Marilyn at Julien’s: Friends, Fans and Well-Wishers

Marilyn on the River Of No Return set, with director of photography Joseph LaShelle (SOLD for $375)

In my latest post for the Julien’s Legends auction, coming up on June 13-14, I’m taking a look at the fan mail, plus letters and greeting cards from friends and family, received (and kept) by Marilyn over the years. (You can read my previous posts, on the How to Marry a Millionaire bathrobe and the photos of Manfred Kreiner, here.)

UPDATE: I have now added the total bids to each item.

“An invoice from Southdown Kennel in Roxbury, Connecticut, for boarding and food for Hugo, the lovable basset hound owned by Marilyn and then husband Arthur Miller. The invoice is dated from November of 1958, and is addressed to Mrs. Arthur Miller. Dates specified for boarding of Hugo are July 4-10, July 28-August 5, August 22-24, and August 27-October 30. Also listed is ‘1 case beef’ at a cost of $11.50.” (SOLD for $512)


“A handwritten letter from a young child, undated, reading, ‘Dear Marilyn, How are you? Daddy and mommy saw you. I wish I could of. I am writing you to see if you rember (sic) me. First you saw me playing on the grass at Chaire’s house and then at Patty’s. I went to East Hampton and I got a new bike. It is beautiful.’ The letter is signed Emily Hedda Liss. The letterhead reads ‘Mrs. Joseph Liss, 445 East 68th Street, New York, New York,’ indicating Emily is likely the young daughter of television writer and editor Joseph Liss.” (UNSOLD)

“Two greeting cards sent to Marilyn from fans with get well wishes. One card’s handwritten inscription reads, ‘To a wonderful actress. My best wishes to you. Palma Urso, 1958.’ The other is simply signed, ‘Judy Bawber.’ (UNSOLD)

“A two-page handwritten letter from a fan by the name of Pete Monti, dated June 1, 1959, in which Monti expresses his love and admiration for Marilyn. Passages from the letter read, ‘…every year I send you a gift with my address on the present for you to answer, and tell me if you liked it, but you never answered it. I think the reason for that was because you never received the gifts,’ ‘…I have been a fan of yours since 1950, I even have every book that ever came out with your picture in it,’ ‘there is only one thing I would like you to do for me…is to win the Academy Award for best actress of the year, to show them in Hollywood that your (sic) a real good actress. Everybody tries to imitate you, but they can’t…there is only one Marilyn Monroe, and that’s you.’ The letter is signed, ‘Yours Truly, Pete Monti.’ A photo of Monti in formal attire, together with a female companion, is stapled to the letter. Included also is a typed response to this letter, dated June 19, 1959, reading, ‘Miss Monroe has asked me to thank you most kindly for your birthday remembrance and good wishes. She appreciates your thoughtfulness very much.’ The letter is signed ‘Yours sincerely, Secretary to Marilyn Monroe.’ The letter was likely prepared by May Reis, Monroe’s secretary for several years.” (UNSOLD)


“An undated birthday card to Marilyn from Evelyn Moriarty. Moriarty was Monroe’s stand-in on three films: Let’s Make Love, The Misfits, and Something’s Got To Give.” (SOLD for $750)


“An undated birthday card to Marilyn from Allan ‘Whitey’ Snyder. Snyder was Monroe’s makeup artist from her very first screen-test in 1946 and also for most of her films and public appearances, and even photo shoots.”  (SOLD for 5,760)


“An undated birthday card to Marilyn from Augusta and Isidore Miller, the parents of Marilyn’s third husband Arthur Miller. The handwritten message from the Millers reads, ‘And Lots of Mazel + Brucha, Love Mom + Dad.’ In Yiddish this phrase means ‘happiness and blessing.'”  (SOLD for $640)


“An undated birthday card to Marilyn from ‘Grace + Daddy,’ the latter being Ervin ‘Doc’ Goddard. Grace’s handwritten note in the card reads, ‘We couldn’t love you more if you were our real daughter.'”  (SOLD for $768)


