When sex symbol Marilyn Monroe married baseball legend Joe DiMaggio on this day in 1954, it seemed like the perfect storybook romance had played out; the all-American hero finding happiness with the new darling of Hollywood. The truth was somewhat more complex.
The couple had met in 1952; when the recently-retired DiMaggio saw a picture of Marilyn looking cute in baseball get-up, he asked an acquaintance to arrange a meeting between them. At that point he was still a bigger star than her, one of the all-time greats of America’s favourite pastime.
She had to be persuaded to go on the date, but as she later recalled: “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.”
The couple courted for nearly two years; dogged by the press due to his huge fame and her fast-rising stardom, they preferred to shy away from publicity and would stay home or sit in a corner of the restaurant DiMaggio owned.
They finally married at San Francisco City Hall, with Marilyn in a chocolate-brown suit with a white ermine Peter Pan collar, and Joe sporting the same polka-dot tie he had worn the day he met her. The event was supposed to be secret, but Marilyn had foolishly mentioned it to someone on-set and they were besieged by newsmen and fans.
When the couple finally managed to escape the press, they ventured to Japan on their honeymoon – but the first sign that the marriage might not be the idyll DiMaggio was expecting came when Marilyn accepted the call to travel to Korea to entertain US troops, leaving him brooding in Tokyo.
It soon became apparent that the baseball star was uncomfortable with his new bride’s celebrity, and even more so with the fact that she was now the number one sex symbol in the country. On set when she shot the famous billowing skirt scene for The Seven-Year Itch, Di Maggio grew enraged at the sight of 2,000 spectators gawping at Marilyn’s underwear, and the couple had a blazing row.
They announced their divorce in October, just 274 days after they were wed, with Marilyn accusing her husband of ‘mental cruelty’. Despite their parting, they remained close, and after her tragic death in 1962 DiMaggio sent flowers to her grave at least once a week until he passed away in 1999.