Marilyn Monroe was a 25-year-old rising star when she met baseball great Joe DiMaggio in 1952. DiMaggio, 12 years her senior, had just retired from the New York Yankees. The press was enchanted with the pairing of sports and cinema royalty.
Though the power couple’s marriage only lasted nine months and was fraught with indications that DiMaggio became mentally and physically abusive, the near-mythical pairing of lovers from two of America’s most cherished pastimes—baseball and Hollywood—grew into a legend all its own. That legend only intensified after Monroe’s untimely death.
How Joe DiMaggio Met Marilyn Monroe
DiMaggio was reading a newspaper when he saw a photograph of Monroe in a baseball uniform. Intrigued, he made phone calls until he found someone who could introduce them: press agent David March. In Marilyn Monroe: The Private Life of a Public Icon, Charles Casillo describes their first date: “Men kept approaching the table: DiMaggio was a baseball legend, and they threw their personalities around, trying to impress him. Marilyn was amused—usually it was she whom men were wooing.”
The two began a bicoastal courtship, with the media following their every move. “Hollywood and Major League Baseball formed core traditions in American culture, and Joe and Marilyn were unquestionably the spokespeople of these respective fields,” says Rock Positano, author of Dinner With DiMaggio and the doctor who cured the baseball legend’s career-ending heel spur injury. The New York Times called their relationship “one of America's ultimate romantic fantasies: the tall, dark and handsome baseball hero wooing and winning the woman who epitomized Hollywood beauty, glamour and sexuality.”
Both DiMaggio and Monroe spoke to different versions of the American dream. DiMaggio, the son of Sicilian immigrants, went on to become one of the most famous baseball players of all time. Monroe had survived years in orphanages and foster homes before she was “discovered” working in a munitions factory during World War II.
DiMaggio’s reputation as all-American hero permeated popular culture, and his wholesome image gave Monroe an air of increased respectability. Ernest Hemingway immortalized “the great DiMaggio” in his 1952 novella, The Old Man and the Sea. Jazz singer Les Brown crooned about “Joltin' Joe DiMaggio” and the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical South Pacific includes a song where sailors sing of a woman’s skin “[as] tender as DiMaggio’s glove.” For DiMaggio’s part, dating Hollywood’s biggest sex symbol after retirement gave him a renewed vigor—and renewed media attention.
Joe DiMaggio Marries Marilyn Monroe
Joe DiMaggio married Marilyn Monroe at San Francisco City Hall on January 14, 1954. It was a second marriage for both; DiMaggio had been married to actress Dorothy Arnold and Monroe to police detective James Dougherty. Someone at Monroe’s film studio leaked news of the nuptials to the press, and the newlyweds were mobbed by reporters as they exited the building.
In My Story, which Marilyn Monroe wrote with Ben Hecht, she said of the marriage: “That was something I had never planned on or dreamed about—becoming the wife of a great man. Anymore than Joe had ever thought of marrying a woman who seemed eighty per cent publicity. The truth is that we were very much alike. My publicity, like Joe’s greatness, is something on the outside. It has nothing to do with what we actually are.”
Adjusting to the other’s fame was a challenge. Sportswriter Jim Cannon described DiMaggio as “The shyest public man I ever met,” and in My Story, Monroe confides: “He is against doing anything to encourage or attract publicity. In fact, publicity is something that makes him wince more than anything else. Publicity was one of the problems in our courtship.”
DiMaggio and Monroe’s Union Amplifies Their Stardom
“Given that both Marilyn and Joe were incredibly famous by the time they were married, their relationship only amplified their celebrity status and kept them in the public eye and relevant – perhaps more so than either would have preferred,” says Dr. Positano.
“Seeing your name in front page headlines as if you were some kind of a major accident or gun battle is always startling,” wrote Monroe. “No matter how often you see it you don’t get used to it.” In My Story, she described a conversation she had with DiMaggio early on in their relationship:
‘I wonder if I can take all your crazy publicity,’ Joe said.
‘You don’t have to be a part of it,’ I argued.
‘I am,’ he said. ‘And it bothers me.’
‘It’s part of my career,’ I said.
‘When you were a baseball idol you didn’t duck photographers.’
‘Yes I did,’ he answered.
‘I can’t,’ I said.
‘Don’t I know it,’ Joe nodded.
Monroe maintained that for DiMaggio, publicity was a volatile subject: “He dislikes being photographed or interviewed. If he is even so much as asked to participate in some publicity stunt he registers a big explosion.”
The first explosion in their marriage occurred on their honeymoon in Japan, when Marilyn was asked to entertain the troops in Korea and left her new husband to do so.
“For the first time Joe would experience just how much Marilyn’s fame eclipsed his own,” writes Charles Casillo. “He was used to being the center of attention—he was a sports legend, an American hero. But it was Marilyn everyone wanted to see and hear about,” Casillo says. When Monroe returned from the tour, Casillo recounts that she told DiMaggio: “ ‘You never heard such cheering.’ ‘Yes I have,’ he replied….Just miss the ball once. You’ll see they can boo as loud as they can cheer.’”
Indications of Abuse
On September 15, 1954, Monroe filmed the now-iconic scene in The Seven Year Itch where her white dress billows over her head. Director Billy Wilder recalled DiMaggio “had the look of death” as he watched the cameras click away at his wife.
The following day, Monroe had bruises on her arms, leading to speculation that DiMaggio had grown violent. Monroe filed for divorce from DiMaggio a month later, citing “ mental cruelty.” Their marriage had lasted a mere nine months.
The Couple's Bond Outlasts Divorce—And Death
Their bond, however, lasted much longer. Following Monroe’s divorce from Arthur Miller in 1961, DiMaggio reentered her life. When Monroe was hospitalized in February 1961 for a nervous breakdown, it was DiMaggio she called to help get her out. In June of that year, he was her side when she woke up from emergency gall bladder removal surgery. And, when Monroe was found dead on August 5, 1962, it was DiMaggio who planned her funeral, bending to her casket to repeat “I love you, I love you.”
“Joe’s planning of Marilyn’s funeral was a message to everyone that he and Marilyn still belonged together,” says Positano. He barred Hollywood elite from attending because “he didn’t want the focus of the funeral to be what he thought killed her—her fame.” DiMaggio had fresh roses delivered to her grave twice a week for 20 years, burnishing their love story in the public imagination.
DiMaggio outlived Monroe by almost four decades, yet his ex-wife was a core part of his New York Times obituary:
“[N]o one more embodied the American dream of fame and fortune or created a more enduring legend than Joe DiMaggio. He became a figure of unequaled romance and integrity in the national mind because of his consistent professionalism on the baseball field, his marriage to the Hollywood star Marilyn Monroe, [and] his devotion to her after her death.”
In 1968, Paul Simon’s “Mrs. Robinson” exploded over American airwaves, equating the ballplayer with a bygone, more innocent time: “Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio, a nation turns its lonely eyes to you.”