Some guys go to the factory. Elvis showed up at the studio. Making movies was his job, and as with any job, some days were better than others. I could always predict the two days that were the worst; the day he got the script and realized it was absolutely formulaic, a carbon copy of the last absurdity, and the day they shot the publicity stills. Elvis was always in a terrible mood on stills day. He had trouble standing in one place for very long anyway, and for stills, he had to sit on a bare stage for six to eight hours straight, changing outfits over and over, and smiling through it all as if he were having the time of his life. Aside from those two days, Elvis was usually in a good mood. And although he joked around between shots and complained about his scripts before the shoot, he took the business seriously. He was always on time and respectful and helpful to to the director.
Excerpt from Good Rockin’ Tonight by Joe Esposito.
Girls! Girls! Girls! deserves mention if only because it is the sole film record of Elvis in a truly excited state. One day, Elvis was preparing to shoot interior scenes with Laurel Goodwin on Paramount’s lot. He dressed in the black trousers made for the scene, without putting on underwear. Elvis rarely used underwear.
“Hey Joe, these pants don’t feel right,” he complained. “They’re rubbing me the wrong way.”The dance scene with Laurel was complicated. Elvis had to sing and dance, and the apartment was rigged for special effects, including a coffee table that bounced around the floor and a ceiling that crashed down a few seconds after Elvis and Laurel jumped backward, out of the way and onto a floor model record console. At some point during all the wiggling and jumping, those pants really rubbed him the wrong way, and “Little Elvis,” as he called it, became erect. With so much going in the scene, the director, Norman Taurog, didn’t notice. When Elvis came off the set, he headed for the nearest chair and sat down fast.
“Did you see that?” he whispered to me. “See what?” I asked, trying to hold back the laughter. “Did you see what happened below the belt?” he answered, concerned but a bit proud. “Damn pants were rubbing me the wrong way and I couldn’t stop the feeling. Geez, I hope they don’t have to reshoot this. The ceiling might get me this time.” Of course, I had alerted all the guys. It had taken all of our concentration not to yell out wisecracks during the filming. Elvis couldn’t wait to see the dailies the next day to see if the camera had caught what happened.
“Hot damn!” Elvis yelped when the dance sequence came on screen. “Will you look at that? I was hoping it wouldn’t show because the pants were black. But there it is, sticking out like a sore thumb…well, sort of like a sore thumb.” After we got over cracking jokes, we agreed to keep quiet and see what would happen. They do a lot of shooting and you never know how the editing will go and what eventually winds up in the final cut. “Don’t worry, E,” I couldn’t resist saying. “Maybe they’ll be able to cut it out in the editing.” “Man, I hope they don’t see it and decide to cut if off before we get out of here,” Elvis came back.
I couldn’t believe it when the movie came out. There was Elvis, dancing around the apartment with Little Elvis at attention and aimed directly at Laurel! Of course, you had to be looking for it to notice. I’m guessing that only the few of us who knew were looking in that area and saw Little Elvis in action.
Excerpt from “Good Rockin’ Tonight” by Joe Esposito.
Meanwhile, Elvis was juggling women. He phoned Priscilla regularly, still saw Anita Wood, and dated other girls, mostly Hollywood starlets and hopefuls. Like all of us, Elvis felt no guilt. It was easy to attract women and it was fun. They wanted him, and he wanted them. Anita and Elvis almost broke up when she discovered a letter in which Priscilla had written to Elvis that if she was ever to visit him as he’d asked, he would have to convince her father first. Anita confronted Elvis, they argued, and she left Hollywood in a huff. Not long afterward, Elvis gathered together Pat and the other girls who partied with us. “I want you to know something,” he announced dramatically. “I met this girl in Germany and we’ve been talking on the phone a lot,” he said. “I’m bringing her here.” No girls except Pat (Parry) were to be allowed in the house during Priscilla’s visit, he said. The parties would stop, and the guys would bring their wives to the house every night. During Priscilla’s visit Elvis’s home would be family-oriented.
Elvis had finally convinced Priscilla’s parents to allow their precious sixteen-year-old to visit. He’d called her father in Germany and somehow persuaded him that his little girl would be safe in Hollywood. Vernon and Dee would chaperon, he assured Colonel Beaulieu, and she would stay at the home of our great friends, Shirley and George Barris, the man who designed custom cars for Hollywood celebrities. Elvis had tremendous persuasive powers. He just turned on the charm and people did what he wanted. Something about Elvis was totally believable.
Joan, who was pregnant with Debbie, was assigned the job of “taking care of Anita” in Memphis. Elvis usually spent the Fourth of July at Graceland, but he was staying in California for Priscilla’s visit. Anita Wood was waiting him at home, so we figured that if Joan went to Memphis, Anita would believe that Elvis was not far behind. I asked Joan to leave St. Louis, where she was visiting her family, and go to Graceland to keep Anita busy. The heat would be off, and Elvis could deal with the fall out later. Anita, Vernon, Dee, and Joan took an overnight trip to a fishing camp and occupied themselves with various activities.
