Marilyn Monroe's Love Life: Divorces And Dates With Joe Dimaggio, Arthur Miller, Kennedys, And More

By | February 5, 2021

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1954: A wistful Marilyn Monroe (Norma Jean Mortenson or Norma Jean Baker, 1926–1962). (Baron/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Norma Jeane Mortenson's life was fraught with instability that she often sought to correct through her relationships with men, especially after she became Marilyn Monroe. She had a rough go of it from the start: Her biological father's identity is unknown, and her mother was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and institutionalized at a California mental health facility when Norma was only eight years old. The little girl spent the next several years bouncing between various foster homes and residences of family friends, where she tragically suffered more than one instance of sexual abuse.

James Dougherty

In her teens, she finally found some semblance of security with a long-term foster family, but when the family was forced to move from California and couldn't legally take Norma with them, she decided to marry her 21-year-old neighbor, James Dougherty, rather than go back into the system. The 16-year-old dropped out of high school and devoted herself to being a wife, but after her Marine husband disembarked on a two-year overseas tour, Norma agreed to work as a model against his wishes.

It wasn’t long before Norma Jeane (then going by Jean Norman) caught the eyes of studio executives like 20th Century Fox's Darryl F. Zanuck, who signed her to a six-month contract in 1946. Within a month of her signing, she divorced her husband, with whom she had become estranged, and entered the wild world of Hollywood under her studio-chosen name, Marilyn Monroe.

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Monroe and DiMaggio when they were married in January 1954. (NOW Magazine/Wikimedia Commons)

Joe DiMaggio

By the early '50s, Monroe was a bona fide star and sex symbol, which naturally made her one of the most eligible bachelorettes in Tinsel Town, but no one quite caught her attention like New York Yankees center fielder Joe DiMaggio. Although she was hesitant to go out with him, they bonded over their mutually humble origins and developed a nearly instant connection. According to DiMaggio, their immense physical attraction was "like the gods were fighting; there were thunderclouds and lightning above us." After the two divorcees couldn't find a church to marry them, they had a courthouse wedding on January 4, 1954.

As a 40-year-old athlete, DiMaggio was looking forward to semi-retirement and starting a family, but while Monroe was eager to become a mother, she wasn’t willing to give up her career entirely. Her professional commitments became a source of tension in their marriage almost as soon as it began when she was called out during their honeymoon in Japan to perform for troops stationed in Korea. Although it was what had initially attracted him, DiMaggio began to resent Monroe's sex symbol status. He reportedly exploded with rage when he saw her pose for the now-iconic "subway grate scene" in The Seven Year Itch, allegedly to the point of physical violence, despite it being fairly tame compared to her nude photo shoots from years before.

It wasn't the only time DiMaggio had allegedly abused Monroe, and their marriage ended after only nine short months of not-so-blissful matrimony, but despite this terrible mistreatment, she forgave him to an extent some years later. They actually turned out to be better friends than spouses, and DiMaggio remained a close confidante until the bitter end. In fact, it was he who collected her body and arranged her funeral after her tragic overdose in 1962.  He even sent flowers to her grave three times a week for the next 20 years.