Rumours of tension within the marriage had been rife for several weeks but the divorce announcement took the press by surprise. It seemed even Joe was somewhat stunned.
After retreating to San Francisco, Joe sent a three page letter on October 9th hoping to save the relationship. The full content has never been made public but after collating several angles of the pictures taken of the letter, the almost entire content can be read here(*):
As you might have noticed this letter is postmarked from San Francisco. The reason being my friend was called away on business, that’s why I’m here.
Marilyn, I keep reading reports about you being sick and naturally I am concerned.
I can only imagine the recent action probably being the big reason – with newspapers people putting pressure on you all the time – not to mention the studio which is only interested in getting their picture done.
Honey, I know this combination of things is rough on you and I feel sad about it all. I wish I knew the answers to all of the problems.
I can only repeat what I said to you before leaving, “I love you and want to be with you”. There is nothing I would like better than to restore your confidence in me so I can help you regain you’re (sic) once healthy self.
Marilyn, when we arrived from down south, I stopped and had dinner with Ben and his family, the television was on and we were in time to see newsreels and you meeting with the press in front of the house. My heart spilt even wider seeing you cry in front of all these people, and as though you are ready to collapse amongst them.
2150 Beach Street [Joe and Marilyn’s San Francisco home] is open to you as always – the paint job [awaits to?] be selected by you and there will be no remodelling done unless you supervise it to your taste.
Don’t know what you’re (sic) thoughts are about me, – but I can tell you I love you sincerely, – way deep in my heart, irregardless of anything.
Will you call me tonight if you should receive this letter by then? It will be happily received.
Joe(*) This took time to research, collate and decipher so credit is always appreciated if reposted elsewhere.
Whether Marilyn spoke to Joe or not is unknown but the divorce hearing went ahead on October 27th, with business manager Inez Melson as Marilyn’s witness. Marilyn used mental cruelty to trigger the divorce, with a supporting incident involving Joe refusing to take her to the races to avoid her crowds of fans. When Inez asked Joe about it, he had forgotten about such an event or the upset it had caused. Marilyn’s tendency to cling on to somewhat trivial matters that hurt her deeply would be a trend in her next relationships and throughout her life. Perhaps realising this, Marilyn would end up using Joe’s coldness and silence lasting up to ten days as her main argument to convince the judge. The divorce was easily granted.
Several months later biographer Maurice Zolotow asked about the real cause behind the divorce. Marilyn replied:
“For the reasons I gave in court. I know a lot of women, when they’re getting a divorce they put out reasons which are not the true reasons. But I said the truth. He didn’t talk to me. He was cold. He was indifferent to me as a human being and an artist. He didn’t want me to have friends of my own. He didn’t want me to do my work. He really watched television instead of talking to me. So what I said in my testimony was really so”.
Joe did not ask for legal representation or show up to fight the suit. A few weeks earlier he had declared: “I want to be a good friend to Marilyn. I have nothing else to say except ‘no comment’. If she wants a divorce, she will get it.” No financial settlements were requested by either side.
Only two days after the divorce was granted, they celebrated Joe Jr’s birthday together :
Joe couldn’t let go so easily however. His gnawing suspicious nature led him to the bizarre event of the Wrong Door Raid (for a detailed account, listen here). On November 5th, a private detective recommended by friend Frank Sinatra alerted Joe of Marilyn seeing vocal coach Hal Schafer at a friend’s apartment. The group including Joe and Frank soon arrived and broke into the wrong apartment. The reasons behind Joe heading there himself are still debated: the divorce proceedings were completed and the divorce granted, making any evidence of adultery almost irrelevant or at least very delayed. Then why?
Sinatra and DiMaggio had been friends for several years; a couple of months earlier Frank had himself gone through a similar public divorce announcement with Ava Gardner. Admittedly still carrying the torch for his ex-wife, it’s not improbable that the motive for this rash enterprise could simply be a case of ditched husbands egging each other on into bad decision making – not without a generous amount of alcohol.
On this topic, there have been claims by old baseball teammates of Joe drinking everyone under the table on nights out in the town. But his drinking was never mentioned by anyone in Marilyn’s entourage as a problem nor did it seem to have been an addiction. After his first divorce, Joe had housed a Yankee player who was spiralling into alcoholism to keep an eye on him. Moreover, his chronic ulcers would have made it unlikely for him to be a regular heavy drinker without excruciating pain. But it is fair to assume alcohol may have been a contributing factor to his mood swings ; in Marilyn’s 1961 letter addressed to Dr Greenson, she speaks of Joe saying he still has a drink once in a while, inferring he had quit or at least slowed down dramatically.
