Marilyn Monroe’s Star Was Soaring When She Changed Ella Fitzgerald’s Life With A Single Phone Call

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Image: via KNKX / William P. Gottlieb

Having been typecast as a sexy “blonde bombshell” for much of her acting career, Marilyn Monroe moved to Manhattan in 1955 seeking new creative avenues. She studied method acting, underwent psychoanalysis and listened to jazz records – lots of jazz records. And she soon realized that the artistic genius she yearned for was alive and present in the soulful vocals of Ella Fitzgerald…

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Born Norma Jeane Mortenson in Los Angeles in 1926, Monroe had established a Hollywood acting career in her early 20s after securing minor contracts with Columbia Pictures and Twentieth Century-Fox. Thereafter, her rise to international stardom was swift and dazzling. By 1955, thanks to her roles in films such as Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and The Seven Year Itch, she was an iconic sex symbol and well on her way to becoming Hollywood’s biggest star.

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By contrast, Ella Fitzgerald was an established musician by 1955, but relatively unknown outside her niche. Born in Newport News in Virginia in 1917, she began her singing career in the 1930s, performing and recording songs with leading band musicians such as Chick Webb. In 1942 she embarked on a solo career. And by the time she met Marilyn Monroe, she was an accomplished jazz vocalist with several hits to her name. Still, her big breakthrough was yet to come.

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