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Book Review: Dinner With DiMaggio

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Dr Rock Positano was thirty-two, with his own practice in Manhattan specialising in non-surgical treatments for foot and ankle problems, when he met Joe DiMaggio in 1990. At seventy-six, DiMaggio still suffered from the effects of a botched foot operation which had brought his baseball career to an abrupt end in 1951. Over the next decade, until Joe’s death in 1999, Positano became his New York  companion and confidant. A notoriously difficult man to know, DiMaggio was both deeply private and intensely concerned with his reputation. First announced back in 2015, Dinner With DiMaggio: Memories of an American Hero promises a rare glimpse into the private life of a frequently misunderstood man, and although occasionally prone to sensationalism, for the most part it delivers.

Joe was a fisherman’s son, and his father – a Sicilian immigrant to San Francisco – had wanted him to follow the family trade. Having disappointed him at an early age, Joe grew closer to his mother. Throughout his life, he strove to avoid any hint of scandal. This perfectionism made him fiercely self-critical, and equally intolerant of others who failed to meet his high standard. He came face to face with one of his own idols when President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who guided America through the Great Depression, saw him play in the 1936 World Series. After the game, the president got into a big limousine parked on the infield. “Joe, great catch!” he said, his hands cupped. “FDR was my hero,” Joe marvelled, “and he was admiring me!”

During World War II, his parents (like many other Italian Americans) were declared ‘enemy aliens’. It’s no surprise that Joe resented his military service. President Roosevelt barred him from overseas combat, and he was assigned to the USO entertainment division. But his patriotism was proved beyond doubt when he helped the FBI to track down a suspect in a 1959 narcotics case.

Joe met his first wife, showgirl Dorothy Arnold, on a film set. Their son, Joe DiMaggio Jr., was born in 1941, but the couple were soon embroiled in a bitter divorce. “Dorothy was always trying to get between my little guy and me,” Joe told Positano; nonetheless, even when she sued him for more money, Joe refused to disclose her infidelities (not to mention his own.)

Although he was a lifelong movie fan, Joe’s brushes with Hollywood left him unimpressed. In the late 1940s, he was dining at the Stork Club with some of the biggest names in the movie industry, including Marlene Dietrich and the Bogarts. “Those Hollywood big-shots were all baseball fans,” he recalled, “but they liked to talk about themselves more.” Charlie Chaplin came to the table and introduced himself to Joe, while pointedly ignoring the others. “I didn’t know that he was being blackballed by the entertainment industry and not welcome in Tinseltown,” Joe explained. “My companions and their huge egos were flabbergasted.”

From the New York Post to The Times, media coverage of Dinner With DiMaggio has mainly focused on his ill-fated second marriage to Marilyn Monroe, although it comprises only a small part of the book. “I knew better than to pry,” Positano says, claiming that Joe gradually opened up. “He also spoke with [lawyer] Morris Engelberg about Marilyn,” he adds, “but I never knew what he told each of us, and Morris and I never compared notes.”

Joe thought Marilyn was both beautiful and “highly intelligent,” as Positano revealed in a recent interview for People magazine. “He had a tremendous amount of respect for Marilyn because she was a really great actress.” Their marriage ended, Joe said, because “Marilyn was hurt by the woman thing – her inability to have children.” On their wedding day, Marilyn told reporters she hoped for six children; Joe wanted just one. She suffered from endometriosis, which made it extremely difficult for her to carry a pregnancy to term. Nonetheless, her star was rising when she married Joe, and babies seem not to have been an immediate priority. His jealousy, and her ambition, were more likely causes of the split. When crowds gathered to watch her standing over a subway grate during filming of The Seven Year Itch, columnist Walter Winchell dragged a reluctant Joe along. The couple separated shortly afterward. A few weeks later, Joe and Frank Sinatra tailed Marilyn as she drove to a dinner date, and broke into a neighbouring apartment. The resident sued, and the so-called ‘Wrong Door Raid’ was a rare public disgrace for Joe.

“Doc, Marilyn told me that no man ever satisfied her like I did,” Joe said. Although respectful in public, Joe apparently took a dim view of her third husband, Arthur Miller. Sinatra told Joe that Marilyn kept a photo of him hidden in a closet, which “drove Miller crazy and right to the divorce court.” This story was first published in Marilyn Monroe Confidential (1980), the ghost-written memoir of Lena Pepitone, her New York maid. Others, like Marilyn’s friend Amy Greene, have spoken of her sexual chemistry with Joe, although she would later write of being “attracted beyond my senses” to Arthur. Joe’s name was not cited in the Millers’ 1961 divorce, which was granted on grounds of mutual incompatibility.

