Marilyn & Joe : A Retrospective
Monroe and DiMaggio. For some, it was a soulmate romance ending in tragedy, for others a toxic union. The truth? Most likely an extremely complex relationship of which the intimate details have now been taken to both graves, 36 years apart. The fascination surrounding the connection between two seemingly opposite individuals however remains.
Hopefully, this slightly unconventional retrospective is befitting to this peculiar couple and covers the many aspects of one of the most private relationships of the two most public figures of their time.
Note on sources: To preserve their voice, the correspondence, quotes and notes from Joe and Marilyn themselves have been given priority. Wherever possible quotes and documents used for this article have been limited to direct sources (i.e. people who knew Joe and/or Marilyn) to avoid issues linked to hearsay and author bias as much as possible.
PART I – “SOMETHING CLICKS. LIKE A DOUBLE PLAY COMBINATION”
– JOE DIMAGGIO (TRUE MAGAZINE, 1954)
Shy. Anxious. Moody. Stubborn. Image conscious. Ruthless. Suspicious.
So much has been written to underline Joe and Marilyn’s personality differences, it’s hard to imagine how the two ever began a romance. And yet the above description could fit either like a glove. Their extremely short-lived marriage often overshadows two years of a cross country relationship, marred with events that relentlessly tested their commitment to each other.
“The truth is that we were very much alike.”
- Marilyn Monroe to Ben Hecht for her autobiography, My Story (1974)
Born to a Sicilian catholic family in Martinez CA, Joe was one of nine children. While the meagre income from his father’s fishing boat made it incredibly difficult to rise above poverty, the sense of family was paramount to the DiMaggios. In comparison, Norma Jeane lived a childhood almost entirely removed from her own blood. This unstable environment was a struggle for Norma Jeane who never could quite fit in. Her very tall appearance earned her the sobriquet “Norma Jeane, the string bean” and the development of a stutter did not help her confidence. In this aspect Joe could relate: raised in an Italian-only speaking environment his participation in class was nonexistent. The awkward leg braces he had to wear as a child to correct weak ankles hardly made him the popular kid.
Plagued with shyness and a lack of support in their academic abilities, both dropped out of high school out of necessity: Norma Jeane married next-door neighbour Jim Dougherty to avoid returning to an orphanage, Joe was sent to work as a newspaper boy and bottled orange juice in a factory to bring money home for his large family.
This feeling of being a constant outsider isn’t something that would leave either of them. Later, as an up and coming starlet, Marilyn was expected to party and network but like many of her entourage recollects, she very much enjoyed staying home or consciously avoided being the centre of attention. Joe was rarely seen with strangers and would often remove himself from group conversations. Their common reclusive nature and childhood hardships undoubtedly created a bond which was evident to Marilyn: “he had a very difficult time growing up […] he understood some things about me and I understood some things about him and we based our marriage on that” (1960 interview with Georges Belmont).
Interestingly this connection also jumped at Norman Rosten – Marilyn’s friend and poet who would only meet Joe much later in the 1960s – “She and Joe had a similar street-smart air, a touch instinct for survival, that might have served them well in the years to come.”
* * *
Joe and Marilyn’s respective experiences of the spotlight brought a common ground through the stigmas associated with their public image. Joe’s fame came at a time when Italian names regularly made the papers for organised crime and mob associations. But his impeccable performances on the field soon made the public accept this withdrawn and aloof player whose steadfastness prevailed over ethnic preconceptions.
Marilyn’s image and the stereotypes associated with her “sexy dumb blonde” persona were also not the reality her interviewers faced. Journalists and columnists alike were often taken aback by the shrewdness and quick wit of what they expected to be another fame-hungry starlet with not much to say. [see her radio interview from 1955]
Unfortunately for Joe and Marilyn, they would find themselves in a constant struggle against prejudices associated with their background. Joe’s Italian origins were never forgotten, often painted in the worst light: racial slurs to describe him were common as were quips about his love for spaghetti. No level of fame or American hero status would prevent DiMaggio’s parents from being listed as “enemy aliens” during WWII – as Italian immigrants, his father’s boat was seized and travel restrictions meant the family was unable to visit the restaurant Joe and his brother Dom had opened. Marilyn’s own past was not something she would be allowed to escape from as she several times risked public scrutiny and humiliation: the media jumped on the now-famous Tom Kelley nude calendar images and the revelation of her mother still being alive and institutionalised.
It’s not surprising those repeated attempts at stigmatisation may have resulted in both Joe and Marilyn earning a chip on their shoulder and an increasing desire to show the press, the studios and the wider public how mistaken they were. The respect they both tried to establish would also take a financial tone. The studio contract troubles Marilyn was facing in 1953/1954 were something Joe could relate to. He had held out for his own Yankee contract, generating unfavourable press for himself quickly forgiven thanks to his success on the field. But his strong sense of self-worth is a trait Marilyn could be inspired by. She had most likely shared with him her increasing frustrations over the lack of dramatic roles (“From now on he wants her to seek out only dramatic roles”– Sir! Magazine, April 1954). As a savvy businessman, Joe would have had some advice for how Marilyn could handle this battle, mainly playing hard to get and refusing to take calls until a serious offer was made.
Fighting against media pressure and expectations also meant both Joe and Marilyn hid behind public personas: Marilyn’s joyous, sexy and charismatic front and Joe’s stoic and impassive character masked much of their personal turmoil. Marilyn could work herself into panic attacks, exacerbated by her insomnia and the self-medication to overcome her natural insecurities. Joe was not immune to feeling overwhelmed himself. Always looking coolheaded on the field, DiMaggio was a lifelong heavy smoker and coffee drinker, afflicted by extreme anxiety. During his WWII service, he was hospitalised for weeks for stomach ulcers as a result of the stress from being served with divorce papers from his wife requesting custody of their son Joe Jr.
“I miss it so much when you don’t love me and hold me and cuddle me to sleep every night”
- Letter to Joe, March 1st 1954
Perhaps these personal anxieties made for a couple that relied heavily on the emotions of the other. The above letter from Marilyn shows how she could be very insecure and needy, even when her partner was only away for a few days. While she may have been vocal about her feelings, Joe’s affection for Marilyn was never for the public and displays of it were usually kept hidden from others. When travelling to Banff after Marilyn sprained her ankle, he casually told reporters waiting in Vancouver: “I’m just going to Jasper to fish”. The private pictures of this trip offer a rare glimpse of Joe’s natural self with Marilyn, including an affectionate side she clearly knew. John Vachon remains the only professional photographer to capture both Joe and Marilyn in an intimate setting.
