The truth about Marilyn Monroe's unlikely marriage to Arthur Miller

The pairing was definitely an oddball one, on the surface, at least. What was a young Hollywood starlet doing with a nerdy writer 11 years her senior? Marilyn Monroe could have had any man she wanted, but she went with playwright Arthur Miller? Even though it only lasted a short few years, as celebrity marriages are wont to do, there was initially something that brought this disparate couple together.

Then, as now, the press reveled in the apparently mismatched couple. They were called "the Hourglass and the Egghead." Their union was described in one magazine as "the most unlikely marriage since the Owl and the Pussycat," in reference to the 1871 nonsense poem written by Edward Lear, which tells of a cat and an owl who elope and sail away "for a year and a day, / To the land where the Bong-Tree grows." Taking an unsurprisingly less poetic approach to its confusion, the Daily Mail wrote, "She was a sex symbol and he was an aloof intellectual. Why did Marilyn Monroe marry a misfit?" A writer for The Ringer tried to think of a modern match that would be on par with the disparity of the Monroe/Miller union and came up with "if Kim Kardashian married Ta-Nehesi Coates," but that comparison seems a bit insulting to Monroe. Considering the celebrity pair continues to confound the hoi polloi decades later, exactly how did the misfit marriage between Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller even get started?

Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller's first impressions

Just like the beginning of Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner's relationship, Monroe and Miller felt a spark when they first met on a movie set in 1951. But they didn't get together right away. And although Monroe and Miller wouldn't marry each other for another five years, each of the two left a lasting impression on the other. (But the similarities between the two couples pretty much end there — with Frank and Ava, a world-famous, blue-eyed crooner with ties to the mafia hooking up with a beautiful actress makes a bit more pop culture sense.)

"You're the saddest girl I've ever met," Miller said to her as he took her hand. Weirdly meant as a compliment, it worked, and it brought a smile to her lips. "You're the only one who ever said that to me," Monroe said. Miller would write later on that they shook hands and "the shock of her body's motion sped through me." Monroe compared him in her own diary to "running into a tree ... like a cool drink of water when you've had a fever."

Riding high on the popularity of his Pulitzer Prize-winning play Death of a Salesman, Miller had watched her in a few takes and he told her that he thought she should act on the stage. Those in the production crew who heard him laughed, but Marilyn didn't. She'd been waiting for someone to see a different side of her.

Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller both had something the other lacked and wanted

No one ever seemed to have a problem understanding the relationship from Miller's side of things. Marilyn Monroe was the epitome of pop culture's idea of sexual attractiveness, and he was a heterosexual man. It was a no-brainer. But what did she see in him? Well, as the blog Finding Jackie pointed out in 2014, reading wasn't just something Marilyn Monroe did in front of the camera. She had a thing for the written word, and despite the "dumb blonde" image others typecast her into, she was quite well-read. A Pulitzer Prize winner attracting a bookworm actually makes quite a bit of sense. According to Vanity Fair, Monroe wrote, "I am so concerned about protecting Arthur I love him — and he is the only person — human being I have ever known that I could love not only as a man to which I am attracted to practically out of my senses about — but he [is] the only person ... that I trust as much as myself."

His ability to see a deeper side of her apparently didn't last long, unfortunately. She later found a journal entry of his in which he admitted that he was "disappointed" in her and that she "embarrassed" him in front of his other egghead friends. So although it was an unusual match, the length of their marriage was pretty average by Hollywood standards. The "misfits" got divorced in 1961.