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Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller. How an intellectual took leave of his senses

They were a contradiction. He, a recognised dramatist, Pulitzer prize winner, leading a quiet life within the four walls of his home, with study and typewriters. She, an emotionally unstable film star, alluring delicacy and childlike naïveté, and overpowering sex appeal.

The actress died 60 years ago. Many were unable to believe that two characters from two entirely different worlds could have something in common. But the marriage between Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe did in fact happen.

Dr Mateusz Werner, philosopher of culture, film critic and a cultural studies academic at the Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University (UKSW) in Warsaw, stresses that the couple played a historic role in the American culture of the 1950s and 1960s. Marilyn Monroe was the epitome of womanhood who revolutionised contemporary mores. Similarly with Brigitte Bardot in the French cinematic New Wave. Roger Vadim, director of “And God Created Woman”, showed Bardot’s naked beauty, devoid of any ideology. She was just being herself. Werner states that this applies to Monroe too.

Dr Piotr Kletkowski, film critic at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków states “If we look at cinema as the equivalent of contemporary mythology then this cinematic Aphrodite, its tenth muse is Marilyn Monroe.”

Arthur Miller, her husband is equally fascinating. Werner continues “Arthur Miller in ‘Death of a Salesman’ showed that the American Dream of prosperity, emancipation and access to cultural and civilisational goods linked to post-second world war economic development is an idealised myth. In this sense we can compare him to Tennessee Williams, Jack Kerouac or Allen Ginsberg. We should add that he owed much to the Frankfurt school of Theodore Adorno and Herbert Marcuse.”

His wife was waiting

They met at the beginning of 1951. Monroe already had one marriage behind her and she was on the threshold of a great career. She was a talented actress having played in a minor but respected role in John Houston’s film, “The Asphalt Jungle”.

Miller came to Hollywood together with Elia Kazan, to pitch his screenplay “The Hook” to Columbia Pictures and which to be directed by Kazan himself. Miller was 35 years old and already known for his play writing. In particular, he was noticed for “ All My Sons” and “Death of a Salesman” for which he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1949. Donald Spoto, Monroe’s biographer, wrote of him “He wore his glasses down on his nose, he was tall and slim, shy as if he were unsure of his own strengths, somewhat unnatural in his lifestyle, a typical intellectual.”

He intended to stay in Hollywood for only a week to later return to New York after settling business. His wife was waiting for him. Mary Grace Slaterry, was his college love and they had two children.

Miller and Kazan stayed at the home of film agent Charles Feldman. After handing over a copy of the screenplay to Harry Cohn, the co-founder and chairman of Columbia, they enjoyed partying whilst waiting for a decision on the matter. Kazan took his friend to the 20th Century Fox studios and they went onto the set of “As Young as You Feel” directed by Harmon Jones, and tin which Marilyn Monroe had a minor role. Kazan introduced her to Miller. At the time, Monroe was involved with a steamy affair with the director of “A Streetcar named Desire”.

The following day, she accompanied the friends to a meeting with Harry Cohn. The head of the studios said that he had to discuss the screenplay with the FBI. He discussed it also with Roy Brewer, the representative of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE). Brewer was an anti-communist activist and knew Joe Ryan, head of the International Docker’s Union. “The Hook” was intended as a film about the conflict between New York dockers and dishonest and exploitative trade unions. Cohn feared that the premiere would disrupt the work of American ports. This was at a time of the Korean war and the resupply of American forces was made chiefly by sea. It could have serious repercussions.

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By Łukasz Lubański

Translated by Jan Darasz

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