Authors: C. David Heymann
Tags: #Biography & Autobiography, #Joe DiMaggio, #marilyn monroe, #movie star, #Nonfiction, #Retail
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To Joe DiMaggio Jr.
October 23, 1941–August 6, 1999
I agree with no man’s opinions: I have some of my own.
—CLEMENS HEYMANN, SENIOR QUOTATION, THE ETHICAL CULTURE FIELDSTON SCHOOL, CLASS OF 1962
The history of any public character involves not only the facts about him but what the public has taken to be facts.
—J. FRANK DOBIE
OE DIMAGGIO HAD BEEN THINKING
about Marilyn Monroe since the early spring of 1951, when he first saw her picture in the gossip column of a local San Francisco newspaper. Later, having retired after a thirteen-year baseball career as the star center fielder for the New York Yankees, he spotted her picture again, this time on the sports page of the same paper. Several major-league ball clubs had set up spring training camps in California, and to publicize their arrival, they asked a number of film studios to send over their most attractive young starlets to pose for press shots with the ballplayers. Twentieth Century–Fox dispatched Marilyn Monroe, whose recent ascent of the proverbial Hollywood success ladder had been characterized as nothing short of meteoric. Wearing high heels, tight white shorts, and a form-fitting blouse, she was handed a bat and told to assume her approximation of a batting stance, while Joe Dobson, the power-hitting left fielder, wrapped a muscular arm around her from behind in a feigned effort to improve her swing. Rounding out the photo, off to the side, was pitcher Gus Zernial, a bemused smile spread across his face.
The newspaper shot of Marilyn Monroe gripping a baseball bat evidently served to reignite Joe DiMaggio’s imagination. Hoping to meet the actress, he telephoned Zernial, an acquaintance, who replied that he had no idea how to contact Monroe. He could tell DiMaggio only
that she’d been “warm and giggly”—and, “yes, of course,” beautiful as “all hell,” a “real looker.”
Following up on his Zernial inquiry, DiMaggio now called George Solotaire, a well-connected New York City ticket broker and one of Joe’s most trusted cronies. During DiMaggio’s final years with the Yankees, he and “Gentleman George” had shared a suite at the Elysée, 60 East Fifty-Fourth Street, known to insiders as the “Easy Lay Hotel.” About to join Joe in San Francisco for a long-planned two-week trip to Hawaii, Solotaire suggested that the person most likely to know Marilyn well enough to effect an introduction would be a chap named David March. A high-strung, fast-talking Hollywood publicist (and sometime talent agent), March had at one time lived in New York, where one of his hangouts had been Toots Shor’s, the Midtown Manhattan tavern popular among sportswriters and professional athletes; it was there that March had befriended both Solotaire and DiMaggio.
As March later recalled the sequence of events, he received a telephone call one evening from Solotaire in his office suite overlooking Sunset Boulevard. “Do you happen to know Marilyn Monroe?” asked the caller. “She’s an old personal friend of mine,” replied March. “Well then, Joe DiMaggio would like to meet her,” said Solotaire. And March said, “I think I can help.”
A few days later, March reached the actress at the Beverly Carlton Hotel in Los Angeles, where she was staying. “Marilyn,” he said, “there’s a nice guy I’d like you to meet.” “Are there any nice guys left?” she inquired. To which he said, “The guy is Joe DiMaggio.”
At first Marilyn said nothing. And then, “Who’s Joe DiMaggio?”
March couldn’t quite believe what he’d just heard. Was there anyone—man, woman, or child—who didn’t know the name Joe DiMaggio? The Yankee Clipper. Joltin’ Joe. The epitome of grace and style. Baseball’s greatest living legend. The ballplayer who led the Yankees to nine World Series championships. Three-time winner of the American League’s Most Valuable Player Award. Thirteen times an all-star, holder
of a fifty-six-consecutive-game hitting streak, a record that would very likely stand until the end of time.
“Marilyn, you must be kidding,” said March. “You’ve never heard of Joe DiMaggio? He’s the greatest baseball player since Babe Ruth.” And she asked, “Who’s Babe Ruth?”
