DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:
The playwright Arthur Miller was a very public figure. His marriage to and divorce from Marilyn Monroe played out in the newspapers. Miller was in the limelight when he was called to testify for the House Un-American Activities Committee and famously refused to name names of suspected communists. And, of course, there were his widely performed plays like, "All My Sons," "The Crucible" and "Death of a Salesman" for which he won a Pulitzer.
But one part of Arthur Miller's life remained carefully hidden from the public: his son, Daniel. This child does not appear at all in Miller's autobiography, Timebends." Suzanna Andrews has looked into this dark corner of the Miller family for the September issue of Vanity Fair and joins us now.
Hello. Welcome to the program.
Ms. SUZANNA ANDREWS (Writer, Vanity Fair): Hello, Debbie. How are you?
ELLIOTT: Good. Arthur Miller's son, Daniel, was born, you write in 1966 with Down Syndrome. Miller and his wife, the photographer Inge Morath, immediately put Daniel in an institution. This was common back in those times, was it not?
Ms. ANDREWS: It was still common in that time. Doctors were recommending generally that parents put their children away - those children with Down syndrome. However, in that time, many parents were ignoring their doctors' advice. It was the beginning of the turning of the tide. So he was among the last to follow that course and institutionalized his child.
ELLIOT: Was there any debate between Arthur Miller and his wife at the time about what to do with their son?
Ms. ANDREWS: Debbie, according to friends, Inge very much wanted to keep the child. And in fact, brought him home for a week, but Arthur did not wanted to keep him at home and I think he was the stronger of the two personalities. And she was quite devastated according to friends, but she yielded, and when he was a week old, he was sent to an institutional nursery in New York City.
ELLIOT: As you looked into Daniel's life, is there an answer to why Arthur Miller never acknowledged that he had this son and didn't want to talk about it?
Ms. ANDREWS: Well, everything, of course, is speculation because Arthur Miller is dead and he never addressed this. His wife said that, initially, the reason was that they wanted to protect their daughter Rebecca that they felt that having a disabled child at home would upset her life. But there were other deeper reasons. There were those who felt that he was very fearful of having his work life upset. Others said that he was afraid of losing Inge's attention.
ELLIOTT: Now you mentioned that Arthur Miller and Inge Morath had another daughter Rebecca. Miller also had two other children by a previous marriage. What did those children tell you about Daniel?
Ms. ANDREWS: Those children wouldn't speak to me about Daniel. The communications with Rebecca were through very reluctant e-mails and - on her part. They were really faced, I think, with a very difficult situation. The loyalty to their father and genuine concerns about Danny and wanting to keep the family's story private.
ELLIOTT: In the end, you paint a rather disturbing picture of what Daniel had to go through particularly in this institution where he spent most of his childhood. One person describes this place as not even fit for a dog.
Ms. ANDREWS: Yes. That was somebody who worked there actually at the Southbury Training School, which is still open in Connecticut, home for the mentally disabled. Daniel was there probably from around 1969 until the early '80s. And it was once a very, very respected cutting-edge institution. But by the time Daniel was institutionalized there, it had really deteriorated and it was overcrowded, understaffed, no education for the children. Inge described it when she would visit her son there, it was out of a Hieronymus Bosch painting.
ELLIOT: In 1995, you report that Daniel and Arthur Miller actually met in public.
Ms. ANDREWS: Yes. Arthur Miller was making a speech on behalf of Richard LaPointe who was a mildly mentally disabled man who as accused of murdering his wife's grandmother, and many people felt the confession was coerced and Arthur Miller, of course, in his life was extremely generous in coming to the aid of people who were the victims of injustice. And this was the case where he had to go to the great deal to time to campaigning on behalf of Richard LaPointe.
So he was in Hartford making a speech at the conference on false confession. And Danny had come to the Hartford Conference Center with a group called People First, which is a self-advocacy group for the disabled. So they were both there and their roles as activists.
And as Arthur Miller was coming up the podium, Danny ran up to him and embraced him, and Arthur was very taken aback according to people who were there, but he was tremendously kind and they had their picture taken together and then Arthur left.
ELLIOT: Did the friends of Arthur Miller that you spoke with talk about how hard it was to reconcile Arthur Miller's public image of, sort of, I think you wrote, shining a mirror to society's ills, if you will, and privately, how he could not acknowledge his own son?
Ms. ANDREWS: I think they did wrestle with it. I think there was a great deal of struggle on the part of many friends who felt that they did have to keep the secret. And the secret wasn't just a public one. They could really never even talk to Arthur Miller about it. But one friend said something. She was a friend of many decades and she said, really, if you knew Arthur Miller very, very well, this wouldn't have surprised you because, ultimately, everything that he did in his life was for emotional self-preservation.
ELLIOT: What impact do you think, if any, Daniel's birth had on Arthur Miller's art?
Ms. ANDREWS: Well, many people have noted that Arthur Miller did his best work early in life as a lot of writers do. But what is very pronounced is that after Daniel's birth in 1966, he never wrote anything approaching greatness ever again. Now many writers have some deep, dark, inner conflict that animates their work. But, you know, really even in that situation, a writer has to be honest to do authentic work and Arthur Miller - there was a very dark area in his life that was completely closed off to him. And one wonders really if with his relationship with Daniel, the thing that he couldn't face, he was really sitting on his greatest unwritten play.
ELLIOT: Suzanna Andrews' article, "Arthur Miller's Missing Act" appears in the September issue of Vanity Fair. She reports that six weeks before he died, Arthur Miller made his son Daniel a direct heir in his will and equal to his three other children.
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