ROK Drop

Avatar of GI KoreaBy on February 17th, 2010 at 3:01 am

Faces In Korea: Marilyn Monroe

The USO since its founding in 1941 has had thousands of celebrities entertain troops through numerous wars over the years.  Bob Hope is always the name most people remember as being affiliated with the USO due to his multiple decades of service to the organization.  However, the USO has probably never had a celebrity that brought as much excitement to the troops as with Marilyn Monroe’s visit to South Korea in 1954.

Monroe’s visit to Korea was a spur of the moment decision that ultimately helped lead to the end of her marriage with baseball slugger Joe DiMaggio.  Monroe and DiMaggio after a whirlwind romance were married on January 14, 1954 in California.  The best man at the wedding was DiMaggio’s long time friend “Lefty” O’doul who is known as the father of baseball in Japan.  O’doul was the then manager of the San Francisco Giants and is credited with giving the Tokyo Giants its name due to his work promoting baseball in Japan.

After the hastily organized wedding Lefty recommended to the newlyweds to spend their honeymoon in Japan to escape the hordes of fans and media that hounded the couple after their surprise wedding.  DiMaggio had already agreed to go with Lefty sometime in the future to promote baseball in Japan, so he figured he could keep his promise to lefty and escape the mobs following them by honeymooning in Japan.  DiMaggio would soon find out how wrong he was.

Monroe, DiMaggio, Lefty, and his wife Jean all flew to Japan on Feburary 1, 1954.  It was during this flight that General Christenberry who flew on the plane with the couples approached Monroe about entertaining troops in Korea.  General John E. Hull of the military’s Far East Command would later send her a formal invitation when she landed in Japan.  When Monroe and DiMaggio landed in Japan they saw that the crowds that met them there were worse than anything they saw back in the US.  While in Tokyo the couple were literally trapped in their hotel due to the large Japanese mobs that surrounded the Imperial Hotel which they stayed at.

Joe DiMaggio had agreed to a 24 day promotional tour of baseball around the country and played plenty of golf with O’doul, which left Marilyn often alone at the hotel, while she suffered through bouts of endometriosis that often left her in great pain.  So I do find it a bit odd that DiMaggio got upset at Marilyn when she accepted General Hull’s invitation to entertain troops in both Japan and Korea. When DiMaggio heard of this announcement he told news reporters at the Imperial Hotel, “We’re supposedly on our honeymoon, and this is what happens!”  DiMaggio was also supposedly upset that when Marilyn attended some of the Japanese baseball games he was promoting all the fans’ attention turned towards her instead of him.

Monroe while in Japan did visit a military hospital and spend some time with the troops stationed there.  Monroe would go on to spend a few days with her husband touring the Izu Peninsula, Hiroshima, and finally Fukuoka before flying to Korea.  Marilyn arrived in Korea on February 16, 1954 to begin her four day USO tour of the country.  You have got to love the military ID given to Marilyn as a USO entertainer with her official name of Norma Jean DiMaggio:

Since the visit was so hastily arranged Monroe had no band perform with, so the US military gathered together 11 military band members to form the, “Anything Goes Band” to support her performance.  However, the GI’s serving in Korea could care less that she didn’t have a real band, they came to see her.

Here is Monroe meeting with members of the 25th Infantry Division:

Here she is posing with what appears to be Korean baseball players:

Is there anything sexier than Marilyn Monroe on a tank?:

During her visit to Korea Monroe was seen with a bandage thumb which allegedly occurred due to a cake cutting accident while in Korea:

However this bandage thumb has been alleged to be caused by Joe DiMaggio swiping a cup away from her in anger after hearing of her announcement to entertain troops in Korea.  This picture taken in Fukuoka, Japan before her Korea trip seems to confirm this suspicion:

Her husband may have been pissed off at her, but the GI’s in Korea loved her.

Monroe’s performances were so popular in Korea that a stampede broke out when she performed for the 45th Division.  Thousands soldiers waiting in line for hours to get in to see the performance in one degree below zero weather, had grown impatient waiting for the show to begin.

