Decades after Marilyn, Miller, aged 89, finds love with thirtysomething
Sunday 12 December 2004
Arthur Miller may no longer be in the flush of youth - he is a grand 89 years old - but he still has plenty of verve. He commutes back and forth between a comfortable Connecticut farmhouse and a Manhattan pied-à-terre and continues to write. His latest play, Finishing the Picture, recently opened in Chicago.
If the Titan of American theatre, whose classics include The Crucible and Death of a Salesman, has been harbouring a special secret about staying vital, then maybe now the cat is out of the bag. For two years, he has been drawing energy - romantic and possibly artistic too - from far across the generations.
Once married to Marilyn Monroe, who provides the inspiration for the main character of his new play, Miller is currently linked with a New York artist young enough to be his granddaughter. Agnes Barley, who met the great man at a friend's dinner party, is 34 - there is an age difference of 55 years.
Neither of the lovers, however, is about to yield any ground to the tongue-waggers of the city. "I like the company of women," Miller noted flatly when asked about the relationship by a writer at The New York Times. "Life is boring without them." His dinner-table encounter with Ms Barley came shortly after the death of his third wife, Inge Morath, from lymphoma.
"People are curious about us," conceded Ms Barley to a reporter from W magazine. "I feel very lucky." Ms Barley described a life where the two of them work most of the day in separate studios - she on her paintings, he at his words - while reuniting, for lunch, perhaps a walk in the Connecticut fields, and dinner.
And no one, she says, was more bamboozled by the affair than her. In a recollection that at first sight is not entirely flattering, she said she was shocked even to find the writer sitting at the table. "I honestly didn't know Arthur Miller was still living! I thought, 'He's alive?'" Not only alive, apparently, but thoroughly appealing. "There was a sparkle between us" even on that first meeting, she said.
A more serious courtship quickly ensued, with dinners together, sometimes four or five times a week. "We talked about everything: our concepts of love, time, life. I think we spent six months together before I even admitted, God, I'm deeply in love with this person."
Miller is hardly the first artist to draw happiness late in life from the well-spring of youth. The artist Lucian Freud, who is 81, has been stepping out with women younger than him by half a century. Picasso was 46 years older than his second wife, Jacqueline Rocque.
Miller has been doing his best to support the artistic ambitions of his new partner. Paintings costing up to £2,600 at the Jen Bekman Gallery in Manhattan, recently were shown with his endorsement: "These works are not 'pictures' but rather imagined captures of space in which structures under tension interact. The intention is to approach fundamental relationships in reality."
And while she may not describe herself as Miller's muse, Ms Barley may be edging into his work also. While Finishing the Picture draws on his memories of Monroe struggling to complete the film The Misfits, some reviewers suggest that a smaller part in the play - a secretary to the movie actress - is modelled precisely on Ms Barley.
The playwright is not prepared to admit to the connection, dismissing the assumption as "wrong-headed".
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