The Yale University Press is coming under fire from a close friend of baseball legend Joe DiMaggio for its decision to feature DiMaggio and his on-again, off-again partner Marilyn Monroe on the cover of a new DiMaggio biography.

DiMaggio’s former attorney and the executor of DiMaggio’s estate, Morris Engelberg, 70, objects to a photograph of DiMaggio and Monroe that the Yale University Press has selected for the cover of author Jerome Charyn’s new book “Joe DiMaggio: The Long Vigil,” set to be published by the YUP next year. Monroe, who died in 1962, was the love of DiMaggio’s life, Engelberg said, but she was always a sensitive subject with DiMaggio. Three law professors interviewed were split on whether the YUP has a right to use the photograph of DiMaggio and Monroe, and although Engelberg declined to comment on whether he would pursue legal action against YUP, he said that he was protective of his friend and would “use all legal remedies” if needed.

[ydn-legacy-photo-inline id=”5712″ ]

“It’s in poor taste with anybody who knows anything about Joe DiMaggio,” Engelberg said in a phone interview from his home in Florida last Monday. “It’s a cheap shot to sell books.”

Engelberg, who wrote a biography of DiMaggio entitled “DiMaggio: Setting the Record Straight,” met the sports star in 1983. Engelberg told the News that DiMaggio always had a soft spot for Monroe. The two married in 1954 and divorced less than a year later, but eventually reconciled. Monroe died in 1962, just days before she and DiMaggio were set to remarry. From then on, DiMaggio refused to mention Monroe’s name in public and sent roses to her crypt three times a week for the next 20 years . Even major interviewers and sportscasters knew not to bring up Monroe when speaking to DiMaggio, Engelberg said; if they did, DiMaggio would immediately end the interview. Engelberg wrote in his biography that before DiMaggio died in 1999, his last words were, “I’ll finally get to see Marilyn.”

“I have no objection to what they use inside the book, but a cover of Joe and Marilyn is a cheap shot,” Engelberg said. “There’s no class. It’s a lack of respect and just shows that the author really has no knowledge of the real Joe DiMaggio.”

Jerome Charyn, the book’s author, was unavailable for comment, but Yale University Press Director John Donatich said in an e-mail to the News Oct. 14 that the YUP “intend[s] to use the photograph as planned in accordance with our First Amendment rights.”

Daniel J. Kevles, a history professor who teaches a course on intellectual property rights at the Law School and is a member of the content-focused YUP Publications Committee, which approves books for publication, said that the YUP’s use of the photograph was “a matter of academic freedom.”

“The estate can’t control the image of Joe DiMaggio insofar as [DiMaggio] took on a public persona, and part of his public persona was his marriage to Marilyn,” Kevles said.

The right of publicity, which gives a public figure control over the marketing of his or her image, also plays a role in this legal debate, said Stephen L. Carter, a law professor who said he has only “a passing familiarity” with the case.

“Yale’s position, as I understand it, is that [Charyn’s book] would be used [as] a work of serious scholarship,” Carter said. “If this is so, then it is difficult to see how the right of publicity could prevent publication.”

The situation would be different if the estate owns the rights to the photograph itself, Carter added.

Kevles said that he could see why Engelberg objects to the photo.

“I can understand [his] point because inside the book, the photo is simply Joe and Marilyn as just another feature or element in Joe’s life,” Kevles said. “One among many. To put it on the cover is to imply that Joe’s life was defined by his marriage to Marilyn.”

“Joe DiMaggio: The Long Vigil” is scheduled for release in February 2011 as part of the YUP’s “Icons of America” series. The YUP is currently accepting pre-orders for the book on its website.