In her newly published memoir, Country Girl, the Irish novelist, Edna O’Brien, recalls her friendship with the late Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Though she never met Marilyn herself, O’Brien crossed paths with many of her New York friends, including photographer Sam Shaw.
In Country Girl, Edna compares Jackie to another iconic American – MM.
“Long before [Jackie] was a First Lady, she had the certainty of one who was cherished, and the little girl in her held on to that; it was her armour and it saw her through varying nightmares with astonishing poise. Ironically, Marilyn Monroe, who in her sheath dress sang the birthday tribute for President Kennedy in 1962 (when Jackie was noticeably absent), had no sheath at all, the little girl in her had been cut to the core. Jackie was the opposite, she went through life veiled, and left it with her stardust intact.”
Lana Del Rey recreates Marilyn’s ‘Happy Birthday Mr President’ in the opening sequence of her new video, ‘National Anthem’. The president is played by rapper A$AP Rocky. Lana goes on to embody the Camelot myth, giving her own take on the role of First Lady Jackie Kennedy.
“Sure, there are some who will object to the clip’s re-telling of history: Del Rey actually plays both Jackie Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe — a loaded proposition when you consider the long-standing rumors of an affair between the actress and the commander in chief — and the clip opens with her doing Monroe’s sultry ‘Happy Birthday, Mr. President’ from 1962. She then switches to the more demure Jackie, the doting wife to Rocky’s JFK, and their love story unfurls over seven hazy, dreamlike minutes. In a way, the dual roles seem to be director Anthony Mandler’s way of exploring the complexities of one of our nation’s most celebrated (and discussed) first couples: the notion that, from the outside, all appeared to be perfect, while, internally, their marriage was wrought with indiscretions and very stormy indeed.
There is also the fact that the clip is loaded with social commentary. The scenes of Del Rey and Rocky cavorting in the Kennedys’ Hyannis Port compound very boldly show the so-called ‘American Camelot’ (the term used to describe the unbridled hope associated with the Kennedy presidency) through a decidedly 2012 prism. Here is the first family reimagined as a beautiful white wife and a confident, powerful black husband, very much in love, caring for their biracial children, holding court with their associates. It was a scene that was practically unimaginable during the 1960s, and one that, sadly, is still sure to rankle some today.” – MTV
Richard Adler, the Broadway composer and producer, has died aged 90, reports The Guardian. Best-known for hit musicals The Pajama Game and Damn Yankees, Adler also produced the birthday gala for President John F. Kennedy in 1962.
In their 1992 book, Marilyn: The Last Take, Peter Brown and Patte Barham wrote that Adler first approached Marilyn at the Actors’ Studio in November 1961.
‘I told her I wanted her to sing Happy Birthday straight and clear-voiced,’ Adler recalled. In the spring of 1962, he sent Marilyn a recording of the song, with the message, ‘You should sing this precisely as I did. Full out. No baby-voiced breathlessness, please!’
As Marilyn flew to New York in May, Adler was besieged by angry messages protesting Monroe’s appearance at the President’s birthday. (Some were reportedly from leading members of the Democratic Party.)
Adler called Kennedy, who insisted, ‘It’ll be fine. Everybody’ll love it.’
Marilyn staged a private rehearsal in her apartment for Adler, accompanied by pianist Hank Jones. Monroe’s defiantly sexy rendition led to a ‘bitter row,’ according to her masseur, Ralph Roberts.
‘I went home certain we were headed for one of the most embarrassing disasters of all time,’ Adler admitted. In fact, he was a witness to history in the making.
One of the event’s co-organisers, Clive David, told Keith Badman, author of The Final Years of Marilyn Monroe, ‘As a gimmick, Richard Adler originally wanted Marilyn up on the top balcony with all the lights in the room surrounding her when she sang. But it never happened. Marilyn hated that idea.’
Of course, the show went ahead and Marilyn was a sensation. ‘It was like a mass seduction,’ Adler remembered. ‘With Marilyn whispering Happy Birthday and the crowd yelling and screaming for her, I realised then that the President was a better showman than I was.’
She concluded her brief, dazzling performance with an adaptation of ‘Thanks for the Memory,’ rewritten by Adler with the lines, ‘Thanks, Mr President/For all the things you’ve done, the battles that you won/The way you deal with US Steel, and our problems by the ton/We thank you so much…’
This iconic shot of Marilyn singing ‘Happy Birthday Mr President’ to John F. Kennedy in 1962 is featured in ‘Bill Ray: A LIFEtime of Photographs’, a new retrospective at the Museum of Nebraska Art, reports Lincoln’s Journal-Star.
