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There’s hardly a more arresting and iconic moment from the 20th Century: Marilyn Monroe, in a shimmering, sheer, overtly sexy gown, stood on stage in Madison Square Garden to serenade President John F. Kennedy with a sultry ‘Happy Birthday, Mr President.’ A hush fell over the shocked crowd during the brazen performance by the actress, with whom Kennedy was rumored to be having an affair – and the night only bolstered that belief.
‘You could have heard a pin drop,’ says Bill Ray, the LIFE photographer assigned to cover the event for the magazine on May 19, 1962, ten days before the President’s actual 45th birthday. Monroe was on the star-studded playbill along with Jack Benny, Ella Fitzgerald, Henry Fonda, Bobby Darin and others, but the crowd of 16,000-strong crowd of Democrats were not sure what to expect from the actress.
Emcee Peter Lawford, who was also JFK’s brother-in-law, teased the 35-year-old sex symbol’s appearance throughout the night and kept calling for her, looking to the wings; when she eventually took the stage, he introduced her as the ‘late Marilyn Monroe’ – when no one could guess she would be found dead three months later.
The breathy performance that followed would arguably become the most famous – or infamous – rendition of the song ever performed.
One of Ray’s images, depicting Monroe from behind in the dress she literally had to be sewn into, has been seared into the public consciousness – a brilliant snapshot that would enter the annals of history just a short time before both Kennedy and Monroe’s lives would be tragically cut short. Ray's images have been provided to DailyMail.com by FOTO.
Photographer Bill Ray covered the May 19, 1962 birthday celebration for President John F. Kennedy in Madison Square Garden in New York, where he clambered up on a support beam to get a shot of Marilyn Monroe as she performed 'Happy Birthday, Mr President;' Ray had hoped to capture both the actress and JFK - who were rumored to be having an affair - within the same frame, but the president was not visible when the photo was developed
The event took place ten days before JFK's actual 45th birthday; within three months, Monroe would be dead at the age of 36, and the President was assassinated in Dallas the following year
Ray also captured images of the excitement in New York surrounding JFK's arrival at Madison Square Garden; the photographer recalls the clothes and atmosphere and laments that 'the neighborhood is gone'
But it took some ingenuity on Ray’s part to get that shot at the famous event, which took place exactly 56 years ago on May 19. Photographers had been shepherded into a cordoned-off area in front of the stage, but Ray wasn’t satisfied with that angle and had a better idea - wrangling a photo that would include both the actress and the president in the frame.
‘If you got a picture from the front, everybody else would have it on the front page the next day and it wouldn’t be good for LIFE,’ he says. ‘You always needed something different. I had this idea that if I got way up I could shoot over Marilyn’s shoulder and have Kennedy in the picture.’
So he climbed atop a support beam and braced his long lens against a railing, making an educated guess at the exposure and snapping several frames of Monroe as she vamped on stage. Only one turned out perfectly - though Kennedy, sadly, could not be seen.
‘There was one slightly before that’s a little blurry because of the 300mm lens,’ Ray says. ‘Shortly thereafter the lights went out and she disappeared, and the next thing I knew JFK was up on the stage.’
Photographer Bill Ray was surprised when LIFE magazine did not run his iconic image, though it was later included in one of the publisher's 'Best of LIFE' books
The lighting conditions, however – Monroe in a bright spotlight, Kennedy in total darkness – meant that Ray’s dream of getting the two in the same picture didn’t work
‘If I’d been luckier, there would have been a tiny bit of light that would have spilled onto Kennedy, who was over her shoulder between the podium and her head,’ he says.
Over the years, as technology has improved, Ray has tried multiple times to digitally manipulate the photo to reveal the president, but to no avail, though he says he may again try to see if technology can help shed light – literally – on Kennedy over Monroe’s shoulder. Whatever the outcome, though, Ray says he is happy with the original image.
‘How it worked, I’m not even sure,’ he says. ‘But it worked. Je ne sais quoi – it’s got something in it.’
The picture, however, has become his calling card, even after a lifetime of memorable shots.
‘People, when they introduce me, they say, “He’s the guy that made the Marilyn Monroe.” Every photographer has this happen to him whether they like it or not. In this case, it’s fine with me.’
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Source : http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5745633/Photographer-image-Marilyn-Monroe-singing-Happy-Birthday-JFK-says-image-failure.html