WEIRDLAND: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley

Monday, August 06, 2018

The Unmaking of Elvis Presley

Elvis Presley’s ’68 Comeback Special is in cinemas on 16 and 20 August. Now, 50 years on, Elvis Presley’s famed 1968 TV concert is getting a big-screen reboot, showing at select cinemas throughout USA and UK next week. A new generation of fans will be able to watch the King, wearing black leather and a tough look on his face, swagger his way through one of the best performances of his career. “It feels like only yesterday to me,” Steve Binder, 85, the show’s director, told the Observer. “Elvis went out on that stage cold. He hadn’t performed in eight years, and he’d had few hit records in that time. But he just went out there and did it. That was raw talent.”

The concert, in which Presley reeled off hit after hit, from Heartbreak Hotel to Love Me Tender, came at a crossroads in his career. Written off by many in the industry, he had been in what Binder described as “a creative exile”, making Hollywood movies under the notoriously authoritarian management of Colonel Tom Parker. “The colonel was all about power and his will over others,” Binder said. But it really only happened by accident: “When I took Elvis out to NBC to show him where we were actually going to shoot the show, he said, ‘Do you think it would be possible to put a bed in my dressing room?’” Source:

Following the Freddie Mercury biopic, “Bohemian Rhapsody”, which will be released in October, the King himself, Elvis Presley, is to be portrayed on the big screen. On hold since 2014, the project is likely to pick up speed now that director Baz Luhrmann intends to begin shooting in March 2019. As well as taking the director’s chair, Luhrmann (“The Great Gatsby”) will write the screenplay and act as producer. In his role as writer, he will take over from Kelly Marcel and Jeremy Donner, who were previously tasked with producing the script.

The film will be split into two parts focusing on different periods in the singer’s life. The first of these will focus on Elvis between the ages of 18 and 22, and the second will pick up his story at age 35. Casting director Kristy Carlson will be looking for two actors with a talent for singing, to play the role of the King whose wild dance moves sparked so much controversy in his day. The film will be the first major biopic to be entirely focused on an iconic celebrity of the 1950s. The information reported by Discussing Film has yet to be confirmed by Warner Brothers. Source:

Beginning with Presley's army service in Germany in 1958 and ending with his death in Memphis in 1977, Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley chronicles the unravelling of the dream that once shone so brightly, homing in on the complex playing-out of Elvis' relationship with his Machiavellian manager, Colonel Tom Parker. Having mortgaged his talent to the machinations of his manager, 'Colonel' Tom Parker, there would be an inevitable price to pay. It's a breathtaking revelatory drama that places the events of an often mistold context. Elvis' changes during these years form a tragic mystery that Peter Guralnick unlocks. Written with grace, sensitivity, and passion, Careless Love is a unique contribution to our understanding of American popular culture and the nature of success, giving us true insight into one of the most misunderstood public figures of our times. Source:

In his first date with Ginger Alden, Elvis got out a copy of Cheiro’s Book of Numbers, indicating she should join him and then asked her for her birth date. She was, he calculated, a number four, which suggested she would be a loyal and sensitive person. Elvis was a number eight, which made him one of the individualist, misunderstood and lonely people. A religious book came next, and the two sat side by side on the bed reading to each other until deep into the night. It was almost daylight when Elvis had one of the guys drive her home, having behaved like a perfect gentleman the entire time, Ginger told her mother, who breathlessly awaited her report. On their next date, Elvis had planned a flight to show her Memphis by night, but then suddenly decided that, along with a couple of bodyguards, they should go to Las Vegas for the night – fifteen hundred miles away. In mid-air he gave Ginger a first gift of a gold bracelet with diamonds. Many more would follow.

Ginger was a little disappointed that they weren’t going to get to see much of Las Vegas: they went straight to Elvis’ suite, and all Elvis wanted was for her to put on some oversize pajamas and come to bed. She was a little apprehensive until he gave her his solemn oath that it was out of spirituality that he was drawn to her, and that he would treat her like a lady at all times. Then he fell asleep as she read to him, and the two of them lay innocently side by side until well into the next day. Larry Geller was concerned that, for all of his talk of the rejuvenating nature of his love for Ginger, Elvis might be “killing himself, striving for her love and attention.” He was very needy and wanted her with him all the time. At the end of May bad news came in the headlines of a tabloid newspaper in Britain which published extracts from Elvis: What Happened? authored by two ex-members from the Memphis Mafia. The section chosen for serialisation was a lurid account of how, off his head on anger, Elvis had asked Sonny West to murder Priscilla’s lover, Mike Stone. According to Ricky Stanley, Elvis tried to minimize the betrayal saying he had to think about plans for his marriage to Ginger. Although he was getting calls from the press in regard to the book his former bodyguards had written, Elvis was more concerned now about his tour and marriage plans. On January 26th, he gave Ginger the ring, and then on January 28th he bought additional jewelry for her to complete her engagement ring. The engagement was confirmed by Vernon in 1978 on the Good Housekeeping interview.