“Six at least!” - Marilyn, when asked how many children she hoped for with Joe
Joe’s stubbornness to move away from Hollywood and settle in San Francisco to start a family can often give the impression Marilyn had no say in the matter. This is somewhat true. Marilyn did not expect to be back working so soon after her suspension and was left with managing an impatient new husband who had hoped for a quiet start to his married life. But she also appeared to have very much manifested some interest in this life. On the set of How To Marry A Millionaire, Lauren Bacall recalled Marilyn wistfully wishing she could be with Joe in San Francisco “in some spaghetti joint”. Like many of Marilyn’s aspirations, she felt torn by them: “A career is wonderful, but you can’t curl up with it on a cold winter’s night” (Sir! USA Magazine, April 1954)
Marilyn’s desire to build a family and desire for children is not questionable. She would interestingly later compare the length of her marriage to Joe as “enough time to have a baby”. Interestingly, her character of Roslyn in The Misfits, which was somewhat inspired by Marilyn’s own experience, has a line where she claims she never wanted children with her ex-husband. Marilyn herself made note of this in her script copy, adding in pencil “just like with JD”. This could have suggested Marilyn and Joe did not attempt to have children together. However this is unlikely considering how eager Marilyn was when asked how many children the DiMaggios would have (“six!”) but also much more privately in her own letter to Joe in 1954: “I want you someday to be proud of me as a person and as your wife and as the mother of the rest of your children (Two at least! I’ve decided)”.
Journalists never held back on the matter either. Marilyn would be asked the very question on 16 April 1954, to which she candidly replied: “I’m not pregnant but I wish I were. Joe and I want a lot of little DiMaggios.” As her first day back after her work suspension, this was a very bold answer but evidently a genuine manifestation of what she desired the most: a child.
Her operation to correct endometriosis in mid-November 1954 – less than a month after their divorce announcement – indicates the couple may have already suspected they were struggling to become pregnant. Joe’s presence at her side is a strong indication this surgery would have affected both of them and their future, had it not been for their separation.
For all their shared desires, background and experiences that brought them together and could have created a successful and long-lasting relationship, there were of course a number of conflicting outlooks which the traditional and expected path of marriage would fully expose.
PART II - JE T'AIME, MOI NON PLUS
If one picks up any magazine or newspaper from 1952 to 1954, articles about Joe and Marilyn are rife with rumours. The murky waters of columnist reports and dubious headlines can make truth-seeking difficult, but they can reveal surprising details while also painting a bigger picture. Pinpointing when Marilyn and Joe first met is a challenge in itself. Many biographers settled on a blind date organised on March 8th 1952. However a press clipping from February 25th place them at Tallyho restaurant. As both Marilyn and Joe maintained the first meeting happened at Villa Nova followed by several dinners that week, we can only assume this was a subsequent date, placing their first encounter around February 20.
Those sightings didn’t take long to evolve into gossip-filled columns suggesting marriage or highlighting major trouble in paradise. Some may be fabricated, but there was a part of truth to those hiccups.
As early as summer 1952, Joe’s frustration with Marilyn’s movie commitments was weighing heavily on their relationship. In Jock Carroll’s account of his time photographing Marilyn on the Niagara film set, he remembers Marilyn vainly trying to explain to Joe that she wouldn’t be able to visit him due to a schedule change. Around the same time, Joe would apologise in a letter after hurting Marilyn’s feelings, presumably in a spat provoked by his temperamental nature: “It annoys me no end to think that I have 'bit' your feelings […] all I ask is you forgive me." (Letter to Marilyn, July 1952).
Marilyn’s legendary tardiness also appears to have been a source of conflict as demonstrated by an engraved compact clock gifted to her by Joe . This lifelong issue with punctuality would affect many of her personal and professional relationships. It sadly wouldn’t disappear during their marriage as shown in her 1954 promise to him: “I know it’s lousy of me to be so late so often and I promise to try a million time harder. I promise.”
The tension created by the physical distance was also heightened by external pressures. In June 1952, Dorothy Arnold - Joe’s ex-wife - had launched a very public lawsuit, citing alleged ‘inappropriate conversations’ between Marilyn and Joe while on outings with Joe Jr (“doll” and “beautiful legs” aren’t shocking terms by today’s standards, but they were enough to create a fuss at the time). Dorothy hoped to obtain full custody of Joe Jr and additional alimony. During this time Marilyn was asked to speak of Joe and Joe Jr, two topics she adamantly refused to discuss: “Joe’s wife has already named me in a legal action. It’s completely unfair to everybody”... “I don’t want to turn my personal life into publicity. I know Joe wouldn’t like it. It’s not right.” (Carroll, Falling for Marilyn)
This very delicate situation pushed Joe and Marilyn’s relationship almost to a point of no return. While Summer ‘52 was filled with reports of Joe introducing Marilyn to his family and friends with rumours of an imminent wedding, October columns saw Marilyn declaring the couple were now nothing more than “good friends”. A day before the lawsuit hearing, every article reported the union to be almost over, including Marilyn:
Pasadena Independent, Nov 5 1952
Whether the relationship was truly in trouble or not, it was an incredibly shrewd move from Marilyn to distance herself so publicly in order to help Joe keep his parental rights. He succeeded and the lawsuit was dismissed (Joe would later file his own suit to be granted more time with his son). The following interviews with Marilyn had her confirm she was still very much “stuck on Joe”, indicating this was more of a tactical diversion rather than real trouble.
1952 concluded with the couple in a much steadier and secure place, with Marilyn keeping ascending the Hollywood ladder and Joe surprising her at her apartment with a Christmas tree and champagne. Marilyn would tell Sidney Skolsky: ‘It’s the first time in my life anyone ever gave me a Christmas tree. I was so happy I cried.’ The couple would also make a very rare joint appearance at the Cocoanut Grove for the New Year’s party:
By the start of 1953 it seemed the relationship was stronger than ever and wedding rumours filled the columns once again, ad nauseam. While away in Ensenada to celebrate Marilyn’s upcoming birthday, the tragic drowning of Joe’s brother called him back to San Francisco in a hurry. Joe was crushed by the loss of Mike DiMaggio - 46 years later he would name Michael’s son in his own will - while Marilyn tried her best to comfort him. This blow was followed by another unexpected period of grief as Marilyn learnt of the death of guardian and mother-figure Grace Goddard in September 1953. Soon the studio troubles would follow and force Marilyn at a crossroad in her career.
Nevertheless, the tragic events of ‘53 shaped and reinforced a bond between Joe and Marilyn which outlived their rocky start and occasional spats.
“Joe, you’ve never heard such cheering!”
- Marilyn’s (alleged) words to Joe after performing in Korea, 1954
The argument that Joe was jealous to witness Marilyn stealing the limelight as his own star was descending is a popular one - but a fallacy. It has always been maintained by Joe’s friends, teammates and various people throughout his life that he abhorred being in the spotlight, most especially for anything other than baseball: “Fame irritated DiMaggio. He is one of the loneliest men I've ever met and usually he moved through crowds. The flattery most men enjoy embarasses him. I've spent most of my adult life in the newspaper business. Joe DiMaggio is the shyest public man I met.” (Jimmy Cannon, Newsday Oct 5 1954)
The fact that he would suddenly become envious of his wife’s extreme fame is preposterous. Joe’s discontent seems to have stemmed from the consequences of that fame and amount of time Marilyn was away for the demands of her public life. As any actress, Marilyn was a subject and participant in the Hollywood star machine. While being committed to her relationship with Joe, columnists would often jubilate in her confessing she was “still keeping her eyes open and not ignoring other men”. This game of cat and mouse with the press completely foreign to Joe reinforced his contempt for such tactics, and Marilyn’s willingness to play along. As Sam Shaw would later put it, “one can fairly imagine he suffered in silence”.
