Joe DiMaggio, His Son (My Friend) and Marilyn Monroe

Graham Womack’s review of Jermone Charyn’s new book Joe DiMaggio:The Long Vigil reminded me of a friendship I had with DiMaggio’s only child, his son Joe, Jr.

During the 1960s, young Joe and I were classmates at a New Jersey all-boys preparatory school. Interestingly, DiMaggio never talked about his father. Not until long after we graduated did I learn that Joe and his father had a stained and often hostile relationship.

After DiMaggio divorced his first wife Dorothy Arnold, Joe  (called Joey D. by his family) was sent to several military academies, summer camps and the prep school where I met him. Joe, the mirror image physically of his father, neither spoke of DiMaggio nor touched a baseball bat. Instead, Joe played varsity football. An outstanding athlete, Joe made the All New Jersey team as a center and kicker. But even though Di Maggio lived in nearby Manhattan, he never came to his son’s games or to visit on Parent’s Day.

At the time, none of Joe’s friends fully realized the wisdom of his decision not to play baseball. What chance would he have had of even coming close to his father’s extraordinary success?

Joe entered Yale University but at that point his life, already troubled, unraveled. After a year at Yale, Joe dropped out, returned to his native California, worked menial jobs and then entered the United States Marines. After completing his Marines’ commitment, Joe married a 17-year-old San Diego girl. Their union lasted only a year.

More odd jobs followed before Joe moved to Boston to work for his Uncle Dom. Joe met and married Sue Adams, a divorcee with two daughters. This led to Joe’s happiest days with his father who doted on his stepdaughters.

But Joe felt that he could never totally please his father. Gradually, he fell into drug and alcohol abuse which caused vicious battles with Adams that left her battered and bloody. In 1974, they divorced.

Two years later, Joe was in a serious automobile accident that resulted in the removal of a portion of his brain. The surgery left Joe more emotionally unstable and drug dependent than ever. 

Knowing the short and long-term effects of substance abuse will help you understand better the trouble that a drug addicted friend or loved one is in for without addiction treatment.

Although Joe didn’t visit his father during DiMaggio’s final days battling cancer, he was a pall bearer at the funeral.

Five months after DiMaggio’s death, Joe entered the bleakest, final days of his life. His drug usage escalated, he had periods of homelessness, worked at a junkyard, and had minor scrapes with the police. At age 57, Joe was living in a trailer. On August 6, 1999, Antioch police found Joe’s nearly lifeless body on the street. Despite resuscitation efforts, Joe died shortly after arrival at the Sutter Delta Medical Center. His ashes were scattered at sea.

DiMaggio’s ex-wife Sue summed up Joe’s tortured life: “They threw the man away.”

Joe’s happiest days may have been those that he spent with Marilyn Monroe. One early fall day, just as we all had returned from our summer vacations, Joe told of his stepmother Marilyn making his breakfast and serving it to him.

Usually, when teenagers recount their vacation adventures, gross exaggeration is the rule. But we knew Joe’s story about Monroe was true. How envious we were!

By most accounts, Joe was among the last people to speak to Monroe before she died.

Joe’s few brief and carefree days with Monroe hardly compensate for the decades that DiMaggio ignored him. Even in death, DiMaggio dismissed Joe by leaving him a token sum in his will, the smallest amount of any of his heirs.

Opinions differ about DiMaggio’s character. But what’s clear is that DiMaggio was, at best, an indifferent parent. In the early 1980s, when I lived in Seattle, I got into an elevator at the Washington Athletic Club. DiMaggio was the only other passenger. I extended my hand, introduced myself and told him that I was Joe’s classmate. DiMaggio didn’t utter a word.

DiMaggio was so cold and insensitive to Joe’s filial needs that he denied his son what could have been a productive life and instead helped put him in his early grave.

14 Replies to “Joe DiMaggio, His Son (My Friend) and Marilyn Monroe”

  1. Sometimes the most guarded of our heroes turn out to be the most flawed and imperfect of all. Another good reason to enjoy what athletes do on the field and not to expect or try to turn them into what they aren’t and can’t be. My impression is that Joe wasn’t the brightest guy in the world, but learned how to fool everyone by saying little and keeping detached from all but a small circle of trusted family and friends.
    For all his success, his failure as a father can never overcome his success on the field, or his ongoing celebrity. In the end, he must have known that his life was a tragedy.