An undated Christmas card to Marilyn from Marie DiMaggio, the sister of Marilyn’s second husband, baseball great Joe DiMaggio.  (UNSOLD)

“A handwritten letter to Marilyn and then husband Arthur Miller from Marilyn’s half-sister Berniece Miracle, postmarked April 28, 1960. The letter reads in part, ‘My! How I would love to hear from you and all about what you are doing. I see where Arthur has written a movie, The Misfits. When will the filming start? Hope it’s a big success.'” (SOLD for $1,875)


“A grouping of correspondence to Marilyn from Anne Karger, including three telegrams wishing Marilyn a happy birthday. One telegram is dated June 2, 1957. Interestingly, the other two telegrams are both from 1961, one is dated May 31, and the other is dated June 1. Also included is an undated holiday card with greetings for Christmas and the new year. Anne was the mother of Fred Karger, whom Marilyn fell deeply in love with near the start of her film career. It is widely reported that she had wanted to marry Karger. While the relationship ultimately didn’t last, Marilyn remained very close with his mother. Anne was one of a very few guests from Marilyn’s inner circle who was invited to her funeral.” (SOLD for $1,152)


“A grouping of correspondence to Marilyn from John Moore, including a Western Union telegram dated May 31, 1961, which reads, ‘Wish you were here to celebrate it. Love you.’ This message is likely in reference to Marilyn’s birthday, which was on June 1, the day after the telegram is dated. Also included, an undated, hand-signed Christmas card, and a note that likely accompanied a bouquet of flowers with a message that reads, ‘Will you be my Valentine? John Moore.’ Moore was a fashion designer, interior decorator and close friend of Marilyn’s. He worked for Talmack, and designed many of Marilyn’s clothes; including the gown she wore during the private wedding ceremony in which she married Arthur Miller. He also assisted Marilyn in redecorating the apartment she and Miller shared on East 57th Street in New York City.” (SOLD for $384)


“A one-page handwritten letter to Marilyn from poet and friend Norman Rosten, apparently while he was vacationing in the Arctic Circle. The letter reads in part, ‘This bar of chocolate and paperclip were both bought in this Eskimo village north of the Arctic Circle! Who says the world isn’t round? It’s too round!’ The actual chocolate bar wrapper is affixed to the letter using the aforementioned paperclip. Also included is the original envelope, postmarked January 27, 1959, addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Miller at 444 East 57th Street, New York, NY.” (SOLD for $640)


“An undated, handwritten note from Joseph M. Schenck to Marilyn, reading simply, ‘Dear Marilyn, I am with you. I know you are right. Joe Schenck.’  Schenck was co-founder of 20th Century Pictures in 1933. When his studio merged with Fox Film Corporation in 1935, Schenck was named chairman. He was an important figure in Marilyn’s early career.” (SOLD for $625)

Marilyn at Julien’s: Hollywood Icons & Idols

A wide range of Marilyn-related items, including her 1956 Thunderbird, will be up for grabs at Julien’s Icons & Idols auction on November 17.  Another high-profile item is the white beaded Travilla gown worn by Marilyn when she sang ‘After You Get What You Want, You Don’t Want It’ in There’s No Business Like Show Business, purchased at Christie’s in 1995; as yet it’s unclear whether this is the same dress listed at Julien’s in 2016.

Marilyn owned several pairs of checked trousers, wearing them repeatedly throughout her career. This pair, seen in one of her earliest modelling shoots, was purchased from Sak’s Fifth Avenue.

A number of photos owned by Marilyn herself are also on offer, including this picture with US troops, taken on the set of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes; a set of publicity photos for Love Nest; a photo of Joe DiMaggio in his New York Yankees uniform; and Roy Schatt‘s 1955 photo of Marilyn and Susan Strasberg at the Actors Studio.

A postcard from the Table Rock House in Niagara Falls was signed by Marilyn and her Niagara co-stars, Jean Peters and Casey Adams, in 1952.

This publicity shot from River of No Return is inscribed, ‘To Alan, alas Alfred! It’s a pleasure to work with you – love & kisses Marilyn Monroe.’

