Tag Archives: Miller Centenary

Marilyn, Arthur and ‘A View From the Bridge’

At the London premiere of 'A View From the Bridge', 1956
At the London premiere of ‘A View From the Bridge’, 1956

Writing for the New Yorker, theatre critic Hilton Als considers the emotive impact of Arthur Miller’s 1955 play, A View From the Bridge, and its symbolic connection to Marilyn.

“In 1951, he made a trip to Los Angeles to work on The Hook, a screenplay he was writing, with the director Elia Kazan. Through Kazan, he met Marilyn Monroe. Returning home, he couldn’t shake the effect that her emotional honesty and beauty had had not only on his stolid middle-class perspective but on his art and his imagination. (One of Miller’s biographers describes him as being emotionally constipated.) The nascent A View from the Bridge remained unfinished, as Miller grappled with the change in himself:

‘For I knew in my depths that I wanted to disarm myself before the sources of my art, which were not in wife alone nor in family alone but, again, in the sensuousness of a female blessing, something, it seemed, not quite of this world. In some diminished sense it was sexual hunger, but one that had much to do with truthfulness to myself and my nature and even, by extension, to the people who came to my plays. . . . Even after only those few hours with Marilyn, she had taken on an immanence in my imagination, the vitality of a force one does not understand but that seems on the verge of lighting up a vast surrounding plain of darkness.’

It was Miller’s good fortune and bad luck that he had found someone who acted as a gateway to greater truth-telling for him as an artist, but who also demanded a degree of attention that took him away from his writing and thus away from a deeper self-examination. By the time he completed his one-act version of A View from the Bridge, Miller and Monroe were romantically involved, but the play still agitated him.

It’s not far-fetched to say that the intimacy Miller struggles with in the play—the intimacy he wants the audience to have with the characters, the intimacy he wants Eddie to have with himself—was due, in part, to the example of Monroe, who drew so much on her own life and feelings in her later roles. Her rawness often led to collapse or hysteria, and it’s that hysteria that sometimes emerges in A View from the Bridge, despite Miller’s attempts to suppress it.

In To the Actors Performing This Play: On Style and Power, a 1964 essay addressed to the actors who were staging the first production of Incident at Vichy, he wrote:

‘Acting has come perilously close to being a species of therapy and has moved too far from art. A too great absorption in one’s own feelings is ordinarily called self-indulgence. . . . It is to be emphasized again that acting is not a private but a social occupation.’

But if the great actors of the day, like Kim Stanley, Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, and Monroe—who was unforgettable in her last screen performance, in the 1961 film The Misfits, written by Miller—had put the social responsibility of art first, would they have made the mistakes and the discoveries that make them transcendent poets?”

‘From the First Moment’: Arthur Miller at 100

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Arthur Miller was born 100 years ago today. In this extract from her 1960 interview with Georges Belmont for Marie-Claire magazine, Marilyn describes how they first met and what attracted her to him.

“When I met Arthur Miller for the first time, it was on a set, and I was crying. I was playing in a picture called As Young As You Feel, and he and Elia Kazan came over to me. I was crying because a friend of mine had died. I was introduced to Arthur.

That was in 1951. Everything was pretty bleary for me at that time. Then I didn’t see him for about four years. We would correspond, and he sent me a list of books to read. I used to think that maybe he might see me in a movie – there often used to be two pictures playing at a time, and I thought I might be in the other movie and he’d see me. So I wanted to do my best.

I don’t know how to say it, but I was in love with him from the first moment.

I’ll never forget that one day he said I should act on the stage and how the people standing around laughed. But he said, ‘No, I’m very serious.’ And the way he said that, I could see that he was a sensitive human being and treated me as a sensitive human being, too. It’s difficult to describe, but it’s the most important thing.”

Conversations With Arthur Miller

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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.”

Miller Book Exhibit in Connecticut

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

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Tony Kushner on Miller, Marilyn and ‘The Misfits’

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The Library of America has included Finishing the Picture, Arthur Miller’s last play about filming The Misfits, in a new anthology, Collected Plays 1987-2004, edited by playwright Tony Kushner (Angels in America.) It was previously published in England and France, but this is its first US publication. You can read my review of Finishing the Picture here.

Kushner has spoken to the Daily Beast about his work with Miller.

“The new volume of the Arthur Miller collection is the first U.S. publication of Finishing the Picture, which Miller wrote shortly before he died in 2005. What’s that play about?

It’s about Marilyn Monroe’s struggles with depression and drugs and various other interferences during the making of a film, and it’s about the collapse of his marriage to Monroe. It’s kind of a surprising thing. For a very long time, he was famously close-mouthed about his marriage to Monroe and her problems, and right at the end of his life he decided to write this play about it.

Is it sort of a biography of his Marilyn years?

I never actually asked him about it, but he was getting old and I think knew other people were going to write about his life and wanted to do his own dramatic account.”

World Premiere for Miller’s ‘Hook’

Marilyn poses for photographer Ben Ross, reading a play by Arthur Miller - shortly after their first meeting in 1951
Marilyn poses for photographer Ben Ross, while reading Arthur Miller – shortly after their first meeting in 1951

The Hook, Arthur Miller’s long-buried screenplay about troubled dockers on the New York waterfront – a district still known as Red Hook – is finally being staged at the Royal and Derngate Theatre in Northampton (of all places) after more than sixty years on the shelf, Matt Trueman writes in today’s Guardian.

