Ella was more than a singer, she was also an actress, and occasionally, she would even dance a few steps (she entered the Apollo’s Amateur night as a dancer…but she chickened out and sang instead….the rest is music history)
Anyway, if you would like more information about Ella “on the screen”, here you go:
The Small Screen
Ella was on TV A LOT! Especially during the earlier days of television when she was a highly-sought-after guest on the many variety shows of that era. We’re working on a list of all her TV appearances, but meanwhile:
To see Ella on TV, please visit our friends at the Paley Center for Media
They’ve got great footage of Ella on television.
Ella in the Movies
Sometimes I think that Miss Fitzgerald never got a break when it came to the movies, but it wasn’t that easy for a woman of color to get a good role back in the fifties, sixties…or even the seventies. Ella appeared in exactly FOUR feature films:
Here are the movies in which Ella performed:
and there aren’t too many…..
Ride ‘Em, Cowboy
Ride ‘Em Cowboy is a 1942 Universal Pictures short starring Abbot and Costello, and featuring a very young Ella who played “Ruby”, a maid. She sang her big hit “A-Tisket, A-Tasket” on board a bus, and then she took her seat…..all the way in the very back of the bus. The song is actually a very cute clip and it was featured in the long-running Ella Fitzgerald exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. ( www.si.edu )
Pete Kelly’s Blues
In 1955, a very young Jack Webb starred in the movie adaptation of the 1951 radio show of the same name. Ella Fitzgerald appears in quite a memorable cameo as Maggie Jackson, a nightclub singer, who befriends the main character. You get to hear Ella sing the title song (which later came out on one of her albums, see our discography) and for even more musical fun, Ella sings one of her big hits, “Hard-Hearted Hannah”. Critics agree that this was Ella’s best role, limited though it was.
St. Louis Blues
A Paramount Motion Picture
This movie was a “biopic” based on the life of the great W.C. Handy, the “Father of the Blues”. The film was released in 1958 and starred Nat “King” Cole as Handy, Ella simply played herself (though the movie was set long before she was even born) as a saloon singer belting out “Beale Street Blues”, a Handy tune. Worth watching just to learn about the history of the Blues, and Ella was really good.
Let No Man Write My Epitaph
A sequel to the Humphrey Bogart Film: “Knock an Any Door”
Talk about dark and depressing movies….this movie was set in a tenement in Chicago, it’s in black and white, horrible things happen to the characters, but it has a terrific cast: Burl Ives, Shelley Winters, Ricardo Montalban, a very young James Darren, and Ella who played “Flora”, a tired, drug-addicted singer (Ella never ever was into drugs or alcohol, so I guess this really does show that she had acting talent!) and she got to sing “Reach for Tomorrow” and a couple of other songs. It looks like Ella is playing the piano….but that part was faked, the real hands playing were those of Cliff Smalls. The film bombed, but you can still find the songs on Ella’s recording: The Intimate Ella”.
Want even more information?
Check out www.imdb.com for a great list of Ella’s vocals used in films and for detailed information about the movies in which Miss Fitzgerald performed.
They also have listings for TV and even commercials…
did you know that Ella did a GREAT Kentucky Fried Chicken commercial? It’s true, but what’s really funny was that she was on a very restricted diet and wasn’t allowed to eat the chicken!
Other Helpful Sites
Amazon.com is a good place to find lots of titles with Ella and a good place to buy ‘em, too!
Wikipedia has a ton of information on Ella’s various appearances, films, television specials and recordings.
For old radio shows, please visit www.radiolovers.com, old shows you haven’t thought about in years!
Looking for some helpful books?
There are two Ella Fitzgerald biographies that I have found to be just full of information, and they are well-indexed and easy to use:
- First Lady of Song, Ella Fitzgerald for the Record
by Geoffrey Mark Fidelman
- Ella Fitzgerald: A Biography of the First Lady of Jazz
by Stuart Nicholson.