CNN examined the life of iconic actress Marilyn Monroe during a three-hour special on Sunday. Reframed: Marilyn Monroe explored Monroe’s advocacy for racial equality, particular when it came to famed jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald.
“My very favorite person, and I love her as a person as well as a singer, I think she's the greatest and that's Ella Fitzgerald,” Monroe once said.
Monroe’s longtime friend Amy Greene discussed the star's love for the Black singer, saying Monroe played Fitzgerald's records all the time. Greene also discussed how Monroe got Fitzgerald booked at the popular restaurant club Mocambo. Apparently the club did not book Black artists unless they were “beautiful.” Despite her amazing voice, Fitzgerald’s appearance did not meet the booking manager’s standards.
“Marilyn read this in the paper and got very annoyed,” Greene recalled, “and called the manager and said, ‘Hi, this is Marilyn Monroe and if you rebook Ella Fitzgerald I will come every night to hear her sing.’ Both shows!”
While Monroe’s act of friendship would not be seen as unusual today, historians noted that this occurred in the midst of the civil rights movement and during a time of heightened racism. So Monroe’s support of Fitzgerald could have hurt her career, but she did it anyway.
“Advocating for somebody like Ella Fitzgerald when she didn't have to and unpopular, this speaks to her principles,” Historian Michele Mitchell said. “Ella did say Marilyn Monroe was ahead of her time and she didn't even know it.”
Reframed: Marilyn Monroe aired Sunday at 8 p.m. on CNN.
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