‘Fellow Travelers’ in the Hamptons

Fellow Travelers, Jack Canfora’s new play about Marilyn, Arthur Miller, Elia Kazan and the Hollywood Blacklist, has opened at the Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor, NY to glowing reviews – although Monroe fans may prefer to judge for themselves…

“While Monroe is not central to the moral issue at stake here, she is an integral part of the two men’s lives. She had a long affair and friendship with Kazan, and she fell in love with Miller even though he was married. The tabloids gorged on her short marriage to Joe DiMaggio, her surprising liaison with Miller, his ‘quickie’ divorce, and finally, their five-year marriage.

Today Monroe is an iconic touchstone of the era. We know her all-too-human story, her emotional wounds, her breathy voice, her luscious body. Ms. Hewitt in a blonde wig does a boffo job of portraying that Marilyn with warm earthiness, touching grace and surprising self-awareness.

Though some might cavil that her part is underwritten, she was not faced with the moral question of betrayal for art. Nor is she the Greek chorus here, for she does not comment on the action but rather lives in it. Her relationships with Kazan and Miller demonstrate how acts of great consequence do not occur singularly alone …

Indeed, Marilyn is necessary here, for she is the force who brought the former friends together in 1963, though they would never be great pals again.” – Lorraine Dusky, 27East

Marilyn (Rachel Spencer Hewitt) with Kazan (Vince Nappo) and Miller (Wayne Alan Wilcox)
Recreating the infamous 1951 meeting with Columbia’s Harry Cohn (Mark Blum)

“Playing icon Marilyn Monroe in a movie or play is always a tall order, but Rachel Spencer Hewitt measured up to the task and took her performance to a high level. The sexy aspects that made Marilyn Monroe along with some shockingly blunt dialogue again kept the audience captured in the story.

Fellow Travelers is an important play because it deals with a dark time in our nation’s history. A time with congressional hearings on ‘Un-American Activities’, and blacklists and betrayals to friends, and in some cases, to the country. Fellow Travelers is a hit because it is a great script that comes to life with excellent acting and wonderful directing.” – T.J. Clemente, Hamptons Theater Review

“As Monroe, Rachel Spencer Hewitt holds back on the bombshell we know so well, instead showing us a troubled woman coming to terms with her public perception … While dialogue drags at times, the play offers illuminating glimpses of the creative genius of Miller and Kazan.” – Barbara Schuler, Newsday

“The cast is exemplary … Hewitt is a strong presence as Monroe, and later as Barbara Loden, Kazan’s second wife, who then portrays the Marilyn character, Maggie, in Miller’s After The Fall, directed by Kazan.” – Bridget LeRoy, Hampton Independent

“Among the top-notch cast is Rachel Spencer Hewitt strongly portraying Marilyn Monroe. Fans of the starlet will appreciate how Ms. Hewitt doesn’t necessarily copy Monroe’s famous public persona, but cleverly infuses her own take on the role.” – Melissa Giordano, Broadway World

“With the play’s punchy, often vulgar dialogue, Mr. Canfora wrings genuine conflict and emotion from his two talented and driven characters … But in a production with so many excellent performances, it is no small compliment to say that Rachel Spencer Hewitt, as Marilyn, makes the play her own. So iconic is Monroe — and so caricatured in popular culture — that there may be no more treacherous role for an actress to play. Just on sheer guts, one must tip his hat to Ms. Hewitt for trying.

But the actress does much more than that, with a portrayal that captures both the iconic Marilyn and the tender and innocent woman she most likely hid from the world. In Fellow Travelers, we get a Marilyn on the cusp, both world-weary and yet still hopeful about her career and the possibility of love. After her divorce from Miller, she would never be quite the same.

While the play hardly absolves Kazan, there is at least the desire to understand him. And just when Miller’s saintly posturing grows tiresome, Mr. Canfora has both Kazan and Harry Cohn take pithy potshots at the playwright’s sanctimony.

