Surprising Lessons from Marilyn Monroe and Ella Fitzgerald

The other day, I read a really cool article about how Marilyn Monroe changed Ella Fitzgerald’s life. Back in the 50’s, as Ella was touring, she, like many other African American artists at the time, was struggling to get gigs due to her race. It wasn’t uncommon for African American musicians to be relegated to small clubs, to be asked to enter through back doors, and to receive poor treatment in restaurants and hotels. One of the most happening clubs back in the day was the Mocambo in Hollywood. Ella, however, was not allowed to play there. One day, Marilyn Monroe placed a phone call to the owner of Mocambo. She promised him that if he booked Ella, she would be sitting in the front row every night. Knowing how much publicity the club would get by the presence of superstar Marilyn Monroe, the owner booked Ella immediately. Marilyn kept her promise and took a front table every night, the press went crazy, and Ella’s career took off. As the saying goes, the rest is history.

There are some great lessons for marketers and business owners to take away from this wonderful story.

  • Don’t underestimate the influence of your friends. This story is such a great example into how interconnected we all are. Sometimes, you’ve got friends (and fans) in high places – and you may not even know it. Ella didn’t seek out Marilyn Monroe. Instead, Marilyn had been studying her music and her voice in order to become a better singer, and that’s how she became a fan. The truth is, you just never know who can impact your career and/or your life.
  • Pay it forward. When Marilyn told the club owner that she would be sitting in the front row every night, she made a big commitment, and she followed through, probably because she wanted to use her stardom to help someone in whom she whole-heartedly believed. When was the last time that you took a chance on someone or something and paid it forward?
  • Be extraordinary. By being so vocal about her support of Ella Fitzgerald, I’m sure that Marilyn Monroe made some enemies. The potential of negative publicity didn’t detract her from making a bold statement. Don’t be afraid to be opinionated and to be extraordinary. A lot of good can come out of it.
  • Reciprocate. Ella and Marilyn had not met in person when Marilyn made the call to the owner of Mocambo. However, they became friends after their first encounter. They both benefited from the relationship on multiple levels. In fact, many believe that listening to Ella’s recordings made Marilyn a better singer.

What about you? Have you organically developed genuine relationships that ended up being mutually beneficial?


Kat is the CEO of Spectate. Her goal is to empower users to create and manage their web content and to provide them with the tools to become even better content marketers. Connect with Kat on Google+!

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