The soldiers in their frustration began throwing rocks at the stage and crew demanding that they be let in and the show to start.  One person injured by the demonstrators had to be taken away in an ambulance.  Concert organizers had to rush to get Monroe to the stage and canceled the concert’s opening acts to prevent a riot.  The soldiers absolutely went berserk when Monroe took the stage.  The soldiers were so delirious after the performance that organizers felt it wasn’t safe to let her mingle with troops and sign autographs after the show.  The acting 45th Division commander Brigadier General John C. Oakes instead took Monroe around in his Jeep to see military units in the area.

After the Jeep tour of the 45th Division Monroe was handed over to the commander of the 2nd Infantry Division Maj. Gen. William Barriger.  The commanding general took Monroe to have dinner with enlisted troops in the chow hall.

Monroe would go on to wow audiences throughout her trip to Korea with fortunately no more riots breaking out:

Marilyn Monroe left Korea from Daegu Airbase on February 19, 1954 where she gave one last show to 9,000 airman stationed there. It was in Daegu that Marilyn gave her only performance of “Diamonds are A Girls Best Friend”.  She was weary of performing such a song in front of troops that could hardly afford such a luxury for their girlfriends.  So she waited to the end of the tour where she had to borrow some diamonds from Lefty O’doul’s wife because she had forgot her’s at home.

Just think that she is out performing for hours in below freezing weather wearing this compared to all the GI’s in the crowd wearing winter clothes:

At the conclusion of the show Monroe flew back to Japan to meet her husband who was staying in Itami.  The couple continued their honeymoon in Japan until they flew back to the US on February 24, 1954.  I have always felt that DiMaggio missed a really good opportunity to bond with his wife by not joining her on the USO tour in Korea.  Instead of complaining about her going, he should have embraced it.  Sure Monroe would be more popular than him with GI’s that haven’t seen their girlfriends back home in month, but they still would have appreciated him coming; more importantly I think his wife would have appreciated him coming even more. Marilyn even hinted at this when she told one crowd, “I’m sorry Joe can’t be with me in Korea.”.  Unsurprisingly the marriage only lasted for eight months before Marilyn filed for divorce.

In all Monroe made 10 different appearances to entertain troops all across Korea during her 4 day visit to the peninsula.  It is estimated that over 100,000 servicemembers saw her perform during all those performances.  Marilyn often reflected back that her trip to Korea was one of the best experiences of her life and the moment when she realized she had become a superstar.  Quite a remarkable trip when you think about how circumstances of general flying on the same aircraft that the surprise newlyweds were making their last minute honeymoon to Japan on, led to quite possibly the greatest show the USO has ever put on.

Further Reading:

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  • archieb
    8:28 pm on February 16th, 2010 1

    She was the sexiest woman who ever lived. PERIOD.

  • Pops
    9:50 pm on February 16th, 2010 2

    Now, that was entertainment! Kudos to Marilyn for making the visit to Korea, a true morale booster if there ever was one.

  • garyC
    10:36 pm on February 16th, 2010 3

    Thanks for sharing that with us. I bet you she didnt take a cent for this Korea Tour? Nowadays MWR has to shell out big bucks for this kind of entertainment. There are a few headlines acts who perform for the troops (Kid Rock, Gary Sinise & Robin Williams come to mind) but they are few and far between.

  • Retired GI
    4:29 am on February 17th, 2010 4

    Being sexy was "natural" to her. That is way she is the sexiest ever.

    She beats what sells as sexy today by miles.

    My hat's off to Gary Sinise and the others that give their time to our Soldiers!

  • The Sanity Inspector
    5:48 am on February 17th, 2010 5

    All that pulchritude and not a speck of silicone!

  • Chris in South Korea
    11:59 am on February 17th, 2010 6

    Excellent post – and yeah, she's still sexier than what's-her-name or what're-they-called.

  • gerry
    1:08 pm on February 17th, 2010 7

    She was the biggest sexual bombshell to hit the earth at that time and set the standard for others to follow. While many have imitated since, few have had the impact that she had.

    Still remember peeking in the window to the carpentry shop next door to see her picture on the calender on the wall at age 8, maybe 9?, perhaps again at 10, would you believe 11, how about 13?

  • Villain
    3:52 pm on February 17th, 2010 8

    Back in my younger days a bare chested picture of her was considered real hard core porno. Also back then you got to see first rate entertainment as MWR was subsidised by congress.

