Marilyn and Miller on HBO Tonight

Arthur Miller: Writer, the new documentary from daughter Rebecca Miller, has its US television premiere on pay-per-view channel HBO tonight. Over at The Ringer, Lindsay Zoladz has penned a rather wide-ranging article about Marilyn and Arthur, including hints of what’s in the documentary.

“When Arthur Miller met Marilyn Monroe, she was crying. Or at least that’s the story he always told her, the one she repeats in footage used in the new documentary Arthur Miller: Writer: ‘As he describes it, I was crying when he met me.’ As he describes it.

Comprising home movies and interviews Rebecca shot of her father in his later years, Arthur Miller: Writer has a homey, scrapbook intimacy … Rebecca was born in 1962, just weeks after Monroe died. Imagine grilling your elderly father, on camera, on what it was like to have been with Marilyn Monroe.

The portrait of Monroe that emerges from Arthur Miller: Writer, then, is inherently lopsided and not nearly as intimate as the one we get of Miller himself. One of the hardest parts of putting together the film, Rebecca admits, was finding ways to diminish Monroe’s presence, to prevent her from completely overtaking her father’s story … Monroe always seems to be doing that—inconveniencing narratives. It’s the most potent power she’s retained after death.

Monroe has, throughout the years, been a sticking point for feminists; the many contradictions of her story do not fit cleanly into the doctrines of any of its waves. Perhaps for the best, she maps particularly awkwardly onto this moment of pop-cultural ’empowerment feminism’ …  And yet gender stereotypes are exactly what imprisoned Monroe, and what her star persona was crafted to reinforce.

‘I just thought it would be a terrific gift for her,’ he says in Arthur Miller: Writer, ‘because she’d never had a part in which she was supposed to be taken seriously. And she really wanted to do that.’

Arthur Miller: Writer is, among other things, a fresh reason to mourn the fact that Marilyn Monroe never got to be old and wise like her last husband … But maybe, at least for a fleeting moment, Miller took her seriously. In Rebecca Miller’s interviews, filmed at his kitchen table in Connecticut near the end of his life, the playwright seemed to retain a real compassion for his second wife.

‘She was witty,’ Miller says, gazing wistfully from his kitchen table in Connecticut. ‘She was making fun of the situation as she was playing it. That was the difference. People thought they could imitate her by being cute. But she was being cute and making fun of being cute at the same time. There was another dimension, which is very difficult to do.'”

Rebecca Miller on Arthur, Marilyn and More

The author and filmmaker Rebecca Miller has spoken with Maureen Dowd for the New York Times about Arthur Miller: Writer, a documentary about her father which makes its US television debut on HBO on March 19. Unlike Arthur’s older children, Robert and Jane, Rebecca never knew Marilyn personally, but her marriage to Arthur is important to the film.

“She felt there was ‘a huge gap’ between the cozy storyteller she saw at home, who enjoyed woodworking, and the cool intellectual she saw in interviews. ‘He had a remoteness in interviews, because he was a shy person and he was very protective of himself, understandably at that point,’ Ms. Miller says. ‘It was a feeling like, his warmth and his humor would never really come through.’

Ms. Miller found that portraying her father’s passionate romance with Monroe was ‘very tricky.’

‘I felt sometimes almost that I shouldn’t be in the room, I shouldn’t know all this stuff,’ she says. ‘There was this one moment that we created a scene with still pictures where he seems to be looking at her and she’s standing there and he says, You’re the saddest girl I’ve ever met. It was weird, but that was also the moment where I sort of transformed from a daughter into a filmmaker. And I also ended up sort of seeing how she was just a person, you know? Because there’s so much smoke around her. She would even tend to take up huge amounts of space in the film. I was constantly trying to cut it down again, because she has so much light coming out of her. So much charisma. I just said, ‘O.K., how can we penetrate the mystery a little bit of this woman and this man and in the end find some clarity?’

She puts one of her father’s searing love letters to Marilyn up on screen, reading: ‘So be my love as you surely are. I think I shall be less furiously jealous when we have made a life together. It is just that I believe that I should really die if I ever lost you. It is as though we were born the same morning when no other life existed on this earth. Love, Art.’

