Marilyn’s ‘Happy Birthday’ Dress For Sale


While Marilyn’s white halter dress from The Seven Year Itch may be her most iconic movie costume, the beaded ‘nude’ gown she wore to sing Happy Birthday to President John F. Kennedy in 1962 is perhaps the greatest marker of her place in history. After selling for $1.627 million at Christie’s in 1999, it will now be the star item in the Marilyn-only sale at Julien’s Auctions in November, Vanity Fair reveals.

As previously reported by ES Updates, the auction will also include the collections of David Gainsborough Roberts, Monroe Sixer Frieda Hull and Marilyn’s estate.  Collector Scott Fortner, who is helping to curate the sale and touring exhibition, has offered fans a chance to win tickets to the event and a limited edition box-set catalogue. To enter the contest, visit his MM Collection Blog.

UPDATE: The ‘Happy Birthday’ dress was sold at Julien’s for $4.8 million on November 16, 2016, making it the most lucrative dress in auction history. The buyer is Ripley’s Believe It Or Not museum, who plan to showcase the dress in future exhibitions. Read a full report from Scott Fortner on his MM Collection Blog.

54 Years Ago: Diahann Carroll Remembers Marilyn

diahann carroll
Marilyn looks on as Diahann Carroll sings for the president, 1962

Although Marilyn’s performance of ‘Happy Birthday Mr President’ at Madison Square Garden on May 19, 1962 – fifty-four years ago today – has become legend, she wasn’t the only star that evening. Diahann Carroll, who sang at the gala’s after-party in the home of campaigner Mac Krim, recalled the occasion in a recent interview with Oprah Winfrey, reports the Huffington Post.

‘It was a very exciting night. Everybody in the world was there,’ Diahann remembered. ‘Marilyn was hysterical, but very good. It was good to watch her at work. I think we all enjoyed it.’ As for Kennedy, ‘he was extremely pleasant,’ she said. ‘He was a very entitled human being, but you had to forgive him for that.’

Diahann Caroll was previously interviewed by J. Randy Taraborrelli for his 2009 book, The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe, telling him of her first encounter with MM in 1960, while singing at the Mocambo Club in Los Angeles. Diahann was then pregnant with her daughter Suzanne, and knew of Marilyn’s struggle to have children. “I took her hand and put it on my stomach and said, ‘You pat right there, sweetheart, and say a prayer and a wish, and I hope with all my heart that your dream comes true.’ She looked at me with tears in her eye, and said, ‘Oh, I do, too. I do, too.'”

They met again in Mac Krim’s apartment in 1962. ‘It’s certainly her beauty I remember most,’ she told Taraborrelli. ‘As I sang, I distinctly remember being somewhat distracted by her gaze. Her tragic beauty, so vulnerable … so lost.’

Marilyn’s ‘Happy Birthday’ Spoof at Superbowl


Marilyn’s iconic performance of ‘Happy Birthday Mr President’ – at the 1962 Madison Square Garden gala honouring John F. Kennedy – has been parodied in a new Snickers ad marking the Superbowl’s upcoming 50th anniversary, reports Adweek. A grouchy ‘Marilyn’ is played here by actor Willem Dafoe. Incidentally, it’s not the first time MM has been referenced at the Superbowl. Back in 2014, footage of Marilyn was used in a Chrysler ad featuring Bob Dylan.

“She’s America’s original sweetheart. But when she’s hungry, Marilyn Monroe takes a turn for the worse. That’s according to Snickers’ new Super Bowl ad teaser, in which she reprises her iconic ‘Happy Birthday’ serenade—to celebrate the Super Bowl’s 50th birthday—but with quite the husky vocal.

‘Since we’re kicking-off the 50th celebration of one of the world’s most iconic events, it seemed only fitting to cast Marilyn Monroe, a Hollywood icon with global appeal, to help us celebrate’, says Snickers brand director Allison Miazga-Bedrick. ‘But this is just a small glimpse of what America should expect from Snickers on Super Bowl Sunday. As always, the ad will feature a funny surprise that we’re confident will satisfy fans hungry for a laugh.’

Snickers confirmed the Super Bowl spot continues the brand’s ‘You’re Not You When You’re Hungry’ positioning, which launched with the Betty White spot on the 2010 Super Bowl. The 30-second spot, from BBDO New York, will air in the first quarter of the Feb. 7 telecast.”

