Denfeld News

Dec. 22, 1998
Minneapolis Star Tribune

A great catch:
Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe may be remembered as a mythic American couple, but a singer from Duluth was the baseball legend's first diamond girl.
By Paul Walsh

As she follows news accounts about Joe DiMaggio’s recent health troubles, Joyce Hadley is dusting off memories of her sister Dorothy Arnold, the first blond Hollywood starlet to marry the larger-than-life baseball star.

Hadley remembers when her sister gushed on the phone as she told her family she had met DiMaggio. She remembers the mob scene that the nuptials created two years later. And she remembers when the "Great DiMadge," as New Yorkers called him, visited his in-laws' hometown.

There’s hardly an American born this century who hasn’t associated the graceful and dapper DiMaggio with Marilyn Monroe. That wedding was a marriage not only of celebrities but of two slices of Americana — baseball and Hollywood.

But what about the first woman to meet DiMaggio at the altar? The woman who was married to DiMaggio for five years, gave birth to his only child and held a place in his heart for 14 years?

Born Dorothy Arnoldine Olson in Duluth in 1917, she began performing publicly at age 12, singing with the Salvation Army. She appeared in local children’s reviews and spent summers singing with Bob Owens’ Minnesota campus band.

Thanks to her father’s job on the Northern Pacific Railroad, she found plenty of audiences to entertain. Arnold wrote in a newspaper account that appeared in an April 1939 Duluth News Tribune.

“I traveled with my father, whose run on … the railroad is from Minneapolis and St. Paul,” she wrote. “I would hop off at either point and sing at the party, hotel or club at which the orchestra was playing, then catch the train for home.”

She tested twice with Paramount Studios, but it was Universal that took notice and offered her a stock contract.

She met DiMaggio in Hollywood in 1937 on the set of her first movie. He had a minor speaking role in “Manhattan Merry-Go-Round.” Arnold had no lines, but this movie changed her life.

“You see, I fell in love with him before I knew he was a celebrity,” Arnold, who died of cancer in 1984 at age 66, once said of the first time she saw DiMaggio. “Then we started going out together … and the first thing I knew it was getting hotter.”

Hadley, now 78, is working on a book and PBS documentary that will feature her sister. She suspects that Arnold knew DiMaggio was a ballplayer but may not have known that she had locked her eyes on the man who was Celebrity No. 1 in the nation’s most glamorous city.

“She called home and said, ‘Guess who I met?’ And it started from there,” Hadley recalled. “(Gossip columnist) Walter Winchell called (the family in Duluth) and wanted to know whether it was true or it wasn’t.”

After less than two years of dating and after DiMaggio had helped the Yankees win the World Series in 1937 and 1938, Arnold announced their engagement.

In November 1939, DiMaggio and Arnold were married in the ballplayers hometown of San Francisco.

Arnold began her new life in a swanky apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan—21 years old and married to one of the most recognizable men in America.

She was such a devoted baseball wife—she had put aside her Hollywood aspirations—that she developed an eye for the game, helping DiMaggio break out of a rare slump. “Dorothy told him, ‘You know Joe, when you’re up at the plate, I’m not seeing your number 5. I think you’re stepping away. Maybe that’s why you’re not coming through.’ And that helped.”

But the glamorous lifestyle soon turned sour. Between the travel demands of baseball and DiMaggio’s desire to hang out with the guys at night, Arnold grew weary of his inattention.

“He left her home, and he always wanted her there,” Hadley said. “A wife was to be there at his beck and call. And that went over like a lead balloon with Dorothy.”

In January 1941, DiMaggio and Arnold visited her family in Duluth. City dignitaries took him to see the Duluth Dukes’ new minor-league ballpark. “As good as any I’ve ever seen,” DiMaggio said.

Arnold gave birth that October to Joe Jr. Arnold also hoped it would keep her husband at home, but that was not the case.

In 1942, DiMaggio and Arnold split up.

“Joe never acted like a married man,” Arnold told the judge in a Los Angeles courtroom in 1944. The press noted DiMaggio’s absence from the divorce proceedings begun by Arnold. “He would stay out until the early morning hours with men friends, leaving me at home alone.”

Divorce granted.

In the late 1960s, Arnold married again—a union that lasted until her death in Palm Desert, Calif.

The last time Hadley saw her former brother-in-law was in early 1998 at an autograph session in Chicago.

“Do you remember me?” she said, standing before his table.

“Why should I remember you?”

“Well, I’m your ex-wife’s sister.”

“Oh, you’re the young one.”

“Is it possible for you and me to talk?”

“I haven’t got any time.”

Unable to start a meaningful conversation, Hadley said, “I put my hand out. I almost had to force him to (shake it).”

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