  2. Well done, Giuseppe!
    In his epic bio of “the Yankee Clipper,” Richard B. Cramer does touch on the “strained” relationship between father and son; in fact, there really wasn’t any. As a father, he was an abject failure, but Cramer maintains that whatever possibility of displaying affection DiMaggio had, he directed it toward Marilyn Monroe, a very unwise choice. That love consumed DiMaggio; so much so that he never forgave Sinatra for introducing Monroe to the Kennedys. As others have – and will – indicate, Joe was a total loser in dealing with his son.
    I was lucky to have seen DiMaggio play several times, and truly he was something to watch – something a died-in-the-wool Dodger fan did not find easy to admit.
    With age, the tactiturn DiMaggio, who later endorsed products (Mr. Coffee) on tv, but would never sign autographs, and, while playing, had a phalax of security people run the gauntlet after a game to get him into his waiting car, never changed much. When invited to Time Magazine’s Man of the Year Dinner, having appeared two or three times on the front page, DiMaggio was to be seated at the same table with the then President Clinton. #5 told the organizers that he would not come under those arrangements, for DiMaggio was convinced that the President of the United States was an immoral man. It was tragic that he didn’t apply that principle to raising his one child.

  3. Having just read the new book, “56”, this post is of special ineterest. Dorothy was pregnant during the Streak, and she hoped that the arrival of the baby would help things out in the marriage that was already beginning to unravel. Obvioulsy, that didn’t happen. Joe DiMaggio – great ballplayer; not so great human being.

  4. The new book, Joe DiMaggio: The Long Vigil, puts Joe DiMaggio actions and behavior in context, good and bad. He wasn’t perfect, but he was a hero, however flawed. Read it to understand the burden fame placed on him and on his relationship with his family and his romance with the love of his life, Marilyn Monroe. I promise you’ll feel differently.

  5. Great article, Joe.
    A hero’s burden is still first and foremost to his family. If he doesn’t understand that, then he is not just a flawed hero, he is a failure at being a human being, and, more to the point, at being a man.
    Regards, Bill

  6. @Lenore– I read the book and believe Joe is entitled to his opinion, particularly since it draws from his personal experience with both DiMaggios. I’m glad he spoke up here.

  7. I had heard of Joe D’s Sr. alooftness but never knew he had been a tyrant . After reading Yogi’s life, Joe D. can’t compare to a real family man & HOF Person, Yogi.

  8. Hard to draw the line between ball player and human being with a personnal life. Ty Cobb was a racist by most accounts. Babe Ruth and Mantle were drunks. I try not to read many accounts of players lives outside of the game. Remembering the good times keep the mystic of the game alive. Unless the player was O.J. Simpson, that’s a different case entirely.

  9. “After completing his Marines’ commitment, Joe married a 17-year-old San Diego girl. Their union lasted only a year.”

    Dear Joe,

    I am the San Diego girl to which you refer. I am writing a memoir and ran across your article while seeking an accurate reference to the Larry King/Joe DiMaggio Jr. Miami, houseboat interview. That was our last evening together and Joey was quite distraught. Perhaps that is the reason that he spoke so candidly to Mr. King. A rare interview indeed!

    Dawn (aka Ronnie Kelley)

    1. It seems as if Joe DiMaggio could only relate or express any emotions to females, ie. wife MM, stepdaugters, etc. Some men are incapable of any emotional connection when they have a son or sons. My own father was very different to his sons versus his daughter. Clearly he wanted only daughters, not any sons…How sad.

  10. Joe DiMaggio is an American hero. When Marilyn died he realised the great mistake that he had made by not understanding Marilyn and treating her lovingly. After Marilyn’s death Joe retreated into absolute remorse and never recovered from this deep and total depression. Nothing mattered to Joe except the fact that he had lost Marilyn. On his death bed the Yankee Clipper’s final words were “I will be with Marilyn soon”.

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