WEIRDLAND: Elvis Presley: A Southern Life

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Elvis Presley: A Southern Life

Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley reps sue over image use: The King and The blond bombshell’s estates have filed suit against a Big Apple company, claiming they bilked them out of more than $350,000 after breaking a contract. TapouT LLC, Monroe’s estate, and Presley’s ABG EPE IP LLC claim in a newly filed Manhattan Supreme Court suit that Central Mills Inc. failed to cough up remaining funds owed after the companies parted ways in December 2017. Both LLCs control rights to certain pending and registered trademarks for Monroe and Presley and signed an agreement with Central Mills that allotted them various percentages of royalties, provided the company met mandatory minimum sales for any clothing or wares bearing either celeb’s image. But after terminating agreements, Central Mills left the Monroe and Presley LLCs in the dust, failing to cough up a total of $353,500 in royalties and penalties. This is no Lifetime movie. Source:

Elvis spared no expense in maintaining and running Graceland. Marty Lacker estimated that Elvis’s payroll ran to about $100,000 a month plus Graceland's maintenance expenses cost about $40,000 a month. As the year 1970 came to an end, Elvis began spending money like water. He bought jewelry for everyone in Graceland, expensive cars for his entourage and Barbara Leigh, put down a $10,000 deposit on a new home for Joe and Joanie Esposito, and developed an obsession with guns. Although Elvis’s income had swelled dramatically throughout his career, in 1969 he had come dangerously close to bankruptcy. In 1971, his net income approached $3 million, and in 1972 it swelled to nearly $4 million. The vast increase in Elvis’s income came mostly from live performances, especially from touring. Elvis did not, however, become rich. His performances grossed on average about $5 million a year during the last several years of his life, but at his death his total assets probably amounted to substantially less than $3 million. Like his parents, Elvis apparently never thought about saving any money for a rainy day. He never bought stocks, corporate bonds, or rental property for investment and income. The final inventory of his possessions filed in the court records of Shelby County show that he did buy a $10,000 US government bond. He probably forgot he had it. Unlike many other high-income Americans, Elvis never took advantage of available tax shelters. Medical doctors, for instance, in the 1960s and 1970s, reaped unprecedented profits due to a relative shortage of physicians to meet the swelling “baby boomer” population. Seeking to escape from federal income taxes that might take away a third or more of their income, doctors bought farms, which provided tax shelters legitimated by the Congress. Elvis did keep horses and sometimes rode, but he rejected the elite’s fiscal model. He spent all that he made as fast as he made it—like the great majority of the fans who came to see him in Las Vegas or Tahoe, Buffalo, Little Rock, or Wichita.

Elvis never became urbane. He eschewed New York, and he never really “went Hollywood.” In Los Angeles, he was practically never in the nightclubs, never at the Oscars, never in the homes of the famous for dinners or social events. Rather, he walled himself up in one of his mansions with the guys. Anyone who wanted to socialize with Elvis had to come to his house. Like other Americans, he partied in Las Vegas and retreated to Palm Springs, but home was home. The first great Elvis image—the “Bad Elvis”—was launched by the young women at the Shell in Overton Park in July 1954. The second Elvis image—the “Good Elvis”—was the creature of the Cold War, clearly visible on the flight deck of the USS Hancock in San Diego Bay in April 1956. The third and final Elvis image, much more complex than the first two, brought back the bad Elvis in another mutation. Now Elvis was “bad” in the sense that bad meant “good,” even “the best.” Liberate yourself and have fun, he urged white Americans tired of black civil rights activists, Communist confrontations, and a demoralizing war in Vietnam. He was self-confident, neither giving nor accepting abuse, joyous, loving life, hedonistic but harmless. His new image was hatched with the Comeback Special and achieved full flight during his first engagement at the International Hotel in Las Vegas in August 1969. On November 5 and 6, 1971, Joyce Bova joined Elvis as he performed in Cleveland and Louisville. She observed that there were no “high rollers” in the audience such as she had seen in his audiences in Las Vegas. These huge crowds were true believers. 