A set of bloomers worn by Marilyn in River of No Return (as seen in this rare transparency) is going up for bids.

Marilyn in Korea, 1954

Among the mementoes from Marilyn’s 1954 trip to Japan and Korea are two fans and an army sewing kit.

Also among Marilyn’s personal property is this ad for There’s No Business Like Show Business, torn from the December 24, 1954 issue of Variety.

Marilyn’s hand-written poem inspired by Brooklyn Bridge is also on sale.

Among Marilyn’s assorted correspondence is a latter dated August 22, 1954, from childhood acquaintance Ruth Edens:

“I have long intended to write you this letter because I have particularly wanted to say that when you used to visit me at my Balboa Island cottage, you were a shy and charming child whose appeal, it seems to me, must have reached the hearts of many people. I could never seem to get you to say much to me, but I loved having you come in and I missed your doing so after you’d gone away. I wondered about you many times and was delighted when I discovered you in the films. I hope the stories in the magazines which say you felt yourself unloved throughout your childhood, are merely press-agentry. In any case, I want you to know that I, for one, was truly fond of you and I’m proud of you for having developed enough grit to struggle through to success … I hope you are getting much happiness out of life, little Marian [sic]. I saw so much that was ethereal in you when you were a little girl that I fell sure you are not blind to life’s spiritual side. May all that is good and best come your way!”

Marilyn’s loyalty to the troops who helped to make her a star is attested in this undated letter from Mrs. Josephine Holmes, which came with a sticker marked ‘American Gold Star Mothers, Inc.

“My dear Miss Monroe, I was so happy to hear from Mr. Fisher about your visit to the Veterans Hospital. When I spoke to Mr. Alex David Recreation he said the veterans would be thrilled, probably the best present and tonic for them this holiday and gift giving season. I am sure it will be a wonderful memory for you, knowing you have brought happiness to so many boys, many have no one to visit with them. Thank you, and may God bless you and Mr. Miller for your kindness.”

Marilyn wore this hand-tailored black satin blouse for a 1956 press conference at Los Angeles Airport, as she returned to her hometown after a year’s absence to film Bus Stop. When a female reporter asked, ‘You’re wearing a high-neck dress. … Is this a new Marilyn? A new style?’ she replied sweetly, ‘No, I’m the same person, but it’s a different suit.’

Paula Strasberg’s annotated scripts for Bus Stop, Some Like It Hot, Let’s Make Love, and her production notes for The Misfits are available; and a book, Great Stars of the American Stage, inscribed “For Marilyn/With my love and admiration/ Paula S/ May 29-1956” (the same day that Marilyn finished work on Bus Stop. )

Letters from Marilyn’s poet friend, Norman Rosten, are also included (among them a letter warmly praising her work in Some Like It Hot, and a postcard jokingly signed off as T.S. Eliot.)

Among Marilyn’s correspondence with fellow celebrities was a Christmas card from Liberace, and a telephone message left by erstwhile rival, Zsa Zsa Gabor.

File under ‘What Might Have Been’ – two letters from Norman Granz at Verve Records, dated 1957:

“In the September 5, 1957, letter, Granz writes, ‘I’ve been thinking about our album project and I should like to do the kind of tunes that would lend themselves to an album called MARILYN SINGS LOVE SONGS or some such title.’ In the December 30, 1957, letter, he writes, ‘… I wonder too if you are ready to do any recording. I shall be in New York January 20th for about a week and the Oscar Peterson Trio is off at that time, so if you felt up to it perhaps we could do some sides with the Trio during that period.'”

Also in 1957, Marilyn received this charming card from the Monroe Six, a group of dedicated New York teenage fans, mentioning her latest role in The Prince and The Showgirl and husband Arthur Miller’s legal worries:

“Marilyn, We finally got to see ‘Prince and the Showgirl’ and every one of us was so very pleased. We are all popping our shirt and blouse buttons. Now we will be on pins and needles ‘til it is released to the general public. You seemed so relaxed and a tease thru the whole picture and your close ups, well they were the most flawless ever. You should be real pleased with yourself. No need to tell you what we want for you to know now is that we hope everything comes out all right for Mr. Miller and real soon too. Guess what we are working on now. We are trying to scrape up enough money for the necessary amount due on 6 tickets to the premiere and the dinner dance afterwards. Well again we must say how happy we are about T.P.+T.S. and we wanted you to know it. Our best to you.”