The romance that began with such passion devoured itself. ‘He was really, really worn down,’ his daughter says. ‘He hadn’t gotten any work done for a long time, and this was a man who completely identified himself as a writer. And that had been put away, barring The Misfits, which was itself excruciating. But I think she had had it, too. They were not matched. They tried and they just bungled it.’

“She was the rose and he was definitely the gardener. But he’s more of a rose and he needed a gardener. People can only play the other part for so long.’

‘You can’t really save someone,’ Ms. Miller says. ‘You have to acknowledge that you’re you and I’m me, and your powers don’t extend to being a savior. My impression is for whatever reason, I don’t know exactly, but she saw death was luring her for a long, long time, and I think that had to be her end point.’

The director originally put in Ms. Monroe’s pregnancy during Some Like It Hot, and her subsequent miscarriage, but then cut it. ‘We had a version where we see her going into the hospital,’ she says, ‘but it’s that line of what’s gossip and what’s getting to the meat of the matter?’

I tell Ms. Miller that I have always had a dim view of her father’s treatment of Marilyn: because of his play After the Fall, about a Jewish intellectual in New York married to a needy show business idol who commits suicide, which he at first denied was even about Marilyn; and also because he crushed her during their marriage by leaving an open journal for her to find, with an entry about how she had disappointed him and embarrassed him in front of his brainy peers.

‘Maybe he did it unconsciously,’ Ms. Miller says about her father leaving out his journal. ‘But you know what? The unconscious, you never know.’

When she was still single, Inge Morath happened to be working on the set of The Misfits for her photo agency, Magnum, and took some haunting pictures of the luminous blonde with the darkness inside.

‘My mother was always very sweet about Marilyn,’ Ms. Miller says. ‘She really liked her. Someone asked her how the marriage between Marilyn and my father was and my mom was like: Oh, very happy. They seemed very happy. Because she wasn’t paying attention.’

If Ms. Miller had to summon her nerve to deal with the lusty and sorrowful side of her father that bubbled up with Marilyn, she also had to summon her nerve to deal with the most disturbing part of the documentary: the institutionalization of her younger brother, Daniel, who was born in 1966 with Down syndrome.

A 2007 Vanity Fair article suggested that Daniel had basically been abandoned in an ‘understaffed and overcrowded’ facility in Connecticut, with his father rarely visiting.

‘I think the Vanity Fair article was written in a spirit of malice,’ Ms. Miller says. ‘They made it seem like he never saw him, which wasn’t true. He did see him. It’s just that it wasn’t, perhaps wasn’t, enough. But you also have to put things in a little bit of historic perspective. There were other families who put their Down syndrome children in institutions. I don’t know. It’s a mystery. And really, finally, in the film, I was ultimately honest with my own limitations and where my knowledge ends. I don’t know exactly what transpired between those people because they never told me. All I know is what my relationship is with my brother, which is great.'”

‘Ms. Monroe’ Inspires Warsaw Radio

‘Ms. Monroe’, the new single from Brighton band Warsaw Radio (whose lead singer Brian McNamara hails from Limerick, Ireland), is inspired by Marilyn’s relationship with Arthur Miller, as Eric Lalor reports for Taken from their debut album, Midnight Broadcast, ‘Ms. Monroe’ doesn’t mention the couple directly, but its lyrics evoke doomed love and the video’s use of found footage enhances the retro feel.

“The narrative imagines Monroe giving advice on relationships after the break down of her relationship with Miller when they were filming what would be Monroe’s last film (The Misfits) in Reno, Nevada … McNamara’s vocals have rarely sounded better … It’s a cracker from start to finish and would leave you wanting to hear more.”

Spanish Novelist Retraces Marilyn’s ‘Nevada Days’

Bernardo Axtaga is a Spanish author whose 2014 novel, Nevada Days – a fictionalised account of his nine-month stay as writer-in-residence at the Centre for Basque Studies – is now available in English, and the early chapters include several references to Marilyn and The Misfits.

