Today is the 50th anniversary of Marilyn Monroe singing her famous rendition of “Happy Birthday” to President Kennedy at Madison Square Garden in 1962. Over 15,000 people were at the Garden that night to celebrate JFK’s birthday, luckily for him Jackie O wasn’t able to attend. Peter Lawford (a member of the Rat Pack and friend of Frank Sinatra) introduced Marilyn, who was known for her constant lateness, several times throughout the night.
Jeez Louise, imagine what the First Lady’s reaction was when she saw that. Eventually the man himself took the stage and commented, “I can now retire from politics after having had Happy Birthday sung to me in such a sweet, wholesome way.”
The occasion still keeps the public’s attention because it was one of the last public appearances Monroe would make, she was found dead at 36 three months later. The dress she was wearing that night sold for $1.26 million at a 1999 auction, and of course there’s the alleged affair. Aside from being reported on in biographies from a few people close to Monroe and JFK, there doesn’t seem to much concrete evidence of the most famous affair of the 20th century.
There also doesn’t seem much evidence against it either, though, and the circumstances surrounding the potential hookups seem entirely plausible, if not likely. Monroe had spent the latter half of the 1950s married to Yankees great Joe DiMaggio then Death of A Salesman playwright Arthur Miller, but had divorced him in January of 1961. Kennedy might be almost as famous for being a womanizer as he for being the president and one of the most commonly cited sources for the affair is the memoir of one of his other lovers, Judith Exner. One of the most salacious accounts of the affair online can be found here.
If Monroe isn’t the most famous woman of the 20th century she’s certainly in the conversation. For all her fame and beauty, she also had a lifelong battle with depression and by the end of her life she was totally dependent on prescription pills and alcohol. When watching the above footage from that night in Madison Square Garden it’s hard not to wonder if her drug use played a factor.