The Airplanes & The King
By Carlos Varrenti / Robert Van Beek
- BOOK REVIEW by Nigel Patterson
'Los Aviones Y El Rey' the extremely well-received original spanish version by Carlos Varrenti was republished as an expanded English version 'The Airplanes & The King' towards the end of 2022.
Not only that but it was expanded from its original 197 pages to an amazing 400 pages with a lot of unreleased material and stunning photos from the 'Elvis Files' vaults!
The English version was unfortunately delayed by supply issues due to the worldwide Covid pandemic - but has now been published as a High quality Hardback book.
EIN's Nigel Patterson takes a detailed look at this impressive publication...
Please note that this book review was added to our website back in November 2022 but got deleted the next day when EIN and other locally hosted websites were maliciously hacked.
Elvis Presley: The Airplanes & The King
by Carlos Varrenti
(with Erik Lorentzen and Robert van Beek)
Published by KJ Consulting, 2022, Hardback (dj), 400 pages, Illustrated, ISBN-13: 978-8293678151.
Reviewed by Nigel Patterson - (additional comments by Piers Beagley) - November 2022
'Elvis, by 1973, was definitely in love with modern aviation'. (Carlos Varrenti, An Aviation freaky!)
Towards the end of last year Erik Lorentzen’s KJ Consulting publishers released an expanded edition of Carlo Varrenti’s acclaimed book, Elvis Presley Los Aviones Y el Rey (Elvis Presley The Airplanes & the King). The original edition, published in 2021, was in Spanish and contained only 197 pages. The expanded edition is 400 pages and is in English.
As an Aeronautical engineer and Elvis fan, the author is well qualified to write a book which details Elvis’ history with his aircraft and his link to aeronautics in general.
Varrenti encapsulates the core of his book in this passage:
We have traveled through the aeronautical life of the Artist of the Century, Elvis Presley, in these four hundred pages. We have studied his first to his last flight. We have seen how his fear of flying was developed, and how towards the end of his life, he undoubtedly overcame it and even loved aviation.
He also sets the tone for his book with a nice opening to his Introduction:
One of the most memorable images I have of Elvis Presley comes from my childhood. It is a wonderful short film, where Elvis can be seen descending the stairs from His Lisa Marie aircraft at Indianapolis airport on June 26, 1977.
The author’s story is at times descriptive (as it needs to be) and at other times powerfully expressed, as this excerpt regarding the death in a plane crash of two of the famous Blackwood Brothers singing group reflects:
The funeral was a Gospel emotional journey. A mixture of anguish and admiration for the famous quartet and its dead members, shocked young Elvis Presley who watched the ceremony heartbroken. For this southern teenager, still unknown to the world but who dreamed of being a member of a Gospel quartet one day, this group was something special. They were not just musicians, but real Gospel stars. This music was his first love.
On the issue of Elvis overcoming his fear of flying, this excerpt about a particularly scary and treacherous landing of the Jet Star plane in extremely harsh weather is illuminating:
[Elvis] got up from his seat and with soft and calm voice told everyone: “Don’t worry” while everyone else found themselves with their belts fastened and in a panic….
…After the landing Elvis said: “If I can land my jet on that icy runway, I can also land on top of that mountain.”
Elvis’ ‘on a whim’ approach to using his aircraft and knowing how to impress, is nicely illustrated by this passage:
The singer, in order not to be overshadowed and doubling down, suggested Let’s fly to Nashville!
Poor Ginger did not know what to say to such ideas. Upon arriving, they boarded the JetStar, which left the young woman astonished…
Throughout the book there are anecdotes from Elvis’ friends and colleagues which also help capture Elvis’ personality.
From audio engineer Bruce Jackson..
“So Elvis had come on board, and we were all in the lounge area, where a new SAE Mark lB Preamp with equalizer and a Pioneer H22 8-track tape player was installed. Elvis was fiddling with the knobs trying to get a tape to play but no sound was coming out. He was cursing loud enough for everyone on the plane to hear, 'Nope, goddamn you Bruce, it just ain't working, you fucked it up. But don't bother, I’ll fix it myself.”
Bruce said he was expecting Elvis to be happy with the sound of the new system as he'd put a lot of thought and effort into it and it had checked out perfectly just half an hour earlier. Had he stuffed up the installation?
.. Without warning, Elvis’ favorite Monty Python Albatross sketch blasted out of the powerful new JBL speakers at what could easily have been full volume. He had been winding Bruce up. “The system was working fine. It was all in fun. Elvis was cracking up at his own little joke.”
Bruce Jackson also happened to be a qualified pilot and there is a great photo of him flying the Lisa Marie.
