Marilyn Monroe Sings Happy Birthday to JFK

A Sexy Rendition to Celebrate President John F. Kennedy Turning 45

Actress Marily Monroe sings "Happy Birthday" during President John F. Kennedy's Birthday Salute. Madison Square Garden. New York, New York. (May 19, 1962).

Photo by Cecil Stoughton. White House Photograph / John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston

On May 19, 1962, actress Marilyn Monroe sang “Happy Birthday” to U.S. President John F. Kennedy during an event celebrating JFK’s 45th birthday at the Madison Square Garden in New York City. Monroe, wearing a skin-tight dress covered in rhinestones, sang the ordinary birthday song in such a sultry, provocative manner that it made headlines and became an iconic moment of the 20th century.

Marilyn Monroe Is “Late”

Marilyn Monroe had been working on the movie Something’s Got to Give in Hollywood when she took a plane to New York to participate in President John F. Kennedy’s birthday celebration at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Things had not been going well on the set, mostly because Monroe had been frequently absent. Despite her recent illnesses and trouble with alcohol, Monroe was determined to make a grand performance for JFK.

The birthday event was a Democratic Party fundraiser and included many famous names of the time, including Ella Fitzgerald, Jack Benny, and Peggy Lee. Rat Pack member (and JFK’s brother in law) Peter Lawford was the master of ceremonies and he made Monroe’s famous lateness a running joke throughout the event. Several times, Lawford would introduce Monroe and the spotlight would search the back of the stage for her, but Monroe would not step out. This had been planned, for Monroe was to be the finale.

Finally, the end of the show was near and still, Lawford was making jokes about Monroe not appearing on time. Lawford stated, “On the occasion of your birthday, the lovely lady who is not only pulchritudinous [breathtakingly beautiful] but punctual. Mr. President, Marilyn Monroe!” Still no Monroe.

Lawford pretended to stall, continuing, “Ahem. A woman about whom, it truly may be said, she needs no introduction. Let me just say…here she is!” Again, no Monroe.

This time, Lawford offered what seemed to be an impromptu introduction, “But I’ll give her an introduction anyway. Mr. President, because in the history of show business, perhaps there has been no one female who has meant so much, who has done more…”

Mid-introduction, the spotlight had found Monroe at the back of the stage, walking up some steps. The audience cheered and Lawford turned around. In her skin-tight dress, it was hard for Monroe to walk, so she scampered across the stage on her tiptoes.

When she reaches the podium, she rearranges her white mink jacket, pulling it close to her chest. Lawford put his arm around her and offered one last joke, “Mr. President, the late Marilyn Monroe.”

Monroe Sings “Happy Birthday”

Before exiting the stage, Lawford helped Monroe remove her jacket and the audience was given their first full glimpse of Monroe in her nude-colored, skin-tight, sparkly dress. The huge crowd, stunned but excited, cheered loudly.

Monroe waited for the cheering to die down, then placed one hand on the microphone stand and started singing.

Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday, Mr. President
Happy birthday to you

By all accounts, the usually somewhat boring “Happy Birthday” song had been sung in a very provocative way. The whole rendition seemed even more intimate because there had been rumors that Monroe and JFK had been having an affair. Plus the fact that Jackie Kennedy was not present at the event made the song seem even more suggestive.

Then She Sang Another Song

What many people don’t realize is that Monroe then continued with another song. She sang,

Thanks, Mr. President
For all the things you’ve done,
The battles that you’ve won
The way you deal with U.S. Steel
And our problems by the ton
We thank you so much

Then she threw her arms open and yelled, “Everybody! Happy birthday!” Monroe then jumped up and down, the orchestra began playing the “Happy Birthday” song, and a huge, lighted cake was brought out from the back, carried on poles by two men.

President Kennedy then came up onto the stage and stood behind the podium. He waited for the massive cheering to die down and then began his remarks with, “I can now retire from politics after having had ‘Happy Birthday’ sung to me in such a sweet, wholesome way.” (Watch the full video on YouTube.)

The whole event had been memorable and proved to be one of the last public appearances of Marilyn Monroe – she died of an apparent overdose less than three months later. The movie she had been working on would never be finished. JFK would be shot and killed 18 months later.

The Dress

Marilyn Monroe’s dress that night has become nearly as famous as her rendition of “Happy Birthday.” Monroe had wanted a very special dress for this occasion and so had asked one of the finest costume designers of Hollywood, Jean Louis, to make her a dress.

Louis designed something so glamorous and so suggestive that people are still talking about it. Costing $12,000, the dress was made of a thin, flesh-colored souffle gauze and covered in 2,500 rhinestones. The dress was so tight that it had to be literally sewn onto Monroe’s naked body.

In 1999, this iconic dress went up for auction and sold for a shocking $1.26 million. As of this writing (2015), it remains the most expensive piece of clothing ever sold at auction.

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Your Citation
Rosenberg, Jennifer. "Marilyn Monroe Sings Happy Birthday to JFK." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Rosenberg, Jennifer. (2020, August 26). Marilyn Monroe Sings Happy Birthday to JFK. Retrieved from Rosenberg, Jennifer. "Marilyn Monroe Sings Happy Birthday to JFK." ThoughtCo. (accessed January 27, 2023).