedicated their performance on September 27 to the legendary actor, Paul Newman, who died the day before.
David Suchet and Zoë Wanamaker (both stars of the British TV series Agatha Christie's Poirot) starred in a revival production at the Apollo Theatre in London's West End. Suchet played Joe Keller and Wanamaker played his wife Kate. The production also featured Jemima Rooper as Ann Deever and Stephen Campbell Moore as Chris Keller. The show ran from May until September 11, 2010.
NAPA in collaboration with National Bank of Pakistan presented an Urdu adaptation of the play by Babar Jamal and directed by Rahat Kazmi starring Talat Hussain at Art Council of Pakistan, Karachi
Running from October 22nd thru December 18th, this production, directed by Cameron Watson, includes a multi-racial cast featuring Alex Morris, Ann Gee Byrd, A.K. Murkadha, Linda Park, James Hiroyuki Liao, Anita Barone, Taylor Nichols, Maritxell Carrero and Armand Vasquez.
Trivia: In 1950, the stock units from the "Kellar home" sound stage sets were reconstructed on the new Colonial Street. In 1964, Universal studios tour guides called the sets the "house used in the movie Desperate Hours (1955)" (Kellar home). The home was used in the TV Series "Delta House" (1979). Today the sets are located on Wisteria Lane - 4347 Wisteria Lane.