Marilyn Monroe sings "Happy Birthday, Mr. President" to John F. Kennedy

Approximately 17,000 people filled Madison Square Garden on the evening on May 19, 1962 to take part in this gala which featured Jack Benny and a host of stars, among them Maria Callas, Ella Fitzgerald, Jimmy Durante, and Peggy Lee.

Famed producer Richard Adler was in charge of the musical portion of the show and had rehearsed with Marilyn to prepare her in singing "Happy Birthday" to the President.

What occurred that evening has become a legendary moment in the history of American pop culture, with politics and Hollywood colliding head to head while the entire nation looked on. Captured on a few minutes of grainy celluloid, the image of Marilyn Monroe's breathy, nightclub version of "Happy Birthday" is forever stamped in our collective consciousness. Wearing a Jean Louis gown which Adlai Stevenson described as "skin and beads", Marilyn's disjointed and uncertain performance gives us a glimpse into the vulnerability and insecurity that plagued her entire life and career. That gown was sold at auction by Christie's of New York in October of 1999 for a record breaking price of 1.2 million dollars and the public interest in Marilyn Monroe continues to grow deeper with each passing year.

I can now retire from politics after having had Happy Birthday sung to me in such a sweet, wholesome way,”

— President John F. Kennedy

"Happy Birthday, Mr. President" was a song sung by actress/singer Marilyn Monroe on Saturday, May 19, 1962, for then-President of the United States, John F. Kennedy, at a celebration for his forty-fifth birthday, ten days before the actual day of his 45th birthday, Tuesday, May 29. Sung in a sultry voice, Monroe sang the traditional "Happy Birthday to You" lyrics, with "Mr. President" inserted as Kennedy's name.

Monroe 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.

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, President Kennedy came on stage and joked about 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 Monroe's delivery, her racy dress, and her general image as a sex symbol.

The song and Monroe's performance have been remembered for numerous reasons. First, it was one of her last major public appearances (Monroe died August 5, 1962). In addition, there are persistent rumors that President Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe had had an affair, giving Monroe's performance another layer of meaning.