Arthur Miller: Beyond Marilyn’s Shadow

Rebecca Miller, daughter of Arthur, is a writer, director, and actress. She was born a month after Marilyn’s death, to Arthur and his third wife, Inge Morath.

Rebecca spoke to the New York Post recently about the way some of her father’s plays are overshadowed by the memory of Marilyn.

“As for After the Fall and Finishing the Picture — Miller’s two plays about his second wife, Marilyn Monroe — Rebecca remains wary.

‘Anything that’s got the shadow of Marilyn in it — even something that has just a slight taste of her — gets overshadowed by her,’ she says.

Finishing the Picture, Miller’s final play, is about the making of Monroe’s last movie, The Misfits, for which he wrote the screenplay. There has been just one production, at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre in 2004.

It’s a fascinating story with some terrific parts for larger-than-life stage actors. ‘But I’m holding back on it,’ says Rebecca. ‘I’m guarding it. Sometimes it’s good to hold.’

She calls After the Fall, which Miller wrote in 1963, shortly after Monroe died, ‘a wonderful play that unfortunately in his time got completely read as an autobiographical work about her. You can’t pretend she’s not there, but at the same time it is about other things. There are meditations on the Holocaust and how we all have murder inside us.’

Rebecca says she’d like to see a production that ‘skews the play’ away from the Monroe character.

Which probably means a production with a major star in the male lead.

‘If the right person comes along, I’d certainly consider it,’ she says. ‘But nobody’s asking to do it.’

Now that’s a challenge a great actor — Kevin Spacey, perhaps? — should pick up.”

Norman Mailer and The Girl Upstairs

This New York author’s infatuation with Marilyn is the stuff of legend, but according to a new documentary, Norman Mailer: The American, the feeling wasn’t mutual:

“Mailer tells a revealing story about how he almost met Marilyn Monroe, the subject of his fawning, conspiracy-mongering 1973 book, ‘Marilyn.’ In that coffee-table tome, Mailer takes some nasty swipes at fellow Brooklyn-Jewish boy Arthur Miller (who wrote ‘Death of a Salesman’ in the same apartment building where Mailer, in the upper floors, was writing ‘The Naked and the Dead.’)

Miller invited Mailer and Adele (Morales, his then-wife) to his Connecticut home at a time when the playwright and the movie star were married. Mailer showed up with every intention of stealing Monroe away, only to be told that she was out of town. Dirty trick.

Mailer found out later that Monroe, afraid of meeting him, had been hiding upstairs the whole time. At least that’s his version. Sounds like everybody involved dodged a bullet.” Bloomberg

 

Cults, Icons and ‘The Misfits’

An interesting perspective on The Misfits from Steve Forrester, editor of the Daily Astorian:

‘One of the most fateful collisions of movie cults and icons was The Misfits, the 1961 film by John Huston, starring Marilyn Monroe (cult), Clark Gable (icon) and Montgomery Clift (cult). The screen play was written by Monroe’s husband Arthur Miller (icon). It was the last film for Gable and also for Monroe. Ten days after the movie’s filming ended, Gable died. Monroe died within 10 months of wrapping the film.

After my wife and I watched The Misfits last week, she said: “That’s a tough movie. I can only watch it once a year.”

As acting goes, The Misfits is magnetic. Many believe it is Gable’s best performance.

The startling effect of this movie stems from the parallel between the fictional characters and the actors playing them. Both bear life’s scars and age lines.

As Gable, Wallach and Monroe move to the desert for their last scene, they reach the kind of crisis that Arthur Miller masterfully concoted in his stage plays of which ‘Death of a Salesman’ is only the most celebrated. The characters leave this scene with more self-knowledge and knowledge of each other.

Then we have the eerie final scene of Monroe and Gable driving through the desert at night. They sit in the truck’s cab looking up at the sky.

