Sunday 14 September 2014

Marilyn & Ella: The Meeting of the Misfits

"I owe Marilyn a real debt...It was because of her that I played the Mocambo..."

In 1941, the Mocambo Club opened in Los Angeles, a Latin-themed club that attracted celebrities like Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, Janet Leigh and tony Curtis and Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.  Desi was one of a long list of performers at the Mocambo.  In fact, Lucy and Desi patterned their TV show nightclub "The Tropicana" after the Mocambo.  

However, black performers were barred from performing at the L.A. club.  When Marilyn Monroe found out that the Mocambo had banned Ella Fitzgerald, she phoned the manager and promised to book a front row table every night for a week if he would agree to hire the jazz singer.  The manager agreed, knowing that a starlet like Monroe would attract reporters and patrons.  

On March 15, 1955, Ella Fitzgerald sang for the first time at the Mocambo.  With the walls lined with cages filled with cockatoos and macaws, and with Marilyn Monroe in the audience, Ella belted out hits like "I Can't Give You Anything But Love", "Baby" and "Tisket Tasket".  The crowd loved her. The manager kept asking her back.  

Ella and Marilyn forged a friendship.  They had much in common:  they had suffered abuse as children, they spent a lot of time with men in their careers and they both longed for children but couldn't have them.  

Ella appreciated Marilyn's kind gesture.  She never had to play a second rate club again.  She claimed:  "Marilyn was ahead of her time and she didn't even know it."

The Mocambo closed in 1958.  But no one forgot Ella's sultry voice -- thanks in large part to Marilyn's kind gesture.

Note:  A play opened in Stratford, England in 2006 called "Marilyn & Ella:  The Meeting of the Misfits".


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