It was the ultimate All-American romance: the tall, handsome hero of the country’s national pastime captures the heart of the beautiful, glamorous Hollywood star. But the brief, volatile marriage of Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio–the couple wed on this day in 1954–barely got past the honeymoon before cracks began to show in its brilliant veneer.
In 1952, the New York Yankees slugger DiMaggio asked an acquaintance to arrange a dinner date with Monroe, a buxom blonde model-turned-actress whose star was on the rise after supporting roles in films such as Monkey Business (1952) and a leading role in the B-movie thriller Don’t Bother to Knock (1952). The press immediately picked up on the relationship and began to cover it exhaustively, though Monroe and DiMaggio preferred to keep a low profile, spending evenings at home or in a back corner of DiMaggio’s restaurant. On January 14, 1954, they were married at San Francisco City Hall, where they were mobbed by reporters and fans. Monroe had apparently mentioned the wedding plans to someone at her film studio, who leaked it to the press.
While Monroe and DiMaggio were on their honeymoon in Japan, Monroe was asked to travel to Korea and perform for the American soldiers stationed there. She complied, leaving her unhappy new husband in Japan. After they returned to the United States, tension continued to build, particularly around DiMaggio’s discomfort with his wife’s sexy image. One memorable blow-up occurred in September 1954, on the New York City set of the director Billy Wilder’s The Seven Year Itch. As Monroe filmed the now-famous scene in which she stands over a subway grate with the air blowing up her skirt, a crowd of onlookers and press gathered; Wilder himself had reportedly arranged the media attention. As her skirt blew up again and again, the crowd cheered uproariously, and DiMaggio, who was on set, became irate.
DiMaggio and Monroe were divorced in October 1954, just 274 days after they were married. In her filing, Monroe accused her husband of “mental cruelty.” She married the playwright Arthur Miller in 1956, but their marriage also ended in divorce in January 1961, leaving Monroe in a state of emotional fragility. In February 1961, she was admitted to a psychiatric clinic; it was DiMaggio who secured her release, and took her to the Yankees’ Florida spring training camp for rest and relaxation. Though rumors swirled about their remarriage, they maintained their “good friends” status. When the 36-year-old Monroe died of a drug overdose on August 5, 1962, DiMaggio arranged the funeral. For the next two decades, until his own death in 1999, he sent roses several times a week to her grave in Los Angeles.