- Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe were married in 1956. At odds with the House Un-American Activities Committee, the playwright stayed away from the Broadway stage during that period, later working on a couple of star vehicles for his wife, Let’s Make Love and, most notably, The Misfits.
- The final segment of this three-part Arthur Miller article offers a brief look at the problem-plagued Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe collaboration The Misfits and at the “anti-On the Waterfront” drama A View from the Bridge, based on Miller’s 1955 one-act play.
The Misfits: Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe collaboration remains playwright’s only (quasi-)movie classic
Lovers for some time, Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe wed in June 1956, shortly after the playwright’s 16-year marriage to his first wife, Mary Slattery, was officially over.
When not fighting the House Un-American Activities Committee and McCarthyism, during his time as the third and final husband of the Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and The Seven Year Itch actress, Miller did uncredited work on her 1960 star vehicle Let’s Make Love and penned a screenplay expressly to showcase her under-tapped dramatic talent.
That evolved into the modern-day Western/psychological drama The Misfits (1961), an ill-fated production that turned out to be Monroe’s last completed film.
Cruel ‘real men’
However unreliable, “cowboys are the last real men left in the world,” explains The Misfits’ Reno, Nevada, landlady Isabelle to sensitive, thirty-something out-of-towner Roslyn, in the area while waiting for her divorce to be finalized.
Among the “last real men” Isabelle is referring to are Roslyn’s two new companions: The rugged, aging Westerner Gaylord Langland and the emotionally off-kilter rodeo rider Perce Howland.
One detail Isabelle fails to mention: These real men, as Roslyn discovers to her horror, earn some extra cash by rounding up wild horses in the desert so they can be slaughtered and turned into canned dog food.
How can the burgeoning romance between Gaylord and Roslyn survive that realization?
Best Actor Oscar winner Clark Gable (It Happened One Night, 1934) was cast as Gaylord, while three-time nominee Montgomery Clift, still suffering form the aftereffects of a 1956 car accident that had left him disfigured, played Perce.
Other behind-the-scenes talent included six-time Oscar-nominated composer Alex North; cinematographer Russell Metty, soon to be an Oscar winner (for Spartacus, 1960); and frequent Alfred Hitchcock collaborator George Tomasini.
Their marriage on the rocks, Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe were at odds with one another during the making of The Misfits, which began shooting in July 1960 in the northern Nevada desert, where temperatures reached 100°F (approx. 38°C).
Miller would reportedly see the production as “the lowest point” in his life. He was kept busy, continually revising the screenplay as filming extended for months in large part because Monroe, by then addicted to alcohol and pills, was frequently either running late or absent from the set.
Shooting finally wrapped in November. That same month, 59-year-old Clark Gable, who had performed several of his own stunts, suffered a fatal heart attack.
A United Artists release, The Misfits opened on February 1, 1961, on what would have been Gable’s sixtieth birthday. By that time, Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe had already ended their union.
‘Introspective conflicts’ & ‘motivational contradictions’
Upon its release, The Misfits was not infrequently seen as John Huston’s latest artistic letdown, following on the heels of The Barbarian and the Geisha (1958), The Roots of Heaven (1958), and The Unforgiven (1960).
After remarking on The Misfits’ “robust, high-voltage adventure drama,” Variety, for one, pointed out that Arthur Miller’s plot features “a complex mass of introspective conflicts, symbolic parallels and motivational contradictions, the nuances of which may seriously confound general audiences.”
In the New York Times, Bosley Crowther griped:
“Unfortunately for the film’s structure, everything turns upon [Marilyn Monroe’s Roslyn] …. But there is really not much about her that is very exciting or interesting. Mr. Miller makes a pass at explanation. He has someone tell her: ‘When you smile, it’s like the sun coming up.’ …
[The denouement of the climactic horse-catching sequence] has something to do with her sense of freedom. What, we wouldn’t know.