She is first mentioned when Axtaga flips through a copy of The Misfits: Story of a Shoot, Sergio Toubania’s monograph of the Magnum photographers who documented the production. “Individually, the photographs were really good,” Axtaga comments, “… but perhaps because the photographs were the work of different photographers, seeing them all together jarred somehow.”

He later visits Pyramid Lake, and is surprised to find no postcards from The Misfits in the gift shop.”There was one, I seemed to remember, that would have been perfect: Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable lying next to each other on the shores of Pyramid Lake. I asked the waitress, but she had never heard of the film. Nor was she interested in Marilyn Monroe.”

The final, extended passage about Marilyn occurs during a long drive, while Axtaga is talking to his wife Angela about Arthur Miller’s stay at Pyramid Lake in 1956, where he wrote the short story that would become The Misfits while waiting out his first divorce, and conducted a long-distance relationship with Marilyn, who was filming Bus Stop. Axtaga imagines Marilyn’s anguished telephone call to Miller from the set, as described in Miller’s autobiography, Timebends.

Axtaga then recalls the famous scene from The Seven Year Itch (1955), where Marilyn’s character, ‘The Girl’, sympathises with the monster in yet another movie, Creature From the Black Lagoon. (This was foreshadowed in an earlier episode, when Axtaga’s young daughter cries at the end of King Kong.)

As the author forms his own impressions of Nevada, Marilyn disappears from the novel. But her ghostly presence reflects how an outsider’s preconceptions about American life  can be shaped by literary and cinematic mythology.

Marilyn: The Imprisoned Muse

A lecture given this week by the British-based academic Griselda Pollock at the CaixiForum in Madrid, Spain has generated a buzz on social media. Beginning a series taking a closer look at the artist-muse relationship, Pollock focused on Marilyn’s relationship with Arthur Miller, as Paula Lindom reports for Classical & Modern. (Any errors in translation are mine…)

“‘What united this couple? Or, what destroyed them?’ Pollock asked the audience. ‘And what were the influences that each one had in the career of the other – did Monroe become Miller’s sinister muse? Or was Miller the monster that killed Monroe? Had Monroe killed Miller’s talent in some way? What influence did Miller have on Monroe’s creative life and life? To what extent did Monroe use Miller for her own creative work?'”

Pollock is also quoted in an article for the Turkey Telegraph. (The wording was a little hard to follow, so I have edited it slightly.)

“Griselda Pollock highlights many biographies of the iconic actress in which, however, ‘there is very little analysis of her work. How did a white woman, uneducated and abused, become a star like one she was? Why was Andy Warhol crying at her death? Why did Elton John identify with her? Why did Madonna forge her image in Monroe’s likeness?’

Of Marilyn’s marriage to Arthur Miller, Pollock remarks, ‘What a patriarchal mythology: genius and muse. The classical opposition between activity and passivity, desire and object of desire, creativity and inspiration. A different language is needed.’

‘She was given vapid comedy scripts remembered only because of her genius before the camera,’ Pollock adds. ‘She was intelligent, inquisitive and politically engaged; passionate and desperately ambitious to understand the art of acting. Miller did not inspire her; he was obsessed with her. I think they were both flawed geniuses.'”

Beloved Collaborators: Capote, Avedon and Marilyn

Richard Avedon and Marilyn had a dear mutual friend – the novelist Truman Capote, who provided the text for Avedon’s 1959 book, Observations.

“Truman leapt at Dick’s invitation to collaborate on a book project. He sent his text to Dick in stages, written in his fussy little hand on yellow legal pads and always accompanied by a note that endearingly began ‘Beloved Collaborator.’ Dick was dazzled by Truman’s lapidiary descriptions of his portraits … Marilyn Monroe – ‘a waif-figure of saucy pathos … an untidy divinity – in the sense that a banana split or cherry jubilee is untidy but divine’ … Though Truman’s contributions would be labelled as ‘comments’, they added up to a composite portrait of their own and succeeded in making Observations as much a book with pictures as a picture book with text.”

