“I could never talk about her. Never”
Joe to Robert Stein in 1968
Written by Silver Technicolor
Marilyn’s last day alive has many versions and impossibilities, which you can read more about here. What Joe was doing on August 4th 1962 is surprisingly fairly documented. He was in San Francisco playing an exhibition game with both of his brothers, also retired major league players. Joe’s son would speak to Marilyn one last time that evening, without noticing anything different in her behaviour.
How Joe was told of Marilyn’s death is unknown, although most logically he would have been called early by Milton Rudin or someone in the entourage. Joe flew to Los Angeles the same morning. Marilyn’s half-sister – only informed late in the day and still in Florida would give Joe the power to claim Marilyn’s body. After the autopsy concluded, Joe was seen sitting for hours next to Marilyn. While there may have been an emotional reason, the disturbing account of the embalmer is an example of the behaviour Joe feared and very much hoped to prevent by keeping watch.
Marilyn’s funeral was restricted to a very short list of mostly family and close friends. Joe and Berniece were both targeted for keeping Marilyn’s showbusiness friends out of the ceremony. Answering the very public attacks of Peter Lawford during a police interview, Joe vehemently denied barring anyone:
Neither Peter Lawford nor any allegedly upset Hollywood committee of Marilyn’s friends organised a separate gathering following the funeral. Some friends grieved privately, visited the grave but no public ceremony was held. Another much talked about point is the long-lasting feud between the Rat Pack and DiMaggio created by this misunderstanding. A boxing fight program from November 1965 signed by Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and Joe on the same night puts this into perspective – while animosity may have existed, it certainly was not strong enough for either party to refuse to sign the program while seeing the other’s autograph.
Marilyn’s funeral took place on August 8th, 1962 during a private non-denominational service at Westwood Village Memorial Park. Joe broke down at the closing of the casket, kissing Marilyn and whispering “I love you”.
As the coffin was wheeled out of the chapel, he remained behind to compose himself but not entirely succeeding. His grief-stricken face was front page around the world, a shock for a public who had rarely seen this private man display any emotions.
Marilyn was interred as her entourage looked on. Joe shook hands, paced, and took a final look. Then Joe went away.
“He is a loner and about the only deep feeling he had for anybody in the world was for that girl” – Val Monette, 1962
Much ink has been spilt over the two handwritten notes found in Marilyn’s possessions after her death. Some authors assumed a possible remarriage. This debate will most likely never be settled.
5678When asked about her involvement with Joe, Marilyn maintained “there is no spark to kindle” and that both had a better understanding than they ever had. Marilyn’s masseur and friend Ralph Robert and his latest published account seem to shine a new light on this turn of phrase. It appears there was indeed a casual romantic relationship, as Marilyn told Ralph in March 1961 of their shared agreement on how to handle their renewed interest in each other:
“I think our relationship is even better now than it was when we were too much in love. We are discussing ways of keeping it that way. One answer is that we won’t, for some time, allow ourselves to get completely involved. Keep away from possessiveness and jealousies. Date someone else if either of us wants.”
The two notes being almost identical however indicate it was important enough for Marilyn to rewrite it as she corrected a typo and her ink ran out. Whether those notes found were Marilyn committing to Joe is yet another question never to be answered.
In 1975, Val Monette – Joe’s ex-employer – would confide to author Maury Allen that Joe had left his job four days before to move closer to Marilyn and remarry her. Perhaps this is a half-truth. He indeed had quit but his decision to be near her was most likely not motivated by a remarriage but by his concern for her, as Monette himself told the press in 1962:
“He was just tired of traveling around and he wanted to settle down. He was very much in love with her and I guess he still is […] When he came back from these latest trips to the West Coast to see her, he knew she was very depressed and it depressed him too. […] He is a loner and about the only deep feeling he had for anybody in the world was for that girl.” (from various clippings from August 14th, 1962)
After Marilyn’s death, Joe’s home address in San Francisco was flooded with condolences.
One of these thankyou letters found its way to a Catholic church in New York, where Joe simply wrote “Thank you for the mass”. He also attached Marilyn’s funeral remembrance card. Perhaps the church had mentioned Marilyn during a service… We may never know.
It would be feeding the tragedy to pretend Joe didn’t try to build a life after Marilyn’s untimely death.
Joe’s private life after Marilyn still eludes biographers. But the various tales of him romancing Marilyn impersonators have become part of the folklore surrounding Joe – in reality, all the women associated with him were rarely even blond. While his very discreet dates have always spoken fondly of him, they were all short-lived. However, a particularly upsetting story is of actress Myrna Fahey. This didn’t even need any romantic involvement.
In 1963, both Joe and Myrna received a series of anonymous death threats. Several messages threatened her with facial disfigurement with acid and Joe with the killing of his son, Joe Jr. As per the FBI interviews, the two only dined together once during a working visit to Rome in June 1962 – but columnists had recycled this alleged romance throughout the end of 1962 and 1963, to dramatic results. The FBI eventually traced those letters to an obsessive Marilyn fan and patient in a psychiatric institution. The irony was that the sender feared Joe would remarry when he made a point he had no intention to do so, as he told several close friends and the FBI.
