Making the Fall: An intimate account of Elia Kazan and Arthur Miller working together on After the Fall, Miller’s play about Marilyn Monroe
By Richard D. Meyer
CreateSpace Publishing 2013, 191 pp.
Today’s Broadway theater fare is almost exclusively musical extravaganzas, but back in the 1940s and 50s, Broadway drama was a vehicle for critical social analysis and for pondering the “human condition.” America’s most distinguished playwright of that era was Arthur Miller (1915-2005 – “Death of a Salesman,” 1949, “The Crucible,” 1953), and the nation’s most revered director, both on Broadway and in Hollywood, was Elia Kazan (1909-2003). The two had collaborated on well-received plays and became good friends. However, Kazan’s friendly testimony in front of HUAC in 1952 during the Red Scare alienated Miller and many more of Kazan’s friends on both coasts. However, when it was proposed that a national Repertory Theatre company be founded at the new Lincoln Center in New York City, Miller and Kazan put bygones aside and agreed to write and direct, respectively, the company’s first play. Miller’s semi-autobiographical “After The Fall,” was mainly about his first two failed marriages. His second wife, from the years 1956-1961, had been the popular movie actress and celebrity icon, Marilyn Monroe. The play premiered on January 23, 1964, just five months after Monroe’s suicide. Audiences were ambivalent regarding Miller’s thinly-veiled, unsympathetic portrayal of Monroe as a psychologically-troubled alcoholic and prescription meds addict.
Theater professor, Richard Meyer, visited Kazan in 1963 while on sabbatical and requested that he be allowed to document the beginnings of the Repertory Theatre. This book, published independently 50 years later, is the result. Kazan fans will very much appreciate “Making of the Fall” for its interesting, first-hand insights regarding the director’s methods on the theater stage. Kazan resigned from the Repertory Theatre after the critically-lambasted play’s five-month run and never directed a play again.
The three main protagonists of the “After the Fall” on-stage/off-stage drama, Miller, Kazan, and Monroe were “extremely successful” people, but were also deeply troubled. Kazan and Miller were both atheists, Miller a notably radical God-denier. Monroe, although “admired” (i.e., lusted after) by literally tens of millions of men around the world, was as mentally unstable as Miller had portrayed her. What to make of this “After the Fall” quagmire? The three were spiritually lost people looking for happiness and truth outside of Jesus Christ and God’s Word.
I’ve enjoyed studying Kazan and his 19 films over the years because the director had an excellent knack for tearing down society’s facades of “goodness” and “respectability.” He was actually very close to Part A of the Gospel message: man’s depravity/sinfulness. He missed Part B: the Savior, Jesus Christ.
Below: High-brow theater, low-brow soap opera, or the human (sin) condition?:
- “After the Fall” is an allusion to the fall of Adam and Eve in Genesis. Clearly, Miller’s marriages weren’t the “paradise” he had hoped for.
- Miller unfavorably portrayed Kazan in the play as the character, Mickey.
- Monroe had been Kazan’s mistress for a period of time prior to her marriage to Miller. In his autobiography, Kazan confided that he continued to have relations with Monroe even after she was engaged to Miller.
- Actress, Barbara Loden, portrayed Maggie (Monroe) in the play. She was Kazan’s mistress in real life. Hence, she was the mistress portraying the former-mistress. Kazan married Loden in 1967, but the two were headed for divorce before Loden died of cancer in 1980.
- Kazan confessed in his autobiography that as a successful and powerful director, he purposely targeted beautiful, blonde WASP actresses for adulterous relationships because such women were totally inaccessible to him as a very “ethnic-looking” young man coming from a financially-strapped family. It’s interesting how the wounds/deprivations of our younger days continue to drive us as adults. Monroe’s pathological insecurities stemmed from being “orphaned” as a very young child (her mentally-ill mother had been institutionalized).
- Kazan’s faithful wife, Molly, died of a brain aneurysm at the age of 56 in December 1963, while “After the Fall” was being rehearsed.