After ten exhausting performances and a return flight to Tokyo, Marilyn was running a high fever. She was satisfied with her shows, as they had helped reaffirm her popularity. She had seen the full impact of those thousands of eight-by-ten glossies distributed throughout the services by the studios.
Back in Tokyo when the most desirable woman in the world began to share her exhilaration with her husband, he quickly dampened her spirit by reminding her that he, too, had had similar experiences and that one mistake could instantly turn all that adulation into boos and hisses.
By the time they returned to San Francisco in April 1954, Marilyn and Joe had struck a deal.
They would live in his city and she would travel only when in film production. Otherwise his wife would stay with him and his family as his widowed sister Marie would run the household while he would tend to the extensive real-estate holdings and their family-owned restaurant. His whole family adored and adopted his wife. Marilyn paid special attention to the children and they especially cherished her. Again the actress put her own career on hold to become the ordinary housewife married to a rich and famous man. But every time she left the house San Franciscans reminded her that she was Marilyn Monroe. She could not dine in public without the ogling fans and autograph requests. Though again she caught a glimpse of peace surrounded by his down-to-earth family, Mrs. DiMaggio still didn't know how she could integrate her booming acting career with her family life.
Still obsessed with turning another musical into film profits, Zanuck invited Marilyn to return to Hollywood for
There's No Business Like
Show Business. The Irving Berlin composition had been a smash hit in Ethel Merman's
Annie Get Your Gun
Broadway success. Though Monroe was still virtually untrained as a dancer and singer, Zanuck was hoping to create another blonde musical comedy actress like Betty Grable before her.
The DiMaggios had leased a quaint, charming house on North Palm Drive in Beverly Hills. The simple stucco English cottage with swimming pool and beautifully landscaped grounds was easily accessible to the studios and restaurants. Marilyn called Jane Russell to help with organizing the housework. The new wife was determined to make her husband happy. But her domestic fantasies were immediately dashed once rehearsals for
commenced. She arrived home every night late and exhausted. Her husband became resigned to eating frozen dinners or take-out Italian food alone. To make matters worse, Marilyn's worst fearâthat she had no talentâwas surfacing. The
cast was made up of seasoned song-and-dance professionals.
Ethel Merman played the lead while Dan Daily, Donald OâConnor, and Mitzi Gaynor comprised the supporting cast. Next to them the rattled Marilyn was awkward and inept. Broadway's top choreographer, Robert Alton, became frustrated with her work, complaining bitterly that she had two left feet, was clumsy as an ox, had no rhythm, and was just plain uncoordinated. Marilyn demanded that Alton be replaced by Jack Cole. Since
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
, Jack had been patiently aware and worked around her limitations, providing the illusion that she knew how to dance well enough to bring out her sexiness. Though she would stay on the set practicing her moves and singing into the night, her performance was barely improving. Behind her back, Marilyn's costars snickered at her inabilities, and she sensed their disgust. Having just cried her heart out in the dressing room, she would return to rehearsals with puffy red eyes. O'Connor, several inches shorter than she, was badly miscast as her love interest. The actress was certain her fans would find their pairing unbelievable. Director Walter Lang also grew impatient, and Marilyn was clearly the standing joke on the set.
Every evening Marilyn, needing Joe's comfort, came home to a depressed husband. He had become impatient, irritated, and unwilling to give her the support she hoped for. One day when he was visiting the set, he actually refused to have his picture taken with his wife but granted one with his favorite performer, Ethel Merman. The meaning was clear. Joe felt humiliated and was punishing Marilyn for believing she could get by simply by exposing her breasts and wiggling her famous behind. He had been the best in his field and he demanded the best from those around him, especially from his wife.
Marilyn's public image had long been an embarrassment to Joe and some friends had suggested that a man should have more control over his woman. He began questioning whether she really loved him or his fame or his money. Was she just using him on her climb to the top?
