Marilyn Monroe Had to be Sewn into the Tight Dress that She Wore to Sing Happy Birthday Mr. President

Icons | March 15, 2018

One of the most famous renderings of the song, “Happy Birthday,” in the last century was sung by none other than Marilyn Monroe. At the time of the birthday greeting, Monroe had been wearing an extraordinarily tight, sequined and backless dress.

Marilyn Monroe’s tight, sequined dress was very “racy” for the era.

In that performance, Marilyn Monroe had been serenading (then) President John F. Kennedy. The location was Madison Square Garden and the date was May 19, 1962, 10 days prior to his 45th birthday. His actual birthday was May 29, 1917. Monroe’s famous version of “Happy Birthday” was an early birthday greeting for JFK.

Marilyn Monroe had been infatuated and obsessed with JFK.

The dress that Marilyn Monroe wore for that special occasion was designed, exclusively, 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.

Designer Louis designed and created the gown Rita Hayworth wore in the movie, “Gilda.”

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.

Designer Bob Mackie was responsible for the original design of the famous dress Marilyn Monroe donned to serenade JFK.

The original sketch of the famous, tight fitting, sequined dress was made by the (then) young Bob Mackie as 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.

The “one of a kind” dress was so tight-fitting that the curvy Marilyn Monroe actually had to be sewn into it on the day of the celebration.

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!

John F Kennedy delivering a speech at Madison Square Garden 1962. 

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.

What was the relationship between Marilyn Monroe and John F Kennedy?

President Kennedy had personally requested Marilyn Monroe to appear at the celebration while they had both attended an event at Bing Crosby’s home in Palm Springs in March of 1962.  JFK had been known to be a womanizer and Monroe was aware of that fact. She was, however, naïve to the fact that she wasn’t the one that would steal him away from his wife, Jackie.

Marilyn Monroe was “head over heels” for JFK!

While Monroe was totally and hopelessly infatuated, if not in love, with John F. Kennedy, he was less committed to the idea. JFK was known to have been with many other women besides his wife and made no apologies for his extramarital activities.

First lady, Jacqueline Kennedy, was a poised lady, through and through. She loved her man and stood by his side, come what may. Marilyn Monroe was no exception.  Mrs. Kennedy was aware of her husband’s marital infidelities, but tolerated them in the interest of her country, and more importantly, her marriage. Being a lady, she often turned a blind eye to her husband’s indiscretions. The thought of Marilyn Monroe, however, was more than she was capable of tolerating. Although she had looked the other way on many other occasions, she was drawing the line with Marilyn Monroe. Jacqueline realized that Monroe was not like the others. She was troubled and posed a problematic situation for the President.

JFK had always enjoyed an “abundance of liberty” in his marriage to Jacqueline. When she put her foot down regarding Marilyn Monroe, he decided that he wasn’t prepared to “die on that hill.” In his mind, beautiful women were a dime a dozen and he was willing to forgo his tryst with Monroe if it meant that he could carry on with the others. Monroe, however, was not readyto let him go that easily. He meant more to her than she meant to him.

British actor Peter Lawford, John F. Kennedy’s brother-in-law, was responsible for introducing him to Marilyn. Lawford knew that Monroe was infamous for her late social appearances. He cleverly made a play on the actress’s reputation for tardiness by giving her several introductions throughout the night. Not surprisingly, she continuously did not appear on stage when announced.

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.

Marilyn Monroe’s appearance was said to have been “skin and beads.”

Marilyn Monroe’s breathy, sultry and rather intimate rendition of the song, “Happy Birthday,” in addition to the absence of first lady, Jacqueline Kennedy, spurred rumors about an affair between the starlet and the president. Marilyn Monroe biographer, Donald Spoto, has written that despite all the salacious fantasies about an intense love affair, Kennedy and Monroe had had no more than a fling. I’m sure Mrs. Kennedy was relieved… NOT!

Marilyn Monroe was known to be a political supporter of John F. Kennedy as well as the Democratic party.

It has been said that her decision to wear the famous, sexually provocative dress was an attempt to strengthen her sex-symbol status. For some reason, she was reportedly feeling insecure about her public status.

After Marilyn Monroe’s performance of “Happy Birthday” to the president, an enormous birthday cake was presented to the man of honor. JFK then popped on stage and expressed humor over Monroe’s version of the song. He was quoted as saying, “I can now retire from politics after having had Happy Birthday sung to me in such a sweet, wholesome way.”

Marilyn Monroe sang “Happy Birthday, Mr. President,” in 1962.

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.”

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. These were 2 tragic events.

A Birthday Salute to President Kennedy

In 1999 Marilyn Monroe’s famous presidential celebration dress sold for over $1.26 million, to collector Martin Zweig.

In the end, Marilyn Monroe’s famous and epic dress sold for almost twice as much than previously estimated by the auction house where it was listed. On November 18, 2016, the auction house, “Julien’s Auctions,” created a bidding event in Los Angeles, where the dress was sold for $4.8 million. It was bought by the Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum.

It is hard to imagine that a piece of clothing could bring such a price; Believe it or Not!

Tags: Fashion In The 1960s | JFK | Ladies | The 1960s | Tight Dress | What They Are Known For

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Rebeka Knott


Rebeka grew up in the 1960’s & 1970’s and has always subscribed to the theory that a positive attitude will take you far! She is a wife and mother of 3 with a fun-loving spirit, believing that family and relationships are invaluable.