The Story Behind Marilyn Monroe’s “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” Dress

On May 19, 1962, a certain rendition of a familiar tune took a song that people had sung countless times and turned it into a history-making moment. Marilyn Monroe’s breathy, seductive take on “Happy Birthday” at a fundraiser for President John F. Kennedy and the Democratic National Committee remains the most famous performance of the song of all time. After Kennedy’s brother-in-law Peter Lawford gave a few “false” introductions where Monroe didn’t appear, some audience members began to doubt whether she was actually there. When Monroe finally took the stage and removed her white fur coat, she revealed a breathtaking marquisette dress that was sheer and form-fitting, dotted with dazzling beads. In fact, there were more than 2,500 rhinestones on it. The dress was so tight that Monroe had to be sewn into it. Another lesser-known fact about the dress was that the designer, Bob Mackie, was just out of college and this was his first-ever post-grad project. The cost of the dress may not shock people today, but the price tag of $1,440 was major then. In today’s money, that would be in the neighborhood of $12,500. After the performance, the value of the dress skyrocketed. It sold for $1.26 million at a 1999 auction, and then in 2016 Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum paid a whopping $4.8 million for it, making it one of the most expensive pieces of pop-culture memorabilia of all time. It remains at the museum on Hollywood Boulevard.