Marilyn: a Russian Perspective

Marilyn in The Misfits, photographed by Inge Morath (1960)

Marilyn was an admirer of Russian culture: she studied Stanislavsky’s teachings on acting, and campaigned (sadly without success) to star as Grushenka in a movie adaptation of Dostoevsky’s classic novel, The Brothers Karamazov. At the height of America’s anti-Communist fervour, she observed, ‘They’re for the people, aren’t they?’ She briefly considered visiting Russia in 1956, and was later introduced to Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev at a Hollywood luncheon.

However, when the Russian press unjustly accused her of ruining Arthur Miller’s career, she shot back: “Listen! I know Arthur Miller better than the Russians do and I’ve learned more from Arthur Miller than the Russians have. I’ve learned from Arthur Miller that he does not believe in a communistic state. The Russians can talk all they want about my ‘climb to the stars,’ his ‘broken life,’ and what I’ve done to somebody. But I know the man. They’re talking about an idea. They can have their ideas. I had the man.” (Redbook, 1962.)

In some quarters, however, it appears that these prejudices still exist. In a recent article entitled ‘Candle in the wind: America, Russia, and Marilyn Monroe’s Free Fall’ for the RBTH website, novelist Viktor Yerofeyev recalls meeting Miller with his third wife Inge Morath during the 1990s, and ruminates on Miller’s prior marriage to Marilyn.

“I looked at Inge and realized that it was for this woman with an intelligent look that Miller had refused to be the skyscraper roof for Monroe, after which the star flew downward. Although in her flight, possibly, she remained the most popular actress in America.

America, at first glance, is not about actresses, singers or writers. It is about the absolute success of an individual, who was nothing and then became everything (as our revolutionary song goes).

And it is not important whether this person had a poor or rich childhood, whether he lived in an orphanage or he quietly went to school. Because this, from the national audience’s view, is routine, but what is important is that the chosen one reached the sky and turned into the Himalayas.

In such a system happiness is only a substitute for powerful success and in this system Monroe and Miller were like twins. And they appeared equal on the cover of a popular magazine that announced their union to the whole country.

Why equal? Because Miller’s high-altitude flight was stronger than Death of a Salesman, which held up a mirror to America. And Monroe’s high-altitude flight was stronger than all of her roles and all of her money. Two high-flying planes.

However, America is actually a country with a double cultural circulatory system. While the larger circle of cultural circulation is destined for the mass public, which creates the broth of national success, the smaller circle is the one in which I found myself in Connecticut, and where a lot opposes the larger circle … Properly speaking, where the Millers live, happiness … is valued more than success and talent is more important than money…

The participants were snobs but as I have just said, they were the cream of the crop. And in this circle Monroe and Miller were opposites. She was no one and he was everything. But she was burning with desire to be included in this world.”

Miller Book Exhibit in Connecticut

Pages from Arthur Miller: A Life by Martin Gottfried (2003)

In anticipation of Arthur Miller’s centenary next month, the Pequot Library in Southport, Connecticut – close to where the playwright lived during his marriage to Marilyn, and until his death in 2005 – is currently hosting ‘Arthur Miller’s Focus‘, a display of books published by, or about Miller, in their Rare Book Case at the Reading Room, running through to October 8, reports the Fairfield Sun.

Milton Greene’s New York Apartment Up for Rent

Milton Greene’s New York apartment at 127 East 78th Street is up for rent at a staggering $27,500 a month, reports the Daily MailUnsurprisingly, the Monroe connection is being played to the hilt, with the realtor describing it as her ‘sanctuary’. However, while Marilyn stayed with the Greenes at their family home in Weston, Connecticut during the winter of 1954-55, and Milton was her business partner until 1957, the East 78th Street apartment was never her official address.

Carleton Varney on Marilyn’s Roxbury Style

The newlyweds in Arthur Miller’s garage at Roxbury, 1956 ( a year before they bought another home together)

Interior designer Carleton Varney was consulted by Marilyn and Arthur Miller in 1957, after they bought an 18th century farmhouse in Roxbury, Connecticut. The property was in need of renovation, and according to Architectural Digest, the couple ‘added sliding glass doors to its rear façade and created a one-room studio where the playwright could work.’

Varney writes about Marilyn’s personal style in an article for Palm Beach Daily News. Her preference for simplicity is in marked contrast to her glamorous public image.

The Millers purchased this Roxbury farmhouse in 1957

“I met Marilyn only once in my life, when she was married to Arthur Miller, the playwright. At that time, she divided her time between Connecticut and her New York City apartment on 57th Street.

Marilyn was not, shall we say, energetically enthusiastic about the ways and styles of interior design. Her tastes were simple. She expressed her personal style as more ‘cottage’ than ‘High Hollywood’ — a simple white clapboard house, say, or a California stucco-clad ranch home. A white picket fence was more Marilyn, I believe, than any fancy grill-work iron gate on a Beverly Hills mansion. I think her design preferences reflected her pre-Hollywood roots as Norma Jean Baker.