From Avedon: Something Personal by Norma Stevens & Steven M. L. Aronson

The Millers in Avedon’s ‘Observations’, 1959

Mike Nichols On Marilyn, Miller and Avedon

The film and theatre director Mike Nichols, who died in 2014, is one of many whose memories are shared in Avedon: Something Personal.  He studied with Lee Strasberg at the Actors’ Studio in 1953, before developing a comedy act with Elaine May. After directing Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Park and The Odd Couple on Broadway, he went on to make two of the best movies of the 1960s, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and The Graduate, establishing himself as one of America’s leading directors.

“I met Dick [Avedon] early in 1960. He came to the Blue Angel, on East 55th Street, to see me and Elaine May in our nightclub act … Then one day he called me out of the blue, wanting to know if Elaine and I would be interested in writing a skit for Marilyn Monroe. Leland Hayward was producing a two-hour CBS special called The Fabulous Fifties and had promised Dick that if he could get Marilyn to do it he would direct it himself.

Our first meeting was at Dick’s apartment at 625 Park … that’s where we sat trying to come up with a Marilyn idea. At the end of the visit he put his arm around me and walked me to the elevator. He said, ‘I have the feeling we’re going to be friends for life.’

The next week he took us to Marilyn’s apartment, around the corner from Sutton Place, so we could present what we’d worked out to her and Arthur Miller. She had been in my acting class with Strasberg, so I knew the way she was,  which was sweet and not saying much. She just sat on the floor at Arthur’s feet – he had his hand on her shoulder. Dick and Elaine and I took turns acting out our rough little idea, whatever it was – after which Arthur said, ‘I don’t think it’s for Marilyn.’ So he nixed it, the jerk, although he and I became friends many years later when we were neighbours in Connecticut…”

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.

Arthur Miller’s Unseen Archives

In an article for the New York Times, Jennifer Schluesser reports on the dispute over Arthur Miller’s unseen archives, and sheds new light on his reaction to Marilyn’s death – including his decision not to attend her funeral.

“More than 160 boxes of his manuscripts and other papers have been on deposit for decades at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin, uncataloged and all but inaccessible to scholars, pending a formal sale. Another cache — including some 8,000 pages of private journals — remained at his home in rural Connecticut, unexplored by anyone outside the intimate Miller circle.

Now, the Ransom Center has bought the entire archive for $2.7 million, following a discreet tug-of-war with the Miller estate, which tried to place the papers at Yale University despite the playwright’s apparent wishes that they rest in Texas.

‘Arthur wrote about everything in his journals,’ said Julia Bolus, Miller’s longtime assistant and director of the Arthur Miller Trust, who is coediting a volume of selections. ‘They were the place where all the elements of his life came together.’

Among the extensive unpublished material in the archive is an essay Miller began on Aug. 8, 1962, the day of the funeral of Marilyn Monroe, his second wife. ‘Instead of jetting to the funeral to get my picture taken I decided to stay home and let the public mourners finish the mockery,’ Miller wrote. ‘Not that everyone there will be false, but enough. Most of them there destroyed her, ladies and gentleman. She was destroyed by many things and some of those things are you and some of those things are destroying you. Destroying you now. I love as you stand there weeping and gawking, glad that it’s not you going into the earth, glad that it’s this lovely girl who at last you killed.’

Those journals are closed to researchers until after publication of that volume, by Penguin Press.

An inventory of the archive notes journal entries relating to Monroe. But it does not list any personal correspondence between her and Miller, the survival of which has been the subject of speculation over the years.

In a 2002 article in Talk Magazine, Andreas Brown, the dealer who arranged the earlier deposits to the Ransom Center, described coming across an odd bundle, which Miller told him held nearly 100 letters from Monroe. ‘It was all sealed and tied-up,’ Mr. Brown, who is now retired, recalled in a recent interview.

Miller’s memoir, Timebends, refers to correspondence with Monroe, and one of his passionate love letters to her fetched $43,750 at auction in Beverly Hills in 2014. ‘It was a really over-the-top Tom Cruise, jump-on-the-couch-kind of letter,’ Christopher Bigsby said.

But Mr. Bigsby is skeptical that a secret motherlode survives. ‘When I asked, he said he had no more than 4 or 5 of her letters,’ he said of Miller.”