When Elvis finally arrived at Graceland, he told me that he and Anita had a serious talk about their future. “I told her that I wasn’t ready to settle down,” he said. “I told her that I knew she wanted to get married and have a family, so it was better if we stopped seeing each other and went on with our lives.” Anita later married Johnny Brewer, a former football player with the Cleveland Browns, and she and Elvis remained good friends until his death.
When Priscilla arrived in Los Angeles in the early summer of 1962, two years had passed since she and Elvis had seen each other in Germany. I went to the airport and picked up a nervous of sixteen who confided that she didn’t know what to expect. On the way back to the house, I gave her a short tour of Los Angeles. By now Elvis had moved to a large Italian villa on Bellagio Road in Bel Air that had been purchased by Mrs. Reginald Owens for the express purpose of renting it to Elvis! It was very grant, and even came with a butler.
Priscilla looked adorable with her hair caught up in a long ponytail ending in a curl, but Elvis asked Pat to go on payroll during Priscilla’s visit so she could do Priscilla’s hair every day. Exaggerated cat-eye makeup and big hair, along with lots of false hairpieces anchored in place with gallons of hair spray, was the style of the day. Elvis liked to see Priscilla in what Pat calls “that big boombah” and decked out in the flamboyant outfits Elvis preferred. During the day, she hung around the set, then Elvis squired her around Hollywood, showing her the sights and taking her shopping for expensive clothes. We drove to Las Vegas in Elvis’s customized bus and stayed at the Sahara, Elvis took her to all the shows and bought her more wild clothes at Suzy Creamcheese, the famous Vegas boutique. They even gambled together. All this at sweet sixteen.
Of course, Priscilla was impressed with everything. She was young, naive, unspoiled, and unaware of much of what was going on. She spent a lot of time with the wives, so she never saw our real Hollywood lifestyle, although she was a faithful reader of Photoplay magazine, and she’d seen the storied about Juliet Prowse and Tuesday Weld. “Oh, don’t believe that stuff in the papers,” Elvis assured her. “They all do that in Hollywood. It’s for publicity.” Priscilla stayed only one night with Barrises, and then moved in with Elvis and slept in his bed. But they didn’t make love, Priscilla told me, and I believe her. Elvis was grooming her for the job of Mrs. Presley. He literally gave her instruction on how to be the perfect wife and the mother. When Priscilla left, Elvis called her several times a week, although not every day. They never wrote because Elvis was not a letter writer. I think he wrote six letters in his life: three to Anita Wood, one each to Alan Fortas and George Klein while he was in Germany, and one to President Nixon. But that’s another story.
The next step was to campaign or permission for Priscilla to live in Memphis. He was falling in love, so he wanted Priscilla near. Elvis also relished a challenge, and this was as formidable a task as any he’d ever faced. But when Priscilla finally broached the subject to her parents, her father had a fit. “No way in hell,” he shouted. “Are you crazy? You’re sixteen years old! You have to stay here and go to school.” Elvis summoned all his charm for the job. “Please,” he begged Colonel Beaulieu, “I’ll make sure she lives with my father and his wife, right near Graceland. I’ll make sure she goes to Catholic school.” I think he also promised her father that he would eventually marry her. Ann, Priscilla’s mother, was excited about Elvis and Hollywood and more inclined to let her daughter go. Finally, Colonel Beaulieu agreed to another visit, at Christmas.
It was not until 1963, when Priscilla turned seventeen, that her father allowed her to live in Memphis. Living with us had to be a great strain. She was so young and desperately trying to appear older. And when Elvis was home, she had to stay up all night to keep him company, then go to school in the morning where she was finishing her senior year. After school, she had homework, but by then, Elvis was up, and the night was just beginning. Priscilla functioned on zero sleep. At first, she did stay at Vernon’s to keep her promise to her parents. But Priscilla spent most of her time with Elvis, and before you knew it, she was permanently installed at Graceland. I assume her parents knew because she moved in less than a month after she came to Memphis. Elvis still didn’t make love to her. He was waiting until they were married.
In the beginning, Priscilla had a hard time adjusting to our rough teasing, Memphis Mafia style. We hurt Priscilla’s feelings one day, so Elvis dressed down the entire group while Priscilla cried upstairs. He reminded us that she was very young and we couldn’t treat her so harshly. Joan commented that she felt like a child who had been snitched on, but our relations improved, and Joan in particular came to be like a big sister to Priscilla.
