Biography of Alice Duer Miller
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Miller circa 1920
Alice Duer Miller (July 28, 1874 – August 22, 1942) was a writer from the U.S. whose poetry actively influenced political opinion. Her feminist verses made an impact on the suffrage issue, and her verse novel The White Cliffs encouraged U.S. entry into World War II. She also wrote novels and screenplays.
Alice Duer was born in New York City on July 28, 1874, into a wealthy family. She was the daughter of James Gore King Duer and Elizabeth Wilson Meads, the daughter of Orlando Meads of Albany, New York. Her great-grandfather was William Alexander Duer, President of Columbia College. Her great-great-grandfather was William Duer, an American lawyer, developer, and speculator from New York City. He had served in the Continental Congress and the convention that framed the New York Constitution. In 1778, he signed the United States Articles of Confederation. Her great-great-great-grandfather was William Alexander, who claimed the disputed title of Earl of Stirling and was an American Major-General during the American Revolutionary War.
She was also a descendant of Senator Rufus King, who was an American lawyer, politician, and diplomat. He was a delegate for Massachusetts to the Continental Congress. He also attended the Constitutional Convention and was one of the signers of the United States Constitution on September 17, 1787.
By the time of her entrance into society, her family had lost most of its fortune. She entered Barnard College in 1895, studying Mathematics and Astronomy. She helped to pay for her studies by selling novels and short essays. She and her sister Caroline jointly published a book of poems.
On October 5, 1899, she married Henry Wise Miller at Grace Church Chapel in New York City. He was born in 1877, the son of Lt. Commander Jacob Miller in Nice, France, where his father had been serving with the U.S. Navy.
Illustration for one of Miller's suffragist poems, as published in Puck in 1915, showing women's suffrage moving east from the states in the west that had first adopted it.
They moved to Costa Rica, where he attempted to develop rubber cultivation, which eventually failed. In 1903, she, Miller and their young son returned to New York.
Her marriage lasted to the end of her life, but it was not tranquil.
She became known as a campaigner for women's suffrage and published a brilliant series of satirical poems in the New York Tribune. These were published subsequently as Are Women People?. These words became a catchphrase of the suffrage movement. It reads:
"FATHER, what is a Legislature?/
A representative body elected by the people of the state./
Are women people?/
No, my son, criminals, lunatics and women are not people./
Do legislators legislate for nothing?/
Oh, no; they are paid a salary./
By the people./
Are women people?/
Of course, my son, just as much as men are."
She followed this collection with Women Are People! (1917).
As a novelist, she scored her first success with Come Out of the Kitchen in 1916. The story was made into a play and later the 1948 film Spring in Park Lane. She followed it with a series of other short novels, many of which were staged and (increasingly) made into films.
Her novel in verse Forsaking All Others (1933) about a tragic love affair, and many consider her greatest work. In the 1920s and 1930s, many of her stories were used for motion pictures, such as Are Parents People? (1925), Roberta (1935), and Irene (1940), taking her to Hollywood. She also became involved in a number of motion picture screenplays, including Wife vs. Secretary (1936). Her name appears in the very first issue of The New Yorker as an advisory editor.
The White Cliffs
In 1940, she wrote the verse novel The White Cliffs, about an American girl who coming to London as a tourist, meets and marries a young upper-class Englishman in the period just before World War I. The war begins and he goes to the front. He is killed just before the end of the War, leaving her with a young son. Her son is the heir to the family estate. Despite the pull of her own country and the impoverished condition of the estate, she decides to stay and live the traditional life of a member of the English upper class. The story concludes as World War II commences, and she worries that her son, like his father, will be killed fighting for the country he loves. The poem ends with the lines:
...I am American bred
I have seen much to hate here – much to forgive,
But in a world in which England is finished and dead,
I do not wish to live.
The poem was spectacularly successful on both sides of the Atlantic, selling nearly one million copies – an unheard of number for a book of verse. It was broadcast and recorded by British-American actress Lynn Fontanne (with a symphonic accompaniment), and the story was made into the 1944 film The White Cliffs of Dover.
Alice Duer Miller died in 1942 and was interred at Evergreen Cemetery in Morristown, New Jersey.
