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Charlotte Amalie
Wednesday, November 29, 2023


The story they always tell about Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe took place in 1954 when, shortly after they were married, Marilyn went off to South Korea to entertain American troops there.
When she returned, she was excited.
"Joe, you've never heard such cheering," she exclaimed.
DiMaggio reflected a moment, then answered: "Yes I have."
This conversation took place not in New York or Hollywood or San Francisco, but in Tokyo, where I was a young correspondent for United Press International.
I was dispatched to Tokyo's Haneda Airport to cover the evening arrival of the honeymooning DiMaggios. They flew in from the United States on a Northwest Airlines Boeing Stratocruiser, the last and biggest of the propeller-driven commercial airliners.
The Stratocruiser was a wonderful plane. It had a downstairs cocktail lounge, which you reached by descending a circular staircase. This is relevant.
Japanese police had erected a flimsy temporary fence to keep fans of DiMaggio and Monroe off the tarmac where the plane was to park. Inside the fence were at least 100 Japanese newspaper photographers. They had arranged themselves in three or four rows, one row behind the other. Photographers in the back row positioned themselves on those little aluminum ladders most Japanese news photographers, especially the short ones, carried. Reporters were off to one side.
No one knew for certain how many Japanese had showed up to welcome these two oddly matched American luminaries. Remember, though, the Japanese were crazy about baseball and in love with blonde American film stars.
We could hear them. They were restive. They were working themselves up for a suicide charge. Those police who were there were uneasy. They called for reinforcements, but it was too late.
The plane touched down but never made it to its designated parking space in front of the terminal. When the Stratocruiser turned off the runway, there was a frenzied roar as thousands of sports fans and movie fans knocked down the fence, hit the photographers from behind, sending those ladders flying into the air, and rushed the still-moving plane.
The pilot averted a disaster by switching off his engines. As the giant propellers wound down and the plane came to a stop, screaming fans surrounded the Stratocruiser. It was a mob scene, not unlike that which greeted Charles Lindbergh when he landed at Le Bourget outside Paris on a May night in 1927.
Reporters scrambled for cover. I found it by crawling under the fuselage. My intention was to hide there until the police got the crowd under control.
Then I heard emotional voices, American voices. The voices were coming from above me. I looked up to see a rectangular band of light on the bottom of the fuselage. It was a hatch that had been unlocked from inside the airplane.
I pounded on it and shouted for help, identifying myself as an American reporter.
The hatch was pulled aside from inside. Faces peered down at me. One of the faces belonged to Lefty O'Doul, DiMaggio's manager when he was an 18-year-old rookie with the San Francisco Seals.
O'Doul and a Northwest crew member reached down and pulled me up through the hatch into what turned out to be the plane's downstairs cocktail lounge.
There they were, Mr. and Mrs. O'Doul and Mr. and Mrs. DiMaggio. He was trying to comfort his wife, who was pale and shaking. Did I know what was happening outside the plane, someone asked? It's a mess out there, a real mob scene, I replied. Someone said the hatch had been unlocked because there was a plan to sneak Joe and Marilyn off the plane through the hatch. I said I didn't think that was a good idea.
We sat and made forced small talk for 30 minutes or so. Then police reinforcements arrived and secured the plane. A staircase was wheeled up to the main door, cars were brought around, and Joe and Marilyn disappeared into the night.
I knew they were staying in a suite at the old Imperial Hotel in downtown Tokyo. Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright to withstand earthquakes, the hotel was only three stories high, in a U shape. Inside the U was a driveway and inside the driveway were lily ponds.
By the time I got there, a couple of hours after the DiMaggios arrived, the courtyard was filled with Japanese men, many of them up to their shins in the water of the lily ponds. They were staring at the balcony of the top floor suite. They knew they had the right balcony because they could see policemen looking down at them.
This crowd knew what it wanted. They wanted Joe and Marilyn to come out and wave, like the Royals do at Buckingham Palace.
Joe and Marilyn never appeared on the balcony.
This resulted in a very Japanese scene. A few intrepid men started to scale the wall, using as handholds and footholds brown bricks that jutted out at right angles to the wall. Did Frank Lloyd Wright have this scene in mind when he designed the hotel?
The policemen on the balcony were patient. They waited until a hand appeared on the balcony railing. A policeman would then hit smartly the offending fingers with the butt of his gun. The miscreant, yelling in pain, would fall down upon the heads and upraised hands of his fellow fans, who had formed a short of human cushion.
I watched this for 30 minutes or so and then raced to the United Press bureau to file my story on the arrival of Joe and Marilyn in Tokyo.
I never saw them again. Marilyn flew to Korea a few days later. Joe and his pal, Lefty, did baseball things while she was gone. It was when she returned to Tokyo that she and Joe had their short dialogue that says so much about each of them.
Some years later, Gay Talese wrote a long article about Joe and Marilyn for Esquire magazine. Talese, along with Tom Wolfe, was pioneering the writing style we now know as "New Journalism."
The title of Talese's article: "Joe, You've Never Heard Such Cheering." "Yes I Have."
Editor's note: Frank J. Jordan is a local radio commentator, former UVI journalism professor and former NBC news executive.

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