Pilot Ron Strauss also recalls what Elvis said on his first meeting with him..
“Well Ron, I guess you know who I am” and he replied, “Yes Sir Mr. Presley,” to which Elvis said: “Oh no, it’s not neither sir, nor Mr. Presley, just call me Elvis.”
He also mentioned that in the first talk that Elvis had with his brand-new pilots, he said:
“You know, I’m not very comfortable with flying, but I know I need you and the plane. Never let anyone tell you something you don't want to do, be it maintenance or whatever.”
Other accounts include:
- A trip From Memphis to Las Vegas…In Pajamas!;
- The anti-narcotics agent: Elvis Presley ;
- In-flight maintenance problems ;
- Queen and the King? (was the Lisa Marie airplane used by rock group, Queen for one US tour?) ; and
- Bomb – On board.
Many fans will appreciate Joseph Kreta’s multi-page account of how he didn’t get to meet Elvis but did get to tour the Lisa Marie jet in 1976.
The chapter titles are good, clearly indicating what the reader can expect. They include Elvis and His Fear of Flying; From the Buses to the Skies; and Flight Diary – Aeronauticals. Both the Lisa Marie jet and Elvis’ smaller Lockheed Hound Dog II have their own chapter, with Elvis’ lesser-known aircraft detailed in The King’s Other Planes.
A later chapter documents the interesting life of the Lisa Marie post August 16, 1977. It includes the section, The “Lisa Marie” finally goes International, documenting its flight across the Atlantic Ocean in mid-1980 to touch down in Switzerland. A neat photo of the plane at Geneva Airport is featured.
A timely reminder for fans that Elvis was flying a Gulfstream and not the Lisa Marie during the filming of his 'Elvis: On Tour' movie
Varrenti backgrounds each plane as well as Elvis’ involvement on each flight discussed. It is often instructive and always informative:
The set of engines that particularly characterizes this aircraft [Lockheed JetStar with registration N777EP], of course, was not a whim of the design team, but rather a compromise solution to a problem that came up during the certification process….
One of these aircraft was used in the James Bond movie, Goldfinger, where the comfort of its interior can be appreciated in a distinctive scene with the famous Pussy Galore.
Apart from its interesting narrative, the book also contains technical information about each aircraft (being aeronautically ignorant, strangely, EIN enjoyed reading about service ceilings, rate of climb, wing spans, landing weight, and in-flight sound systems).
The visual element, predominately in color (except for the archival material), is a delight. The quality of some images is truly stunning. It comprises a heady mix of professional shot photos, rare archival images, and on and off-stage candids. They are allowed to shine on the quality gloss, thick paper stock where even the fan captured candids have a pleasing visual resonance.
The highlights include:
- A stunning photo of the Lisa Marie several feet above the ground on take-off. It would make for a fantastic artwork for anyone’s home or office. It also includes a fascinating detailed account of its capture by photographer, Larry Pullen (p207)
- Elvis at Nashville airport after his 1956 RCA session (p18-19)
- Elvis at Charlotte airport 1977 (p22)
- Elvis arriving in Hawaii for “Girls! Girls! Girls!” (p66)
- A rare candid of Elvis arriving on Kirk Kerkorian’s DC9-15 for his mythical shows at the Houston Astrodome in 1970 (p89)
- Candid images of Elvis on the tarmac at Milwaukee airport (pp107-108)
- Elvis signing autographs for fans in Seattle, Washington (p119) - (above)
- Candid images of Elvis and his entourage after exiting the Lisa Marie in Terre Haute, Indiana on July 9, 1975 (pp136-137)
- Pre Elvis purchase the “Lisa Marie” originally as part of the Delta Airlines fleet, at Miami International Airport in 1969 (p151)
- The full-page Ed Bonja candid shot of Elvis in his white suit looking totally stunning coming out of the airplane rest-room. (p196)
- Great side-on b&w shot of Elvis on stage at Fort Worth Convention Center on June 3, 1976 (p210)
- Nice full color images of Elvis and the Lisa Marie in 1976 and 1977 (pp170 / 212-213)
- A majestic Lisa Marie plane stationary on the runway at Cleveland Heights airport in November 1976 (p222)
- Elvis and entourage on vacation in Aspen in January 1976 (p244) - (above)
- Ed Parker’s possible view of the (very complicated looking) Horizontal Situation Indicator and the Turn and Slip Indicator (HIS-TSI) from the third occupant seat (p246)
- Promotional image of a colorful Graceland and its driveway lit up at night (p268)
- Elvis “live” on stage in Pittsburgh on December 31, 1976 (p268) - (see below)
- Stunning quality photo of Elvis in the snow on his return from the army (p310) - (see below)
- A frenetic looking Elvis on stage in Las Vegas in 1969 (p319)
Two stills recognizable from Elvis On Tour are surprisingly dark. (p102)
The many additional photos for the expanded edition are from the extensive Erik Lorentzen archives and appeared in his eight-book series, The Elvis Files.