Increasingly, Elvis was seeing himself as the messiah to the masses. His mission in life, he kept telling Joyce, was to make people’s dreams come true. She saw guns and books scattered about in his hotel room, and he always carried his badge from the Bureau of Narcotics. After the November tour, Elvis flew to Memphis, then to California, and then back to Memphis where on Saturday night, December 11, 1971, he took Joyce Bova to a private screening at the Crosstown Theater. Increasingly, Elvis talked to Joyce about moving into Graceland with him, but she worried about his rapid mood swings—and the pills they both were taking. Plus, he was still married to Priscilla. On Sunday, he and Joyce flew to Washington and checked into the hotel where they had first consummated their love. On Tuesday, he flew back to Memphis and on Saturday Priscilla and Lisa Marie arrived from California. Now it was Priscilla who had some news for Elvis. Priscilla told Elvis that she did not love him anymore and was separating from him. She and Lisa stayed for Christmas but flew out the night before New Year’s Eve. Joyce tried again to talk to him about his drug use. The drugs were a part of his mission, he said. The drugs were to gain “silence.” “Silence is the resting place of the soul,” he said. “It’s sacred. And necessary for new thoughts to be born. That’s what my pills are for, to get as close as possible to that silence,” he explained. Joyce left the next morning while Elvis was still sleeping.

Rita Moreno was another conquest in the early 1960s who had been baffled by her intimate experiences with the King. “Elvis asked me out several times,” she recalled in Rita Moreno: A Memoir (2012). “His real self was a shy boy from Tupelo whose favorite book was the Bible. Our sex activity felt short of my expectations and needs, typically ending up in my Sunset Boulevard apartment. My dates with Elvis always concluded in a tender tussle on the living room floor. This was called 'grinding' and it was all he really wanted to do, with no culmination. At least, the red glare of the traffic lights lent a carnal glow to our activities. I was a fully grown woman with adult desires and I already had been with Marlon Brando.”

The number of girls streaming in and out of Elvis’s bed diminished while Linda Thompson stayed with him, but not to zero. Linda had wanted a career in show business and a measure of financial support. Elvis helped her move toward a career, and he was very generous to her in a material way, buying her a house and giving her a 30.000 $ credit card as farewell gift. His divorce settlement with Priscilla had amounted to two million dollars. Elvis was a considerate man as well as a generous one. But years on a psychiatrist’s couch might not have sufficed to untangle the painful emotional threads that made up Elvis’s being at that point in his life, September 1974. One vital thread was his fear that he was not really the highly sexual man that he thought he ought to be. According to Sheila Ryan, “Elvis was just this guy who had this wonderful charisma and things got blown way out of shape. But he was always just this innocent little guy. Elvis had qualities that no other human being has had. Some of them are so hard to describe because the qualities he had were almost not of this world, angelic. It was his innocence, his vulnerability.” Sheila was increasingly unwilling to go on tour with Elvis. “There wasn’t much at stake. I was his friend, I was his little pal.” She was relieved when he took Mindi Miller, a model and dancer, with him for the first part of his tour that began in Macon, Georgia, on April 4, 1975. Elvis wanted Sheila to go with him for his third tour in 1975, seventeen days that began on July 8, but by then she was practically living with actor James Caan, so she couldn't join Elvis on tour. Elvis seemed to accept the end of their relationship. 