But during a particular disappointing night on his Vegas tour, Elvis started talking about Armageddon and the Second Coming of Christ, to evangelist Rex Humbard who came to visit backstage. Humbard recalled, “I took both his hands in mine and said, ‘Elvis, right now I want to pray for you.’ He said, ‘Please do,’ and started weeping.” After a heated argument with Ginger, Elvis complained to Billy and Dr. Nick he was having a “one-sided love affair.” What bothered his entourage was the way Ginger had Elvis running around in circles, doing everything he could to try to impress her and her family. But no one missed the fact that her presence could pick him up, as it had on New Year’s Eve in Pittsburgh, where he gave one of his best performances in a long time. When Ginger asked Elvis about his entourage, he told her the only reason most were around was because of the money. To Kathy Westmoreland Elvis spoke convincingly of his happiness, and Kathy had no doubt that his feelings toward Ginger were real. Elvis's world was now confined almost entirely to his bedroom and his books. He recruited Larry to help Ginger with her spiritual education. Ginger meanwhile was occupied with more mundane matters, like redecorating the bathroom at Graceland in turquoise and white.

“How will they remember me?” Elvis asked over and over again. “They’re not going to remember me. I’ve never done anything lasting. I’ve never done a classic film.” But then his mood would change. His mission in life, he said, was “to make people happy with music. And I’ll never stop until the day I die.” Red and Sonny’s book Elvis: What Happened?, had appeared in serialized form in England and Australia, and Elvis fans around the world were exchanging shocked telephone calls. “The first two chapters are about him giving drugs to a girl and how he put a ‘contract’ on Mike Stone,” wrote fan Donna Lewis in her diary. “What horrible lies!” Elvis was anguished, and yet he could still lapse into a state of denial that allowed him to believe the book itself might never come out. That may have been one of the reasons he refused to respond to Frank Sinatra’s camp about doing something serious to stop publication, but Larry thought part of Elvis seemed to accept exposure as the punishment he deserved. On the other hand, sometimes Elvis said that he felt like Jesus betrayed by his disciples. He just retreated to his room and his books and the medication that he needed to take his mind off the pain that never went away. Sometimes Elvis talked to Billy about having Red and Sonny West killed. “He said, ‘Goddamn them! If they hurt my career, I will have them killed.’ ”

Ginger Alden: Billy Smith has told numerous untruths and owes me a huge apology. Elvis warned me the jealousy by others was so thick, you could cut it with a knife. Most people don't look up to the majority of the Memphis Maphia (Dick Grob, Shirley Dieu, etc.) by any means. I have witnessed their character and lies. I do hope Billy reads my book to understand how much he speculated on, and even Billy said I was coming back on the last tour. Elvis brought up marriage numerous times to me, bought me a new car 4 weeks before passing, visited my mother's home ten days before passing to check on the landscaping he had just put in as part of a gift to buy the house for her and while there, he wrote a beautiful note to me, he sang and was having a great time. He also set a wedding date with me hours before passing and wanted to announce the engagement from his show in Memphis. Elvis and I loved each other and were looking forward to many things.

Some have criticised Ginger Alden for lacking emotion in some parts of her narrative. This is an unfairly harsh view, which appears to be driven by a political agenda, rather than a balanced and considered appraisal of her book. While segments of Elvis & Ginger are descriptive in nature and not surprisingly emotionally detached, there are also moments which reflect resonant emotional intensity: That particular night in Binghamton, I experienced a complex convergence of emotions brought on by my own feelings of loss, coupled with my ongoing anxiety about Elvis’s dependency on sleep medication and the effects the drugs seemed to sometimes have on his personality. I really wanted to help him. Everything suddenly hit me like a freight train and I began to cry. I just needed to, if only to relieve the emotional pressure. When he saw my tears, Elvis thought I must be upset with him. “You’re not happy with me,” he ventured. I shook my head. How could I begin to explain? “Elvis I love you,” I said. “It’s not that, I worry about your medications sometimes.” One of the reasons many people around Elvis did not like Ginger is because she was not an enabler to everything Elvis said or wanted. She would say No to him and dared to criticize his increasing dependence on prescription drugs. Ginger Alden was the last girlfriend of Elvis Presley, and at his request she was with him almost every day from November 1976 till August 1977. She went with Elvis on his last tour, and during his last vacation in Hawaii in March 1977. Ginger was the last person he saw.

