the mocambo

Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe at Tiffany Club 1954

“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.“ Ella Fitzgerald  

Random Fact #909

Ella Fitzgerald wasn’t allowed to perform at the Mocambo, a popular club in Hollywood, because she was black. 

Marilyn Monroe called the owner of the Mocambo and told him that if he booked Ella immediately, she would take a front table every night. 

The owner said yes, and Marilyn was there, front table, every night. After that, Ella never had to play in a small jazz club again.

Ella Fitzgerald On How Marilyn Monroe Helped Her Career.


“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.“

Black history month day 16: Jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald.

Ella Fitzgerald was born April 25, 1917, in Newport News, Virginia. She moved to New York with her mother in the early 1920s, and lived in a poor predominately Italian neighborhood. She was a gifted student and had a passion for performance, most especially singing and dancing. She got some of her first musical training at her church. She grew up listening to jazz music recordings of Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby, and the Boswell Sisters. She especially idolized the lead singer of the Boswell Sisters, Connee.

After losing her mother to a car accident at the age of 15, and moving away from her possibly abusive stepfather, Fitzgerald lived with her aunt and skipped school, sometimes working as a lookout for a mafia affiliate. She was caught by the law and sent to a reform school in Hudson. Eventually she escaped and was homeless for time.

Fitzgerald survived for a few years singing on the streets of Harlem, and her first major debut was singing during amateur night at the Apollo theater. She got a major break when she met bandleader Chick Webb, and began performing with his band. After Webb died, Ella took over the band and toured with them for some time.

Fitzgerald started her solo career in 1942 and performed with artists such as Bill Kenny & the Ink Spots, Louis Jordan, Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, and the Delta Rhythm Boys. On March 15, 1955, she performed at the Mocambo nightclub in Hollywood at the behest of her friend Marylyn Monroe.

Critics came to know Ella as sort of a reverse Elvis, a black woman popularizing songs written by immigrant Jews for a largely white Christian audience. She was prolific in her career of solo hits and collaborations, and had many well respected live performances and friendships with jazz stars white and black, including Bing Crosby, Peggy Lee, Dizzy Gillespie, Dike Ellington, and Frank Sinatra.

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Ella Fitzgerald on Marilyn Monroe:

“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.“

Jimmy Stewart and Burgess were close friends and even roommates circa 1940-41. Burgess staged a celebration at Mocambo in Hollywood for Jimmy after he returned home for a weekend leave from the war. This is a photo I found in the archives from that party. Franchot Tone, Lorraine Gettman, Frances Ford Seymour, Henry Fonda, Betty Field and Burgess.

The only fan page solely dedicated to Burgess Meredith // Lovingly ran by his grandniece in attempt to keep his legacy alive.

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Mocambo opened in 1941, and became an immediate success. The club’s Latin American-themed decor cost $100,000. Along the walls were glass cages holding live cockatoos, macaws, seagulls, pigeons, and parrots. With big band music, the club became one of the most popular dance-till-dawn spots in town.
In 1943, when Frank Sinatra became a solo act, he made his Los Angeles debut at the Mocambo.
In the mid 1950s, Ella Fitzgerald became the first black performer at the Mocambo, after Marilyn Monroe lobbied the owner for the booking.
The club’s main stage was replicated on the TV series I Love Lucy as the “Tropicana” Club.
The Mocambo closed in 1959. The site is now a parking lot for a Burger King restaurant that features artwork from the interior of the original building.

Dorothy Dandridge performing during her opening night at the Mocambo in Los Angeles, California on September8, 1953. “Unlike the singers who just sang, [Dorothy] Dandridge’s club appearances now were startling dramatic performances. Dorothy used lighting, gowns, dramatic pauses, physical grace, and knowing reading of the lyrics to tell a tale of a woman in the throes of romance and passion. With her vitality and playfulness, she had created a brilliant club persona. Unfortunately, she never fully saw the value of it.”-Donald Bogle

(Many thanks to @mslenahorne on IG for sharing these amazing photos of Dorothy)

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On this day in music history: August 5, 1978 - “Miss You” by The Rolling Stones hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 1 week, also peaking at #6 on the Billboard Club Play chart and #33 on the R&B singles chart on July 22, 1978. Written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, it is the eighth US chart topper for the legendary British rock band. The song is initially inspired while Mick Jagger jams with musician Billy Preston during rehearsals for the bands gig at The El Mocambo Club in Toronto, Canada in March of 1977. The song evolves into its distinctive disco sound when it is recorded at EMI’s Pathe Marconi Studios in Paris in late 1977. The harmonica on “Miss You” is played musician Sugar Blue who is discovered by Ron Wood busking on the streets of Paris. The track is remixed by engineer Bob Clearmountain after Jagger hears Chic’s “Dance, Dance, Dance” one night at Studio 54. Clearmountain goes on the work with The Stones for many years afterward. Issued as the first single from the classic “Some Girls” album on May 10, 1978 (UK release is on May 26, 1978), it is an immediate smash. Entering the Hot 100 at #76 on May 27, 1978, it climbs to the top of the chart ten weeks later. The single is also released as a remixed and extended 12" single that also becomes hugely popular and a major seller. “Miss You” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.

“Fred Astaire posed for pictures with affable Ginger. In fact, the two indulged in so much earnest conversation, leaving Mrs. Astaire and Ginger’s escort Randy Scott to chat alone, that gossip ran high that Ginger and Fred were discussing a new film to be made together.“ Photoplay, reporting on a meeting between Fred and Ginger on a night out at the Mocambo club in October, 1942