Among the lots is assorted correspondence from Xenia Chekhov, widow of Marilyn’s acting teacher, Michael Chekhov, dated 1958. In that year, Marilyn sent Xenia a check which she used to replace her wallpaper. She regretted being unable to visit Marilyn on the set of Some Like It Hot, but would write to Arthur Miller on November 22, “I wanted to tell you how much your visit meant to me and how glad I was to see you and my beloved Marilyn being so happy together.”

In April 1959, Marilyn received a letter from attorney John F. Wharton, advising her of several foundations providing assistance to children in need of psychiatric care, including the Anna Freud Foundation, which Marilyn would remember in her will.

This telegram was sent by Marilyn’s father-in-law, Isidore Miller, on her birthday – most likely in 1960, as she was living at the Beverly Hills Hotel during filming of Let’s Make Love. She was still a keen reader at the time, as this receipt for a 3-volume Life and Works of Sigmund Freud from Martindale’s bookstore shows.

After Let’s Make Love wrapped, Marilyn sent a telegram to director George Cukor:

“Dear George, I would have called but I didn’t know how to explain to you how I blame myself but never you. If there is [undecipherable due to being crossed out] out of my mind. Please understand. My love to Sash. My next weekend off I will do any painting cleaning brushing you need around the house. I can also dust. Also I am sending you something but it’s late in leaving. I beg you to understand. Dear Evelyn sends her best. We’re both city types. Love, Amanda Marilyn.”

Here she is referencing her stand-in, Evelyn Moriarty, and Amanda Dell, the character she played. “Dearest Marilyn, I have been trying to get you on the telephone so I could tell you how touched I was by your wire and how grateful I am,” Cukor replied. “Am leaving for Europe next Monday but come forrest [sic] fires come anything, I will get you on the telephone.”

There’s also a June 30, 1960 letter from Congressman James Roosevelt (son of FDR), asking Marilyn to appear on a television show about the Eleanor Roosevelt Institute for Cancer Research, to be aired in October. Unfortunately, Marilyn was already committed to filming The Misfits, and dealing with the collapse of her marriage to Arthur Miller.

In 1961, movie producer Frank McCarthy praised Marilyn’s performance in The Misfits:

Rather touchingly, Marilyn owned this recording of ‘Some Day My Prince Will Come,’ sung by Adriana Caselotti. The record copyright is from 1961, but Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was originally released in December 1937, when Marilyn was just eleven years old.

This pen portrait was sketched by George Masters, who became Marilyn’s regular hairdresser in the final years of her life.

On July 5, 1962, Hattie Stephenson – Marilyn’s New York housekeeper – wrote to her in Los Angeles:

 “My Dear Miss Monroe: How are you! Trusting these few lines will find you enjoying your new home. Hoping you have heard from Mr. and Mrs. Fields by now. Found them to be very nice and the childrens [sic] are beautiful. Got along very well with there [sic] language. How is Maff and Mrs. Murray? Miss Monroe, Mrs. Fields left this stole here for you and have been thinking if you would like to have it out there I would mail it to you. Miss Monroe Dear, I asked Mrs. Rosten to speak with you concerning my vacation. I am planning on the last week of July to the 6th of August. I am going to Florida on a meeting tour. Trusting everything will be alright with you. Please keep sweet and keep smiling. You must win. Sincerely, Hattie.”

Hattie is referring to Marilyn’s Mexico friend, Fred Vanderbilt Field, who stayed with his family in Marilyn’s New York apartment that summer. She also alludes to Marilyn’s ongoing battle with her Hollywood studio. Sadly, Hattie never saw Marilyn again, as she died exactly a month later. Interestingly, the final check from Marilyn’s personal checkbook was made out to Hattie on August 3rd.

