Blonde: The True Story of Arthur Miller's Relationship With Marilyn Monroe
The life story of Marilyn Monroe is back in the headlines again, thanks to the new biopic Blonde, featuring Ana De Armas as the Hollywood bombshell.
Blonde, written and directed by Andrew Dominik, was adapted from the 2000 novel of the same name by Joyce Carol Oates, and the film premiered at the 2022 Venice Film Festival, receiving a 14-minute standing ovation.
Some reviews have not been so complimentary, given the graphic focus on the distressing and traumatic abuse that Monroe – born Norma Jeane Mortenson – suffered throughout her life in the film, not to mention the fact that pure fiction is continuously weaved into the narrative. However, there are some parts of Monroe’s life that are set in stone, such as her three marriages.
Her first husband, who she married aged 16, was James Dougherty, a factory worker. Her second husband was the baseball star Joe DiMaggio (played by Bobby Cannavale in the film). The relationship was abusive and their marriage ended just a year later in 1955. But her most well-known romance was arguably with Arthur Miller, the playwright, which lasted six years until 1961. They were seen as something of an odd couple at first; the bookish, literary great and his glamorous film star partner, but it ended up being one of the most important love affairs of her life.
How did the romance start?
In the early 50s, Arthur Miller (played by Adrien Brody in Blonde) was married to Mary Slattery, and Monroe was at the peak of her stardom, appearing in Niagara and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. According to Donald Spoto in Marilyn Monroe: The Biography, Miller and Monroe were first introduced at this time by the director Elia Kazan.
By 1955, the couple were in the throes of a full-blown affair, which became serious after they split from their spouses. However, in the McCarthy witch hunt for communists in the US, the FBI were investigating Miller and flagged him to the House Un-American Activities Committee, leading him to be subpoenaed. One gossip columnist referred to Monroe as “the darling of the left wing intelligentsia, several of whom are listed as Red fronters”. This infuriated the studio bosses, who warned Monroe that she should end the relationship, but she refused. The FBI also opened a file on Monroe.
During this time, Monroe, through a series of letters, revealed her true feelings of love towards Miller and explained why she chose to stand by him. As recorded in Fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters she wrote: “I am so concerned about protecting Arthur. I love him—and he is the only person—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—but he is the only person—as another human being that I trust as much as myself.”
According to The Mirror, Miller’s biographer, Professor Bigsby, said: “He was completely bowled over by her. It was certainly a love affair. One of his love letters to her was an almost adolescent outpouring of love."
On June 29, 1956, the couple snuck off to the Westchester County Court House in White Plains, New York, where they were married in a swift, four-minute civil ceremony by Judge Seymour Rabinowitz.
The full Jewish wedding, for which Monroe converted, was held a few days later on July 1 at Miller’s agent, Kay Brown’s house. Monroe, who never knew who her real father was, was given away by her acting teacher, Lee Strasberg, and the couple gave wedding rings to each other which had “now is forever” inscribed on them. Variety later famously commemorated the event with a story entitled: “Egghead Weds Hourglass”.
However, an intense filming schedule and health issues began to take their toll on Monroe. She suffered from a miscarriage the same year, then, after taking 18 months off to focus on her and Miller’s relationship, she suffered from an ectopic pregnancy in 1957, and a further miscarriage. In Marilyn: The Passion and the Paradox, Lois Banner describes how, at this time, Monroe was hospitalised briefly after taking an overdose of barbiturates.
Miller and Monroe did what many considered dangerous, and mixed work with pleasure. Miller ended up writing or rewriting a number of Monroe’s productions, like 1960’s Let’s Make Love and the last film she appeared in, 1961’s The Misfits.
The demise of their love story
The cracks in their marriage were beginning to show, and on the set of Let’s Make Love, Monroe was reported to have had an affair with her co-star, Yves Montand. Meanwhile, Miller had apparently formed a relationship with photographer, Inge Morath, who he later wed and had children with.
The writing was on the wall when, in a scene straight out of a Hollywood movie, and according to History Today, Monroe found Miller’s notebook lying open on a table. Like seeing a car crash, she was unable to look away: “She discovered that he was disappointed in her, feared that his own creativity would be threatened by this pitiable, dependent, unpredictable waif he had married and was seriously regretting the union. Marilyn told friends that he also wrote, ‘The only one I will ever love is my daughter’.” Vanity Fair later stated: “One of her greatest fears, that of disappointing those she loved, had come true."
The couple officially split after the filming of The Misfits and got a Mexican divorce – a divorce obtained in Mexico rather than the US, as it was easier, quicker and cheaper, and which could be done away from the prying lens of the paparazzi cameras.
Monroe died shortly afterwards, aged 36, of a barbiturate overdose on August 5, 1962. Miller did not attend her funeral. In an essay written by Miller at the time – as per The Independent – he explained why: “Instead of jetting to the funeral to get my picture taken I decided to stay home and let the public mourners finish the mockery… She was destroyed by many things and some of those things are you. And some of those things are destroying you. Destroying you now. Now as you stand there weeping and gawking, glad that it is not you going into the earth, glad that it is this lovely girl who you at last killed.” He died aged 89 in 2005.
Blonde streams on Netflix from 23 September.
From: Esquire UK