Marilyn and Ella Fitzgerald’s fabled encounter has already been recreated in two books for children, Famous Friends and Ella: Queen of Jazz. Now a third has been published, Making Their Voices Heard, with text by Vivian Kirkfield and illustrations by Alleanna Harris. Although the tale of Marilyn helping Ella to secure a nightclub gig is certainly uplifting, the facts are somewhat hazy (more details at Snopes.)
Marilyn’s friendship with Ella Fitzgerald is featured tomorrow on the France 2 channel’s 8:30 p.m. Saturday, a magazine show presented by Laurent Delahousse. The story of Marilyn helping Ella to secure a nightclub engagement in Hollywood (as recalled by the great jazz singer after Marilyn’s death) has already been depicted in a stage play, a children’s book and even an episode of Drunk History. But although the respect and affection between them was genuine, a recent article by Dan Evon for Snopes suggests the facts are more complicated than they appear.
“This is a genuine photograph of Monroe and Fitzgerald. It’s also true that Monroe urged Mocambo’s owner Charlie Morrison to book Fitzgerald in 1955 … In sum, Fitzgerald was the not the first black singer to perform at the Mocambo. However, her performance at the West Hollywood hot spot would prove to be a breaking point in numerous ways.”
This photo by George Barris, taken in July 1962 – often said to be the last professional photo of Marilyn – graces the cover of Polish magazine Zwierciadlo this month.
In Hungary, Marilyn (as photographed by Alfred Eisenstadt in 1953) makes the cover of July’s Meglepetes Retro, while a Sam Shaw photo covered another Hungarian magazine in June.
As well as the recent New Literary Magazine, Marilyn graced another French magazine cover in June.
And finally, Marilyn (and her favourite singer, Ella Fitzgerald) covered a Romanian magazine in May.
Marilyn is featured in a new book by Geoffrey Mark. ELLA: A Biography of the Legendary Ella Fitzgerald is fully illustrated, and in the text, Mark describes the two iconic women as ‘true girlfriends, each had the other’s back as both felt overworked, put-upon, and under-appreciated by the men in their lives as well as their employers.’
The story of Marilyn’s helping Ella secure a nightclub engagement in Hollywood has been somewhat exaggerated over the years (more info here), but there does seem to have been a genuine affinity between them. Geoffrey Mark gave his take on their friendship in an interview with Stephanie Nolasco for Fox News.
“Mark told Fox News Fitzgerald’s estate gave his book ELLA their blessing and he had full cooperation from the star’s recording companies. Mark also assisted Fitzgerald in her later years and befriended her inner circle. Mark insisted that despite Fitzgerald’s sweet, sunny voice that easily lit up any stage, few fans know the full measure of the cruelty she endured as a child before finding fame.
‘It’s an unfortunate set of circumstances,’ said Mark. ‘Ella’s mother died in a car accident. And the man who was her mother’s companion, turned to Ella for comfort. He drank too much and forced himself on Ella, forcing her to run away from home… And because she ran away… the government grabbed her and stuck her in this awful place where children were sent — far away from where she was living.’
‘Marilyn Monroe began going to Ella Fitzgerald’s concerts and nightclub gigs,’ Mark explained. ‘She struck up a conversation with her and what they found out was they had both been teenagers forced out on their own, they had to survive for themselves, they both had to deal with being women in a business that was completely dominated by men… And Marilyn saw how Ella was treated sometimes for being black, for being overweight and for being in the jazz world.'”
The iconic photo of Marilyn with Ella Fitzgerald at the Tiffany Club in 1954 graces the cover of a 10-disc CD boxset from the Document Records label, Milestones of Jazz Legends: Female Jazz Singers. Sadly, Marilyn’s own recordings aren’t included, but with twenty albums by the likes of Ella, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington, Peggy Lee, Abbey Lincoln and more, it’s great value and a perfect introduction to the elegant sound of a bygone era.
Thanks to A Passion For Marilyn
“Ella Fitzgerald is celebrated in two affectionate tributes, Ella: Queen of Jazz on 19 November at Hotel Felix, with author/illustrator Helen Hancocks and award-winning vocal/piano duo, Miriam Ast & Victor Gutierrez. Featuring a selection of Ella’s famous songs, live illustration, plus a short reading and chat about Helen’s latest book and its themes. The inspiring, true story of how a remarkable friendship between Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe was born, and how they worked together to overcome prejudice and adversity.”