But it’s Marilyn Monroe who, even in death at play’s end, gets the last word. Just as her image bedeviled millions of filmgoers (and continues to do so), so did she loom in the minds of Miller and Kazan; neither ever really got over her. Thanks to a great performance by Ms. Hewitt and the tender writing of Mr. Canfora, she ultimately dominates Fellow Travelers as well.” – Kurt Wenzel, East Hampton Star

Carl Rollyson on ‘Arthur Miller: Writer’

Carl Rollyson, author of Marilyn Monroe: A Life of the Actress, has set out his thoughts on Arthur Miller: Writer, the new documentary made by Miller’s daughter Rebecca, now on HBO in the US.

“It is a remarkable revelation of the man, but it is also a very limited view. How could it not be? It is his daughter’s film , and she could not, for example, bring herself to interview him about his institutionalized Down’s syndrome son. The film is really a memoir, and not a biography.

But I am going to concentrate on the treatment of Marilyn Monroe. For the most part, she is treated as rather pitiful, with Miller spending his time propping her up. He wrote very little while married to her but does not mention the countless hours locked away in a room trying to write. More importantly, he gives a very distorted view of what happened during the shooting of The Misfits. He says she doubted she could perform in a serious role. This is a staggering lie, or an example of self-delusion. Monroe was upset about the script and was shut out from the Miller-Huston deliberations about how to fix it. She wasn’t happy that her husband was treating her as a myth, not a real person. If he was going to give her lines that she actually had spoken, then he was obligated to give the full context in which such lines were spoken.

The most telling moment occurs earlier when Miller mentions Elia Kazan as telling him what a great play Death of a Salesman was. Kazan may have been the first one to say so to Miller. Miller trusted Kazan’s judgment and his sincerity. But when it comes to The Misfits, Miller does not mention the letter [Elia] Kazan sent him detailing the faults with the character of Roslyn that Monroe had to play. And those faults were exactly the ones Monroe had identified.

Another telling moment in the film is when Tony Kushner analyzes After the Fall and says Miller was afraid of Monroe. Just so, she had a much more capacious sensibility than he did, and he did not know how to respond to her. The same is true with Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath. When she died, Hughes said, ‘It was her or me.’ In both cases, these men simply could not come up to the level of their wives, and afterwards suggested that was because the wives were doomed. And that is the impression Miller conveys in his daughter’s film.”

A ‘Loving Portrait’ of Marilyn and Arthur

The Millers in New York, by Sam Shaw (1957)

Sophie Gilbert has praised Arthur Miller: Writer as a ‘loving portrait‘ in her review for The Atlantic. Rebecca Miller’s new documentary can now be viewed by HBO subscribers in the US (I will update this blog when it becomes more widely available.)

Arthur Miller: Writer is a family portrait defined by intimacy with its subject, captured in footage the filmmaker first started shooting in her 20s. The movie’s at its most intriguing when it’s parsing the strangeness of being closely related to someone so celebrated, who put so much of his life in his work. Rebecca’s sister, Jane, recalls how, conversing with her father when she was younger, ‘There were times when he was only interested in something because he could use it.’

It’s a surprise, though, how warm and goofy Miller is in scenes with his daughter, as she captures him working on carpentry projects in his studio in Connecticut or reminiscing in his kitchen. Rebecca Miller, when the camera turns to her, watches him intently, with palpable affection.

Monroe, Miller’s second wife, is a substantial part of the film, although not an overwhelming one. It’s almost as though Rebecca Miller feels reluctant to probe too deeply into her father’s romantic life, even though he himself laid much of it bare in the 1964 play After the Fall. (‘The best work that anybody ever writes is the work that is on the verge of embarrassing him,’ Miller says in one interview.) When Miller and Monroe were first introduced in 1951 he recalled telling her that she was the saddest girl he’d ever met—a line he later put into The Misfits, a film he wrote for her to star in. Their marriage captivated America, given the unlikely union of a brilliant intellect and an incandescent movie star.

