Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date.

For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.

The Genius and the Goddess: Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe

The Genius and the Goddess: Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe

by Jeffrey Meyers

See All Formats & Editions

The 1956 wedding of Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller surprised the world. The Genius and the Goddess presents an intimate portrait of the prelude to and ultimate tragedy of their short marriage. Distinguished biographer Jeffrey Meyers skillfully explores why they married, what sustained them for five years, and what ultimately destroyed their marriage and her life.


The 1956 wedding of Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller surprised the world. The Genius and the Goddess presents an intimate portrait of the prelude to and ultimate tragedy of their short marriage. Distinguished biographer Jeffrey Meyers skillfully explores why they married, what sustained them for five years, and what ultimately destroyed their marriage and her life.


The greatest American playwright of the twentieth century and the most popular American actress both complemented and wounded one another. Marilyn craved attention and success but became dependent on drugs, alcohol, and sexual adventures. Miller experienced creative agony with her.  Their marriage coincided with the creative peak of her career, yet private and public conflict caused both of them great anguish.


Meyers has crafted a richly nuanced dual biography based on his quarter-century friendship with Miller, interviews with major players of stage and screen during the postwar Hollywood era, and extensive archival research. He describes their secret courtship. He also reveals new information about the effect of the HUAC anti-Communist witch-hunts on Miller and his friendship with Elia Kazan. The fascinating cast of characters includes Marilyn's co-stars Sir Laurence Olivier, Yves Montand, Montgomery Clift, and Clark Gable; her leading directors John Huston, Billy Wilder, and George Cukor; and her literary friends Dame Edith Sitwell, Isak Dinesen, Saul Bellow, and Vladimir Nabokov.


Meyers offers the most in-depth account of the making and meaning of The Misfits. Written by Miller for Monroe, this now-classic film was a personal disaster. But Marilynremained Miller's tragic muse and her character, exalted and tormented, lived on for the next forty years in his work.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Meyers, a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and author of biographies of Humphrey Bogart, Samuel Johnson, and Gary Cooper, among others, skillfully weaves the biographies of Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller into the story of their seemingly unlikely marriage. In creating this absorbing narrative, Meyers drew from his extensive research, numerous in-depth interviews, and his long-term friendship with Miller. He analyzes their personal lives, astutely commenting on Monroe's anguished youth, sexual exploits, and substance abuse as well as Miller's family and public conflicts. At the same time, he carefully chronicles their respective careers, with special emphasis on such joint projects as The Misfits. Featuring anecdotes about well-known figures—e.g., Elia Kazan, Joe DiMaggio, Lee Strasberg, Billy Wilder, and the Kennedys—the book also reflects a rich framework of cultural history, including details on the inner workings of Hollywood, various intellectual circles, and the McCarthy era witch hunts. VERDICT This superbly written, thoughtful work will have wide appeal among general and academic audiences and will reward readers with deeper insight into two famous personalities and the world they inhabited.—Carol J. Binkowski, Bloomfield, NJ
Kirkus Reviews
A thoroughly researched but ill-balanced retelling of the brief love affair, marriage, creative collaboration, estrangement and divorce of Hollywood's sexiest star and Broadway's leading playwright. Prolific biographer Meyers (Samuel Johnson: The Struggle, 2008, etc.) is particularly well equipped for the task of gleaning something new from this heavily harvested field. However, like many others who have drifted into the gravitational pull of planet Monroe, he can barely force his eyes away from her long enough to give Miller's story more than a perfunctory summary and analysis. Describing her nude calendar from 1950, for example, he pants about Monroe's "perfect body," calling her "a modern Venus" in a torrid paragraph smoking with erotic detail ("Her alluring breasts promise pneumatic bliss, and her pink nipples merge with the red velvet"). Meyers begins his chronicle in 1951 with the initial meeting of his two principals, then retreats into alternating biographies, devoting nearly 80 pages to Monroe's well-known depressing childhood and youth. Miller's 36 pre-Monroe years merit only ten pages. The author revisits all of the central Marilyn moments: multiple foster homes, abuse, character flaws (habitual tardiness, deep insecurity), substance issues (alcohol, drugs), serial sexual escapades, notable marriages (to Joe DiMaggio and Miller) and most controversial affairs (JFK, RFK). Meyers dismisses as "wildly implausible" the conspiracy theories about her death and repeatedly assails both her acting coach Paula Strasberg and her final psychiatrist, Dr. Ralph Greenson, who was "more disturbed and dangerous than the patient." Meyers recognizes that Miller truly loved Monroe but finallyended the marriage when he realized she was destroying him. He'd spent three years working on a film for her (The Misfits), earning only her scorn, and her needs were too complex and her problems too intractable. In the final chapter, Meyers thoughtfully mines Miller's last plays for nuggets about Monroe. Not much new in this rehearsal of one of celebrity's saddest stories.
From the Publisher

