Arthur Miller's Marriage To Marilyn Monroe Was Even Darker Than We Realized

As it turns out, a playwright's life can be far more scandalous than you'd think — just look at Arthur Miller. Before he bagged a Pulitzer Prize, several Tony Awards, and an Academy Award nomination for his plays and scripts, and long before his famed McCarthyism allegory The Crucible became de facto high-school-English-class curricula, he was a regular guy with a dark personal life that got turned completely on its head. And, of course, this dark personal life included Marilyn Monroe. The scariest part was that until 2005, he managed to keep it all quiet...

A sophisticated upbringing

It was no surprise that Miller was able to control the narrative around himself. He'd been born into a wealthy and sophisticated family, with a father who owned a profitable coat-making business and a mom who was an educator. But by the time he was 15, trouble was stirring — for the Millers and the rest of the country.

Working for survival

Like most folks at the time, the stock market crash of 1929 had devastated his parents' wealth. It was the first of many struggles for Miller, and as his family moved out of their Manhattan home into Brooklyn, where the living was cheap, he had to keep his nose to the grindstone. If his family was going to regain their financial standing, they all had to step up — the young Miller included.

He was determined to thrive

Miller worked odd jobs throughout high school, but his long working hours didn't stop him from pursuing his studies. He inherited his mother's love of books, and knew he wanted to incorporate this love into his profession. Luckily, the bad economy hadn't tampered with the then-affordable costs of higher education, so Miller was able to save enough money to go to college. He already knew what he wanted to do.

His surprising mistake

He applied and got into the University of Michigan, where he first chose to study journalism. However, after winning the Avery Hopwood Award for a play he wrote, No Villain, he realized he had a future in playwriting. With that, he made a fateful life decision: He changed his major and joined the League of American Writers... which would prove to be a mistake.

Dangerous associations

The League was composed of mostly Communist artists, or adjacent artists who were known as "fellow travelers." This affiliation would later get Miller into hot water during the rise of his career... but in the 1940s, he didn't have that foresight. All he knew was that he was in the playwright in-crowd, and was determined to work his way up the ladder.

His first flop

For a while, Miller's career took the path of any other playwright. His first play, The Man Who Had All the Luck, didn't do too well: it closed on Broadway after just four unlucky nights and a heap of bad reviews. But all that mattered was that his first professional play had seen a Broadway stage, so he forged on. It helped that his mind always seemed to be swirling with new ideas.

An unexpected new direction

Miller was a machine, never far away from releasing his next work, and he made up for the bad reviews by going in a different direction. Instead of writing a play, he published a novel a year after his first flop. Talk about a turn-around! He did go back to his playwriting roots, however, and his next play, All My Sons, was a smash hit.

A vital collaborator

The success of his play helped Miller make long-lasting Hollywood connections, a must if you want to make your mark in the entertainment world. One of these connections was Elia Kazan, who directed Miller's play Death of Salesman in 1949. It was a dream partnership, and the play's success catapulted Kazan and Miller to bigger stardom. Now, Miller was in the big leagues.

Venturing into the spotlight

He began getting invites to Hollywood parties, and naturally, he went. Who could resist? It wasn't everyday that an introspective playwright was welcomed into the glitz and glamor of Hollywood. The carefree nature of these bashes was a dazzling treat for a writer who'd struggled through poverty and worked long days and nights. And at one such party, he met someone he couldn't forget.

The playwright and the star

It was at a party in 1951 when Miller met Hollywood's soon-to-be It girl, Marilyn Monroe. She was the sex symbol of the 1950s, and her charm was magnetic — and out of all the men in the room who coveted her, she took an interest in the stable, hardworking Miller. But at first, fate kept them apart.

One little complication

Did we forget to mention that Miller was, in fact, married at the time? He also seemed to forget this little detail, despite the fact that he and his wife, Mary Slattery, had been married for eleven years. He also had two kids, and Mary was his college sweetheart. Sounds like an ideal romance — surely he wouldn't mess that up... or so you'd think.

They both had messy love lives

He hung on for a bit, but Marilyn's allure — or, more accurately, his own desires — couldn't be denied. By 1956, Miller had left Slattery. He'd had a "friendship" with Monroe during those five years, while she dated Elia Kazan and married, and then divorced, Joe DiMaggio. But neither could wait for the ink to dry: less than a month after Miller's divorce, he married Monroe.