Only a few days after the Wrong Door Raid, Joe visited Marilyn following her surgery to ease her endometriosis symptoms, while he was admitted to hospital himself a few days later with ulcers. This rapprochement so soon after what appeared to be a painful divorce intrigued the press. They would be spotted dating several times thereafter and dining in Malibu that December:
“Joe DiMaggio may not have made a good husband for Marilyn, but no one cared more for her. He was always, before the divorce, and after the divorce, her best friend.”Allan Whitey Snyder
The end of 1954 seemed to have the ex-couple revert to a pattern of casual dates. The New Year saw Marilyn going cross country to New York – a city Joe knew inside out. As she got settled in, it soon became apparent she didn’t cut ties with Joe, if only as a close friend. By all accounts Marilyn appeared content with having kept a loyal friend out of her divorce, but Joe may have hoped for a reconciliation. In 1942 he had saved his first marriage in extremis when wife Dorothy Arnold had left for Reno. But Joe’s persistence then may have been motivated by his desire to please his devout catholic and ailing mother, who had a deep affection for Dorothy. The divorce papers eventually found Joe during his WWII posting.
His tenacity to earn his place back at Marilyn’s side can be speculated thanks to the notes he gave himself in April 1955. These rules may have preceded the therapy that “saved his life” – which he credited Marilyn for as per her 1961 letter – but they nevertheless indicate a willingness to acknowledge and alter past behaviour.
“I’ve always been able to count on Joe as a friend after the first bitterness of our parting faded”Marilyn Monroe to Alan Levy (1962)
By early 1955 they would still be spotted on dates with friends such as Sam Shaw and his wife, and at Jackie Gleeson’s birthday party at Toots Shor. Joe would also often be sighted by journalists at Marilyn’s hotel. As he had previously been helping her push for a better contract, she would keep consulting him on her plans to set up her own production company.
On a business trip to meet dress manufacturer Henry Rosenfeld about investing in Marilyn Monroe Productions, Marilyn would have a detour in Boston to spend time with Joe as he was awaiting the vote results of the induction to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Joe had narrowly missed for the last few years, which would have no doubt been a topic of discussion during their courtship and marriage. Reconciliation was still out of the question however as Marilyn coyly declared, “No, just call it a visit.”
In March, Joe was fairly incognito in the audience during Marilyn’s elephant stunt at her Madison Square appearance, or at least the press did not take much note.
In spite of their divorce and comfortable friendship, this love note left by Joe addressed to Marilyn in ‘Room 2728’ is unequivocal about his lingering feelings. It can be dated fairly accurately as Marilyn only took possession of suite 2728 at the Waldorf Astoria in New York from April 1955 onwards. For Joe at least, their romantic relationship clearly was unfinished business.
For Marilyn’s 29th birthday on June 1st, Joe accompanied her to The Seven Year Itch premiere – this was the first movie event he had ever attended with Marilyn. One can’t help but wonder what their thoughts were watching the movie that was widely reported as the end of their marriage. A birthday party organised by Joe at Toots Shor followed the screening. Marilyn’s nervousness over the reception of the film and her desire to impress Lee Strasberg made it difficult for her to enjoy the evening – she would leave the party early with friend Sam Shaw.
This would be the last public appearance Joe and Marilyn made together for the next five years.
As Marilyn’s relationship with Arthur Miller turned romantic, Joe faded out of the picture. By the end of summer 1955 he travelled to Paris, Rome and his Sicilian hometown, alone. By February 1956, Marilyn would refuse to discuss how close their relationship was or if they still kept in touch.
A hiatus of five years followed. To the best of our knowledge, no contact on either side was established between Joe and Marilyn during her marriage with Arthur Miller – the only potential link being Joe DiMaggio Jr, who may have still seen Marilyn occasionally but no record of this exists.
“It was almost as if Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio met at the wrong time in their lives.”
Lois Weber Smith
During the filming of the Misfits in the summer of 1960, an exhausted Marilyn flew back to Los Angeles and spent several days in hospital to recover. Several books have maintained that Joe called or even visited her during her stay. I have personally never found factual proof of these claims. From news reports, Joe appears to have been in Lake Tahoe with friend George Solotaire who was grieving the death of his wife.
Marilyn’s first reconnection with Joe did not involve him but his family. In October 1960, Marilyn visited San Francisco with Misfit co-star Montgomery Clift to watch Ella Fitzgerald perform at the Fairmont Hotel. According to Ralph Roberts who was also on the trip, Marilyn was feeling nostalgic about her time in San Francisco, her favourite sound being the fog horns of the bay at night. Situated in North Beach, Marilyn stopped at the DiMaggio restaurant to see Joe’s brother and his wife (presumably Dom or Tom DiMaggio), as well as Lefty O’Doul, who was on Marilyn and Joe’s 1954 Japanese honeymoon. Joe was not in town however but undoubtedly would have been told of her visit later on.
