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True story behind Marilyn Monroe ‘helping’ Ella Fitzgerald land gig that’s gone viral


Marilyn Monroe (right) helped Ella Fitzgerald get booked for a West Hollywood nightclub (Picture: Bettmann Archive)

Currently circulating around social media is a sweet story about Marilyn Monroe and Ella Fitzgerald, in which it’s claimed the singer and actress helped the jazz star land a lucrative gig by using her white privilege.

In tweets and Instagrams, it’s claimed one of the most popular music venues in the 50s, Mocambo, in Hollywood, wouldn’t book Ella because she was Black.

The tweet that has gone viral this week reads: ‘Did you know that when Ella Fitzgerald couldn’t get booked by clubs and TV because she was black, Marilyn Monroe offered to come to a nightclub every night and sit in the front row if they let Ella sing? That’s how you use your privilege for good.’

The urban legend states that Marilyn told the owners of the club that she would sit in the front row for each of Ella’s performances if they agreed to put her on the stage. 

While the part about Marilyn convincing the owners of Mocambo to allow Ella to perform is true, the reason they were hesitant wasn’t because they had never had Black performers at the club.

While her race would undoubtedly have played a part given the era, Black entertainers including Eartha Kitt and Herb Jeffries had played at Mocambo before Ella. 

Marilyn used her star power to get Ella on the bill for Mocambo (Picture: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

The reason for their reluctance to book her was that owner was hesitant to have a ‘true jazz’ singer perform, worrying she wasn’t glamorous enough for the club in West Hollywood. 

In Marilyn: The Passion and the Paradox, a biography of the actress’s life, the writer claims Marilyn had seen Ella perform at a small club and decided to ‘boost her career’ by getting her a slot at Mocambo. 

The book states: ‘She contacted the owners of the Mocambo, a top Sunset Strip nightclub, and persuaded them to hire Fitzgerald for a week.

‘Marilyn promised to be in the front row every night and to take friends with herAccording to Dorothy Dandridge, however, the real problem with Fitzgerald at that time was not that she was African-American but that she was overweight, without much sex appeal.

Ella Fitzgerald has spoken out about Marilyn’s help (Picture: Dezo Hoffman/REX)

‘Singing at the Mocambo was a turning point in Fitzgerald’s career. With a major nightclub on her resume, she was no longer relegated to small clubs. She was grateful to Marilyn, although she held back from close friendship because of Marilyn’s drug habit.’

Marilyn had in fact stepped in to speak to Mocambo’s owner Charlie Morrison to urge him to book Ella, and the singer has spoken about what happened. 

Ella said: ‘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.’

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