Arthur, Marilyn and Me

I’ve always fancied Arthur Miller.  I was an impressionable teenager when he waltzed into London with Marilyn on his arm. He seemed to my eyes so perfectly male and she so perfectly female. I guess the relationship struck a deep cord at a time when I was sorting out the male from the female in my own psyche. The male part of me loved his plays, the fact that he was so tall and handsome, his reputation for building his own furniture and the fact that he painted his own barn. Also he was left- wing, angst ridden and intense. The female part of me identified with Marilyn’s desire to be taken seriously, her vulnerability and her sweetness. The pair of them fed my dreams.

I’ve just finished reading  Arthur Miller: A Life by Martin Gottfried. I always have a biography by my bed to lull me to sleep. I’m ashamed to admit that I skimmed the lit.crit. in this one to glean the nuggets of gossip, about Marilyn particularly. I like digging, delving and burrowing for connective tissue in the lives of others. I guess it is something to do with my age and the fact that I was born into world where the excitement of Hollywood lit up a truly drab post war landscape.

Forget the fact that the marriage between Marilyn and Arthur didn’t stand a chance and didn’t last five minutes. Glamour can’t feed a relationship because it is empty and illusory. It brought together two people who each wanted nurturing. She called him Papa, which was an unpromising start and was astonished that he couldn’t provide her with the emotional succour that she craved. There is a moving interview with an older Miller, in which he tries to the best of his ability to say how difficult it is to meet the needs of an abused child.

Marilyn in spite of her damaged child was nobody’s fool. In Dame Edith Sitwell’s autobiography Taken Care Of,  she tells of her meeting with ‘Miss Marilyn Monroe’, who she describes as quiet, with great natural dignity and extremely intelligent. She was also,she said, extremely sensitive. Dame Edith tells of a magazine article that she was commissioned to write about her visit to Hollywood and this included a face to face encounter with Miss Monroe, who she suspected the magazine moguls thought would hate one another on sight.

They were mistaken.  ‘On the occasion of our meeting she wore a green dress and, with her yellow hair, looked like a daffodil. We talked mainly, as far as I remember, about Rudolf Steiner, whose works she had just been reading’.  Who would have thought it? There is even a photograph of this momentous event in existence , though sadly in black and white. 

Because a man is brilliant and tall and good looking, it doesn’t mean he  has good judgement and by the end of their honeymoon, Marilyn was beginning to doubt Arthur’s . His doting wife, Mary, had cultivated his innate talent and taken care of his creative interests. When Arthur married Marilyn, they both lost their stabilising half.  He just did not have the wherewithal to provide her with the care and comfort she needed from her man. So started her catastrophic dependence on pills. A couple of miscarriages and The Misfits all but did for what had been a shaky marriage from the start. Seven years after their divorce she was dead. Miller lived until he was nearly 90, dying in his beloved Connecticut farmouse, with his 34 year old girl friend at his side. In the meantime he had been married for 40 years to Inge Morath, a sophisticated, serious-minded European, who was a natural homemaker and who lived happily with Arthur in the Roxbury home that had become his through the generosity of Marilyn Monroe. When Inge died in her seventies, it left Arthur alone for the first time in his life. But not for long…

The puzzle to me here, is why I should identify so powerfully with this couple and why that identification should be so common. Can it be that we see in the lives of others a simplicity of form that makes the complex lines in our own lives more understandable? We see as though through a window that filters the emotions , and therefore what we see somehow helps to settle our souls a little. It’s no different from watching a play by a master playwright. Death of a Salesman for example, a play with the capacity to move us to the depth of sadness, because it shows us clearly that below the skin, we are one, and doomed to suffering.


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