During 1962, when she sang “Happy Birthday Mr. President”, Marilyn Monroe was at a turning point of her career and personal life.
She was one of the greatest actresses of her time, but her previous movie, The Misfits, was a disappointment. She was also coming off a divorce to Arthur Miller and she stayed for a while at a Manhattan psychiatric hospital, due to her fragile mental state.
But by the end of the spring, things getting better. Monroe bought a new home in the quiet Brentwood section of Los Angeles, and she had been offered a leading role in Something’s Got to Give (but she was later fired), a remake of the 1940 screwball comedy My Favorite Wife. Furthermore, she was looking forward to performing at a major Democratic fundraiser to honor President John F. Kennedy at ew York City’s Madison Square Garden on May 19.
Monroe and Kennedy were involved in a secret relationship, and many people claimed that the two spent several nights together.
Three days before the event, Marilyn was seen rehearsing in New York, extremely anxious. On the night of the event, she was sewn into a special outfit for the occasion – a Jean Louis-designed, flesh-colored gown embedded with more than 2,500 rhinestones and tailored to hug her curves.
The Story Behind Marilyn Monroe’s ‘Happy Birthday, Mr. President’
Peter Lawford introduced her, “Mr. President…the late Marilyn Monroe” — a playful reference to Marilyn’s frequent tardiness. Then Lawford removed her stole, and the audience gasped. Marilyn was shimmering with 2,500 rhinestones over a flesh-colored gown that made her appear naked. (She did not wear lingerie.)
Marilyn flicked the microphone with one finger, and suddenly the shy ingenue morphed into the confident sex kitten. Marilyn was always a mess of paradoxes.
That night, John Kennedy was particularly worried. Secret Service agent Larry Newman claimed that Bobby Kennedy and Marilyn argued backstage before the performance.
Later that evening, the Kennedys and Marilyn attended an after-party for Democratic donors. United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Adlai Stevenson, complained that it was hard to speak to Marilyn since Bobby was like “a moth around the flame.” Others commented that it was difficult to tell which Kennedy brother Marilyn preferred.
The Secret Service confiscated all the negatives of photos showing Marilyn with the Kennedys that night, except this one.
We will never know the true nature of Marilyn’s relationship to the Kennedys, but most historians believe Marilyn was sleeping with Bobby at the time.
But something surely happened that night. The next day, columnists Dorothy Kilgallen referred to Marilyn’s performance as “making love to the president in the direct view of forty million Americans.” Others claimed that Marilyn’s sexy performance intended to make her ex-husband, Arthur Miller, jealous. (He was in the audience.)
Unfortunately, John F. Kennedy was not a man to keep inconvenient women around, and the scandal had made Marilyn very inconvenient. He broke ties with her shortly after that night.