The debate over Elvis’ death would rage for over twenty years. In the autopsy report, codeine had appeared at ten times the therapeutic level, methaqualone (Quaalude) in an arguably toxic amount, three other drugs appeared to be on the borderline of toxicity taken in and of themselves, and “the combined effect of the central nervous system depressants and the codeine.” Before he was laid in the grave, the legend of Elvis, which was impossible for even the Colonel to register, had been retailed, but now it was overwhelmed in a condemn of his frail humanity. The cacophony of voices that have joined together to create a chorus of uninformed speculation, symbolism and blame, can be difficult at times to drown out. In the face of facts, if we are to hear Elvis’ message, it is necessary to listen unprejudiced: the embrace of a male vulnerability culturally denied, the unabashed striving for freedom. Elvis Presley may have lost his way, but even in his darkest moments, he still retained some of the same innocent transparency that first defined him. Elvis had an awareness of his own limitations, his very faith was tested by his recognition of how far he had fallen from what he had set out to achieve—but for all of his doubt, for all of his disappointment, for all of the self-loathing that he frequently felt, and all of the disillusionment and fear, he continued to believe in a democratic ideal of redemptive transformation.

“Well I’ve tried to be the same all through this thing,” Elvis declared in 1962. “Naturally, you learn a lot about people, and you get involved in a lot of different situations, but I’ve tried to be the same. I’ve always considered other people’s feelings. I never kicked anybody on my way. I don’t just sign the autographs and the pictures and so forth to help my popularity or make them like me. I do it because I know that they’re sincere, and they see you and they want an autograph to take home. It’s simple. It’s just the way I was brought up by my mother and father to have respect for other people’s feelings.” —Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley (2000) by Peter Guralnick

Many of those Memphis Mafia guys cannot be trusted, their memories are tainted by self-interest and guilt, but Jerry Schilling is not one of those guys. He had grown up a bit damaged, never really had a home as a child, and Elvis took him in and bought him a home in Los Angeles, saying to him, “Jerry, you never had a home growing up. I want you to have one.” Traveling with the Elvis entourage was eye-opening for him. There’s a funny story about him sleeping on the couch at Elvis’ house in Hollywood, when suddenly, middle of the night, the front door opens. Jerry is freaked out. Who is it? A woman strolls across the room and goes and knocks on Elvis’ bedroom door. Jerry has no idea who she is, how did she get in, why does she have a key, so he calls out to her, “Miss?” scaring her half to death. She screams at the top of her lungs. Elvis opens his bedroom door, in tears of laughter, having heard the scream, and says, “Jerry, relax, it’s just Annie.” As in Ann-Margret. Jerry was mortified. Elvis thought it was the funniest thing and told everyone about it the next day: Jerry interrogating Ann-Margret in the middle of the night as though she was a burglar.

Jerry Schilling’s relationship with Elvis was purer than most, although many of the same rules still applied. He talks about comforting Priscilla once in the middle of an argument she was having with her husband, and Elvis’ rage when he found out, and how crushed Jerry was by all of it. He was just trying to help. Elvis said, “Don’t ever speak to Priscilla behind my back.” Jerry was in tears. Elvis came to him later that day and apologized. There’s so much dirt out there about Elvis. If by “dirt” you mean womanizing, the man was a sex symbol. Why is his womanizing somehow unique? If by “dirt” you mean being addicted to prescription drugs, well then welcome to America where that is the #1 addiction in the land. Elvis hasn’t quite gone through the character assassination that, say, Joan Crawford did on the heels of her ingrate daughter’s vicious book, but something similar has occurred, at least in the cultural consciousness. Can we still not forgive him for being human? What did Elvis Presley ever do that was just so beyond-the-pale wrong? Punching a gas station attendant once? Making the mistake of dying too young? Trust those who loved him over those who wanted something from him. Jerry Schilling: Elvis knew I was sensitive, and sometimes he’d get pissed at the other guys just because they’d been around so long – but then he’d wink at me, like, “Don’t worry about it.” After a while I realized he was almost as shy as I was; there were days when he would just brood over things, because he was so unhappy with the reality of his accomplishments. And yet he chose to be sensitive – most of the time. Read those words again. “And yet he chose to be sensitive – most of the time.” He made a choice. The majority of stories about him are about his politeness, his kindness, his generosity, and what a good listener he was. This was not an act, it was a choice. It was his desire to do his best on this planet. Very few people operate in this space, let alone stars. A lifetime of people saying “He was the kindest person I’ve ever met’, “He was the sweetest gentlest man” is not a lie foisted upon us by an entitled star pulling the wool over our eyes. Source:

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