Archival material in a book always adds value and the range of items on offer in Elvis Presley: The Airplanes & the King is no exception. Included are numerous press clippings, route maps, ticket stubs, airplane ads and historical photos, and other relevant items.
Some of the archival treats are a:
- Neat full-page ad from 1978, The Lisa Marie Now Flies For You!;
- Lockheed JetStar ad: ‘The corporate-size jetliner with stand-up, walk around, stretch out room’;
- Captain’s Paradise – a colorful about Hugh Hefner’s Big Bunny aircraft (occasionally used by Elvis – Jerry Schilling provides a great piece of extra information);
- Cleverly captioned press report from 1984, The King’s wings; and
- Elvis’ six-page letter to President Nixon, penned during his American Airlines flight to Washington D.C. is reproduced in full – and given the large page size it is very easy to read compared to the quite small reproductions of it in magazines and other books.
EIN did find the headline for one of press clippings, amusing:
'Presley plane to promote church building, lubricant'.
There are four appendices to the book, and all are interesting:
Appendix 1: The King’s Flights
Appendix 2: Glossary of Aeronautical Terms
Appendix 3: The Airplanes and The King on Film
Appendix 4: The Airplanes and the King Timeline
The hard covers measure 25.5 x 30.5cm and with 400 pages of quality gloss paper stock, the book is heavy, weighing in at almost 3kgs.
The book design is strong. The text font size is good and there is good use of white space to allow reading and viewing pleasure. The visual and archival elements are well positioned/integrated.
Elvis Presley: The Airplanes & the King was translated and edited by Robert van Beek and corrected by Romina Sarchi (Certified English-Spanish translator) and EIN’s Piers Beagley. The tripartite approach to translation and editing is to be commended as the translation is excellent.
Coincidentally, in 2022, Sally Hoedel released Destined To Fly , the story of Ron Strauss, the pilot of the Lisa Marie airplane. The two books complement each other and appreciably add to our knowledge of what, up until now, has not been a well-documented aspect of the Elvis Presley story.
NOTE: For more details about the book and more example photos please see EIN's exclusive interview with author Carlos Varrenti & designer Robert Van Beek.
Overall Conclusion: Elvis Presley: The Airplanes & the King is a welcome, detailed account of Elvis and aviation. Featuring photos and stories from 1955 through to 1977 the book is also an interesting historical look at Elvis’ life "on tour" but this time with an impressively original theme. With its imposing design, strong narrative, archival material, and wonderful images, there is much in the book’s 400 pages to delight, intrigue, and inform the reader.
Please note that the images used are low-res screen grabs - so do not represent the image quality of the book itself.
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Book Review by Nigel Patterson.
-Copyright EIN February 2023 / November 2022
EIN Website content © Copyright the Elvis Information Network.
Interview 'The Airplanes & The King' with Carlos Varrenti & Robert Van Beek: As promised a few months ago, the extremely well-received spanish book 'The Airplanes & The King' by Carlos Varrenti is now being republished as an English version.
Not only that but it has now been expanded to an amazing 400 pages with a lot of unreleased material from Elvis Files' vaults!
The English version is printed as a High quality Hardback book.
Printed and distributed by The Elvis Files Team, EIN has seen some preview pages and it is an absolute stunner.
EIN is delighted to be able to talk with the author Carlos Varrenti - as well as Elvis Files designer Robert Van Beek to find out more.
We find out more about Carlos Varrenti's Argentinian background, how he came to be involved with designer Robert Van Beek and The Elvis Files for the expanded reprint, what highlights are in the book and what new stories fans will be able to discover within the covers.
Go here as EIN's Piers Beagley asked the questions..
(Interview) Carlos Ares talks to EIN: With his latest book, elvis@argentina 1963-1969 just published, Argentine Elvis world legend, Carlos Ares, took time out to talk to EIN’s Nigel Patterson about the book and other things Elvis.
In a wide ranging and fascinating interview, Carlos discusses how he first became an Elvis fan, his famed Elvis collection, how he moved from managing rock bands in South America to becoming an Elvis dealer (Elvis Shop Argentina) full-time, Argentinian Elvis records and film posters, how the assassination of JFK affected popular music, the release of 'Elvis La Pelvis' and to make most of us jealous seeing Elvis live on stage, plus a lot more.
Read Nigel Patterson's interview with Carlos R Ares.
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