Ginger Alden was not easily readable. In her dark good looks, at five-eight and with appropriate fullness of figure, she was not a teenager. She was twenty. From the first, it seems, Elvis chose her—not as simply another girl in his usual game of revolving doors but as a permanent bedmate and companion. Ginger had, as Billy Smith said, “that virginal look” that was so important to Elvis. In the order of Elvis’s women, she ranked with Anita Wood, Priscilla Beaulieu, Joyce Bova, and Linda Thompson. Back in Tennessee, Ginger was supposed to go with Elvis to Nashville on Thursday, January 20, 1977, for a scheduled recording session for RCA. At the last minute, Ginger backed out. Elvis postponed his departure for a day, and he had a prolonged and acrimonious argument with her. The next day he went to Nashville without her but would not go to the studio. He spent much of his time in the hotel room calling Ginger. For three days the backup singers, the band, and the technicians waited in the studio for Elvis to appear. Finally, Elvis flew back to Memphis without recording anything at all. Elvis’s intense involvement with Ginger and her family strongly suggested that he was into the traditional progression of love and courtship that would end in marriage. But Ginger seemed detached at times. She was not as pliable as one might think on first impression. She had a mind and a will of her own, and she acted accordingly. And Elvis was not used to rejection. He tried to make Ginger jealous with other girls, but he had neither the energy nor the interest. So he asked Ginger to marry him. He thought Christmas or his birthday might be the right date—maybe he would even announce it at the Memphis concert ending the tour. Ginger agreed to become Mrs. Elvis Presley. Elvis envisioned his second marriage would be his own creation. He did not need the Colonel. 

Regardless of what he said publicly, Elvis had long been bitter about the restraints that he felt Colonel Parker had placed upon his artistic creativity. Since the late 1960s, Elvis had wanted to fire the Colonel, but Parker had bound him hand and foot financially. Elvis made millions, but he had no millions to buy Tom Parker out. If he fired the Colonel he would essentially be broke. In effect, the Colonel had been loaning Elvis one-sixth of the profits they made from each tour since they signed that agreement in January 1976. Now Elvis agreed to pay back all those moneys at the end of 1977 and he was in surviving mode. When Elvis set out on his first tour of 1977 on February 12, he insisted that Ginger come with him. He made the most of Ginger’s presence on the tour. It was the usual routine that he relished so much. She would be publicly introduced as his girlfriend, the very image of love fulfilled. The fans loved this charming play. They melted into the romance; they were a part of it. The King had found his Princess. Elvis fans had come to yearn for Elvis’s remarriage. Ginger later said that “they always would come up to me and say, ‘You’re what he’s searched for a long time.’ ” Eight days into the February tour, to keep Ginger happy, Elvis flew some of her family to Johnson City, Tennessee, and carried them on to Charlotte, North Carolina. 

If Ginger didn't come with him to Graceland, Elvis would wail to Billy Smith: “Where is she, man? Why don’t she stay here?” He desperately needed Ginger to count on, to be in his bed when he awoke and when he went to sleep. Rosemary, Ginger's sister, not only had access to Elvis’s private precincts on the second floor of Graceland even when Ginger was not there, she also took a proprietary attitude toward her sister’s fiancĂ© and demanded fidelity to Ginger. This had to be a shockingly new situation for Elvis. Neither Linda Thompson nor her relatives had ever dared such presumption. Then again, he had never proposed marriage to Linda. Elvis was obsessed with the idea of having a son. “He’ll have my eyes and, of course, my face,” he said, “the best looking and the most perfect kid in the world.” His name would be Elvis Presley Jr. On August 27, at home again in Memphis, during the first of two shows he would announce his engagement to Ginger. His fans, seeing their hopes and dreams for his happiness coming true through his marriage, would be filled with joy. When Ginger woke up in the big bed about 8:00 a.m., Elvis was in bed beside her, reading. He couldn’t go to sleep. “Precious, I’m gonna go in the bathroom and read for a while,” he said. “Don’t fall asleep,” Ginger said. “I won’t,” he replied smiling, and shut the door to the bathroom. —"Elvis: A Southern Life" (2014) by Joel Williamson

Elvis has a co-writing credit on, and actually participated in the composition of two songs from the early 60s - "That's Someone You'll Never Forget" (1961) and "You'll Be Gone" (1965). Sweetheart we're alone. And you are mine. Let's make this night a night to remember. Don't make our love a cold dying ember. For with the dawn, you'll be gone. Hold me close in your arms as the night withers away. Oh please come to my arms and say you'll love me forever. Your lips pressed on mine is heaven descending. And I could die because it is ending. For with the dawn, you'll be gone.

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