He was the most famous and beloved baseball player in the world. She was the movies' most glamorous sex goddess. But our story begins not with Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe, but with Marilyn and a much less famous ballplayer named Gus Zernial.
In 1952, rising starlet Marilyn Monroe went to the Chicago White Sox spring training camp in Pasadena, California, and posed for a few publicity photos with the upcoming Zernial, who, by a bizarre coincidence was being billed as "the new Joe DiMaggio."
Marilyn posed holding a bat in short shorts, a tight sweater and high heels with the much envied (and no doubt delighted) Zernial. No one thought much of the routine publicity shots until Zernial received a phone call from Joe DiMaggio himself. Joe had seen the publicity shots in the newspaper and, much intrigued, asked Gus how he could get in touch wth Marilyn. Gus recommended trying her press agent, which Joe did.
As a sidebar, although Gus did Joe this initial favor, Joe was to eventually give poor Zernial the "deep freeze" and never speak to him again, the reasons being that he was slightly jealous of the very virile and good-looking Zernial, but more so because he believed it was Zernial who initially told the press of his relationship with Marilyn, something which, in DiMaggio's eyes, could not be forgiven.
DiMaggio got in touch with a business agent named David March, who called Marilyn, trying to set up a (sort of) blind date. To his surprise, Marilyn declined. "I don't care to meet him," she replied, "I don't like men in loud clothes, with checked suits and big muscles and pink ties. I get nervous."
Marilyn knew nothing about sports, although she admitted when she had heard the name "DiMaggio" she thought perhaps Joe DiMaggio was an Italian actor. March filled Marilyn in on DiMaggio's more-than-impressive resume and a first date was eventually set up and agreed upon.
Marilyn and Joe met at the Villa Nova, an Italian restaurant, along with March and another young actress. Marilyn was to be most impressed, initially, with Joe's polka dot necktie, she asked him how he got one polka dot on it perfectly centered.
With the polka dot query being the highlight, this initial date settled into a very boring night indeed- until Mickey Rooney happened to drop by. Spotting Joe DiMaggio, Mickey, like any guy, was thrilled and enthralled, and acted liked a schoolboy, reciting DiMaggio's statistics and accomplishments. The fact of seeing the great Mickey Rooney in awe of her date more than piqued Marilyn's interest.
In less than two months, the DiMaggio-Monroe affair was blooming. DiMaggio flooded young Marilyn with phone calls and Marilyn was soon receiving bouquets of roses by the dozen.
At the end of 1952, Marilyn attended the studio's Christmas party, without a date. She seemed to be enjoying herself at the party, but returned to her dark apartment alone. When she turned on the lights, she saw a miniature Christmas tree with a hand-painted "Merry Christmas Marilyn" printed on it- and Joe DiMaggio sitting in a chair in the corner. Marilyn later told a friend, "It's the first time in my life anyone gave me a Christmas tree. I was so happy I cried."
The dating continued right through 1953, and finally, on January 14, 1954, with about 500 fans, reporters, and curiosity-seekers buzzing and gathered in the plaza outside city hall in San Francisco, Marilyn and Joe took their wedding vows. DiMaggio produced the wedding ring: white gold with a circle of diamonds.
Marilyn signed the marriage certificate as Norma Jeane Mortenson Dougherty (her first husband had been James Dougherty) and falsely gave her age as 25 (she was actually 27). The press noted that Marilyn pledged only to "love and honor" her husband, the customary "obey" was omitted, and substituted instead with "cherish" (a rather bold movie for a woman in the staid, conservative days of the 1950s).
After the ceremony, the newlyweds drove 200 miles to the town of Paso Robles, where they enjoyed a steak dinner by candlelight together. For their honeymoon, they holed up at a friend's cabin near Palm Springs. Marilyn recalled: "There weren't any other guests. Joe and I took long walks in the snow. There wasn't a television set. We really got to know each other. And we played billiards. Joe taught me how to play."