Perhaps Monroe captured the hopeless duality of the actor when she told Life magazine: ”It’s nice to included in people’s fantasies, but you also like to be accepted for your own sake.”‘

Scarlett Johansson on Monroe Comparisons

As Catherine in Arthur Miller’s ‘View From the Bridge’

Actress Scarlett Johansson is often compared to Marilyn as a sex symbol and comedienne, and she has channelled the Monroe look in many photo shoots. However, as she told USA Today recently, she has no plans to play MM onscreen:

‘Two years ago, Johansson made her Tony-winning Broadway debut a neighborhood away in A View From the Bridge by Arthur Miller, the former husband, of course, of the icon she’s constantly held up against, Monroe.

‘There’s a lot there to explore, and I like to watch other people do it, but I have no interest’ in joining the Monroe biopic brigade.

‘It’s lovely to be compared to somebody as sort of effervescent and charming and fragile and I think kind of an underrated actor, really,’ Johansson says. And ‘you know, beautiful and everything. But it’s never been one for me.'”

Bogdanovich on Marilyn: The Last Love Goddess

Marilyn in 1957

Another extract from Peter Bogdanovich’s 2004 essay on Marilyn, featuring his interview with Arthur Miller:

“I, quite candidly, had to realize, as many have before me, that that (motion picture) business  makes human relations almost impossible – especially if you’re a woman – it scars the soul.”

And Bogdanovich’s parting thoughts on MM:

“She is the most touching, strangely innocent – despite all the emphasis on sex – sacrifice to the twentieth-century art of cinematic mythology, with real people as gods and goddesses.”

Marilyn and Arthur: Not Such an Odd Couple

Writing for St Louis Jewish Light, Robert A. Cohn looks back at Marilyn’s marriage to Arthur Miller.

“Like Joe DiMaggio before him, Miller was completely smitten by Monroe, who despite her ‘dumb blonde’ persona in many of her roles, was actually quite intelligent and a graduate of the Actors Studio, along with Marlon Brando, Paul Newman, and Dustin Hoffman. Monroe fully requited Miller’s love, and became a Jew by choice under the supervision of Rabbi Robert E. Goldburg, who signed her official Certificate of Conversion on July 1, 1956. Her conversion pleased Miller’s parents and siblings at the time, and even after her divorce, she continued to identify herself as ‘Jewish.’ Among her prized possessions was a Hanukkah menorah that played ‘Hatikva’, Israel’s national anthem, an item that fetched a tidy sum when auctioned off by Christie’s in New York in 1999.”

Inside the Actor’s Studio

In his 2004 collection of essays on movie actors, Who the Hell’s In It?, director Peter Bogdanovich (The Last Picture Show) recalled his sole encounter with Marilyn:

“Only one time was I in Marilyn Monroe’s presence, and she never would have known it. During the winter of 1955, I was sitting a row in front of her at a Manhattan acting class being conducted by Lee Strasberg. Marilyn was 29, at the peak of her success and fame – with seven years left to live – wearing a thick bulky-knit black woolen sweater, and no make-up on her pale lovely face. The two or three times I allowed myself to casually glance back at her, she was absolutely enthralled, mesmerised by Strasberg’s every word and breath.  In his autobiography, Arthur Miller, who would marry her the following year, wrote that he felt Strasberg, though worshipped by Monroe, was a heavy contributor to his breakup with the actress, and that the acting guru’s domination was self-serving and exploitative of her. From the glimpses I had of Marilyn, Strasberg certainly had her complete attention and support, but in a strangely desperate way. She didn’t look contented or studious; she looked quite anxious and passionately devoted to Strasberg as somehow the answer to her troubles.”

Arthur Miller: Stylish in Specs

The press dubbed Marilyn’s romance with Arthur Miller ‘The Egghead and the Hourglass’. However, Esquire magazine argues that Arthur was, in fact, a style icon for men.

“If you’re at all like me — which is to say a man who’s worn glasses every day of his life since age 16, when the quiet man at the D.M.V mandated them — then you might notice something else. His name is Arthur Miller, the playwright and one-time husband of Ms. Monroe, who never tired of his excellent specs: flat across the top, round in the frame, the sort that would cut across most faces (okay, not if your face is too round) with distinction, especially in that nice, dark tortoise shell. I want these glasses…Check out the real Arthur Miller and you’ll see a portrait of a man who would look great in any decade. No timestamp necessary.”