American greats Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio’s short-lived union and lengthier relationship captured the hearts and attention of a nation. When they met, Monroe was becoming the siren of Hollywood movies, and “Yankee Clipper” DiMaggio had already been labeled the greatest baseball player of all time. Though the marriage would last only nine months, their brief passionate romance and enduring bond continue to fascinate.
Despite outward differences, Monroe admits that she and DiMaggio were 'very much alike'
The American dream made real, both had risen from humble backgrounds to sit atop the pinnacle of their chosen careers. But in 1952, when DiMaggio asked an acquaintance to set up a date with Monroe, he was a freshly retired sports legend and Monroe was an up-and-coming actress.
Ahead of their first meeting, Monroe was skeptical. “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,” she wrote. “He treated me like something special.” The attraction was strong and they began dating, usually cross-country with Monroe on the West Coast and DiMaggio on the East.
Though skeptics highlighted their differences Monroe recalled similarities, including a common desire for a stable home and children. “The truth is that we were very much alike,” Monroe said to author Ben Hecht in her memoir My Story. “My publicity, like Joe’s greatness, is something on the outside. It has nothing to do with what we actually are.”
According to DiMaggio, physical intimacy with Monroe was epic. “When we got together in the bedroom, it was like the gods were fighting; there were thunderclouds and lightning above us,” DiMaggio recalled to author Rock Positano in Dinner With DiMaggio: Memories of an American Hero. But the strong physical attraction was also balanced by DiMaggio’s respect for her intelligence and vulnerability, according to Positano. A wedding was already being discussed.
“Joe and I had been talking about getting married for some months,” Monroe told Hecht. “We knew it wouldn’t be an easy marriage. On the other hand, we couldn’t keep on going forever as a pair of cross-country lovers. It might begin to hurt both our careers.”
PHOTOS: Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio's Relationship
They married quickly and turned a work trip into their honeymoon
Married in a quiet ceremony at City Hall on January 14, 1954, in DiMaggio’s native San Francisco, the couple posed for photographs on the steps of Saints Peter and Paul Church. A church wedding was not an option at the time due to both celebrants having previously divorced: DiMaggio from his first wife, Dorothy Arnold, in 1944, and Monroe from childhood neighbor James Dougherty in 1946.
According to Monroe, DiMaggio came up with the last-minute marriage scenario that fit both their schedules. “‘You’re having all this trouble with the studio and not working so why don’t we get married now? I’ve got to go to Japan anyway on some baseball business, and we could make a honeymoon out of the trip,’” Monroe recalls DiMaggio saying. “And so we were married and took off for Japan on our honeymoon.”
From the very start, their marriage was challenged. During the honeymoon, Monroe was asked to travel to Korea to perform for the American troops stationed there. DiMaggio was left behind in Japan. Back on home soil the couple sought a normal life, but the volatility of her career and his reported jealousy and involvement in her professional contract negotiations and role choices began to chafe.
Monroe and DiMaggio divorced after nine months of marriage
DiMaggio reportedly wanted a stay at home wife. Monroe wanted to expand her cultural horizons with a husband who was interested in her work. The new groom also struggled with his wife’s image. While filming The Seven Year Itch in New York, DiMaggio was disgusted with the now-famous subway grate scene. According to Monroe he said, “… exposing my legs and thighs, even my crotch — that was the last straw.”
A visibly tearful and upset Monroe publicly announced their divorce nine months after they wed, citing mental cruelty. In a letter written to his wife at the time of the announcement DiMaggio said, “I love you and want to be with you. … There is nothing I would like better than to restore your confidence in me. … My heart split even wider seeing you cry in front of all those people.”
They eventually reunited and DiMaggio stood by her side until her sudden death
It would be years before they reconciled and in between Monroe married playwright Arthur Miller in 1956. The union would last five years and at its end, an emotionally fragile Monroe was admitted to a psychiatric clinic in New York. It was DiMaggio who secured his ex-wife’s release, taking her to the Yankee’s Florida training camp where he was a batting coach, to rest.
Though a marital reunion was not on the cards the couple remained good friends, even as Monroe struggled with addiction, depression and anxiety. She died the following year on August 4, 1962, from an overdose of barbiturates at her home in Los Angeles.
A devastated DiMaggio claimed her body and arranged for her funeral, reportedly barring Hollywood’s elite as well as members of the Kennedy family including then-U.S. President John F. Kennedy, with whom Monroe was rumored to have had an affair. DiMaggio never forgave friend Frank Sinatra for introducing her to the Kennedys.
A still devoted DiMaggio never remarried and rarely spoke about Monroe during his life. He organized to have roses delivered three times a week to her crypt for 20 years. “I’ll go to my grave regretting and blaming myself for what happened to her,” DiMaggio is quoted as saying in Dinner With DiMaggio. “Sinatra told me later that ‘Marilyn loved me anyway, to the end.’”