How Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio’s Tumultuous Marriage Began in San Francisco

Save ArticleSave Article

Failed to save article

Please try again

A beautiful blond woman in a high necked suit with soft white collar kisses a man in a formal dark suit with white shirt and dotted tie. Behind them are book shelves holding heavy, formal looking books.
Marilyn Monroe kissing Joe DiMaggio inside the chambers of Judge Charles S. Peery, San Francisco City Hall, Jan. 14, 1954. (Getty Images/ Bettmann)

As 1954 dawned, America knew Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio were on the verge of marriage. The imminent nuptials were the subject of gossip everywhere, but no one had any idea where or when it would happen. When Monroe and her beau of two years showed up at San Francisco City Hall on Jan. 14, 1954, chaos ensued.

The trail of Monroe and DiMaggio’s possible wedding locations had been subject to rumors in the press for weeks. After a Las Vegas wedding ceremony was canceled by the pair — they were originally scheduled to marry at the Hotel El Rancho on Jan. 4 — something of a wild goose chase commenced for journalists and fans alike.

When one reporter reached out to one of DiMaggio’s four sisters for information, she said the couple were “on a motor trip.” Some of the baseball legend’s friends told reporters that DiMaggio and Monroe were going back to Vegas in a few days to wed at a new location. When the papers couldn’t keep track of what was actually happening, they dramatically declared Monroe and DiMaggio “missing.”

Before they’d even arrived at City Hall with six friends in tow, news had leaked about Monroe and DiMaggio’s wedding plans. Monroe was happy to talk to the waiting reporters on the way into the building. “I met him two years ago on a blind date in Los Angeles,” she said, “and a couple of days ago we started talking about this.”

DiMaggio was less keen to deal with the assembled press. “All right fellas, I don’t want to rush you,” he said, “but we’ve got to get on with the ceremony.”

Sponsored

The couple were married inside Judge Charles S. Peery’s City Hall chambers at 1:45 p.m. David Dunn, the deputy county clerk, struggled to get through the throngs of people to even hand over the marriage license to the judge. Watching on inside the chambers were friends from DiMaggio’s circle — his brother Tom, his first baseball manager Frank “Lefty” O’Doul and his business partner Reno Barsocchini. Each of the men brought their wives. After the ceremony, photos were briefly taken of DiMaggio and Monroe locked in a kiss in front of a shelf full of law books.

According to a report in the San Francisco Examiner the following day, getting the couple out of the building was no easy feat.

They raced down the City Hall corridors pursued by press and public and made the mistake of heading for the Real Estate Department, which leads to exactly nowhere. Then they were forced to double back, dash through the pursuing crowds and run for the elevators. Scores of persons tried to beat them downstairs by running at breakneck speeds down the stairs.

By the time the small party exited the building, there was even more pandemonium waiting outside. Three hundred well-wishers, City Hall workers, autograph seekers and even more reporters had gathered to catch a glimpse of the couple.

A couple dressed in smart 1950s clothing squeeze through a large door, surrounded by photographers and press.
Just married! Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio exit City Hall after a brief wedding ceremony, surrounded by press. (Getty Images/ Bettmann)

On the way out, DiMaggio was just as keen to get away from the throngs as he had been on the way in. “We’ve got to get going,” he said. “We’ve got to put a lot of miles behind us.” When asked by reporters where he and Monroe would honeymoon, DiMaggio replied, “North, south, west and east.” (In truth, they were heading to Japan.)

DiMaggio was more forthcoming about where the newlyweds planned to live, however. “We’ll probably be doing a lot of commuting, but San Francisco will be our headquarters,” he said. Despite his fame as a New York Yankee, DiMaggio was deeply attached to San Francisco; he was raised by his Sicilian parents in a ground-floor apartment at 2047 Taylor St., the eighth of nine children.

Before speeding off in a Cadillac, Monroe told the reporters she had no intention of leaving her career as an actress, but she was “looking forward to being a housewife too.”

Joe DiMaggio sits in the driver's seat of a Cadillac, Marilyn Monroe smiling by his side. They both look elated. Photographers are visible through the passenger window.
Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe leave City Hall in a Cadillac as newlyweds. (Getty Images/ Bettmann)

Monroe and DiMaggio might have had a more glamorous wedding ceremony if they weren’t both already divorced. In 1942, Monroe donned a white dress and veil for her marriage to 21-year-old Jimmy Dougherty. She was just 16 at the time and the marriage lasted four years. DiMaggio married his first wife Dorothy Arnold at North Beach’s gorgeous Saints Peter and Paul Church on Washington Square in 1939. Their union lasted five years, resulting in the birth of one son, Joe Jr.

As such, DiMaggio and Monroe’s wedding was cause for some scandal in 1954. A spokesman for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco publicly stated that DiMaggio was automatically excommunicated from the church when he remarried. (If DiMaggio was in the least bit phased by this piece of news, he never showed it.)

Despite DiMaggio’s assertion that the couple’s home base would be San Francisco, he and Monroe ended up spending most of their 10-month marriage in Los Angeles — something rumored to have strained the union. On his way out of both their Beverly Hills home and the marriage itself, a stone-faced DiMaggio is said to have told reporters, “I’ll never be coming back to this house.” He added, “San Francisco has always been my home.”

The press conference that followed DiMaggio’s exit saw a deeply vulnerable Monroe in floods of tears, though it was she that had filed for the divorce on the grounds of “mental cruelty.”

Marilyn Monroe gazes out of a car's passenger side door, white handkerchief held over her mouth, shellshocked expression on her face.
Marilyn Monroe, directly after announcing her separation from Joe DiMaggio. Much was made in the newspapers about how much she cried in her attorney's car as they left. (Getty Images/ Bettmann)

Despite the sad end to the much-hyped relationship, DiMaggio regretted the split almost immediately. In one letter written to Monroe after their separation, DiMaggio wrote: “I love you and want to be with you ... There is nothing I would like better than to restore your confidence in me ... My heart split even wider seeing you cry in front of all those people.”

DiMaggio also wrote to Monroe: “Don’t know what your thoughts are about me, but I can tell you I love you sincerely — way deep in my heart, irregardless of anything.”

DiMaggio would later claim that his partnership with Monroe was the best relationship he ever had. In John and Rock Positano’s 2017 book, Dinner With DiMaggio, the baseball legend is quoted saying: “We got along exceptionally well in every possible way. When we got together in the bedroom, it was like the gods were fighting; there were thunderclouds and lightning above us.” DiMaggio never remarried.

Eight years after the couple split, when Monroe died suddenly at her home on Aug. 4, 1962, DiMaggio was utterly devastated, unable to hold back tears even in front of reporters. Having reconnected with Monroe in 1961 after her split from Arthur Miller, it was DiMaggio who claimed Monroe’s body and arranged her funeral.

Sponsored

DiMaggio spent the rest of his life — another 37 years — sending roses to Monroe’s crypt at Pierce Brothers Memorial Park in Los Angeles three times a week. It was a reflection of the dedication he felt on that day in 1954 when the pair tied the knot. If only they’d had a happier ending.