I have always said that taste develops in one’s earliest days, probably from the very first room one can recall … Like Marilyn, most of us have a comfort zone that makes us happy and content. And if the look of high glamour does not fit you, don’t go that way! Stick to a style of decorating that suits you and reflects the adventures you have enjoyed in life.”

Frank Lloyd Wright and the ‘Marilyn Home’

Writing for, Jen Russo visits King Kamehameha Golf Club in Waikapu, which opened in 1993. Designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright, it also has a Marilyn connection.

“It’s pretty amazing that in 1988, the original owners of the property–Howard Hamamoto, Pundy Yokouchi and Takeshi Sekiguchi–travelled to Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Arizona. There, at the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation headquarters, they reviewed architectural plans for a new golf clubhouse they wanted to build. Wright had passed away almost 30 years prior, but the plans they chose (originally called ‘Crownfield’) were created for a couple’s home in Fort Worth, Texas in 1949. The plans were never built, and were later altered for a Mexican official named Raul Bailleres in 1952 for a home in Acapulco Bay. But he also abandoned those plans to build.

When Marilyn Monroe and her then-husband Arthur Miller approached Wright about a home in 1957, he pulled the plans out again, customized them for land in Connecticut, and renamed it the ‘Marilyn Monroe Home.'”

Frank Lloyd Wright

Russo goes on to state that the house was never built because the Millers separated a year later. Actually, their marriage lasted until 1960. The real reason that the plans were abandoned was due to escalating costs, as Arthur Miller revealed in his memoir, Timebends.

“We had begun a year or so earlier by merely fixing up the worst faults in the old house, with the idea of building a new one on a crest of woodland within sight of it. [Marilyn] had contacted Frank Lloyd Wright to come up with a plan. Her impulse was royal, in part a kind of gift to me of a unique home. Thus it had to seem like ingratitude to question whether we could ever begin to finance a Wright design, since much like her, he had little interest in costs. I could only give him his day and let her judge whether it was beyond our means or not.

Wright, then near ninety, curled up in the back seat of the car when we picked him up in Manhattan one gray fall morning, sleeping soundly the full two hours it took to get to Roxbury. He was tall and theatrically handsome … we expected to live fairly simply and were not looking for some elaborate house to impress the world. I saw that this news had not the slightest interest for him …

When I went to his office in the Plaza Hotel and saw his design, I said it was far too elaborate for what we had in mind, more news that had no visible effect on him. Indeed, he proceeded to show me immense watercolor sketches for an entire new city he had designed …”

UPDATE: Sculptor Dale Zarrella, who created the bronze statues outside the Frank Lloyd-White designed golf club on Maui, has shared a personal anecdote about the building’s Marilyn connection in an interview with

“Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller actually went into my grandparents’ ice cream shop in Southington, Conn., when they looked for land to build this home right down the street from where I grew up. It’s an interesting fact.”

Country Girl: Marilyn in Roxbury

The BBC World website has published an interesting article by Amanda Ruggeri about Marilyn’s time in Connecticut, and especially the farm in Roxbury where she lived with Arthur Miller.

Unfortunately – and in my opinion, rather absurdly – BBC World cannot be accessed within the UK, so I have transcribed part of the article here.

“When Monroe married Miller in June 1956, she’d already captivated audiences in movies like 1953’s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and 1955’s The Seven-Year Itch. She was the world’s biggest star. She was also beginning to fray from it. ‘I hate Hollywood,’ she told Miller when they married. ‘I want to live quietly in the country and just be there when you need me.’

Miller, the playwright famous for Death of a Salesman – and among friends, also for his love of rural pleasures such as field clearing and gardening – had moved to Roxbury in 1947. And so, after wrapping the 1957 movie The Prince and the Showgirl with Laurence Olivier, Monroe returned with Miller to his four-bedroom farmhouse on Old Tophet Road.

‘Go to Stamford and drive down millionaire’s row, and you know you’re on millionaire’s row,’ said Peter Hurlbut, the town clerk and descendant of Roxbury’s founder. ‘Here, you never know you’re on millionaire’s row.’

He was absolutely right. Old Tophet Road was a 10-minute drive from the centre of town, though it felt like longer. Narrow and winding, driving the route on an October day felt like heading through a psychedelically coloured foliage tunnel. Dilapidated barns and colonial houses dotted the land on either side. If I hadn’t known it was where Miller and other literati lived, I never would have made note of the road at all. In this part of Connecticut, streets like these are unremarkably common.

As are houses like Miller’s – so much so that we drove past it before realising. A lovely white clapboard with baby-blue shutters, the abode looked like any of the other quietly graceful colonials in the area. Peeking through the trees up the drive – the home is pretty recognizable when driving by – I tried to imagine what it would have been like in the 1950s, when the home became a paparazzi playground. On 29 June 1956, the same day that Monroe and Miller signed their marriage license (itself given by Hurlbut’s grandfather, then the town clerk), one of the cars following them was driving too fast on the winding country roads and crashed, killing the French reporter inside. In the press conference that the newlyweds gave at the farm, talking about the crash, their nuptials and on Senator Joseph McCarthy’s naming of Arthur Miller as a communist in the House Committee on Un-American Activities, Monroe appeared visibly upset; it was a rare crack in her star façade.

