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It’s no secret that sex sells—but that doesn’t mean other topics can’t be hits as well. LIFE’s theater critics were well aware of that fact when reviewing Arthur Miller’s Tony-winning play Death of a Salesman in 1949. The play about a failed salesman, Willy Loman, was met with rave reviews from the get-go, and the theater-going public flocked to see it despite, LIFE noted, its utterly non-salacious themes:
Miller’s play, to this day seen by many as a crowning achievement in theater, took home five awards at the 1949 Tonys (one for Best Play and one each for Miller, director Elia Kazan, star Arthur Kennedy and set designer Jo Mielziner). This was only the third year of the annual award show, and as was tradition until the late 1950s, Salesman won the award for Best Play without any other nominees in the running.
The decorated play was been revived four times on Broadway, with three revivals, including the most recent, in 2012, winning the Tony for Best Revival or Reproduction.
Liz Ronk, who edited this gallery, is the Photo Editor for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter @lizabethronk.