“Happy Birthday, Mr. President”
By Mary Miller Cullins
Who doesn’t remember May 19, 1962, when Marilyn Monroe sang “Happy Birthday” for President John F. Kennedy at a celebration for his 45th birthday? Heck, I wasn’t even born yet, but that scene is etched in my memory. I must have watched the film clip a thousand times. Of course, President Kennedy was my mother’s all-time favorite, and she still talks about him to this day. His birthday. John F. Kennedy was born on May 29, 1917, in Brookline, Massachusetts.
President Kennedy’s 45th birthday celebration was held at Madison Square Garden with more than 15,000 people in attendance, including numerous celebrities. Jackie Kennedy was not at the party.
Peter Lawford was there to introduce Marilyn Monroe, who was late and came out several hours into the show. Her dress was noted for being made of a sheer flesh colored marquisette fabric, with 2,500 rhinestones sewn into it. The dress was so tight-fitting she had to be sewn into it.
Afterwards, President Kennedy came on stage and joked about 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 Monroe’s delivery, her racy dress, and her general image as a sex symbol.
The song and Marilyn’s performance have been remembered for many reasons. First, it was one of her last major public appearances, she died that August. Secondly, rumors had been circulating that she and President Kennedy had had an affair (something my mother will never believe), giving her performance yet another layer of meaning.
“Happy Birthday, Mr. President, Happy Birthday To You”
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