It was 48 years ago today on May 19, 1962 that screen goddess Marilyn Monroe – “literally sewn into a sparkling, jaw-droppingly sheer dress – sauntered on stage of New York’s Madison Square Garden and, with one breathless performance, forever linked sex and politics into the American consciousness,” reports LIFE.com.
LIFE magazine photographer Bill Ray, was on hand that evening, along with 15,000 people who witnessed Monroe’s breathy rendition of “Happy Birthday” to President John F. Kennedy. The scene amplified buzz of an affair between them.
To commemorate the anniversary, Ray talks with LIFE.com to share his photographs from that night (some of which have never been seen), and to tell the story of how he overcame countless obstacles – “the cavernous setting, tricky lighting, and security “goons” eager to keep the press at bay – to get ‘The Shot’.”
The full gallery of Ray’s photographs and his remarks can be found here.