Often cited as a cause of tension were the “risqué” outfits Marilyn would flaunt at events. In contrast Marilyn would dress fairly conservatively in private: “I'm the only girl Joe ever has known, I guess, who runs around in blue jeans and without make-up. He never criticizes me, but I'm sure he likes a girl to dress conservatively.” (The San Francisco Examiner, Dec 6 1953). This apparent contradiction between the jean-wearing outdoors-y girl and the overtly sexual public persona was perhaps too much for Joe to comprehend. Ironically, as she tried to build a more serious persona to seek dramatic recognition later on, her public outfits became less and less suggestive.
“Since we couldn’t give each other up, marriage was the only solution to our problem.”
- Marilyn (My Story, 1974)
However incomprehensible the logic of the above quote may be today, it would have been very shocking to live with a partner out of wedlock in the 1950s. The sheer obsession of the columns claiming Joe and Marilyn had married in secret only support this. Society and morals were such that when Marilyn flew to New York to see Joe on weekends, they would rent two rooms on the same floor, for appearances sake. In addition to promising eternal love, marriage was considered the only acceptable solution to the desire to share one’s life with a significant other.
Their attempt (and failure) of making this wedding a fairly private affair is a window to the extreme strain their public life would put on their marriage. Marilyn’s press agent Lois Weber Smith would later recall: “For a while, when they were married, Marilyn had the idea she could have both lives, the private and the public. She deceived herself in that. She couldn't keep them separate. The press wouldn't allow it. They were both too big, too famous, too much a part of America to just disappear when they weren't working.”
This was a shared delusion, as Joe reflected in a 1954 True Magazine: “I suppose I've tried to avoid the spotlight off the ball field. Like any other guy with a job, I liked a private life when the day's work was done. This was seldom possible. Since I've been married to Marilyn I've led a normal, quiet life. Of course I'm out of baseball now, and that makes a difference.”
Rather ironically, he admits in the same interview the couple soon had to give up any city date nights as Marilyn’s fame became inescapable.
Joe’s retirement had meant a welcome respite from media pressure but Marilyn’s stratospheric ascent very much kept the spotlight shining on them, in spite of their wishes for a private relationship.
Their rarely-mentioned two week getaway honeymoon in Idyllwild that began just after their wedding vows was a sample of a life in the shadows: “Joe and I took long walks in the snow... [we] talked a lot. We really got to know each other”. The crazed reception they received for their official honeymoon to Japan soon brought them back to the reality they should expect for the years to come. The feeling of living in a fishbowl became impossible to ignore.
Marilyn and Joe returning from Japan
One has to wonder how neither Marilyn or Joe could foresee the inevitable obstacles ahead. Would Marilyn have children and go back to work? Would the studios even want her back? Would she travel back and forth from San Francisco whenever she worked on a project? But would she cope being away from her children?
All those questions were asked but answers differed, often vague and never quite final. The geographical distance they both couldn’t seem to close while dating started to fuel new arguments in their new married life.
“We just can’t seem to fit the schedules together”
- Marilyn when asked about Joe not being with her for the start of The Seven Year Itch
Dominic DiMaggio gives an extremely rare insight into Joe’s side: "[Marilyn] was a nice-looking person, but I didn't approve of her thinking. Her career was first. Joe could not condone the things that Marilyn had to do. Joe wanted a wife he could raise children with. She could not do that. When they separated, I wrote to them that it was important for them to stay together, to try to make it work, that the whole world looked upon their marriage as the ideal. I know Marilyn accepted the letter and read it to Joe, but it did not help. Joe had wanted that relationship to work. He held on to it for the rest of his life.”
Joe bids farewell to Marilyn as she flies to New York for The Seven Year Itch
While Joe perceived his public life as a job he was finally retiring from, Marilyn saw pleasure in the attention. This career had been a ticket out of poverty for Joe, but for Marilyn it was a validation, a chance to feel the love she had been deprived of. The couple’s 12-year age gap entrenched this conflict of expectations. The failure of Joe’s first marriage had been the result of the increasing pressure of his career and being away from home. His eagerness to correct this the second time around by starting a quiet family life clashed with Marilyn’s growing popularity and demands of stardom. She would confess in her 1962 final interview that “fame isn’t where I live”, but in 1954 it was impossible for her to dissociate it from her private life.
Ed Sullivan asking for Joe and Marilyn to be introduced in the audience, shyness notwithstanding
A 1954 apology note written by Marilyn and recovered from Joe’s wallet decades later highlights the couple’s struggles to communicate effectively during their marriage. While Joe and Marilyn may have been able to date in the shadows for several years, their marriage precipitated them to a public catastrophe, scrambling to keep the relationship airborne with neither agreeing on the destination.
It came to a crashing end in September 1954.
“I hope this isn’t for your private collection, to be shown in stag shows”
- Marilyn to director Billy Wilder during the multiple retakes of the iconic skirt blowing up
Hollywood was hardly a place anyone outside of show business would encourage their girlfriends or daughters to be. The seedy reputation of Tinseltown for its use and abuse of young women who came to “make it” was strongly established and Joe’s disgust for the industry was not an unpopular sentiment.
For his contempt of Hollywood, Joe enjoyed going to the movies and even appeared in one (Manhattan Merry-Go-Round, 1937). While having conceded he had seen Marilyn’s films, Joe had always admitted to steering clear of Marilyn’s film sets. It is as though he was struggling to witness how the magic was being created. His reported discontent the few times he was on set attest of this, all the while the press kept questioning why he was so disinterested in Marilyn’s work... It seems even Joe knew he was a ticking bomb who needed to keep away.
On September 15th 1954, convinced by columnist and friend Walter Winchell, Joe watched the scene of Marilyn’s skirt being blown up. The pictures taken on that evening don’t seem to show an enraged DiMaggio. However, the hype and catcalling cannot be reproduced by still images, except for those few men with lurid looks. It seems that after numerous retakes of what ended up being a publicity stunt for the studio, Joe walked off the set with Marilyn looking on. It is easy to look back on this event today and believe only a stereotypical conservative macho and insecure man would feel this rage. But perhaps it is underestimating the misogynist culture and proprietarian attitude married men were endorsing and encouraging, all the while whistling at a wife just doing her job.
Why Joe was brought to the set by Winchell or where he went after he stormed off remains unknown. According to some he walked back to the hotel but others say he was seen drinking at Toots Shor. Many accounts and conflicting details have emerged from that infamous night and the subsequent argument between Joe and Marilyn. Some have reported seeing bruises on Marilyn’s back the next day, others have retracted their claims since.