After that, it was off on a trip to Japan. The DiMaggios' honeymoon was turned into a long publicity trip. Joe was rated the most popular person in Japan (along with Douglas MacArthur) and he was slated to be in Tokyo to help open the Japanese baseball season. As it was a promotional baseball tour, Joe was scheduled to be the reigning celebrity, but the Japanese began shouting "Mon-chan mon-chan" when the couple first appeared (this, roughly translated, means "sweet little girl"). Later, at the Imperial Hotel, 200 policemen struggled with a throng that wouldn't be satisfied until Marilyn made an appearance.
After her headline-grabbing Tokyo scene, Marilyn headed off to Korea, to entertain the troops- without her husband. There, Marilyn sang in the freezing Korean cold, before 13,000 ecstatic soldiers, many of whom probably thought they were dreaming. She sang several songs, including "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend," "Bye Bye Baby," and "Do It Again."
This landmark performance had a huge effect on Marilyn. She was so thrilled by it she was later to call it the single highlight of her show business career. She recalled to a friend: "I never felt like a star before, in my heart. It was so wonderful to look down and see a fellow smiling at me."
Although she sang in a rather skimpy dress in the icy weather, Marilyn said she was so ecstatic she never felt cold. DiMaggio, waiting for his wife back in Japan, had seen the newsreels, and wasn't too thrilled. When Marilyn rejoined him, she gushed about the huge throng she'd performed for, "Oh Joe, you never heard a crowd cheering like that."
"Oh yes, I have," DiMaggio replied curtly.
The honeymoon had ended, but rough times lay ahead. In a nutshell, DiMaggio, a natural homebody, was perfectly happy to sit at home at night in front of the television set. Marilyn, young, beautiful and vital, wanted to go out to nightclubs and parties.
DiMaggio also reportedly wanted to have approval of Marilyn's future film projects. He laid down a few rules i.e. no more of the "dumb blonde" roles and no more skimpy outfits and costumes for Mrs. DiMaggio. But no sooner had the couple finally settled down, Marilyn soon was back at work, filming Billy Wilder's The Seven Year Itch.
One night, Joe decided to drop by and watch his wife at work. Joe visited Marilyn on the New York street set during filming of probably the most ill-advised scene in the movie (if your husband is Joe DiMaggio), the legendary shot of Marilyn standing above the sidewalk grating, as a gust of wind sexily blows her white skirt up. The ever-jealous DiMaggio looked on, with a huge New York crowd also witnessing the display, as Marilyn's skirt blew up and her white panties were displayed and filmed, take after take.
Columnist Walter Winchell stood beside the furious DiMaggio and heard him mutter "What the hell's going on here? Let's get out of here." There was a huge argument between the DiMaggios that night, and sadly, there are (unverified) reports that in his rage, DiMaggio actually struck Marilyn.
Over their time together, DiMaggio had repeatedly tried to convince his ambitious wife to give up her Hollywood career and stay home and take care of him. These pleas were continually met with refusals by Marilyn and perhaps the two finally realized that while they may, indeed, have been in love, marriage was not the best for them.
Marilyn filed for divorce in October of 1954. Her divorce claim cited "mental cruelty." The entire marriage had lasted exactly 274 days.
Marilyn was to remarry, in 1956, to acclaimed writer Arthur Miller. Tellingly, DiMaggio, one of America's most eligible bachelors, never did. After Marilyn's 1961 divorce of Arthur Miller, Marilyn and Joe became reacquainted. The two went fishing together and she accompanied him to the Yankees 1962 training camp. Reputedly, they had even scheduled a date to re-marry: August 8, 1962.
But it was not to be. Sadly, Marilyn was to die of an overdose mixture of pills and alcohol on the night of August 5, 1962. DiMaggio was to bar all Hollywood celebrities from her funeral. (Frank Sinatra was furious and, according to one report, actually tried to bribe his way in.)
As Marilyn was laid to rest, DiMaggio quietly leaned over her body and said the words "I love you, I love you, I love you."
Joe ensured three red roses were to be placed on Marilyn's crypt "for eternity." Ever pragmatic (albeit un-romantic), he stopped the flower deliveries after 20 years because fans kept stealing them.
Joe DiMaggio died almost 37 years after his wife, on March 8, 1999. According to a witness at his death, Joe's final words were "I'll finally get to see Marilyn."