Marilyn & Miller

1989, May 26 Andy Warhol Marilyn Monroe Dan's Papers cover art
Andy Warhol's Marilyn Monroe cover for the Memorial Day 1989 Dan's Papers

In the May 23, 1957 edition of The East Hampton Star, in a section called “Library Notes,” it was reported that Viking Books had just come out with a book entitled Arthur Miller’s Collected Plays. Miller at that time was considered one of the greatest dramatists of the century, and this book included Death of a Salesman, All My Sons, The Crucible and A View from the Bridge.

The brief item’s last sentence reads “Mr. Miller and his wife, who is Marilyn Monroe, the actress, have taken a cottage in Amagansett for the summer.”

In those years, numerous literary lions were living and working off the beaten path in modest homes in the woods of the East End. Edward Albee was in Montauk. John Steinbeck was in Sag Harbor. Truman Capote was in Sagaponack. People tried to respect their privacy. So now here came Arthur Miller for the summer. And his wife.

A “cottage” back then could be 20 rooms if down by the ocean. Miller’s cottage was miles inland, a tiny thing, one of four little shacks along a dirt driveway, each maybe 1,200 square feet that had in earlier times been a garage or a barn or a large farm-equipment shed on the grand 100-acre farm originally owned by Harry Hamlin. Called Stony Hill Farms, it is on the North Side of Town Lane in Amagansett. It is still there today, owned by Alec and Hilaria Baldwin. But they live in the main farmhouse.

This particular out building was known in the summer Miller and Monroe rented it as the Supervisor’s House. Two bedrooms upstairs, one down. A kitchen. That was about it. As for the main house, it was, in 1957, owned not by the Hamlins anymore but by Jeffrey Potter, a local writer who made his living running the East Hampton Dredge and Dock Company, a construction company. Renting out the four cottages every summer provided a small additional income. Job Potter, his son, who is a former town councilman and a friend of mine, told me he was eight years old when the Millers rented.

He remembered several things about Marilyn, the heck with her husband.

“That this famous movie star was here was the whispered talk of Amagansett back then,” he told me.

He remembered his mother sending him over to the cottage to sell Marilyn or Arthur Girl Scout cookies.

Marilyn answered his knock. “She was beautiful, almost angelic. And she was very nice.” But he also wondered why he, a boy, should be selling Girl Scout cookies. He never got a proper explanation.

He also remembered a big helicopter landing on their front lawn to pick the couple up to take them to a movie shoot somewhere.

“You don’t forget things like that,” he said.

But there’s not too much else to report about their comings and goings here that summer. As I said at the start, there were these famous people here back then. We locals let them be.

Only three or four mentions of them appear in the local papers of that summer. I have found a report from The Sag Harbor Express that one Friday night in July the pair watched Lust for Life at the Sag Harbor Cinema. On July 23, The East Hampton Star reported Marilyn was at a farm stand in a white Jeep. There was another item, in the Star on August 8. In the column “Looking Them Over,” the editor wrote “East Hampton people were very sorry to hear, last weekend, of Marilyn Monroe Miller’s ambulance ride from Amagansett to the hospital in New York and of her illness. I think she has won many friends here.”

Actually, there was quite a bit going on in the love story these two had at that time. The story includes sleeping pills, alcohol, Joe DiMaggio, Sir Laurence Olivier and the Senate version of the House Un-American Activities Committee, whose encounter with Arthur Miller had already resulted in a jail sentence ordered for him. This last thing happened just six months before they came to Amagansett. No wonder this amorous couple, married just 11 months at this time, was here for the peace and quiet this place offered them.

The great playwright, age 35 and full of honors for his works, first met Marilyn Monroe in 1950. He was married and living in New York with small children. She was 24, single, a Hollywood hopeful sleeping with Elia Kazan, a prominent director. As the story goes, Miller had flown to California to join Kazan in trying to get a new play produced to be a movie. There was a party that Kazan was supposed to go to but could not. He asked if Miller would go and take Marilyn, and he did.