As in every case where such incidents occur, it is extremely difficult to know what happened behind closed doors. The majority of witnesses near their hotel room agreed on hearing shouting and crying. While one can assume the argument could have degenerated into a physical altercation, Marilyn never publicly stated she had been physically abused. Regardless of what happened that evening, it brought their marriage to an end.
"Joe admitted he still loved me but my being a movie star was too much for him to take any longer. He became impossible to live with. I guess at the time there was nothing to do but to get divorced.”
- Marilyn to George Barris in 1962
Just like in her decision to wed, divorcing was seen as the only viable solution to solve the problems they were facing. Marilyn’s stand-in Irene Crosby would confide during the divorce announcement: “they were just a couple of shy people in the camera’s eye. Even on set Marilyn is always quiet and shy. Joe, when he came in, was the same.” (News Digest Tempo & Quick, October 1954)
For Joe and Marilyn’s sensitive and private nature, life in the lens had firmly wedged itself between them. On October 6th 1954, Marilyn’s heartbreak was displayed for the world to see.
PART III - FRIENDSHIP, THERAPY AND TRAGEDY
Rumours of tension within the marriage had been rife for several weeks but the divorce announcement took the press by surprise. It seemed even Joe was somewhat stunned.
Several friends’ telegrams encouraged him to not give up on the marriage, just as Marilyn’s half-sister Berniece and co-star Jane Russell would also reach out to her to offer support and advice.
After retreating to San Francisco, Joe sent a three page letter on October 9th hoping to save the relationship. The full content has never been made public but after collating several angles of the pictures taken of the letter, the almost entire content can be read here(*):
As you might have noticed this letter is postmarked from San Francisco. The reason being my friend was called away on business, that’s why I’m here.
Marilyn, I keep reading reports about you being sick and naturally I am concerned.
I can only imagine the recent action probably being the big reason - with newspapers people putting pressure on you all the time - not to mention the studio which is only interested in getting their picture done.
Honey, I know this combination of things is rough on you and I feel sad about it all. I wish I knew the answers to all of the problems.
I can only repeat what I said to you before leaving, “I love you and want to be with you”. There is nothing I would like better than to restore your confidence in me so I can help you regain you’re (sic) once healthy self.
Marilyn, when we arrived from down south, I stopped and had dinner with Ben and his family, the television was on and we were in time to see newsreels and you meeting with the press in front of the house. My heart spilt even wider seeing you cry in front of all these people, and as though you are ready to collapse amongst them.
2150 Beach Street [Joe and Marilyn’s San Francisco home] is open to you as always - the paint job [awaits to?] be selected by you and there will be no remodelling done unless you supervise it to your taste.
Don’t know what you’re (sic) thoughts are about me, - but I can tell you I love you sincerely, - way deep in my heart, irregardless of anything.
Will you call me tonight if you should receive this letter by then? It will be happily received.
(*) This took time to research, collate and decipher so credit is always appreciated if reposted elsewhere.
Whether Marilyn spoke to Joe or not is unknown but the divorce hearing went ahead on October 27th, with business manager Inez Melson as Marilny’s witness. Marilyn used mental cruelty to trigger the divorce, with a supporting incident involving Joe refusing to take her to the races to avoid her crowds of fans. When Inez asked Joe about it, he had forgotten about such an event or the upset it had caused. Marilyn’s tendency to cling on to somewhat trivial matters that hurt her deeply would be a trend in her next relationships and throughout her life. Perhaps realising this, Marilyn would end up using Joe’s coldness and silence lasting up to ten days as her main argument to convince the judge. The divorce was easily granted.
Several months later biographer Maurice Zolotow asked about the real cause behind the divorce. Marilyn replied:
“For the reasons I gave in court. I know a lot of women, when they're getting a divorce they put out reasons which are not the true reasons. But I said the truth. He didn't talk to me. He was cold. He was indifferent to me as a human being and an artist. He didn't want me to have friends of my own. He didn't want me to do my work. He really watched television instead of talking to me. So what I said in my testimony was really so”.
Joe did not ask for legal representation or showed up to fight the suit. A few weeks earlier he had declared: “I want to be a good friend to Marilyn. I have nothing else to say except ‘no comment’. If she wants a divorce, she will get it.” No financial settlements were requested by either side.
Only two days after the divorce was granted, they celebrated Joe Jr’s birthday together :
Joe couldn’t let go so easily however. His gnawing suspicious nature led him to the bizarre event of the Wrong Door Raid (for a detailed account, listen here). On November 5th, a private detective recommended by friend Frank Sinatra alerted Joe of Marilyn seeing vocal coach Hal Schafer at a friend’s apartment. The group including Joe and Frank soon arrived and broke into the wrong apartment. The reasons behind Joe heading there himself are still debated: the divorce proceedings were completed and the divorce granted, making any evidence of adultery almost irrelevant or at least very delayed. Then why?
Sinatra and DiMaggio had been friends for several years; a couple of months earlier Frank had himself gone through a similar public divorce announcement with Ava Gardner. Admittedly still carrying the torch for his ex-wife, it’s not improbable that the motive for this rash enterprise could simply be a case of ditched husbands egging each other on into bad decision making - not without a generous amount of alcohol.
On this topic, there have been claims by old baseball teammates of Joe drinking everyone under the table on nights out in the town. But his drinking was never mentioned by anyone in Marilyn’s entourage as a problem nor did it seem to have been an addiction. After his first divorce, Joe had housed a Yankee player who was spiralling into alcoholism to keep an eye on him. Moreover, his chronic ulcers would have made it unlikely for him to be a regular heavy drinker without excruciating pain. But it is fair to assume alcohol may have been a contributing factor to his mood swings ; in Marilyn’s 1961 letter addressed to Dr Greenson, she speaks of Joe saying he still has a drink once in a while, inferring he had quit or at least slowed down dramatically.
Only a few days after the Wrong Door Raid, Joe visited Marilyn following her surgery to ease her endometriosis symptoms, while he was admitted to hospital himself a few days later with ulcers. This rapprochement so soon after what appeared to be a painful divorce intrigued the press. They would be spotted dating several times thereafter and dining in Malibu that December:
* The Rock Island Argus, Dec 13th 1954
“Joe DiMaggio may not have made a good husband for Marilyn, but no one cared more for her. He was always, before the divorce, and after the divorce, her best friend.”
- Allan Whitey Snyder
The end of 1954 seemed to have the ex-couple revert to a pattern of casual dates. The New Year saw Marilyn going cross country to New York - a city Joe knew inside out. As she got settled in, it soon became apparent she didn’t cut ties with Joe, if only as a close friend. By all accounts Marilyn appeared content with having kept a loyal friend out of her divorce, but Joe may have hoped for a reconciliation. In 1942 he had saved his first marriage in extremis when wife Dorothy Arnold had left for Reno. But Joe’s persistence then may have been motivated by his desire to please his devout catholic and ailing mother, who had a deep affection for Dorothy. The divorce papers eventually found Joe during his WWII posting.
