I’ve been thinking about great magazine profiles recently, about the golden age of sports writing. I love long-form magazine work, bonus pieces, take-out pieces, whatever you want to call them.
Here is one of the finest, Gay Talese’s Esquire article on Joe DiMaggio, The Silent Season of a Hero (July, 1966):
Joe DiMaggio lives with his widowed sister, Marie, in a tan stone house on a quiet residential street not far from Fisherman’s Wharf. He bought the house almost 30 years ago for his parents, and after their deaths he lived there with Marilyn Monroe. Now it is cared for by Marie, a slim and handsome dark-eyed woman who has an apartment on the second floor, Joe on the third. There are some baseball trophies and plaques in the small room off DiMaggio’s bedroom, and on his dresser are photographs of Marilyn Monroe, and in the living room downstairs is a small painting of her that DiMaggio likes very much; it reveals only her face and shoulders and she is wearing a wide-brimmed sun hat, and there is a soft, sweet smile on her lips, an innocent curiosity about her that is the way he saw her and the way he wanted her to be seen by others – a simple girl, “a warm, big-hearted girl,” he once described her, “that everybody took advantage of.”
The publicity photographs emphasizing her sex appeal often offend him, and a memorable moment for Billy Wilder, who directed her in The Seven-Year Itch, occurred when he spotted DiMaggio in a large crowd of people gathered on Lexington Avenue in New York to watch a scene in which Marilyn, standing over a subway grating to cool herself, had her skirts blown high by a sudden wind blow. “What the hell is going on here?” DiMaggio was overheard to have said in the crowd, and Wilder recalled, “I shall never forget the look of death on Joe’s face.”
He was then 39, she was 27. They had been married in January of that year, 1954, despite disharmony in temperament and time; he was tired of publicity, she was thriving on it; he was intolerant of tardiness, she was always late. During their honeymoon in Tokyo an American general had introduced himself and asked if, as a patriotic gesture, she would visit the troops in Korea. She looked at Joe. “It’s your honeymoon,” he said, shrugging, “go ahead if you want to.”
She appeared on 10 occasions before 100,000 servicemen, and when she returned, she said, “It was so wonderful, Joe. You never heard such cheering.”
“Yes, I have,” he said.
It’s brick cold here in New York this weekend. Curl up with this one if you’ve never read it before. It’s terrific.