more stars than in the heavens

not in our stars, but in ourselves

Misfits: Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller


It is officially VD here in Australia, so you might expect me to post the loviest-doviest couple today.  Ha!  Wrong.  I am, on occasions such as this, perverse.  Today’s couple is the doomed union dubbed by the press “The Egghead and the Hourglass.” They did love each other an awful lot – at least, they thought they did – but it soured pretty quickly.  They fought hard to save their marriage, but it just never took.  Poor little lambs.

They came from vastly different backgrounds, quite obviously.  Monroe had a famously difficult childhood, which extended into a famously difficult adulthood as well: born to a mentally ill mother, bounced around from foster homes to orphanages, abused in every conceivable way, and finally married off at age 16 to avoid having to spend any more time in state care.  She was extremely bright, despite having dropped out of high school, and a voracious reader.  She was interested in art, history, poetry, and literature especially.  Miller was born to a hardworking family of Polish-Jewish immigrants in New York City.  He worked hard as a boy to help support his parents after the stock market crash, and eventually went on to study – and excel in – journalism, English, and playwriting.  He became something of a boy wonder of a playwright, commanding both respect and popularity.

In 1950, they met for the first time.  Miller wrote of that initial encounter:

She was in a beige and a white satin blouse, and her hair hung down to her shoulders, parted on the right side, and the sight of her was something like pain, and I knew that I must flee or walk into a doom beyond all knowing. With all her radiance she was surrounded by a darkness that perplexed me. I could not yet imagine that in my very shyness she saw some safety, released from the detached and centerless and invaded life she had been given; instead, I hated my lifelong timidity, but there was no changing it now. When we parted I kissed her cheek and she sucked in a surprised breath… I had to escape her childish voracity, something like my own unruly appetite for self-gratification, which had both created what art I had managed to make and disgusted me with its stain of irresponsibility.



It was five years before they met again, Monroe having just divorced Joe DiMaggio.  This time, they were able to act on their mutual attraction: they began dating and were married by the next year.  Jim Proctor, one of Miller’s friends, said, “I don’t think I ever saw two people so dizzy with love for each other. Having known Arthur a long time as an introspective guy, it was, well, like a miracle to see him so outgoing.” Monroe herself said, “We’re so congenial. This is the first time I’ve been really in love. Arthur is a serious man, but he has a wonderful sense of humor. We laugh and joke a lot. I’m mad about him.”

Alas, the love-dizziness soon gave way to vertigo.  They went to England so that Monroe could shoot The Prince and the Showgirl (1957) with none other than Laurence Olivier.  Olivier assumed he’d fall madly in love with Monroe during the shoot.  Au contraire.  They drove each other absolutely batty, with Monroe relying on her newly learned Method acting and Olivier relying on his tried-and-true, Shakespeare-honed technique.  Often, Monroe would complain to Miller about how unreasonable Olivier was being.  Miller tried to be sympathetic, but as he said later, “Inevitably, the time soon came when in order to keep reality from slipping away occasionally I had to defend Olivier or else reinforce the naivete of her illusions; the result was that she began to question the absoluteness of my partisanship on her side of the deepening struggle.” The poison began to seep in.


They repeatedly tried to start a family, but she miscarried or was forced to abort for her own health’s sake each time.  She put on weight, and came to rely on a pharmacy’s worth of drugs – as well as her psychiatrist, her acting coach, and others who had very vested interests in her.  Miller had found that she was, in his words, “all need and all wound.”

What I think is this: Marilyn Monroe was a profoundly damaged person.  How could you not be, after an upbringing like that?  And then, rather than living a relatively normal life, she was the most famous, most pawed-at woman in the world.  She wanted someone who just loved her for who she was – demons and all.  She thought she found that in Arthur Miller, but it seems to me that he fell more for the image of her than for the woman herself.  Monroe said this of the marriage, and my heart just about breaks every time I read it:

When we were first married, he saw me as so beautiful and innocent among the Hollywood wolves that I tried to be like that. I almost became his student in life and literature… But when the monster showed, Arthur couldn’t believe it. I disappointed him when that happened. But I felt he knew and loved all of me. I wasn’t sweet all through. He should love the monster too. But maybe I’m too demanding. Maybe there’s no man who could put up with all of me.

Did she opt into some pretty harmful practices?  Yes.  Did she do the wrong thing sometimes?  Yes.  Was she difficult to live with?  No doubt.  But could she possibly have borne another strain – that of having to continue to be the world’s most innocent sex symbol – within her marriage as well as in all other aspects of her life?  No, I don’t think so.  And I think Miller was a bit blind, at the very least, to expect her to.  We all play some sort of role in our relationships, obviously, but we should be able to relax in the one most important relationship of our lives.  Marilyn never got to relax: it was always perform, perform, perform, in an effort to be loved, loved, loved.  With no one to understand her, it’s no wonder she cracked.


4 comments on “Misfits: Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller

  1. Margaret Kell Virany
    February 14, 2013

    Full of insight. You’ve added something to my perceptions of both of them.

  2. sequinsandcherryblossom
    February 14, 2013

    You said it – Yikes! And yes, full of insight. Thanks.

  3. Pingback: The dance that’s a dream of romance | more stars than in the heavens

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