One was the First Lady of Song; the other, the world’s biggest sex symbol. But Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe had much more in common than superstardom, and it led to a close and enduring bond.
In the ’50s, “Marilyn sought out Ella’s friendship and played her music to calm down. She said, ‘Ella is good for my tummy,’” Geoffrey Mark, author of the biography Ella, exclusively told Closer Weekly in the magazine’s latest issue, on newsstands now. “In a business dominated by men, they had to learn to advocate for themselves. Marilyn loved Ella’s work and Ella loved Marilyn’s power.”
Marilyn used that power to help her friend. “It wasn’t easy for Ella to get booked at the Moulin Rouge in Los Angeles, so Marilyn told the owners, ‘If you book her for 10 days, I’ll bring 10 of the biggest stars each night,’” Mark said. “She did, and Ella never had problems getting booked into a major nightclub again.”
She also helped Ella fight segregation. At a mid-’50s concert in Denver, Ella was asked to enter through the kitchen, but Marilyn said, “She enters where I enter, or I don’t enter!” Mark explained. Together, they walked arm in arm through the front door.
Friends until Marilyn’s death in 1962, they both suffered traumatic childhoods which led them to be “very private and very protective of their personal lives,” Mark explained. Ella was sexually abused as a teen by her stepfather after her mother died, and Marilyn had been raped as a child and spent time in an orphanage and foster care. So as they navigated fame, the pair found strength in each other. As Mark put it: “They were a very early example of what we now call Girl Power.”
Marilyn later passed away in 1962 at age 36. Her death was ruled a probable suicide and in 1996, Ella died from a stroke at age 79.
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