But Miller seemed to comprehend the pain within Monroe, who forged a bond with her new father-in-law that lasted until her death. ‘She couldn’t really gain for herself the confidence she had to have to do this,’ Miller tells his daughter. Then he sits, silently, for what feels like minutes, his face distorted with pain. ‘Terrible,’ he says. ‘Well.'”

Rewriting History: Marilyn, Arthur and #MeToo

In the wake of last year’s revelations about sexual abuse in Hollywood, Marilyn’s own experiences have often been cited as historical precedent. While she certainly did experience sexual harassment, it’s notable that she managed to succeed without recourse to the fabled ‘casting couch.’ She resisted Harry Cohn’s advances; was a friend but not a mistress to Joe Schenck; and her relationship with Johnny Hyde was based on real affection. As for Darryl F. Zanuck – perhaps the most significant Hollywood figure in her career – they were never close, and Zanuck himself admitted that Marilyn’s triumphs were of her own creation.

In a new article for the Daily Beast, Maria Dahvana Headley turns her attention to Arthur Miller, claiming that he ‘smeared’ Marilyn and ‘invented the myth of the male witch hunt.’ She begins with his 1952 play, The Crucible, based on the Salem witch trials of 1692, but widely perceived as an allegory for the contemporary ‘red-baiting’ crusade by the House Un-American Activities Committee, in which Arthur would later be implicated – but ultimately exonerated.

Arthur and Marilyn first met in 1951, when he was still married. There was a strong attraction between them, and they corresponded intermittently thereafter. Headley is not the first to argue that the adulterous affair between the teenage Abigail Williams and John Proctor might have been inspired by his conflicted feelings for Marilyn – Barbara Leaming also suggested this in her 1999 biography, Marilyn Monroe. Many historians have pointed out that Miller’s depiction of these protagonists is not accurate – Abigail was still a child, and there was no affair with Proctor. This mooted association between Abigail and Marilyn is purely speculative, however, and Miller would hardly be the first playwright to fictionalise events. (For a factual account of the trials, I can recommend Stacy Schiff’s The Witches.)

But Headley goes further still, conflating the story of Arthur rubbing Marilyn’s feet at a Hollywood party (as later told by Marilyn to her acting coach, Natasha Lytess) with an incident noted in the Salem court reports that inspired The Crucible, of Abigail touching Proctor’s hood and then becoming hysterical, crying out that her hands were burning. ‘Women, unless they are very devout and very old, The Crucible tells us, are unreliable and changeable,’ Headley writes. ‘They’re jealous. They’re vengeful. They’re confused about sex and about love. They might, given very little provocation, ruin the life of a good man, and everything else in the world too.’

Headley is on firmer ground with her interpretation of After the Fall, Miller’s 1964 play which featured a self-destructive singer, Maggie, who marries lawyer Quentin – a relationship widely acknowledged to be based on Arthur’s marriage to Marilyn (though he seemingly remained in denial.) ‘Maggie uses sex to bewitch Quentin out of his marriage to the long-suffering Louise,’ Headley writes, ‘marries him herself, and then becomes a catastrophe. By the end of the play, Quentin is wrestling a bottle of pills out of her hand. She drains their bank accounts, uses all of his energy for her own career, and demands endless love.’

This is a harsh portrayal of Marilyn, and many felt that Miller went too far. However, it is not without compassion. By focusing on the real-life parallels, Headley sidelines the broader themes of both plays. The Crucible was about the persecution of innocents for imaginary crimes, and After the Fall was, at least partly, a reckoning with the Holocaust (as well as Arthur’s own guilt over Marilyn’s death.) While the victims of the Salem witch hunts were mostly women, it is not surprising that Miller would identify more closely with a male protagonist. And the horrors of his own time – the holocaust, and HUAC – claimed both men and women.

In his final work, Finishing the Picture, Arthur revisited the troubled production of The Misfits. ‘She’s ceased to be the sex goddess she’s supposed to be,’ Headley says of Kitty, the Marilyn-figure in the play. ‘Instead, she is once again a naked girl in the woods, glimpsed running from the rest of the story, and in her flight, she makes everyone around her miserable … In Miller’s final statement on the matter, she’s what the world might become if a woman wanted too much consideration.’

