Playwright Arthur Miller became a prominent name in 20th century theatre penning plays such as Death of a Salesman, All My Sons and A View from the Bridge to name just a few. He had built a sturdy career for himself in the theatre world but it was his marriage to Marilyn Monroe which made him a household name and when the two landed at Shannon airport in 1956 it caused a sensation.
Large swaths of autograph hunters swarmed into Shannon Airport on the night of November 20th once word filtered through that Hollywood starlet Marilyn Monroe had landed with her husband Arthur Miller.
The famous couple were not staying. It was merely a stopover to change planes on their way back to New York from England. In those days transatlantic flights took up to and over 14 hours. So a compulsory stop at Shannon meant that famous names from all over the world spent some hours in the west of Ireland before continuing on to their intended destinations.
Airport security was unable to hold back the crowds and they broke through, almost causing a near riot in the airport. Monroe was busying herself in the duty free shop when the enthusiastic mob swarmed her. Some asked for autographs while others just wanted an up close look at the glamorous star. People tried to source anything to get that all important autograph with some taking serviettes from tables for the Hollywood star to sign while the more desperate resorted to nicking postcards from the stand in the shop.
While Monroe was obliging her fans with autographs and small talk, her husband cursed and swore at airport security for letting such a mob assemble around his wife. Monroe was at the height of her fame at this time and was the most famous face on the planet, even for those in the west of Ireland where TV was not yet available and censorship meant many films didn’t get released here. Miller was also enjoying a fruitful era in his career and had divorced his first wife in order to marry Monroe just five months before their arrival at Shannon.
Monroe and Miller eventually managed to get through the crowd and made it to the airport restaurant where they were able to sit in comfort, enjoy the silver service and indulge in Irish cuisine of steak and potatoes, although it is said that Monroe refused it citing her skinny figure which she prioritised over a decent dinner.
The Hollywood starlet may have passed on the main course but she didn’t baulk at the offer of an Irish Coffee, which was presented to her by the airport’s executive chef William Ryan. Miller was not to be outdone and he too enjoyed an Irish coffee. Monroe added whipped cream to her beverage and quipped to Chef Ryan ‘Is this the way it comes from the cows in Ireland?’
The Irish coffee had been building a solid reputation for itself but when Hollywood’s most famous star was pictured taken a sip of it at Shannon airport on that Winter’s night in 1956, Monroe, perhaps unknowingly, automatically helped elevate it to more glamorous peaks.
Monroe wanted to linger a bit longer in the airport, especially at the duty free shop, but her husband wasn’t interested in funding a shopping spree for his wife and he quickly moved her on to wait for their plane back to the States.
Although it was for only a few hours, this was to be Monroe’s first and last time on Irish soil whereas her playwright husband would return four years later to stay with director John Huston in his Galway home to work on the screenplay for The Misfits, which would also turn out to be Monroe’s last film before she died in 1962. Miller would go on to live a lot longer than his unfortunate second wife, dying in 2005 at the age of 89.
Shannon Airport no longer plays host to those famous stopovers of yesteryear but tales still abound such as the night when Miller and Monroe were mobbed in duty free one minute and relaxing with an Irish coffee the next!