Marilyn and Arthur’s Windmill Summer

Marilyn at her Amagansett summer home in 1957. Pjoto by Sam Shaw
Marilyn at her Amagansett summer home in 1957. Pjoto by Sam Shaw

Following reports that the ‘windmill house‘ on Deep Lane, Amagansett where Marilyn and Arthur Miller spent the summer in 1957 is up for sale, Tom Clavin (author of The DiMaggios) traces the history of their stay for 27east.com.

amagansett windmill house

“‘The place belonged to a former stage manager named Jeffrey Potter and his wife, Penny, both friends of Miller,’ according to Martin Gottfried in his biography of the playwright. ‘It was set on a one hundred-acre site that, like so much of the Hamptons, was once used for potato farming. To one side was a riding stable and on the other was the home of the artist Willem de Kooning. The farmhouse itself faced on winding, arboreal Town Lane, minutes from the painterly bay beaches at Louse Point and Barnes Landing, a few miles from the ocean dunes. Arthur and Marilyn would drive down to that Atlantic shore, rolling onto the beach at Napeague Lane in their new Jeep.’

car1

Several accounts contend that the summers in Amagansett that included the ‘windmill house’ were a happy period for the troubled actress. Photographs taken during that time by Sam Shaw, reportedly her favorite photographer, support the contentions. It had to help that some of her artistic ambitions had been realized by co-starring with Laurence Olivier in The Prince and the Showgirl, released in June 1957. A sad event for the Millers was that while in Amagansett that July, Monroe announced she was pregnant; however, following complications the ectopic pregnancy was ended. Also that summer, an EMS team from East Hampton had to rush to their rental to revive Monroe, who had overdosed on sleeping pills.

Despite career and personal concerns, Miller apparently enjoyed the time spent in Amagansett. In his autobiography, Timebends, he has idyllic recollections: ‘Our rented house in eastern Long Island faced broad green fields that made it hard to believe we were so near the ocean. Next door lived a painter and her husband who cherished their own privacy and thus defended ours. Now we could take easy breaths in a more normal rhythm of life.’

mmsininenmekkomiller3

Several years ago, this reporter interviewed Joan Copeland, Arthur Miller’s sister, for the Press. She first came to Amagansett in 1957 when she made summertime visits to her brother and Marilyn. ‘That was my introduction to the East Hampton area,’ Ms. Copeland recalled. ‘The house I bought there 30 years ago is very close to where Arthur and Marilyn lived.’

Special visits with her brother’s wife were on June 1, the birthday Ms. Copeland and Marilyn share. ‘My father had the same birthday too, so we would celebrate it together,’ said Ms. Copeland. ‘My mother did the cooking and my father, Marilyn and me did the eating. She was very alluring. She had a delicacy to her, a vulnerability unlike anyone I’d ever met. If you knew her well, it would not be too hard to get to her. The problem was if you didn’t like her, it was easy to hurt and damage her.'”

The Last Goddess: Grace Hartigan’s ‘Marilyn’

Grace Hartigan

Grace Hartigan was an American Abstract Expressionist painter of the New York School in the 1950s. One of her most famous works, ‘Marilyn’, was created after the death of MM. In a new biography, Restless Ambition: Grace Hartigan, Painter, Cathy Curtis reveals that Hartigan’s interest in Marilyn dated back to the summer of 1957, when she spotted her on vacation with husband Arthur Miller in the Hamptons. She also kept a photograph of Marilyn with author Isak Dinesen (taken in 1959), pinned to her wall for inspiration.

'Marilyn' (1962)
‘Marilyn’ (1962)

“Marilyn Monroe’s death in 1962 from a barbiturate overdose inspired Marilyn (1962.) Grace floated vivid details in a giddily feminine pink and purple haze; the actress’s gleaming teeth in an open-mouthed smile (from a Life photograph), a wavy blonde lock of hair, a blue eye, white klieg lights, and a gesturing hand emerging from a ruffled sleeve (based on a photograph of a detail from a fifteenth century fresco). Despite the luminous quality of the painting, it has a strangely terrifying quality because of the contrast between the brilliant white arc of Marilyn’s teeth – the only area that seems to push forward into space – and the empty black space inside her mouth.

As a subject for serious art, in an era when popular culture was still held at arm’s length from highbrow culture, Marilyn Monroe was not on a part with Dido and Aeneas. But [May] Tabak had urged Grace not to have any qualms about making a painting about Marilyn. (‘What does abstraction mean if she wasn’t an abstraction?’) At the opening of Grace’s fall exhibition at the Martha Jackson Gallery, [art critic] Harold Rosenberg told his wife that this was the most interesting piece in the show. Grace may also have gained courage from her mentor’s example. [Willem] De Kooning had led the way with his big-eyed, lipsticked Marilyn Monroe (1954), whose oddly chunky torso echoed the colors of her hair and lips. She could also look to Frank O’Hara, whose poem ‘To the Film Industry in Crisis,’ written the following year, evokes the actress ‘in her little spike heels’ in the 1953 thriller Niagara. In ‘Returning’ (1956), he facetiously quotes the film goddess on being a sex symbol.

In its wistful sensibility – though, of course, not its style – Grace’s version is akin to Audrey Flack‘s glossy Photorealist still lifes Marilyn (Vanitas) and Marilyn (Golden Girl) from the late seventies. Flack viewed the actress as ‘a symbol for love, the need for love, and the pain of never having enough love,’ identifying with her because ‘she never really got enough love from her mother or father.’ This was an ache Grace knew well. She and Flack were also nostalgic about – as Grace put it – a time when people had a choice of gods and goddesses to worship. ‘We don’t have these now,’ Grace said, ‘so we set up all of these popular culture idols, and we invest them with qualities of love and hostility and so forth.'”

Paint company founder Leonard Bocour – who had once been president of an MM fan club – congratulated Grace on the painting, declaring himself ‘President of the Grace Hartigan Price Fan Club.’ Grace objected to comparisons between her work and Andy Warhol’s ‘big facade,’ adding, ‘my work gets into the woman herself.’

De Kooning’s Marilyn at the Smithsonian

kooning mm

Eight years before Andy Warhol, the Dutch-born American painter, Willem de Kooning was perhaps the first great artist to immortalise Marilyn. His 1954 expressionist work is featured in a new exhibition, Face Value: Portraiture In the Age of Abstraction, opening at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC tomorrow (April 15) through to next January, reports the Times Colonist.

During the summer of 1957, De Kooning was a neighbour of Marilyn and Arthur Miller in Amagansett, New York. “Totally abstract, Marilyn looks like a cross between a grinning child and a screaming fury, not like the soft and gentle Marilyn,” Lois Banner wrote in Marilyn: The Passion and the Paradox (2012.) “Yet he captured part of her essence – childlike, but angry when crossed. The portrait was hung in the Museum of Modern Art, and it produced a stir. Arthur detested it, but Marilyn didn’t mind: she thought artists had the right to their own vision of the subject they painted. It led to the many pop art portraits of her.”