This story first appeared in the April 18 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
In 1955, a defiant Kazan, 46, confessed to his wife an affair with Monroe, 29, a few years earlier — not the first or last time he would stray. His letter offers an intimate view of not only their relationship but Monroe’s marriage to Joe DiMaggio. It shows how Kazan was both tender and tough to the women he loved.
Nov. 29, 1955
To Molly Day Thacher
The reason I can’t write you about what I’m ashamed of is because I’m ashamed of it. I’m ashamed I hurt you ever. On the other hand I resent being made to feel guilty and low and less. This harks back to the worst times I ever had when I felt low and less and all that. I don’t feel that way any more ostensibly. I just want you to know that it’s not a philosophy of mine, or a callous piece of habitual aggression. And it’s not like the earlier episode because I don’t feel vengeful, hardly at all, if at all. I guess it’s accurate to say: not at all.
In one sense it’s true to say that it meant nothing. On the other hand it was a human experience, and it started, if that is of any significance, in a most human way. Her boy friend, or “keeper” (if you want to be mean) had just died. His family had not allowed her to see the body, or allowed her into the house, where she had been living. She had sneaked in one night and been thrown out. I met her on Harmon Jones‘ set. Harmon thought her a ridiculous person and was fashionably scornful of her. I found her, when I was introduced, in tears. I took her to dinner because she seemed like such a touching pathetic waif. She sobbed all thru dinner. I wasn’t “interested in her”; that came later. I got to know her in time and introduced her to Arthur Miller, who also was very taken by her. You couldn’t help being touched. She was talented, funny, vulnerable, helpless in awful pain, with no hope, and some worth and not a liar, not vicious, not catty, and with a history of orphanism that was killing to hear. She was like all Charlie Chaplin’s heroines in one.
I’m not ashamed at all, not a damn bit, of having been attracted to her. She is nothing like what she appears to be now, or even appears to have turned into now. She was a little stray cat when I knew her. I got a lot out of her just as you do from any human experience where anyone is revealed to you and you affect anyone in any way. I guess I gave her a lot of hope. She is not a big sex pot as advertised. At least not in my experience. I don’t know if there are such as “advertised” big sex pots. She told me a lot about [Joe DiMaggio] and her, his Catholicism, and his viciousness (he struck her often, and beat her up several times). I was touched and fascinated. It was the type of experience that I do not understand and I enjoyed (not the right word) hearing about it. I certainly recommended her to Tennessee’s attention. And he was very taken by her.
I’m not sorry about it. I love you and only want to help you. I’m awful sorry I hurt you. I am human though. It might happen again. I hope not, and I have resisted quite some other opportunities. No loss. I got a lot out of this one; can’t say I didn’t. I think I helped her. If you don’t like what I say and feel it necessary for your own sense of honor to divorce me, divorce me. I don’t think I should not be married or anything like that. If you divorce me, I’ll tell you plainly I will in time get married again and have more children. I feel I’m a family man and a damned good one. I don’t care what your judgment is on that.
Excerpted from THE SELECTED LETTERS OF ELIA KAZAN, edited by Albert J. Devlin with Marlene J. Devlin. copyright © 2014 by Frances Kazan published by Arrangement with Alfred A. Knopf, An imprint of the Knopf DoubledAy publishing group, A division of Random House LLC