Thursday, January 13, 2011

Elvis Presley - Untold Stories By His Close Confidant


 As the years go by, our memories become like a dense forest through which we make our way along familiar, well-trodden paths. Unnoticed smaller paths branch out, often leading to half-forgotten memories. I recently came upon such a path and began thinking about incidents with Elvis about which I've rarely spoken, incidents with a common thread: Elvis' generosity even in small matters.
Of course Elvis' generosity is legendary. During his lifetime he gave away houses, cars, motorcycles, jewelry, furs, clothing and money as if it were going out of style. His generosity knew no bounds. He gave to the poor and the needy, but he didn't discriminate against the wealthy. He once took a thirty-thousand dollar ring off his finger, and gave it to singer-comedian Sammy Davis, Jr.
"Nobody thinks of giving a rich man anything," he explained. "They're people too. They like to think somebody thinks enough to give them something."
Once he got the impulse to give there was no stopping Elvis. One afternoon on the Paramount lot during filming of "Easy Come, Easy Go," we were walking towards the soundstage. A salesman rolling a large suitcase filled with an assortment of jewelry yelled out as he ran up to us, "Elvis wait up; I got something you can't pass up. You gotta see this."
Out of breath he exclaimed, "Just check this beauty out," while he opened a drawer pulling out a diamond ring which he handed to Elvis. Elvis admired it, putting it on his finger, and almost immediately told Joe Esposito to give him a check. On the set Elvis proudly showed off his newest acquisition. After lunch, he was standing around, waiting for the cameras to be set up, occasionally looking at the ring and smiling.
David Winters, Elvis' choreographer, walked over and Elvis showed him his new ring. David's eyes lit up. "Elvis, man, that's beautiful; I love your ring."
Elvis pulled the ring off his finger and handed it to him.
"Try it on," he said, "and see how it fits."
David slipped it on his finger. "It fits great."
Elvis took one look at his radiant face. "It's yours," he said, smiling as he turned and walked away from the stunned choreographer.
The example of Elvis' generosity that most recently came to mind was an event that occurred one late afternoon in 1965. We were in the Dodge motor home, driving through the Arizona desert on Route 66, approaching the sacred Hopi mountains.
Elvis had been at the wheel as usual, until he had a profound vision, an experience that shook him to his core. It was a spiritual jolt and a turning point in his life. After that he was too exhilarated and distracted to drive, so he asked Red West to take the wheel.
Elvis motioned for me to follow him to the bedroom in the back of the vehicle, where we sat for awhile in silence. Then as night began to fall we began talking about what had just occurred as we continued on the road towards Flagstaff.
Eventually, we both nodded off - when we were abruptly awakened several hours later by shouts of "We're on fire! We're on fire!"
We snapped to, and Red quickly pulled over to the shoulder of the road and stopped. Jerry Schilling, Red West, Billy Smith, Elvis and I jumped out to see what was happening. The back axles and the undercarriage were aflame. All of us immediately scooped up sand and gravel from the desert with our bare hands and managed to extinguish the fire. The vehicle was a total wreck and wouldn't start. Luckily, we were only a few miles outside of Needles, California, in the Mohave Desert. The five of us pushed the RV into town, where we checked into a motel.
"Let's just get some vehicles, Larry, and go home," Elvis said wearily. "Go hire some cars. Here's my wallet."
His wallet was crammed with an assortment of credit cards, but no cash; Elvis never carried cash. I started walking in search of a car-rental agency. It was eight or so in the morning, I hadn't slept, and I needed a shower and shave. I must have looked pretty disreputable, an assessment confirmed by the wary look on the face of the man behind the counter.
"Yes sir, I'd like to rent two cars. I'm with Elvis Presley. He's down the road at a motel."
Thinking it would help, I handed him the wallet. Flipping through the cards, he asked, "What are you telling me? Elvis Presley?"
"Yeah," I answered.
Flinging the wallet at me, he screamed, "Get the hell outta here!"
As I retreated and headed back to the motel, it occurred to me that the easiest way to get from Needles to Los Angeles would be by cab. When I got back to the room I phoned a local taxi service, and the people there were only too happy to help. Within minutes, two cabs were at the motel, and we were ready to go.
We loaded all the luggage into one cab, then Jerry, Red, Billy, Elvis and I crawled wearily into the second. As we rode down the highway, our young driver couldn't stop turning his head around every few minutes to stare at Elvis, or look at him in the rear view mirror. That was understandable, but when he hit a cruising speed of ninety miles an hour and still couldn't keep his eyes off Elvis, I yelled, "Hey, man, slow down! You're going to kill us. Yes, this is Elvis Presley. Just calm down or I'll have to take the wheel."
All the way back our driver was visibly nervous. When we arrived in Bel Air about four hours later, the other guys who'd lost us on the road during the drive were lined up in front of the house, waiting.
While everyone was dealing with the luggage Elvis asked me how much the fare was. I told him a hundred and sixty dollars for both cabs. He then asked how much cash I had on me. I checked my wallet. "Little over five hundred bucks."
Elvis said, "Hey, these guys probably never even leave Needles, and they sure don't get customers like us every day. They work hard, and could probably use a break. Just give 'em what you have there, I'll pay you back later."
I may not have told this story much over the years - but I bet those two cab drivers have told it over and over to anyone who would listen.
I was much more than Elvis Presley's personal hairstylist. I was also, from the day we met in 1964, to the day I styled his hair for his funeral, his confidant and spiritual mentor. I brought into Elvis' life books and ideas that we shared in countless intimate conversations over the course of our many years together.
Before meeting Elvis, I worked with the famed Jay Sebring. Our clientele read like a Hollywood Who's Who, with such luminaries as Frank Sinatra, Paul Newman, Marlon Brando, Peter Sellers, Steve McQueen, Henry Fonda, Peter Fonda, Robert Wagner, James Garner, Bobby Darin, Sammy David, Jr., Rock Hudson, Roy Orbison, Sam Cooke, Kirk Douglas, Tony Bennett, Jackie Gleason and many, many more.
You can learn more about Elvis at http://www.elvispresleybiography.net



