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Miller, Monroe, When Gods Die

There was a haunting scene in the movie, My week with Marilyn which showed a devastated Marilyn having just found Arthur Miller’s notebook where he wrote about his disillusion  in their marriage. Mind you, they were still newlyweds. Shortly after her death, and much to the  dismay of many critics, portions of that notebook morphed into Miller’s broadway  play entitled, After The Fall. A review of the play in The New Haven Register stated, “It’s a universal experience that is significant to us all, that teaches us anew the duality of good and evil in man, that achieves a moving synthesis of truth and beauty.”

The article that I am writing is not about Arthur Miller’s arguable motivations for writing and releasing that play shortly after Marilyn’s death or about her feelings of betrayal. This article is about the making of gods with a small “g.”

I love this quote by John Welch, a catholic priest with a PhD from Notre Dame, “When a person’s desire attempts to find total fulfillment in someone or something, that person or thing begins to take the place of God.”

Over the course of my lifetime, just like Marilyn, I have made gods of men, alcohol, and careers. I have worshiped at the altar of education and at the feet of the people who I believed had the power to redeem me from my perceived badness, my fundamental flawed self. And I’m sure my experience is  universal for many people.

In his book, When Gods Die, Welch, describes the painful process each human being must wrestle with on their individual life journey; to finally come to the understanding that
no person, relationship, place, reputation, career, or future plan is capable of providing total meaning and satisfaction.

After food and shelter, and a few other basics, each human being instinctively gravitates toward some sort of life meaning. That indescribable thing called “getting a self” or the “inside work.” One has to search, find, and then come home to the self if one is to experience a lasting peace and satisfaction, but the danger is that we would keep appropriating others to meet these needs. Joseph Campbell, author of The Hero’s Journey addresses this arduous process, in the many faces of the hero’s journey, “Your sacred space is where  you can find yourself again and again.”

As despicable as Arthur Miller’s portrayal of Marilyn may have been in his thinly disguised Broadway play, Gloria Steinem aptly describes his psychological process as he begins his decent into a kind of hell, “…the beginning of his long slid into a caretaking role that required cajoling, scheduling, explaining, worrying about Marilyn’s pill-taking habits, and supplying emotional support.”

Marilyn’s neediness was devouring him alive. After my years of research about Marilyn, I have no doubt that this was the case. Even Marilyn’s psycharitirst, Dr. Greenson, reports feeling exhausted under the pressure and responsibility of caring for Marilyn with the threat of another suicide attempt always hanging above her constant chaos.

The point of this article, however, is that Miller seemed to blame his decent into hell solely on Marilyn instead of taking responsibility for the ways in which he appropriated her.

One of the reasons for the public’s outrage regarding After The Fall, seemed to be centered on Miller’s failure to acknowledge Marilyn’s loyalty and financial contributions throughout
his years of legal battles with HUAC and Washington’s court of Appeals. Miller had been charged with contempt for refusing to name names of people who the courts believed to be involved in communist writings. Miller was cleared in 1958, thanks in part to the financial support of Marilyn. Then there was the fact that Miller wrote the screen play for the Misfits. In additions to her youth, beauty, stardom and popularity, he desperately needed her financially.

Welsh says about creating our gods, “Two deaths begin to occur. First, whomever or whatever is being asked to be a god cannot bear it. The expectation is too much for any part of creation and it begins to die under the pressure.”

Looking at their dynamics from a wide angle lens, it would appear that Miller was devouring Monroe. In other words, their appropriation of the other was mutual and two deaths slowly began to occur during their four year marriage.

In her ground-breaking research, Barbara Leaming’s Marilyn Monroe offers a griping portrayal of Hollywood’s rich and famous, theater and politics, the McCarthy era, and Marilyn’s
involvements with Frank Sinatra and the Kennedys. Her book is filled with smashing intrigue, deceit, betrayal, affairs, personal demons, tragedies and heroics. But more importantly her book is a study of the shadow side of human nature regardless of how famous or infamous one may be.

I identify with and feel great compassion for Arthur Miller, who wrestles with the burden of trying to hold up another human being while you yourself are drowning. I have been in that self-imposed situation many times in my life while learning to extricate and differentiate myself from others. I have allowed myself, consciously or unconsciously, to be consumed by
others needs.

Likewise, my heart aches for Marilyn who heroically fought her demons while using others to get her needs met, more than many of them could bear. I cringe remembering those that I have used intentionally or unintentionally.

As we awaken to our sacred selves, we discover that we all are human; we are all connected in our choices of relationship. Each of us create gods with a small g while on our collective journeys to a God with a capital G, the sacred space of finding oneself.

 

In looking over your life, can you identify any “God’s” with a small “g”?

Have you ever held up another while weighing  yourself down?

Are you aware of a time that you were used by another?

Are you aware of a time that you used another or others?

 

 

Author, Barbara Leaming. Marilyn Monroe

Author, Gloria Steinem. Marilyn

John Welsh.O.Carm. When Gods Die. A Catholic Preist with the Carmelite Order.

Photograph from the Wikimedia Commons. 1957 Trailer screenshot from  The Prince and the Showgirl

 

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Comments

  1. What an insightful, well written and inspiring piece this is! Very useful, thank you Dawn.

    • Hi Karen,

      Thank you for stoping my blog site and especially for taking time to leave a comment. I do hope you come back soon.

      Kind Regards, dawn

  2. Thank you for your insights into the lives of Arthur MIller and Marilyn Monroe. The gods in my life were my abusive parents when I was a child and had no choice in the way that my life was going. Since I left that home behind, I haven’t trusted enough to have too many people become gods in my life. Those that I did put up on a pedestal didn’t stay there very long before they jumped off the pedestal with their very human controlling behaviors. Thanks for following me on Twitter. That follow is what lead me here to your blog.

    • Hi Patricia,

      You are wise and maybe just a little lucky that you haven’t had too many gods in your life. I have made many gods with a little “g” out of people, food, alcohol, degrees, work, friends, relationships, etc. All the while struggling to stay centered in the God of my understanding, the God with the capital “G” who lives right inside of me.

      Kind regards, dawn

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