The Misfits by Arthur Miller
More than for its elegiac beauty or because its stars, Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe, each delivered one of their finest performances, The Misfits earned its place in film mythology for the stories surrounding its tumultuous making.
Arthur Miller wrote the screenplay as a Valentine to his then wife, Monroe. Starring alongside her childhood idol, Gable, whom as a child Monroe had pretended was her father, the film was intended to be a physically and mentally restorative experience that would finally get her noticed as a serious actress.
Whilst Miller may have set out with the best of intentions, by the time filming was underway he was effectively separated from Monroe. Away from her psychiatrist at a time of great emotional strain, Monroe increasingly turned for comfort to drugs and alcohol. Unsurprisingly, her behaviour on set was erratic: as she would turn up late for work, and on many occasions not all. At one point production had to be halted for ten days so she could convalesce in a psychiatric institution.
Monroe, however, was not the only one battling personal demons on set. Montgomery Clift, who had been left disfigured by an earlier car accident, was also heavily dependent on drugs and alcohol, leading Monroe to describe him as “the only person I know who’s in worse shape than I am.” To make matters worse, instead of having a director who could instill some discipline, John Huston was, for the most part, completely intoxicated, and at one point the crew had to step in to pay off his gambling debts. Gable, whilst maybe mentally more stable than those around him, was by then 59, and insisted on doing all his own stunts. He is believed to have put his body through even more strain by going on a crash diet in preparation for his role. The physical and mental tolls taken on those involved in the production could only have been exacerbated by the searing heat of the Nevada desert where temperatures reached 108 degree (42°C).
At $4 million dollars, The Misfits became at that time the most expensive black and white film ever made. It also turned out to be the last film Gable and Monroe completed. Just two days after filming had finished Gable had a heart attack and died ten days later. Monroe was found dead a year and a half later. Whilst he lived a few years longer, Montgomery Clifts’ death is still associated with the film. His personal assistant claims on the night he died it was playing on the television and that Clift had "Absolutely not!" wanted to see it. Miller may have outlived the others for a great deal longer, but he never produced another significant work. Despite entering into a long marriage shortly after, his life with Monroe and the filming of The Misfits was something from which he could never entirely escape. His plays After the Fall (1964) and Finishing the Picture (2004), his final one, although fictional, were thinly veiled accounts of his relationship with Monroe at that time.
The book in the photographs is a first edition of the screenplay, published by Viking Press in 1961. Miller dedicated the book to Clark Gable “who did not know how to hate.” The Jacket design is by Don Ervin.
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