The painful story behind Marilyn Monroe’s most iconic photograph.

On 15 September 1954, Hollywood actress Marilyn Monroe stood on top of a New York subway grate and an updraft of warm air caught her white dress like a parachute.

This moment – part of a scene she was filming for the movie The Seven Year Itch, directed by Billy Wilder – went on to become one of the most iconic in cinematic history.

But there is a painful story behind this classic image, one that reveals one of many dark times in Monroe’s tumultuous life.

At the time, Monroe was married to baseball superstar Joe DiMaggio, and this very scene allegedly was a catalyst for their acrimonious divorce, according to the Guardian.

The couple met in 1952. A then 25-year-old Monroe was on the brink of international success having just starred in Monkey Business and Don’t Bother to Knock, while DiMaggio – 12 years her senior – had just ended his legendary career as a New York Yankee early due to injuries.

After seeing publicity shots of Monroe in which she wore a baseball shirt and heels, DiMaggio arranged a dinner date with the star.

In her memoir, Marilyn: My Story, Monroe recalled meeting the ballplayer: “I had thought I was going to meet a loud, sporty fellow. Instead I found myself smiling at a reserved gentleman in a grey suit, with a grey tie and a sprinkle of grey in his hair… If I hadn’t been told he was some sort of ballplayer, I would have guessed he was either a steel magnate or a congressman.”

Advertisement

She was also intrigued by the attention DiMaggio received.

She wrote: “Sitting next to Mr DiMaggio was like sitting next to a peacock with its tail spread… No woman has ever put me so much in the shade.”

They quickly became an item, marrying – second marriages for both – two years later in San Francisco. According to the Telegraph, the American media called the event “the marriage of the century”.

Monroe and DiMaggio together on the beach. Image: Getty

Their union, while glamorous, was also explosive and fraught with difficulties.

While DiMaggio, along with millions of other men, had been drawn to Monroe's "sex goddess" persona, he had never got used to her flaunting it.

According to biography, The Secret Life Of Marilyn Monroe by J. Randy Taraborrelli, DiMaggio didn't like Monroe's career. He thought she should be a traditional 1950s housewife and he was jealous of the attention she generated from other men.

In the same book, DiMaggio is described as controlling and even violent, furious that Monroe refused to give up her career for him.

And allegedly the iconic Seven Year Itch scene was the final straw for the marriage.

The couple's wedding in San Fransisco. Image: Getty 

The scene was filmed in public to generate publicity for the movie, and DiMaggio was among the crowd. Director Billy Wilder described the "look of death" on DiMaggio's face as Monroe's skirt flew up and onlookers cheered, as reported by The Telegraph.

George S. Zimbel, one of many photographers on set, recalled DiMaggio becoming irate and storming off, riled up by the uproarious press and onlookers who were gathered to watch the scene.

According to Taraborrelli's biography, DiMaggio returned to the couple's hotel room and waited for his wife. He later allegedly took out his rage by 'slapping her around the room'. In the book, Gladys Witten, the studio hairdresser recalls finding bruises on Marilyn's shoulders.

"But we covered them with makeup," she said.

Just a month later, in October 1954, Monroe divorced DiMaggio on the grounds of 'mental cruelty'.

Monroe immediately after signing divorce papers. Image: Getty

According to Time, in the courtroom, a tearful Monroe told the judge that her husband was "cold" and "moody".

DiMaggio begged for forgiveness but Monroe was done with him.

The couple was married for just 274 days.

Monroe went on to marry playwright Arthur Miller in 1956, divorcing five years later. DiMaggio never remarried and allegedly pursued a second chance with Monroe for many years.

According to People magazine, after Monroe died of a suspected drug overdose in 1962, DiMaggio arranged her funeral and had six long-stemmed red roses sent to her grave every week until his own death in 1999.

JOIN THE CONVERSATION
FROM OUR NETWORK