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Joe Dimaggio: The Hero's Life | Article

Joe DiMaggio Jr.

By Dennis Gaffney


When Joe DiMaggio died, a 57-year old man with a gray pony-tail was one of the select few allowed to attend the family funeral. He was a casket-bearer that day, his face anonymous to the national audience. The man was not close to DiMaggio, had not even spoken with the aging legend in years. DiMaggio wouldn’t even talk about him.

His name was Joe DiMaggio Jr.

Joe Jr., DiMaggio’s namesake and only child, was born on October 23, 1941, to DiMaggio’s first wife, Dorothy Arnold. DiMaggio, usually stoic, seemed to speak with joy at the arrival of his son. "You ought to see the little fellow, he has the most perfect nose," DiMaggio explained. "And I never saw such a pair of hands on a baby."

After Joe Jr. was born, DiMaggio continued to spend many nights at his New York City hang-out, Toots Shor’s. He lived a celebrity’s life while his wife Dorothy wanted a husband for herself and a father for her son.

The result was conflict. In her divorce papers, Arnold said that she had hoped their son’s birth would have made her husband "realize his responsibilities as a married man" but concluded that "even the baby’s arrival did not change him."

Later, when DiMaggio was pictured with Marilyn Monroe in a newspaper in 1951, Arnold wanted full custody of Joe Jr. "He’s a little young for the smart set," Arnold said. The former husband and wife feuded for two years and ended up sharing custody.

Joe Jr. lived with his father and Monroe after the two were married. She ended up being connected to her stepson for the rest of her life. Joe Jr. spoke with the starlet the night she died.

DiMaggio didn’t seem very interested in parenthood. Close by in New York in the 1950s, DiMaggio never attended one of his boy’s football games while Joe Jr. was at New Jersey’s prestigious Lawrenceville School. Joe Jr.’s ex-wife Sue said of his parents: "When he was a little boy living with his mother in New York in the Waldorf, his only entertainment was riding up and down in the elevator. Then it was camps and military school and boarding school. They threw the man away."

As an adult, Joe Jr. held jobs, and some with responsibility, but he never kept them for long. He drifted away from his former wife, his two step-children by the marriage (he and his wife had no children together), and his grandchildren, and had less and less contact with them over time. Interestingly, Joe Sr. developed a close and continuing relationship with his son’s ex-wife, and even called her children "my grandchildren."

As the years passed, Joe Jr. seemed to live more and more marginally. Sometimes Joe DiMaggio senior would cruise the streets of Martinez, California looking for his son, as Joe Jr.’s address changed often. Sometimes the junior DiMaggio would take cash from his father; other times he would ignore him. When his father was gravely ill, Joe Jr. was asked why he didn’t visit. "You know, I never got the words, ‘Come now,’ or I would’ve been there in a flash. When he wants me there, I’ll be there."

When his father died, Joe Jr. was living in a trailer and working in a junkyard. "What is Joe DiMaggio’s son supposed to do?" he said. "[I’m] free. . . just a free spirit. No commitments. The first of the month rolls around, and I have no payments to make." He had once put it another way: "My lifestyle is diametrically opposed to my father’s." 

Joe Jr. never received that final phone call from his father; there was no deathbed visit. Despite their estrangement, Joe Sr. left his son a $20,000-a-year trust fund. Joe Jr. barely had enough time to spend it, as he died on August 7, 1999, five months after his father's death.

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