Marilyn consented to meet DiMaggio on the condition that David March join them and bring a date of his own along. “I’d be honored,” said the publicist. He made a seven o’clock dinner reservation for Saturday, March 15, at the Villa Nova, a trendy Italian restaurant across the street from his office. The Villa Nova’s dark wall paneling, cozy cherrywood booths, simple décor, and subdued lighting made it, according to March, an ideal spot for a dinner rendezvous between Joe and Marilyn. “The joint,” as he put it, “drips with romance.”
Aspiring actress Peggy Rabe, March’s date that evening, had met Monroe on a previous occasion during an informal gathering at actor Gene Kelly’s house and was looking forward to seeing her again. When she and David arrived at the restaurant, Joe was already sitting in a booth, waiting. The three of them ordered cocktails. Forty minutes later, they ordered a second round. Marilyn hadn’t yet arrived. Never a man of great patience, DiMaggio kept peeking at his watch. “I should’ve warned you, Joe,” said March. “The blonde Venus has never been on time for anything in her life.” He pointed out that she was presently in production on a film called
, with Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers. “She probably got held up on the set. I’ll give her a ring.”
He called from a restaurant pay phone and found the actress in her hotel room.
“Marilyn, we’ve been waiting for you. Joe DiMaggio’s here. Remember? I told you Joe wanted to meet you.”
“Please, Dave,” she pleaded. “I’m very tired.”
“Marilyn, you can’t let me down,” said March. “We’re waiting for dinner. Joe DiMaggio’s a wonderful guy. You’ll like him.”
“But I’m not dressed,” she said. “I’m wearing my blue jeans.”
“Okay, so you’re in blue jeans. Come just as you are. You promised, Marilyn, remember?”
Reluctantly, wearily, Marilyn changed into a blue tailored suit and low-cut white blouse. She walked to her car and drove to the Villa Nova, making her entrance at eight thirty, an hour and a half late. Her date stood as she approached the table. “I’m glad to meet you,” he said.
Describing her initial encounter with Joe DiMaggio on that balmy Los Angeles night, Marilyn Monroe would state in her published memoir (as told to journalist and screenwriter Ben Hecht) that she had expected to meet a “loud, sporty fellow” with slicked-back hair and flashy clothes, a guy “with a New York line of patter” who talked a lot about things (and people) that didn’t in the least interest or concern her. Despite her earlier denial to David March, Marilyn admitted in her memoir that she’d actually heard of Joe DiMaggio but knew little about him beyond the obvious fact that he’d once been a major-league baseball player. As for baseball, she knew only that it was played with a bat, ball, and glove.
“When I met Joe that night,” she confessed, “my first thought was: ‘He’s different.’ ” She noticed his hair; it was sprinkled with gray. His fingernails were perfectly manicured. At thirty-seven, twelve years her senior, his six-foot-two-inch frame looked lean and capable. He wore a conservative gray suit and matching tie. “If I hadn’t been told he was some sort of ballplayer,” she remarked, “I would have guessed he was either a steel magnate or a congressman.”
For his part, DiMaggio seemed equally, if not more, impressed. The vision of Miss Monroe in the flesh surpassed even the fantasy he’d conjured from the newspaper images he’d seen of her. As the evening progressed, Marilyn noticed that her blind date barely touched his food. Nor did he speak. He did little more than smile and stare at her. At one point, she opened her blue eyes wide and exhaled breathlessly. Observing Joe’s reaction at that very moment, David March said later, “You could almost hear Mr. DiMaggio going to pieces.” It was an understandable reaction. Marilyn had reached her physical peak. Never again
would she be as vital and high-spirited. In his quasi biography of Monroe, Norman Mailer would describe her at this time looking as though she’d been
“fed on sexual candy.”
Other than DiMaggio’s polite opening line, the only audible verbal exchange between Joe and Marilyn took place when she noticed a blue polka dot located precisely in the middle of his gray tie knot.
Pointing at his tie, she asked him, “Did it take you long to fix it like that?”
He responded “no” by shaking his head.
