WINDOW SHOPPING ON Hollywood Boulevard became our weekend entertainment ritual. Money was scarce, as it often is for newlyweds. Joey worked sometimes as a day laborer, and I worked as a bank file clerk. He had little contact with his father, but would not have taken money from him even if it had been offered. Joey was a prideful young man in those early days, and would have starved before he asked for help from his famous father.
I had just turned eighteen in the summer of 1963 when I first met the great Joe DiMaggio Sr. The intrigue and behavior surrounding that first meeting resembled a scene straight out of a gangster movie. After picking up Joey at our apartment, the driver and some friends drove my new father-in-law over to meet me in front of my bank building at twelve noon sharp.
Feeling nervous in anticipation, and wanting to make a good impression on Joey’s father, I could hardly concentrate on filing ledger sheets at the bank that morning. I was dressed in my fancy, Goodwill pink-and-white-checkered seersucker suit and wearing my only pair of heels. I had even purchased a new pair of stockings especially for the occasion.
At exactly twelve noon I stepped outside of the bank and into the bright sunshine, where Joey, his father, and three other very tall men— all dressed in ties, dark suits, and sunglasses—were waiting for me. We politely shook hands, and the six of us walked to a nearby restaurant. It was dark inside the restaurant, and Joe Sr. sat as far away from me as the seats allowed, as if he had planned it that way. No one spoke to me throughout the entire meal, although a couple of the men would send a nod or smile my way throughout lunch to at least acknowledge my presence. But Joe Sr. barely even spoke with his son, who for the most part remained silent, speaking only a word or two with the other gentlemen seated at the table.
Joey was always ill at ease at these infrequent gatherings, as if intensely calculating the precise moment to inject his two cents into the conversation. He was ever-so-mindful to be abreast of every sporting event imaginable as if he might be given an impromptu test. The tension in my husband was palpable. I was unaccustomed to this side of him, since I had always seen him as being completely self-assured and confident.
I would eventually realize that Joe Sr. would never want to have a meal with just the two of us, nor would he ever want to set foot in our apartment, as if it would taint his reputation. I came to realize that it was somehow beneath him. We were always chauffeured to our meetings in a large black limousine. One of his cronies would meet us at our door before escorting us to the car, where Joe Sr. was waiting. I remember having a couple of dinners in the company of George Raft (best known for his role in the movie Scarface) and Willie Shoemaker (known as the most successful jockey in history). Mr. Shoemaker was one of the nicest men I ever met; he went out of his way to be kind to me. At that time, I had never heard of either of them, which everyone but Joey found amusing.
As I would soon learn, the only acceptable topics of conversation were sports, weather, and food—pretty much in that order. My presence was as insignificant as if I were one of the place mats on the table. I suppose Joe Sr. did at least notice me, however, since—according to Joey—he told Joey that I looked a lot like Marilyn after our first meeting. I have no way of knowing if this was true, but I wondered years later if his father’s comment had anything to do with Joey’s increased attention to the way I dressed.
William Lee Shoemaker (August 19, 1931 – October 12, 2003 Photograph by Mike Powell, 1986