Brian Viner: DiMaggio and Monroe remain ultimate love match in sport and showbiz league

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The Independent Online

Fifty years ago this week, in New York, the legendary former baseball player Joe DiMaggio escorted the actress Marilyn Monroe to the premiere of The Seven Year Itch. It was 1 June 1955, Monroe's 29th birthday. She and DiMaggio had been married on 14 January 1954, yet she had filed for divorce just nine months later. They were still waiting for the divorce to be finalised when they walked into Loew's State Theater together, stopping for the photographers so she could act out a reprise of the film's most famous scene, in which her dress billows over the subway grate.

Fifty years ago this week, in New York, the legendary former baseball player Joe DiMaggio escorted the actress Marilyn Monroe to the premiere of The Seven Year Itch. It was 1 June 1955, Monroe's 29th birthday. She and DiMaggio had been married on 14 January 1954, yet she had filed for divorce just nine months later. They were still waiting for the divorce to be finalised when they walked into Loew's State Theater together, stopping for the photographers so she could act out a reprise of the film's most famous scene, in which her dress billows over the subway grate.

It was nothing new for DiMaggio to attend to the needs of his soon-to-be ex-wife. Ten days after she had appeared in divorce court testifying to his "cruel indifference", he drove her to the Cedars of Lebanon Hospital for a gynaecological operation. There, he sat next to the bed and held her hand, having already paid for the room to be filled with roses.

A few months later, when she needed to get from New York to Boston, he drove her there and arranged for her to stay at his brother Dominic's house (which was not as big a thrill for Dominic DiMaggio's family as one might think; one of his sons reported to a playmate that things were "kinda tight around the house... Aunt Marilyn never comes out of the bathroom!")

Meanwhile, Joe DiMaggio could be just as needy and neurotic as Monroe. On DiMaggio's behalf, his friend Frank Sinatra hired a private detective, Barney Ruditsky, to report on her constant whereabouts. When Ruditsky reported that Monroe was holed up with a man in an LA apartment building, Sinatra and DiMaggio rushed round there, and at 11.15pm Sinatra's men broke down the front door of the apartment Ruditsky had identified, only to find a 50-year-old woman, Florence Kotz, alone in bed and very frightened indeed.

While all hell was breaking loose at Mrs Kotz's place, Monroe and her lover, Hal Schaefer, made a quiet getaway from the apartment next door.

Now, you might reasonably wonder why I am telling you all this. Apart from the opportunity it offers me to parade the knowledge I have gained from Richard Ben Cramer's superb biography of DiMaggio, it's because of a magazine article I read recently in which it was asserted that of all the many romances between sporting luminaries and showbiz stars, the numero uno, the most fascinating and alluring, is that between David Beckham and Posh Spice, with DiMaggio and Monroe at No 2.

This, of course, is absolute nonsense. And to prove it, consider whether there will be a fascination with Posh and Becks 50 years from now, as there still is in the story of Joe and Marilyn.

I doubt it. After all, the obsession with Monroe has a great deal to do with the fact that she died in mysterious circumstances, and never grew old. Obviously, I hope that such a fate befalls neither of the Beckhams, but at the same time it's clear that nothing keeps a star in the spotlight like prematurely snuffing it.

There are numerous other reasons why the Beckhams cannot hold a candle, in the wind or out of it, to Monroe and DiMaggio.

While David can perhaps be considered as talented in his field as Joe was in his, and each acquired fame as the most lustrous player for his country's most lustrous sporting team - the New York Yankees of the 1940s and the Manchester United of the 1990s - DiMaggio had the inestimable advantage of living in more glamorous times. And Posh was never even remotely a star of Monroe's magnitude, although she has had a starring role in a seven-year itch, if the tabloids are to be believed on the state of the Beckhams' marriage.

Why is it, incidentally, that sport and showbiz exert such a strong mutual attraction? I suppose because they occupy parallel universes, each provoking awe in the other. I have related before the story a friend of mine, a well-known musician, tells about being in a fashionable London restaurant one night with Elvis Costello and Sir Paul McCartney. He suddenly clocked Sir Alex Ferguson at another table, and, a devoted Manchester United fan, only had eyes for Fergie. Meanwhile, he could see precisely the same wonderment in the faces of Fergie and his companions as they clocked the people on his table.

This mutual attraction has spawned a remarkable number of high-profile romances, from Joe and Marilyn to David and Victoria, who weren't even the first England football captain and pop star to get hitched; Billy Wright and a Beverly sister got to the altar long before them.

And now there is Gavin Henson and Charlotte Church, too, whose union represents a true symbiosis of talent: Gavin sidesteps as exquisitely as Charlotte sings. One can only hope that if they go on to procreate, their offspring have his eye for a ball and her ear for a note, although it probably wouldn't be too disastrous the other way round.

b.viner@independent.co.uk

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