Roger Kahn offers parallel life stories of Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe in alternating episodes, presumably seeking to explain the coalescence of the two in a marriage that ended in divorce after nine months. Joe DiMaggio, born in 1914 into an immigrant Italian fisherman’s family in San Francisco, was twelve years older than Marilyn Monroe. Brought up in a large Roman Catholic family, Joe, along with his brothers, Vincent and Dominic, becomes a center-fielder in the major leagues. Joe, unlike his brothers, became a world-recognized sports hero.
Marilyn Monroe, born Norma Jean Baker, was the daughter and granddaughter of women who suffered from mental illness so severe that they were unable to look after the young child, who was reared in foster homes and orphanages until, at sixteen, she rushed into her first marriage with a neighbor to prevent being sent to an orphanage which she detested.
Marilyn and DiMaggio met just as her career was peaking; his career as a major league baseball player had ended in 1951, the year before he met Monroe. Although the two loved each other until the day in 1962 when Monroe took her life, they were too dissimilar to live together compatibly. Joe was jealous, Marilyn flirtatious; he was scrupulously neat, she unabashedly sloppy; he had few intellectual pursuits, she many.
Unfortunately, Kahn has not been able to make these two biographies mesh. His recounting is garrulous, badly organized, and contradictory. The book that emerges is frequently repetitious, at times extremely tasteless, and finally lacking in the kind of culminating insights that the title leads readers to expect.