"Prolific biographer Meyers is particularly well equipped for the task of gleaning something new from this heavily harvested field. . . . Meyers recognizes that Miller truly loved Monroe but finally ended the marriage when he realized she was destroying him. He’d spent three years working on a film for her (The Misfits), earning only her scorn, and her needs were too complex and her problems too intractable. In the final chapter, Meyers thoughtfully mines Miller's last plays for nuggets about Monroe."—Kirkus

"A fascinating look at an incongruous match."—Booklist

"A serious, deeply researched look at the marriage of the great playwright and the quintessential screen star."—St. Petersburg Times

Product Details

University of Illinois Press
Publication date:
Edition description:
1st Edition
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.70(h) x 1.30(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Genius and the Goddess

By Jeffrey Meyers


Copyright © 2009 Jeffrey Meyers
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-252-03544-9

Chapter One

First Encounter (1951)


In January 1951 Arthur Miller and his close friend, the director Elia Kazan, took a train from New York to Los Angeles. They wanted to sell his first screenplay, The Hook, to Harry Cohn at Columbia Pictures. The tall, handsome, thirty-five-year old Miller was a serious young man, married with two young children, and the author of two enormously successful plays. In Hollywood he would face two moral crises: negotiating with Cohn over the content of his screenplay and falling in love with Marilyn Monroe. When they met she was an insecure and little-known model and actress; by the time they married five years later she had become a glamorous star whose image was known all over the world. They wrote to each other during those years, as she pursued her career in Hollywood and he struggled to maintain his marriage in New York. She was briefly married to Joe DiMaggio in 1954, yet told a friend, just as she was marrying DiMaggio, that one day she would marry Miller. They were a most unlikely couple, yet on their first meeting they formed an emotional bond that survived their long separation.

Kazan played a key role in Miller's relations with both Cohn and Marilyn. The two friends, both passionate about politics and the theater, were temperamentally very different. Miller was a shy intellectual from a solid Jewish family in New York. Kazan, a few years older - short, energetic and intense, with dark curly hair, roughhewn features and a Levantine look - had been born into a poor Greek family in Constantinople. Brought to America when he was four years old, he had made his way in the world through his talent and ambition. He'd graduated from Williams College, and in the 1930s had been an actor and director in the left-wing Group Theater, joined the Communist Party and helped found the influential Actors Studio. In 1951 Kazan was the coming man in Hollywood and New York. He'd directed the films A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Gentleman's Agreement and Boomerang (in which Miller appeared in a line-up of criminal suspects). He'd also achieved spectacular success on Broadway, directing Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire as well as the plays that established Miller's reputation: All My Sons (1947) and Death of a Salesman (1949).

