“Happy Birthday, Mr. President” is a song sung by actress and singer Marilyn Monroe on Saturday, May 19, 1962, for President John F. Kennedy at a celebration of his forty-fifth birthday, ten days before the actual date.
Monroe sang the traditional “Happy Birthday to You” lyrics in a sultry, intimate voice, with “Mr. President” inserted as Kennedy’s name. She continued the song with a snippet from the classic song, “Thanks for the Memory”, for which she had written new lyrics specifically aimed at Kennedy.
Marily Monroe “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” 55. Birthday John F. Kennedy:
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
Afterwards, as an enormous birthday cake was presented to him, President Kennedy came on stage and joked about Monroe’s version of 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 Marilyn’s delivery, skintight dress, and image as a sex symbol.
The song and Monroe’s performance have been remembered for numerous reasons. It was one of her last major public appearances before her death less than three months later on August 5, 1962. First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy did not attend the celebration.
Monroe was accompanied by jazz pianist Hank Jones.
President Kennedy’s birthday celebration was held at the third Madison Square Garden on May 19, 1962, and more than 15,000 people attended, including numerous celebrities. The event was a fundraising gala for the Democratic Party.
Monroe’s dress was noted for being made of a sheer and flesh-colored marquisette fabric, with 2,500 shimmering rhinestones sewn into it. The dress was so tight-fitting that Monroe had difficulty putting it on; she wore nothing under it. It was designed by Jean Louis.
Peter Lawford was at the event that night to introduce Monroe. He made a play on the actress’s reputation for tardiness by giving her a number of introductions throughout the night, after which she did not appear on stage. When Monroe finally appeared in a spotlight, Lawford introduced her as the “late Marilyn Monroe”. Monroe peeled off her white ermine fur coat, revealling the dress, and the audience gasped.
The event was staged and produced by Broadway composer and lyricist Richard Adler. It was choreographed by Carol Haney of The Pajama Game fame.
Monroe’s iconic dress was made by designer Jean Louis and originally cost $12,000.00. The dress sold in 1999 at an auction in New York for over US$1.26 million.
Madonna made a famous parody of the song on Saturday Night Live during the 90s, singing “Happy Inauguration, Mr. President” (Season 18, Episode 11), changing President Kennedy to President Bill Clinton (played by Phil Hartman) who had recently won a second term as President of the United States, his wife Hillary Clinton (played by Jan Hooks) and their daughter Chelsea Clinton (performed by Julia Sweeney).
Spice Girl Geri Halliwell performed the song in 1998 for Prince Charles’ 50th birthday celebration, replacing the line “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” with “Happy Birthday, Your Royal Highness”.
American musician Lana Del Rey reenacted the performance in the music video for her song “National Anthem”, with herself as Monroe.
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