His tenacity to earn his place back at Marilyn’s side can be speculated thanks to the notes he gave himself in April 1955. These rules may have preceded the therapy that “saved his life” - which he credited Marilyn for as per her 1961 letter - but they nevertheless indicate a willingness to acknowledge and alter past behaviour.
“I’ve always been able to count on Joe as a friend after the first bitterness of our parting faded”
- Marilyn Monroe to Alan Levy (1962)
By early 1955 they would still be spotted on dates with friends such as Sam Shaw and his wife, and at Jackie Gleeson’s birthday party at Toots Shor. Joe would also often be sighted by journalists at Marilyn’s hotel. As he had previously been helping her push for a better contract, she would keep consulting him on her plans to set up her own production company.
On a business trip to meet dress manufacturer Henry Rosenfeld about investing in Marilyn Monroe Productions, Marilyn would have a detour in Boston to spend time with Joe as he was awaiting the vote results of the induction to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Joe had narrowly missed for the last few years, which would have no doubt been a topic of discussion during their courtship and marriage. Reconciliation was still out of the question however as Marilyn coyly declared, “No, just call it a visit.”
In March, Joe was fairly incognito in the audience during Marilyn’s elephant stunt at her Madison Square appearance, or at least the press did not take much note.
Marilyn and Joe, together but apart / March 31st, 1955
In spite of their divorce and comfortable friendship, this love note left by Joe addressed to Marilyn in ‘Room 2728’ is unequivocal about his lingering feelings. It can be dated fairly accurately as Marilyn only took possession of suite 2728 at the Waldorf Astoria in New York from April 1955 onwards. For Joe at least, their romantic relationship clearly was unfinished business.
For Marilyn’s 29th birthday on June 1st, Joe accompanied her to The Seven Year Itch premiere - this was the first movie event he had ever attended with Marilyn. One can’t help but wonder what their thoughts were watching the movie that was widely reported as the end of their marriage. A birthday party organised by Joe at Toots Shor followed the screening. Marilyn’s nervousness over the reception of the film and her desire to impress Lee Strasberg made it difficult for her to enjoy the evening - she would leave the party early with friend Sam Shaw.
This would be the last public appearance Joe and Marilyn made together for the next five years.
As Marilyn’s relationship with Arthur Miller turned romantic, Joe faded out of the picture. By the end of summer 1955 he travelled to Paris, Rome and his Sicilian hometown, alone. By February 1956, Marilyn would refuse to discuss how close their relationship was or if they still kept in touch.
Marilyn in New York City / Joe in Rome
A hiatus of five years followed. To the best of our knowledge, no contact on either side was established between Joe and Marilyn during her marriage with Arthur Miller - the only potential link being Joe DiMaggio Jr, who may have still seen Marilyn occasionally but no record of this exists.
“It was almost as if Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio met at the wrong time in their lives.”
- Lois Weber Smith
During the filming of the Misfits in the summer of 1960, an exhausted Marilyn flew back to Los Angeles and spent several days in hospital to recover. Several books have maintained that Joe called or even visited her during her stay. I have personally never found factual proof of these claims. From news reports, Joe appears to have been in Lake Tahoe with friend George Solotaire who was grieving the death of his wife.
Marilyn’s first reconnection with Joe did not involve him but his family. In October 1960, Marilyn visited San Francisco with Misfit co-star Montgomery Clift to watch Ella Fitzgerald perform at the Fairmont Hotel. According to Ralph Roberts who was also on the trip, Marilyn was feeling nostalgic about her time in San Francisco, her favourite sound being the fog horns of the bay at night. Situated in North Beach, Marilyn stopped at the DiMaggio restaurant to see Joe’s brother and his wife (presumably Dom or Tom DiMaggio), as well as Lefty O’Doul, who was on Marilyn and Joe’s 1954 Japanese honeymoon. Joe was not in town however but undoubtedly would have been told of her visit later on.
Marilyn’s four year marriage to Arthur had experienced many highs and lows but on November 11th 1960, she officially announced her decision to divorce.
The first known meeting between Marilyn and Joe happened during Christmas 1960. She detailed the event to Dr Greenson later on:
By the way, I have some good news, sort of, since I guess I helped, he claims I did. Joe said I saved his life by sending him to a psycho-therapist; Dr. Kris says he is a very brilliant man, the doctor. Joe said he pulled himself up by his own bootstraps after the divorce but he told me also that if he had been me he would have divorced him too. Christmas night he sent a forest-full of poinsettias. I asked who they were from since it was such a surprise, (my friend Pat Newcomb was there)– they had just arrived then. She said: “I don’t know the card just says “best, Joe”. Then I replied: “Well, there’s just one Joe”. Because it was Christmas night I called him up and asked him why he had sent me the flowers. He said first of all because I thought you would call me to thank me and then he said, besides who in the hell else do you have in the world. He said I know I was married to you and was never bothered or saw any in-law. Anyway, he asked me to have a drink some time with him. I said I knew he didn’t drink — he said he now occasionally takes a drink — to which I replied then it would have to be a very, very dark place. He asked me what I was doing Christmas night. I said nothing, I’m here with a friend. Then he asked me to come over and I was glad he was coming though I must say I was bleary and depressed but somehow still glad he was coming over.
Inevitably, the first week of 1961 started with news columns filled with rumours of Joe and Marilyn seeing each other, which Marilyn’s agent John Springer ended up confirming.
The press return interest was not unfounded. Beginning from December 27th 1960, telephone notes left for Joe at his New York hotel suite highlight very regular calls between the two, sometimes several times a day and very late at night, attesting to Marilyn’s lifelong struggle with sleep. Frustratingly, not all of the notes kept by Joe were made available to read (only 4 out of 39) but they show Marilyn phoning on several important dates: twice the day before New Year’s Eve 1960, the day before entering Payne Whitney hospital (Feb 6th, 1961), on Valentine’s Day from Columbia Presbyterian hospital, and when she met Robert Kennedy (Feb 26th, 1962).
Feb 4th, 1961
Her four-day stay at Payne Whitney was to be a dramatic experience that would bring this revived friendship to a newer level of trust. Faced with confinement in a ward for deeply disturbed patients, Marilyn soon panicked and desperately tried to get herself released. Her ordeal can be read in her own words here. It has been argued in the past that the Strasbergs had been the first people Marilyn had tried to reach for help. However, her letter addressed to them shows she had already been trying to get the hospital call Dr Kris and Joe, without success.
After gaining the trust of a nurse, Marilyn finally made a phone call to Joe. Presumably he had been aware of her voluntarily checking into Payne Whitney as per the telephone note the night before she admitted herself.
It has been previously maintained that Joe was in Florida coaching the Yankees when he received the call. However, this does not match news clippings or timeline of events. On February 9th, while Marilyn was on her third day at Payne Whitney, Joe was officially asked to come to Florida to coach for two weeks, starting on March 9th. He declared “This is the first time I’ve been asked back. I’m looking forward to the two weeks of spring training like a rookie about to go to his first camp”. This statement was gathered as he was leaving New York on a business trip. Therefore Marilyn most likely managed to reach him during that trip but his location is unknown. It is a misconception to assume Joe was already coaching in Florida, as the training would only be starting a whole month later.