Marilyn’s four year marriage to Arthur had experienced many highs and lows but on November 11th 1960, she officially announced her decision to divorce.
The first known meeting between Marilyn and Joe happened during Christmas 1960. She detailed the event to Dr Greenson later on:
By the way, I have some good news, sort of, since I guess I helped, he claims I did. Joe said I saved his life by sending him to a psycho-therapist; Dr. Kris says he is a very brilliant man, the doctor. Joe said he pulled himself up by his own bootstraps after the divorce but he told me also that if he had been me he would have divorced him too. Christmas night he sent a forest-full of poinsettias. I asked who they were from since it was such a surprise, (my friend Pat Newcomb was there)– they had just arrived then. She said: “I don’t know the card just says “best, Joe”. Then I replied: “Well, there’s just one Joe”. Because it was Christmas night I called him up and asked him why he had sent me the flowers. He said first of all because I thought you would call me to thank me and then he said, besides who in the hell else do you have in the world. He said I know I was married to you and was never bothered or saw any in-law. Anyway, he asked me to have a drink some time with him. I said I knew he didn’t drink — he said he now occasionally takes a drink — to which I replied then it would have to be a very, very dark place. He asked me what I was doing Christmas night. I said nothing, I’m here with a friend. Then he asked me to come over and I was glad he was coming though I must say I was bleary and depressed but somehow still glad he was coming over.
Inevitably, the first week of 1961 started with news columns filled with rumours of Joe and Marilyn seeing each other, which Marilyn’s agent John Springer ended up confirming.
The press return interest was not unfounded. Beginning from December 27th 1960, telephone notes left for Joe at his New York hotel suite highlight very regular calls between the two, sometimes several times a day and very late at night, attesting to Marilyn’s lifelong struggle with sleep. Frustratingly, not all of the notes kept by Joe were made available to read (only 4 out of 39) but they show Marilyn phoning on several important dates: twice the day before New Year’s Eve 1960, the day before entering Payne Whitney hospital (Feb 6th, 1961), on Valentine’s Day from Columbia Presbyterian hospital, and when she met Robert Kennedy (Feb 26th, 1962).
Her four-day stay at Payne Whitney was to be a dramatic experience that would bring this revived friendship to a newer level of trust. Faced with confinement n a ward for deeply disturbed patients, Marilyn soon panicked and desperately tried to get herself released. Her ordeal can be read in her own words here. It has been argued in the past that the Strasbergs had been the first people Marilyn had tried to reach for help. However, her letter addressed to them shows she had already been trying to get the hospital call Dr Kris and Joe, without success.
After gaining the trust of a nurse, Marilyn finally made a phone call to Joe. Presumably he had been aware of her voluntarily checking into Payne Whitney as per the telephone note the night before she admitted herself.
It has been previously maintained that Joe was in Florida coaching the Yankees when he received the call. However, this does not match news clippings or timeline of events. On February 9th, while Marilyn was on her third day at Payne Whitney, Joe was officially asked to come to Florida to coach for two weeks, starting on March 9th. He declared “This is the first time I’ve been asked back. I’m looking forward to the two weeks of spring training like a rookie about to go to his first camp”. This statement was gathered as he was leaving New York on a business trip. Therefore Marilyn most likely managed to reach him during that trip but his location is unknown. It is a misconception to assume Joe was already coaching in Florida, as the training would only be starting a whole month later.
How Joe pressured Dr Marianne Kris and/or the hospital staff to get Marilyn released varies. But both Susan Strasberg and Ralph Roberts share the same memory of Marilyn bragging about him having threatened to take the place apart “brick by brick”. Whether the latter interaction happened on the phone or in person is unknown.
Marilyn would agree to go rest at Columbia Presbyterian the next day instead, with a signed document guaranteeing Joe, Lee Strasberg and lawyer Aaron Frosche would be expressly informed of any measures taken to stop Marilyn from leaving. Her three-week stay appeared to have been beneficial, with Joe as a regular visitor.
Joe’s loyalty towards Marilyn was a quality she reciprocated. She told journalist W.J. Weatherby in 1960, “I’ve never given up on anyone who I thought respected me”. For the flaws that ended their marriage, it seems both Joe and Marilyn had always believed they could put those aside and maintain a strong friendship regardless. Perhaps it is their respective self consciousness and striving for personal improvement that allowed this relationship to withstand the fallouts, the moods, or just the passage of time. The demands they both put on themselves were indeed eerily similar in tone:
JOE – “I was out there to play and give it all I had. I looked at it like ‘I’m doing my best’… I always felt good that I had given my best. There may have been a fan there who never saw me play before. He deserved to see me at my best.”