The FBI took a keen interest in Miller and Kazan, as they had in many leading writers and intellectuals since the 1930s. They particularly monitored the political content of Hollywood films, which exerted tremendous influence on public opinion. According to Miller's typically pedantic and inaccurate FBI file, compiled because of his left-wing political views, "In early 1951, according to - [name blanked out], Harry Cohn, President of Columbia Pictures, Inc. Hollywood, California, obtained a story entitled, 'The Hook,' from Arthur Miller, for $50,000." Miller and Kazan knew that the script, about a doomed attempt by New York longshoremen to overthrow the gangsters who controlled their union, would be controversial. But Kazan, who had many contacts in Hollywood, also knew that Cohn had grown up on the waterfront and had the reputation of a maverick. Kazan thought that if Miller went with him to Hollywood to pitch the idea, they might convince him to make the film.

But Cohn, after consulting Roy Brewer, the leader of the Hollywood unions and personal friend of the head of the longshoremen's union, demanded radical changes. He said that Miller's script was anti- American, even treasonable, and that the gangsters had to be portrayed as communists. Kazan, who'd left the Party and become a staunch anti-communist, saw nothing wrong with this response. But Miller flatly refused to falsify his script and turn it into propaganda. After Miller had finally left Hollywood in disgust, he received an insulting telegram from Cohn: "IT'S INTERESTING HOW THE MINUTE WE TRY TO MAKE THE SCRIPT PRO-AMERICAN YOU PULL OUT." This was the first (but not the last) time that he would get into trouble about the political content of his work. It was also the first crisis in his friendship with Kazan.

The studios had turned out anti-Axis propaganda during World War II and during the Cold War felt obliged to make anti-communist movies. Paranoid about the Russian threat, the United States government pressured the studio heads to make films that expressed the prevailing political views, and eventually supported Senator Joseph McCarthy's persecution and purges of left-wing writers and actors. In turn the movie industry exerted pressure on writers and directors. Miller and Kazan were prominent players in the 1950s conflict between artists and the government forces that tried to control them.


Marilyn Monroe had recently advanced her career with small but significant roles in two first-rate films: The Asphalt Jungle and All About Eve (both 1950), but she was still playing bit parts in trivial movies. Miller first saw her on the Twentieth Century-Fox set of a fatuous comedy, As Young as You Feel. She had a small stereotyped part as a sexy but inept secretary, with pencil poised above her pad. (Anyone could type, but no one looked liked Marilyn.) Miller recalled that she was talking to Kazan (always on the lookout for a pretty and obliging girl) and weeping about the recent death of her lover, agent and protector Johnny Hyde. She was "telling Kazan that Hyde had died while calling her name in a hospital room she had been forbidden by his family to enter." In fact, Marilyn was shopping in Tijuana when Hyde passed away in Palm Springs on December 18, 1950. Though excluded from the funeral, not the hospital, she managed to bluff her way into the service at Forest Lawn Cemetery.

Marilyn's clichéd account of the dying Hyde calling for her in the forbidden hospital, like a scene in a B-movie, suggests that she was still publicly grieving about Hyde a month after his death. It's more likely that she was crying about her own career, now more uncertain than ever without Hyde's crucial help, or about her poor performance in her current film. She complained that the director had ignored and insulted her. She may also have been weeping to attract the attention and arouse the sympathy of Kazan and Miller, and to make herself even more appealing to them. If so, she was more convincing in this role than the one in the movie. Miller poignantly recalled that "she was so striking and so terribly sad that the combination struck me" - as it was meant to.

Miller and Kazan had been invited to stay in the lavish home of the attractive, suave Charles Feldman, who'd produced the film version of A Streetcar Named Desire. Feldman told them, following Hyde's demise, that Marilyn was up for grabs and both men were keenly interested. Miller invited her to a party at Feldman's house and, behaving like a real gentleman, insisted on picking her up instead of letting her come on her own by taxi. He was a good dancer and she was clearly delighted as he whirled her around the room. When they sat down to talk, he gently squeezed her toe - a kind of seductive acupressure - and she took his timid approach as a sign of respect. He told her that his marriage was collapsing, that he'd been terribly unhappy for several years and that he was now completely alienated from his wife. But a man on the make always claims his marriage is unhappy, and he'd gallantly picked her up so he could also take her home. An uninhibited hedonist, always willing, even eager, to sleep with men she liked or she thought could help her, Marilyn probably tried to seduce him that night.

