The actual figure-hugging dress that Marilyn Monroe wore as she seductively sang “Happy Birthday, Mr President” to John F. Kennedy sold for a whopping US$4.8 million at auction recently. Its value reflects its status as the ultimate souvenir of one of the most memorable moments in the life of one of America’s most glamorous actresses and one of its most popular presidents. While this most public of intimate serenades took place more than half a century ago – 19 May 1962 to be precise – the occasion has become an evergreen part of international folklore.
The dress, though, also has quite a colourful history of its own. A custom-made Jean Louis gown, it was supposedly such a tight fit on Monroe that it had to be sewn onto her body. The sheer, flesh-coloured design – featuring more than 2,500 hand-stitched crystals – had a pre-sale value of $3 million, a figure that was well and truly smashed when it went under the hammer at Julien’s Auctions in Los Angeles.
The Happy Birthday rendition (sung at a party fundraiser in New York’s Madison Square Garden) was performed at Kennedy’s 45th birthday party. Less than three months later, the actress was found dead, having apparently overdosed on sleeping pills. She was just 36.