Marilyn could readily see her dinner companion was not a man to waste words. “Acting mysterious and far away while in company was my own sort of specialty,” she noted. “I didn’t see how it was going to work on somebody who was being mysterious and far away himself.”
The actress would soon learn that DiMaggio’s silence while in the company of others was hardly an act—it was and had always been his natural state. It wasn’t that he had nothing to say, only that he chose not to say it. It wasn’t that he lacked self-confidence; on the contrary, he had almost too much of it. Thinking back on the evening, Marilyn would have to admit that if his remoteness somehow annoyed her, it also served to pique her interest.
Her awareness was further heightened by the furtive glances of recognition that came from diners at neighboring tables. They were directed not at Marilyn but rather at Joe DiMaggio. It soon dawned on her that this man was not just an ordinary ballplayer—he was evidently an exceptional ballplayer, an idol, perhaps even a hero of sorts. And from all indications, his renown seemed to extend far beyond the male-dominated world of baseball.
Her growing sense of DiMaggio’s preeminence reached another plateau when Mickey Rooney sauntered over from the restaurant bar and pulled up a chair. In 1950 Rooney had offered Marilyn a brief role in one of his more forgettable films,
. The veteran actor, however, joined the dinner group not to see Monroe but to talk to DiMaggio. An avid baseball fan, Rooney wasn’t about to pass up the
opportunity to rub shoulders with one of the game’s most famous players. He wanted to hear all about outfielder Al Gionfriddo’s spectacular one-handed catch of Joe’s towering drive in game six of the 1947 World Series between the Yanks and the Brooklyn Dodgers, a catch that resulted in an uncharacteristic reaction on DiMaggio’s part. Rounding first and heading for second, the ever stoic Yankee Clipper had kicked the base path in a rare public display of anger and frustration. But that particular play was only the beginning. Undaunted by DiMaggio’s seeming reluctance to engage in conversation, Rooney chattered on for nearly an hour, recalling sundry highlights of the former center fielder’s illustrious career.
“Rooney wouldn’t go away,” said March. “I tried signaling him, but he didn’t take the hint. He just kept hanging around, talking baseball.”
Unable to disengage Rooney from the table, March began sharing his own recollections of the “good old days” at Toots Shor’s, when the great DiMaggio would show up after a game and practically be carried into the establishment on the shoulders of his many admirers. “He was a god!” exclaimed March. “A fucking god!”
March’s discourse on the ballplayer caught the attention of two other baseball enthusiasts at a nearby table, and they too came over to partake of the merriment. One of them knew exactly how many hits, homers, and runs batted in Joe had produced during each of his years with the Yankees. A walking, talking baseball encyclopedia, he reeled off a litany of statistics, none of which meant a thing to Monroe.
DiMaggio remained silent. His restraint was not lost on Marilyn. “Mr. DiMaggio,” she commented in her memoir, “didn’t try to impress me or anybody else. The other men talked and threw their personalities around. Mr. DiMaggio just sat there. Yet somehow he was the most exciting man at the table. The excitement was in his eyes. They were sharp and alert . . . I thought, ‘You learn to be silent . . . like that from having millions of people look at you with love and excitement while you stand alone getting ready to do something.’ ”
In Hollywood, Marilyn would assert, “the more important a man
is, the more he talks. The better he is at his job, the more he brags. By these Hollywood standards of male greatness my dinner companion was Mr. Nobody. Yet I had never met any man in Hollywood who got so much respect and attention at a dinner table. Sitting next to Mr. DiMaggio was like sitting next to a peacock with its tail spread.”
Although Marilyn considered DiMaggio an intriguing figure, his aloof and standoffish manner confused her. Since her comment to him about his tie, they had said practically nothing to each other. She felt neglected and rebuffed. She wondered why he had wanted to meet her in the first place. Did he even know that she was an actress? And if he did know, did he care? As respectable and celebrated as he appeared to be, he had nevertheless made no effort to get to know her. Rationalizing the situation, she conjectured that DiMaggio was “the kind of egomaniac who would rather cut off an arm than express some curiosity about somebody else.”