After Marilyn died, her estate was in litigation for several years. Her mother, Gladys, was a long-term resident of Rockhaven Sanitarium, which had agreed to waive her fees until her trust was reopened. In 1965, Gladys would receive hate mail from a certain Mrs. Ruth Tager of the Bronx, criticising her as a ‘hindrance’ due to her unpaid bills. This unwarranted attack on a sick, elderly woman reminds one why Marilyn was so hesitant to talk about her mother in public.

UPDATE: See results here

Marilyn and Arthur in Brooklyn

The Millers in Brooklyn, 1957 (Photo by Sam Shaw)

In 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.

Miller’s childhood home on East 3rd St, where Marilyn later visited his parents

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.

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.

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.

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

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.'”

‘The Misfits’ and the Meaning of Home

While browsing on the Lapham’s Quarterly website yesterday, I found this thoughtful 2011 essay by J.M. Tyrell, ‘The Meaning of Home‘, in which he suggests that The Misfits depicted ‘a new kind of American family.’ (I’ve collated the parts relevant to MM here, but the essay is well worth reading in its entirety.)

“Yet it’s clear from Miller’s screenplay for John Huston’s movie The Misfits—a film celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this year—that Miller didn’t see the American family as a problem that had an answer. Flee the traps of family life on an Eastern stage, and you might find yourself wandering lost and mangled in a film set in the deserts of Nevada, atomized and disconnected, drifting among strangers from divorce court to highway to rodeo to whiskey bottle to bed with fast friends. The myth of the family and the myth of self-reliance—how does the same culture hatch two such irreconcilable dreams? Miller’s characters are always being crushed by conflicting motives and impulses, forced into impossible situations by self-delusions or the repression of past betrayals. In his Eastern plays, blood relations doom one another, acting like planets circling closer and closer to moral black holes. In the movie script that heralded the end of his marriage to Marilyn Monroe, absolute freedom from family ties in the West appears to be another kind of American disaster—one papered over with a Hollywood ending.

Bigsby [Christopher Bigsby, Miller’s biographer] suggests that the playwright may have been drawn to Marilyn Monroe because the star, like Miller’s father, had been an abandoned child, and also notes the curious fact that Monroe and Isidore continued to socialize after her divorce from his son. In one sense, Monroe had been searching for a substitute father all her life—many of her lovers were older men, including Miller. According to Joyce Carol Oates’ fictionalized version of her life, Blonde (2000), she had grown up thinking that an image of Clark Gable in her mother’s home was a picture of her long-lost dad, and this stunningly imagined episode from the novel is based in fact. An irony of fate that also foreshadowed doom brought them together in 1960 to play lovers on the set of John Huston’s filmed adaptation of The Misfits. Miller had written the screenplay to honor Monroe, but their marriage collapsed on the set.

‘Hello’ was one of Miller’s keywords in the 1960s. It reappears at key points in The Misfits, as in the famous moment when Roslyn calms down Guido after spurning his advances by saying, ‘Hello, Guido!’ It’s also the final line of dialog in Miller’s 1964 play After the Fall, where it denotes a much more hopeful potential for the characters Quentin and Holga, modeled on Miller and his third wife, Inge Morath, to find each other in the ruins of twentieth-century history and the fracturing of families and marriages. (Miller and Morath first met on the set of The Misfits.) Hello: it’s an all-purpose interjection with an American ring to it. It’s ready-made for a country of ‘interesting strangers,’ as Isabelle calls Reno in The Misfits. It can be a question or a statement that amounts to admitting that we don’t know one another and we aren’t family: ‘Yes, I’m here, I exist, and who might you be?’

