Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

the baby isn't right

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Sep 04, 2007

"He wasn't amiable enough to be an amiable dunce but he was the most useful of the useful idiots." That's Mark Steyn on playwright Arthur Miller, a tiresome and unimaginative writer with one grain of genius: he understood that sanctimoniousness was chic if offered in the service of Leftism. His anti-anti-Communist play The Crucible (1953) made Miller a darling of Stalinists everywhere, whence his NYT obit (he died in 2005) obediently eulogized him as "the Moral Voice of the American Stage."

Sanctity, as used by Miller's admirers, is synonymous with contempt for conservatives, and in that department he was seldom found wanting. An under-examined aspect of his character, however, comes into focus in a Vanity Fair article by Suzanna Andrews which deals with Daniel, Miller's second child by his third wife. Daniel was born with Down Syndrome, and the Moral Voice of the American Stage wasn't having any, thank you.

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 ...

"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 [Miller's daughter] 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. ... "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."

The description Andrews gives of the Southbury Training School is not pleasing:

It had nearly 2,300 residents, including children, living in rooms with 30 to 40 beds. Many of the children wore diapers, because there weren't enough employees to toilet-train them. During the day, they sat in front of blaring TVs tuned to whatever show the staff wanted to watch. The most disabled children were left lying on mats on the floor, sometimes covered with nothing but a sheet. "In the wards you had people screaming, banging their heads against the wall, and taking their clothes off," says David Shaw, a leading Connecticut disability lawyer. "It was awful."

Other persons, happily, did concern themselves with Daniel, and arranged for his eventual release from Southbury and for superior care and training. Shocked by a chance encounter with his then-adult son at a 1995 conference (where the absent father, true to form, was to give a speech on behalf of a mentally defective convict whose confession he believed to be coerced), Miller seemed to have second thoughts about Daniel and to feel a twinge of guilt about his neglect, at least to the point of providing for him in his will. The actual human being he'd engendered, however, was a person Miller could never come to terms with.

The late Dr. Jerome Lejeune was never a victim of McCarthyism, and so would never be commended as a Moral Voice by the New York Times, but I've always liked his description of children with Down Syndrome (trisomy-21), which is as affectionate as it is clinically precise. It provides a cheering contrast to Miller's appetite for the institutional solution to unsightly difficulties:

With their slightly slanting eyes, their little nose in a round face and their unfinished features, trisomic children are more child-like than other children. All children have short hands and short fingers; theirs are shorter. Their entire anatomy is more rounded, without any asperities or stiffness. Their ligaments, their muscles, are so supple that it adds a tender languor to their way of being. And this sweetness extends to their character: they are communicative and affectionate, they have a special charm which is easier to cherish than to describe. This is not to say that Trisomy 21 is a desirable condition. It is an implacable disease which deprives the child of that most precious gift handed down to us through genetic heredity: the full power of rational thought. This combination of a tragic chromosomic error and a naturally endearing nature, immediately shows what medicine is all about: hatred of disease and love of the diseased.

Said Miller, "I'm going to have to put the baby away." He did, too.

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