The Truth About The Time Marilyn Monroe Sang To JFK

"Happy birthday to you

Happy birthday to you

Happy birthday, Mr. President

Happy birthday to you"

Singing this, a recording of which can be seen here, Marilyn Monroe stole the night. After a series of gags concerning her famous lateness that culminates in the later ironic "the Late Marilyn Monroe", she brought the fundraiser for John F. Kennedy's early birthday celebrations to its conclusion. The apparently sultry manner with which she sung this grabbed headlines and transformed the moment into one of the iconic pop culture moments of the twentieth century. She then, as ThoughtCo notes, continued into a new song that riffs off of "Thanks for the Memory" to celebrate Kennedy's achievements:

"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"

Time Magazine reported a week later on June 1, 1962 that Kennedy went up stage afterwards to declare "I can now retire from politics after having had Happy Birthday sung to me in such a sweet, wholesome way." A photograph was taken of the two, the only time the rumored lovers were pictured together. After this night, the two never saw each other again. Three months later, Marilyn Monroe died from an overdose and fifteen months after that JFK was shot by Lee Harvey Oswald. In some ways, the celebration reads as the last hurrah for that era of American history. 

The dress

One suspects, however, that the night would not be quite as legendary had Monroe worn a different outfit. The outfit Monroe wore was a skin-tight flesh colored dress designed by the French designer Jean Louis with thousands of rhinestones attached. It was so tight, in fact, that Monroe had to be sewn inside it, leaving little to the imagination. The effect this dress had on the audience is perfectly rendered in the opening of the Time piece: "The figure was famous. And for one breathless moment, the 15,000 people in Madison Square Garden thought they were going to see all of it." For a second, everyone thought she was naked.

The director Mike Nichols remembered even more though. People Magazine quotes him telling the New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd that "'I was standing right behind Marilyn, completely invisible, when she sang "Happy birthday, Mr. President," and, indeed, the corny thing happened. Her dress split for my benefit, and there was Marilyn, and, yes, indeed, she didn't wear any underwear.'"

Like Marilyn Monroe and her performance, the dress has taken on its own mythic dimension. At the time, by The Guardian's estimate, the dress cost $12,000, or $102,954.04 in today's money. In 1999, it sold for $1.3 million. Then, in 2016, NBC reported that Ripley's Believe it or Not! bought the dress at auction for $4.8 million. Now, Ripley's Believe it or Not! presents it as the world's most expensive dress.