Irishman to auction Marilyn Monroe’s ‘Happy Birthday’ dress

Martin Nolan is in charge of items including the iconic bedazzled dress, letters and gifts.

Athlone man Martin Nolan is executive director of Julien’s Auctions, Beverly Hills and is behind a three day auction of Marilyn Monroe property including the famous dress she wore while performing for JFK at his birthday party in New York in 1962. An Athlone man is presiding over what could be one of the biggest auctions of celebrity items ever in a 3-day extravaganza of Marilyn Monroe items.

Martin Nolan, executive director of Julien’s Auctions is in charge of items including the iconic bedazzled dress she wore when she sang “Happy Birthday” to President John F Kennedy in 1962.

“This is the biggest auction we’ve ever done,” Mr Nolan told The Irish Times. “We’ve been working on this for over a year”. The auction, which starts Thursday evening in Beverly Hills is expected to fetch between $4- 6 million, with the legendary “Happy Birthday” dress expected to sell for between $2 and 3 million. The event is drawn from the estate of Monroe mentor Lee Strasberg, Jersey-based collector David Gainsborough Roberts and the late financier Marty Zweig. It includes everything from movie wardrobe and jewelry to letters, gifts, documents, recipes, kitchen implements and even used lipsticks. For the Monroe auction, Mr Nolan spent more than a year going through six huge storage units from the Strasberg estate. Monroe left everything to Strasberg, who founded the Actors Studio, and in 1999 his daughter put more than 500 items up for sale.

The auction also features many other movie costumes Monroe wore during her acting career from 1953’s Niagara to the famous Billy Wilder comedy Some Like it Hot in 1959. “Marilyn was a hoarder and kept everything,” Mr Nolan said. “Growing up and having so little, these things were her constants”.

‘Happy Birthday’ dress

The “Happy Birthday” dress, designed by Academy Award-winner Jean Louis, is widely considered one of the most famous dresses of the 20th century. Monroe wore it at her historic appearance at the Madison Square Garden gala on May 19th, 1962, celebrating President Kennedy’s 45th birthday. She died less than three months later. The dress was noted for being made of sheer and flesh-colored marquisette fabric, with some 2,500 shimmering rhinestones sewn into it. The dress was reportedly so tight-fitting that Ms Monroe reportedly had to be sewn into it before the performance. The dress fetched over $1.26 million the last time it was auctioned in 1999.

“We have had remarkable opportunities to offer unique objects related to Marilyn Monroe in the past,” said Mr Nolan. “To be part of the continued interest and excitement around this legend is always thrilling. This dress, this story, this momentous occasion represents a defining moment in history. This auction will remind the world why Marilyn Monroe remains an icon.”



The alleged romantic relationship between Monroe and President Kennedy was unknown to the public while the two were still alive, and the Madison Square Gala is believed to be the last time the two ever saw each other. “Marilyn Monroe singing ‘Happy Birthday Mr President’ is certainly one of the most famous impromptu performances in American history,” said Darren Julien, president and CEO of Julien’s Auctions. “That rendition has lived on for decades as one of the most remarkable events in her career and certainly one of the most storied tales in popular culture history – a moment in time squarely at the center of the 1960s, Hollywood and Camelot. According to Julien’s Auctions, 100 per cent of the registration and admission proceeds will benefit the Downtown Women’s Center in Los Angeles, a nonprofit dedicated to addressing the needs of women overcoming poverty and homelessness.

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