MARILYN – “I’ve always felt toward the slightest scene, even if all I had to do in a scene was just to come in and say, “Hi,” that the people ought to get their money’s worth and that this is an obligation of mine, to give them the best you can get from me.”
Late March would offer some further recuperation time for Marilyn, but no respite from the press. Marilyn’s arrival at the Yankee training camp in Florida created a buzz in the region.
Renting separate rooms opposite each other at the Tides, their privacy was – as always – a challenge. Multiple pictures of them were taken on the beach and around the hotel, sometimes to their irritation. A couple of organised photo-ops would appease the press somewhat, but soon Joe and Marilyn had to play hide-and-seek. It must have felt like 1952 all over again.
Delaying a business trip to Cuba to travel back with Marilyn to New York, Joe would be spotted again with her at a Yankee baseball game in April. According to Ralph Roberts, Marilyn spent at least one weekend with Joe at his New York Lexington suite, as he was sent to gather a care package for her which he delivered at Joe’s apartment.
It seemed this rekindled relationship showed no signs of waning as 1961 progressed. Several receipts for red roses ordered by Joe for Marilyn were recovered from his estate, Amongst them, some were sent during her hospital stay for gallbladder surgery and for her 35th birthday:
In August 1961, actress Cyd Charisse would tell Louella Parsons of having spoken to a “relaxed Marilyn” and a Joe “with the same protective attitude but less defensive” at a dinner party at Chasen’s. Interestingly, she would also recount Marilyn confirming she was taking time off work to buy a house in Los Angeles.
As per Marilyn’s half-sister’s account, this is an endeavour Joe appears to have supported, agreeing that buying in California would make the most sense if she wanted to keep filming. Joe would also be seen house hunting for Marilyn in November 1961:
“My friends have told me that my ex, Joe, is still in love with me. Well, I still love him, too, but he does have a tendency to be a little hotheaded.” – Marilyn to George Barris in 1962
On meeting Joe briefly in 1961 while dining out with Marilyn, Norman Rosten would observe: “One could sense a warm feeling between these two star crossed lovers […] It seemed to me, observing them now, that they should have been the happily-ever-after couple among her three marriages […] He was a tough cookie and she could depend on him.”
The fact that Marilyn’s public and short-lived flirt with Sinatra didn’t seem to end their rekindlement was perhaps an indication that Joe could have changed for the better. His concern for Marilyn’s “blind” trust in people could still veer into overbearingness and old habits could die hard, as Berniece’s noted in her book:
“Joe is unpretentious and easy to talk to, full of common sense and concern for Marilyn. […] Marilyn’s desire to avoid Joe’s jealousy and her desire to hold his precious friendship place her on a tightrope of her own devising. Her feelings towards Joe are ambivalent. ‘I feel I have to avoid the psychological confinement that marred our relationship when we were married’, she states, in a clinical fashion learned from therapy.”
A telegram found in Joe’s property leaves few doubts regarding Marilyn’s feelings towards him, which gives a hint to the blurry boundaries of their relationship:
“A beautiful Saturday morning for New York, and no place to go, but to sit back on my desk and scribble you a note. Shouldn’t that be proof enough where my thoughts are?”
As Marilyn settled at her new home at Fifth Helena Drive – for which Joe advanced a large portion of the deposit – Joe was gearing up to coach the Yankees back in Florida, starting in February. Marilyn would take a trip to Florida at the same time to visit her ex father-in-law, Isidore Miller.
The press was hoping for a repeat of Marilyn’s last year’s visit to the Yankee training camp. They were almost disappointed. But on February 19th, Marilyn was seen walking into the Yankee Clipper hotel where Joe was staying:
The below pictures of Joe and Marilyn parting at Miami airport are the last known pictures of them together:
As Marilyn flew to Mexico, Joe would himself go on a long business trip to Europe. According to Joe’s employer Val Monette, he took pleasure in sending letters to Marilyn during his many work trips: “He was never a man to write letters to anyone, not even to his family. But wherever we went, he would always find time to drop her a note, or a card, or send her flowers.”
A collection of the known letters Joe sent to Marilyn during 1962:
Marilyn and Joe’s relationship through 1962 was punctuated by the usual denials of “reconciliation” or “remarriage”. Marilyn’s housekeeper Eunice Murray would attest to Joe’s regular presence at Marilyn’s house during this period. This peculiar arrangement may have raised some eyebrows but it seemed both Joe and Marilyn were finally free of the constraints of marriage and societal expectations which had caused them much sorrow in the past.
In 1962, Marilyn would tell journalist Donald Zec: “To know that Joe is there is like having a lifeguard.”
Unfortunately, on August 4th, her life would end without any chance to save it.