Monroe & DiMaggio: A Striking Romance

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The date was set for March 8, 1952 at Villa Nova, an Italian restaurant which is now The Rainbow Bar and Grill on Sunset Boulevard. Marilyn Monroe who wasn’t sure she was much interested in a baseball player, was late by two hours.

But he impressed her. Despite Joe DiMaggio’s quiet, almost sullen demeanor, he still managed to command the whole room. He wasn’t good looking: his face was all sharp angles, with teeth not only bucked but haphazardly arranged, and eyes too close together.

He was lanky and spindly. He didn’t walk, he lumbered. But power seemed to emanate from him. After dinner, they drove around Beverly Hills for three hours, fascinated by each other.

“I was surprised to be so crazy about Joe. I expected a flashy New York sports type, and instead I met this reserved guy who didn’t make a pass at me right away! He treated me like something special. Joe is a very decent man, and he makes other people feel decent, too!” — Marilyn Monroe

During the summer of 1952, Marilyn and DiMaggio began to date more regularly. But red flags were raised by her concerned friends. He didn’t like her career, he thought women should be firmly in the home, he was jealous of the attention she generated from other men.

In July, Joe took her home to San Francisco to meet his family. Once there, she clearly saw why Joe wanted his wife to be domestic — women raised children, cooked and cleaned, and it had always been that way in the DiMaggio family.

“It was better than rooming with Joe Page.” — Joe DiMaggio, on his marriage to Marilyn Monroe

Joe DiMaggio was born Giuseppe Paolo DiMaggio on November 25, 1914, in Martinez,California. He was the eighth child of Giuseppe and Rosalie DiMaggio, Italian immigrants who moved from Sicily to California in 1898. The family then relocated to North Beach, a predominantly Italian neighborhood in San Francisco, about a year after DiMaggio’s birth.

DiMaggio’s father, like generations of DiMaggios before him, was a fisherman, and he fervently wished for his sons to join him in his trade. Instead of following his father onto his fishing boat, Joe DiMaggio followed his older brother Vince onto San Francisco’s sandlot baseball fields, where he quickly distinguished himself as something of a playground legend. In 1930, at the age of 16, DiMaggio dropped out of Galileo High School to dedicate his life to baseball.

DiMaggio was signed by the Yankees and debuted for the team in 1936. He would be a proud member of the Yankees for 15 years. DiMaggio forsook three of the prime years of his career to serve in the United States Army during World War II. Although he spent the majority of his three-year enlistment in the United States, playing baseball for the Seventh Army Air Force Team.

Joe DiMaggio married Dorothy Arnold in 1939, and they had a son, John III, before divorcing after five years of marriage. Then, in 1952, the year after he retired from baseball, DiMaggio met the actress Marilyn Monroe and fell madly in love with her, beginning one of the most high-profile romances in American history. After an 18-month courtship, DiMaggio and Monroe wed on January 14, 1954 in what the press hailed as “the Marriage of the Century.” As much as Marilyn began to crave the spotlight, Joe wanted to withdrawal from it.


“It’s no fun being married to an electric light.” — Joe DiMaggio 

Marilyn Monroe was born Norma Jeane Mortenson, and spent the first seven years of her life in a foster home, having been given up for adoption by her mother due to her mother’s mental instability and having a child out of wedlock. Norma Jeane, while working in a factory inspecting parachutes in 1944, was photographed by the Army as a promotion to show women on the assembly line contributing to the war effort. One of the photographers, David Conover, asked to take further pictures of her. By spring of 1945, she was quickly becoming known as a “photographers dream” and had appeared on 33 covers of national magazines.

On July 23, 1946 she signed a contract with Twentieth Century-Fox Studios. She selected her mother’s family name of Monroe. Johnny Hyde, of the WilliamMorrisAgency, became her mentor and lover in 1949. Although Johnny was crazy about her, she never wanted to marry him. The same year, Marilyn agreed to pose nude for a calendar. A fact that was to stir controversy later in her career as a superstar. Monroe’s first leading part in a serious feature was to be in Don’t Bother to Knock,  filmed in 1952.

This would be the infamous year she and Joltin Joe would first cross paths. On New Year’s Eve 1953, Joe asked her to marry him. Carried away by the moment, Marilyn said yes. On January 14, 1954, they were married in a quick civil ceremony in San Francisco.

She made a strange request though. If she died before him, would he promise to place flowers at her grave every week? He promised.

“When I married him (Joe), I wasn’t sure of why I married him, I have too many fantasies to be a housewife.” — Marilyn Monroe

The relationship was rocky from the get go. The films kept rolling in for Marilyn. Niagara, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, The Seven Year Itch were all critically acclaimed films that shot Marilyn up to  legendary screen status. The attention she got, he was used to getting. When he walked into a room with her, he disappeared. He wasn’t used to that at all. He was used to being center of attention. But with Marilyn, no man could ever be center of attention.

“Nobody can be a success in two national past times.” — Jimmy Cannon, on the breakup of the marriage of DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe

On October 27, 1954, just nine months after her wedding – Marilyn stood before a judge and detailed her reasons for her divorce petition. She said DiMaggio was ‘cold and indifferent’ to her and that days would go by when he wouldn’t speak to her. DiMaggio didn’t make an appearance and the divorce was granted. DiMaggio and Monroe remained close friends. Even after her marriage with playwright Arthur Miller ended, Joe was her rock. He tried to get her away from people who, to his mind, were nothing but trouble (including, it seems, the Kennedys), and even proposed to her, asking her to marry him once again. It’s awful, now, to think that if Marilyn had been given a little more time, that DiMaggio might have been just the person to pull her back from the brink — of depression, drugs, disastrous affairs with married men.

After her tragic death in 1962, DiMaggio had roses delivered to her crypt three times a week for the next 20 years. He never married again.

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