There has recently been a stir kicked up by an investigative report in Vanity Fair about Arthur Miller's fourth son, Daniel. This son, from his third marriage, was diagnosed with Down Syndrome. According to Vanity Fair, Miller and Daniel's mother, Inge Morath, made the decision to have Daniel committed not long after his birth in 1962 (or 1966 depending on who is telling the tale.)
Miller is said, essentially, to have cut this son out of his life and of the public record, until his final act, which was to make Daniel a full and direct heir in his will.
The story received further note in the New York Times here.
I find myself with some rather mixed feelings about all of this.
I have an older brother, Michael, who is developmentally disabled and who is a ward of the state of Maryland. He was adopted before I was born. He isn't the sort of person with Down Syndrome you might see in an advertisement for the Special Olympics. Michael can be violent; he can be shockingly embarrassing and inappropriate; he occasionally doesn't seem to know who I am when I do visit him. Those visits, suffice to say, aren't frequent. But he is my brother, and I do love him.
The fact of the matter is, Michael is a part of my life and my family. The way my family and I go about navigating the complex issues therein simply aren't for people outside of my family to judge. I feel the same should be said for Arthur Miller, especially posthumously. It serves no one to bring this obviously incredibly painful issue into the public eye. Suppositions about the meaning of his behavior, interpretations and outside commentary; what purpose do they serve? Shouldn't there be some sense of decency at play? Isn't there any understanding between the difference between the public and the private?
There is a paragraph in the Vanity Fair article I find particularly distasteful.
"It would be easy to judge Arthur Miller harshly, and some do. For them, he was a hypocrite, a weak and narcissistic man who used the press and the power of his celebrity to perpetuate a cruel lie. But Miller's behavior also raises more complicated questions about the relationship between his life and his art. A writer, used to being in control of narratives, Miller excised a central character who didn't fit the plot of his life as he wanted it to be. Whether he was motivated by shame, selfishness, or fear—or, more likely, all three—Miller's failure to tackle the truth created a hole in the heart of his story. What that cost him as a writer is hard to say now, but he never wrote anything approaching greatness after Daniel's birth. One wonders if, in his relationship with Daniel, Miller was sitting on his greatest unwritten play."
This sort of grandiose speculation smacks of the worst kind of journalistic overreaching. To begin with, the judgment of those outside his family should hold no weight whatsoever. His public work consists of his writing. That, in the end, is all that the public has the right to judge. The idea that anyone outside of his life would be appalled by his behavior is, in itself, appalling. The idea that it has been offered forth by Vanity Fair for judgment, despite the clear wishes and intimations of Miller himself during his life, is abhorrent. If his own family or friends took issue with his behavior, what business is it of mine? Or, for that matter, the readers of Vanity Fair?
What's worse, here, is that Ms. Andrews attempts to somehow validate the existence of this muckraking non-story by stretching to connect it to Miller's playwrighting. That doesn't hold a bit of water with me. The story is about Miller's personal choices and his personal life, nothing more. The whole argument is specious: one could just as easily point to the fact that the Soviet Union banned his plays in 1969 as a cause for his change of artistic fortunes.
Arthur Miller was a celebrity. He was a playwright and a public figure. One of the sicknesses of mass media, unfortunately, is a belief that by become achieving celebrity, one surrenders all privacy. Perhaps we're resentful of the famous, and seek ways to humanize them. Perhaps our curiousity gets the best of us. Perhaps we feel we're owed the whole truth for our attention. Perhaps we love a little blood in the water.
Regardless, my hope is that the theater community, and the country at large, will have the good grace and good sense to leave Miller's legacy, and family, alone.
- Matthew Freeman is a Brooklyn based playwright with a BFA from Emerson College. His plays include THE DEATH OF KING ARTHUR, REASONS FOR MOVING, THE GREAT ESCAPE, THE AMERICANS, THE WHITE SWALLOW, AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR, THE MOST WONDERFUL LOVE, WHEN IS A CLOCK, GLEE CLUB, THAT OLD SOFT SHOE and BRANDYWINE DISTILLERY FIRE. He served as Assistant Producer and Senior Writer for the live webcast from Times Square on New Year's Eve 2010-2012. As a freelance writer, he has contributed to Gamespy, Premiere, Complex Magazine, Maxim Online, and MTV Magazine. His plays have been published by Playscripts, Inc., New York Theatre Experience, and Samuel French.