Monday, July 13, 2015

Marilyn and Ella

I really like the image above, not only because it shows two iconic American pop stars but also because it's a testimonial to the fact that they did meet. Said Fitzgerald:
“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.”
I've made this incident part of my play about Marilyn, although it isn't the main focus. It turns out somebody else has already made a play about this incident:
Marilyn and Ella is a 2008 play by Bonnie Greer. It is a musical drama about Marilyn Monroe and Ella Fitzgerald.
Unfortunately the play appears not to have been published, and it doesn't seem to be playing anywhere around. I would love to read it. I contacted Greer via Twitter and asked about it - she said it hasn't been published but might be playing somewhere soon.

Greer is kind of a big deal -  she's all over Youtube making speeches, and although she was born American she's now a British national and a dame.

Apparently she just resigned as president of the Bronte Society (!) last month.

Greer has interesting things to say about theater in the Telegraph and mentions her play.
Every week, I get word of yet another black British theatre practitioner packing it in and planning to head Stateside. Our industry simply cannot afford this.

But there are many who stay, determined to try here in the country in which they were born. My own play about the real-life friendship of Marilyn Monroe and Ella Fitzgerald, Marilyn and Ella, largely exists because of the energy of Colin McFarlane, its Black British director/producer.
Here is Greer speaking about the play. She makes some statements about Monroe that I hadn't heard about and she also gets the facts wrong about the Mocambo - it was not segregated prior to Fitzgerald. The idea that Monroe desegregated a nightclub of course makes a better story, but it's not true.

A search through the Jet Magazine archives (how cool is that - it appears the entire magazine's archives are available online free) provides evidence that in fact the Mocambo was not segregated prior to Fitzgerald because there's a story about Eartha Kitt playing the Mocambo in 1953.

I was hoping that Jet had information about the Marilyn/Ella incident, but while an article in the April 7, 1955 issue is about Fitzgerald's debut at the Mocambo and mentions plenty of celebrities (see below) it does not mention Monroe at all.

All the pictures I could find of Monroe & Fitzgerald. You'd think there would be more.


UPDATE: my play about Marilyn Monroe will be performed in Manhattan February 20 - 26, 2017.