“I can now retire from politics after having had ‘Happy Birthday’ sung to me in such a sweet, wholesome way.”
– John F. Kennedy May 19th 1962
On May 19th 1962, Marilyn attended the 45th Birthday celebrations for the then President Of The United States, John F. Kennedy at Madison Square Gardens in New York. The event was a fundraising gala for the Democratic party and was attended by more than 15,000 people, including celebrities, each guest, including Marilyn paid $1,000 to attend.
It was a star studded evening, with performances from the likes of: Ella Fitzgerald, Danny Kaye, Jack Benny, Henry Fonda, Maria Callas, Elliott Reid and Peggy Lee to name a few. But it is undoubtedly Marilyn Monroe’s breathy and iconic rendition of “Happy Birthday” that has permanently been engrained in people’s memories and turned what should have been a musical moment lasting only a few minutes, into an historical moment lasting a lifetime.
It was an honour for Marilyn to be invited to sing for the President, but she was very nervous about performing live in front of 15,000 audience members, joking that she might even forget the words!
Peter Lawford, President Kennedy’s brother in law introduced Marilyn that night. She was introduced several times in what would be an obvious light hearted dig at her inability to appear on time, the spotlight would shine to where Marilyn should enter.. but nothing.. of course, this was all planned to be this way! She was in on the joke too!
Finally, Marilyn appeared on stage (after Lawford refers to her as “The Late Marilyn Monroe”) and the crowd go wild, a collective gasp could be heard as she took off her fur shawl to reveal the gown underneath… the rest is history..
“Happy Birthday to you,
Happy Birthday to you,
Happy Birthday Mr President,
Happy Birthday to you…
Thanks Mr President,
For all the things you’ve done,
The battles that you’ve won,
The way you deal, with US steel,
And our problems by the ton,
We thank you so much!”
The latter verse was a snippet from the classic song, “Thanks For The Memory,” for which she had written new lyrics specifically aimed at Kennedy.
It still to this day remains one of the most recognisable and iconic moments in pop culture history.