When Marilyn cried to her husband for sympathy and understanding, she got only coldness and rejection. It tore her up inside. All that confidence she had developed with him had vanished by now. She was once again alone. Had she made more effort to be the wife he wanted, perhaps their relationship would not be in so much trouble. Marilyn was not only a failure as a performer, but a failure as a woman and wife. Flooded by all her deepest fears and insecurities, she desperately sought to know that he loved her. One small consolation Marilyn garnered was from Irving Berlin, who complimented the actress on her rendition of his “After You Get What You Want, You Don't Want It,” in the film
. This irony did not soothe her.
Whenever Mrs. DiMaggio was home early enough, the pair went out to dinner only to stare blankly at each other. Marilyn tried psychoanalysis, but got nowhere. The newlyweds needed a marriage counselor instead. The growing silence was deadlyâthe less able they were to express their feelings, the more explosive their arguments became. Others were noticing the change in their relationship. Mrs. DiMaggio conveniently brushed the inquiries aside by reminding the press that her husband had long been tired of publicity hounds and that he always valued his privacy. The excuse could not save her from the truth that their marriage was shutting down.
As production on
was closing down, Sidney Skolsky introduced Marilyn to Paula Strasberg. Paula and her husband Lee were training actor friends like Marlon Brando in the Stanislavsky method at the Actors Studio in New York. Acutely aware of her urgent need for refinement, depth, and growth as an actress, Marilyn was not to be dissuaded from going to New York to study. Failure only inspired her to try harder.
There would be no rest for Marilyn. Twentieth had signed her to work with director Billy Wilder in New York on a film that would provide one of her most memorable roles. As the naive, dizzy model in
The Seven-Year Itch
, Marilyn would help costar Tom Ewell, playing a summer bachelor, get over his marriage blues. Again Marilyn and her costar seemed mismatched, but the talented Wilder, one of Hollywood's finest and best known as a women's director, was able to make it look good.
was another successful Broadway play. The sound working relationship that Wilder developed with Marilyn was facilitated by his understanding that she was not a morning person. The actress would be able to continue working into the night long after other actors had grown tired and gone home. Therefore, at least initially, he tolerated her chronic tardiness on the set. The director also effectively made Natasha Lytess into an asset on the set rather than a hindrance to Marilyn's performance.
Though her marriage was suffering from severe strain, Monroe hoped that her performance in
would redeem her as a talented actress, especially in the eyes of her husband. Joe refused to go to New York because Natasha, whom he detested by now, was also going. Clad in a beige walking suit with a white fox fur slung over her shoulders, Marilyn was greeted at Idlewild Airport by a crowd of zealous followers. Reporters were quick to notice she was without her husband. After checking into the St. Regis in Manhattan, she discovered she didn't like the suites reserved for her party by the studio. The ideal hotel would have been the Plaza, overlooking Central Park, where the serene atmosphere was more conducive to getting a good night's sleep. But the studio insisted on the St. Regis. A few days later Joe reconsidered and joined her, also to complain bitterly about hotel arrangements. At least they agreed on one thing, as they joked about their suites. Those first few nights they appeared together at their old spots, Toots Shor's, and the Stork Club. Marilyn secretly met with Milton Greene and his attorney in the afternoons.
The studio had lately offered her two dreary roles, one playing a mistress and the other a prostitute. Both Joe and Marilyn had rejected them. Marilyn knew that not only her career but her marriage as well was riding on her choice of parts. She was fed up with Fox's proposals, and she wanted out. The actress viewed her new company with Greene as a solution. The attorney advised her that since Fox's legal department was making overtures toward a new contract, the former one could be considered invalid. After all, a new contract was mandatory as she was the lowest paid superstar of her day. Because he was the highest paid baseball player in history, DiMaggio also provided Marilyn with inspiration and confidence to achieve top status in her own field. The studio's top brass, of course, were not so pleased by his influence.