We were in Hollywood a lot then, doing three pictures a year. Elvis left Priscilla in Memphis and took off for the West Coast for two or three months at a time. “Okay, we have to go to work!” he would say, and she waited for him to come home. Every day Priscilla went to Catholic high school in her prime little school uniform, packing a little .25 automatic Elvis gave her for protection.
“I hope they remember me when I get back to the United States,” He said doubtfully. Just then, we came to a stoplight and pulled up next to a car full of Germans. They looked over and waved happily to Elvis, who, to their delight, waved back.
“See,” I joked, “if they don’t remember you back home, you could always come back here. They love you.”
“I’m really going to miss Priscilla,” Elvis went on. “She has been a godsend to me for the past few months. I don’t know what I’m going to tell Anita when I get home. I know it’s going to get out and the newspapers will have a field day.”
“Well, I’m sure everything will work out for the best,” I tried to reassure him. Words of wisdom from a twenty-two-year-old.
During G.I. Blues, Elvis was deep into karate chopping wooden boards. One day he made an announcement on the set: “I’m ready for a new dimension of board breaking. I’m going to break a board with the tips of my fingers.” Elvis was a hopeless showoff who basked in large-scale admiration. He never, ever passed the time of day as part of the crowd. It was only when the performance, onstage or off, ended that his essential shyness emerged. Word got out around the set, and soon over fifty people had gathered to witness this event. Red, who had joined us in Hollywood, held the board. “You have to use your mind,” Elvis explained. “It’s all mental. You think about the board breaking in half. Then, when you go to hit it, you put the strength of your whole body into it.” Elvis squeezed every ounce of drama out of the event, assuming a number of karate stances and holding them with deep concentration, before bringing his arm down with a horrendous karate yell. The board didn’t break. Elvis went through the elaborate preparations once again, drew his arm back and came down with another yell. This time it broke. Amid oohs and ahs from the crowd, Elvis swaggered over to his dressing room, the guys in tow. As soon as he was safe inside and the door was shut, he let out a different yell. “Jesus Christ!” he moaned. “I almost broke my fingers!” He had managed to hold in the pain in front of the cast and crew, but once he was with us, he was half-laughing and half-crying from pain, cradling his hand and wondering aloud, “Good God! Am I crazy? I almost broke my fingers!”
Excerpt from “Good Rockin’ Tonight” by Joe Esposito.
The late sixties, the last of Elvis’ Hollywood years, were a
matter of grab the money and run. Elvis put more energy into our
vacations. Hawaii was our family vacation spot, the closest we came to
normal life, and Elvis always took a huge group, never fewer than
twelve people, including wives and girlfriends. I would leave a few days
ahead to rent the presidential suite on the top floor of the Rainbow
Towers at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Hotel and a house on a private
beach. We could eat breakfast at the hotel together. Even Elvis got up
early some days, appearing at the breakfast table in his “Hawaiian
outfit,” an aloha shirt with white cotton pants and yachting cap.
Everyone else wore shorts, which Elvis refused to wear because he
thought his legs were too skinny. After breakfast, we would take the
service elevator downstairs and drive to the private beach.
first thing we did when we got to the beach was check out the surf. If
the waves looked nice and choppy, we sent our driver to get the boogie
boards. Elvis stayed in the water, boogie boarding for five and six
hours at a stretch, coming in only after the girls made his lunch. He
would eat and then head straight back into the water amidst our loud and
completely useless warnings about cramps. Of course, the guys had to
stay in there with him. Elvis and Priscilla, in particular, had great
times on those vacations.
Elvis also loved cold, snowy weather,
and we spent many vacations in rented houses in Aspen and Vail,
Colorado. He wasn’t allowed to ski during his movie-making days because
of the risk of breaking a leg, so he took up snowmobiling with a
passion. Of course, it wasn’t enough just to rent snowmobiles. Elvis had
to buy three, even if we were using them for just a week. He bought
himself a Yamaha and two Johnsons, then gave them to Ron Pietrafeso, a
good friend who still lives in Denver and has the Yamaha to this day.
Of all our vacations spots, our Palm Springs getaways–strictly boys
only!–were the wildest. Priscilla unwittingly opened way for the
rule by complaining one weekend that she didn’t feel like going to Palm
Springs. That was all the excuse Elvis needed: She was never invited
again. From then on, Elvis arrived home from a two-or three-month movie
shoot, then announced to Priscilla that he had to get away for a rest. Of
course, he just wanted to party in the large Spanish adobe house we
rented from Jack Warner. It was the perfect party palace, built around a
large swimming pool and made private by an eight-foot surrounding wall.
Here’s another 1980s classic and small piece of my childhood. “No one can tell us we’re wrong” is a fairly resilient battle cry. I feel pretty confident that this video got a lot of play on Good Rockin Tonight. Only the heartless couldn’t love the dancing at the end of this video– especially the shimmying.