Marilyn Monroe's form-fitting, flesh-colored dress--a sequined stunner she barely wore to serenade President Kennedy--sold today for a record $1.26 million.

The dress, worn by Monroe during her breathless "Happy Birthday, Mr. President" to JFK in 1962, was the top item at the first session of a two-day auction at Christie's.

The winning bid, from the Manhattan-based Gotta Have It!, set a record for an auctioned dress, obliterating the $222,500 paid in 1997 for a Princess Diana gown.

Asked why he spent a fortune on the dress, company co-owner Robert Schargin told reporters, "Because it wasn't $3 million, which we thought it was worth. . . . We stole it." The Jean Louis dress originally cost $12,000.

Most items went at prices far beyond Christie's predictions. The total take for the first day was $5,630,500.

A platinum ring with 34 baguette-cut diamonds, given to Monroe by ex-husband Joe DiMaggio, sold for $772,500.

Monroe left all her belongings to her acting coach, Lee Strasberg. His widow, Anna, was selling them, with sales of Monroe's books benefiting Literacy Partners and her furs benefiting the World Wildlife Foundation.