DiMaggio, Joe (1915 - 1999)
Part 1 of 4.
Joe DiMaggio was born Joseph Paul DiMaggio to Sicilian immigrants in the Northern California town of Martinez, on November 25, 1914, the eighth of nine children. His father, Giuseppe, also known as Zio Pepe, was a crab fisherman who worked from a boat called the Rosalie, named after Joe’s mother. Joe grew up in a strict Catholic household, where devotion, honesty, and hard work were prized. Between the ages of six and eight he was a rather withdrawn boy, an outsider who felt different from his peers because of the leg braces he had to wear to rectify weak ankles. This experience had a lasting effect on DiMaggio; he understood what it was like to suffer and be shunned, a corollary to feelings Norma Jeane experiences during years in foster care. As soon as Joe was able to run around again, he made up for lost time and played as much baseball as he could with his closest brothers Vincent and Dominic. All three of them dreamed of playing the sport professionally - dreams that came true for them all.
Like Marilyn, Joe never completed high school. He left in tenth grade to go and work in an orange juice bottling plant, to help support the family. By the age of eighteen he had been spotted and signed as shortstop by the San Francisco Seals. His rise to national fame was meteoric. Within three years he was practically a folk hero, the highest profile rookie in the nation, earning a top-notch salary with the New York Yankees and living a fast and glamorous life. As soon as he had the money, he bought his parents a nice house in San Francisco and opened up a seafood restaurant for them to run, Joe DiMaggio’s Grotto, located in the city’s popular Fisherman’s Wharf area. By his early twenties he had picked up three successive Most Valued Player awards. Off the field he lived a celebrity life, was lionized wherever he went, and toured the most fashionable night spots in the company of a string of beautiful woman.
In 1939 Joe married a blonde actress named Dorothy Arnoldine Olsen (1917 - 1984), whom he had met on set during a cameo appearance he made in the 1937 movie Manhattan Merry-Go-Round. His new wife, however, did not see their future life in the same terms as he. As DiMaggio was to discover with Marilyn too, it is hard to persuade an ambitious actress to take a back seat, forget about the career, and become a traditional housewife.
Joe DiMaggio Jr. was born on October 23, 1941, but by this time Joe’s first marriage had already begun to unravel. In 1942 Joe’s previously impeccable batting averages dropped dismally. He walked away from baseball in early 1943 to join the war effort as a physical training supervisor for the Army Air Force. Joe returned to baseball after the end of the war. After his divorce came through, Dorothy married a New York stockbroker, though this too was a short-lived marriage. Joe kept in touch with Dorothy, and during breaks in the baseball season he lived at the family home in San Francisco. During the season he lived in New York’s finest hotels, and spent evenings out with his pals at his favorite joints, more often than not Toots Shor’s. He went out with many women, but none of these relationships lasted.
By the late forties, Joe was suffering from sports injuries and nagging anxiety. He responded by resurrecting his career with a performance that put him in the record books, hitting four home runs in three games and going on to score an amazing 114 runs in 139 games in the 1950 season. In late 1951 he finally threw in the towel, at the age of thirty-seven succumbing to a whole catalog of sports-related injuries including arthritis and bone spurs, not to mention the perennial ulcers that troubled this outwardly placid man. During his career he had become baseball’s biggest star. The “Yankee Clipper” was the first player to earn a six figure salary, he led his team to ten American league pennants and eight World Series championships, and he established hitting records that would take years to be broken. His fifty-six game hitting streak in 1941 has never been surpassed. In honor of his achievements, the New York Yankees officially retired the “No. 5” uniform the season after he gave up the game. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1955.
Joe was very keen to meet Marilyn Monroe after he saw a photograph of her in a newspaper, posing with Chicago White Sox players Joe Dobson and Gus Zernial. The sight of Marilyn, in a pair of figure-hugging white hot pants, a tight jersey blouse, and of course a baseball cap, prompted him to ask Zernial, “Who’s the blonde?” When Joe found out that one of his drinking pals at Toots Shor’s, David March, knew Marilyn personally, he pestered him to set up a double date, with March’s current belle, actress Peggy Rabe. This took place in March 1952 at the Villa Nova Italian restaurant on Sunset Boulevard - though in Marilyn’s ghost written autobiography My Story she says the restaurant where they first met was Chasen’s. Marilyn apparently arrived two hours late, but Joe waited for her all the same. Many accounts of the event, however, maintain that the evening out was just Joe and Marilyn, not a double date at all.
There are conflicting reports as to how the evening went. Marilyn’s official version, as told to a friend, was, “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. I had dinner with him almost every night for two weeks. He treated me like something special. Joe is a very decent men, and he makes other people feel decent, too.” Another version has March calling Marilyn the following morning to hear what Marilyn had thought of Joe, and she told him that DiMaggio had “struck out” after making a clumsy pass at her when she had driven him back to his Hollywood hotel, the Knickerbocker. The most scabrous version of events had them making love on the backseat of her car, followed by an instant proposal of marriage from the baseball legend, which was ably parried by Hollywood’s fastest rising star.
When Marilyn and DiMaggio met in early 1952, she was a twenty-five-year-old film star poised to make it to the top of her profession. He was thirty-seven years old and recently retired after the most glorious baseball career of his day. He had been a household name for more than fifteen years, and as a result was often suspicious that people were interested in him because of his image, not for himself; he was often heard to lament the fact that “everybody who calls me wants something.”
Whichever version of their first date is true, DiMaggio called Marilyn every day after their first date, until Marilyn said she’d like to go out again. They soon became the nation’s most famous dating couple, a storybook romance documented by paparazzi at all the swankiest locations on both coasts. Joe went to see Marilyn at the final day’s shooting of Monkey Business (1952); Marilyn was taken to her first baseball game; and on many weekends during the early months of their relationship Marilyn flew out to New York to be with Joe, who after retiring from baseball had taken up a contract as a broadcaster.
Four months after they met, Joe took Marilyn home to San Francisco to meet the family. Marilyn must have loved the warmth of such a close-knit home, but also been concerned at what, as a wife, would be expected of her. Quite apart from the practicalities of homemaking, Joe was not happy that hi girl was being leered at and fantasized about by practically every male in the nation. Marilyn later told Milton Greene that Joe “wanted me to be the beautiful ex-actress, just like was the great former ballplayer. We were to ride into some sunset together. But I wasn’t ready for that journey yet. I wasn’t even thirty, for heaven’s sake!” Just as Joe was withdrawing from the public eye after a long and glorious career, Marilyn was at last achieving the stardom she had craved, and gloried in being in constant demand.
DiMaggio may have realized that a relationship with Marilyn would not be simple. Within a month of their meeting, the whole of the nations was titillated by the news that she had posed nude during her struggling starlet days. Another scandal followed soon after during that hectic first half of 1952, when it was revealed that Marilyn was not, as her studio biographies had said, an orphan, but that her mother was still alive, although hardly well, living in a mental institution. And yet Marilyn was smitten: “He has the grace and beauty of a Michelangelo,” she said soon after they met. “He moves like a living statue.”
- The Marilyn Encyclopedia by Adam Victor.