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1941: The Mocambo Opens

The Mocambo

The Mocambo

Like Cafe Trocadero and Ciro’s, the Mocambo was a world-famous nightclub on the Sunset Strip catering to celebrities. Located at 8588 Sunset Blvd. [map], it opened on January 3, 1941, featuring Mexican-themed decor said to have cost over $100,000 (about $1.6 million today) and dominated by glass-walled aviaries that housed live macaws, cockatoos, parrots and other birds. (And, yes, the ASPCA objected to this arrangement.)

During its 17-year run, the Mocambo was the scene of a number of celebrity brawls. In 1941, a movie agent named William Burnside cold-cocked restaurateur Michael Romanoff there, for reasons now forgotten. “I wish they had let me go just for a minute and I would have annihilated him,” Romanoff said later. In October that year, Errol Flynn punched Los Angeles Times columnist Jimmy Fidler at Mocambo in retaliation for purported derogatory comments Fidler had made in his column.

After Frank Sinatra left the Tommy Dorsey orchestra in 1943, he made his debut as a solo act at Mocambo. The club was also at the forefront of breaking the color line during the Jim Crow era. Eartha Kitt, Lena Horne and Ella Fitzgerald all played there in the 1940s and 1950s. Ella’s appearance in March 1955 was given a boost by her superstar fangirl, Marilyn Monroe. Marilyn promised Mocambo owner Charlie Morrison that if he would book Ella, she would make sure the booking received worldwide publicity. True to her word, Marilyn was in the house every time Ella performed, and where Marilyn went, reporters followed. Ella later said that because of Marilyn’s support, after she played the Mocambo, “I never had to play a small jazz club again. She was an unusual woman — a little ahead of her times. And she didn’t know it.”

Charlie Morrison died in 1957. The Mocambo closed a year later, on June 30, 1958. Another club called the Cloister opened in the space briefly. The building was later demolished, and a retail plaza occupies the lot today.

 
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