This Day In Writing History
On January 22nd, 1953, The Crucible, the classic play by the legendary American playwright Arthur Miller, opened on Broadway at the Martin Beck Theatre, now known as the Al Hirschfeld Theatre.
Although the play is set in the 17th century during the time of the witch hunts in Salem, Massachusetts, it was actually a scathing allegorical satire of a modern witch hunt being conducted against alleged communists and communist sympathizers at the time the play was written.
The anticommunist witch hunts were conducted by the House Unamerican Activities Committee (HUAC) under the direction of Joseph McCarthy, the notorious Republican senator from Wisconsin who would later be censured for his outrageous and illegal conduct.
Arthur Miller was inspired to write The Crucible by what happened to his close friend, the legendary film director Elia Kazan, who faced the Hollywood Blacklist after he was accused of being a communist.
Brought before the HUAC to testify, Kazan, wishing to avoid being blacklisted, informed on several of his friends, including legendary playwright Lillian Hellman and actor John Garfield.
Kazan avoided the Hollywood Blacklist, but his reputation would take a huge hit. He was rightfully considered a rat willing to ruin the lives of others for the sake of his own self interest. Miller didn't speak to him for ten years.
The Crucible opens with Reverend Samuel Parris, the unpopular minister of Salem's church, (he is disliked because of his greedy and domineering nature) praying over his daughter Betty, who had fainted after being caught in the forest allegedly practicing witchcraft, along with Parris' niece, 17-year-old Abigail Williams, and some other girls.
John Proctor, an honorable married farmer, enters the room and is left alone with Abigail, who tries unsuccessfully to seduce him. He had an affair with Abigail when she worked as his maid, but he regretted it and broke it off.
Reverend John Hale, a respected minister and self-proclaimed expert on the occult, is summoned to look into the incident of alleged witchcraft. Abigail accuses her uncle's slave, Tituba, of being a witch.
Afraid of being hanged and threatened with a beating, Tituba accuses two other women of being witches. Betty awakens, and she and Abigail accuse a list of people of practicing witchcraft.
In the second act, John Proctor's wife, Elizabeth, urges him to expose Abigail as a liar. Proctor tells her that he can't prove that Abigail is lying because they were alone together when she admitted it.
The fact that they were alone together again upsets Elizabeth. Proctor sees her reaction as an accusation that he has resumed his affair with Abigail and they have an argument. Later, the Proctors' new maid, Mary, arrives and tells them that she will be absent while she performs her duties as a newly appointed court official.
Thirty-nine people have now been arrested and charged with witchcraft. John Proctor is angry that the court is condemning people to death without any solid evidence that they're guilty of the crime. Elizabeth makes a prophetic prediction that Abigail will falsely accuse her of witchcraft so she can marry John.
When Elizabeth is later arrested and charged with witchcraft, John tells Mary that she must testify against Abigail, because she can prove that Abigail is a liar. Mary is afraid of testifying for fear that Abigail and her friends will accuse her of being a witch.
Proctor meets Abigail in the woods. She tries to seduce him again, but he pushes her away and demands that she take back her accusation against his wife. She refuses.
In the third act, during the trial, which is presided over by a sadistic, coldhearted, and ignorant judge, Mary is brought in to testify against Abigail, who, along with her friends, puts on an act, pretending to be in the throes of a spell.
Finally, Proctor can stand no more. He admits his affair with Abigail and accuses her of being a whore. Elizabeth denies that her husband had an affair in a misguided attempt to save his good name.
Abigail and her friends continue their act, pretending to see a bird that Mary conjured to attack them. Mary, fearful of being accused of witchcraft, then accuses John Proctor of the crime. He's arrested, and Reverend Hale quits the court in protest.
The fourth act begins with Proctor in jail and Reverend Parris revealing to the judge and the deputy governor that his niece Abigail and her friend Mercy are not only liars, but thieves as well. The authorities are unsympathetic. They send Elizabeth to get John to confess to witchcraft to save his life.
Elizabeth forgives him for the affair and he agrees to confess, but when he learns that his confession will be nailed to the church for all to see, thus ruining the names of many innocent people, he tears up the document and refuses to confess. The play ends with Proctor being taken to the gallows to hang.
Ironically, a few years after The Crucible debuted on Broadway. Arthur Miller found himself a victim of the very witch hunts he had satirized in his play.
In 1956, Miller applied to have his passport renewed, and the HUAC took advantage of it to subpoena him and make him testify about his leftist political activities. Miller told the committee he would testify to his own activities if they didn't ask him to denounce other people. The chairman agreed.
Miller appeared before the HUAC and kept his part of the deal, providing them with a detailed account of his own political activities. The committee then reneged on the chairman's promise and demanded that he give them the names of friends and colleagues who participated in similar activities.
He refused to comply. As a result, in May of 1957, a judge found Arthur Miller guilty of contempt of Congress. He was fined $500, sentenced to 30 days in jail, blacklisted, and denied a renewal of his passport.
Fortunately, Miller's conviction was overturned on appeal. The appeals court ruled that Miller had been deliberately misled by the HUAC chairman and tricked into incriminating himself, a violation of his fifth amendment rights.
That wasn't the only dirty trick employed by Senator Joseph McCarthy and the HUAC. Guilt by association was another tactic. If the accused's relatives and / or friends were communists, he was guilty as well, or he would have had nothing to do with them.
Worst of all, when McCarthy could find no evidence to prove his mostly false and slanderous accusations of communism, he simply manufactured it, creating doctored photographs, films, and recordings.
In December of 1954, by a vote of 67-22, McCarthy was censured by the Senate for his unethical and illegal conduct. Though he would continue to perform his general duties as a Senator for the next two and a half years, his political career was ruined.
McCarthy was shunned by almost all his fellow Senators. Whenever he gave a speech on the Senate floor, the other Senators would immediately leave the floor rather than listen to him.
Stripped of power and haunted by his fate, McCarthy drank himself to death, dying in May of 1957 at the age of 48. The House Unamerican Activities Committee would become the House Committee on Internal Security in 1969 and finally be abolished in 1975.
Quote Of The Day
"A play is made by sensing how the forces in life simulate ignorance - you set free the concealed irony, the deadly joke." - Arthur Miller
Today's video features Arthur Miller talking about his battle with the House Unamerican Activities Committee on Canadian TV in 1971. Enjoy!