Hal Schaefer dies at 87; musician known for Marilyn Monroe liaison


“The Real Reason for Marilyn Monroe’s Divorce from Joe DiMaggio” read the headline on a 1955 Confidential magazine article that exposed a bumbling ambush involving the famous ballplayer and Frank Sinatra. The unlikely duo allegedly had tried to catch the actress with “another man” at an apartment in West Hollywood.

Except the headline wasn’t exactly true. The sex symbol and DiMaggio had been divorced for more than a week when — acting on a tip from a private investigator — a group of men broke down the door of an apartment on Nov. 5, 1954, only to be greeted by a middle-aged woman screaming in her bed. DiMaggio and Sinatra were reportedly spotted scurrying away from the scene.

Nearby, Monroe was escaping through the back door of another apartment with her paramour and vocal coach, Hal Schaefer, who said decades later: “I think I’d be dead today if they had found me in there with Marilyn. They came in there and started destroying things. I mean, these guys were thugs.”


The break-in that came to be known as the “wrong-door raid” led to state and local investigations into whether private detectives and others were leaking salacious details about celebrities to scandal magazines. Confidential’s coverage of it was seen as contributing to the magazine’s demise.

And although Schaefer went on to distinguish himself as a jazz pianist, composer and arranger, his professional accomplishments have largely been overlooked. But the sensational coverage of his brief relationship with Monroe nearly 60 years ago never completely faded away.

Schaefer, who was also a composer-arranger for films and Broadway plays, died Dec. 8 at his home in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., after a brief illness, his family announced. He was 87.

He “never compromised his artistic vision,” singer-pianist Michael Feinstein told The Times last week while offering a theory as to why widespread fame eluded Schaefer. “He had a piano style and a musical palette that was possibly a little advanced for the average listener.

“He had a brilliant way of incorporating … very modern musical language into his playing that was masterful, yet he also could instantly switch to creating a dance arrangement for Judy Garland or Marilyn Monroe,” Feinstein said.

After touring with big bands in the 1940s, Schaefer had landed at 20th Century Fox as a rehearsal pianist and voice coach to “world-famous stars” who were “terrified to sing,” he later said.


He met Monroe while giving her voice lessons for the 1953 film “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.” Schaefer also arranged the version of “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” that she smolderingly delivers in the film.

Their relationship took a personal turn when he coached her for the movie “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” released in 1954, the year she married and divorced DiMaggio.

But Schaefer insisted that he did not break up the marriage. “It was already broken up,” he said in the 1985 book “Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe.”

When DiMaggio suspected the liaison, he had the couple followed and engaged in nightmarish harassment, Schaefer often recalled.

Three months before the Monroe-DiMaggio divorce, in July 1954, Schaefer tried to kill himself. He was found in his bungalow after downing cleaning fluids, “about a quart of brandy” and “about a hundred pills,” he said in “Goddess.”

“I just didn’t want to go on anymore,” he continued. “A great deal of the focus was on Marilyn, but it wasn’t totally that. It was the way I was in my life. I was despondent, depressed, drinking too much.”


Schaefer barely survived. Monroe’s visits to him in the hospital reportedly angered DiMaggio and helped lead to the Wrong-Door Raid.

No charges were filed over the break-in, but after Confidential reported it, a state Senate committee began investigating unethical sourcing practices, which laid the groundwork for “conspiracy to commit libel” charges against the magazine and contributors, according to the 2001 book “Dish: How Gossip Became the News and the News Became Just Another Show.”

The case was ultimately resolved through a plea bargain in which the charges were dropped after Confidential agreed to publish only flattering stories about celebrities, reported “Dish.” Circulation quickly plummeted, and the magazine limped along for years before folding.

The raid also marked the beginning of the end for Schaefer and Monroe. Embarrassed by the near-ambush, she “could barely face Hal after it” and the couple drifted apart, according to the 2010 book “The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe.”

He was born Harold Herman Schaefer on July 22, 1925, in New York City to a house painter and his wife.

He had his first piano lesson at 6 and studied piano at New York’s High School of Music and Art. While in his teens, he worked in bands led by big names of the era and was a protege of Duke Ellington, “who often introduced his young star with the line, ‘Now you’re going to hear a real piano player,’” according to Feinstein.

During his dozen years at Fox, Schaefer served as a vocal coach for such stars as Judy Garland, Jane Russell, Mitzi Gaynor and Susan Hayward, said a biography on his website.


In 1960, he moved to New York, where he recorded several albums, performed in jazz clubs and continued to teach singing. He orchestrated arrangements for several Broadway musicals, including “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” and “Foxy” in the 1960s and composed music for the films “The Money Trap” (1965) and “The Amsterdam Kill” (1977).

By the early 1990s, he was living in Florida, where he continued to teach and record. In 2001, he released the CD “June 1st: A Date to Remember.” Its original blues compositions honored two women who shared a birth date and had been significant in his life: Monroe, who died in 1962, and Brenda, his wife of 25 years, who died in 2000.

Katie, his daughter from a previous marriage, died in June.

Survivors include a brother, Robert, and a grandson.