“This is the script – ‘a play for the screen,’ he called it – that indirectly triggers Miller’s summons to the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). It sowed the seeds of his marriage to Marilyn Monroe and his professional split from director Elia Kazan. Without The Hook, he probably wouldn’t have written The Crucible or A View from the Bridge, nor would Kazan have made On the Waterfront. It might be the most influential film never made.

Don’t think staging it is an exercise in theatrical history, though. Sixty-six years on, The Hook is unnervingly prescient. Its focus is the exploited workforce and union corruption in New York’s docks. ‘It talks about the living wage, zero-hours contracts and industrial communities on the brink of enormous change,’ says director James Dacre, adamant that he wouldn’t programme it otherwise. ‘Why here? Why now?'”

This play is of special interest to Marilyn fans, because Miller originally pitched it as a movie to Columbia’s Harry Cohn in 1951, during his first visit to Hollywood with director Elia Kazan. Marilyn, who was then dating Kazan, even accompanied them to a meeting with Cohn, disguised as a secretary.

As noted in Miller’s autobiography, Timebends, Marilyn’s attendance was intended as revenge on the tyrannical Cohn, who had fired her in 1948 after she rejected his sexual advances. Cohn, furious at his humiliation, dismissed The Hook as communist propaganda.

In 1954, Kazan would direct an Oscar-winning film with a very similar theme for Columbia: On the Waterfront. By then, Kazan had appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee and named several colleagues as communists, in what many (including Miller) saw as a self-serving bid to save his own career.

In his own testimony before HUAC in 1956, Miller admitted to having attended a few communist meetings many years before, but refused on principle to name others. Marilyn stood by her husband, and he was acquitted in 1958.

From 1998: Miller Shares View of Marilyn

At the UK premiere of 'A View From the Bridge', 1956
At the UK premiere of ‘A View From the Bridge’, 1956

The tenth anniversary of Arthur Miller’s death is being marked with a London revival of A View From the Bridge – the controversial play that first opened in the same city back in 1956, during filming of The Prince and the Showgirl.

In tribute to Miller, The Guardian has republished a 1998 interview with Labour politician Roy Hattersley, who recalled that Arthur only seemed rattled when asked about Marilyn. (This could have been because their relationship has been so misrepresented in the press.)

“Was there a time when he was to be found by a Hollywood swimming pool in a white dinner jacket? Miller did not even smile. ‘No. I never did that. She wouldn’t have wanted to be there either.’ So she too was a basically serious person? ‘Oh yeah. She had hopes for herself in that direction, but she wasn’t allowed time to develop.’ At the press conference that launched the film version of Terence Rattigan’s Sleeping Prince, Monroe was asked if she really wanted to appear in a stage version of The Brothers Karamazov. [Actually, it was a film version.] She replied that she hoped to play Grushenka, adding, ‘It’s a girl’. The journalist, unwilling to be outsmarted, asked her to spell the name. Miller wrote that, ‘She could not be afforded the dignity of a performer announcing a new project. Sex and seriousness could not exist in the same woman.’ Metaphorically at least, Miller seems to have lived for years with a protective arm around her shoulder, which explains why such a reasonable man took unreasonable exception to the press’s attitude. ‘I thought of her as being very vulnerable, as indeed she was. And the press came in like birds chewing up what was left of the carcass. I understand why they were doing it. She hadn’t gotten out of the old personality – the dumb blonde from Niagara and Asphalt Jungle. She was trying to get out of it.’

‘The last I knew her, I think she was trying to be a tragic actress. She had a tragic life. And part of the attraction of her comedy was that it came out of a very sad person. If you’ve ever known any real funny people – clowns – you know that a lot of them are permanently depressed. In the long run she would probably have ended up as a moderately successful comedienne. Perhaps she already was.’ Questions should have followed about the Kennedys and her death. Decency made them equally oblique. ‘When you look back, do you feel bitter and resentful about what happened to her – bitter and resentful on her behalf?’ The answer was conclusive. ‘The whole thing worked out almost fatefully. The end had to be a tragedy. The cards were stacked too heavily in that direction. There was no way to change that course once she got on it.’ Miller and Joe DiMaggio, the baseball hero who had been Marilyn’s second husband, had agreed at the time of her death that ‘she needed a blessing’. Miller almost smiled. ‘She needed a miracle and there was none available.'”

Timebends: Miller and Marilyn

Sam Shaw, 1957

Marking the tenth anniversary of Arthur Miller’s death, the Telegraph has published a tribute – in Miller’s own words, including his thoughts on Marilyn (from his 1987 memoir, Timebends.)

“She was a whirling light to me then, all paradox and enticing mystery, street-tough one moment, then lifted by a lyrical and poetic sensitivity that few retain past early adolescence… She was at this point incapable of condemning or even of judging people who had damaged her, and to be with her was to be accepted, like moving out into a kind of sanctifying light from a life where suspicion was common sense. She had no common sense, but what she did have was something holier, a long-reaching vision of which she herself was only fitfully aware: humans were all need, all wound. What she wanted most was not to judge but to win recognition from a sentimentally cruel profession, and from men blinded to her humanity by her perfect beauty.”