In November 2017, Anna Graham Hunter accused actor Dustin Hoffman of sexually harassing her as a 17 year-old intern on the set of Death of a Salesman, the 1985 TV adaptation of Miller’s most famous play. According to the Hollywood Reporter, film director Volker Schlondorff responded with the glib remark that ‘I wish Arthur Miller was around, he would find the right words, but then he might get accused of sexually molesting Marilyn Monroe.’ Since then, other women have come forward with allegations against Hoffman. Whatever Schlondorff may believe, it’s impossible to know what Arthur would have made of the scandal, but it’s worth remembering that he reportedly disliked Hoffman’s performance in the prior stage production, although it had won a Tony award for Best Revival.

Anna Graham Hunter’s story needs to be heard, as do countless other victims of predatory men. In Marilyn’s case, however, there’s a danger of rewriting history. While Headley’s literary critique is valid and interesting, her attempt to recast Miller as an abuser of women is grossly unfair.

‘After the Fall’ in Albuquerque

Arthur Miller’s controversial play, After the Fall, features a thinly-veiled portrait of his marriage to Marilyn (although he always denied this.) A new revival at the Aux Dog Theatre in Albuquerque, New Mexico, directed by James Candy and starring Sheridan K. Johnson, makes the allusion explicit – even putting Marilyn on the playbill, which is bound to attract the curious.

“‘It is no secret that Quentin is Miller and Maggie is Monroe,’ says Cady, ‘even though Miller himself insisted it was no more biographical than anything else he wrote. The presence of the character Maggie is so clearly the ultimate female sex symbol and icon that was Marilyn Monroe, his ex-wife. She had died two years before the play opened in 1964.’

In the play, Quentin is courting Holga, a German woman still struggling with her experiences during World War II. He questions his own ability to truly connect with the women in his life as he tries to decide the future of their relationship. The scenes with Holga take place in the present. However, the memories of his mother, father, brother, clients, partners and friends reassert themselves in his mind where most of the play occurs. They recede and re-emerge as Quentin proceeds from one thought/memory to another in a stream-of-consciousness. The most prominent memory is of his second wife, Maggie, and the dissolution of their marriage. Quentin understands that after the fall from Eden, no one is innocent and, finally, all we are left with are questions – and memories that haunt us forever.

The play implies a search for understanding of ‘responsibility’ toward Monroe, of her inability to cope, and of his failure to help her. ‘But more than that’, says Cady, ‘he must deal with the ultimate question – Can anyone ever help anyone, anywhere—anymore?'”

Conversations With Arthur Miller

miller conversations

The centennial of Arthur Miller’s birth falls this Saturday, October 17. Perhaps more revered in Britain than the US, the playwright will be honoured this week with two dedicated programmes on BBC Radio 4: The Life and Times of Arthur Miller, a play focusing on his early years; and Attention Must Be Paid, a documentary presented by his biographer, Christopher Bigsby.

Additionally, Conversations With Miller – originally published in 2002 – is being reissued. Here’s the blurb:

“Published to mark the centenary of Arthur Miller’s birth, this new edition of Conversations of Miller features a new Foreword by Richard Eyre, former Artistic Director of the National Theatre, and an Afterword by publisher Nick Hern, in which both reflect on their own conversations with America’s greatest playwright.

New York Times drama critic Mel Gussow first met Arthur Miller in 1963 during rehearsals of After the Fall, the play inspired by Miller’s marriage to Marilyn Monroe. They then met regularly over the following forty years.

Conversations with Miller records what was discussed at more than a dozen of these meetings. In the book, the author of Death of a Salesman, A View from the Bridge and The Crucible is astonishingly candid about everything from the personal to the political: his successes and disappointments in theatre, his role as an advocate of human rights, his staunch resistance to the United States Congressional witch hunts of the 1950s. He also speaks forthrightly about his relationship with Monroe.

Personal, wise and often very funny, the result is a revealing self-portrait of one of the giants of twentieth-century literature, who was both a ‘regular guy’ and a fiercely original writer and thinker.”

