For all the public drama of Arthur Miller's career—his celebrated plays (including Death of a Salesman and The Crucible), his marriage to Marilyn Monroe, his social activism—one character was absent: the Down-syndrome child he deleted from his life.
by Suzanna Andrews September 2007
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. When his father died, in February 2005, he was not at the funeral that took place near Arthur Miller's home, in Roxbury, Connecticut. Nor was he at the public memorial service that May, at Broadway's Majestic Theatre, where hundreds of admirers gathered to pay homage to his father, who was, if not the greatest American playwright of the last century, then certainly the most famous. In the days after his death, at the age of 89, Arthur Miller was eulogized around the world. Newspaper obituaries and television commentators hailed his work—including those keystones of the American canon Death of a Salesman and The Crucible—and recalled his many moments in the public eye: his marriage to Marilyn Monroe; his courageous refusal, in 1956, to "name names" before the House Un-American Activities Committee; his eloquent and active opposition to the Vietnam War; his work, as the international president of pen, on behalf of oppressed writers around the world. The Denver Post called him "the moralist of the past American century," and The New York Times extolled his "fierce belief in man's responsibility to his fellow man—and [in] the self-destruction that followed on his betrayal of that responsibility."
In a moving speech at the Majestic, the playwright Tony Kushner said Miller had possessed the "curse of empathy." Edward Albee said that Miller had held up a mirror and told society, "Here is how you behave." Among the many other speakers were Miller's sister, the actress Joan Copeland, his son the producer Robert Miller, his daughter the writer and film director Rebecca Miller, and her husband, the actor Daniel Day-Lewis. Miller's oldest child, Jane Doyle, was in the audience but did not speak.
Only a handful of people in the theater knew that Miller had a fourth child. Those who did said nothing, out of respect for his wishes, because, for nearly four decades, Miller had never publicly acknowledged the existence of Daniel.
He did not mention him once in the scores of speeches and press interviews he gave over the years. He also never referred to him in his 1987 memoir, Timebends. In 2002, Daniel was left out of the New York Times obituary for Miller's wife, the photographer Inge Morath, who was Daniel's mother. A brief account of his birth appeared in a 2003 biography of Miller by the theater critic Martin Gottfried. But even then Miller maintained his silence. At his death, the only major American newspaper to mention Daniel in its obituary was the Los Angeles Times, which said, "Miller had another son, Daniel, who was diagnosed with Down syndrome shortly after his birth in 1962. It is not known whether he survives his father." Citing the Gottfried biography, the paper reported that Daniel had been put in an institution, where Miller "apparently never visited him."
Miller's friends say they never understood exactly what happened with Daniel, but the few details they heard were disturbing. Miller had not only erased his son from the public record; he had also cut him out of his private life, institutionalizing him at birth, refusing to see him or speak about him, virtually abandoning him. The whole matter was "absolutely appalling," says one of Miller's friends, and yet everyone probably would have kept silent had it not been for the rumor that began to spread earlier this year, passing from Roxbury to New York City and back. Although no one was sure of the facts, the story was that Miller had died without leaving a will. Officials had gone looking for Miller's heirs, and they had found Daniel. Then, the rumor went, the state of Connecticut had made Arthur Miller's estate pay Daniel a full quarter of his father's assets, an amount that was believed to be in the millions of dollars.
For some of Miller's friends, the possibility that Daniel had been given his fair share brought a measure of relief that, finally, a wrong had been righted. Attention had been paid. The feeling was shared by the social workers and disability-rights advocates who have known and cared for Daniel over the years as it became clear that he had indeed gotten a share of the Miller estate. "An extraordinary man," "very beloved by a lot of people," Daniel Miller, they say, is a "guy who's made a difference in a lot of lives." They also say he is someone who, considering the challenges of his life, has in his own way achieved as much as his father did. The way Arthur Miller treated him baffles some people and angers others. But the question asked by friends of the father and of the son is the same: How could a man who, in the words of one close friend of Miller's, "had such a great world reputation for morality and pursuing justice do something like this"?
What none of them considered was the possibility that Arthur Miller had left a will and that, six weeks before he died, he was the one who, against common legal advice, made Daniel a full and direct heir—an equal to his three other children.