"Happy birthday .. To you," she cooed, her voice a sexy -- and maybe just a tad off-key -- whisper. "Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday ... Mr. Pre-si-dent. Happy birthday to you." The room continued its rowdy response as she did her best to give her public what it wanted -- an unmistakable and very specific memory of Marilyn Monroe. Finishing the first chorus, she motioned for the audience to join in -- "Everybody! Happy birthday ..." The crowd responded to her invitation by taking up the song and trying to follow her somewhat erratic, arm-waving conducting.
After she finished her performance, a man approached Marilyn from behind. While the cameras cut to a birthday cake being wheeled in, she was escorted from the stage and away from a moment in which she had wanted to participate: President John F. Kennedy climbing the stairs to the stage to say a few words of appreciation. Marilyn had wanted to simply give him a quick peck and then shuffle back offstage. Yet there were many who felt that she was too unpredictable that night, too erratic.
"Yes, there was some anxiety surrounding her appearance," recalled Diahann Carroll. "I can't say that I knew why, or what was going on. But I do remember a certain level of ... Tension. Some people were quite ... Edgy."
Once backstage, Marilyn heard the president express his gratitude for her performance. "Now I can retire from politics," he said, "after having 'Happy Birthday' sung to me in such a sweet and wholesome way."
A couple of months prior, she had told JFK how her ex-husband, Joe dimaggio, wanted her to retire from show business to be his wife. Now, hearing his words, a look of astonishment crossed her face. Later, she would ask his sister, Pat Kennedy Lawford, if he had made the statement for her benefit. The reasonable response to her question was most certainly no. However, at that point, Marilyn's supply of reason had been dwindling for quite some time. She had begun living her life in clearly defined segments of clarity and confusion.
For years Marilyn Monroe had been able to use her craft to perpetuate an illusion. Indeed, the star that people saw toward the end of her life was but a shell game -- a well-crafted presentation of someone who had disappeared years ago ... That is, if she ever really existed.