Fifty years ago tonight, more happened than just Marilyn Monroe singing her famous sultry rendition of Happy Birthday to President Kennedy. With the need to reduce so much news and history to a single snapshot image or quotable line, the mis-impression has long been cast about that night being some sort of public display of affection between them.
In fact, her song came not at the end or beginning, but in the middle of the program of the May 19, 1962 Birthday Salute to the President.
Preceding and following her was the entertainment line-up which opened with the Star Spangled Banner being sung by opera baritone Robert Merrill.
Produced by Richard Adler, the program then got underway: comedy by Jack Benny, jazz sung by Ella Fitzgerald, a Jerome Robbins ballet piece called, “New York Import, Opus Jazz,” an historical reading by Henry Fonda, excerpts of the opera Carmen by Maria Callas, an appearance by British spy author Eric Ambler who used the pseudonym “Eliot Reed,” a torch song from Peggy Lee, then the introduction by Peter Lawford of Marilyn Monroe singing Happy Birthday.
She was followed by the gruff-voiced comic singer-actor Jimmy Durante, popular music by Bobby Darin, a witty sketch routine by the comedy team of Mike Nichols and Elaine May, and music sung by Diahann Carroll.
In between two visits that day to his father Joseph P. Kennedy, then in rehabilitation seeking to recover some function from the stroke he had suffered five months earlier, was making his second visit to Madison Square Garden that day. Earlier, he’d given a rousing and strong address to tens of thousands of retirement-aged citizens on issues related to Medicare and Social Security.
Following the show, the President gave a speech not only thanking the performers and making a point of thanking Vice President Lyndon Johnson, but also making a strong partisan point about obstruction in Congress by Republicans to economic recovery and unemployment. He also joked about his daughter’s pony Macaroni, a rarely heard reference – as well as his large family. (If you prefer to read, rather than hear the recording of the President’s remarks, they are posted at the end of the article with other documentation). You can hear this audio recording from the online collections of the John F. kennedy President Library & Musuem at the following link: President Kennedy’s May 19, 1962 speech thanking performers at his birthday.
After leaving Madison Square Garden, JFK with his brother Robert, the Attorney-General and his wife Ethel, his sisters Eunice Shriver, Jean Smith and Pat Lawford and their husbands Sargent Shriver, Steve Smith and Peter Lawford headed over to the duplex apartment of entertainment lawyer Arthur Krim, the National Democratic Committee’s Finance Chairman, for the after-party. There the Presidential orbit collided head-on into the Hollywood-Broadway axis, all of them taking in an impromptu performance by Diahann Carroll.
- The Most Shocking Truth About JFK & Marilyn Monroe? (carlanthonyonline.com)
- Jackie’s Husband & the Onassis Mistress: When John F. Kennedy and Maria Callas Got Together (and Marilyn Monroe) (carlanthonyonline.com)
- Fab Finding Follow-Up: Happy Birthday, Marilyn! (fabsugar.com)