‘Happy Birthday, Mr President’ at 56

This rare photo was taken by a fan after Marilyn sang ‘Happy Birthday Mr. President’ to John F. Kennedy at Madison Square Garden, 56 years ago today.  Marilyn looks far younger than her thirty-five years, and the dress worn by her loyal publicist Pat Newcomb can be seen close behind. Over at Getty Images, Bill Ray – the LIFE magazine photographer who covered the event – shares memories of that legendary evening.

“A quick scan of the program for ‘New York’s Birthday Salute to President Kennedy’ on May 19, 1962, reveals a veritable who’s who of Old Hollywood: Jack Benny, Ella Fitzgerald, Henry Fonda, Danny Kaye. And there, nestled between Peter Lawford and Jimmy Durante, an unmissable entry: Marilyn Monroe. No explanation. No footnote.

‘You could have heard a pin drop,’ recalls Bill Ray … who made the now-iconic image of the actress from behind. ‘I think people were stunned when she finished.’

Due to the disparate lighting conditions — Monroe in a bright spotlight, Kennedy in total darkness — Ray’s dream of getting the two in the same picture didn’t come to fruition. ‘If I’d been luckier, there would have been a tiny bit of light that would have spilled onto Kennedy, who was over her shoulder between the podium and her head.'”

Why Marilyn Wasn’t ‘Always at the Carlyle’

Marilyn with Isadore Miller (1962)

Always At The Carlyle, a new documentary about one of New York City’s legendary hotels, puts paid to the enduring myth that Marilyn and John F. Kennedy enjoyed a romantic tryst in the Presidential Suite after the 1962 gala where she sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to him.  ‘Much is made of a story about how John F. Kennedy smuggled Marilyn Monroe through a tunnel to the Carlyle,’ the Times reports, ‘but then the idea is pretty convincingly debunked.’ In fact, at the end of the evening Marilyn accompanied her elderly former father-in-law Isadore Miller – who was her escort at the gala and after-party – back to his hotel, before returning home alone. This was confirmed by superfan James Haspiel, who clocked Marilyn entering her apartment building in the small hours.

Dissecting Marilyn’s ‘Ditz Voice’

Marilyn at her breathiest, singing ‘I Wanna Be Loved By You’ in “Some Like It Hot”

In an article for Atlas Obscura, Jody Amable examines the breathless tone (or ‘ditz voice’) famously associated with sexy female stars from Marilyn to Kim Kardashian. It’s an interesting piece, though in Marilyn’s case, the ‘baby voice’ was partly an attempt to conceal her lifelong stutter (as discussed by Gerald McDermott here.) As careful study of her movies will reveal, her ‘breathiness’ has been greatly exaggerated by impersonators.

“A version of this voice has existed since sound met film and, in a way, since a little before that. Actresses of early film played mostly damsels in distress or wide-eyed young women, and by the time talkies took over, women were still portrayed as less headstrong, more head-in-the-clouds … Along with these girlish figures came a girlish voice—high-pitched, a bit breathy, and a little bit unsure, evident in Clara Bow’s pouty purr, and even Betty Boop’s singsong.

Shortly after the advent of sound in cinema, the scrappy, spunky flappers of the ‘20s were relegated to supporting characters—’the gangster’s moll, the cocktail waitress,’ says [Max] Alvarez. Musicals of the era, says Alvarez, were bastions of these kinds of wise-cracking wacky sidekicks …The speaking voices filling these film’s chorus lines were still childlike as in the decade prior, but started to show signs of the modern-day ‘sexy baby voice‘: a little bit breathy, a little bit nasal, and with fewer harsh consonant sounds.

Leading ladies like Katharine Hepburn and Lauren Bacall portrayed feisty women through deeper voices as America entered the Rosie the Riveter era. It wasn’t until the 1950s, when women were less vital in the workforce, that softer voices took center stage again. And boy, did they ever. ‘We think of blondes as being dumb because we tend to think of Jean Harlow and Marilyn,’ says Alvarez. Though Marilyn was famously influenced by ‘30s screen siren Jean Harlow, her bubblier, breathier speaking style—most notably, her immortal rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’—still have a stranglehold on the voices used to denote ‘sexy, but not very smart.’

