Marilyn & Ella Fitzgerald, and the True Story of Jazz, Advocacy, and Diversity

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 Monroe 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 Monroe 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.

Marilyn Monroe & The Casting Couch

Marilyn Monroe’s rise to stardom has often been clouded by speculation surrounding her involvement in the notorious casting couch system prevalent in Hollywood. However, by examining her own words and the circumstances of her career, we can gain a clearer understanding of her determination and hard work that propelled her to success. 

Challenging Misconceptions

Contrary to popular belief, Marilyn Monroe vehemently rejected the notion of using her body to advance her career. In her ghost-written biography, My Story, she candidly expressed her refusal to succumb to the pressures of the industry. She boldly stated, “The only acting I’ll do is for the camera.”

Pursuit of Craft

Marilyn Monroe’s journey to becoming a talented actress was marked by relentless effort and a thirst for improvement. She recognised her limitations and actively sought opportunities to enhance her skills. Taking several classes in dance, singing, and acting, she dedicated herself to honing her craft. She stated, “I could actually feel my lack of talent as if it were cheap clothes I wear inside. But, my God, how I wanted to learn! To change, to improve! I didn’t want anything else. Not men, not money, not love but the ability to act.” 

Expanding Horizons

During her tenure at Fox in the late 1940s, Marilyn seized the opportunity to immerse herself in the world of acting. She attended The Actors Laboratory, where she encountered stage writers and directors from Broadway, exposing herself to diverse perspectives and methodologies. Her interest in Method Acting further exemplified her dedication to her profession. She actively engaged in study and theatre groups, continuously refining her skills.

The Power of Networking

While Marilyn Monroe wasn’t particularly fond of social events and parties, she recognised the significance of networking in Hollywood. Attending various public events and studio parties, she took advantage of these opportunities to connect with influential figures in the industry. She stated, “In Hollywood, a girl’s virtue is much less important than her hair-do. You’re judged by how you look, not by what you are. Hollywood’s a place where they’ll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss, and fifty cents for your soul. I know, because I turned down the first offer often enough and held out for the fifty cents.”

Demystifying Rumours

Rumours and speculation surrounding Marilyn’s relationships with influential figures in Hollywood persist to this day. However, both Marilyn Monroe and Joe Schenck vehemently denied any romantic involvement. Marilyn stated, “The only favor I ever asked him, Mr. Schenck, was later when I was back at Twentieth. I wanted a decent dressing room, and I asked him about it, and he put in a good word for me.” Schenck himself said, “No, I never had any romantic thoughts about Marilyn, and she never had any thoughts about me.”

Johnny Hyde: A Different Dynamic

Marilyn Monroe’s relationship with Hollywood agent Johnny Hyde was unique but should not be misconstrued as part of the casting couch system. Hyde provided her with guidance, connections, and security, but it was Marilyn’s talent and hard work that ultimately propelled her career forward. Her true ascent to stardom occurred after Hyde’s passing, further highlighting her individual determination and the merit of her abilities.

The story of Marilyn Monroe challenges the pervasive notion that her success was solely a result of the casting couch system. Through her own words and the evidence of her tireless efforts, we see a woman who refused to compromise her principles and relied on her talent and hard work to forge her path. Marilyn Monroe’s legacy as an iconic figure in Hollywood is a testament to her perseverance, shrewdness, and unwavering commitment to her craft.

Beyond the Smile: Marilyn Monroe’s Complex Emotions and Unexplored Joys

In the brief 36 years of her life, Marilyn Monroe is often associated with a melancholic existence due to her untimely passing. While the media tends to portray her as a perpetually unhappy individual, concealing her true emotions behind a radiant exterior, it is essential to question whether this portrayal accurately represents her.


Although Marilyn Monroe once remarked to a Marie Claire reporter, Georges Belmont, in 1960 that she was “generally miserable,” it is crucial to examine the context and consider her lighthearted fits of laughter during the conversation. She acknowledged that her sociability varied from day to day, much like anyone else.


Considering Marilyn’s tumultuous life and the challenges she faced, such as her troubled upbringing and mental health issues like insomnia, anxiety, and depression, it is natural to assume that she experienced periods of sadness. Depressive episodes, compounded by medication addiction and sleep deprivation, undoubtedly had a significant impact on her overall mood.


Examining her notes and journals, one can find dejected and hurtful words reflecting her state of mind. However, it is important to note that most people’s personal diaries often contain feelings of anger, pain, and hurt rather than joy and happiness. Marilyn Monroe should not be held to a different standard in this regard.


From a young age, Marilyn was reported as someone in need of stability and reassurance. Her orphanage report stated that she appeared terrified unless approached with patience and reassurance, emphasizing her longing for encouragement, attention, and acceptance. Given her constant moving and lack of a stable family, coupled with the mental, physical, and sexual abuse she endured, it is understandable that she sought security throughout her life.


Even in her adult years, Marilyn struggled to find healthy and stable relationships that could provide the level of security she desired, resulting in bouts of anxiety.


It is worth noting that some individuals have posthumously speculated that Marilyn Monroe may have had a borderline personality disorder, but diagnosing the deceased is controversial. While claims have been made about a medical card at the Anna Freud Museum stating Marilyn’s diagnosis, it is important to consider the limitations of such posthumous diagnoses.


In a letter to her psychoanalyst Ralph Greenson in 1961, during her institutionalization against her will due to her declining mental state, Marilyn wrote, “I know I will never be happy, but I know I can be gay!” This statement, followed by the quote from the poet Milton, implies that happiness is not a constant state for anyone. Marilyn recognized that emotions are complex and that one cannot be perpetually happy or perpetually sad.


It is essential to consider that although Marilyn struggled with mental health issues, received therapy, and was prescribed medication, the field of medicine and psychology has evolved since her time. Some of the drugs she was prescribed are now banned, suggesting that modern treatment approaches may have alleviated some of her difficulties.


Furthermore, it is important to remember that we cannot fully grasp what someone is experiencing or comprehend their life behind closed doors. People often present a facade to the world, and being the most famous woman on Earth would undoubtedly amplify the pressures and stresses of life. The absence of a smile or makeup on a particular day does not necessarily indicate a bad mental health day. Photos only capture a limited glimpse of someone’s reality.


Speculation surrounds many aspects of Marilyn’s life. We cannot definitively determine when she lost interest in her marriage to Arthur Miller or if she intended to rekindle her romantic relationship with Joe DiMaggio. The true meaning behind her last note to Joe can only be understood by Marilyn or Joe themselves. It is crucial to avoid excessive speculation in these matters.


We cannot quantify the number of days Marilyn felt happy versus feeling down, nor can we determine her state of mind on her final day. There is much we do not know, and it is unfair to speculate.


Memory is a subjective and selective aspect of human experience. People who knew Marilyn may choose to remember her in a certain way, while certain memories may stand out more vividly due to the nature of her death.


Therefore, labelling Marilyn as solely a sad person is an oversimplification. Like anyone else, she had good days and bad days. Life is not a binary of happiness and sadness; it encompasses a wide range of emotions that cannot encapsulate an individual’s entire existence. Marilyn’s life consisted of numerous joyous events, some known to the public and others hidden behind closed doors. It is crucial to appreciate her sense of humour, her goofiness, and her fun-loving side—qualities that should not be overshadowed by the circumstances surrounding her death.