Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe were the most unlikely coupling in the 1950’s: he was the intellectual, a humorless reclusive type. He was renowned for his literary achievement, particularly the play Death of a Salesman and The Crucible and a Pulitzer Prize winner. The play opened during Miller’s investigation by the House on Un-American Activities – essentially the type of witch hunt as written in the play. As for Marilyn, she was the sex goddess of the world. It made little sense that the two would come together but Marilyn decided to marry Miller when she was going through her “serious, dramatic actress” phase. She might have seen him as someone who would be able to open doors for her. He did write a screenplay for her, The Misfits, although reportedly she loathed it. It was her character that she quite liked. It was no coincidence that Rosalind had several emotional moments in the film which was a drama and not a drama-comedy. The movie is an example of how Miller tried to help Marilyn’s career. Marilyn relied upon Miller to take care of her and, seeking a father figure, often called him “papa“.Marilyn played the role of Rosalind beautifully although it was a box office bomb. A critic remarked “a great cast is no guarantee against a bad movie.” Most audiences laughed at Marilyn’s performance during a scene where she screamed at cowboys Clark Gable and Montgomery Clift. The public wasn’t interested in seeing a serious Marilyn Monroe. It wanted its sex goddess.
Miller on the other hand took her desire to be a good actress very seriously. Miller commented that she was “some kind of a dancing bear that she shouldn’t be able for example to have interest in sex and showing off or saying dopey things to the newspapers.” With a keen insight, Miller stated that what Marilyn suffered in her childhood would “today be known as abuse. And during her lifetime she struggled with that damage and lost. that’s fundamentally what it was. Her mother condemned her so her mother [Gladys Baker] was mentally ill and tried to destroy her at one point.” Marilyn’s fundamentalist religion also caused her emotional confused and stress. Her mother and foster parents, the Bolenders, took their religious faith to an extreme, “which condemned exactly what she was doing.” To add to Marilyn’s confusion her “Aunt” Grace McKee, a close friend of Gladys’, insisted that Marilyn become a movie star and use her beauty to accomplish what was, in essence, Grace’s goal. Never was there a more confused, torn, judged and unhappy person than Norma Jeane.
So odd was Miller that when he proposed marriage to Marilyn he did so on television by telling reporters “I don’t know [when the wedding will be] I haven’t had a chance to think.” Until that time Marilyn had no idea Miller was going to propose. Marilyn later contacted a friend and gasped, “did you hear that? He wants to marry me!” It was some time later that Miller and Marilyn made the announcement together in front of cameras together. Their marriage lasted 4 years, over 3 years longer than her marriage to Joe Dimaggio. At one point, without bitterness, DiMaggio was heard to state, “It’s no fun being married to an electric light. Mr. Miller seems to be faring better but then, he knows how to switch off.” Along with her marriage to Jim Dougherty, this was the longest relationship of her life. Her marriage to Dougherty however, had been as Norma Jeane, long before she became famous. As Dougherty himself pointed out, “I never knew Marilyn Monroe. I was married to Norma Jeane.”
The Miller Wedding
In order to wed Miller, Marilyn converted to Judaism. Not particularly inclined towards religion this was not a significant event in her life. Like her wedding to DiMaggio, Marilyn’s wedding to Miller was a quiet affair. Some of Miller’s family attended. Marilyn wore a simple, white summer dress and a short veil. She assured the rabbi who wed them that any children they had would be raised in the Jewish faith. Her wedding gift to Miller was a picture of them together and on the back she wrote the words, “hope hope hope“.
The Communist Persecution
The federal committee named The House of Un-American Activities, was at its peak of paranoia searching for communists in the U.S. Miller was accused of associating with communists and communist sympathizers. It wasn’t long before he struggled through a long persecution by the press and the Senate. Throughout the course of the investigation Marilyn faithfully remained by her husband’s side, never wavering in her support. Although she was strongly advised against it, Marilyn was so bold as to release a statement about Miller’s innocence to the press. Choosing her words carefully Marilyn claimed, ” I’d like to state that I am fully confident that in the end my husband will win his case”. It was a bold move but it didn’t mar Marilyn’s career in the least. It was a juicy story for the press. She was right and after several months, the feds, who lacked any evidence connecting Miller to a communist group, finally dropped their accusations against him.
Career and Control
Although Marilyn was fully supported of Miller’s reputation and career, he wavered in his support of his wife. He was a strong influence in promoting Marilyn as a “serious, dramatic actress” (her catchphrase during this period) and he had her read books by intellectuals and philosophers. He put ideas into her head, such as aspiring to play complex female roles in literary plays written by Russian playwrights, including Anton Chekhov and Dostoyevsky. It wasn’t likely that Marilyn would have done justice to a role by the renowned Russian playwright, but such was Miller’s influence she even informed the press that this was one of her goals. She wanted to star in The Brothers Karamazov and Marilyn wanted to play the role of Grushenka, a woman who is involved in a love triangle between a father and son. A woman reporter giggled at this plan, which didn’t come to fruition. If anything, Miller’s encouragement to play complicated, literary roles added to Marilyn’s frustrations and insecurity when 20th Century Fox refused to make such a deal. And Marilyn Monroe Productions would dissolve before Marilyn had a chance to finance such a movie.
