Marilyn Monroe and baseball legend Joe DiMaggio wed in 1954 (second marriages for both), and were divorced nine months later. That the union was doomed from the beginning was, perhaps, easy to foresee. But even if the marriage was not a happy one for either of the two famous partners, there seems to be little doubt that there really was genuine affection there at the start — and at the end. In fact, after Monroe’s divorce from her third husband, the playwright Arthur Miller, was finalized in 1961, DiMaggio came back into her life and, by all accounts, desperately tried to bring some stability and calm to an existence that was veering dangerously out of control.
He tried to get her away from people who, to his mind, were nothing but trouble (including, it seems, the Kennedys), and even proposed to her, asking her to marry him again. It’s awful, now, to think that if Marilyn had been given a little more time, DiMaggio could have been just the person to pull her back from the brink — of depression, drugs, disastrous affairs with married men. In other words, he might have saved her life.
But a year and a half after her marriage to Miller ended, Marilyn — all of 36 years old — was dead. DiMaggio, it seems, could not protect her from whatever demons drove her. He was only in his 40s when Marilyn died on August 5, 1962, but he never married again.
Here, LIFE.com presents pictures from October 6, 1954, when Marilyn stepped out of the house on North Palm Drive in Beverly Hills to announce she was seeking a divorce from DiMaggio on the grounds of “mental cruelty.” DiMaggio had initially been drawn (like a few hundred million other men) to Marilyn’s “sex goddess” persona — but he was never comfortable with her flaunting it, and was something of a self-admitted control freak. Neither DiMaggio nor Monroe could possibly have been content or satisfied in a marriage in which two such divergent personalities held sway.
The photographs here are not pleasant. They’re not easy to look at. There’s real pain in Marilyn’s face, posture and demeanor — the pain of a young woman who knows she’s doing the right thing, but who wishes all the same that there was some way, any way, that she could avoid doing it.
Still, these pictures tell one small but integral part of the Marilyn Monroe story, and capture the star at a pivotal point in her fraught life. She would marry again. She would make more movies in the coming years, including several classics. But deeper and more enduring pain was also in her future, and an especially discerning eye might see in these photographs something in Marilyn’s attitude that suggests she herself was aware of the gathering, ill-defined storm, and was bracing for it.
Of the October 1954 divorce filing, meanwhile, LIFE told its readers:
Even for Hollywood, where unhappy endings for the real love stories come with almost unseemly haste, this ending seemed abrupt. It was only last January that the press was mobbing the San Francisco city hall, waiting for Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe to emerge as newlywed man and wife. Now the press was gathered again in front of the DiMaggio home in Beverly Hills, waiting for Joe and Marilyn to come out as newly-separated man and wife.
Nobody had been surprised when they got married — they had been going with each other for two years. Nobody doubted their love — they had smiled happily through their married life. And almost nobody professed surprised when they broke up — the conflict in their two careers seemed inevitable.