The Villain and the Showgirl: A Closer Look at Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe

By 15th November 2015IM Articles

Arthur Miller. In the Marilyn community his very name conjures up images of The Hooded Claw; a cartoon villain with very few likeable qualities, a man whose appearance in the life of the heroine provokes boos and hisses from the viewing public. When an Arthur Miller photo or article is posted online in a Marilyn community group you can almost guarantee that it will be followed a flurry of negative comments, polarised views and hot debate. One comment that crops up on a regular basis is this; he didn’t love her at all.

Arthur and Marilyn, 1956

Arthur and Marilyn in England for the filming of The Prince and the Showgirl, just after their marriage.

Joe versus Arthur?
To the press and much of the American public, Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe were a dream couple; the legendary sportsman and the sexy movie star, happily married and planning a life together. By late 1954, less than a year after their wedding, their passionate relationship had broken down when it had become apparent to Marilyn that the couple had little in common. Joe had a jealous streak and wanted a wife but instead, he got a movie star. There were rumours of domestic violence and after just nine months, the couple divorced. For the remainder of her life, Joe worked hard to woo Marilyn back and change his ways, only maintaining his distance when she married Miller. In 1961 after her divorce, Joe was on hand to offer Marilyn his support and friendship when she needed it. At the time she said “I’ve always been able to reply on Joe after the first bitterness of our parting faded.”
Tragically less than a year later he was the one person that Bernice turned to when she needed someone to claim the body of her half-sister while she made the trip from Florida to the west coast. A heartbroken Joe maintained a promise he had made to Marilyn during their courtship when they had discussed the loving gesture made by William Powell after Jean Harlow’s early death. Joe kept that promise for twenty years; a weekly delivery of fresh roses to Marilyn’s crypt.
In the eyes of many, how could any other man compete with Joe’s devotion?
Marilyn met Arthur Miller during the filming of ‘As Young As You Feel’ in 1951. He had made the trip west with friend and director, Elia Kazen, who was under contract with Fox and had some business with the studios. Over the course of several days, Marilyn, who knew Kazen through a casual affair, accompanied the duo to various meetings and had later run into them at a party. Marilyn’s acting coach, Natasha Lytess recalled Marilyn telling her “It was like running into a tree! You know, like a cool drink when you’ve got a fever. You see my toe, this toe? Well he sat and held my toe and we just looked into each other’s eyes almost all evening.” In his 1987 biography, Miller recalled a distressed Marilyn still grieving over the death of agent and lover Johnny Hyde “her face seemed puffed (with crying) and not especially beautiful but she could hardly move a finger without striking the heart with the beauty of its curving line.”
On his return to New York, the couple acknowledged that a spark had been ignited and over the course of the next four years exchanged a number of letters. Miller was racked with guilt as he was married with two children however; at this point he states their connection was purely an emotional one. In his journals he noted “I no longer knew what I wanted, certainly not the end of my marriage, but the thought of putting Marilyn out of my life was unbearable.”
After her marriage to Joe was over, Marilyn left the west coast and went into exile in New York where she headed for The Actors Studio and eventually to Arthur Miller, who later separated and divorced his first wife Mary. Marilyn and Arthur married in 1956 and sadly went through the heartache of unsuccessful pregnancies, infidelity and 1960, the breakdown of their marriage. Although Miller remarried within a year of their divorce, he was still struggling with aspects of his second marriage some 40 years later. His final play, ‘Finishing the Picture’, was a narrative about the filming of The Misfits, written just a few months before his own death in 2005.

Arthur and Marilyn, Jamaica, 1957

Arthur and Marilyn on their belated honeymoon in Jamaica, January 1957

So why is Arthur credited with Marilyn’s downfall and why do many believe he used her?
He was aloof and didn’t show emotion; Miller wasn’t Joe. He was not conventionally attractive and was awkward in his dealings with the press. He did not enjoy being in the limelight and naively believed that once the news of their marriage had broken, that they would be left alone to get on with their lives. He was wrong. The couple were ridiculed by journalists (‘The Egghead and the Hourglass’) and Marilyn’s efforts to move into dramatic roles were often treated with contempt. Put bluntly, the tone was set and the press were going to run and run with it and to this day, they still do.
Didn’t he need good publicity during the McCarthy Trials? Not really. Miller stood by his convictions when subpoenaed to appear before The House of Un-American Activities Committee. He had been called to testify and was offered a chance for this to ‘go away’ if he would arrange for a photo call between Marilyn and the Head of the Committee. He point blank refused. In 1957 he was found guilty of contempt of congress and was fined, blacklisted and disallowed a passport when he refused to ‘name names.’ In 1958 this verdict was overturned by the Court of Appeal after they found that the Head of the Committee had misled Miller. At the time Marilyn wrote “I am so concerned about protecting Arthur. I love him and he is the only person, the only human being I have ever known that I could love, not only as a man – to which I am attracted to practically out of my senses about – but he is the only person I trust as much as myself.”

Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller's wedding day

Marilyn and Arthur are married in a Jewish ceremony on July 1, 1956.