Although DiMaggio originally approved of Marilyn's character in
, as he observed the shooting of the first scene, he instantly changed his mind. Tom Ewell and Marilyn had just left the theater after watching
The Creature From the Black Lagoon
and were strolling leisurely down Lexington Avenue on a hot summer night. In an effort to catch some relief from the heat Marilyn's character lets the wind from the subway grating blow her white summer dress uncontrollably into the air, exposing her underwear. Joe had been dining with Walter Winchell at nearby Toots Shor's and decided to join his wife at the shoot. As he and Winchell approached they witnessed the commotion caused by Marilyn's enjoyment of the wind shooting through her underwear.
Hundreds of spectators had gathered, and from a distance Joe felt humiliated as he overheard the innuendos and catcalls from the crowd. The actress was in her element, displaying her wares to not just a closed set but to the world. Everything to which he objected she continued to flaunt. He had thought that she was changing but realized then that she wasn't. In the morning when Marilyn returned to the hotel suite, she found an irate, sullen husband. She attempted to apologize, but by this time he was unwilling to even try to communicate and left the hotel. Whitey Snyder arrived to apply her makeup and noticed black and blue finger marks on her arms. She was visibly distraught, her eyes were swollen shut, tears streamed down her pale cheeks. Sympathetic and concerned, Whitey felt compelled to explain that no man wanted to see his wife's body displayed in a public arena. Whitey suggested she try to understand and consider Joe's feelings and actions. Wilder was doing his job well, but the consequences were disastrous for Marilyn's marriage.
DiMaggio refused apologies from his wife. The press played up the story in all the newspapers, and the studio publicity mill took it even further. Attributing her rebelliousness to DiMaggio's encouragement, the studio reasoned that if Joe and Marilyn were apart, she would get back in line. The press releases continued to stir up more controversy between the couple. No sooner had the two kissed and made up after filming in New York was completed than they returned to Los Angeles only to be reminded of the incident all over again. Two weeks later, after an embarrassed Joe left for New York to cover a World Series game, Marilyn called her attorney, Jerry Giesler, crying for a divorce. Harry Brand, the publicity flack who originally got them together, had all he needed to drive the wedge deeper between them, reporting in a press release that they were clearly “incompatible.”
Brand and Giesler staged a home visit event, inviting hundreds of reporters and photographers to converge on Marilyn's home. After ostensibly consoling her, the two studio henchmen left her to hold a press conference. Once again the studio successfully manipulated Marilyn into making a spectacle of her battered marriage. Instead of attempting to help the couple reconcile, Geisler filed a divorce action in Santa Monica on the grounds of mental cruelty. While Fred Karger's mother, Mary, consoled Marilyn, DiMaggio was still in the house packing his belongings. Giesler sent his secretary Helen Kirkpatrick out to their home to get the papers signed. Marilyn was under such stress that she had developed another cold, along with a respiratory infection. Kirkpatrick managed to catch the actress in a weak moment and pushed her into signing, then went downstairs and encouraged Joe to sign as well.
Reno Barsochinni, who had been best man at their wedding, pulled up to the house and came out shortly with two suitcases and a set of golf clubs. Then a grief-stricken DiMaggio emerged, telling the press he was leaving for San Francisco and never coming back. Sobbing uncontrollably, Marilyn eventually departed with her attorney. Because of her sorrow, filming at the studio had to be postponed. Marilyn went home and was isolated for the next three weeks, ultimately appearing in Santa Monica Superior Court looking regrouped and as beautiful as ever. She told the judge she had been mistaken about her husband. Instead of being warm and affectionate, he was actually cold and indifferent.
Neither Joe nor Marilyn wanted a divorce, but it seemed inevitable. They had been duped by the studio system, allowing outside forces to dictate the events that drove them apart. Though Joe was aware of the studio's power to manipulate, he and Marilyn reacted defensively to the whirlwind of unfolding events. They failed to realize they had been pitted against each other by the studio and that efforts toward communication, patience, and understanding could have preserved their love and marriage. Both lived to regret the outcome and remained close friends right up until her death.