‘Don’t you have a home?’ Roslyn asks Gay when they’re driving around. ‘Sure,’ he says, ‘Never was a better one, either.’ ‘Where is it?’ ‘Right here,’ Gay says, and nods at the road and out at the desert. The camera shows us a stretch of land blurred by the speed of the drive: scrub brush, sand, and mountains. Sometimes the land looks grand, sublime, and inviting; on other viewings, it seems sadly desolate and empty, a kind of lie. Anyone who has ever been to Nevada knows the feeling of being divorced from everything, stuck between two sets of mountains, the time zones piling up between you and your family, everyone you once loved, and everything that once loved you. Roslyn’s response to Gay’s childlike faith in the open country—a place where you can ‘just live,’ as he puts it in an earlier scene—seems to open into a void. Monroe’s face conjures a movie star’s well of loneliness, a wounded look that seems to stare out from the foster homes of Norma Jean’s own childhood.

‘I don’t feel that way about you, Gay,’ Roslyn says, and the next thing you know he is kissing her awake for breakfast. Eroticism becomes the great American balm for lonely hearts, the fake cure-all from the movies, from Marilyn. The characters in The Misfits try to fabricate an artificial tribe out of the magic dust of sexual alchemy and instant friendship in a broken-down void that isn’t even a frontier anymore. In the East, Miller’s characters cannot escape their fates because of their closely knit families, or because of events that loom out of the past to entrap parents and children. In the West, Miller’s characters are completely free but also completely unstuck, there’s too much room and nobody knows what to do. Maybe the East contains too much love and the West not enough—absolute freedom can be as terrifyingly lonely as family life can be cloying. At any rate, there’s no solution anywhere; the signs leading to the freeway or back home are pointing in different directions. ‘Well, you’re free,’ Isabelle toasts Roslyn near the beginning of the film. ‘Maybe the trouble is you’re not used to it yet.’ Or maybe the real trouble is that the heart cannot stand this kind of freedom.

The Misfits is regarded as an artistic and personal death-trap: in Hollywood lore, it is the picture that destroyed Miller’s marriage with Monroe through various infidelities, behind-the-scenes dramas, and on-set disasters. In fact, Monroe already had entered the abyss for good and would not complete another picture. After insisting on performing many of his own strenuous stunts in the desert heat, Gable died of heart failure soon after filming ended. Yet unlike the real-life background of the production, and very much unlike Miller’s best plays, the movie itself is desperate to conjure magic and restore belief in the possibility of a happy ending. ‘Gay,’ Roslyn says, ‘if there could be one person in the world—a child who could be brave from the beginning…’ Monroe had miscarried twice with Miller. According to Miller’s ‘cinema novel’ version of The Misfits, ‘The love between them is viable, holding them a little above the earth.’

We want to believe it can all work out, and so does Miller, at least he does here. This is sorrow-tinged, impossible wish-fulfillment, not just another manipulation cooked up by the studios. The Misfits is one of those movies that jumps right out of its frame, telling us almost everything we need to know about the movies, about the insecure relationship between writers and Hollywood, about what happened to the West, and maybe even about how the American Dream had gone wrong. Happy ending aside—Joyce Carol Oates in Blonde calls it a ‘fairy tale’—the movie contradicts itself. Actually, it doesn’t contain a lot of good news.

The Misfits’ portrayal of double-edged freedom from family ties in the West couldn’t be further removed from the tragic irony of the Lomans’ ‘free and clear’ home ownership that draws the curtain in Death of a Salesman. When asked about his home, Gay gestures outside his truck at the desert. It’s the place that he’s taking Roslyn in the Hollywood happy ending of The Misfits. She’s told him that she’s ready to start a family. But, really, is there any reason to suspect that it will last longer than Gay’s previous marriage, the children of which run into their falling-down-drunk father at a rinky-dink rodeo? (Or any longer than Miller’s own marriage to Monroe, for that matter?) An Eastern family might be a self-poisoning well or a fouled nest, but The Misfits raises questions about what happens to American souls when they achieve the national dream of breaking loose from all moorings and drifting into a vast continent where nobody’s home. Which is a worse fate, to have a bad family or to have no family at all? The ending of The Misfits gives us a false or movie-dream solution to an enduring problem. It’s an answer we want to believe in but which we know is a temporary shelter at best, at worst a mirage—a mirage that surely will lead to the production of one more unhappy family.”