How Marilyn Monroe made pioneering stand against racism

Posted on: 13 November 2009 by Gareth Hargreaves

Marilyn Monroe: dizzy blonde bombshell or caring, intelligent civil rights advocate?

To millions, Monroe is known only by the former, her screen caricature, but as Bonnie Greer reveals in her new play Marilyn and Ella, the real woman was considered and outspoken proponent for change.

She may have been famous for her music and her looks, but Marilyn Monroe was much more than a blonde bombshell. Way ahead of her time, Marilyn took a dramatic stand against racism in 1950s America by befriending the black singer Ella Fitzgerald, at a time when black music and black singers weren’t welcome on the mainstream theatre and club stages. It’s a friendship, and an aspect of Marilyn’s character, that’s rarely touched on in the press.

Marilyn & Ella

New to the West End this November, Marilyn & Ella is the celebrated play with songs by acclaimed writer Bonnie Greer, which explores this unique friendship, addressing the themes of racism and friendship with sensitivity, intelligence and warmth.

Marilyn helped Ella to get her lucky break in Mocambo, an LA club, in the 1950s, which ultimately led to worldwide iconic status. As Ella Fitzgerald herself once said about Marilyn: “She was ahead of her time and she didn’t even know it”.

Black singer banned from the stage

Writer Bonnie Greer first came across the unusual friendship while watching a documentary on the Biography channel in the US: “It was an incredibly poignant friendship,” she says. “As black singers were banned from the stage, Marilyn was taking a massive personal risk in seeking out this friendship. She could have been sacked by her film company and never worked again. But she saw past the colour; to Marilyn, Ella was a great artist whom she worshipped from afar and finally needed desperately to meet. This is a fantastic and deeply moving true-life story, and one that still resonates 50 years on.”

In this short interview recorded during the play's first run in 20008 Bonnie discusses what drove her to write a play about this unlikely friendship


Marilyn & Ella will play at the Apollo Theatre on 15th, 22nd and 29th November

Performances at 15.30 (only 22nd and 29th) and 19.30. The play features one of the world’s most famous Marilyn performers Suzie Kennedy as Marilyn Monroe, with Hope Augustus as Ella Fitzgerald, and is directed by Colin McFarlane. 

For tickets call 0844 412 4658 or see for details

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