How Joe pressured Dr Marianne Kris and/or the hospital staff to get Marilyn released varies. But both Susan Strasberg and Ralph Roberts share the same memory of Marilyn bragging about him having threatened to take the place apart “brick by brick”. Whether the latter interaction happened on the phone or in person is unknown.
Marilyn would agree to go rest at Columbia Presbyterian the next day instead, with a signed document guaranteeing Joe, Lee Strasberg and lawyer Aaron Frosche would be expressly informed of any measures taken to stop Marilyn from leaving. Her three-week stay appeared to have been beneficial, with Joe as a regular visitor.
Marilyn exiting Columbia Presbyterian / March 5th, 1961
[Read photographer I.C. Rapoport’s account here]
Joe’s loyalty towards Marilyn was a quality she reciprocated. She told journalist W.J. Weatherby in 1960, “I’ve never given up on anyone who I thought respected me”. For the flaws that ended their marriage, it seems both Joe and Marilyn had always believed they could put those aside and maintain a strong friendship regardless. Perhaps it is their respective self consciousness and striving for personal improvement that allowed this relationship to withstand the fallouts, the moods, or just the passage of time. The demands they both put on themselves were indeed eerily similar in tone:
JOE - “I was out there to play and give it all I had. I looked at it like ‘I’m doing my best’... I always felt good that I had given my best. There may have been a fan there who never saw me play before. He deserved to see me at my best.”
MARILYN - “I’ve always felt toward the slightest scene, even if all I had to do in a scene was just to come in and say, “Hi,” that the people ought to get their money’s worth and that this is an obligation of mine, to give them the best you can get from me.”
Late March would offer some further recuperation time for Marilyn, but no respite from the press. Marilyn’s arrival at the Yankee training camp in Florida created a buzz in the region.
Renting separate rooms opposite each other at the Tides, their privacy was - as always - a challenge. Multiple pictures of them were taken on the beach and around the hotel, sometimes to their irritation. A couple of organised photo-ops would appease the press somewhat, but soon Joe and Marilyn had to play hide-and-seek. It must have felt like 1952 all over again.
Delaying a business trip to Cuba to travel back with Marilyn to New York, Joe would be spotted again with her at a Yankee baseball game in April. According to Ralph Roberts, Marilyn spent at least one weekend with Joe at his New York Lexington suite, as he was sent to gather a care package for her which he delivered at Joe’s apartment.
At Yankee Stadium / April 11th, 1961
It seemed this rekindled relationship showed no signs of waning as 1961 progressed. Several receipts for red roses ordered by Joe for Marilyn were recovered from his estate, Amongst them, some were sent during her hospital stay for gallbladder surgery and for her 35th birthday:
“Although I want to be there personally, my thoughts are with you today. Love, Joe”
Receipt for 24 red roses for Marilyn’s 35th birthday / June 1st, 1961
[Series of various orders of roses for Marilyn from 1961]
In August 1961, actress Cyd Charisse would tell Louella Parsons of having spoken to a “relaxed Marilyn” and a Joe “with the same protective attitude but less defensive” at a dinner party at Chasen’s. Interestingly, she would also recount Marilyn confirming she was taking time off work to buy a house in Los Angeles.
As per Marilyn’s half-sister’s account, this is an endeavour Joe appears to have supported, agreeing that buying in California would make the most sense if she wanted to keep filming. Joe would also be seen house hunting for Marilyn in November 1961:
Sunday News, Nov 19th 1961
“My friends have told me that my ex, Joe, is still in love with me. Well, I still love him, too, but he does have a tendency to be a little hotheaded.”
- Marilyn to George Barris in 1962
On meeting Joe briefly in 1961 while dining out with Marilyn, Norman Rosten would observe: “One could sense a warm feeling between these two star crossed lovers [...] It seemed to me, observing them now, that they should have been the happily-ever-after couple among her three marriages [...] He was a tough cookie and she could depend on him.”
The fact that Marilyn’s public and short-lived flirt with Sinatra didn’t seem to end their rekindlement was perhaps an indication that Joe could have changed for the better. His concern for Marilyn’s “blind” trust in people could still veer into overbearingness and old habits could die hard, as Berniece’s noted in her book:
“Joe is unpretentious and easy to talk to, full of common sense and concern for Marilyn. [...] Marilyn’s desire to avoid Joe’s jealousy and her desire to hold his precious friendship place her on a tightrope of her own devising. Her feelings towards Joe are ambivalent. ‘I feel I have to avoid the psychological confinement that marred our relationship when we were married’, she states, in a clinical fashion learned from therapy.”
A telegram found in Joe’s property leaves few doubts regarding Marilyn’s feelings towards him, which gives a hint to the blurry boundaries of their relationship:
Telegram from Marilyn to Joe / September 22nd, 1961
“A beautiful Saturday morning for New York, and no place to go, but to sit back on my desk and scribble you a note. Shouldn't that be proof enough where my thoughts are?” - Letter from Joe to Marilyn, January 1962
As Marilyn settled at her new home at Fifth Helena Drive - for which Joe advanced a large portion of the deposit - Joe was gearing up to coach the Yankees back in Florida, starting in February. Marilyn would take a trip to Florida at the same time to visit her ex father-in-law, Isidore Miller.
The press was hoping for a repeat of Marilyn’s last year’s visit to the Yankee training camp. They were almost disappointed. But on February 19th, Marilyn was seen walking into the Yankee Clipper hotel where Joe was staying:
The below pictures of Joe and Marilyn parting at Miami airport are the last known pictures of them together:
As Marilyn flew to Mexico, Joe would himself go on a long business trip to Europe. According to Joe’s employer Val Monette, he took pleasure in sending letters to Marilyn during his many work trips: “He was never a man to write letters to anyone, not even to his family. But wherever we went, he would always find time to drop her a note, or a card, or send her flowers.”
A collection of the known letters Joe sent to Marilyn during 1962:
Letter from Rome, Italy / May 8th, 1962
(read full content here)
Postcard from Copenhagen, Denmark / May 20th, 1962
Joe’s telegram sent from Spain for Marilyn’s 36th and last birthday / June 1st, 1962
Marilyn and Joe’s relationship through 1962 was punctuated by the usual denials of “reconciliation” or “remarriage”. Marilyn’s housekeeper Eunice Murray would attest to Joe’s regular presence at Marilyn’s house during this period. This peculiar arrangement may have raised some eyebrows but it seemed both Joe and Marilyn were finally free of the constraints of marriage and societal expectations which had caused them much sorrow in the past.
In 1962, Marilyn would tell journalist Donald Zec: “To know that Joe is there is like having a lifeguard.”
Unfortunately, on August 4th, her life would end without any chance to save it.