Ella Fitzgerald, Marilyn’s friend and greatest musical influence, was born 100 years ago today. You can read my tribute here.
Ella Queen of Jazz is a new children’s book by Helen Hancocks, recounting the famous story of Marilyn’s friendship with Ella Fitzgerald. Although its historical accuracy has been questioned and some of the details may be embellished, the anecdote came from Ella’s own lips. What we can be sure of is that Marilyn helped Ella to secure a nightclub engagement in Hollywood, and that she attended her show on at least one occasion. Marilyn considered Ella her own greatest musical influence, and the women remained friendly until her death. A Christmas card sent by Ella to Marilyn was auctioned at Julien’s last year, and they would both perform at President Kennedy’s birthday gala in 1962. Although we may quibble over the details, it’s an empowering tale of female friendship overcoming social barriers and is rendered colourfully in this charming book.
Marilyn’s marriage to Arthur Miller is featured in a new book, The Art of the Affair: An Illustrated History of Love, Sex and Artistic Influence. Her platonic friendships with Truman Capote and Ella Fitzgerald are also mentioned. The Art of the Affair is a collaboration between novelist Catherine Lacey and illustrator Forsyth Harmon.
Among Marilyn’s possessions were many items of sentimental value. She kept this ballerina paperweight in her New York apartment next to a framed photo of 1920s Broadway star Marilyn Miller, who inspired her own stage name. In a strange twist of fate, she would also become ‘Marilyn Miller’ after her third marriage. She later gave the paperweight to her friend and masseur, Ralph Roberts, calling it “the other Marilyn.”
This silver-tone St Christopher pendant was a gift from Natasha Lytess, Marilyn’s drama coach from 1948-54. (St Christopher is the patron saint of travellers.) Marilyn cut ties with Lytess after discovering she was writing a book about their friendship. She later gave the pendant to Ralph Roberts, telling him, “I’ve outgrown Natasha.”
This gold and silver-tone Gemini pendant reflects Marilyn’s close identification with her astrological sign, symbolised by twin faces. “I’m so many people,” she told journalist W.J. Weatherby. “Sometimes I wish I was just me.”
Marilyn was exceedingly generous to her friends, as the story behind this bracelet reveals.
“A rhinestone bracelet owned by Marilyn Monroe and gifted to Vanessa Reis, the sister-in-law to May Reis, Monroe’s personal assistant and secretary. In a letter to the consigner dated November 28, 1994, Ralph Roberts writes, ‘Reference Marilyn robe and bracelet. As best I recall, late one Saturday afternoon Marilyn and I were in the dining area of the Miller 9th floor suite at the Mapes Hotel. She had just changed into a robe, sitting on one of the chairs and I was massaging her back and shoulders. She showed me a bracelet she’d brought to Reno with thought of possibly wearing it as a [undecipherable comment] for Roslyn [Monroe’s character in The Misfits]. Upon discussing it, she and Paula [Paula Strasberg was Monroe’s acting coach and friend] had decided somehow it wouldn’t be appropriate. Just then May Reis entered with Vanessa Reis (the widow of Irving Reis, May’s greatly loved brother and film director). Vanessa had come up from LA for a long weekend visit – there’d been some talk of our going out to some of the casinos to do a bit of gambling. Vanessa told Marilyn how lovely she looked in that robe. Marilyn thanked her + impulsively held out the bracelet, Take this + wear it as a good luck charm. I was wearing it during dance rehearsals for Let’s Make Love, smashed into a prop, so a stone is loosened. I wish I could go with you, but Raffe is getting some Misfits knots out. And I should go over that scene coming up Monday. They left. Marilyn asked me to remind her to have the robe cleaned to give to Vanessa. Whitey, Agnes, May – all of us – knew from experience we couldn’t compliment Marilyn on any personal items or had to be very careful. She’d be compulsive about giving it, or getting a copy – to you.’ Accompanied by a copy of the letter.”
Jack Dempsey, a former world heavyweight champion boxer, wrote to Joe DiMaggio’s New York Yankees teammate, Jerry Coleman, in 1954. “Have been reading a lot about Marilyn, Joe and yourself, here in the east,” Dempsey remarked. “Best of luck to you and your family, and send Marilyn’s autograph along.”