Liz Smith on Kazan, Miller, and Marilyn

Photo by Inge Morath
Photo by Inge Morath

Liz Smith, ‘the grande dame of dish’, has shared her thoughts on Elia Kazan’s recently-published letter about Marilyn in her latest syndicated piece – and it’s a doozy. You can read it in full here.

“The cruel irony/P.S. to this is that Kazan, after years of estrangement with Arthur Miller, would collaborate with him again, mounting one of (I think) the worst moments in American theater history — Miller’s play After the Fall. This was Miller’s confession/denunciation of Monroe as a castrating, self-destructive witch, from whom he had to escape. That Monroe was two years dead and unable to defend herself appeared of no interest to her ex-husband or her ex-lover. Miller’s pretense that the ‘Maggie’ of his play was not Monroe — or his version of her — compounded the insult. Marilyn’s good friend, author James Baldwin, walked out of After the Fall, so furious was he over Miller’s characterization of her. (The star, Barbara Loden was costumed, bewigged and given the appropriate Monroe-like gestures, in case anybody didn’t quite get it.)

THOSE who disliked Arthur Miller — and there were many — found some satisfaction in the fact that After the Fall was his last success. He would wallow in epilogue and various variations on Marilyn for the rest of his life.

Miller’s inactivity as a writer — except for his tedious screenplay for The Misfits — was often blamed on Marilyn. He himself said it. But right after the Miller/Monroe divorce, columnist Max Lerner opined that it was less likely that Monroe had constricted Miller, but that he had sought her out precisely because he had run out of material.

Several weeks before her death, an interviewer faced Marilyn with Lerner’s observation. Did she have a comment? She paused, and then said: ‘If I answer, will you promise to repeat my quote in its entirety?’

The writer said yes.

Marilyn replied: ‘No comment.’

This is the only thing Marilyn Monroe ever said criticizing a husband — or anybody else in public life for that matter. She was, as Kazan noted, ‘not vicious.’ And it is an indication of her agony, being blamed for the failures of a man she literally saved; standing with him and risking her own career as he was grilled by The House Un-American Activities Committee, in the matter of his youthful communist flirtations.

Miller and Kazan left that Marilyn out of After the Fall.”

Elia Kazan’s Private Letters

Kazan Letters

The Selected Letters of Elia Kazan, due to be published on April 22, has been excerpted in the Hollywood Reporter. One of the letters, written to wife Molly in 1955, is a confession of his affair with Marilyn four years earlier, while she was filming As Young As You Feel.

“In one sense it’s true to say that it meant nothing. On the other hand it was a human experience, and it started, if that is of any significance, in a most human way. Her boy friend, or ‘keeper’ (if you want to be mean) had just died. His family had not allowed her to see the body, or allowed her into the house, where she had been living. She had sneaked in one night and been thrown out. I met her on [director]Harmon Jones’ set. Harmon thought her a ridiculous person and was fashionably scornful of her. I found her, when I was introduced, in tears. I took her to dinner because she seemed like such a touching pathetic waif. She sobbed all thru dinner. I wasn’t ‘interested in her’; that came later. I got to know her in time and introduced her to Arthur Miller, who also was very taken by her. You couldn’t help being touched. She was talented, funny, vulnerable, helpless in awful pain, with no hope, and some worth and not a liar, not vicious, not catty, and with a history of orphanism that was killing to hear. She was like all Charlie Chaplin’s heroines in one.

I’m not ashamed at all, not a damn bit, of having been attracted to her. She is nothing like what she appears to be now, or even appears to have turned into now. She was a little stray cat when I knew her. I got a lot out of her just as you do from any human experience where anyone is revealed to you and you affect anyone in any way. I guess I gave her a lot of hope. She is not a big sex pot as advertised. At least not in my experience. I don’t know if there are such as ‘advertised’ big sex pots. She told me a lot about [Joe DiMaggio] and her, his Catholicism, and his viciousness (he struck her often, and beat her up several times). I was touched and fascinated. It was the type of experience that I do not understand and I enjoyed (not the right word) hearing about it. I certainly recommended her to Tennessee’s attention. And he was very taken by her.”