PART IV - "I COULD NEVER TALK ABOUT HER. NEVER"
- JOE TO ROBERT STEIN IN 1968
Marilyn’s last day alive has many versions and impossibilities. What Joe was doing on August 4th 1962 is surprisingly fairly documented. He was in San Francisco playing an exhibition game with both of his brothers, also retired major league players. Joe’s son would speak to Marilyn one last time that evening, without noticing anything different in her behaviour.
Joe with his brothers pictured on August 4th, 1962 - Marilyn’s final day
How Joe was told of Marilyn’s death is unknown, although most logically he would have been called early by Milton Rudin or someone in the entourage. Joe flew to Los Angeles the same morning. Marilyn’s half sister - only informed late in the day and still in Florida would give Joe the power to claim Marilyn’s body. After the autopsy concluded, Joe was seen sitting for hours next to Marilyn. While there may have been an emotional reason, the disturbing account of the embalmer is an example of the behaviour Joe feared and very much hoped to prevent by keeping watch.
Marilyn’s funeral was restricted to a very short list of mostly family and close friends. Joe and Berniece were both targeted for keeping Marilyn’s showbusiness friends out of the ceremony. Answering the very public attacks of Peter Lawford during a police interview, Joe vehemently denied barring anyone:
Neither Peter Lawford nor any allegedly upset Hollywood committee of Marilyn’s friends organised a separate gathering following the funeral. Some friends grieved privately, visited the grave but no public ceremony was held. Another much talked about point is the long lasting feud between the Rat Pack and DiMaggio created by this misunderstanding. A boxing fight program from November 1965 signed by Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and Joe on the same night puts this into perspective - while animosity may have existed, it certainly was not strong enough for either party to refuse to sign the program while seeing the other’s autograph.
Marilyn’s funeral took place on August 8th, 1962 during a private non-denominational service at Westwood Village Memorial Park. Joe broke down at the closing of the casket, kissing Marilyn and whispering “I love you”.
As the coffin was wheeled out of the chapel, he remained behind to compose himself but not entirely succeeding. His grief-stricken face was front page around the world, a shock for a public who had rarely seen this private man display any emotions.
Marilyn was interred as her entourage looked on. Joe shook hands, paced, and took a final look. Then Joe went away.
“He is a loner and about the only deep feeling he had for anybody in the world was for that girl”
- Val Monette, 1962
Much ink has been spilled over the two handwritten notes found in Marilyn’s possessions after her death. Some authors assumed a possible remarriage. This debate will most likely never be settled.
Two almost identical notes in Marilyn’s handwriting, most likely written in 1962.
Pink note: Dear Joe, If I can only succeed in making you happy - I will have succeeded in the bigest (sic) and most difficult thing there is - that is to make one person completely happy. Your happiness means my happiness.
White note: Dear Joe, If I can only succeed in making you happy - I will have succeeded in the bigest (sic) and most difficult thing there is - that is to make one person completely happy. Joe
When asked about her involvement with Joe, Marilyn maintained “there is no spark to kindle” and that both had a better understanding than they ever had. Marilyn’s masseur and friend Ralph Robert and his latest published account seem to shine a new light on this turn of phrase. It appears there was indeed a casual romantic relationship, as Marilyn told Ralph in March 1961 of their shared agreement on how to handle their renewed interest in each other:
“I think our relationship is even better now than it was when we were too much in love. We are discussing ways of keeping it that way. One answer is that we won't, for some time, allow ourselves to get completely involved. Keep away from possessiveness and jealousies. Date someone else if either of us wants.”
The two notes being almost identical however indicate it was important enough for Marilyn to rewrite it as she corrected a typo and her ink ran out. Whether those notes found were Marilyn committing to Joe is yet another question never to be answered.
Joe leaving Marilyn’s funeral
In 1975, Val Monette - Joe’s ex-employer - would confide to author Maury Allen that Joe had left his job four days before to move closer to Marilyn and remarry her. Perhaps this is a half truth. He indeed had quit but his decision to be near her was most likely not motivated by a remarriage but by his concern for her, as Monette himself told the press in 1962:
"He was just tired of traveling around and he wanted to settle down. He was very much in love with her and I guess he still is [...] When he came back from these latest trips to the West Coast to see her, he knew she was very depressed and it depressed him too. [...] He is a loner and about the only deep feeling he had for anybody in the world was for that girl.” (from various clippings from August 14th, 1962)
After Marilyn’s death, Joe’s home address in San Francisco was flooded with condolences.
One of these thank you letters found its way to a Catholic church in New York, where Joe simply wrote “Thank you for the mass”. He also attached Marilyn’s funeral remembrance card. Perhaps the church had mentioned Marilyn during a service... We may never know.
It would be feeding the tragedy to pretend Joe didn’t try to build a life after Marilyn’s untimely death.
Joe’s private life after Marilyn still eludes biographers. But the various tales of him romancing Marilyn impersonators have become part of the folklore surrounding Joe - in reality all the women associated with him were rarely even blond. While his very discreet dates have always spoken fondly of him, they were all short-lived. However, a particularly upsetting story is of actress Myrna Fahey. This didn’t even need any romantic involvement.
A fake rumour that will cost Joe and Myrna dearly.
FBI report and investigation
In 1963, both Joe and Myrna received a series of anonymous death threats. Several messages threatened her with facial disfigurement with acid and Joe with the killing of his son, Joe Jr. As per the FBI interviews, the two only dined together once during a work visit to Rome in June 1962 - but columnists had recycled this alleged romance throughout the end of 1962 and 1963, to dramatic results. The FBI eventually traced those letters to an obsessive Marilyn fan and patient in a psychiatric institution. The irony was that the sender feared Joe would remarry, when he made a point he had no intention to do so, as he told several close friends and the FBI.
Joe visiting the troops in Vietnam, 1968
The late 1960s saw Joe slowly emerging from obscurity. In 1968 Joe visited the troops in Vietnam for several weeks, of which a touching account can be read here. Already successful in business, Joe returned to the world of baseball briefly as a coach for the Oakland A’s and became the face of Mr Coffee and Bowery Bank commercials. His shyness seemed to have taken a back seat and he would be asking for retakes and direction tips during the shooting of the various commercials. One can’t help but wonder how amused Marilyn would have been over this turn of event.
The numerous publications that followed Marilyn’s death, booming in the 70s were all met by his silence in public but not indifference in private:
“When Norman Mailer's book on Marilyn came out, he called me immediately. He was very hurt. What can we do about it? I told him, 'Joe, just sit tight and don't discuss it. There isn't anything we can do. You'll only help him more by making a fuss about it.' He had gotten some obscene mail after the book came out. He was very hurt. He was hurt by a lot of things Mailer said in the book about Marilyn.”
Joe and his adopted granddaughters
Joe’s temperament may not have wavered much as his aloof character and habit to cut people out of his life remained. But it appears he embraced a much softer side, perhaps a change to be credited to Marilyn’s advice to get therapy. He became a doting grandfather to his two adopted granddaughters, and fulfilled the role of father Joe Jr couldn’t as he spiralled into drug and alcohol abuse under pressure of living up to a name.