“‘It had been a noisy night, a very ‘rah rah rah’ kind of atmosphere,’ Bill Ray told LIFE.com. ‘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 that utterly gorgeous, scandalous dress underneath. ‘It was skin-colored, and it was skin-tight. 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.'”
“In a glittering faux-nude dress tighter than her own skin and enveloped in a soft fur wrap, that most desirable of female bodies shuffles with exaggerated mini-steps towards the podium, like a penguin on speed. Her floss hair has long given up any pretence to organic life. She is unwrapped by Lawford and ups the sexual ante with mute lip squirming directed at the microphone, which she holds tenderly like a living member. Everything is comically kitsch yet irresistibly powerful.
‘Happy Birthday to you…’ The little girl’s voice haltingly rings out, quietening the raucous auditorium — a ghostly and troubling echo of a past innocence. The reality is a deadly cocktail of her own desperate desirability and the blood-sucking exploitation of the society that made her. A monstrous tiered cake, flaming with the requisite number of candles like a funeral pyre, is borne in on a stretcher, shoulder-high. Her death was to arrive at the age of 36 in a little over two month’s time.”
Victor Helou, now 80 and living in Florida, photographed the meeting of two of the last century’s most celebrated women – Marilyn Monroe and Maria Callas – backstage at Madison Square Garden in 1962:
‘In 1962, 31 people were chosen to perform a medley of broadway tunes for President John F. Kennedy’s birthday in New York and Helou snagged a spot. This would be the night Helou brushed elbows with Hollywood A-listers.
Helou’s collection of notes from the night he photographed Marilyn Monroe secured a spot in history. Helou’s book, entitled Happy Birthday Mr. President, is a complete recount of his experience and observation during the days leading up to and the night of the event at Madison Square Garden.
Helou shares his insight about the evening he spent at Madison Square Garden and grins at the memories. After dropping the names of all the stars he ran into that night, he said, “I was very fortunate to be there.”
Helou’s goal at the moment is to sell the rights to all of his work, from his book to the negatives of Marilyn Monroe he has safely tucked in a safety deposit box.
“I’m old enough now that I don’t need to keep working,” he said. “I’m ready to auction it all off, if anyone wants to make a bid.”’
More details about Mr Helou’s book, Happy Birthday Mr. President, over here
“We know Marilyn Monroe as bright, bold, and omnipresent. As a result, the images of Marilyn I find most interesting are the quiet illusive ones, often on poorly preserved materials. For me with Marilyn, less is more and my most recent pieces have this in mind.”
Following Joan Copeland‘s recent – and rather silly – claim that Marilyn’s ‘breathless’ rendition of ‘Happy Birthday Mr President’ was due to her getting lost on the way to the stage, Scott Fortner takes an behind-the-scenes look at the legendary performance, with testimony from Susan Strasberg and Eunice Murray, over at his MM Collection Blog.
“Marilyn was at Madison Square Garden in plenty of time for her performance, and it had been planned all along that she would close the show, and her lateness would be a running joke throughout the program. Marilyn was not late for her performance, she did not have a problem finding the correct door for the stage, and she was not out of breath when she sang Happy Birthday to President Kennedy. She was America’s sex symbol, and she delivered the performance that she’d planned and rehearsed.”
Joan Copeland, the actress sister of Arthur Miller, claims that Marilyn’s breathless rendition of ‘Happy Birthday Mr President’ was not intentional, but due to her late arrival, reports the Daily Mail.
This is a funny story, but Marilyn was not late. She was backstage for the entire concert. Peter Lawford introduced her as ‘the late Marilyn Monroe’ as a joke. And the sexiness of her vocal was entirely deliberate!
Copeland says she attended the gala. Now 89, she recently performed a one-woman show in New York. But Arthur Miller’s father, Isadore, was Monroe’s escort, and he accompanied her to a party afterwards.
The ‘nude’ sequinned dress, designed by Jean Louis and worn by Marilyn on John F. Kennedy’s birthday in 1962, features in 100 Unforgettable Dresses, a new book by Hal Rubinstein (as well as Travilla’s white halter-neck dress from The Seven Year Itch.)