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Arthur Miller testifies before Congress

The Playwright would like the rights of writers to be protected.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Playwright Arthur Miller, who a half-century ago refused to cooperate with the House’s anti-communist campaign, got a warmer reception in the Senate when he returned Wednesday to again defend the rights of fellow writers.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said he expected the 88-year-old Miller’s visit to the Capitol would be “a lot more hospitable than the last time around.”

Miller, who won the Pulitzer prize for the 1949 “Death of a Salesman,” was joined by composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim and dramatist Wendy Wasserstein in backing legislation that would allow playwrights to join to negotiate a standard form contract for their work without violating antitrust laws.

Miller said young writers, lacking the power to negotiate with theater producers, are turning to TV and other media where they can make more money. “I hate to see one of the oldest arts known to man disappear,” he told the committee.

His testimony came 48 years after he was cited for contempt for not cooperating with the House Un-American Activities Committee. He was also blacklisted by Hollywood for refusing to identify fellow artists with possible links to the Communist Party.

In 1953 he had written “The Crucible,” based on the 1692 Salem witch trials but clearly aimed at McCarthyism. In 1958 the U.S. Court of Appeals overturned his contempt conviction.

Miller’s only other appearance before Congress came in 1975, when he testified to another Senate panel about the freedom to write and the Soviet refusal to allow dissident Andrei Sakharov to travel to Norway to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

Hatch, himself a lyricist of inspirational and patriotic songs, said the bill he was sponsoring with Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., would “help ensure the continued vitality of live theater in America.”

He said playwrights, particularly young writers, are at a disadvantage in dealing with highly organized groups such as actors, directors and increasingly consolidated producers and investors.

Wasserstein said the independent voice of writers “has become more and more endangered as the ownership of the theaters and the production of plays has become increasingly dominated by corporate interests.”

But Roger Berlind, producer of such Broadway shows as “Guys and Dolls” and “Kiss Me Kate,” said freeing playwrights from antitrust laws would not be good for competition. “The essence of theatrical production is risk,” he said. “Every show is different and we want the flexibility to negotiate those things in each and every different context we face.”

Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., said he and Rep. Howard Coble, R-N.C., would soon introduce similar legislation in the House.