On May the 2nd of this year, Kim Kardashian appeared at the Met Gala and sashayed its red carpet wearing Marilyn’s Happy Birthday, Mr. President dress, the actual dress; and Kim displayed a certain arrogance as she stepped lightly in the sheer gown that had never been worn by any woman other than the woman for whom it had been especially designed and crafted. Design a historic, a one-of-a-kind dress, Marilyn instructed its de-signer, Jean Louis; design a dress that only Marilyn Monroe could wear; and Jean did just that―at least until the arrival of Ripley’s Believe It or Not, 2022 and Kim Kardashian. Let the griping objections begin.
Magazines and websites consulted attendant garment experts, Marilyn experts and devotees for their views and comments. Virtually all assumed a narrow-eyed, dim view of Kim’s red carpet parade and criticized Ripley’s for loaning that incredible dress for such an insignificant and shallow purpose. Bob Mackey, who sketched the dress for designer Jean Louis, commented that Marilyn, a fabulous goddess, photographed like no other woman; and that dress, he said, was designed for Marilyn Monroe. Nobody else, he added, should be seen in that dress. In sum-mation, Mackey proclaimed, Ripley’s made a big mistake.
Sarah Scaturro, the former Head Conservator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute, expressed outrage that Ripley’s and Kim actually yanked the actual gown out of storage, Kim wore it and thereby exposed it to potential damage. Sarah informed the Daily Beast that she frequently had to swat off requests by people […] to have irreplaceable objects in the collection be worn by models and celebrities. The former head conservator also expressed concern that the actions of Ripley’s and Kim had created a precedent by which other high-powered and wealthy individuals can pressure conservators to allow those individuals to wear important garments. Dr. Justine De Young of the Fashion Institute of Technology told People magazine: Such an iconic piece of American history should not be put at risk of damage just for an ego-boost and photo-op.
Many Marilyn devotees expressed consternation and dismay! How could Ripley’s allow that dress to be worn! More than a few of them expressed anger with the Orlando unbelievable stuff museum for relenting to Kim, for making her stunt possible after initially refusing to loan the dress to the shameless publicity junkie. Was it not cavalier to expose that national treasure to possible damage, possibly even ruin? Then the direction of the vitriol switched from Ripley’s reckless irresponsibility to the woman who stepped into the dress for her one of a kind red carpet sashay.
Many Marilyn devotees are very protective of her; and in their zeal to protect Marilyn and her sacrosanct and inviolate legacy, they can be crude, rude and unattractive. Some of them can even be pugnacious and downright mean. One such person proclaimed that Kim Kardashian did not deserve to wear that incredible gown. After all, Kim, a classless, talentless celebutante, does not even approach Marilyn’s talent, grace or mystique. Kim’s fame, many asserted, was a result of her association with another celebutante, Paris Hilton, and also was a result of a sex tape.
Even so, famous persons like Paris and Kim are nothing new. Sixty years ago, in his 1962 publication, The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America, historian Daniel Boostin defined celebrity as a person who is known for being well-known. The historian also noted that sixty’s journalists finally severed fame from greatness; and fame, usually based on achievement, skill or talent, could be based on virtually anything, even something as insubstan-tial and fickle as fame. So, Kim Kardashian certainly fits that description: she is famous simply because she is famous. Still, Kim has her devoted fans as well, and several joined the fist fight of words.
One such Kim fan took issue with calling the reality TV star classless and talentless. Of the two women, the fan proclaimed, Marilyn Monroe was the classless and talentless one. The blonde movie star was nothing but a home wrecker who engaged in affairs with a countless number of married men, including President Kennedy and his attorney general brother. She caused unnecessary delays and budget overruns on every movie in which she ever appeared; and if those problems were not bad enough, she was also a horrid actress. Marilyn was just a dumb, drug addled alcoholic who happened to be unusually attractive and sexy. Marilyn devotees responded that Kim, a vile publicity-loving woman had, by wearing that gown, reduced its value from an appraised $10M to about $1.35 USD, especially since Kim was a wealthy woman lifting her own celebrity by exploiting, by violating a woman who had suffered with poverty and exploitation during her entire life.
But … by all accounts Kim respected the cultural and historical importance of the Happy Birthday, Mr. President dress; and she complied with all the conditions set forth by Ripley’s, the most important of which was, that the garment could not be altered in any manner. As a result of that edict and the fact that Kim did not initially fit into the garment, the reality TV star quickly lost a reported sixteen pounds, a personal choice for which she was promptly excoriated by many perpetually irritated people carousing social media.