'As Young As You Feel' (1951)
‘As Young As You Feel’ (1951)

Kazan had first met Marilyn a year before, at a screening of A Streetcar Named Desire with Johnny Hyde (the aforementioned ‘keeper’.) Hyde died in December 1950. Kazan came to Hollywood with Arthur Miller in 1951, which is when their affair began. However, he has written elsewhere that even then, she was attracted to Miller.

Their relationship lasted a few months, until Kazan returned to New York. They remained friends afterward, and a letter from Kazan to Marilyn was auctioned on Ebay a few years ago.

Miller and Kazan fell out when the director co-operated with the House Un-American Activities Committee, at the height of the ‘red scare’ which ruined many careers in the movie and theatre world. While married to Miller, Marilyn tried to reconcile them.

During their affair, Marilyn naturally hoped Kazan would consider her for a future role. But he rejected her for the lead in Baby Doll (1955), though author Tennessee Williams thought her a perfect choice. He also refused to cast her in Wild River (1960), after Twentieth Century-Fox offered her the part.

Marilyn bore no grudges, though, and wrote in a 1961 letter to her psychiatrist, Dr Ralph Greenson, that Kazan ‘loved me for one year and once rocked me to sleep when I was in great anguish.’

Ironically, Miller and Kazan would reunite after her death to collaborate on After the Fall, a controversial, thinly-veiled account of Miller’s private demons, including a self-destructive character based on Marilyn.

Barbara Loden in 'After the Fall' (1964)
Barbara Loden in ‘After the Fall’ (1964)

Inside the Dream Palace

Arthur Miller works on 'After the Fall' at the Chelsea Hotel
Arthur Miller works on ‘After the Fall’ at the Chelsea Hotel

Inside the Dream Palace: The Life and Times of New York’s Legendary Chelsea Hotel is a new book by Sherill Tippins. Among many other events, the author chronicles how Arthur Miller lived at the hotel after divorcing Marilyn Monroe, and wrote After the Fall, a thinly-veiled portrait of their marriage, which opened in 1964 amid intense controversy.

“Miller should have realized, as Warhol had demonstrated so efficiently with his Marilyn exhibition less than two years before, that New York audiences would identify with Maggie, or at least with the vulnerable spirit within themselves that she represented. Her story – her desires and her victimization – was their story. That night in the theater, it was almost as though Marilyn had stepped through the playwright’s dialogue to take command of the audience herself.”

 

‘Making The Fall’ and Marilyn

Making The Fall is a new book by Richard D. Meyer, who worked closely with Arthur Miller and Elia Kazan on their 1964 production of Miller’s controversial play, After the Fall – which many felt was based on Miller’s troubled marriage to Marilyn. (Shar Daws wrote an excellent essay on the play, which you can read at Loving Marilyn.)

The blurb for Making The Fall goes like this:

“An intimate account of Elia Kazan and Arthur Miller working together on After the Fall, Miller’s autobiographical play about Marilyn Monroe.

Lincoln Center’s Repertory Theater opened in 1964 with the premiere of Arthur Miller’s After the Fall, an explosive play about Miller’s personal life with an emphasis on his marriage to Marilyn Monroe.

Richard D. Meyer’s book, Making the Fall, is a first-hand account of that production, starting with initial meetings and rehearsals, all the way through the final performances.

The book offers the unique perspective of a newcomer on the scene, taking in every detail. It includes verbatim conversations between Miller, Kazan, and the cast, as well as excerpts from Kazan’s personal notes and letters.

As a director and theater scholar, Meyer delves into the play’s deeper theme, how it reflects the lives of those involved (and represented) in the play, and its impact on the American public.

Making the Fall is an in-depth, up-personal account of a historical year in American theater. It will appeal not only to theater buffs but to anyone interested in the complex tangle of relationships between Arthur Miller, Marilyn Monroe, and Elia Kazan.”