He married her for her money. Not true. Financially Miller was comfortable, he had a successful career and his work was admired by the critics. Miller did have an ex-wife and two children to support and he honoured that commitment; Marilyn had a part to play in the breakdown of that marriage and she was adamant that his children were taken care of. Financially, she knew what she was getting into. In addition, Miller was incurring almost daily legal costs with the drawn out proceedings of the HUAC which dragged on for nearly two years. Marilyn supported her husband during this process 100% and was proud that he had fought for his principles. She knew what this meant to their finances and as the main breadwinner during this period, her work supported the couple and their lifestyle.
He didn’t love her. From their first meeting, Marilyn and Miller set out on a long distance friendship that evolved into a deep and meaningful love affair. Marilyn sought support for her aspirations to be a dramatic actress and Miller found a woman who was emotionally intelligent, treated badly by the Hollywood system and wanted to be appreciated for all that she was; a serious actress and pupil, a wife and hopefully in time, a mother.
By the time the couple’s relationship had gone public, they had been meeting in secret for nearly a year, and the excitement of this private affair had so inflated the expectations they had of one another that they were almost in trouble from the start. As in many new relationships, they presented the best version of themselves to the other and as the marriage came under pressure from external forces, it was tested to breaking point. Miller found himself in the role of confidante, mentor and for some periods, carer and every decision he made revolved around Marilyn’s career and needs. He wanted to support her fully and as her distrust for others around her grew, she expected 100% loyalty and more and more of his time. When Marilyn discovered critical notes that Miller had made in his journal about her, the threads of trust began to unravel.

Arthur and Marilyn leaving hospital, 1957

Marilyn and Arthur are forced to smile for the press after Marilyn’s hospitalization for an ectopic pregnancy in 1957.

The most significant strain on the couple is so often overlooked but yet is so obvious. Marilyn desperately wanted children with Arthur, her two confirmed pregnancies ended in heartbreak in 1957 (an ectopic pregnancy that had to be terminated to save Marilyn’s life) and 1958 when they lost a baby approximately four months into her pregnancy. These tragic events occurred in an era when there was little support or understanding of the impact of miscarriage on a couples mental health and Marilyn suffered greatly. Her insomnia was out of control, her dependency on prescribed medication increased and she had at least three hospital admissions for corrective surgeries. This was to try and alleviate the symptoms of the painful gynaecological condition endometriosis, which was affecting her chances of conceiving and carrying a child. Miller sought help for Marilyn and encouraged her to see her doctors but on at least two occasions, he found her unresponsive after she had taken too much medication. After four years of marriage and Marilyn’s extra marital affair with co-star Yves Montand, Miller was exasperated and drained. He believed that the woman he loved was now beyond help and that he had failed her, he had failed to save her from herself.

Marilyn and Arthur at Roxbury

Marilyn and Arthur at their Roxbury farm, photographed by Sam Shaw

Arthur Miller was not a saint. His behaviour towards Marilyn at times was ill judged and cruel. His remarriage so soon after their divorce and the news he was expecting a child must have been incredibly difficult for Marilyn but the reality was they had both moved on. The publication of his play ‘After the Fall’ came too soon after Marilyn’s death and despite his protests that Maggie was not a portrayal of Marilyn, the critics were divided. One could argue that Arthur was a writer and this was his outlet, but should he have published it? If Marilyn had lived, there may not have been a play at all and there is a possibility that the two may have become friends again as she did with Joe, but we will never know.
There was no public romantic gesture after her death as there was with Joe. However towards the end of his life, Christopher Bigsby, who was writing a book on Miller, was given access to some of his papers and to the man himself at the home he had once shared with Marilyn. Bigsby noted that Miller had kept five letters Marilyn had written to him during their courtship. However, the most poignant reminder of their time together hung in the garage; Marilyn’s bicycle was in the same place she had left it, some forty years before.
Is it fair to bash Arthur because he wasn’t Joe or can we accept that Marilyn made her own choices and loved and was loved in return?


Marilyn and Arthur during filming of The Misfits

A sweet moment on the set of The Misfits shows it was not all strife on the set.

As for the big question, did Miller really love Marilyn?

The best person to ask is Miller himself.
“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. It was an ironical summer that I will never forget, my soul only half there (at work) and exhilarated with life and at the same time ridden with guilt. I loved her as though I had loved her all my life; her pain was mine”
“First of all I took her at her own evaluation; I thought she was a very serious girl, because I loved her. Because I took that view, she thought the best of her was in my eyes”
“I too was struggling because I could not smash her enemies with one magic stroke, our own relationship was wounded because she was beyond my reassurance, she had no means of preventing the complete unravelling of her belief in a person once a single thread was broken”
“Her incredible resilience was almost heroic to me now. Without discussion we both knew we had effectively parted and I thought a pressure had been removed from her, and for that much I was glad”
“I realised now, as I longed for a miracle, that I had come to believe no analysis could reach into her. I had no saving mystery to offer her; nor could her hand be taken if she would not hold it out. I had lost my faith in a lasting cure coming from me, and wondered if indeed it would come from any human agency at all.”
“There was a lot of pain, certainly for her, and certainly for me. It was a defeat. She was a super sensitive instrument and that’s exciting to be around. Until it starts to self-destruct”
“The great thing about her to me, was that the struggle was valiant, she was a very courageous human being and she didn’t give up till the end”
Sources: Timebends – Bloomsbury Publishing 1987
60 Minutes Interview – Arthur Miller. 1987
Arena Interview with the BBC – Arthur Miller