Monday, April 11, 2016

Drama in the desert, part 2

Costume test for The Misfits
Due to the wacky divorce laws in America at the time, Arthur Miller had to live in Nevada for six weeks in 1956 to meet residency requirements in order to get a divorce in that state, which was easier than getting a divorce in New York state. While he was there he fainted in a phone booth, stressed out by Marilyn Monroe's despair while making the movie "Bus Stop", as I mentioned a few days ago. He was divorcing his first wife in order to marry Monroe.

Four years later their marriage was falling apart and they were back in Nevada filming "The Misfits." The movie had been inspired by Miller's 1956 stay in Nevada and was written as a valentine from Miller to Monroe, but it soon became the final straw in their relationship. It got so bad that at one point, Miller recounts:
A doctor was feeling the back of her hand, searching for a vein into which to inject Amytal. My stomach turned over. She saw me and began to scream at me to get out... I thought to move the doctor away from the bed to stall off the injection, but the screaming was too terrible, and her distress in my presence canceled out any help I could hope to give, so I left and stood in the living room and waited until the doctor came out. He was up and talking. He believed he was the last doctor in the area to be called in, but he would not agree to any more shots of anything, fearing for her life now that he had seen what he had seen. I went back into the bedroom and she looked at me, ravaged but slowing down at last, merely repeating, “Get out,” as in a dream. 

Miller mentions rewriting the script and John Huston's compulsive, expensive gambling but it's clear he blames the problems the production had almost entirely on Monroe and what he considers her desire to self-destruct. And if it isn't clear that's how he felt when he published this autobiography in 1987, it certainly is clear, in this synopsis of his last play from 2004 Finishing the Picture:
Kitty was a successful actress, a natural choice for a major motion picture. But as production gets under way, Kitty's acting is more and more hindered by mental illness and a drug-induced haze. The play opens with the producer, who must decide whether to cancel the late, over-budget picture altogether, or whether Kitty will be able to finish. 
Over a year after I first heard of this play and I finally found a copy of the script - I just ordered it.

Miller never offers any suggestions for why Monroe screams "get out" at him. Perhaps we are to assume that this is all just part of her "mental illness." But Monroe's biographer Donald Spoto offers a different perspective:
(Monroe) was habitually late... but had solid, objection reason. Every night, Arthur rewrote entire scenes, handed to her as she went to bed or on awakening: for years, such last-minute changes had tossed her into panic. "I have not really helped her as an actress," he admitted after the fact. Marilyn was confused: "I never really know exactly what's expected of me."
...As Miller rewrote Rosyln, she expressed her dismay at the capture of mustangs and their imminent slaughter not by dialog or reasoning with the men, but "by throwing as fit," as she said later.

I guess they thought I was too dumb to explain anything, so I have a fit - a screaming, crazy fit. I mean nuts. And to think Arthur did this to me...
Spoto also makes a very good assessment of the movie:
The script, as Miller and Huston continued to hammer away page after page, was full of grand but disconnected rhetoric about rugged individualism, the contemporary lack of intimacy and communication, the decline of the West and the nature of the American conscience. But a screenplay is composed of more than ideas and in The Misfits very little happens.
I have to laugh at the "contemporary lack of intimacy and communication" - this was 1960, but lack of intimacy and communications is always, it seems, contemporary.

Miller was constantly pushing the narrative that Monroe had a death wish, between his autobiography and his plays about her, but to fully understand the character of Arthur Miller it's important to remember how he treated one of his sons:
At his death, the only major American newspaper to mention Daniel in its obituary was the Los Angeles Times, which said, “Miller had another son, Daniel, who was diagnosed with Down syndrome shortly after his birth in 1962. It is not known whether he survives his father.” Citing the Gottfried biography, the paper reported that Daniel had been put in an institution, where Miller “apparently never visited him.” 
Miller’s friends say they never understood exactly what happened with Daniel, but the few details they heard were disturbing. Miller had not only erased his son from the public record; he had also cut him out of his private life, institutionalizing him at birth, refusing to see him or speak about him, virtually abandoning him.
This is extreme, but I would suggest that this is what happened to people who were a disappointment to Arthur Miller. What he said about Monroe after their break-up should be considered with this in mind.

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