Dorothy Arnold was born Dorothy Arnoldine Olson on November 21, 1917, in Duluth. Her parents were Victor Arnold Olson and Clara F. (Kolbak) Olson. Victor, who used the first name Arnold, was a brakeman for the Northern Pacific railroad. Clara was a Duluth native. Both of Dorothy’s parents’ families had been in Duluth since the late 1880s or early 1890s. When Dorothy was born, the Olsons were living at 1725 West Second Street. In addition to Dorothy, the Olsons had three other daughters—Leona, Irene, and Joyce.
Dorothy began performing at age 12. She sang with the Salvation Army, in children’s programs, and at parties. Dorothy attended Denfeld High School and was active in sports. She graduated from Denfeld in 1935. After high school, she toured the Midwest in a Balaban and Katz stage unit. Later, while she was singing for NBC in New York, she was offered a screen test for Paramount. Based on the test, she signed a movie contract with Universal and was off to Hollywood.
Dorothy played minor roles in several movies. On the set of Manhattan Merry-Go-Round in New York in 1937 she met Joe DiMaggio, who also had a small part in the film. Her first credited role in a movie was in The Storm (1938). Her family went to the Lyric Theater in Duluth to see the film. She appeared in You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man (1939), Code of the Streets (1939), The House of Fear (1939), and several other films. By July 1937, DiMaggio had given her an engagement ring. They were married on November 19, 1939, at Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral in San Francisco. Reportedly, over 10,000 onlookers crowded the streets outside the church to get a glimpse of the Yankee star.
After the honeymoon, the DiMaggios settled in Manhattan. The couple visited Dorothy’s parents in Duluth in January 1941. A photograph in the local paper shows DiMaggio viewing Duluth’s new baseball park, Municipal Stadium, which would be renamed Wade Stadium in 1954, and the caption quotes him as calling it, “as good as any I’ve ever seen.” Dorothy gave birth to Joe DiMaggio III on October 23, 1941. By then, Joe and Dorothy were drifting apart. They separated and Dorothy was granted a divorce on May 12, 1944, when DiMaggio was serving in the army. The newspapers quoted her as saying that her husband had wrecked their marriage with his “cruel indifference.” Reportedly, the two remained friends until DiMaggio started dating Marilyn Monroe in the early 1950s. Dorothy was never able to resurrect her movie career after the divorce, although she appeared in some films and television series (including episodes of Dragnet and The Adventures of Jim Bowie) up to 1958. She visited her parents in Duluth in 1952 and told a reporter that she was working as a nightclub singer and would be going on tour the following week.
Dorothy married George Shubert, a New York stockbroker, in the late 1940s, but the marriage didn’t last. In the late 1960s, she married Ralph Peck and lived with him in Cathedral City, California (near Palm Springs) until her death. From 1967 to 1981, they operated a restaurant called Charcoal Charley’s, and Dorothy entertained there.
Dorothy died of cancer in a clinic in Ensenada, Mexico, on November 13, 1984. Her son, Joe III, apparently had problems with drugs and died on August 6, 1999.