The Divorce of Miller, Marilyn, and the Misfits

Playwright and Movie Star Make Washoe Courthouse History, Twice.

Many divorcee’s inaugural steps as single souls graced the Washoe Courthouse steps. One such divorcee was the famous playwright Arthur Miller. Miller had resided at the Pyramid Lake Guest Ranch in the spring of 1956. After his six weeks residency and subsequent divorce, he returned to film a movie he had written that was founded upon his own six-week stay as a divorcee.

Miller’s residency was fulfilled on May 31, 1956. Arthur Miller received his divorce from Mary Slattery Miller on June 12, 1956. He held mental cruelty as grounds for divorcing Mary, whom he’d met in college. The Washoe Courthouse divorce hearing lasted only five minutes. This speedy hearing would strike a strong comparison to another upcoming hearing for Miller. He had been subpoenaed to testify before the House un-American Activities Committee Washington D.C. the following week.

Amidst the height of the Red Scare, Miller had been accused of Communist leanings. His hearing before the House had been delayed to allow for Miller to stay in the state for the duration of his residency. After enduring both his marital and political hearings, Miller would marry star Marilyn Monroe.

Miller had two eras in Reno. The first occurred in 1956 when Miller obtained a divorce from his first wife. In Miller’s second act in Reno, he arrived with his new bride Marilyn. The two arrived to film Misfits in 1960. Misfits’ premise was inspired by his own residency on Pyramid Lake. The film combined Miller’s experience on a divorce ranch with a plot that featured his movie-star wife. The divorce ranch served as a token of Reno that was romanticized by many but brought to the big screen by Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe. Monroe operated as the leading lady and starred alongside Clark Gable. Gable was already a familiar face in Reno, beyond his national fame. He had stayed at the Flying M E Ranch and later fished with Sinatra on Nevadan lakes. The stars offered a film that brought the stories of Nevada’s many divorcees to light.

However, the pensive Miller who had created stories along the shores of Pyramid Lake would later discover a painful irony in his Misfits film. Miller and Monroe’s marriage would fall apart on the Misfits set. The film was released in 1961 and Marilyn’s role as a divorcee in Miller’s film would be realized that same year.

Within Miller’s own experience and his wife’s portrayal of Reno divorces, the infamous Washoe County Courthouse maintained a central symbolic presence. Miller’s first steps as an ex-husband were captured by local reporters. Then, a few years later, his new wife Monroe would stand on the very steps Washoe County Courthouse steps portraying the divorcee she would soon become.