It was a marriage made in American heaven, a wedding of two great national institutions: baseball and Hollywood. When screen siren Marilyn Monroe, 27, joined retired Yankee slugger Joe DiMaggio, 39, at the altar in 1954, they were both living legends and other than that, they had very little in common. He grew to hate her need for the spotlight; she grew to hate his obsession with sports. On Oct. 27, 1954, after nine splenetic months of marriage, Monroe divorced DiMaggio on grounds of mental cruelty and put a split in the American psyche that has never quite healed.
Like a family dispute on a national scale, debating who was responsible for the breakup has become a pop-culture pastime. Hollywood's reaction to Monroe at the time was harsh, and many of the 40-odd bios written about Monroe since then toe that line: Her exhibitionism and infidelities brought the marriage to its end. Perhaps the best example of pro-Joe thinking is found in Norman Mailer's 1973 pictorial psycho-history, Marilyn, in which the author not only portrays DiMaggio sympathetically but suggests that Monroe's extraordinary beauty during the marriage came from good sex.
The pendulum swung Monroe's way in the mid-'80s. In Marilyn (1986), Gloria Steinem wrote off Monroe's flings with other men as ''insecurity'' and depicted DiMaggio as an old-fashioned lug who probably beat her.
Lately, feelings have been swaying back in Joe's favor. In C. David Heymann's A Woman Named Jackie (1989) DiMaggio seems like a white knight trying to save Monroe from the grip of the Kennedy boys.
But author Graham McCann waves a disapproving finger at both camps. ''Regrettably,'' he writes in Marilyn Monroe (1988), ''as each author contorts the story, DiMaggio is further stereotyped and subdued.'' The only known facts are these: DiMaggio never remarried (he now lives quietly in San Francisco), stayed devoted to Monroe until her death in 1962, and for 20 years after sent a pair of red roses to her Los Angeles crypt three times a week. The rest is & silence.
Oct. 27, 1954
John Steinbeck's Sweet Thursday and William Faulkner's A Fable were best-selling novels. Couch potatoes watched Dragnet, moviegoers saw Elizabeth Taylor and Stewart Granger in Beau Brummell, and just about everybody was humming ''Sh-Boom'' by the Crewcuts.