In the final years of her life, Marilyn grew close to Joe again. Talk of reconciliation was rife, but she insisted they were just good friends. He allegedly blamed the Kennedys for her death. “They did in my poor Marilyn,” he lamented. “She didn’t know what hit her … my good friend, Frank Sinatra, was their pimp.” Joe had probably been hurt by Marilyn’s relationship with Frank, but by 1962, when her alleged involvement with John F. Kennedy occurred, the president had distanced himself from Sinatra. Positano repeats the tale of Joe snubbing Bobby Kennedy at Yankee Stadium in 1965.

But Marilyn had a long history of depression, and was addicted to sleeping pills. Joe told Positano that she would sometimes neglect her appearance. “Though Joe saw Marilyn’s behaviour become erratic, he was unsophisticated about mental illness,” Positano reflects. “I had the impression that Joe did not understand what happened. He was to regret it for the rest of his life.” He may have experienced a form of survivors’ guilt, which left him susceptible to the rampant gossip and conspiracy theories that have circulated ever since Marilyn’s death.

Marilyn was fond of Joe’s son, who was twenty-one when she died. Their frequent telephone conversations were apparently a cause of concern to Joe. It’s possible that the younger man could have developed a crush on Marilyn, but there is no indication that her own feelings were anything but maternal. These pitiful confessions expose Joe’s hidden insecurity, and at times feel uncomfortably intrusive. In later life Joe Jr battled alcoholism and died penniless, survivIng his father by only a few months. Although their relationship was further strained by “lies and exaggerations” in the press, Joe was devoted to his granddaughters and great-grandchildren. One of his proudest achievements was the opening of the Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Florida. “Joe’s fatherly skills must have skipped a generation,” Positano concludes.

With well-chosen investments, lucrative advertising endorsements and an active role in the growing trade for sports memorabilia, Joe was a wealthy man. “All of us ballplayers have Joe to thank for a life after baseball,” said fellow legend Sandy Koufax, while Positano admitted, “I was impressed by his business savvy … Not bad for a high school dropout.” But Joe refused to consort with anyone he didn’t respect, regardless of their credentials. At the 75th anniversary gala for Time magazine, he turned down an invitation to meet the Clintons. On the other hand, he was friendly with former US diplomat Henry Kissinger, and the unlikely pair attended the 1997 World Series.

Although he never remarried Joe was still attracted to women, nursing a secret crush on supermodel Elle McPherson. Pop star Madonna would mention both Joe and Marilyn in her hit song ‘Vogue’, appearing as a Monroe clone in the video. During his final trip to New York in 1999, a frail Joe was in a nostalgic mood. “I miss Marilyn more than ever,” he confided. “Marilyn, Frank and me were all working-class kids. No one taught us this fame-and-fortune racket. In our own way, it wounded us all. But I can say I regret nothing. Well, almost nothing … Doc, we should have reached out to help each other. Marilyn, Frank and I tried to stand on our own. We didn’t do too well …”

 

-Tara Hanks

Book Review: The Elvis & Marilyn Affair

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The Elvis and Marilyn Affair

By Robert S. Levinson

1999 A Forge Book, Tom Doherty Associates, LLC

ISBN 0312869681

We all know that Marilyn has played muse not only to biographers, poets, artists and filmmakers over the years but novelists as well. Sometimes the results are very good, sometimes pretty good, and sometimes not so good at all. But if you are overwhelmed with the idea of reading yet another biography, tired of thinking through yet another conspiracy theory, and have had it up to here with the names of Slatzer, Carmen, Jordan et al, maybe it’s time you switched to fiction clearly labeled as fiction.

 

As I say, there’s a lot to choose from, (try finding a copy of Sam Staggs’ “MMII: The Return of Marilyn Monroe” or Doris Grumbach’s “The Missing Person” but stay clear of John Rechy’s “Marilyn’s Daughter”. If you are not up for the heavy-handed drama of Oates’ “Blonde” why not try for something fun, of no consequence, the sort of book they used to call “beach reads”, (meaning something that you can read while listening to the radio and watching the kids and not care if you get sand all over it). A beach read really is a polite term for something that is pure fluff, has no pretensions of art, can be read quickly and forgotten just as quickly: but leave you with a good after taste– kind of like a Doris Day movie.