But too … Kim is a Marilyn Monroe fan, as many high-powered female celebrities are; and I personally do not buy what Dr. De Young asserted about Kim’s motivations, that the very famous daughter of Robert Kardashian simply needed an ego-boost or a photo-op. That’s like asserting Elon Musk needs a few more piles of money. Kim is already inordinately famous; and while she may be but an asterisk, a footnote appended to the mythology sur-rounding that famous sparkly twinkly gown, and the movie star for whom it was designed and crafted, the asterisk, the footnote means that Kim Kardashian now has a figurine located in the MM Pantheon of Immortality.
When asked to offer a testament regarding how I felt about the transgression of Kim Kardashian and Ripley’s Believe It or Not, I placed my right hand squarely on the Bible and took the 5th. Some battles should not be joined. Even so, I will proffer a different perspective of the event and congratulate, even thank both Kim and Ripley’s for dispatching, inadvertently of course, an issue that has been written about for sixty years, an issue that reached the height of absurdity with the publication of Mark Shaw’s absurd book. Shaw proclaimed that piecing the patchwork of the dress onto Marilyn’s legendary body took five hundred backstage stitches (Shaw 394), the very height of hyperbole. I have already discussed Shaw’s silly assertion; therefore, I will not repeat any of that discussion here. If you are interested in learning the facts and enduring my thoughts, please visit Mark Shaw, the President’s Birthday Gala and Marilyn’s Gown.
At any rate, even now, when journalists—a word I use with trepidation—have written about Kim and the presi-dential dress, they invariably mention various reports from unnamed witnesses about the gown’s snug fit: the fit was so snug, in fact, that Marilyn was literally sewn into it. For example, according to NBC News: Designed by Jean Louis, the sleek backless gown includes 2,500 hand-stitched crystals. Monroe was reportedly sewn into the dress for a seamless fit. The website CHRON, published by Hearst Newspapers, followed NBC’s lead: The dress originally cost $12,000. It was so tight Monroe had to be sewn into it when she purred “Happy birthday, Mr. president” on May 19, 1962, at a Madison Square Garden fundraiser. Likewise, People magazine reported that the dress […] was reportedly so tight, Monroe had to be sewn into it prior to her very sexy Happy Birthday performance for President John F. Kennedy on May 19, 1962 at a Madison Square Garden fundraiser […]. I can only assume that the persons who wrote those words, and the editors who approved them, never stopped to think, never asked them-selves this simple question: since the gown could not be altered in any way, how, then, did the voluptuous Kim Kardashian manage to get into it? Obviously the dress could not be disassembled and then reassembled onto Kim’s famous form.
According to Vogue:
The truth is Kardashian only actually wore the original dress for a matter of minutes. Given the fragile nature and historical value of the dress, she wasn’t about to take any chances. In fact, her whole process of getting dressed reads like a highly sophisticated military operation. First, she left her hotel in a dressing gown with barricades set up outside to obscure the view of any waiting paparazzi. She then arrived at a small fitting room by the Met Gala steps that was especially organized for the occasion. There a conservationist from Ripley’s was on hand to assist her in white gloves.
There are photographs along with an Internet viewable video which clearly depicts how Kim, with assistance, managed to step into and then slip the gown upward over her ample curves; and the world’s most famous statuesque blonde undoubtedly used the same technique employed by Kim Kardashian, even though Marilyn’s assistants probably were not compelled to wear white gloves. In short, Kim was not stitched into the gown and neither was Marilyn Monroe; and most certainly Marilyn was not sewn into the gown by seamstresses who hand crafted five hundred backstage stitches as asserted by Mark Shaw, without a doubt one of the most laughably absurd pieces of drivel ever written about Marilyn and her sparkly twinkly gown.
Therefore, thanks to Kim Kardashian and Ripley’s, the issue of just how Marilyn donned the Happy Birthday, Mr. President dress has been resolved once and for all; and any journalist, writer or reporter who repeats the myth that she was sewn into, or the dress was sewn onto her, should have their union membership revoked and should also receive fifty lashes with Bob Mackey’s famous tape measure. Finally, and in closing, I also want to compli-ment Kimmie for at least selecting to wear a piece of clothing with style and grace, compliment her for avoiding the usual sartorial lunacy displayed at such a superficial event.