August 17, 2007

Vanity Fair: Arthur Miller "Deleted" His Down Syndrome Son

I am totally floored. The playwright Arthur Miller had a son with Down Syndrome in 1966 who he never publicly acknowledged and all but wrote out of his life. [What an odd choice of words, under the circumstances.] The boy, Daniel, was sent to an institution when he was one week old. He's 41 now, and doing remarkably well.

Vanity Fair has an article about the story:

Miller loved his older children, his sister says, "but Rebecca [his daughter with his third wife, photographer Inge Morath] was special."

Daniel was born four years later [in 1966], in a New York City hospital. The Broadway producer Robert Whitehead, who died in 2002, would tell Martin Gottfried that Miller called him on the day of the birth. Miller was "overjoyed," Whitehead said, and confided that he and Inge were planning to name the boy "Eugene"—possibly after Eugene O'Neill, whose play Long Day's Journey into Night, which had won the Pulitzer in 1957, had awed Miller. The next day, however, Miller called Whitehead again and told him the baby "isn't right." The doctors had diagnosed the infant with Down syndrome. Born with an extra 21st chromosome, children with Down syndrome are often recognized by their upward-slanted eyes and flattened facial features. They suffer from hypotonia—decreased muscle tone—and mild to moderate retardation. Many are born with heart problems, and in 1966 they were not expected to live past the age of 20.

"Arthur was terribly shaken—he used the term 'mongoloid,'" Whitehead recalled. He said, "'I'm going to have to put the baby away.'" A friend of Inge's recalls visiting her at home, in Roxbury, about a week later. "I was sitting at the bottom of the bed, and Inge was propped up, and my memory is that she was holding the baby and she was very, very unhappy," she says. "Inge wanted to keep the baby, but Arthur wasn't going to let her keep him." Inge, this friend recalls, "said that Arthur felt it would be very hard for Rebecca, and for the household," to raise Daniel at home. Another friend remembers that "it was a decision that had Rebecca at the center."

Within days, the child was gone, placed in a home for infants in New York City. When he was about two or three, one friend recalls, Inge tried to bring him home, but Arthur would not have it. Daniel was about four when he was placed at the Southbury Training School. Then one of two Connecticut institutions for the mentally retarded, Southbury was just a 10-minute drive from Roxbury, along shaded country roads. "Inge told me that she went to see him almost every Sunday, and that [Arthur] never wanted to see him," recalls the writer Francine du Plessix Gray. Once he was placed in Southbury, many friends heard nothing more about Daniel. "After a certain period," one friend says, "he was not mentioned at all."

I can't figure out what to think; part of me is outraged, part is gut-wrenched, and part of me thinks its none of anyone's damn business, especially if Miller's other children don't want their family discussed in magazines.

Arthur Miller's Missing Act [vanityfair.com via tmn]

6 Comments

We've come a long, long way.

As Monika said, we've come a long long way. I think that it is a story that happened many times and because people forget that it is a story worth telling. But I guess I would have liked it better if they just used Arthur Miller as a hook for the story and focused more on the tragedy of how often this happened, or told the story of a few other inmates as well, rather than focusing on Arthur and Daniel Miller specifically. Given the family's lack of interest in participating, the focus on them does feel a little voyeuristic.

[an insightful point. there was mention but almost no discussion of what doctors were recommending people do with Down kids at the time. I think the idea that such a well-known figure had such a mystery/secret is too hard for VF to pass up, though. Maybe someone else will pick up the topic. or has already. -ed.]

We haven't come all that far. These days, Arthur Miller would have found out about the Down Syndrome prenatally and subsequently forced his wife to abort their child.

How can it be voyeuristic if he was a publicity-seeking celebrity when he was alive? Just because he came from an age when the celebrity controlled the content does not seem to me enough of a reason to bemoan the "slight" to his reputation.

I found this article while helping my son research Arthur Miller for a school project.

What a hypocrite Miller was! Shunning his own flesh and blood, while parading himself as some sort of model "compassionate" citizen (leftist)!

At least his wife showed some compassion toward their son...utterly disgusting man!

Miller was certainly a leftist, but institutionalizing and writing off troubled or disabled children was a common practice back in the day. why don't you get beyond your own contemporary prejudices a bit when you look at the past? It doesn't excuse Miller's behavior in any way, of course, to look at his historical context.

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