Accessing the moments and memories of a bygone era and a time of spectacular achievements, Jerome Charyn has delved into the mystery of Joe DiMaggio and brought him to life. In Joe DiMaggio: The Long Vigil, we follow Joe from his beginnings, to his fame in baseball, into his two marriages and then on to his decline. And through it all, we begin to get a picture of the man behind the legend.
He was a man known for his grace and his dignity, a star centerfielder for the New York Yankees from the years 1936-1951. His career did not end with baseball however; he is also famous as the husband of Marilyn Monroe. A private man well respected and revered in sports, he was nevertheless second fiddle to Marilyn, a woman whose life was even larger than his own. While Joe DiMaggio certainly details the marriage reported at the time, this book is in no way about Marilyn, yet she is still a part of it.
Charyn uses the myriads of information on the life of “Joltin” Joe and wends it into a detailed look at his life, and the effects he had on those around him. As you read the information, you are at once drawn to Joe’s character, and yet put off by some of his reasoning. It is the story behind the story of a man who became a legend. It is also the story about a man who helped to build the legend of Marilyn as well.
He is a remarkable character, but with flaws that make him as human as the rest of us. He surrounded himself with people of character, unique and funny, and usually well known. He was friends with Frank Sinatra, Hugh Hefner and Ernest Hemingway — to name a few. While the book takes you through his baseball years, along with his remarkable abilities, it also details his tortured relationship with Marilyn, the woman that captured his soul. There is sadness and despair, anger and frustration, and through it all Charyn keeps you caring and understanding about Joe’s past.
Even after Marilyn’s death, Joe persevered. In another odd and unusual way, he then became the representative for Mr. Coffee. Based on Joe’s inherent dislike of the press and speaking, this very private man moved into the spotlight in an unexpected way. This was one of the stranger evolutions in his life.
Here was a man, that in the course of his life had not just one, but three different careers that were amazing and yet larger than life. Charyn brings it all together and gives you a sympathetic and yet intense look at the man. With his love for Marilyn never diminishing, Joe nevertheless lived for 37 years after her death, and yet never forgot her. This is a personal look at the life of a man in turmoil and yet one that went on to a form of immortality through his abilities and the memories he carved.
If you are a sports fan, a Marilyn fan or just really enjoy a book that makes you think, you will enjoy Joe DiMaggio: A Long Vigil. I waded into the material with certain expectation but found that I was nowhere prepared at the depth and scope of the story. Once started, I found Joe the Legend to be just a man after all, with the same pains and fears we all have. Somehow, to me, I am even more amazed at his progress, and while you could say this could or would give you a more sympathetic look at Joe DiMaggio, I have actually just become a bigger fan. Here is a man — with all the fear and flaws that could derail him — and yet he emerges as a legend and just a bit more.