So that’s what’s wrong with this picture. Characters and theme do not congeal. There is a lot of absorbing detail in it, but it doesn’t add up to a point.
Although a not inconsiderable box office performer – an estimated $4.1 million in rentals (the studio’s share of the gross; approx. $55 million today) – The Misfits turned out to be a major commercial disappointment due to its exorbitant $4 million budget.
Sole Arthur Miller big-screen ‘classic’
Beginning in the late 20th century, The Misfits’ dramatic effectiveness has been reassessed. Here’s one example, from The Independent’s Geoffrey Macnab:
“Against the odds, [Monroe] gives an extraordinary performance. It’s an artless one that at times seems phoney, but what she does convey in uncanny and febrile fashion is her character’s power of empathy, whether it is her sympathy for the cowboys … or for the wild mustangs they plan to kill. …
“There are also echoes of Miller’s plays. With their yearning for an outdoors life on the plains, Gable’s and Clift’s characters have traces of Biff Loman in Death of a Salesman. Gable and Clift are exceptional in roles that celebrate and subvert their usual screen images.”
In all, this Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe collaboration remains the only Miller-connected big-screen release that approaches the standing of a – however flawed – classic.
Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe: The End
Making use of Mexico instead of Nevada, Marilyn Monroe became a three-time divorcée in January 1961.
Regarding the demise of their relationship, Miller would tell John Huston, “Neither of us reproaches the other, and there’s no one else to blame.”
Following The Misfits, Monroe was cast in the 20th Century Fox comedy Something’s Got to Give, but as a consequence of her frequent tardiness/absences the studio fired her in June 1962. Negotiations to bring her back began later that month, but before filming could resume she was found dead on Aug. 5 at her home in Los Angeles’ Brentwood district.
In an unpublished essay written that same year, Arthur Miller explained that “instead of jetting to the funeral to get my picture taken I decided to stay home and let the public mourners finish the mockery. Not that everyone there will be false, but enough.”
Also in that essay, he further ridiculed those “public mourners” who chose to “stand there weeping and gawking, glad that it is not you going into the earth, glad that it is this lovely girl who at last you killed.”
After the Fall
Besides hastening the end of the Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe union, The Misfits introduced the playwright to his next wife, Austrian photographer Inge Morath, and served as inspiration for Miller’s play Finishing the Picture, produced at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre in October 2004.
Alongside Albert Camus’ introspective 1957 novel The Fall, the aftermath of the Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe relationship would itself become the basis for Miller’s 1964 play After the Fall, mostly set inside the mind of a middle-aged New York lawyer reminiscing about his life while contemplating the possibility of marrying his latest lover.
The playwright’s first Broadway-produced work since the 1955 combo A View from the Bridge/A Memory of Two Mondays – and his first collaboration with director Elia Kazan since their falling out in the early 1950s – After the Fall, even if a critical misfire, ran for 208 performances at the ANTA Washington Square Theatre.
Elia Kazan’s future wife Barbara Loden was cast in the Monroe-inspired role. Jason Robards was the reflective lawyer and Salome Jens the prospective German wife.
A View from the Bridge: Arthur Miller’s answer to On the Waterfront
Starring Van Heflin, Eileen Heckart, and Richard Davalos under the direction of future Oscar-nominated filmmaker Martin Ritt (Hud, 1963), Arthur Miller’s 1955 one-act play A View from the Bridge was a response to Elia Kazan and screenwriter/fellow “friendly” HUAC witness Budd Schulberg’s 1954 social drama On the Waterfront – itself a response to Miller’s The Crucible and other attacks against HUAC informers.
In the multiple Academy Award winner, Marlon Brando stars as the mumbling but righteous Terry Malloy, a “The Hook”-like Hoboken, New Jersey, longshoreman who bravely testifies against his mob-connected union boss.
Featuring shades of the adulterous liaison between the middle-aged Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe, A View from the Bridge has New York City dockworker Eddie Carbone lusting after his wife’s teenage niece/adopted daughter. Later on, instead of taking on the mighty, the “everyman” goes after those who wield less power than he does: two undocumented Italian brothers staying at his home, as the niece has become romantically attached to one of them.