The unnaturally high pitch used over the years is all a diversion tactic, says Professor Emeritus of Linguistics at UC Berkeley, Robin T. Lakoff. Sounding ‘masculine’ often invites ridicule, so, whether they do it consciously or subconsciously, these hyper-feminine, childlike voices and mannerisms associated with un-serious women could be the result of them over-correcting to stave off criticism.

 It’s also important to note that the actresses cast as wisecracking sidekicks or tawdry sex maniacs were generally savvy and intelligent in real life  … Marilyn Monroe famously attended the prestigious Actor’s Studio to hone her craft … Though Kim Kardashian’s vocal fry is a far cry from Marilyn Monroe’s breathy lilt, the aim is still the same. ‘What people will not want to hear is it’s still with us,’ says Lakoff. ‘[They] still wanna please and [they] don’t wanna frighten.'”

Fergie’s NBA Disaster Is No ‘Mister President’

Black-Eyed Peas singer Fergie has been widely mocked for ‘trying to do a Marilyn Monroe’ with her jazzy, slowed-down performance of the Star-Spangled Banner at the recent NBA All-Star game. As the BBC reports, public criticism has been so fierce that the beleaguered star has now issued a public apology.

Personally, I thought Fergie was probably aiming for a soulful, rather than outright sexy interpretation, although she may have overreached herself in the attempt. But while Marilyn’s ‘Happy Birthday Mr President’ raised a few eyebrows at the time (and has done so ever since), it ultimately succeeded on its own terms as a playfully flirtatious skit for an informal, if glitzy occasion. Whereas America’s national anthem (not to mention the NBA) has proved to be a far riskier proposition.

Kate Moss’s Marilyn Moment

Supermodel Kate Moss jumped out of a cake and sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to photographer Mert Alas at a party in London, as Alice Newbold reports for Vogue. Kate’s sensuous rendition has been compared to Marilyn’s performance for President Kennedy, although it should be noted that Marilyn never jumped out of a cake!

Marilyn’s ‘Most Expensive’ Dresses

Over at Beam Fashion, Nadja Beschetnikova looks at the stories behind Marilyn’s three ‘most expensive dresses’ (which sold for the highest prices at auction.)

Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend

‘Apart from the two side seams, the dress was folded into shape rather like cardboard. Any other girl would have looked like she was wearing cardboard, but on-screen I swear you would have thought Marilyn had on a pale, thin piece of silk. Her body was so fabulous it still came through’ – Travilla

The Seven Year Itch

Travilla called it ‘that silly little dress’. The dress indeed has a simple sewing pattern with a typical silhouette for a cocktail dress, which was in vogue in the 1950s and 1960s. Although the designer never paid much heed to his creation, it’s now one of the most famous dresses of all time.

Happy Birthday Mr President

Jean Louis had originally designed a version of the dress for Marlene Dietrich. Her live performances always had almost a magical effect to the audience thanks in no small part to her fascinating outfits. This backless flesh-colored gown remains an example to emulate for modern celebrities and pioneered the trend for ‘naked’ dresses.”

Mathilde Krim 1926-2018

Dr Mathilde Krim, a pioneering geneticist and campaigner for AIDS research, has died aged 91, the New York Times reports.

Born in Italy, she studied in Geneva and worked in Israel before moving to New York. In 1958 she married entertainment lawyer Arthur B. Krim, head of United Artists (the independent studio that produced Some Like It Hot and The Misfits.)

John F. Kennedy chats with comedian Jimmy Durante at a party in the Krims’ apartment on the president’s 45th birthday, May 19 1962. (Mathilde Krim is standing behind them)

On May 19, 1962, the Krims hosted a party at their home on East 69th Street for performers and selected guests from President John F. Kennedy’s 45th birthday gala – including JFK and brother Bobby, Maria Callas, Jack Benny, Shirley MacLaine and Marilyn.

Marilyn and other guests listen to Diahann Carroll singing at the Krims’ apartment

During the 1960s, the Krims supported the civil rights movement, enlisting celebrities to the cause. They also campaigned for independence in Rhodesia and South Africa, gay rights and other civil liberties. Arthur Krim died in 1994.

In 1985, Mathilde formed the American Foundation for AIDS Research (AmfAR), with actress Elizabeth Taylor as International Chairwoman. Among their many successful programs are the promotion of needle exchanges, and encouraging condom use and other safe sex practices.

Mathilde was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Bill Clinton in 2000, and in 2014, AmfAR hosted a Marilyn-themed Cinema Against AIDS gala at the Cannes Film Festival.