The late 1960s saw Joe slowly emerging from obscurity. In 1968 Joe visited the troops in Vietnam for several weeks, of which a touching account can be read here. Already successful in business, Joe returned to the world of baseball briefly as a coach for the Oakland A’s and became the face of Mr Coffee and Bowery Bank commercials. His shyness seemed to have taken a back seat and he would be asking for retakes and direction tips during the shooting of the various commercials. One can’t help but wonder how amused Marilyn would have been over this turn of events.
The numerous publications that followed Marilyn’s death, booming in the 70s were all met by his silence in public but not indifference in private:
“When Norman Mailer’s book on Marilyn came out, he called me immediately. He was very hurt. What can we do about it? I told him, ‘Joe, just sit tight and don’t discuss it. There isn’t anything we can do. You’ll only help him more by making a fuss about it.’ He had gotten some obscene mail after the book came out. He was very hurt. He was hurt by a lot of things Mailer said in the book about Marilyn.”
Joe’s temperament may not have wavered much as his aloof character and habit to cut people out of his life remained. But it appears he embraced a much softer side, perhaps a change to be credited to Marilyn’s advice to get therapy. He became a doting grandfather to his two adopted granddaughters and fulfilled the role of father Joe Jr couldn’t as he spiralled into drug and alcohol abuse under the pressure of living up to a name.
“We probably got along better with our grandfather than with our dad. Joe Jr. didn’t have his act together. That’s the way it was. Joe Sr. had more hands-on with our schooling. He brought us something if we had good report cards and yelled at us when we didn’t have good manners […] I was a fan of my gramps. He was fantastic to our own kids.”
Both his granddaughters would inherit the bulk of his estate.
After a gruelling 99-day stay in intensive care following lung cancer surgery, Joe recovered enough to die at his Florida home on March 8, 1999 – 36 years after Marilyn, another life for her. The veracity of Joe’s final words (“I finally get to see Marilyn”) is still debated. Joe’s lawyer Morris Engelberg was the source of the claim but his brother Dominic, who was also present in the final moments, denied them.
Joe Jr had previously told Inside Edition during his father’s final hospital stay: “When he wants me there I’ll be there […] Whatever he’s given me has always been the best. Never, never second-rate. Always the best […] I love him and just all the things are felt between people but never said”. Joe Jr was not present when his father passed but he would still attend his funeral.
Like in many aspects of his life, Joe was more comfortable being judged by his actions than his words. Dominic DiMaggio’s eulogy of his brother highlighted the missing happiness in his life which he tried to compensate with his love and dedication to children. In 1992, Joe had given his name to the Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital – his proudest legacy according to his lawyer: “This is a fellow who said no to a street being named after him in New York. What does he care about some street? Now, children, that’s something he cares about.” The hospital still stands today and is now recognised as a leading facility in the country.
Joe would often make surprise visits to the wards. His name helped the hospital raise millions through charity events.
After Joe’s death, much controversy arose over the control his lawyer Engleberg had over him and his legacy. Just like Marilyn and the people she granted her trust to, Joe also had his share of squires and profiteers, often clashing with other members of the entourage. A few would shamelessly publish books claiming alleged confessions of Joe and his relationship with Marilyn. It seems even in death, people’s interest in owning a part of DiMaggio didn’t fade: Joe’s death bed received many offers but was fortunately donated to a hospital.
Later many pages of Joe’s handwritten diary surfaced. The excitement for them soon deflated. Only a single mention of Marilyn was ever made in the pages, refusing to talk about her:
April 28, 1989: “Up at 5 a.m. … Book people felt me out with questions pertaining to baseball. Some part of my private life but not too strong on that. Will not reveal anything in a negative way towards Marilyn — only books that have come out on her might have not been truthful.”
The diary entries are instead plain, detailing business expenses or very common daily activities: his travels, reassuring his sister Mary over surgery, attending dinner parties and taking his great-grandchildren for ice cream.
Man of few words, the many Marilyn items from his estate speak of his deep love for the woman he did not always understand but would always stand by. The beautiful painting that sat in Joe’s home and the framed pictures on his dresser spotted by journalist Gay Talese as early as 1966 could be the surroundings of a widower. And perhaps this is how Joe was portrayed. Yet he certainly endorsed that role.
Perhaps it is why few people Joe trusted have ever spoken about Marilyn. Some have only dared to hint at her. Many knew how Christmas was particularly difficult for him, which he would often spend alone on his boat. Christmas had been a special occasion for Joe and Marilyn during their dating years, and later on in the 60s.
Joe’s private thoughts about Marilyn will always remain just that – private. The use of “soulmate” to describe this relationship feels reductive, unfitting. It presupposes this was an easy relationship, erasing the many problems, tragedies and internal struggles both Joe and Marilyn faced and their efforts to protect this connection. A two-year relationship. A 9-month marriage. On paper, this relationship could almost be reduced as trivial, insignificant… But the lasting loyalty and affection are perhaps what made it so special to both.
Whenever asked to define their relationship at any point, both always agreed:
“‘We’re friends’, said Joe DiMaggio. ‘We’re friends’ echoed Marilyn Monroe with a soft sigh.”
Marilyn Monroe | June 1st, 1926 – August 4th, 1962
Joe DiMaggio | November 25th, 1914 – March 8th,1999
MARILYN MONROE & JOE DIMAGGIO : A RETROSPECTIVE