There are no heroes of Joe DiMaggio‘s stature today and that’s why it’s exactly the right time to read about an American leader, with an unwavering moral compass who believed in setting the best example at all times. To get an inside look at DiMaggio, the real man behind the legend, you should dig into the new book Dinner With DiMaggio: Memories Of An American Hero ($26 Simon and Schuster ), written by one of his closest friends, Dr. Rock Positano with John Positano. It is available tomorrow, May 9.
You probably know DiMaggio best as the iconic baseball player who was Marilyn Monroe‘s second husband and who may well have remarried her if she hadn’t tragically succumbed to an overdose at the age of 36. However, to Americans of our grandparents’ generation, he was the brilliant ballplayer who transfixed a war-terrified country with his May 15 to July 1941 hitting streak as war against the Nazis raged in Europe and the US weighed whether to join in.
“He captivated the whole country and was able to make people escape from their fears about WWII” explained author Dr. Positano in an EXCLUSIVE interview with HollywoodLife.com. DiMaggio later enlisted in the US Air Forces in 1943 and was promoted to Sergeant, but ironically, his beloved Sicilian-born parents, were classified as “enemy aliens” by the government, like thousands of other German, Japanese and Italian immigrants, after Pearl Harbor was bombed by the Japanese.
DiMaggio died on March 8, 1999, but here’s why you should read the riveting Dinner With DiMaggio, and get inspired.
1. You Need A Hero Right Now
“There’s no one person that we can look up to as a country right now. We don’t have any heroes anymore and yet today is a time of strife, stress and fear,” believes Dr. Positano. “People who need some sense of hope can look to Joe DiMaggio as a historical figure who was legitimate and real. He believed in leading by example — by doing right by family and friends and being a great and patriotic American.” DiMaggio took his unprecedented and never-repeated 56-game hitting streak very seriously. He felt that it was his contribution to helping America through some very rough times, by captivating the country. “He took stress about the war away from people and put it on his shoulders,” explains Positano.
DiMaggio continued to be highly aware of leading by example for the rest of his life. Always dressing impeccably, never being photographed with alcohol, always being polite to fans and devoting himself to family and friends.
2. He Was Bothered That People Thought Marilyn Monroe Was A Dumb Blonde
The romance between DiMaggio and Hollywood star Marilyn Monroe mesmerized the nation. And, though Joe’s second marriage to Monroe in 1954 only lasted 9 months, the pair remained very close for the rest of her life, with the couple sparking rumors of a re-marriage just before her death in 1962. “He had absolute respect for Marilyn Monroe. He always spoke glowingly about her,” recalls Positano. “He spoke about how intelligent she was. She was no dumb blonde. She was a very talented actress. He talked about how he would go over scripts with her and that she was very professional.”
DiMaggio would sometimes seem to drift off when he was having dinner with friends. “He would have ‘the stare,'” says Positano. “We’d be in the middle of conversation and suddenly he would take himself out. ‘I get my moments when I think about Marilyn,'” he confessed to Positano. The heartbroken DiMaggio was the person who claimed Monroe’s body, planned her funeral and then had a half-dozen roses sent her crypt three times a week for 20 years. Reportedly, his last words on his deathbed were, “I’ll finally get to see Marilyn.”
3. DiMaggio Was A Feminist
Not only did DiMaggio always treat women with dignity and respect, according to Positano, he also believed that young girls should be playing sports, just as much as boys, and he would have supported women’s sports leagues and other sports activities. “He didn’t believe in men’s only clubs either,” Positano added.
Positano recalled that he was once sent away from a restaurant dinner with DiMaggio’s family when he didn’t wear a tie and jacket. “You’re disrespecting my granddaughters,” DiMaggio told him quietly, before banishing him until he returned suitably attired.
4. Joe DiMaggio Cared More About Children Than Anyone Else
Famed filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola writes in the forward of Dinner With DiMaggio, that he was paralyzed at 9 years -old by polio in 1949 when DiMaggio learned of his condition. The famous ballplayer got every member of the Yankees, including himself, to sign a clean ball for Coppola and had the ball delivered to him.
Positano says and writes that this was a regular occurrence for DiMaggio. “He would put everything aside to go to the hospital and visit a sick, often terminal, child. That was first and foremost to him. We used to see him do it all the time and for people he didn’t know,” says Positano. On top of that, behaving well in public was part of his mission to set an example for American youth. “He never wanted to disappoint a kid,” explains Positano.
5. DiMaggio Didn’t Care About People’s Status
In modern times, when there appears to be one set of rules and opportunities for the wealthy and privileged versus everyone else, DiMaggio is a reminder that there are American leaders who care much more about character than bank accounts. “He didn’t care about titles. He wouldn’t care if you were the Queen of England. DiMaggio had respect for the person who made an honest living,” says Positano. “And he didn’t believe in flaunting wealth. It might make people feel badly because they didn’t have those things. He didn’t want to make people feel bad.”
DiMaggio may have died in 1999, but his values and accomplishments are totally relevant today. Reading about his life isn’t just inspiring, it’s also riveting. You won’t want to put Dinner With DiMaggio down!