In his self-serving autobiography, Kazan was more frank and perceptive than Miller himself about his friend's relations with Marilyn. Though Kazan didn't mention that he too was eager to seduce her, he called her "a decent-hearted kid whom Hollywood had brought down, legs parted. She had a thin skin and a soul that hungered for acceptance by people she might look up to." Marilyn's sexual humiliations made her especially responsive to Miller's dignified restraint. She confided to Kazan that "Art was shy and this pleased her after all the mauling she'd taken. She said that Art was terribly unhappy in his home life. She'd certainly opened him up." Deeply moved by their first meeting, she gushed poetically to her acting teacher, Natasha Lytess: "It was like running into a tree! You know - like a cool drink when you've got a fever. You see my toe - this toe? Well, he sat and held my toe and we just looked into each other's eyes almost all evening." Their gestures and expressions were more meaningful than words.

Miller was a leading playwright - intelligent, moral and respected; Marilyn (no doubt, unfairly) was considered just another stupid, vulgar and sluttish starlet. Though his father had lost everything in the Depression, Miller grew up in a secure family. Marilyn's broken family had almost nothing to lose, and during the thirties she'd led a miserable life in an orphanage and with a series of harsh foster families. Miller's mother had been forced to sell her lamps, tables and carpets, but had refused to part with her piano - her last connection to the middle class. Marilyn's mother had lost her precious white piano, which her daughter later managed to recover, and placed in the luxurious white décor of a flashy New York apartment. But, like Marilyn, Miller had worked in a humble factory job during the war. He instinctively sympathized with her impoverished background and her desire to escape to a better life.

Miller's feelings for Marilyn - romantic infatuation compounded with adulterous guilt - were conflicted from the start. He believed that with no place to go and no one to go to she needed his protection. He noted her childish voracity (which would one day destroy him) and desperately wanted to help and possess her, but felt he had to leave Hollywood immediately or "lose himself" and his old life for ever. Thus began a long inner struggle between his fierce attraction to Marilyn, made up of lust and pity, and his need to maintain his moral stature and role as a faithful husband. Like the dignified Emil Jannings, bewitched by Marlene Dietrich in The Blue Angel, he eventually found her sexuality irresistible.

Miller later described Marilyn's traumatic background, which would make her difficult, and finally impossible, to live with: "she had a crazy mother. That is not a good start; her mother was quite mad. She was a paranoid schizophrenic who ended up spending half her life in an institution. The mother tried to kill her three times and [Marilyn] was convinced that she was a worthless creature because she was illegitimate." Marilyn constantly sought sympathy by exaggerating her miserable childhood. In fact, her grandmother (not her mother) may have tried to kill her once (not three times). But Miller was moved by her sad account. As the cowboy Bo tells Cherie (played by Marilyn) in Bus Stop: "I like ya like ya are, Cherie, so I don't care how you got that way."

Kazan - himself blissfully free of bourgeois scruples - carefully observed Miller struggling between Marilyn's liberating sexuality and his own intolerable remorse. He was subject, Kazan wrote, to that "domestic peril which results when certain ties of restraint that a middle-class man has always lived with are snapped.... He respected the moral law, but he must also have found it constricting to a suddenly reawakened side of his nature: the life of the senses." Miller had sought relief from his problems in psychoanalysis, but his sessions with the analyst intensified rather than relieved his repression, and made him distraught and ill. His life, he told Kazan, "seemed to be all conflict and tension, thwarted desires, stymied impulses, bewildering but unexpressed conflicts. 'What a waste!' he cried.... He had sex on his mind, constantly. He was starved for sexual release." After ten years of marriage, "Art was on the verge of something disruptive, and [his wife] Mary could only wait and prepare to apply moral sanctions when the inevitable happened."

