Home Entertainment Rare photos of Marilyn Monroe’s iconic Madison Square Garden performance to JFK

Rare photos of Marilyn Monroe’s iconic Madison Square Garden performance to JFK

Fifty years ago, on May 19, 1962, Marilyn Monroe performed one the most famous versions of “Happy Birthday” ever sung – definitely to sitting U.S President John F. Kennedy.

Wearing the iconic rhinetstone dress that she was literally sewn into, Marilyn Monroe performed a sultry version of the popular song to JFK at a fundraiser on May 19, 1962.

To commemorate that fact, LIFE magazine has released a series of rare black and white images taken by photographer Billy Ray from the gala held for JFK’s birthday put on at Madison Square Garden when it existed between 50th and 51st streets.

The evening will always be remembered for 36-year-old Marilyn Monroe’s intimate rendition of “Happy Birthday”, sung to preempt the Democrat’s 45th birthday by ten days.

Photographed by Bill Ray, the collection has been released for the anniversary, including his unique vantage point of Marilyn Monroe as she sings, from behind her and up in the rafters of Madison Square Gardens.

Fifty years ago, on May 19, 1962, Marilyn Monroe performed one the most famous versions of “Happy Birthday” ever sung

Fifty years ago, on May 19, 1962, Marilyn Monroe performed one the most famous versions of “Happy Birthday” ever sung

Singing to married father-of-two JFK like they were the only two people in the 15,000 seater arena, the sex-symbol’s performance has been much analyzed and even parodied by the likes of Lady GaGa over the years.

That indelible night, JFK was on his own, as his wife Jackie Kennedy was visiting friends in Virginia.

Already thought to have begun their alleged affair, Marilyn Monroe’s sexy rendition of “Happy Birthday” merely added fuel to the fire of rumors at the time claiming the two were an item.

As the actress performed, the slightly embarrassed president took to the stage to announce: “Thank you. I can now retire from politics after having had <<Happy Birthday>> sung to me in such a sweet, wholesome way.”

Marilyn Monroe’s famous dress was noted for being made of a sheer and flesh colored marquisette fabric, that had 2,500 rhinestones sewn into it.

Apparently, when viewed under the spotlight, the fabric seemed to disappear and the rhinestones simply glittered on the Jean Louis designed dress.


The evening was all the more poignant for the fact that less than three months later Marilyn Monroe was found dead and of course in November 1963, JFK was shot dead in Dallas.

“For stargazers and dusty old historians, alike, the night that Marilyn sang to JFK remains an uncanny, once-in-a-lifetime collision of sex, politics, power and pop culture,” said LIFE magazine.