Marilyn and Arthur in Brooklyn

by_sam_shaw_01In 1955, Marilyn famously told broadcaster Dave Garroway that she hoped to retire to Brooklyn. Her friend, poet Norman Rosten, lived at Brooklyn Heights. Brooklyn was also the childhood home of playwright Arthur Miller, who became her third husband in 1956. In an article for the New York Times, Helene Stapinski explores Miller’s lifelong connections to Brooklyn.

“Miller was born in Manhattan and lived as a boy in Harlem in a spacious apartment overlooking Central Park. His father, Isidore, a Jewish émigré from Poland, owned a clothing business that allowed the family a certain level of luxury: three bathrooms, a chauffeur-driven car and a summer place in Far Rockaway.

Before the stock market crash, the business began to fail, and so, in 1928, Isidore and his wife, Augusta — Izzie and Gussie — moved the family to the borough of churches and cheap rents. After a short stint at 1277 Ocean Parkway, the Millers bought for $5,000 a six-room house on East Third Street and Avenue M in the Parkville section, a couple of blocks from Gussie’s family.

After graduating and marrying his college sweetheart, Mary Slattery, Miller returned to Brooklyn in 1940 and moved in with her and her roommates in a seven-room apartment at 62 Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights, an impressive Queen-Anne-style building.

After some financial success with All My Sons, Miller, by then the father of two children, Jane and Robert, bought a four-story brownstone at 31 Grace Court in 1947. The Millers rented out the bottom two floors to the president of the Brooklyn Savings Bank.

Death of a Salesman, which traces the last day in the failed life of an aging, regretful man, was conceived and finished on Grace Court, though the first draft was written in the family’s new country house in Roxbury, Conn., in a studio Miller built himself.

While living on Grace Court, Miller took long walks over the Brooklyn Bridge and under it, to the working docks where he noticed graffiti that said, ‘Dove Pete Panto,’ Italian for ‘Where Is Pete Panto?’

Mr. Panto had been battling the International Longshoremen’s Association, and disappeared, his body eventually turning up in New Jersey. Miller read about Mr. Panto’s case in the press and tried talking to the longies, or longshoremen, on Columbia Street in Red Hook to write a screenplay.

Miller's home at the time he first met Marilyn
Miller’s home in 1951, when he first met Marilyn

From his waterfront research, Miller wrote The Hook, a screenplay based on Mr. Panto’s life, which he pitched in Hollywood with Elia Kazan in 1951. The screenplay was never produced, but he met Marilyn Monroe on that trip west.

That same year, Miller, tired of being a landlord, sold the Grace Court house to W.E.B. Dubois. He moved with his family to their final home together at 155 Willow Street, a Federal-style, red brick house two blocks from where Truman Capote would soon live.

In his top-floor office, Miller wrote The Crucible and an early version of A View From the Bridge. Trying to be a good husband, and guilty about his feelings for Monroe, Miller installed kitchen cabinets and a tile floor in the hallway.

Miller's first wife, Mary Slattery, and their children, Bobby and Jane, remained at their Willow Street home after the divorce
Miller’s first wife, Mary Slattery, and their children, Bobby and Jane, remained at their Willow Street home after the divorce

According to Miller, the marriage was already floundering when he met Monroe. He moved from Brooklyn to Manhattan in 1955, where he spent time in a West Side brownstone and in Monroe’s Waldorf Tower apartment. They eventually moved to a house in Roxbury.

In the spring of 1956, he briefly took up residence in Nevada, divorced his wife and promptly married Monroe. Their marriage lasted five turbulent years, during which he wrote the screenplay for the film The Misfits for her.

Miller remained close to his children, who continued to live on Willow Street with their mother.

Arthur Miller's childhood home. Marilyn visited his parents there...
Arthur Miller’s childhood home. Marilyn visited his parents there…

After he married Monroe, Miller took her to meet his parents in the house where he had grown up. His sister remembers the neighborhood children climbing on one another’s shoulders to peek through the windows for a look.

‘My mother would open the window and yell at them to go away,’ Ms. Copeland said.

Though Miller moved out of New York and lived in Roxbury for the rest of his life, his work and characters still have that accent that can be found only in Brooklyn, along with particulars of the borough: the Brooklyn Paramount, the bowling alley on Flatbush Avenue, St. Agnes Church and Red Hook, ‘the gullet of New York.'”

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