How Marilyn Monroe Used Her Status as a Hollywood Star to Boost Ella Fitzgerald’s Career

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When once asked about her favorite singers, Marilyn Monroe answered, “Well, my very favorite person, and I love her as a person as well as a singer, I think she’s the greatest, and that’s Ella Fitzgerald.”
By the 1950s, Fitzgerald’s enthralling singing voice had won her fans across the country. But the venues that hired her were often smaller clubs; some places weren’t interested in having an overweight Black woman perform for them, no matter her talent. Fitzgerald reportedly once told her press agent, “I know I make a lot of money at the jazz clubs I play, but I sure wish I could play at one of those fancy places.”
In November 1954, Monroe got to see Fitzgerald perform in Los Angeles. The two were soon friends, so when Marilyn learned of Fitzgerald’s inability to get a gig at the Mocambo, a famous L.A. nightclub, she decided to help. The club’s owner felt that Fitzgerald lacked the glamour to draw crowds. So Monroe approached him with a proposition – if he booked Fitzgerald, she promised to sit at the front of the house every night and to bring along other celebrities.
The club owner agreed to hire Fitzgerald for a couple of weeks in March 1955. During Fitzgerald’s run, Monroe kept her word to sit up front, and Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland showed up on the opening night. Such celebrity firepower wasn’t that necessary – Fitzgerald’s shows sold out, and the owner added a week to her contract.
This successful engagement changed Fitzgerald’s career trajectory. She later told Ms. magazine, “After that, I never had to play a small jazz club again.”
Following her success at the Mocambo, Fitzgerald got other jobs at big venues and also returned to the Mocambo. Yet not every location treated her equally due to the color of her skin, some expected her to enter through a side door or back entrance rather than the front. When Monroe became aware of this, she again supported her friend. She had traveled to Colorado to see Fitzgerald perform. Once there, she saw her friend ushered away from the front entrance, so Monroe refused to go inside unless both she and Fitzgerald were allowed through the front doors. The movie star got her way and soon all of Fitzgerald’s performance spots were treating the singer with the respect she deserved.
Their friendship would last until Monroe’s untimely death. In 1972, when she told Ms. magazine the story of Monroe’s role in getting her that gig at the Mocambo, she noted, “I owe Marilyn Monroe a real debt.”

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