They were strangely suited for one another

With that preamble aside, everything else about their relationship seemed fine. Monroe was excited to settle down; she'd grown up without family stability and craved the peace of mind it could provide. She even confessed that she hated Hollywood and wanted out — which was perfect for Miller's goals. We'd have expected the couple's personalities to clash, but they seemed to be perfectly suited for one another.

A new chapter

Miller had told the media how Monroe planned to retire from the screen and take up the "full-time job" of wifehood instead. She'd even told him that's what she wanted: "I want to live quietly in the country and just be there when you need me. I can't fight for myself anymore," she said.

Problems in private

Monroe finished the movies she was working on at the time, and took an 18-month hiatus from work. But it wasn't all marital bliss. She had endometriosis, suffered a miscarriage, and was rushed to the hospital with an ectopic pregnancy. These tragedies affected her and Miller's relationship. At the same time, Miller's communist affiliations from years before had resurfaced.

Accusations against Arthur

McCarthyism was sweeping through America, and everyone in Hollywood was under scrutiny. Any communist associations, however benign, were seen as anti-American. The House Un-American Activities Committee subpoenaed Miller to testify against his colleagues, or name names — but he refused. This didn't reflect well on Miller at all.

More punishment

So, the HUAC ruled Miller in contempt of Congress and refused to renew his passport. It was a ruling that would last for two years. Monroe was supportive of Miller, saying, "I am so concerned about protecting Arthur. I love him — and he is the only person... that I trust as much as myself." But all that stress took a toll.

Struggling to stay afloat

Monroe suffered from deep psychological wounds, and she couldn't figure out how to heal them. She had been overprescribed drugs to cope with her depression. Still, she kept working: at the end of her hiatus, she went back to work on set, acting in a movie Miller had written for her as a gift. But her drug use only got worse.

They spiraled towards divorce

She relied on drugs to get to sleep and to wake up, was late to work, and had trouble remembering her lines. Watching his wife fall apart was one of the most saddening experiences of Miller's life, and though he tried, he could do nothing to help. By the time of the movie's premiere, the once-happy couple had divorced.

Decades of regret

Only nineteen months later, Monroe passed away from an overdose, closing a tragic chapter in Miller's life. But the remnants of heartbreak stuck with him: in 2004, his last play, Finishing The Picture, debuted, and audiences were surprised to see that the play was all about Marilyn.

A cathartic experience

Being able to write about his deceased wife and their tumultuous time together must have been cathartic for Miller, but he never got to see his hard work truly come to fruition: Miller passed away just a few months after the play debuted. The play would've resonated with a number of people who touched Monroe's life, like Joe DiMaggio.

An immediate attraction

“From the beginning, [Joe DiMaggio] wanted to marry her,” Robert Solotaire, a DiMaggio family friend, said. The renowned baseball player's devotion to Marilyn was well-known in their social circles. Unfortunately, he didn’t truly understand Marilyn as a person — only as an icon.

Taming a star

“Joe misunderstood Monroe,” Rob said. “Like, here’s this young, beautiful woman on the verge of becoming one of the most successful and famous actresses in the world, and she’s going to give it all up to make lasagna for Joe and spend her days changing diapers?”

When she was Norma Jeane

Marilyn's success was truly a marvel, considering where she came from. Marilyn had a difficult childhood. She was born on June 1, 1926, as Norma Jeane Baker, and her father left soon after. Marilyn remained with a mother who was incapable of caring for her — she suffered from paranoid schizophrenia. "Home" became a fluid concept.

Two different upbringings

Her early years were spent with relatives or in foster homes and orphanages in Los Angeles. Needless to say, these were difficult places to live for the young Marilyn. In one house, Marilyn was abused by her foster father. She was only 11 years old. Meanwhile, Joe's life in another part of California was completely different.

His first wife

Joe grew up during the Great Depression in San Francisco. He was the second youngest of nine. At first, he married Dorothy Arnold, an actor who’d had a few small movie roles. Finding love and settling down didn't turn out to be a good experience for either of them, though. As it turned out, Joe wasn’t a kind husband to Dorothy.

His "cruel indifference"

When his son, Joe Jr., was born, Joe was an absent father. He stayed in a hotel while Dorothy cared for a very sick Joe Jr. Then, Dorothy divorced the Yankee baseball player in 1943 for “cruel indifference.” He was too busy cheating and drinking to care. This went on until 1952, when Marilyn and Joe first crossed paths.

Surprising behavior

At the time, he was 37 and just retired from baseball. She was 25 and blazing with fame. They went on a double date in Los Angeles and Joe was instantly smitten. “You could almost hear Mr. DiMaggio going to pieces,” David March, Marilyn’s friend, said. The blonde bombshell was surprised by DiMaggio's behavior, but not for the reasons you might expect.

