Arguably, “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” sung by Monroe is one of the most iconic and most reenacted birthday songs at all time.
The blond bombshell Marylin Monroe sang the traditional “Happy Birthday to You” lyrics in a sultry, intimate voice on Saturday, May 19, 1962, for President John F. Kennedy at a celebration of his forty-fifth birthday, ten days before the actual date (Tuesday, May 29).
President Kennedy’s birthday celebration was held at the third Madison Square Garden , and more than 15,000 people attended, including numerous celebrities, although First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy was not present.
Afterwards, as an enormous birthday cake was presented to him, President Kennedy came on stage and joked about Monroe’s version of the song, saying, “I can now retire from politics after having had Happy Birthday sung to me in such a sweet, wholesome way,” alluding to Marilyn’s delivery, skintight dress, and image as a sex symbol.
Monroe’s dress was noted for being made of a sheer and flesh-colored marquisette fabric, with 2,500 shimmering rhinestones sewn into it.
The dress was so tight-fitting that Monroe had difficulty putting it on; she wore nothing under it. It was designed by Jean Louis.
Monroe’s iconic dress was made by designer Jean Louis and originally cost $12,000.00. The dress sold in 1999 at an auction in New York for over US$1.26 million.
Peter Lawford was at the event that night to introduce Monroe. He made a play on the actress’s reputation for tardiness by giving her a number of introductions throughout the night, after which she did not appear on stage.
When Monroe finally appeared in a spotlight, Lawford introduced her as the “late Marilyn Monroe”. Monroe peeled off her white ermine fur coat, revealing the dress, and the audience gasped.
The song and Monroe’s performance have been remembered for numerous reasons. It was one of her last major public appearances before her death less than three months later on August 5, 1962.