  • Retired GI
    4:27 pm on February 17th, 2010 9

    At last! Someone that makes me feel young. You helped too Gerry. :razz:

  • JoeC
    5:50 pm on February 17th, 2010 10

    She was the exclamation point at the end of the pinup girls era.

    Stars and Stripes recently had an article about a young girl who is trying to bring back that tradition for the old guys in retirement homes. But when I look at her picture, she doesn't do it for me.

    About 20 years ago, some young Air Force artists tried to bring back the custom of painting pinup girl nose art on military aircraft. Remember Memphis Belle? The women in the Air Forces protested it was sexist and the effort was killed.

    Those were the days that will never come again.

  • guitard
    7:00 pm on February 17th, 2010 11


    5:36 am on February 17th, 2010 3

    Nowadays MWR has to shell out big bucks for this kind of entertainment.

    I know the lady at MWR who schedules a lot of the entertainment that comes to Korea and I've asked her about the costs. She said they pay "the going rate" to a band. In other words, the same amount they get payed for performing back in the States to a civilian audience.

  • nb
    4:37 pm on February 18th, 2010 12

    in 1954, they were still in new york, you retard…great fact checking.

  • kushibo
    7:36 pm on February 18th, 2010 13

    Who's this Marilyn Monroe person? Was she a singer? A dancer? Do you have a link?

    On a related note, I thought I read in some book that Bob Hope performed a USO show in Pyongyang when that was under allied occupation. Does anyone know (a) if that's true and (b) where to see pictures of that?

    And MM was totally hot.

  • Avatar of GI KoreaGI Korea
    10:22 pm on February 18th, 2010 14

    What are you talking about? DiMaggio and Monroe went to Korea in 1954.

    Here is the Stars & Stripes article from 1954:

  • ChickenHead
    6:22 am on February 19th, 2010 15

    "About 20 years ago, some young Air Force artists tried to bring back the custom of painting pinup girl nose art on military aircraft. Remember Memphis Belle? The women in the Air Forces protested it was sexist and the effort was killed."


    The innocent and heartfelt admiration and adulation of femininity is protested by womyn who take misguided pride in acting and thinking like men…

    …but not real men.

    They become charactertures of themselves… the lowest form of trashy skank hatefully impersonating a womyn's form yet with the dismissible attitude of a small, weak and angry unrespectable man… laughable like the thick-glasses stringy-haired spaz girl trying to convince everyone that she is cool as she slobbers on your shoes.

    Biitch… you can achieve equality based on merit… and even desirability… but not on similarity… no matter how much you insist or how loud you whine.

    You do realize that society is just yessing you to shut you the fucck up, don't you?

    Why are they not ignored by the Men Who Are So Powerful?

    It is yet another reminder of why I moved to Asia.

    My Asian wife definitely insists on being equal to me… but she never tries to be the same.

    I like that.

    I can't respect someone who is less than me… and I even less respect someone who ignores their strengths and insists their weaknesses don't exist… it is foolish and ignorant… as are noisy feminists and the worthless womyn who mindlessly follow them… thinking that, by forsaking their femininity, they will somehow achieve manly equality.

    You stupid biitches have been tricked!

    …by men who invented feminism to get women out of the houses and into "careers" such as convenience stores and fast food… not to mention "sexxual liberation"… meaning burn your bras and fucck at every chance.

    I'm proud to have an intelligent, capable and competent wife… and I'm satisfied to have a real woman as my life-partner instead of a loud, fat manly-acting biitch who thinks acting/dressing/thinking/fuccking feminine-style to please her man is somehow degrading.

    I act/dress/think/fucck to please my woman… and I take pride and satisfaction in that… and if I'm doin' it wrong, she quickly lets me know so I can correct it.

    The joke is on the feminists, though.

    No matter how hard they try, they will always be a second-rate man… and, because of their attitude, they will never be more than a bottom-of-the-barrel woman… ergo, the harder they push, the less they become as a human being… neither man nor woman… just bitter, hateful, worthless beings irritatingly striving for the unachievable.

    Any of you fat-azz thick-thigh comfortable-shoe-wearing librarian-dressing hairy-legged dyke-proud femino-centric man-hating whoore-biitches dare to comment on this?