The fact that he showed no romantic interest in her that night upset her, because he was famous and she usually had people after her. At the time, according to biography.com, she wrote a girlfriend “It was like running into a tree. You know. Like a cool drink when you’ve had a fever.”

Nothing happened here, though. She drove him to the airport in Los Angeles and saw him off to New York a few days later. After that, they exchanged letters.

Over the next three years, she became the most famous film star in the world. She starred in The Seven Year Itch, Bus Stop and How to Marry a Millionaire, got married to Joe DiMaggio and then nine months later divorced him. After that she went to New York to join the Actors Studio in the hopes she would learn to become an Academy Award level actress. Here again, she met with Arthur Miller.

She and Arthur became an item—this was in 1955—and by the next year he was off to Las Vegas to get a divorce from his wife of 14 years and leave her and their kids, 6 and 12, for the most beautiful woman in the world. He would marry her immediately after his divorce.

While in Las Vegas, though, he went to renew his passport. His soon-to-be wife would shortly be filming in London with Sir Laurence Olivier for the movie The Prince and the Showgirl, which Miller had written, and he wanted to go with her. But the passport office held things up. The House Un-American Activities Committee, (HUAC) wanted him to appear in Washington to tell them about his Communist leanings in the 1930s. Miller appeared before the committee on June 21. He freely gave his opinions about what he did joining one group or another 20 years earlier, but he would not name any other participants. As a result, the HUAC declared him in contempt of Congress. Fines and a jail sentence would be his punishment.

Marilyn had been advised by friends and Hollywood managers to get as far away from Miller as possible, but instead she went with him to the hearing room, and she married him 8 days after it was over. Public opinion was so strong in favor of the movie star and the playwright that an appeal resulted in Miller getting his passport, and the two off to London to make the film with Olivier, which in spite of everything, was panned by the critics when it came out in 1957.

And by that time, with appeals still pending (he never went to jail—an appeals court eventually threw out his sentence), the movie star and her man came to Amagansett. For peace and quiet, which they got. Except that Marilyn, now pregnant, had to have surgery for the ectopic pregnancy and lost the child in August. She had suffered miscarriages as well. There would be no children for her with Arthur.

She also converted to Judaism right before their marriage. “Everybody is always out to get them, no matter what they do, like me,” she told a friend.

Miller wrote about his time in Amagansett with Marilyn in an autobiography years later. “Marilyn had decided to learn how to cook and started with homemade noodles, hanging them over a chair back and drying them with a hair dryer. And she gave me hair trims out in the sunshine, and we walked the empty Amagansett beach in peace, chatting with the occasional commercial fishermen who worked their nets from winches on their rusting trucks.”

After the summer ended, Miller wrote a script for The Misfits, which would star his wife. But she never liked the script and they fought. She wanted to be a great actress. But he was still writing stuff that made her look like a dumb blond. He told her this was his script, not hers.

The following autumn, in 1958, she flew to California to be the ingenue in the Billy Wilder movie Some Like It Hot, a comedy that many believe was her best work. Miller flew out to be with her. But the marriage was unraveling. And she had another miscarriage.

In 1960, with Marilyn now 35, the pair knew that the end was near. She went to Mexico and got a divorce in January of 1961, sang “Happy Birthday” to President Kennedy in Madison Square Garden on May 29, 1962, may or may not have had an affair with him and, later, with his brother Bobby, and then in the Beverly Hills Hotel on August 5, 1962, died of an overdose of sleeping pills. She was 37.

Arthur Miller went on to live a long and productive life, finally passing away in 2005 at the age of 89. But he never wrote anything as great as he had when young, and several of his plays were embarrassing personal accounts of his problem filled time with Marilyn. His 1964 play After the Fall was described by critic Robert Brustein as “a wretched piece of writing.”

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