Expectation vs. reality

See, Joe arranged the meeting with a reluctant Marilyn, so she worried he’d be full of himself. “I expected a flashy New York sports type, and instead I met this reserved guy who didn’t make a pass at me right away,” she wrote in her autobiography, My Story. DiMaggio immediately struck Marilyn as something special. After all, it wasn't everyday that the famous sex symbol was treated like a real person.

Making national headlines

The press was heavily invested in the celebrity couple. They were just such an unexpected pair — the young, dazzling star and the ordinary ex-baseball player. Marilyn and Joe did their best to keep a low profile, spending most of their time at the Fisherman’s Wharf restaurant. Their love only deepened, and on January 14, 1954, they eloped, making national headlines.

His fragile ego

But on their honeymoon, marital bliss eluded them. Although they were surrounded by the amazing sights and sounds of Japan, they spent most of their time apart. To make matters worse, Joe immediately attempted to control Marilyn’s image and career. He hated that her fame eclipsed his, and would refuse to speak with her when she resisted his demands.

Ruining another marriage

Joe Jr., DiMaggio's son, lived with the tumultuous couple and allegedly witnessed many instances of physical and emotional abuse that Joe inflicted on Marilyn. His father would insist the next day that nothing happened, but the boy knew better. As time went on, the abuse only continued. It was clear that the passion between the couple had disappeared, and was replaced by something much more threatening.

His rage returned

Rage. The "cruel indifference" DiMaggio's first wife attributed to him was once again aimed at his spouse, except this time, Marilyn was the unfortunate recipient. At the very least, the two simply weren’t compatible. Marilyn loved continuous education and strove for personal improvement; DiMaggio didn’t like leaving the house. He’d badger her about her every move. The stress soon became too much for Marilyn to bear.

She couldn't take it anymore

It's believed that Marilyn resorted to drastic measures in order to endure Joe’s terrible nature. She drank heavily and took sedatives in order to dull the pain. She also started to have an affair with her voice coach, Hal Schaefer. And after only nine months of marriage, she filed for divorce in 1954. Despite his behavior to the contrary, DiMaggio was devastated.

He refused to let go

So, he went to his close friend Frank Sinatra for advice. Frank’s wife, Ava Gardner, had recently left him as well, and he’d hired a private detective to spy on her. Unsurprisingly, DiMaggio thought this was a nifty idea and decided to do the same thing with Marilyn. He refused to admit that a huge reason behind their marriage troubles was his own controlling behavior.

Spying on Marilyn

Wearing a fake beard and hiding behind a newspaper, DiMaggio sat in her building’s lobby for hours, hoping to catch a glimpse of her — and potentially catch her in what he thought was a scandalous act, despite their divorce. He also wanted to get revenge on Hal. Teaming up with Frank and five hired men, they snuck over to Hal’s West Hollywood apartment.

He took it too far

The crew broke down the door at 11:30 p.m. … at the wrong apartment. All seven men stood around a very frightened middle-aged woman. It definitely wasn't the baseball star's finest moment, and that's saying something. DiMaggio would go on to pay the woman $7,500 in an out-of-court settlement.

He refused to leave her alone

After their divorce, Joe was obsessed with Marilyn, but she moved on to other love interests. She dated other famous men like Marlon Brando and Arthur Miller, pushing Joe out of her life. She wanted something new, which no doubt left DiMaggio feeling spurned. He still refused to leave her life completely, however.

He saw an opportunity

As we know, Marilyn eventually married Arthur Miller. They remained together for five years before divorcing. Upon their divorce, DiMaggio seemingly saw an opening... and took advantage of it. He jumped back into Marilyn’s life, determined to re-start their relationship. This time, he vowed to help the struggling Marilyn get back on her feet.

Was his devotion sincere?

At that point, Marilyn’s mental health was dissolving — she was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and committed to a mental institution. Joe drove to pick her up and tried to care for her while Marilyn spiraled deeper into addiction and mental illness. DiMaggio's treatment of Marilyn during their marriage was no secret, but at this point, it's unclear if his devotion to Marilyn was sincere.

Devoted till the end...

In the end, Marilyn died of an overdose on August 5, 1962 in her bedroom. Joe remained devoted to her in death, sending roses to her crypt twice a week until 1999, when he died. For the rest of his life, he pined for Marilyn and never remarried. We'll never know for sure whether DiMaggio truly intended to win Marilyn back.