Father Figure: Marilyn and Isidore Miller

Much as been said about Marilyn’s lifelong search for the father figure she lacked as a child, but her relationship with Isidore Miller came closest. For the January 1963 issue of Good Housekeeping, Flora Rheta Schreiber interviewed Marilyn’s father-in-law following her recent death. Headlined ‘Remembrances of Marilyn’, the article was reprinted in the wonderful anthology, Marilyn Monroe: A Composite View (1969), and can now be read in full here.

“On August 5, 1962, headlines stunned the world: ‘Marilyn Monroe, 36, dies of sleeping-pill overdose.’ None mourned more than Isidore Miller, a tall, distinguished-looking man of 77, who learned the news that Sunday morning while he was shaving. Mr. Miller is the father of the playwright Arthur Miller, who was once married to Marilyn … ‘She wanted help and nobody was near her,’ he told me. ‘I had spoken to her only 10 days before. She sounded happy … There was no desperation in that voice,’ he assured me, ‘and I never thought of Marilyn as a tragic figure. At least, if she was, she concealed it from me.’

However, Saturday, August 4, 1962, puzzled Mr. Miller. When he called Marilyn at noon, New York time (9 a.m. Los Angeles time), the housekeeper said that Marilyn was dressing and would call him back. ‘She never got that message,’ he told me. ‘If she had, she would have talked to me. She always interrupted even a business conference to talk to me. So I waited. But Marilyn did not call.’

Now that she will never call, he remembers affectionately the Marilyn he knew. With strangers she was essentially retiring, but to him she was tender, outgoing and unfailingly understanding. ‘She helped a great many people,’ he said proudly, ‘and their names will never be known. She was charitable because there was charity in her heart, not because she wanted thanks.’

He remembered, too, the restless Marilyn: ‘She would always be jumping up to fix the curtains; she concentrated on little things. She didn’t sit still long enough to give herself a chance to think.’ Then there was the mercurial Marilyn, who seemed to be two personalities rather than one. ‘For want of a better description,’ he said, ‘I called the one the Irish Marilyn and the other the American Marilyn.’ While the Irish Marilyn was dreamy and poetic, he saw the American Marilyn as efficient and self-reliant.

He remembers Marilyn as he first saw her. It was at the opening of A View from the Bridge, a play written by Arthur Miller, his son. Then Marilyn was just another movie star to him … Six months later, the movie star sat in the kitchen of the Millers’ house on East Third Street, near Avenue M, in Brooklyn, N.Y. She wore no makeup. An unpretentious gray skirt, a high-collared black blouse and a scarf covering her hair added to her casual manner.

‘This is the girl I’m going to marry,’ Arthur Miller told his parents.

‘”Have they weighed this step carefully?” was our only thought,’ Mr. Miller told me. He added wistfully, ‘We thought it would be for a lifetime, not just for a few years.’

At the wedding Rabbi Gold­burg asked, ‘Marilyn, if you have a sister, introduce me to her.’ ‘But,’ Isidore Miller recalls, ‘there was nobody from her side there.’

When the senior Millers visited Marilyn and Arthur in their East 57th Street apartment they often met people like actor Montgomery Clift and actress Maureen Stapleton. ‘There was good talk there,’ Mr. Miller reminisces, ‘about books and plays. Everybody sat on the floor. Marilyn often talked of the late Marie Dressler, whom she remembered from her youth, and whom she admired more than any other actress.’

Marilyn, in turn, visited her father- and mother-in-law. One day a crowd followed her car clear to the end of their block … She also began reading her poetry to him. ‘The poetry was only fair,’ he says, ‘but when she asked, “How do you like it, Dad?” I read the signs of her growing concern for my opinion.’

He knew that before she achieved fame, her life had often been hard and unhappy. He hoped that now that they were becoming closer she would talk to him of her past. ‘But,’ he says, ‘she clung to the present. Of her earlier life, I only knew what I could read.’

Finding a father at least by marrying into the Miller family in 1956, she was in danger of losing him four-and-a-half years later, when a divorce decree, obtained in Juarez, Mexico, made her the ex-Mrs. Arthur Miller. But she took the initiative in making Isadore Miller closer to her than ever. When, for instance, she heard of her ex-mother-in-law’s sudden death, Marilyn came to the funeral, sat with the mourners and all through the service held and patted the hand of her beloved ‘Dad.’

‘She had just been discharged from a hospital herself,’ he told me, ‘but she asked “Dad, shall I come to the cemetery?” In all my grief, I replied, “Marilyn, you’ve been sick, don’t come.”‘ Mr. Miller, himself under heavy sedation, had gone to the funeral from a hospital where he was a pre-operative patient. After the service, he returned for his operation. ‘While I was in the hospital,’ he told me, ‘Marilyn called me every day …’

When Mr. Miller got well, Marilyn and he were united in mutual loneliness. She would call him at his daughter Joan’s apartment, where he was then living … During these quiet evenings with Marilyn, he found her a person who took life seriously. She shared with him a love of children, a love that was the more poignant because she could have no children of her own … She began turning to him for advice. He was glad that she did because he was worried about how she would handle her business affairs now that she was a single woman again.

When, for instance, she thought of buying a house, she talked it over with him first. Then, when she bought it, she told him, ‘I purposely bought a house with a guest room so that you can come out and stay as long as you like. I know you’ll love it.’ Despite her repeated urgings, however, ‘Dad’ would put off going. He told her that she would be working and he would be in the way … When he was vacationing in Florida in February, 1962, she surprised him with a telegram, saying:


As he waited at the airport for her plane, a man asked him whom he was expecting. ‘Marilyn Monroe,’ he replied. ‘I could see,’ he reminisces, ‘that the man was aghast that such an old man was waiting for Marilyn Monroe.’

The crowded hours that followed found the world’s most famous girl and her ‘Dad’ having dinner at the Hotel Fountainebleau’s Club Gigi and watching the show in the Cabaret Minaret at the Sea Isle, where he was staying. ‘The show wasn’t so good that night,’ he told me, ‘but when I suggested that we leave, Marilyn protested vehemently, “We can’t do that. It’d hurt the performers’ feelings.”‘

‘You know,’ she said, ‘Arthur’s getting married tonight.’ Seeing that ‘Dad was upset, she added quickly: “I’m sure a letter must be on its way.”’

‘You see,’ Mr. Miller told me, ‘Marilyn wanted to make me feel right. She wanted me to protect her, but she also protected me.’ When he had left her room, he found $200 in the pocket of the coat he had hung in her closet.

The memory of the gay Marilyn of the Florida interlude was dimmed for ‘Dad’ in May when he read a newspaper headline that stated she was not well. Then he was shocked when he heard how she had held up production of a movie at Twentieth Century-Fox. Repeatedly, he had urged her to take a long rest ‘because you look and feel better when you’re not working.’ But now he telephoned her to offer comfort.

Later that month she asked him to be her date at President Kennedy’s birthday celebration at New York’s Madison Square Garden, where she was scheduled to sing ‘Happy Birthday, Mr. President.’ Before going to the Garden, she insisted up on rehearsing the song for ‘Dad.’ When he told her ‘it sounds too low,’ she tried again. Only when he was satisfied with her rendition did they leave for a reception at the Four Seasons restaurant.

Later that evening at a private party for leaders in government and the theatre, where everyone was standing, Marilyn managed to get Dad a chair … She also insisted upon taking him home. At his elevator they kissed goodbye … Though they talked again many times, this was the last time they saw each other.

Now that she is gone he still remembers her warmth, incandescence and vitality. Together they dwelt in many mansions of the spirit.”