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

By Grace Taylor

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.

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.

Miller and Marilyn Monroe tie the knot in Westchester County, New York, 1956. (Macfadden Publications/Wikimedia Commons)

Arthur Miller

After her divorce from Joe DiMaggio, Monroe dated several men, including Marlon Brando, before falling head over heels again for genius playwright Arthur Miller, known best for All My Sons and Death Of A Salesman. Miller was a controversial figure in the mid '50s: His Tony Award–winning play The Crucible, on its surface about the Salem witch trials, was a not-so-subtle critique of anti-Communist McCarthyism. Simply for dating him, the F.B.I. opened a file on Monroe and monitored her actions.

But it wasn't all heavy with Miller and Monroe. According to one story, when Miller decided it was time for Monroe to meet his parents, he took her to his mother's small apartment in Brooklyn. When Monroe excused herself to the restroom, however, she realized the tiny apartment had paper-thin walls, so—not wanting a woman she'd just met and hoped to impress to audibly witness her most private bodily functions—she turned on the sink faucet to mask the sound of her activities. The next day, when Miller called up his mother to ask her what she thought of his girlfriend, she responded, "She's a sweet, wonderful girl, but she pisses like a racehorse."

Since the Jewish faith was more welcoming to Monroe's status as a two-time divorcee, she and Miller were married in a religious ceremony on July 1, 1956, two days after their official wedding at a courthouse. They immediately began planning to start a family, but while her career went on to flourish with films like Some Like It Hot, Monroe struggled to get and stay pregnant, suffering from numerous miscarriages and other complications due to endometriosis and her generally declining health. Miller wrote her a role in his film The Misfits, but her increasing dependence on barbiturates began to strain their marriage, and they divorced not long after filming wrapped in 1961.

Monroe with U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and President John F. Kennedy at the birthday celebration. (Cecil W. Stoughton/Wikimedia Commons)

The Kennedys

Rumor has it that between her divorce from Miller and 1962 death, Monroe somehow found the time to have affairs with both President John F. Kennedy and his brother, Robert, after singing "Happy Birthday" to the president at a celebration on May 19, 1962. There's little evidence of the allegations, but some fans even believe the Kennedy administration staged Monroe's overdose to prevent her from disclosing the affair(s). The main perpetrators of this conspiracy theory, Frank Capell and Jack Clemmons, were charged with conspiracy for libel, and Capell pleaded guilty in 1965.

In the end, Monroe died alone on August 4, 1962 in her bed after an overdose of barbiturates. Due to her ongoing struggles with depression and painful surgeries to treat her endometriosis, among other health problems, it was believed by the Los Angeles Country Coroner that it was an intentional suicide rather than an accidental overdose, especially given the unmistakably large volume of medication she swallowed. After various conspiracy theories came to light in the ensuing decades, the police reinvestigated Monroe's death but concluded in 1982 that it was indeed a suicide. She was 36 years old.

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Grace Taylor