What a night !! Thanks to Ole’ Blue Eyes and some assistance with the Cocoanut Grove’s staff, we were able to bring back together for one more evening the Best Comedic Duo of all time, Martin and Lewis; 1958
Marilyn Monroe with Ella Fitzgerald at the the Mocambo. A popular Hollywood night club at the time. That would not book Ella because of segregation. Marilyn told the manager that she would reserve a front row table every night Ella performed there. Ella performed a week later. 1955. .
If asked “Who played an important role in the musical career of Ella Fitzgerald?” you might respond with names like Chick Webb, Louis Armstrong, Norman Granz, and Dizzy Gillespie.
The name Marilyn Monroe (who passed away 50 years ago this August), however, might not come to mind.
While touring in the ’50s under the management of Norman Granz, Ella, like many African-American musicians at the time, faced significant adversity because of her race, especially in the Jim Crow states. Granz was a huge proponent of civil rights, and insisted that all of his musicians be treated equally at hotels and venues, regardless of race.
Despite his efforts, there were many roadblocks and hurdles put in to place, especially for some of the more popular African-American artists. Here is one story of Ella’s struggles. Once, while in Dallas touring for the Philharmonic, a police squad irritated by Norman’s principles barged backstage to hassle the performers. They came into Ella’s dressing room, where band members Dizzy Gillespie and Illinois Jacquet were shooting dice, and arrested everyone. “They took us down,” Ella later recalled, “and then when we got there, they had the nerve to ask for an autograph.” Across the country, black musicians, regardless of popularity, were often limited to small nightclubs, having to enter through the back of the house. Similar treatment was common at restaurants and hotels.
When Marilyn Monroe learned that the Mocambo, a popular Hollywood night club, would not book Ella Fitzgerald because of segregation, she phoned the manager and told him that she would reserve a front row table every night Ella performed there, knowing that her presence would get a lot of press and publicity for the club. Soon thereafter, Ella became the first African-American to perform at the Mocambo, and as promised, Marilyn was seated right up front to enjoy her favorite singer.