Joe DiMaggio

(1914—1999) American baseball player

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Born Giuseppe Paolo DiMaggio, a US baseball player whose ‘hitting streak’ of 1941—hits in 56 consecutive American league baseball games, in a season when his team the New York Yankees won the league pennant (i.e. title) and also the World Series—entered the language of popular culture, everyday life, and the arts. Les Brown's big-band hit Joltin' Joe DiMaggio made him the most talked-about person in the country during the run, and decades later athletes on a run of victories or scores have talked about their ‘DiMaggio streak’. Ernest Hemingway wrote of ‘the great’ DiMaggio in The Old Man and the Sea, in a reference to the player's Sicilian forebears' fishing background; the song Bloody Mary, in the Hollywood musical South Pacific, included the phrase ‘skin tender as DiMaggio's glove’; singers Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, in their song Mrs Robinson, asked ‘Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you’. DiMaggio had played for the Yankees from 1936 to 1951, with an interruption for war service, and led them to nine titles in thirteen years.

After retirement, the 39-year-old DiMaggio married his second wife, 27-year-old Marilyn Monroe, after a whirlwind romance and elopement. A separation followed after only nine months, after a tempestuous relationship in which his jealousy and possessiveness failed to cope with Monroe's public, sexual, and flirtatious persona; even so, several years later DiMaggio was talking of remarriage just days before her death in August 1962. The painting of Monroe that DiMaggio kept on display in his home after her death portrayed the ‘innocent curiosity’ of ‘a simple girl’, as Gay Talese wrote (‘The Silent Season of a Hero’, Fame and Obscurity, 1981). DiMaggio saw Monroe as ‘a warm big-hearted girl that everybody took advantage of’. DiMaggio turned his back on the Hollywood, Los Angeles elite and lived mostly in San Francisco for the rest of his life. In the 1980s he became known, on the basis of his endorsement career, as ‘Mr Coffee’. His life history is a fascinating case of the construction of celebrity and the way in which sporting achievement enters the language of a time and a culture.

Subjects: Sport and Leisure.

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