This is how the myth began. Excerpt below from an interview ELLA FITZGERALD gave in 1972 to Ms Magazine:
It’s a great story and has been quoted often . The trouble is that as far as I am aware there is no photographic evidence of Marilyn being at the Mocambo nightclub on the Sunset Strip during the period Ella played there – March 15-25, 1955.
The following two photos are from an earlier engagement Ella had in 1954 at the Tiffany Club in New York. There are news items to show Marilyn went more than once to see Ella at the Tiffany club.
The above memo from Inez C. Melson, who worked for Marilyn, is dated February 1955 and refers to Marilyn attending the Tiffany club a few months earlier. Ella’s publicity agent mentions that Marilyn had said she would like to give a party for Ella when she opened at the Mocambo. (So, as early as November 1954, the possibility of Ella singing at the Mocambo was being considered.)
Ms Melson indicated that Marilyn might not be in Los Angeles in March. (Marilyn was living in New York.)
And no indication that Marilyn had been involved in Ella’s booking at the Mocambo.
The above review of Ella’s debut at the Mocambo mentions Eartha Kitt, Judy Garland and Frank Sinatra attending the first night. There can’t be any doubt that if Marilyn had been there , it would have been mentioned.
The Mocambo night club was in business from 1941 to 1959 and attracted many Hollywood stars.
In relation to the Marilyn/Ella story, there was also a suggestion that the Mocambo had never featured a black entertainer. Not true. Prior to Ella’s appearance in 1955, the club had Lena Horne, Dorothy Dandridge and Eartha Kitt.
So, If Ella is correctly quoted in the 1972 article, why would her memory be so wrong. Even if she confused the Mocambo booking with the Tiffany, it’s not clear why she would tell this story about Marilyn being responsible for the Mocambo engagement.
Ella was already very well known in show business by the 50s. The Mocambo booking was prestigious for a jazz singer but it’s not clear that she needed any help to get the booking.
A young Ellla in RIDE ‘EM COWBOY (1942). She sang her hit song, ‘A-Tisket, A-Tasket’ in this Abbott and Costello comedy. She made no more films till PETE KELLY’S BLUES in 1955 in which she had a cameo and sang the title song and ‘Hard Hearted Hannah’.
On You Tube, I found a clip from The Dinah Shore show, with Ella, Dinah and Joan Sutherland singing ‘Three Little Maids’ from The Mikado. So unusual and funny!
One of my favourite Ella recordings is Cole Porter’s ‘Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye.’ Such a rich tone , heartfelt delivery and wonderful breath control.
Ella died in 1996 , aged 79. She had suffered ill health for several years and , due to diabetes, had both her legs amputated below the knee in 1993. A tragic ending to an amazing career.
Truly, ‘The First Lady of Song’.
And so, even if the legend isn’t true, there’s no doubt that Marilyn loved Ella’s singing.