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Marilyn Monroe's original performance of the song
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"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.
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.
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, giving Monroe's performance another layer of meaning. First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy did not attend the celebration.
President Kennedy's birthday celebration was held at the third Madison Square Garden 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.
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. It was designed by Jean Louis.
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".
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.
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 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 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".