In the 1950s, Tiffany Club in Los Angeles’ Wilshire district became the hottest place to catch jazz legends like Charlie Parker, Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald perform. One night in 1954, audience member Marilyn Monroe wrangled herself an introduction to the famed “Summertime” singer — and it became the start of a beautiful friendship.

Can’t We Be Friends, a new novel by historical fiction authors Denny S. Bryce and Eliza Knight, explores the decade-long bond between these two iconic women. “Marilyn was fascinated by Ella’s talent, and so she came into the relationship already admiring her,” says Knight. In fact, Marilyn and her second husband Joe DiMaggio’s favorite love song was Ella’s “Embraceable You.”

Ella, however, took more time to warm up to the blond bombshell. “Initially, she only knew what she had seen on film or read in the newspaper,” explains Bryce, adding that they met at a pivotal time in the singer’s life and career. “Ella was just coming out of her second marriage, deciding on a new manager, and trying to stay relevant.”

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Marilyn, a longtime fan, was also on the cusp of her greatest success and had been determined to meet her favorite singer for some time. She had even written to Ella asking for singing lessons. “Marilyn wanted to be good at everything she did,” explains Bryce, who adds that the star wrote Ella in 1952 as she prepared to shoot the musical Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. “She already had talent, but she wanted to hone it.”

Ella turned down the opportunity to become Marilyn’s singing coach. “She said, ‘I’m self-taught. I don’t know how to teach someone else to sing,’” says Bryce.

Something Special

They’d walked different roads, but Ella and Marilyn realized they shared a lot of similar experiences as ambitious performers living in America of the 1950s. “They were motivated women who were very dedicated to their jobs,” explains Knight, who notes that they’d each overcome long odds to become trailblazers in their fields but were still hampered by obstacles.

“In post WWII America, the whole climate and landscape was changing, especially for women,” says Bryce, adding that it still wasn’t completely acceptable for women to have careers as well as a husband and children. “Ella wanted it all, but there were still barriers to that happening. That desire was something she shared with Marilyn.”

While researching their book, the authors discovered a long-forgotten project that Ella and Marilyn had hoped to do. “We found an announcement of the Friends album that was contracted by RCA for Ella and Marilyn to do together,” says Knight. “The interesting thing is that there are a number of songs that both of them sang that probably would have been on it. Sadly, that album never came about.”

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