Bill Ray Exhibit in Santa Fe


A selection of Bill Ray‘s photographs for Life magazine, taken during the 1950s and ’60s – including his rear-view shot of Marilyn singing ‘Happy Birthday Mr. President’ at Madison Square Garden – are currently on display at the Monroe Gallery of Photography in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

From 'My LIFE in Photography' by Bill Ray, 2007'
From ‘My LIFE in Photography’ by Bill Ray, 2007′

Now 78, Ray has been interviewed by Pasiatempo, explaining how he got his start in photography, joining Life in 1957 and following in the footsteps of his idol, Alfred Eisenstadt. Among Ray’s many famous subjects were Elvis Presley, the Kennedys, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Frank Lloyd-Wright, and Andy Warhol.


After Life ceased publication, he freelanced for NewsweekArchaeology,Smithsonian, and Fortune, and developed a portrait specialty. “One thing I’m still good at is people,” said Ray, whose recent work includes an official portrait of “a retiring big-time minister at St. Bart’s here in New York. His predecessors had all been painted in oil, and he wanted a photograph instead.”

“‘It had been a noisy night, a very ‘rah rah rah’ kind of atmosphere,’ he told of Kennedy’s birthday gala. ‘Then boom, on comes this spotlight. There was no sound. No sound at all. It was like we were in outer space.” Marilyn was onstage, taking off a white fur to reveal her ‘nude’ sequinned dress underneath. “It was skin-colored, and it was skin-tight,” Ray recalled. “It was sewn on, covered with brilliant crystals. There was this long, long pause … and finally, she comes out with this unbelievably breathy, ‘Happy biiiiirthday to youuuu,’ and everybody just went into a swoon. I was praying [that I could get the shot] because I had to guess at the exposure. It was a very long lens, and I had no tripod, so I had to rest the lens itself on the railing, and tried very, very hard not to breathe.”

Myth-Busting: Marilyn and JFK


Over at Buzzfeed today, there’s a helpful visual guide to some of the more persistent myths (including auction hoaxes and faked photos) about Marilyn’s alleged romance with President John F. Kennedy, and her performance of ‘Happy Birthday’ at Madison Square Garden in 1962.

“The so-called relationship between Marilyn and JFK has taken on a life of it’s own and has spawned a cottage industry of books, newspaper articles, rumours and conjecture. Contrary to what Google or Pinterest will tell you, there are only three photographs of Marilyn and JFK in the same room together. Any other photo purporting to be them is a FAKE.

Contrary to rumour Jackie Kennedy didn’t decide to stay away because of Marilyn’s presence. She didn’t care for these big political fundraisers and had always planned to be participating in a horse show elsewhere.

Rumour has it that Marilyn was drunk and her actions while performing were wildly out of control. Not true. It is also good to remember that this was a political fundraiser for the Democratic party. It wasn’t exactly an intimate dinner. Marilyn was one of many people performing at the fundraiser and she didn’t even close the night.

Marilyn Monroe is probably the most iconic movie actress in the world. She is also the most maligned. Not a month goes by without a lurid story being splashed across the tabloids and the internet. And everyone knows if it’s on the internet it must be true right? Wrong. With a little research (something biographers seem to be lacking) you can uncover the truth.”

Backstory: Marilyn on Madison, 1962

Writing for the Worcester Telegram today, Liz Smith explores the backstory behind a fan photo taken as Marilyn left John F. Kennedy’s birthday gala at Madison Square Garden. There’s just one problem – the photo isn’t included! I’ve found a file photo which seems similar, but will update this post if the real one is identified.

“Sometimes people write in ‘correcting’ us with nothing more than their opinion. And then there are people who have a story to tell. Such as Stephen William Stern. He took a fabulous shot of Marilyn Monroe, the night she sang for President Kennedy. Here is Stephen’s tale:

‘I always knew where she lived and I was always a Marilyn fan ever since I saw Love Nest in 1951. I thought she was fabulous and I felt she was the most interesting of the stars at the time.

‘All these autograph collectors always knew who was in town and where they were staying. Some people would tell me things and some wouldn’t, but I always read the gossip columns, so I was aware of this event where she was supposed to sing for the president’s birthday.

‘I went to 444 E. 57th, her building. The sun was still up when Marilyn came back from rehearsals for the show. She was dressed in slacks and a blouse, if I remember correctly. I waited there for what seemed a long time for her to change and come back out.