Marilyn Monroe Productions
It was Marilyn’s husband who was directly responsible for the end of Marilyn Monroe Productions. Miller was jealous of the time Marilyn spent filming Bus Stop and building her production company. He was also jealous of Milton Greene, believing without cause that Marilyn and Greene were having an affair. After Bus Stop wrapped, Miller issued his wife an ultimatum: it was him or the production company. Marilyn chose her husband and her relationship with the Greenes was severed, and with it, her company. Certainly this career move clashed with Miller’s desire to see his wife star in a literary role. His encouragement of Marilyn to play a “serious, dramatic” role contradicted the ultimatum about the end of Marilyn Monroe Productions.
The Prince and the Showgirl
Sir Lawrence Olivier lit up the screen with Marilyn in this film but this was another of Marilyn’s failures. It was an utterly banal movie made in conjunction with Marilyn Monroe Productions. Marilyn was strawberry blonde rather than platinum. The film proved less than impressive, both critically and financially. It recorded a profit, but many critics panned it for being slow-moving. When Marilyn arrived in England, Anthony Summers wrote [Olivier, Vivian Leigh and Marilyn] made a great show of being friends at the airport. Once filming began however Marilyn returned to her exasperating behaviours of late arrivals on the set and confusing her lines. Olivier wrote about his frustration while working with Hollywood’s greatest movie star. Famed cinematographer, Jack Cardiff, wrote in his memoir, “Conversations with Jack Cardiff”, by Justin Bowyer, “Marilyn had this ghastly obsession with method acting and was always searching for some inner meaning with everything, but Larry would only explain the simple facts of the scene. I think she resented him“.
Olivier expected Marilyn to take direction and not try to interpret her role. Olivier went out of his way to be a “pain in the arse” to Marilyn. “He invited his wife, Vivien Leigh, the star of “Gone With The Wind”, who had played the part of the showgirl on stage, to the set – her presence visibly terrified an already nervous Monroe. Monroe resented his treatment of her and was particularly hurt by his refusal to acknowledge even her status as a sex symbol”. What’s my motivation in this scene, Mr. Sir?” Marilyn asked sarcastically. “To finish it without fluffing your lines, darling – and try to be sexy,” came the equally sarcastic reply. Miller and Olivier actually commiserated with one another. Each had beautiful, successful wives who suffered from the same mental illness.
Miller and Marilyn were newlyweds during filming of The Prince and the Showgirl, but the marriage was already in trouble. However Olivier was determined to make his marriage last. Cardiff stated, “I saw Larry years later on The Last Days of Pompeii, which was made for television in 1984. We talked a lot on set and I asked himone day what he had thought about Marilyn and he just said, ‘She was a bitch.’ Olivier seemed to have reached some kind of ‘closure’ in his 1983 autobiography “Confessions of an Actor” – “upon meeting Marilyn Monroe preparatory to the commencement of production of The Prince and the Showgirl (1957), [I] was convinced [I] was going to fall in love with her.” During production, Olivier bore the brunt of Marilyn’s famous indiscipline and wound up despising her. However, he admitted “she was wonderful in the film, the best thing in it, her performance overshadowing his own, and the final result was worth the aggravation.”
Miller and Marilyn spent the last year of their marriage in her New York apartment. Housekeeper Lena Pepitone recalled many unhappy moments between husband and wife. One night, Marilyn was thrilled when Miller agreed to take her out to a movie. She dressed in a white blouse and white, tight pants, curling her hair and applying red lipstick. “You look wonderful,” Pepitone told her but as the evening went by and the door to Miller’s study remained shut, Marilyn looked more and more unhappy. She pounded on his door, “I’m your wife!” Miller refused to open his door and Marilyn burst into tears. Yet there were happier moments too. One morning Pepitone arrived at Marilyn’s apartment to find her nude and rolling around in her bed looking utterly blissful. “Whoever said beds were made for sleeping never had a husband like mine!” she purred.
Marilyn’s desire for a child also stressed the weakened marriage. She suffered two miscarriages, one during the filming of Some Like It Hot, the other after the end of the Communist persecution against Miller. Perhaps the stress of Miller and Marilyn’s experience caused her to miscarry her baby. In 1960, Marilyn’s life began to take a turn for the worse. She suffered from a series of nervous breakdowns, several failed pregnancies and a collapsing marriage. Her world began to fall apart. That same year Marilyn became involved in a highly publicized, but short-lived affair with Frank Sinatra. It wasn’t long after that she and Miller announced they were going to divorce.
Rather than making Miller into the only bad guy in the marriage, years later Marilyn admitted she had her flaws and often burst into explosive rages for no reason. Overall however the mismatched pair began to unravel and ultimately they divorced. “Poor Arthur I used to have a bad temper. Flashes of thunder and lightening,” Marilyn admitted. This behaviour may have been directly due to her manic-depressive illness. Miller once stated thateven though Marilyn was surrounded by radiance “in the center there was a darkness and a tragedy.” When he left her, he stated it was an escape from that darkness. However Miller stated in an interview “the great thing about her to me was the struggle was valiant. She was a very courageous human being and she didn’t give up until the end.” Truer words about Marilyn Monroe were never spoken.
When Miller left, Marilyn and Pepitone went into his abandoned study. Marilyn found a framed picture of herself left on his desk. “He really wants to forget doesn’t he?” she wept. Marilyn found his diary in his desk and read some of it. She told Pepitone he had written that his first wife had misled him and he’d felt betrayed by her, but what Marilyn did to him was far worse. When Amy Greene was asked in an interview what compelled Marilyn to be with the unlikely Miller she replied, “you’re not going to believe this. He looked like Abraham Lincoln. She really liked Abraham Lincoln. That was one of her favourite people in the world.” Clearly, Miller was not.