Miller Drops Back In
For Finley Award at CCNY Dinner
|Miller with Alumni
Association President Hon. Richard Goldberg, left, and
President Gregory Williams. Photo, Kelly Irwin
The structure of a play is always the
story of how the birds come home to roost, "Arthur
Miller once observeda highly appropriate image for
the gala 121st Annual Dinner of the City College Alumni Association
on October 3 at the Marriott Marquis in Midtown.
The image applies particularly to the seven CCNY graduates
who were returning to their campus home to enter the ranks
of the Association's Townsend Harris Medalists, but also to
Miller himself, who was present to receive the Association's
prestigious John H. Finley Award. For it so happens
that the nation's most distinguished living playwright was
a bird of extremely hasty passage at City College back in
1932, about which he reminisced poignantly in his acceptance
The Finley Award, which has been given annually for more than
fifty years, honors CCNY's third president (1903-1913), who
vigorously encouraged service to the community as the first
principle of good citizenship. The Award is made to an individual
or individuals for exemplary service to the City of New York.
The first recipients in 1948 were the Rockefeller family,
and in succeeding years it has been conferred on such figures
as Robert Moses, Roy Wilkins, Philip Johnson, Abe Beame, Beverly
Sills, and the real estate magnates Lewis and Jack Rudin.
Miller was introduced by Eli Wallach, a frequent actor in
his plays and the holder of a City College Masters in Education
(°38). "Once, during the intermission of his play, All
My Sons, I couldn't get out of my seat I was so moved,"
Wallach recalled.""He repeated that trick at the
greatest play I have seen, Death of a Salesman. . .
.We are proud that so many of your works took root in your
home town, New York City." When Miller reached the podium,
he offered the following fond memory of his severely abbreviated
college career (he later attended Michigan University):
My connection with City College
was remarkably brief! It was 1932, I believe. They wrote and
told me that I was going to be taking physics, chemistry,
and mathematicsnone of which I ever had a prayer of
learning. At the time I was working at a warehouse on 68th
Street, near where Lincoln Center is now, and I was living
way at the other end of Brooklyn. So, by the time I got to
my classes I was sleeping. This lasted three weeks.
But I do have great regard for City College, especially in
the library where I sator rather I tried to sit
but never did get a seat. Along the wall, studentsnight
school students, by the waywere standing as if they
were in the subway, holding their books in one hand and with
the other taking notes. That eagerness for learning impressed
me, even though I myself couldn't participate for more than
three weeks. I really envied those people with the determination
I just didn't have.
Still, it was a beautiful time of my life, and much later,
in the 70s, I went up to City College to view a production
of mine called A View from the Bridge, which was being
done by a group of students. The Eddie Carbone character was
played by a Korean; his wife was Jewish; the young people
were all Chinese. The cast was terrificand not one resembled
the other! I thought it was inspiring.
So I am particularly touched by this award, which comes from
a unique institution. I don't think anything like it exists
anywhere else, and I hope it will continue for a long time
introducing students to higher learning.