In fall 1956, Miller’s expanded two-act version of the play was presented in London’s West End, with Peter Brook directing. Nearly five years later, Oscar-nominated filmmaker Sidney Lumet (12 Angry Men, 1957) was assigned to handle a French-Italian big-screen rendition of the tale.
Adapted by poet Norman Rosten (veteran screenwriter Jean Aurenche penned the French-language version), A View from the Bridge / Vu du pont stars Italian Raf Vallone as Eddie Carbone; Americans Maureen Stapleton and Carol Lawrence as, respectively, Eddie’s wife and her niece; and as the Italian immigrant brothers, French actors Jean Sorel (with whom the niece is infatuated) and Raymond Pellegrin.
‘Poor playwriting’ vs. ‘modest but real virtues’
U.S. critics were generally unimpressed with Lumet and Rosten’s transfer of Miller’s play.
In The Village Voice, Jonas Mekas snapped that Miller’s work was “reduced to another melodrama,” while a pre-The New Yorker Pauline Kael sneered:
“[A View from the Bridge] is not so much a drama unfolding as a sentence that’s been passed on the audience. What looks like and, for some people, passes for tragic inevitability is just poor playwriting. We begin to wonder why we’re being put through all this when nothing good can come of it – no poetry, no deepening awareness.”
Esquire’s Dwight Macdonald was an exception, using his review to take a swipe at Kazan’s Oscar winner:
“Mr. Lumet could have gone in for the usual violence and tough stuff, since the play is about Italian longshoremen, but he respects his (and Mr. Miller’s) characters and gets his tension from their psychological interplay. …
“The modest but real virtues of A View from the Bridge appear if one compares it with another movie about longshoremen, Kazan’s On the Waterfront, which is one of those well-made Hollywood phonies that takes a serious theme and sensationalizes it.”
Long English-language-screen gap
The independent Continental Distributing, which specialized in “quality” foreign fare, handled A View from the Bridge in the United States. Contrary to previous Continental releases like Jaques Tati’s Mon Oncle and Jack Clayton’s Room at the Top, Lumet’s drama failed to leave much of a mark.
Following All My Sons, Death of a Salesman, and The Misfits, A View from the Bridge turned out to be one more Arthur Miller-connected film to be both a critical and a commercial underperformer in the American market.
Apart from George Schaefer’s little-seen 1978 movie version of Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People, which Miller had adapted for the American stage in 1950, nearly three decades would pass before the playwright had any other work transferred to the English-language screen.
In 1990, his 1984 one-act play Some Kind of Love Story became Karel Reisz’s mystery thriller Everybody Wins, adapted by Miller himself. Debra Winger and Nick Nolte starred in the box office dud: $1.4 million domestic gross against a $19 million budget.
Discussed in the previous Miller post, another commercial bomb, The Crucible, would follow six years later.
Arthur Miller died at age 89 in February 2005 at his home in Roxbury, Connecticut.
“Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe Collaboration” notes
Their union lasted until Morath’s death at age 78 in 2002.
Arthur Miller double bill
Early gay kiss
“Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe Collaboration” endnotes
Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe collaboration The Misfits box office: Online sources referencing Variety’s January 1964 list of top-grossing films.
“Lowest point” & “neither of us…”: Michael Ratcliffe’s Arthur Miller obit in The Guardian.
Pauline Kael A View from the Bridge review via I Lost It at the Movies.
Montgomery Clift, John Huston, Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe The Misfits images: United Artists.
Maureen Stapleton and Raf Vallone A View from the Bridge image: Transcontinental Films.
This three-part Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe article is a revised, expanded version of a brief Miller obit published at the time of his death in February 2005.
“Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe Collaboration + Playwright’s Anti-On the Waterfront Drama” last updated in December 2020.