"We probably got along better with our grandfather than with our dad. Joe Jr. didn't have his act together. That's the way it was. Joe Sr. had more hands-on with our schooling. He brought us something if we had good report cards and yelled at us when we didn't have good manners [...] I was a fan of my gramps. He was fantastic to our own kids."
Both his granddaughters would inherit the bulk of his estate.
Joe with his granddaughters and great grandchildren
After a gruelling 99-day stay in intensive care following lung cancer surgery, Joe recovered enough to die at his Florida home on March 8, 1999 - 36 years after Marilyn, another lifetime for her. The veracity of Joe’s final words (“I finally get to see Marilyn”) are still debated. Joe’s lawyer Morris Engelberg was the source of the claim but his brother Dominic, who was also present in the final moments, denied them.
Joe Jr had previously told Inside Edition during his father’s final hospital stay: “When he wants me there I’ll be there [...] Whatever he’s given me has always been the best. Never, never second-rate. Always the best [...] I love him and just all the things are felt between people but never said”. Joe Jr was not present when his father passed but he would still attend his funeral.
Joe is buried at Holy Cross Colma Cemetery, San Francisco
Like in many aspects of his life, Joe was more comfortable being judged by his actions than his words. Dominic DiMaggio’s eulogy of his brother highlighted the missing happiness in his life which he tried to compensate with his love and dedication to children. In 1992, Joe had given his name to the Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital - his proudest legacy according to his lawyer: “This is a fellow who said no to a street being named after him in New York. What does he care about some street? Now, children, that’s something he cares about.” The hospital still stands today and is now recognised as a leading facility in the country.
Joe would often make surprise visits to the wards. His name helped the hospital raise millions through charity events.
The Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital today
After Joe’s death, much controversy arose over the control his lawyer Engleberg had over him and his legacy. Just like Marilyn and the people she granted her trust to, Joe also had his share of squires and profiteers, often clashing with other members of the entourage. A few would shamelessly publish books claiming alleged confessions of Joe and his relationship with Marilyn. It seems even in death, people’s interest in owning a part of DiMaggio didn’t fade: Joe’s death bed received many offers but was fortunately donated to a hospital.
Later many pages of Joe’s handwritten diary surfaced. The excitement for them soon deflated. Only a single mention of Marilyn was ever made in the pages, refusing to talk about her:
April 28, 1989: "Up at 5 a.m. ... Book people felt me out with questions pertaining to baseball. Some part of my private life but not too strong on that. Will not reveal anything in a negative way towards Marilyn -- only books that have come out on her might have not been truthful."
The diary entries are instead plain, detailing business expenses or very common daily activities: his travels, reassuring his sister Mary over surgery, attending dinner parties and taking his great grandchildren for ice cream.
Man of few words, the many Marilyn items from his estate speak of his deep love for the woman he did not always understand but would always stand by. The beautiful painting that sat in Joe’s home and the framed pictures on his dresser spotted by journalist Gay Talese as early as 1966 could be the surroundings of a widower. And perhaps this is how Joe was portrayed. Yet he certainly endorsed that role.
Perhaps it is why few people Joe trusted have ever spoken about Marilyn. Some have only dared to hint at her. Many knew how Christmas was particularly difficult for him, which he would often spend alone on his boat. Christmas had been a special occasion for Joe and Marilyn during their dating years, and later on in the 60s.
A portrait of Marilyn, already present in Joe’s San Francisco home in 1966
Joe’s private thoughts about Marilyn will always remain just that - private. The use of “soulmate” to describe this relationship feels reductive, unfitting. It presupposes this was an easy relationship, erasing the many problems, tragedies and internal struggles both Joe and Marilyn faced and their efforts to protect this connection. A two year relationship. A 9 month marriage. On paper, this relationship could almost be reduced as trivial, insignificant... But the lasting loyalty and affection is perhaps what made it so special to both.
Whenever asked to define their relationship at any point, both always agreed:
“‘We’re friends’, said Joe DiMaggio. ‘We’re friends’ echoed Marilyn Monroe with a soft sigh.”
Marilyn Monroe | June 1st, 1926 - August 4th, 1962
Joe DiMaggio | November 25th, 1914 - March 8th, 1999
MARILYN MONROE & JOE DIMAGGIO : A RETROSPECTIVE
Many links have been added in the body of the article, referencing directly to the events, letters and items discussed. The rest of the research was based on the following sources:
Falling for Marilyn: The Lost Niagara Collection by Jock Carroll (2009)
Fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters by Marilyn Monroe (2012)
Marilyn by Norman Rosten (1973)
Marilyn Monroe: The Biography by Donald Spoto (1993)
Marilyn Among Friends by Sam Shaw and Norman Rosten (1987)
Milton’s Marilyn by Joshua and Amy Greene (1994)
Mimosa by Ralph Roberts (2021)
My Story by Marilyn Monroe and Ben Hecht (1974)
The Property of Marilyn Monroe Catalog by Christie’s Auctions (1999)
Baseball Goes to War by William B. Mead (1998)
Joe DiMaggio A Hero’s Life by Richard Ben Cramer (2000)*
The DiMaggio Albums by Joe Dimaggio, Richard Whittingham (1989)
Where Have You Gone, Joe DiMaggio? By Maury Allen (1975)
*Although Cramer’s DiMaggio biography is the most popular and accessible, it contains many timeline inaccuracies, misquotes, unsourced material and overall subjectivity which fails to give a well rounded portrait. Its content should be taken with a high dose of cautious skepticism. Maury Allen’s work remains the primary source regarding close accounts of who DiMaggio was.
Note: C. David Heymann’s book Joe and Marilyn: Legends in Love was excluded from the research material for the following reasons:
“A Good Long Look At Myself” - Interview with Marilyn by Alan Levy, Redbook Magazine August 1962
“The Great Joe D.” New York Magazine, 8 May 1989
Little more than 70 years ago, Italians were the poverty-stricken immigrants from an “undesirable”… , Timeline
Marilyn Monroe’s Honeymoon, Modern Screen, April 1954
Sidney Skolsky, Hollywood Citizen-News, Feb. 1, 1954
The Joe DiMaggio Story by Joe Dimaggio in True Magazine, October 1954
“Do You Want To See Her?” by Robert Stein
A Wedding Anniversary by Robert Stein
Joe DiMaggio Would Appreciate It Very Much If You'd Leave Him The Hell Alone - Esquire, June 1999
The Silent Season of a Hero - Gay Talese, July 1966
Joltin' Joe Has Left & Gone Away – TALES OF BASEBALL
Sports Illustrated - Dom DiMaggio interview - 2 July 2001
JOE'S BID-NESS / DiMaggio's granddaughters are selling off their memorabilia
Love, Marilyn (2011)
MLB - Where Have You Gone Joe DiMaggio - New York Yankees (1997)
Joe DiMaggio Yankeeography (2002)
Joe DiMaggio - Biography (1991)
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