    C'mon… run your kakholster…

    I can take it… because I'm not trying to be something I'm not and can never be.

  • The Sanity Inspector
    3:47 am on February 20th, 2010 16


    Sounds like you've been reading Fred Reed.

  • The Sanity Inspector
    3:47 am on February 20th, 2010 17


  • guitard
    10:28 am on February 20th, 2010 18

    Fred Reed

    There is near me an Asian sushi-beer-and-dinner establishment that I'll call the Asia Spot. The region is urban, so the clientele is a mix of some of just about everything, but the waitresses are all Asian, principally Japanese, Indonesian, Vietnamese, and Thai.

    Seeing how over 90% of the sushi bars in the US and Canada are owned and operated by Koreans – and have mostly Korean staff – I wonder if Fred really knows the difference between a Japanese woman, a Korean woman, a Vietnamese woman, etc., etc.

  • gerry
    10:59 am on February 20th, 2010 19

    Back in the 50s when her calender came out it caused quite a controversy. Porn at the time was not only illegal, it would lead to arrest and jail time.

    The first time I every saw a porno flick (or pic) was when I was 19 years old and just stationed in Japan. (1967). Some one was showing 16mm porno flicks in the dayroom, and it was fairly crowded with many heavy breathing airmen at the time. I'm sure when it was over many headed back to their rooms to commit a mortal sin and possibly go blind from doing so. Many required glasses at least, not to mention the heavy growth of hair on their palms.

  • The Sanity Inspector
    1:56 pm on February 20th, 2010 20

    Well, he's a Vietnam vet, so he's not completely ignorant, I wouldn't say.

  • Pops
    4:54 pm on February 20th, 2010 21

    Who's Marilyn Monroe? Surely you jest…

    (a) Yes, Bob Hope did perform in Pyongyang according to a couple of sources. David Halberstam's book, "The Coldest Winter," pp 10-11 mentions: "On one of their last days in Pyongyang (referring to a U.S. 1st Cavalry unit) there was another positive sign. Bob Hope held a show there for the troops. Now, that was really something: the famous comedian, who had done show after show for the troops in World War II, telling his jokes in the North Korean capital. That night many of the men in the Cav gathered to hear Hope, and then, with their extra ammo restored, they set out for a place just north of them called Unsan, to protect a ROK unit under fire." And Donald Knox's "The Korean War, An Oral History, Pusan to Chosin," pp 422-424 mentions a Fifth Cavalry Regiment narrative report of the two-hour performance on 27 Oct 50, and there are a couple of soldier recollections of this as well in this passage.

    (b) Haven't seen any pictures of him in Pyongyang, unlike of him at Wonsan. There were some pics of him (inc. Wonsan) and other USO entertainers in a batch of Korean War pics at:

  • Towards a More Perfect System of Scholarly Statistics « Sinologistical Violoncellist
    7:55 pm on February 20th, 2010 22

    [...] a More Perfect System of Scholarly Statistics By adamcathcart A darn-near perfect post on ROK Drop about Marilyn Monroe’s trip to Korea in 1954, along with a stunning book I am reading about Gustav Mahler and his relationship with his [...]

  • gerry
    9:58 am on February 21st, 2010 23

    Thanks SANITY INSPECTOR for the link. I think Fred hit the nail on the head. Definately my take on the issue.

  • chris
    1:01 pm on April 26th, 2010 24

    I was just cleaning out some photos cause my mom died and have found numerous photos of her among other famouse people in okinawa with my dad in them when he served in the Marines i wonder what i have found here?

    5:43 am on June 3rd, 2010 25

    Does anyone know about the picture of Marilyn with the baseball players. I have a picture similar to that one that was my father-n-laws. He said that he recieved when he was in the army stationed in Korea. I have been trying to find out more about it.

  • Leon LaPorte
    11:02 am on June 3rd, 2010 26

    Although above they are identified as "with what appears to be Korean baseball players," they are actually Ernest Abril, right, and Manuel Abril, left, both of Colton, California on FEB 21, 1954.

    Here is another similar picture where they are identified:

  • angela
    5:52 am on August 10th, 2011 27

    My grandpa was one of her drivers when she performed in Korea. My grandmother has the original picture :o)


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