This small pine-cone Christmas tree, held together with wire and dusted in glitter, was given to Marilyn as a surprise by Joe DiMaggio one year when she had no plans, or decorations. Christmas can be a lonely time, and Joe made sure to bring some cheer.
This vintage Hallmark card was sent to Marilyn one Christmas by her favourite singer, Ella Fitzgerald.
Author Truman Capote sent Marilyn a personally inscribed 1959 album of himself reading ‘A Christmas Memory‘ (an excerpt from his famous novella, Breakfast at Tiffany’s.)
Marilyn owned a leather-bound, monogrammed copy of Esquire magazine’s July 1953 issue, featuring an article about herself titled “The ‘Altogether’ Girl.”
Marilyn’s 1954 trip to Korea to entertain American troops was one of her happiest memories. This photo shows her with the band and is accompanied by a letter from George Sweers of the St Petersburg Times, sent after their chance reunion when Marilyn took a short break in Florida in 1961.
This endearing note accompanied a gift from Marilyn to Paula Strasberg, who replaced Natasha Lytess as her acting coach in 1956: “Dear Paula, I’m glad you were born because you are needed. Your warmth is both astonishing and welcomed. Love & Happy Birthday, Marilyn.”
In April 1955, novelist John Steinbeck wrote a letter to Marilyn, asking her to sign a photo for his young nephew.
“In my whole experience I have never known anyone to ask for an autograph for himself. It is always for a child or an ancient aunt, which gets very tiresome as you know better than I. It is therefore, with a certain nausea that I tell you that I have a nephew-in-law … he has a foot in the door of puberty, but that is only one of his problems. You are the other. … I know that you are not made of ether, but he doesn’t. … Would you send him, in my care, a picture of yourself, perhaps in pensive, girlish mood, inscribed to him by name and indicating that you are aware of his existence. He is already your slave. This would make him mine. If you will do this, I will send you a guest key to the ladies’ entrance of Fort Knox.”
Television host Edward K. Murrow sent Marilyn a Columbia Records album, featuring excerpts from speeches by Sir Winston Churchill, in November 1955. She had been a guest on Murrow’s CBS show, Person to Person, a few months previously.
Marilyn’s custom-bound edition of Arthur Miller’s Collected Plays included a personal dedication. Miller had drafted a fuller tribute, but it was nixed – possibly because his first divorce was not final when it was published.
“This book is being written out of the courage, the widened view of life, the awareness of love and beauty, given to me by my love, my wife-to-be, my Marilyn. I bless her for this gift, and I write it so that she may have from me the only unique thing I know how to make. I bless her, I owe her the discovery of my soul.”
Costume designer Donfeld sent Marilyn this handmade birthday card one year, together with a small note that read, “M – I hope this finds you well and happy – My thoughts are with you now – Love, Feld.”
This engraved cigarette case was given by Marilyn to Joe DiMaggio during their post-honeymoon trip to Japan in 1954.
This souvenir brochure for the small town of Bement, Illinois was signed by Marilyn when she made a surprise appearance in 1955, during a festival marking the centennial of an historic visit by her idol, Abraham Lincoln.
Comedian Ernie Kovacs sent this rather cheeky letter to Marilyn in 1961. He would die in a tragic car crash in January 1962, aged 43, followed by Marilyn in August.
“The letter, addressed to ‘Marilyneleh’, invites Monroe to a get together at his home on June 15, giving the dress code as ‘… slacks or if you want to be chic, just spray yourself with aluminum paint or something.’ He continues, ‘I’ll try to find someone more mature than Carl Sandburg for you. … if Frank is in town, will be asking him. … don’t be a miserable shit and say you can’t come. … Look as ugly as possible cause the neighbors talk if attractive women come into my study.’ He signs the letter in black pen ‘Ernie’ and adds a note at the bottom: ‘If you don’t have any aluminum paint, you could back into a mud pack and come as an adobe hut. … we’ll make it a costume party. … Kovacs.'”
Always gracious to her fans, Marilyn gave child actress Linda Bennett a magazine clipping with the inscription, “I saw you in The Seven Little Foys. Great – Marilyn Monroe.” She also signed this photograph, “Dear Linda, I wish you luck with your acting. Love and kisses, Marilyn Monroe Miller.”