Joe DiMaggio was, at every turn, one man we could look at who made us feel good.
In the hard-knuckled thirties, he was the immigrant boy who made it big—and spurred the New York Yankees to a new era of dynasty. He was Broadway Joe, the icon of elegance, the man who wooed and won Marilyn Monroe—the most beautiful girl America could dream up.
Joe DiMaggio was a mirror of our best self. And he was also the loneliest hero we ever had.
In this groundbreaking biography, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Richard Ben Cramer presents a shocking portrait of a complicated, enigmatic life. The story that DiMaggio never wanted told, tells of his grace—and greed; his dignity, pride—and hidden shame. It is a story that sweeps through the twentieth century, bringing to light not just America's national game, but the birth (and the price) of modern national celebrity.
In a stunning feat of meticulous reportage, Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Ben Cramer ultimately puts to rest the "Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?" question with iconoclastic bravura. In Cramer's evaluation, the hero America held onto so desperately for so long was really a creation of a nation's communal imagination. The Joe DiMaggio that America tried so hard to believe in was never really here at all.
There was, of course, a Joe DiMaggio, and he had a splendid career in Yankee pinstripes--once hitting safely in an unimaginable 56 consecutive games--and a troubled marriage with Marilyn Monroe, each augmenting the other in our national mythology. But myths tend to be skin-deep, and Cramer's biography thrives in an internal geography well below the surface. The map he charts is of a cold, small, often nasty, uncaring, resentful, self-centered man, a man of public grace and private misery who broke friendships, shunned family, and chased money with the same focused energies he once harnessed to run down fly balls. It's not a pretty picture.
Scrupulously researched and elegantly written, The Hero's Life is filled with stories and reminiscences, both on and off the field, from others--not surprisingly, DiMaggio offered no cooperation--that both illumine the man and, more fascinatingly, explain our very need for him. Amid all the success and adulation, there was little joy in DiMaggio's life, and few moments--beyond the real heartache he felt over Monroe--of connection with others beyond Joe's personal need for others to serve him. "No one really knew what it meant to have spent a half-century being precisely and distinctly DiMaggio," Cramer writes, "what we required Joe DiMaggio to be. No one knew, as he did, what it cost to live the hero's life. And no one knew, as he did, precisely what it was worth." It seems our nation turned its lonely eyes to a proud, but empty shell; Cramer's superb book helps us understand why we did, and how DiMaggio was able to take all the good will extended him and give so little back. --Jeff Silverman