5 comments:

Anonymous said...

He said he wondered at one thing very much, which was, to bear me speak so loud, asking me whether the King or Queen of that country were thick of hearing. I told him it was what I had been used to for above two years past, and that I admired as much at the voices of him and his men, who seemed to me only to whisper, and yet I could hear them well enough. But when I spoke in that country, it was like a man talking in the street to another looking out from the top of a steeple, unless when I was placed on a table, or held in any person's hand, I told him, I had likewise observed another thing, that when I first got into the ship, and the sailors stood all about me, I thought they were the most little contemptible creatures I had ever beheld. For indeed while I was in that prince's country, I could never endure to look in a glass after my eyes had been accustomed to such prodigious objects, because the comparison gave me so despicable a conceit of myself. The Captain said that while we were at supper he observed me look at everything with a sort of wonder, and that I often seemed hardly able to contain my laughter, which he knew not well how to take, but imputed it to some disorder in my brain. I answered, it was very true; and I wondered how I could forbear, when I saw his dishes of the size of a silver three-pence, a leg of pork hardly a mouthful, a cup not so big as a nut-shell; and so I went on, describing the rest of his household stuff and provisions after the same manner. For, although the Queen had ordered a little equipage of all things necessary for me while I was in her service, yet my ideas were wholly taken up with what I saw on every side of me, and I winked at my own littleness as people do at their own faults. The Captain understood my raillery very well, and merrily replied with the old English proverb, that he doubted my eyes were bigger than my belly, for he did not observe my stomach so good, although I had fasted all day; and continuing in his mirth, protested he would have gladly given a hundred pounds to have seen my closet in the eagle's bill, and afterwards in its fall from so great a height into the sea; which would certainly have been a most astonishing object, worthy to have the description of it transmitted to future ages: and the comparison of Phaeton was so obvious, that he could not forbear applying it, although I did not much admire the conceit.

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