- The Washington Times - Monday, January 14, 2008

In an era when the romantic escapades of countless starlets and hunks clutter newspapers, TVs and blogs daily, it’s hard to recall a time when a genuine superstar celebrity marriage excited much of America. But one did more than a half-century ago.

On Jan. 14, 1954, Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe were wed at San Francisco’s City Hall, a titillating union of a baseball icon and Hollywood’s sexiest actress that qualified as a genuine fairy tale come true.

Of course, the Yankee Clipper and Monroe didn’t live happily ever after. Just nine months later, they were divorced — but in one sense they never stopped loving each other.

Throughout the years, Joe provided a strong shoulder for the insecure Monroe to lean on, even while she was subsequently married to playwright Arthur Miller. When she died of an apparent drug overdose on Aug. 5, 1962, at age 36, an unfinished note to DiMaggio lay at her side, and the couple had been planning to remarry a few days later. For the remaining 37 years of his life, DiMaggio had roses placed on her grave regularly.

When they met in 1952 on a date set up by her press agent, DiMaggio was less than a year removed from one of baseball’s most memorable careers: The 56-game hitting streak of 1941, the career batting average of .325, the unsurpassed grace while playing center field for a team that won 10 pennants in his 13 seasons.

Monroe was on her way to becoming Hollywood’s biggest star but was not there yet. Her fame still stemmed largely from a nude calendar pose of 1949 that ultimately would be reproduced in the first issue of Playboy. At 25, shed of a husband she had wed as a teenager, Marilyn wanted to be a serious actress. Perhaps unfortunately, a lush body and whispery voice were her most prominent assets at a time when sexuality was relatively repressed in American society.

Joe and Marilyn were introduced at an Italian restaurant on Sunset Boulevard, and she was smitten immediately even though she had never seen a baseball game and wasn’t sure exactly what sport DiMaggio had played.

“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,” Monroe recalled. “Joe is a very decent man, and he makes other people feel decent, too. I don’t know if I’m in love with him yet, but I know I like him more than any man I’ve ever met.”

Soon, according to DiMaggio biographer Richard Ben Cramer, the two were between the sheets together. Eventually, after passion waned to some degree, the differences between them took over.

DiMaggio was a New York guy who loved to frequent nightclubs and restaurants, particularly Toots Shor’s off-Broadway watering hole, while Monroe preferred to stay home nights in California to memorize her lines and practice acting techniques. Besides, she knew and cared nothing about baseball, from which DiMaggio’s fame sprung. This led to a famous but possibly apocryphal exchange between them after Marilyn returned from entertaining U.S. troops in Korea.

“Oh, Joe, you never heard such cheering,” Monroe is supposed to have said breathily.

“Yes I have,” DiMaggio is said to have responded stonily.

By summer, the two were constantly at odds. When Marilyn did a scene for “The Seven-Year Itch” in which the air stream from a subway grate billowed her skirts around her waist and exposed her underwear for the world to see, DiMaggio went ballistic.

“Joe slapped me around the hotel room [afterward] until I screamed [and said], ‘That’s it!’ ” Monroe told her hairdresser. Three weeks later she filed for divorce in Los Angeles.

For years, as Monroe became a bigger and bigger star, DiMaggio refused to let go. Once he and pal Frank Sinatra were arrested for breaking into a motel room where they thought Monroe was ensconced with another man. Rumors abounded before and after her death that she was involved with President John Kennedy and Attorney General Robert Kennedy, among others.

After Monroe’s shocking death — the circumstances of which have never been fully explained — DiMaggio organized her funeral. Then he went into perpetual mourning. For more than three decades, as he toured the nation’s ballparks as “baseball’s greatest living Hall of Famer,” there were two words friends and acquaintances never dared speak in his presence: “Marilyn Monroe.”

Their story was indeed a fairy tale — one with no happy ending.

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