In 1972, renowned jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald shared a story with Ms Magazine that has since become iconic:
“I owe Marilyn Monroe a real debt … she personally called the owner of the Mocambo and told him she wanted me booked immediately, and if he would do it, she would take a front table every night. She told him – and it was true, due to Marilyn’s superstar status – that the press would go wild. The owner said yes, and Marilyn was there, front table, every night. The press went overboard. After that, I never had to play a small jazz club again. She was an unusual woman – a little ahead of her times. And she didn’t know it.”
However, it is important to clarify some misconceptions and provide accurate information about the events surrounding Marilyn Monroe’s involvement and Ella Fitzgerald’s experiences. Contrary to popular belief, Marilyn did not attend the Mocambo every night as Ella described. In fact, Marilyn didn’t attend at all, and the infamous photo often associated with this story was actually taken at The Tiffany Club, not the Mocambo.
It is worth noting that Ella Fitzgerald’s account has contributed to Marilyn being hailed as a civil rights legend, with many believing that Ella was initially refused the venue due to her race. However, Ella never mentioned anything about her race or being denied the opportunity to perform at the Mocambo based on that. Her statement focused on Marilyn’s assistance.
Furthermore, Ella was not the first African American performer at the Mocambo. Prior to her, talented singers like Nat King Cole, Louis Armstrong, Josephine Baker, Sarah Vaughan, and Billy Eckstine had already graced the stage of the West Hollywood club. Their remarkable contributions broke down racial barriers and paved the way for future generations of black artists. The presence of these iconic musicians highlights the club’s significance in challenging stereotypes and promoting racial inclusivity in the music industry.
So how did Marilyn actually help Ella Fitzgerald? When Marilyn learned that Ella had been denied the opportunity to perform at the Mocambo, she took it upon herself to advocate for Ella. She personally called the club’s owner, expressing her desire for Ella to be booked and promising that she would attend every night, generating significant press coverage for the venue. The fact that Marilyn acted as the agent for the booking was confirmed by the press at that time.
Ultimately, Ella Fitzgerald was granted performances at the Mocambo from March 15 to March 25, 1955. Notable figures such as Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland were photographed attending these shows in support of Ella’s run at the renowned club. However, Marilyn Monroe’s presence was not mentioned in the press, nor was she photographed.
In a memo sent to Marilyn’s business manager, Inez Melson, in February 1955, it was documented:
“A few months back, Miss Monroe visited the Tiffany Club on West 8th Street where Ella Fitzgerald was playing. Miss Fitzgerald talked of a possible future date at the Mocambo, and Miss Monroe said when this happened, she would like to give a party for Miss Fitzgerald. Miss Fitzgerald will open at the Mocambo on March 15, and Miss Brooks wanted to know if Miss Monroe was serious about giving a party. I told her that I did not think that Miss Monroe would be in town on that date, but I would tell her about Miss Fitzgerald’s opening.”
During that time, Marilyn was actually out of town, being photographed by Ed Feingersh in New York.
Considering these facts, it is likely that Ella Fitzgerald may have mistaken events and believed she had seen Marilyn at the Mocambo when, in reality, it was a couple of months earlier at the Tiffany Club.