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Marilyn Monroe’s ‘Happy Birthday Mr President’ dress to be auctioned

The figure-hugging gown Marilyn Monroe wore to coquettishly serenade President John F. Kennedy for his 45th birthday is being auctioned.

The flesh-coloured dress adorned with 2,500 hand-stitched crystals, which will go on the block on November 17 in Los Angeles, is expected to fetch between US$2 million and US$3 million, Julien’s Auctions said.

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The dress was so tight that Monroe wore nothing underneath and had to be sewn into it at the last minute before stepping on stage at Madison Square Garden in 1962 to sing “Happy Birthday Mr President” in her trademark sultry voice.

“It was her intimate tone and projection of the words ‘Mr President’ that would stun the audience, excite the press and become a milestone in popular culture,” says Martin Nolan, executive director of Julien’s Auctions. “The rendition by Marilyn remains one of the most famous, delivered in her halting, breathy tone. All in all, it lasted approximately 30 seconds, but more than five decades later, it remains the most famous version of Happy Birthday ever.”

Monroe was dead within three months from a barbiturate overdose. Kennedy was assassinated a year later.

Prior to the auction, dress, created by Hollywood costume designer Jean Louis, will go on display at an arts centre in New Jersey before travelling to Ireland and making its way back to Los Angeles.

First auctioned by Christie’s in 1999, when it was sold to the late business mogul Martin Zweig for nearly US$1.3 million, the dress is being sold by his estate.

“This dress, this story, this momentous occasion represents a defining moment in history,” Julien’s Auctions executive director Martin Nolan says. “This auction will remind the world why Marilyn Monroe remains an icon.”

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