While her face can’t be seen in the photo, one look at the iconic shot and many will immediately say that it’s Marilyn Monroe singing “Happy Birthday” to President John F. Kennedy in 1962. Read on to find out more about this historic and influential photograph!
Certainly one of the most iconic photographs from the 1960s, the photo above instantly reminds everyone of the night the legendary Marilyn Monroe sang a sensual ‘Happy Birthday’ to US President John F. Kennedy at a celebration of his 45th birthday in New York City. Even Bill Ray, the celebrity photographer behind the iconic shot, said that people who saw the photo always knew that it was the Hollywood icon, even if they couldn’t see her face.
“I’ve never seen anybody that took a look at this picture that didn’t know that it was Marilyn Monroe. I didn’t hear anybody ever say, ’That’s Jayne Mansfield’ or somebody else,” Ray told TIME in a video about the behind-the-scenes story of his classic photograph.
Bill Ray was working as a staff photographer for LIFE magazine and was assigned to cover the birthday party for John F. Kennedy on May 19, 1962, ten days before his actual birthday. Many photographers took photos of Marilyn from the front view of the stage, but it was the one taken by the then 26-year-old Ray from an unconventional angle that remains easily recognizable to many. Recalling the occasion and what he did to take his influential photograph, Ray said:
“Photographers were free to roam in the beginning, and then, when the evening started to, when the entertainment started to get going, why, it was clear that all of the photographers were gonna be kind of herded behind a rope and rounded up, and that’s when I got out of there and started my way up around up in those girders. Luckily I had a 300 millimeter telephoto lens, which was my only opportunity to try to get a picture of the performers. Marilyn in particular, with Kennedy looking up at her.
“They were gonna harass anybody with the press that was down there in front, that was certain. That’s the way it was shaping up. And I just went up far enough and out of the way, far enough that I wasn’t bothered.”
In case you’re curious, here’s the video of the historic moment:
You may also want to check out The Night Marilyn Monroe Sang 'Happy Birthday' to JFK.