From the Vault: Marilyn Monroe, Joe DiMaggio on sports and femininity
A staple from the early years of Sports Illustrated was Jimmy Jemail’s Hotbox, a question-and-answer feature with sports figures and celebrities. Many of the topics covered are still relevant today, like “Is football getting too violent?” or “Is it okay to talk about a no-hitter while it’s in the making?”
And then there’s more overtly outdated questions like the following, from Oct. 11, 1954:
“Do competitive sports tend to make women less feminine?”
A couple of the answers -- including one from Mrs. DiMaggio, aka Marilyn Monroe -- were rather heartening. Some others were, uh, not.
HOLLYWOOD, CALIF. | MOVIE STAR
"Well, these women champions are very strong. I've always envied them their nice muscles. My husband smiles when I express my admiration for these women. Then he adds: 'Would a man rather take a lovely bit of femininity in his arms or a bundle of muscles?' I'm perplexed. I don't know."
HOLLYWOOD, CALIF. | EX-BALLPLAYER
"No. I've seen many of the best women stars in competition. And I've talked with them at social functions. They are as feminine as most women. Babe Didrikson, the greatest all-around woman star, is one of the finest women I have ever met. She has great courage, a feminine quality."
ROME, ITALY | MOVIE STAR
"Yes. A little sport is good. It makes a girl healthy and graceful. But hard sports are not good. They give women the big muscles. So they do not look feminine. No? The big muscles maybe are good in the kitchen. But they are maybe not good in the evening gown. No?"
LOUIS A. R. PIERI
PROVIDENCE, R.I. | SPORTS ARENA OWNER
"I think so. Femininity thrives on masculine protection. A woman who can trade strokes on the tennis court with most men, for instance, doesn't look like she needs protection—she can stand on her own feet. The one who can pin your ears back in a wrestling match isn't exactly a clinging vine."
SAYVILLE, N.Y. | A.A.U. SECRETARY
"Hardly. Most girls in track and field events are small and cute. They can cry as readily as the clinging vine, particularly when they lose. Years ago Eleanor Holm was disqualified by the Olympic Committee for drinking too much champagne. I did my best to comfort her while she cried."
COLUMBUS, OHIO | WRESTLING CHAMPION
"What is femininity? I have a handsome 10-year-old son. I simply dote on him. I'm a loving wife and a good cook. I wear expensive clothes and luxurious furs. I own a $5,000 Lincoln Capri. Each day I wear diamonds valued at $30,000 because they always look so new. Am I feminine?"
[Interesting note: Two weeks after this item was published in SI, Byers was traveling home from a Missouri wrestling match with her husband, her manager and a friend when they were driven off the road and robbed at gunpoint by four masked men. According to the Kansas City Star, the bandits made off with jewelry and money valued at $21,470 -- including Byers' three-carat diamond ring and diamond earrings.]
NEW YORK, N.Y. | EDUCATOR
"No. Most of the women athletes are as feminine as other women. Sports tend to give them poise, confidence and self-reliance, but that doesn't lessen their femininity. The few who may not be feminine lack those qualities by nature, not because of any undesirable athletic influence."
NEW YORK, N.Y. | RESTAURATEUR
"Yes. To be feminine, a woman must be soft and lovely. In old china, women had their feet bound. Feet remained small and the women did not get much exercise. So they remained soft and feminine. Feet are not bound any more. But big muscles are still for the women in the fields."
PALM BEACH | FORMER GOLF STAR
"No. You men are old-fashioned. You think that the clinging vine who stays at home is the true feminine type. Today American women compete with men in business, politics and sports. This doesn't lessen physical charm. It heightens women's zest for things, giving them more feminine appeal."
CLAUDE C. VICKREY
NEW YORK, N.Y. | INSURANCE BROKER
"It's true that the women champions are 'tournament tough.' But that doesn't apply to other women in sports. I play at the Sleepy Hollow Country Club. We have many fine women golfers. And they're appealingly feminine. It's the same in other clubs. Without them clubs would be dull."
VAN NUYS, CALIF. | RODEO TRICK RIDER
"Yes. Hard sports really make a woman self-reliant. I've taken top honors riding horses. In Hollywood I doubled for the biggest stars. There they call me the top stunt woman. When I want anything I get it without weeping or using feminine wiles, but I also get my share of wolf whistles."