WEIRDLAND: Arthur Miller: Writer, Marilyn Monroe, Alienation

Monday, March 26, 2018

Arthur Miller: Writer, Marilyn Monroe, Alienation

What hot-blooded heterosexual American man of the 1950s wouldn’t have married Marilyn Monroe? But the more you know about Monroe—her brooding, contemplative nature; her often-fetishized love of reading—the more her attraction to Arthur Miller starts to make a poignant kind of sense. He saw not only her artistic potential, but a kind of brokenness about her that most men found convenient to ignore. In the documentary, an elderly Miller recalls something he said to Marilyn many years before their marriage: “I said, ‘You’re the saddest girl I’ve ever met.” Or at least that’s the story he always told her, the one she repeats in footage used in the new documentary Arthur Miller: Writer. “As he describes it, I was crying when he met me,” said a hesitant Marilyn. “What makes you so sad?” Clark Gable asks from beneath the brim of a cowboy hat. “I think you’re the saddest girl I ever met.” “You’re the first man that’s ever said that,” a morose Monroe says in an scene from The Misfits

Arthur Miller: Writer (which premieres on HBO on March 19) is a documentary directed by Rebecca Miller, the playwright’s daughter from his third and final marriage to the Austrian photographer Inge Morath. “Where Jean Harlow had been the bombshell-as-feminine symbol of wealth and military might,” Karina Longworth notes: “in post–World War II America, Marilyn became the feminine icon of plenty and of the victory of pleasure divorced from worry or responsibility.” In 1986, Gloria Steinem published a biography of Monroe, Marilyn: Norma Jean, a corrective to the salacious and largely ridiculous 1973 Monroe biography by Norman Mailer, in which he posited that the star had been murdered by the U.S. government. (Mailer admitted the same year, on 60 Minutes, that the book was a cash grab.) In Rebecca Miller’s interviews, filmed at his kitchen table in Connecticut near the end of his life, the playwright seemed to retain a real compassion for Marilyn. The strange benevolence of this one-sided portrait of Monroe and Miller is that you walk away from it thinking that he really understood her. That under slightly different circumstances, they could have been happy.

“She was witty,” Miller says, gazing wistfully from his kitchen table in Connecticut. “She was making fun of the situation as she was playing it. That was the difference. People thought they could imitate her by being cute. But she was being cute and making fun of being cute at the same time. There was another dimension, which is very difficult to do.” Source:

Ruby became a showgirl and companion but she didn't sleep with her admirers. The homely, awkward Don Knotts look-alikes who attended ham radio conventions got the same, velvety Ruby Wilde presence as did the members of Rotary clubs and The American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and the men who came to find distraction after a miserable, wallet-emptying divorce. Ruby soon realized that more often than not they simply wanted to be heard, to tell their stories without criticism or interruption. The high rollers bought her rubies and garnets, sapphires to match her eyes. They bought her designer clothes at the casino boutiques. Her bathroom counter was crowded with bottles of perfume. She owned silk negligees, and even a supremely soft cashmere robe dyed the peaceful color of a doe bedded down on a forest floor. But there were gifts more extravagant than necklaces. Johnny Litchfield, a high-stakes gambler from Chicago, offered to buy Ruby a penthouse in the Windy City, where he said he’d be able to keep an eye on her. Ruby was learning to turn men down gently, with such finesse that they didn’t feel rejected. Ruby turned down Johnny’s Peter Piper penthouse. Instead, she accepted a ten-thousand-dollar poker chip, and every time Chicago Johnny came to town he found her—and gave her more outlandish gifts. He was a hard-bitten man with a cratered face and pale blue eyes that were too small. But those eyes were surrounded by ribbed fans of wrinkles, the kind that came only with repeated laughter. And Johnny made her laugh. He told her stories of outrageous gambling wins and losses, of his days as a middleweight boxer and then as an MP in Hawaii, corralling World War II soldiers on leave. She sold the jewelry she didn’t particularly like at the jewelers all the girls used—Goldfarb’s on East Twain Avenue. She banked the money, earning eight percent interest on her savings. When an enamored Saudi prince gave Vivid a boat, the Sunglow Apartment girls ended their nights by Lake Mead as the sun rose. Ruby, Rose, Vivid, and Dee christened the boat Siren Song and for their naming ceremony piled caviar onto water crackers and emptied three bottles of Bollinger Blanc de Noirs champagne. It was just girls. They scrambled eggs on the boat’s little propane cookstove, ate crusty bread donated by the chef in one or another casino restaurant, and brewed dark, French roast coffee. Ruby studied Vivid, saw how she touched a man’s arm or shoulder lightly to let him know that he’d arrived in her inner circle. Ruby gained more than luxurious possessions from the men she entertained. She leaned in intimately, enticingly, so that a man could light her cigarette. Like a pearl forming about a grain of sharp sand, she used her newfound etiquette to further escape her rube beginnings. —"All the Beautiful Girls" (2018) by Elizabeth J. Church

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In the modern era, ‘alienation’ came into its own as a talismanic term in the 1950s and ’60s. At the time, the United States was becoming increasingly affluent, and earlier markers of oppression– inequality, social immobility, religious persecution–appeared to be on the wane. ‘Alienation’ rose spectacularly from 1958 to its height in 1974. In short, alienation in the second decade of the 21st century has not actually faded away as a descriptor of human distress. Rather, it has become most visible in the anxiety of those who bemoan the transformation of a beloved homeland into an unrecognisable nation of aliens. America these days is not a happy place. Even though the economy is up, polarization is at an all-time high, and a feeling of malaise, or worse, grips the nation. Our subjective well-being has declined across the board in each and every state, even as the economy has sprung back to life. America is growing increasingly unhappy and the trend toward unhappiness is concentrated in the places that used to be among the very happiest. Whatever the reasons, America’s collective psyche is clearly suffering today. You’d expect happiness to rebound in a period that saw the economy recover from the Great Recession. In fact, the opposite happened. When we compared Gallup’s data on well-being to the Gallup data from 2009, we found that well-being actually declined in all 50 states between 2009 and 2017. What’s more, these declines are concentrated in the very states that had higher levels of well-being in 2009. Source:

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