 

“The Elvis and Marilyn Affair” is forgettable but fun fluff. The idea is that MM and the Pelvis met up at Fox while she was finishing “Bus Stop” and he was working on “Love Me Tender” and then elaborates on the premise that the two fell hard for one another and carried on a “torrid” affair, (is there any other kind of Hollywood affair?). The myth lived on and people always wondered—was that for real or was the Marilyn and Elvis affair just a publicity ploy? Set in present day, the book’s premise has a Hollywood big wig who has been killed, possibly offed because he might have been in possession of a treasure trove of love letters between Marilyn and the King. Like a lot of beach reads, you’ve just got to let yourself go and enjoy the ride through a convoluted plot and nonsense filled with gumshoes, MM imitators, and lots of movie stars and movie star wannabes.

 

Sure it’s a thin plot. We’re not talking Fitzgerald or even Danielle Steel. The characters are one dimensional, the page is filled primarily with snappy dialog but more along the lines of one of those Porky movies than anything with Nick and Nora Charles. Again, we’re not talking literature here; one look at the cover and you know this is not going to be anything with “In depth” or “Revealing” on its cover blurbs. It’s fun escapism and takes maybe a few sittings to finish off and forget.

 

But credit where credit is due, the author has done a bit of research—at least he can accurately describe Westwood Memorial even if he makes a mistake on Marilyn’s crypt marker. But the way I look at it, if the book clearly states THIS IS FICTION, I’ll give the author a bit of slack rather than my usual nitpicking. The trick, sometimes, is just to lighten up and enjoy. We all agree Marilyn should be taken seriously but surely even Marilyn had moments when she just wanted to kick back and be entertained. One of my favorite lines is when she said sometimes her brain got real starved. But ya know, there are times when candy just sounds a lot better than something healthy.

 

Summer’s upon us and sometimes even the most devoted Marilyn fan just needs something to read that requires very little exercise of the old gray matter. And if you happen to live far, far away from anything remotely sandy, you can always turn all the lights up high in the living room, stretch out on a terry cloth towel and strip down to your bathing suit and pretend. Actually that sounds kind of fun.

-David Marshall

BOOK REVIEW: Marilyn Monroe: A Day In The Life By April VeVea

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Marilyn Monroe: A Day In The Life By April VeVea
Paperback: 210 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (18 July 2016)
Language: English ISBN-10: 1523337877
ISBN-13: 978-1523337873


I really enjoyed this book. It’s a great source for identifying specific important dates in Marilyn’s life, from childhood to her last day. What’s particularly interesting is that although it’s not a biography, you can at times get a feeling of the person she was with her spending habits and decisions she made in her career, as well as her health; It’s like a personal insight.

The book is meticulously researched with as much known evidence sourced from historic documents and personal papers that have been accumulated by April VeVea over time to form a chronological timeline of Marilyn’s schedules with a fascinating insight into her personal and professional relationships and business details and her day to day activities. April doesn’t form any conclusions or assumptions, but instead presents the documents as they are. I will find it useful for looking up dates and events and see what order they fall on.

There’s ten pages of pictures inside, all of which have come from private collections which help make it special.

BOOK REVIEW: Will Acting Spoil Marilyn Monroe? By Pete Martin

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Will Acting Spoil Marilyn Monroe? By Pete Martin (1956 Doubleday & Company, Inc.)

Marilyn’s last words to the press, in the person of LIFE magazine interviewer Richard Meryman, were a plea not to make her a joke. What strikes me is that even then, in what would be her last interview, she had to ask to be taken seriously. Although to those reading this it is nearly impossible to take her any other way, there are still thousands, hundreds of thousands, who continue to blithely write her off as a poster image of another era and certainly no one of true substance. These are the people who have not read anything about her life or character, who don’t realize that she now appears in history books as well as movie star bios, that nearly thirty years ago Gloria Steinem pointed to her as one of the first feminists and others have credited with a pivotal role in both the sexual revolution as well as the Women’s Movement. Over the past forty years Marilyn Monroe has surpassed her icon status; as to her talent, the verdict is now that not only could she act, she was one of the best actresses of her century. The sad part, as that request to Meryman reflects, is that not many realized it at the time.

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BOOK REVIEW: Marilyn: The Passion and the Paradox by Lois Banner

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Paperback: 528 pages
Publisher: Bloomsbury Paperbacks (1 Aug. 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1408831333
ISBN-13: 978-1408831335

Marilyn Monroe is one of the most chronicled women of the modern age. In the fifty years since her death, she has been a muse to the literary set, and the subject of gossipy exposés. Perhaps what resonates most, though, is her radiant image – captured in a handful of classic movies, and thousands of still photos.

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