Those who believe in such things could have seen the crash as an omen. The fantasies Monroe must have had about living in Connecticut, and the peace that it, and Miller, would bring her, soon wore thin. Even the house itself showed their clash of priorities: the two had first planned to tear down the old farmhouse and build another one on the property. But when Miller asked for a design from Frank Lloyd Wright, one that turned out to be far too grand for her notoriously frugal new husband, the over-the-top plans were dashed. The 18th-century farmhouse stayed.

Back in Roxbury, I stopped at the little Roxbury Market & Deli, where Monroe did her shopping. With a few aisles of locally made jams and everyday staples, it’s the closest thing the town has to a grocery store. One can imagine her attempting to play the role of housewife here. One can imagine, too, how bored the Hollywood star, so accustomed to cameras and adulation, quickly became.

Roxbury, after all, is a peaceful place. Aside from admiring the town’s colonial houses and steepled churches, its biggest draw may be its forests. The Roxbury Land Trust maintains 2,575 acres of trail-crossed nature preserves, much of its land given by the same icons who lived here: there is the 32-acre Matthau Preserve, the 22-acre Styron Preserve, the 27-acre Widmark Preserve and, yes, the 55-acre Arthur and Inge Morath Miller Preserve.

A peaceful town, yes. But for someone like Monroe, who thrived on public attention as much as she reviled it, it wasn’t the right fit. Nor, it seems, was Miller. The two divorced in 1961. Nineteen months later, Monroe died.

Miller lived out the rest of his days in Roxbury – playing tennis with Frank McCourt and Mia Farrow, who still lives in the next town over, tinkering with his plumbing, clearing fields and, of course, writing. He passed away there in 2005 at the age of 89.

But Miller hadn’t just died in Roxbury. He’d also asked to be buried here. In one of Hurlbut’s last conversations with the writer, Miller had called him up, especially curious about how to get a tombstone in the case of his death. Hurlbut explained that for his father, they’d opted to create a tombstone from an old stone they’d found. The frugal Miller liked that idea. And where do you find one, he wanted to know. In the land of stone walls, Hurlbut said, he was sure Miller could find a stone he liked. A few weeks later, Miller called him back up. ‘I found it! I found the stone!’ he said. It was from one of the walls on his property.

That’s how he was buried: with a stone, likely from a wall assembled decades, if not centuries, earlier, taken from his own property that he’d loved so much…

I just hoped that Monroe, if only for moments at a time, had found a little bit of solace here too.”

Marilyn Linked to White Barn Theatre

According to New Canaan News, the site of the former White Barn Theatre in Norwalk, Connecticut is being eyed by a housing development firm. The Save Cranbury Association opposes the plans to build on the two-acre site. ‘This is one of the last pieces of open space,’ said local resident Tim Hawks, whose house abuts the land. ‘I’m all about protecting it.’

As the above photo reveals, Marilyn visited the theatre (circa 1955) and signed its guestbook. Another rare photo, seemingly from the same visit, shows her with poet Norman Rosten, a close friend.

The White Barn Theatre was founded by actress, producer and impresario Lucille Lortel on the property of her estate. Numerous plays from major dramatists premiered there, including Rosten’s 1966 work, Come Slowly Eden. Eileen Heckart, Marilyn’s co-star in Bus Stop, performed there in Unfinished Business (1989.)

Amy Greene on Marilyn

Amy Greene, widow of Milton Greene, was interviewed recently by Gotham magazine:

“What was it like to live with Marilyn Monroe?
AMY GREENE: I’m a very secure woman, so she was fine. She never got out of line, and I never got out of line, and we became girlfriends. As Sinatra said, ‘She was a good broad.’ I love that statement. You young people don’t know what that means, but it is the highest compliment that a man like Sinatra could say about anybody.

Did she teach you anything?
AG: No, well, makeup! She did teach me one thing, how to brighten the areas around your eyes with a lightener . . . She and I would practice endlessly on making each other over. She would make me over, I would make her over, I mean, what else do you have to do, you’re husband’s working in New York, and you’re in Connecticut.

Would you say Marilyn’s public persona today reflects who she was as a woman?
AG: The interesting thing, and I was thinking about this yesterday, was in the ’50s she was strictly candy for men, but since the feminist movement—which started around my dining room table, thank you very much—women have accepted her, they no longer make fun of her. So in the end, she’s earned respect, which is what she wanted.”


Marilyn’s Movies at Wesleyan University

Beginning next Tuesday, July 9th, four of Marilyn’s movies will be screened for free at 7.30 pm, at one of the world’s leading film schools, Wesleyan University, in Middletown, Connecticut, reports the Hartford Courant.

The first, Some Like it Hot, will be introduced by actor and film historian Edward Herrmann, while Marc Longenecker of the Film Studies department will introduce the others, including Gentlemen Prefer BlondesThe Seven Year Itch, and River of No Return.