The Skin-Tight Dress Marilyn Monroe Wore For Kennedy's Birthday
Actress Marilyn Monroe sings "Happy Birthday" to President John F. Kennedy at Madison Square Garden, for his upcoming 45th birthday. Source: Bettmann / Getty
On May 19, 1962, ten days before the President's actual birthday, Marilyn Monroe sang John F. Kennedy "Happy Birthday" in a scandalous performance at Madison Square Garden in New York City. There had been plenty of speculation that Monroe and Kennedy, two of the most famous and attractive people in the country, were romantically involved, and the performance only kept the rumors swirling.
Rumors aside, Monroe's flirtatious and sexy performance, in a skin-tight, sequined, backless dress, was in questionable taste. Kennedy himself laughed it off, saying "I can now retire from politics after having had Happy Birthday sung to me in such a sweet, wholesome way."
A Legendary Hollywood Dressmaker
The dress that Marilyn Monroe wore for that special occasion was created for her by the designer, Jean Louis. She paid the handsome price of $1,440.00 for that dress. That was an unheard-of amount of money for an article of clothing in the 1960’s. Also unheard of at the time was the fit of the dress. It was literally skin tight. The dress had to be sewn onto her body. Needless to say, it left little to the imagination.
Jean Louis was born in France and later came to the United States. As his designing career evolved, he was considered a “top talent,” designing gowns for the likes of the Duchess of Windsor and for Hollywood royalty such as for Marilyn Monroe and Rita Hayworth.
An Early Triumph For Bob Mackie
Though the dress was made by Jean Louis, designer Bob Mackie was responsible for the original sketch, in his first job out of college. The chosen fabric was a sheer, flesh-colored, marquisette material and was embellished with over 2,500 hand-sewn crystals and 6,000 shimmering rhinestones.
In addition to the decision to wear the extremely flashy and formfitting dress, Marilyn Monroe made an executive decision of a personal nature. She had decided to wear absolutely nothing underneath the gown in order for a seamless fit… Mission accomplished!
What Was The Relationship Between Marilyn Monroe And John F Kennedy?
While the theory that JFK and Marilyn Monroe were lovers is appealing, it's hard to see how such an affair would have been executed. Looking at the timeline of events, historians point to the weekend of March 24, 1962. At that time, both were at Bing Crosby's home in Palm Springs, California, for a party. If Kennedy and Monroe had a liaison, that's when it happened. According to Monroe's masseur, yes, the encounter happened, but no, it wasn't a continuing affair. "It happened once, that weekend, and that was that," he said.
The "Late" Marilyn Monroe
President John F. Kennedy’s birthday celebration was a very well attended fund-raising event. It was held at Madison Square Garden and attended by 15,000 paying guests. The plan was that the proceeds of the historic event would to pay off the Democratic National Committee’s deficit for the 1960 campaign.
British actor Peter Lawford, John F. Kennedy’s brother-in-law, gave a few false introductions for Marilyn during the evening -- playing on her reputation for tardiness, he introduced her as "the late Marilyn Monroe," and the crowd had a laugh when she didn't show at all.
When Marilyn Monroe finally appeared in the spotlight, Lawford playfully introduced her as the “late Marilyn Monroe.” Monroe proceeded to peel off her white, ermine fur coat, revealing the stunning and provocative dress. Everyone in attendance took a collective gasp at the dress that she had dubbed "skin and beads."
After the famous gathering, a private reception was held at the Manhattan home of Arthur Krim. Marilyn Monroe attended and brought her former father-in-law, Isidore Miller. “There was a softness to her that was very appealing,” said Krim. “She was, well, just extraordinarily beautiful.”
Monroe Lost Her Job Over The Stunt
As it turned out, Marilyn Monroe had risked the anger and disapproval of her studio bosses to fly to New York City to perform for the president. Upset over her tardiness on the set and other problems, the producers of “Something’s Got to Give” had not wanted her to leave in the middle of the shoot. The next day, however, Monroe flew back to Los Angeles.
On June 7, 1962, Marilyn Monroe was consequently fired from her contract and sued for damages regarding her decision to attend and preform at JFK’s birthday celebration.
Not long after, on August 5th, Marilyn Monroe had been found dead. The coroner ruled it, “acute barbiturate poisoning.” President John F. Kennedy was assassinated the following year.
The Dress Has Been Sold Twice
In 1999 Marilyn Monroe’s famous presidential celebration dress sold for over $1.26 million, to collector Martin Zweig.
Then, in 2016, it went on the auction block again, through the auction house Julien's. This time, it sold for almost twice as much as had been expected.
Marilyn Monroe's sequined "Happy Birthday" dress was bought by the Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum for $4.8 million.
Tags: Fashion In The 1960s | JFK | Ladies | Marilyn Monroe | The 1960s | Tight Dress | What They Are Known For
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