Today in 1961, Marilyn Monroe filed for divorce from playwright Arthur Miller—a carefully chosen date, as she thought JFK’s inauguration would distract the media from the lows of her personal life. The pairing had always been surprising to Monroe’s adoring audience, they clashed when collaborating artistically, and their marriage soured after Monroe found an entry in Miller’s notebook where he characterized her as disappointing, worried his creativity would be threatened by his marriage, and (according to Monroe) wrote, “The only one I will ever love is my daughter.”
But while it lasted, their love was passionate. After the two were introduced in 1951 by Elia Kazan, Monroe told a friend, “It was like running into a tree. You know, like a cool drink when you’ve had a fever.” After Miller divorced his wife to be with Monroe and before the two were married, he sent Monroe many loving, erotic letters—a far cry from his disappointed private notebook entry years later.
One particularly effusive, steamy letter was written on April 30th, 1956, two months before their marriage. In the letter, Miller waxes poetic about what he will do when the pair are together again:
I will kiss you and hold you close to me and sensational things will then happen. All sorts of slides, rollings, pitchings, rambunctiousness of every kind. And then I will sigh. And when you rest our head on my shoulder, then slowly I will get HUNGRY . .
I will come again to the kitchen, pretending you are not there and discover you again. And as you stand there cooking breakfast, I will kiss your neck and your back and the sweet cantaloupes of your rump and the backs of your knees and turn you about and kiss your breasts and the eggs will burn.
Whoa—that’s a horny letter. But the egg-cooking, the kitchen makeout—it’s also a domestic fantasy. In another letter a few weeks later, Miller continues portending their domestic future:
[Meeting you] meant that I must face myself and what I am. It meant that I must put down those fearfully protective arms of reticence and blushing stupidity, and put my arms around the one I loved and face the startling, incredible, simply glorious fact that I am a tender man and not the fierce idiot I have tried-and failed-to become. How could you have known that, Darling? How I bless you that you knew it! I am near tears this minute at the miracle you are to me. How happy I will make you! What beautiful children I will give you! Oh, I will watch over you, and pest you, and worry about you. I feel something today that marks it, like an anniversary, or more truly, my real day of birth. I have reached a kind of manhood I never really knew before. I tell you dear, I am afraid of nothing in this world.
Of course, Miller didn’t end up making Monroe happy or giving her children. Miller didn’t even attend Monroe’s funeral, choosing to, as he put it, “stay home and let the public mourners finish the mockery.” It’s bittersweet to read Miller’s letters in light of their subsequent divorce and Monroe’s overdose. Below his signature in that gushing April 30th letter, Miller wrote, “Please—if I have ever made you cry, or made you one ounce sadder even for a second—forgive me. My perfect girl.”