Though married and with children himself, Kazan - a charismatic seducer - was consistently unfaithful to his wife. While Miller gently held Marilyn's toe, the lusty Greek boldly took her to bed and grabbed all the rest. At Feldman's house she spent her nights with Kazan while Miller, tortured by jealousy, writhed alone in a nearby room and faced the contented couple over breakfast the next morning. Kazan later revealed that during their liaison, early in 1951, Marilyn became pregnant by him and had a miscarriage. Toward the end of her life, Marilyn had fond memories of her old lover and recalled, "Kazan said I was the gayest girl he ever knew and believe me, he has known many. But he loved me for one year and once rocked me to sleep one night when I was in great anguish. He also suggested that I go into analysis and later wanted me to work with Lee Strasberg." Ironically, Marilyn's sexual relations with Kazan intensified Miller's bond with his friend, made her seem more desirable than ever, and stimulated Miller to take her from him.

In the midst of all this sexual rivalry, Marilyn took a cameo part in the protracted but futile negotiations with Cohn over The Hook. Kazan thought it would be amusing for her to reprise her movie role as secretary, equipped with heavy spectacles and stenographer's pad, and accompany Kazan and Miller to Cohn's office. In 1948, as a young starlet under contract to Columbia, she had to have sex with Cohn. As all three men lusted after her, with Miller the odd man out, the sexual tension was palpable.

A few of the love letters that Miller wrote to Marilyn, after he returned to New York and she remained in Hollywood, have survived. Sensing her vulnerability and her essential innocence (despite her sordid past), he sent paternal advice about how to protect herself while advancing her career: "Bewitch them (the public) with this image they ask for, and I hope and almost pray you won't be hurt in this game, nor ever change." Kazan recalled a rapturous letter of 1951 in which Miller confessed that before he left Hollywood Marilyn had given him his long-sought sexual fulfillment:

He felt extra fine and had been thinking joyous thoughts.... He was a young man again, in the grip of a first love, which was - happily - carrying him out of control. He didn't read like the constricted man I'd known. I remembered the lovely light of lechery in his eyes as he was dancing with Marilyn in Charlie Feldman's softly lit living room. I hadn't known he had it in him, that light in his eyes. I'd really done something for my friend, something he could not have done for himself.

Egocentric and self-satisfied as ever, Kazan was proud of his role as go-between and felt as if he, not Marilyn, had fired up and liberated Miller.

Chapter Two

Marilyn's Traumatic Childhood (1926-1946)


"Family breakdown," a social historian observed, "is truly a feature of Los Angeles ... a city of loneliness." Marilyn grew up in the lower depths of Hollywood during the Depression, in the world of unattainable hopes and shattered illusions that Nathanael West satirized in Miss Lonelyhearts. Born into an impoverished family, who went in for bigamous marriages and petty crime, she was subjected to a fatal mixture of fundamentalist religion and sexual molestation. Both made her feel sinful and guilty, polluted and ashamed.

Marilyn's maternal grandfather, Otis Monroe, worked for the Mexican National Railway and lived just across the Texas border, in Piedras Negras, about 150 miles southwest of San Antonio. Otis died of tertiary syphilis in an insane asylum. His wife Della (according to Marilyn's autobiography, ghostwritten by Ben Hecht), "had also been taken off to the mental hospital in Norwalk [part of Los Angeles] to die there screaming and crazy. And her brother had killed himself." Marilyn's mother, Gladys Monroe, was born in Mexico in 1902. It's not clear why Della didn't cross the border to give birth in the United States.


Excerpted from The Genius and the Goddess by Jeffrey Meyers Copyright © 2009 by Jeffrey Meyers. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Jeffrey Meyers has written extensively on literature, film, and art. He is the author of forty-seven books, including biographies of Humphrey Bogart, Gary Cooper, and George Orwell. Meyers is one of twelve Americans who are Fellows of the Royal Society of Literature and in 2005 received an Award in Literature "to honor exceptional achievement" from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He lives in Berkeley, California.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Post to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews