Arthur Miller’s Son

by John Holbo on August 21, 2007

In Vanity Fair. Some excerpts:

No photograph of him has ever been published, but those who know Daniel Miller say that he resembles his father. Some say it’s the nose, others the mischievous glimmer in the eyes when he smiles, but the most telling feature, the one that clearly identifies him as Arthur Miller’s son, is his high forehead and identically receding hairline. He is almost 41 now, but it’s impossible to say whether his father’s friends would notice the resemblance, because the few who have ever seen Daniel have not laid eyes on him since he was a week old …

“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.” …

Marcie Roth remembers seeing Daniel for the first time when he was about “eight or nine.” Now the director of the National Spinal Cord Injury Association, Roth worked at Southbury during the 1970s. “Danny was a neat, neat kid,” she says, “a very friendly, happy guy.” Although there were close to 300 children at Southbury at the time, everyone, she says, knew Danny Miller. This was partly because they knew who his father was and partly because Daniel “was among the more able of the young children with Down syndrome,” Roth says. But mainly it was because of Daniel’s personality. “He had a great spirit about him,” she says. This was no small achievement, because, according to Roth, “Southbury Training School was not a place you would want your dog to live.” …

Bowen recalls the first time she met Daniel: “He was just a delight, eager, happy, outgoing—in those days even more so than now, because of his isolation.” He showed her his room, which he shared with 20 other people, and his dresser, which was nearly empty, because everyone wore communal clothing. “I remember very clearly trying to respond with happiness, but it was very hard, because there was nothing there,” she says. “He really had nothing. His sole possession was this little tiny transistor radio with earplugs. It was something you’d pick up at a five-and-dime. And he was so proud to have it. You couldn’t help but think, This is Arthur Miller’s son? How could this be?”

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08.24.07 at 12:09 pm



Randy Paul 08.21.07 at 10:52 am

That whooshing sound is my respect for Miller flying out the window. My respect for Daniel Day-Lewis has certainly increased.


alkali 08.21.07 at 1:24 pm

The VF article is somewhat misleading in that it almost consciously refuses to take into account the difference between the way Down Syndrome was understood in 1962, when Miller’s son was born, and the way it is understood today. For example, the term “mongoloid” was commonly used by medical professionals in 1962 and long after, and was not generally thought to be offensive, so it’s hardly surprising that Miller would have used that word.

That said, if you admire Miller for his moral acuity (as I do) the whole story is very surprising: one would like to think that he would have had a sense that he could have handled the situation differently. (By way of comparison, 1962 is also the year in which the Special Olympics was founded, so there were at least some people at the time who had higher hopes for the intellectually disabled.)


John Emerson 08.21.07 at 1:34 pm

Paging Jonah Goldberg.


thag 08.21.07 at 2:11 pm


Like any act of unconscionable cowardice, it makes me feel revulsion at the perpetrator, combined with the sick fear that I might not do any better if put in the same place.

Gratitude that I have never been put to that particular trial.

And it makes me feel renewed admiration for those who meet the challenge with grace and love.


MFA 08.21.07 at 3:33 pm

As a Miller fan, I was struck by the article when I read it in the mag Monday evening. Couple of notes:

First, I think one can respect Miller’s abilities as an author/playwrite and simultaneously acknowledge his failings as a person and a father. His works stand or fall separately from his personal reputation, even where it comments on moral failings. Much of the world granted Miller some moral authority (and subsequent personal admiration) because of the stands he took in his work. The personal admiration was clearly misdirected to some extent, but this is almost always the case when we idolize and idealize our fellow humans based on our valuation of their work product.

Alkali, I thought the article did present a fair amount of info about the medical and social standards of the time, and how they may have contributed to Miller’s unfeeling choices; I read it as positioning his treatment of Daniel Miller as not so much at odds with norms (of that time or this) or but in contrast to his otherwise ahead-of-the-curve stands on personal responsibility and cultural justice as presented in his work.

So another icon is revealed as an imperfect human. It should not cause us to question ideals, but rather to avoid putting idealists on pedestals.


Barry Freed 08.21.07 at 3:36 pm

The VF article is somewhat misleading in that it almost consciously refuses to take into account the difference between the way Down Syndrome was understood in 1962, when Miller’s son was born, and the way it is understood today. For example, the term “

me cringes anticipating the inevitable Michael Bérubé smackdown.


r@d@r 08.21.07 at 3:51 pm

there’s a rather complex algorithm involved when deciding whether the quality of someone’s work overbalances whatever moral failings they may have as people. that is why most successful organizations seldom fire people for being a**h***s or even for being very creepy (although many unsuccessful organizations do). in the arts, it’s almost a prerequisite for we artists to be creeps, parasites, jagoffs and all-around jerks. like everyone, i like nice people, but nice people are seldom interesting. (and as with all of you, the obvious exceptions comprise the inner circle of my closest personal friends. QED.)

if arthur miller were alive today i’d want to go up to him and shake his hand with my right hand while slapping the s*** out of him with my left. “love your work – you bastard!!”


jacob 08.21.07 at 3:55 pm

First, I think one can respect Miller’s abilities as an author/playwrite and simultaneously acknowledge his failings as a person and a father.

Nevermind as a husband. What strikes me from this excerpt (I haven’t read the full article) is the way Miller is depicted as dominating his wife–that he and his fear/hatred of his son controlled the decision-making, and that her evident desire to raise Daniel with dignity and love were disallowed.


alkali 08.21.07 at 4:29 pm

What strikes me from this excerpt (I haven’t read the full article) is the way Miller is depicted as dominating his wife …

I would keep in mind that the article purports to describe private events that occurred 45 years ago between two people, both of whom are now dead, on the basis of statements by people who refuse to be quoted on the record — again, even though the individuals they are talking about are both dead. I don’t doubt that the article has the basic facts of the situation right but I would be reluctant to place too much weight on the claims it makes regarding intentions and motivations. The article’s account is certainly plausible, but it’s also true that it’s a lot easier to write an article like this if you use your material to support the narrative you’ve chosen.


Mrs Tilton 08.21.07 at 5:09 pm

I have nothing to say, really, that thag @4 has not already said; even if I might be inclined to cut Miller a tiny — a very tiny — bit of slack insofar as society in those days might have been less enlightened about people with handicaps.

But Miller got the punishment he deserved, didn’t he? To judge by the account above, Danny was a delightful boy — and Miller didn’t get to enjoy any of it. (And that he didn’t experience this as privation is, in its way, yet another punishment.)


Shelby 08.21.07 at 5:29 pm

Paging Jonah Goldberg.



Jean Lepley 08.21.07 at 7:17 pm

Amid all the outrage at the great playwright abandoning his child to institutional care, I cannot help noting how Daniel (after years in this care) struck the VF reporter: “just a delight, eager, happy, outgoing . . .” Would he have fared as well emotionally in his father’s household? Perhaps Arthur Miller was making the realistic moral decision . . .


Xanthippas 08.21.07 at 7:43 pm

Perhaps Arthur Miller was making the realistic moral decision.

Are you trying to say that because Miller knew he was a heartless bastard, it was in the child’s best interests to put him in a home?


abb1 08.21.07 at 8:51 pm

You can’t really judge this sorta things by a magazine article.


Daniel 08.21.07 at 10:07 pm

1) Daniel Miller was born in 1966, not 1962. Mores and attitudes changed and developed rapidly between those years. Even in 1962, not all, not most Down children were sent off to institutions. I was around then. I was aware of Down children in several families within my social orbit.

2) The offense did not happen one time, at one instant. Miller compounded it year after year, by refusing to take even the smallest step towards accepting, embracing his son. He went as far as to deny that his wife had more than one child when contacted by the NY Times for an obituary write up (this fact is reported in the article). Miller tried to nullify Daniel’s existence.

3) Shouldn’t his wife come in for some reproach? The article does say that she wanted to keep the boy and she did meet her son on a regular basis, never completely abandonging him and it does appear that Miller was a bully, and it probably came down to her choosing Miller or her son, but still, there are base line obligations. I pity her. Her heart was in the right place, but she couldn’t find the strength or support to act on her best instinct.

4) Im all for a safety net to assist those facing financially ruinous health condidtions, but isn’t it unseemly that a very wealthy man such as Miller passed the financial oblibagation to care for his son onto the State of Connecticut, therefore the taxpayers? A point the article makes.

5) Miller is going to lose a lot of fans, no question.

6) It heartens me to learn that Daniel Miller is a happy, loving, well adjusted man. Miller lost more than he ever could imagine, and that’s a lot.


alkali 08.21.07 at 11:51 pm

Daniel Miller was born in 1966, not 1962.

You’re quite right. I misread; his parents were married in 1962.

To be clear, while I do think the fact that his son was born in 1966 is somewhat exculpatory as to what Miller did at that time, daniel (10:07 pm) is quite right that Miller’s acts and omissions over the next four decades are also worth thinking about.

(In case anyone thinks my tone in the comments here has been peculiarly guarded: In the absence of intentional cruelty, I think it’s best to be exceedingly circumspect about stating moral judgments as to how parents of disabled children deal with that, although I should also say at the same time that I don’t think it is a good thing for anyone to entirely avoid stating such judgments. Unrelatedly, I am personally in a very skeptical-of-the-media mode at the moment, which probably colors my view of the VF article even if the author has done nothing personally to deserve my distrust.)


ModMad 08.22.07 at 12:07 am

I wonder about this when it comes to the choice of many people to abort their children with Downs’. The two cases are not morally parallel but if we think that Miller lost something by not parenting his child maybe we should create a culture where having a child you know ahead of time has Downs is a choice we celebrate?

I’m not anti-choice. I’m just facing pregnancy as an older woman with a higher risk of Downs. If my child has Downs, I want to parent him or her. In discussing this with close friends and parents during my first (kind of elderly) pregnancy I was shocked by the general horror people–even my parents– express when they discover I don’t want amnio because I don’t plan on aborting a Downs child. (Amnio tests for other rarer conditions–and you can find out your overall risk but the only way to be entirely sure is to do amnio.) It’s hard as hell to convince anyone this is a reasonable choice (so of course I don’t talk about it with anyone now). It’s very daunting because I’ve started to wonder whether, if things did turn out that way, would no one would greet my baby with joy but conservative Catholics? I hope I don’t face this situation…but knowing this is the general attitude does make it much more daunting…and depressing. Even the genetics counselor assumed we would get amnio and abort if we didn’t like the answer. Because we are liberal college professors? I don’t know why.

I hope people who are saddened or outraged by the Arthur Miller story will extend some generosity to parents and their disabled children. And support good programs for them. While Miller had money, a lot of people don’t and the only way their children can lead rich lives is if society makes that possible.

By the way, I heard Miller made Daniel a full heir in his will. So maybe he had some regrets.


Randy Paul 08.22.07 at 12:49 am

I guess he should change the title of one of his first successes to None of My Sons.


Randy Paul 08.22.07 at 1:12 am

Make that “Not One of My Sons.”

There is no mention of Daniel in Millers New York Times obituary.


Roy Belmont 08.22.07 at 1:29 am

Of course this issue bears not one whit on the entirely separate issue of abortion. Completely different. No connection whatsoever. None.
Because we can see Miller’s kid, even if only by descriptive proxy. Or something. Right?
It’s about us, right? What we like to look at?
Happy, happy, just a neat, neat, kid.
Whereas if he’d been a drooling and stupidly malevolent creature there wouldn’t be a story, or an issue, or a point.


Jean Lepley 08.22.07 at 1:57 am

No, I’m not saying that Arthur Miller knew he was “a heartless bastard.” But I’m remembering (from hearsay) the great family debate that the birth of my Down’s syndrome cousin provoked years ago — and I remember my Uncle Ken, who’d argued for putting Richard into a home, as a caring, intelligent man. Jean and her husband didn’t follow his advice; they brought Richard up as part of a large and loving family, and my cousin surely benefited, as did his siblings for the lessons in kindness and consideration that they all learned. But it WAS tough, in ways that censorious VT readers probably can’t even imagine. . . . So, I cannot rush to judgment. And I stand by my comment on how Daniel Miller apparently grew up: “eager, happy, outgoing.”


JamesP 08.22.07 at 3:32 am

I don’t know about the 60s, but certainly in the 50s the pressure to institutionalize mentally-handicapped children could be both overwhelming and remarkably callous. My uncle was brain-damaged during birth as a result of being cut off from oxygen, and the first my granny knew about it was when a doctor popped his head round the door and said “I’m afraid your son will be an idiot.” She was put under strong pressure to put him in a home but insisted upon raising him with her other children, without any special treatment*. He lives by himself now**, has a job, and has co-authored two books on historical sites, which are his great love.

*He went to regular schools, for instance, which was extremely hard on both him and my father, who had to spend a great deal of time trying to protect him.

** With some family help on things like managing his finances.


Charlie Babbitt 08.22.07 at 5:08 am

Arthur Miller gave $3,000,000 to Daniel in his will.


Josh in Philly 08.22.07 at 6:37 am

#7: Yeh, add Miller to the list of good and courageous artists of appalling character.

#6: More than once, people have said to me, “You know Bérubé: what does he have to say about this week’s Down Syndrome-themed news story?” Often, he doesn’t, any more than Christopher Bonanos writes a piece in New York every time there’s a Greek-American-themed story. So I don’t think he’s inevitable.

(Barring evidence to the contrary, Josh claims the moral right to be recognized as the originator of the Bérubé-Bonanos equivalential argument)


Katherine 08.22.07 at 9:47 am

It is understandable, though a bit disappointing, that the article makes quite a big deal about what a lovely, charming boy and man Danny Miller was. Would it have made any difference to an assessment of Arthur Miller’s behaviour if Danny Miller had been an annoying little scrote?


belle waring 08.22.07 at 10:46 am

from modmad: I’m not anti-choice. I’m just facing pregnancy as an older woman with a higher risk of Downs. If my child has Downs, I want to parent him or her. In discussing this with close friends and parents during my first (kind of elderly) pregnancy I was shocked by the general horror people—even my parents—express when they discover I don’t want amnio because I don’t plan on aborting a Downs child. (Amnio tests for other rarer conditions—and you can find out your overall risk but the only way to be entirely sure is to do amnio.) It’s hard as hell to convince anyone this is a reasonable choice (so of course I don’t talk about it with anyone now).
It disturbs me when I hear about pressure on women to abort when abnormalities are found. Amnio carries a risk, and if you’re not considering abortion in any case it’s a perfectly sound idea not to have it. I think the “liberals favor eugenics” thing is ridiculous, in part because a lot of this pressure is not coming from liberals per se, but from medical professionals and families of every stripe. I want to live in a society where women who choose to bear ‘imperfect’ children receive support, from medical care to special education. It’s ironic that a more conservative approach to health care and public services seems to stack the deck against women who don’t want to abort in these cases, since financial concerns may overwhelm would-be mothers. In any case, in so far as imaginary internet people can count for anything, modmad, I support and even admire your choice, and I’m sorry to hear that those around you don’t.


Katherine 08.22.07 at 11:23 am

For me, the pressure has been less specific than “family and friends”, more a general assumption in the air. There is definitely a consciousness of the general view that diagnosis of a Down’s Syndrome child will mean abortion, which I think is a pity. Real choice means no assumption either way.


Michael Bérubé 08.22.07 at 2:11 pm

For anyone anticipating the inevitable Michael Bérubé smackdown, or challenging its inevitability by way of a crafty analogy to Christopher Bonanos — I read the essay (both John Holbo and Bruce Robbins sent it to me via email) and was utterly amazed. I knew nothing of the Miller family and nothing of Daniel. The last thought I’d had about Arthur Miller was that he was a bit of a curmudgeon for not allowing The Wooster Group to perform LSD Part One, their amazing adaptation of The Crucible. That was twenty-odd years ago.

And I can’t write anything useful in reply for the same reason I’ve practically dropped out of the blogosphere altogether this summer — too many personal complications and professional obligations. But I will say that, counterintuitive though it may seem, it was not a good idea to bequeath millions of dollars directly to Daniel, and the essay explains why: the thing to do is to create a “special needs” trust so that the person with special needs doesn’t wind up with his or her inheritance eaten by the state. I imagine that Miller wrote Daniel into the will against his attorneys’ advice out of a sense or justice or a sense of remorse, but the fact remains that his attorneys’ advice was actually pretty good advice. I’m guessing that Miller wanted to do the right thing in the end and, because of his unfamiliarity with disability and legal issues, just didn’t know how.


Liz 08.22.07 at 2:39 pm

As the mother of a disabled (not Down’s) daughter, I have been fascinated by this. I think it is unwise to take the story as given entirely at face value, as it seems to me there is not a lot of hard information to go on about the feelings of the people intimately involved. I would say that the notion that it was more acceptable in 1966 than now is false – but that Miller was born in 1915 is more relevant. What I find particularly ironic is that one of Miller’s main themes was the relationship between fathers and sons.
My own fascination is with the idea that rejection of an “imperfect” child is something clear-cut and finite, a rational decision with no emotional consequences. Did Miller forget this inconvenient figure, or suffer from his decision? How did he reconcile morality with expediency? To make a rational decision that this child could have no part in his life is not quite the same as to try to deny his existence. Unfortunately, the story begs more questions than it answers. His mother visited weekly, but the child owned nothing but a worthless radio? And whether he grew up to be charming or an institutionalised wreck has no bearing on the morality of the tale. It equally has no bearing on Miller’s status as an artist – and the note that all of his best work preceeded this, may simply be snide, but it is an a very curious tale, nevertheless, and may put a different slant on some of his public pronouncements.

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