Marilyn leaves her apartment building for Madison Square Garden. (Screencap from footage by James Haspiel)
Earlier the same day, Marilyn was spotted outside her apartment building.(Screencap from footage by James Haspiel)

‘There were several people then that were trying to get photographs and autographs. When she came out and made it through the lobby, it was a mad scramble for us to get a picture on her way to the limo. Some people succeeded, I guess. But she was in a hurry and as soon as she got into the limousine, they just took off!

‘Some of my friends and I jumped into a cab and made it to 50th Street between 8th and 9th where there was this big metal door on the side of the old Madison Square Garden. We made our way inside only to have the police notice us, so we flew up the stairs.

‘I looked down to the stage and realized that we had missed Marilyn. She must have just gone off because there’s the president on the stage and I had no interest in the president. I was there for one reason and that was to see Marilyn!

‘We all got up then and went down the regular stairs to the main level where I saw her in the lobby in the distance. I think she was talking to Milton Berle. I hesitated to take a picture because I didn’t want to call attention to myself, so we went out to 49th Street.

‘She came out and got into the limousine and they started moving. It was a busy Saturday night in New York and around 8th Avenue, the limousine stopped. I ran up to the window. Marilyn seemed to be trying to open the window. She wanted her picture taken, but the chauffeur had locked the window. I said to myself, There she is! And she was looking fabulous, so I angled the camera and took the shot.'”

Liz Smith: ‘The Earrings of Miss Monroe’


Liz Smith has commented on Marie Irvine’s reminiscences of Marilyn – published recently in the Daily Mail – in her latest column for the New York Social Diary.

“THE EARRINGS of Miss Monroe.   Another country heard from in the endless re-inventions of the long-dead Marilyn. Now we learn from ‘her closest friend’ Marie Irvine (a name unknown until now) that Marilyn ‘forgot’ her earrings the night of the infamous 1962 ‘Happy Birthday’ serenade to JFK. This ‘close friend’ had to rush back to MM’s NYC apartment to retrieve them.

How odd then, to have dozens of photos of MM leaving her apartment and arriving at Madison Square Garden with earrings intact. (Might I say that the only item of clothing or accessory that Marilyn ever ‘forgot’ was her panties.)

Also, according to this latest best bud, Marilyn bought five tickets to the event to be sure to be invited to the after-party, so ‘desperate’ was she to see JFK.

Uhhhh … aside from JFK himself, MM was the evening’s star attraction, the closing act of the president’s celebration, invited by Kennedy himself. She didn’t need tickets.  She WAS the ticket. If desperation came, it sure wasn’t that night.

Still and all, people will believe anything. And why not? The woman has been dead 51 years. Those who adore her now weren’t even born when she died.  Hell, their parents weren’t even alive!”

My thoughts on this: firstly, Liz is absolutely right to be sceptical about anyone claiming to be a ‘close friend’ of Marilyn, especially if they haven’t been heard of before. However, it was the Daily Mail, not Marie Irvine, who made this claim.

Secondly, Marilyn did in fact purchase her own ticket for the gala, although I don’t know if she paid for others as well. Of course, this does not mean she was ‘desperate’ to go – this, again, is the reporter’s interpretation (and not Marie Irvine’s.) And the event was a Democratic fundraiser, so it’s not surprising that she paid her own way.

Personally, I don’t find Marie Irvine’s story that hard to believe, although no account should be taken at face value. As I’ve said before, I think the problem lies with the sensationalist way her memories have been presented.

Thanks to Charles Casillo

Kenneth Battelle 1927-2013

Photo montage by Yvon Molostoff

Kenneth Battelle, hairdresser to Marilyn, Jackie Kennedy and many others, died in New York last month. He was 86. Read my tribute to Kenneth here.

Phil Ramone 1934-2013

Marilyn rehearses at Madison Square Garden

Legendary music producer Phil Ramone, who arranged Marilyn’s iconic performance of ‘Happy Birthday Mr President’, died in New York on March 31st, aged 79.

Here is an excerpt from an interview he gave to the Chicago Sun-Times in 2010:

Q. You were the mastermind behind Marilyn Monroe’s “Happy Birthday Mr. President” moment for President Kennedy. What was that like?

A. An armory had been transformed into a massive theater for the president’s birthday celebration and I was handed the terrifying job of doing something with Marilyn Monroe’s appearance, which turned out to be the most fun I’d ever had. She was so sweet. She looked sensational. And I looked like a deer in headlights. She comes out and sings that song like it’s never been sung before or since, and all we have is some crummy 16mm film footage of it.

Q. So did you get to kiss Marilyn Monroe that night?

A. She gave me a big kiss on the cheek as she said thank you.”