The main works of Alice Duer Miller are:
Advertisement for production of Miller's Charm School, Plymouth Theatre, 1920
- Poems (1896)
- Modern Obstacle (1903)
- The Blue Arch (1910)
- Things (1914)
- Are Women People? (1915)
- Come Out of the Kitchen (1916)
- Women Are People! (1917)
- Ladies Must Live (1917)
- The Happiest Time of Their Lives (1918)
- Wings in the Night (1918)
- The Charm School (1919)
- The Beauty and the Bolshevist (1920)
- Manslaughter (1921)
- Priceless Pearl (1924)
- The Reluctant Duchess (1925)
- The Springboard (1928)
- Welcome Home (1928)
- Forsaking All Others (1931)
- Gowns by Roberta (1933)
- Come Out of the Pantry (1934)
- The Rising Star (1935)
- And One Was Beautiful (1937)
- The White Cliffs (1940)
- Less Than Kin, directed by Donald Crisp (1918, based on the novel Less Than Kin)
- Come Out of the Kitchen, directed by John S. Robertson (1919, based on the novel Come Out of the Kitchen)
- Her First Elopement, directed by Sam Wood (1920, based on the novel Her First Elopement)
- Something Different, directed by Roy William Neill (1920, based on the novel Calderon's Prisoner)
- The Charm School, directed by James Cruze (1921, based on the novel The Charm School)
- Ladies Must Live, directed by George Loane Tucker (1921, based on the novel Ladies Must Live)
- Manslaughter, directed by Cecil B. DeMille (1922, based on the novel Manslaughter)
- Are Parents People?, directed by Malcolm St. Clair (1925, based on the story Are Parents People?)
- Someone to Love, directed by F. Richard Jones (1928, based on the novel The Charm School)
- Honey, directed by Wesley Ruggles (English-language version, 1930, based on the novel Come Out of the Kitchen)
- Salga de la cocina, directed by Jorge Infante (Spanish-language version, 1931, based on the novel Come Out of the Kitchen)
- Chérie [fr], directed by Louis Mercanton (French-language version, 1931, based on the novel Come Out of the Kitchen)
- Every Woman Has Something, directed by Leo Mittler (German-language version, 1931, based on the novel Come Out of the Kitchen)
- Kärlek måste vi ha [sv], directed by Gustaf Bergman [sv] (Swedish-language version, 1931, based on the novel Come Out of the Kitchen)
- Manslaughter, directed by George Abbott (English-language version, 1930, based on the novel Manslaughter)
- The Incorrigible, directed by Leo Mittler (Spanish-language version, 1931, based on the novel Manslaughter)
- The Indictment, directed by Dimitri Buchowetzki (French-language version, 1931, based on the novel Manslaughter)
- Reckless Youth, directed by Leo Mittler (German-language version, 1931, based on the novel Manslaughter)
- Lika inför lagen [sv], directed by Gustaf Bergman [sv] (Swedish-language version, 1931, based on the novel Manslaughter)
- The Princess and the Plumber, directed by Alexander Korda (1930, based on the story The Princess and the Plumber)
- Big Executive, directed by Erle C. Kenton (1933, based on the story Big Executive)
- Roberta, directed by William A. Seiter (1935, based on the novel Gowns By Roberta)
- Come Out of the Pantry, directed by Jack Raymond (UK, 1935, based on the novel Come Out of the Kitchen)
- Collegiate, directed by Ralph Murphy (1936, based on the novel The Charm School)
- The White Cliffs of Dover, directed by Clarence Brown (1944, based on the verse novel The White Cliffs)
- Spring in Park Lane, directed by Herbert Wilcox (UK, 1948, based on the novel Come Out of the Kitchen)
- Sabela de Cambados, directed by Ramón Torrado (Spain, 1949, based on the novel Come Out of the Kitchen)
- Lovely to Look At, directed by Mervyn LeRoy (1952, loosely based on the novel Gowns By Roberta)
- The Man with Two Mothers [it], directed by Paul Bern (1922)
- The Exquisite Sinner, directed by Josef von Sternberg (1926)
- The Last Waltz, directed by Arthur Robison (Germany, 1927)
- Rose Marie, directed by W. S. Van Dyke (1936)
- Wife vs. Secretary, directed by Clarence Brown (1936)
- And One Was Beautiful, directed by Robert B. Sinclair (1940)
- Irene, directed by Herbert Wilcox (1940)
Poem of the day
You Smile Upon Your Friend To-day
by A. E. Housman
You smile upon your friend to-day,
To-day his ills are over;
You hearken to the lover's say,
And happy is the lover.
'Tis late to hearken, late to smile,
But better late than never;
I shall have lived a little while
Read complete poem