Happy Birthday, Mr. President

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Marilyn Monroe's original performance of the song

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John F. Kennedy thanking Marilyn Monroe
Monroe's dress from the event

"Happy Birthday, Mr. President" is a song sung by actress and singer Marilyn Monroe on Saturday, May 19, 1962, for President John F. Kennedy at a celebration of his forty-fifth birthday, ten days before the actual day of his 45th birthday (Tuesday, May 29). Monroe sang the traditional "Happy Birthday to You" lyrics in a sultry voice, with "Mr. President" inserted as Kennedy's name.

Monroe continued the song with a snippet from the classic song, "Thanks for the Memory", for which she had written new lyrics specifically aimed at Kennedy.

Thanks, Mr. President
For all the things you've done
The battles that you've won
The way you deal with U.S. Steel
And our problems by the ton
We thank you so much

Afterwards, President Kennedy came on stage and joked about the song, saying, "I can now retire from politics after having had Happy Birthday sung to me in such a sweet, wholesome way," alluding to Monroe's delivery, her racy dress, and her general image as a sex symbol.[1]

The song and Monroe's performance have been remembered for numerous reasons. First, it was one of her last major public appearances (Monroe died August 5, 1962). In addition, there are persistent rumors that President Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe had an affair,[2] giving Monroe's performance another layer of meaning. First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy did not attend the celebration.

Monroe's performance was accompanied by jazz pianist Hank Jones.[3]


President Kennedy's birthday celebration was held at the third Madison Square Garden[4] on May 19, 1962, and more than 15,000 people attended along with numerous celebrities, including Marilyn Monroe. The event was a fundraising gala for the Democratic Party.[5]

Monroe's dress was noted for being made of a sheer and flesh colored marquisette fabric, with 2,500 rhinestones sewn into it. The dress was so tight-fitting that Monroe had to be literally sewn into it; she wore nothing under it.[6] It was designed by Jean Louis.[citation needed]

Peter Lawford was at the event that night to introduce Monroe. He made a play on the actress's lateness by giving her a number of introductions throughout the night, after which she did not go on stage. As she finally came on stage several hours into the show, Lawford introduced her as the "late Marilyn Monroe".[1]

The event was staged and produced by Broadway composer and lyricist Richard Adler.[7] It was choreographed by Carol Haney of The Pajama Game fame.[citation needed]


Monroe's dress has become famous as a symbol of the song, selling in 1999 at an auction in New York for over US$1.26 million.[6]

Madonna made a famous parody of the song on Saturday Night Live during the 90s, singing "Happy Birthday, Mr. President" (Season 18, Episode 11), changing President Kennedy to President Bill Clinton (played by Phil Hartman), his wife Hillary Clinton (played by Jan Hooks) and their daughter Chelsea Clinton (performed by Melanie Hutsell). Introduced by Whoopi Goldberg (played by Ellen Cleghorne), she began singing, and focus was directed to the reaction of the presidential couple, especially Hillary, who was obviously jealous of Madonna's overtures to the President. At the end of the sketch, the public realizes that the song was dedicated to Chelsea.

Spice Girl Geri Halliwell performed the song in 1998 for Prince Charles' 50th birthday celebration, replacing the line "Happy Birthday, Mr. President" with "Happy Birthday, Your Royal Highness".

American musician Lana Del Rey reenacted the performance in the music video for her song "National Anthem", with herself as Monroe.[8]

John F. Kennedy Jr., who was publisher of a magazine called 'George', put Drew Barrymore on its September 1996 cover dressed as Marilyn Monroe as she appeared when she sang Happy Birthday to his father on May 19, 1962.

In season 4, Episode 13 (Pictures of You) of The CW's One Tree Hill it was partly sung by Brooke Davis.

In the film Wayne's World, the main character, played by Mike Myers, sings the song to his girlfriend in an attempt to make her laugh while she is on the phone to her bandmate.

In 30 Rock, Season 3, episode 3 guest star Jennifer Anniston's character Claire sings "Happy Birthday Mr. Jackie Bear" to Alec Baldwins character Jack Donneghy, at a corporate fundraiser.

In Season 2, Episode 11 (Mandala) of AMC's Breaking Bad, Skyler White sings "Happy Birthday, Mr. President" to her boss Ted Beneke.

A snippet of the song appears at the end of "Blue Room" by The Orb.

In Arrested Development, Lucille sings a few lines of the songs to George Sr.

In a dream sequence, Mr. Burns sings an adapted version of the song to Smithers in an early episode of The Simpsons. Later in the same series, the episode Beyond Blunderdome features a fictional remake of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington in which Mr. Smith, at the end of the iconic "filibuster scene" goes berserk and lays waste to the whole Senate, killing everyone in sight. As he beheads the fictional President of the United States, he mockingly quotes the song to him.

During the first season of the NBC series Smash, Katharine McPhee's character Karen Cartwright sings the song to director Derek Wills (during the Pilot episode) so she may be considered for the role of Marilyn Monroe in the then untitled Broadway production of Bombshell. She later reprises the song in "Let's Be Bad" (S01E5) during a severe coaching by Derek to Ivy Lynn, who is now playing Marilyn. The song is finally sung by Uma Thurman's character Rebecca Duvall in the S01E13 episode "Tech". Rebecca changes the lyric to "director" from "President".


  1. ^ a b Original performance of "Happy Birthday", Marilyn Monroe. Shown on Columbia Broadcasting System, May 29, 1962.
  2. ^ Guy Rocha, "[1][dead link]", Reno Gazette-Journal, August 12, 2004. URL last accessed December 26, 2006.
  3. ^ Hank Jones: The Man Who Accompanied Marilyn
  4. ^ "Madison Square Garden III" on Ballparks.com
  5. ^ Branch, Taylor (2007). Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63, p. 590
  6. ^ a b "Happy Birthday, JFK", University of Massachusetts Lowell, URL last accessed February 2, 2010
  7. ^ "Musical composer, lyricist Richard Adler dies at 90". CBC News. June 22, 2012. 
  8. ^ "Lana Del Rey and A$AP Rocky Play Presidential in 'National Anthem'". Rolling Stone. June 27, 2012. Retrieved June 27, 2012.