Noted Elvis author, Alanna Nash talks to EIN
Nash is the critically acclaimed author of biographies of
Dolly Parton and Jessica Savitch. Alanna also authored: Elvis
Aaron Presley: Revelations of the Memphis Mafia and collaborated
with Alan Fortas on his book: My Friend Elvis. Alanna's new
book, The Colonel: The Extraordinary Story of Colonel Tom
Parker and Elvis Presley was recently published and has gained
significant media and fan attention with its sensational new
revelations about the Colonel and insights into his psychological
make-up. Having now read The Colonel we can confirm that there
is no doubt it lives up to its pre-publication publicity.
Alanna, we really appreciate you taking time out of your busy schedule
to talk to us today.
Nigel, it is an honor to be able to talk with you and to be on the
EIN. Thank you for having me.
I'll start with a few questions about your new book, The Colonel:
The Extraordinary Story of Colonel Tom Parker and Elvis Presley.
You really put some work into this project - meticulous research
and writing over nearly six years and a finished book with 50 pages
of acknowledgements and notes. Please tell us about your experiences
in completing The Colonel.
Thank you for those compliments. This was an incredibly difficult
project for many reasons. First, the Colonel had a certain power,
even from the grave. There were people such as Eddy Arnold and Hank
Snow who still wouldn’t talk much about him. Eddy refused to speak
with me, and while he had given a few comments about the Colonel
previously, some of which had been published and some not (these
appear in my book, collected from various journalists and their
transcripts), he always seemed almost afraid to talk about the Colonel,
even to his own biographers. I asked him if he would simply relate
positive anecdotes, then, even those that simply reflected his gratitude
for the way the Colonel had directed his career. And he wrote me
a letter saying no. That’s very strange. You’d think he’d want to
preserve that part of history, if nothing else.
end up with much more Hank Snow material than appears in the book,
but I lost half of the first half of the book to editing. I had
lots and lots more material about the Colonel’s involvement with
country music stars between Eddy and Elvis. But my editor kept saying,
“Get to Elvis.” So that material got short shrift in the final version
of the manuscript. I hope to be able to use it elsewhere, or on
my website, www.colonelparker.com . But the book was also difficult
because it was so expensive to research. I am in deep debt because
of that. Unless I get a film deal, I will never recoup it. Very
few people make any money on books. You have to do it for the love
of the project—or of solving the riddle, which is what I was trying
to do. I wanted to know who this man really was, and why he made
some of the decisions he did in managing Elvis Presley. A lot of
them didn’t make sense on the surface.
The principal issue being focused on by critics and readers is the
possibility that the Colonel (aka Andreas Cornelis van Kuijk) fled
his native Holland after brutally murdering a woman. You are very
clear in The Colonel that there is no direct evidence linking him
to the murder but you deftly present a case based on circumstantial
evidence. Do you have a personal view on this particular incident?
I wholeheartedly believe that the Colonel had a secret that was
far more sinister than simply that of being an illegal alien. He
had numerous opportunities to fix that little problem, and he never
did. I have no idea whether he killed that woman or not, but a situation
of this magnitude certainly would explain why he behaved as he did,
and why he wouldn’t risk a background check or becoming a citizen.
My guess is that he was involved in some way, and that it was an
accident. In the book, I quote a letter he wrote to his nephew in
Holland, in which he alludes to missing his family, and not getting
in touch with them as to protect them, almost, from something in
his past, or as he puts it, “mistakes some-one may have made.”
interesting: After I finished the manuscript, I spoke with an English
medium, Jennifer MacKenzie. She “saw” the Colonel by my using only
his Dutch name. She didn’t know who he was. She said, “Was he a
politician?” I said, “No, but people have likened him to one.” She
was quiet, and then she said, “Was he a murderer? Because I’m seeing
something beneath a kitchen floor.”
you’ll remember from the book, Anna van den Enden was killed in
front of the kitchen sink. Well, that just flabbergasted me. I spoke
to Jennifer again later and she “channeled” him. I asked point blank
if he had killed Anna. Jennifer said he put his finger to the side
of his nose (which was a habit of his when he was having fun with
you) and said, “That’s for me to know and for you to find out.”
I said, “Ask him if he’s mad at me--if he’s going to give me a hard
time in the hereafter.” She said no, that he felt fatherly toward
me, and then she added, “He says no one can hurt him now.”
you believe in that kind of stuff or not (and, of course, it’s all
for entertainment and you can’t base research on it), it’s pretty
fascinating. But here’s the bottom line to all of this. I cannot
prove he did the deed, but I can prove he was capable of it. That
army discharge paper is incontrovertible proof of that. “Constitutional
psychopathic state” is 1933 language for what we now call Anti-Social
Personality Disorder. Which is how we classify most murderers.
The genesis for a case against the Colonel lies in the anonymous
letter received by Dirk Vellenga in 1980. I find it interesting
that despite having received the letter, and having knowledge of
the murder, Vellenga did not include reference to it in his 1988
book (written with Mick Farren), Elvis and the Colonel. Are you
able to shed any light on this?
Yes, I spoke with both Dirk and Mick, though more with Mick about
the decision not to include it. The Colonel was still alive in ’88,
and the publisher’s lawyers advised against reporting the murder
theory or the anonymous note. Mick was so unconvinced as to the
validity of it all that he was happy to oblige, even as he told
me that true or false, his actual feeling was that Parker was quite
happy to let a nebulous story about killing someone circulate just
to give himself an edge, or a bit of mystique. But Mick recently
also said, in a review of my book, that I was able to gather many
more details about the murder and Parker’s possible involvement
than what he and Dirk had. Now he says I all but nailed it. That’s
very gracious of him, actually. He’s a wonderful guy.
In The Colonel you cite several amazing offers made to the Colonel
for Elvis to appear in concert outside the USA. The US$10m offer
by Saudi billionaires, Adnan and Essam Khashoggi, for an Elvis concert
at the Pyramids in Egypt is one we hadn't read of before and one
that we can only dream about how good it might have been. How did
you discover this offer?
Several of the Memphis Mafia were there when the offer came
down and Elvis was so excited about the possibility of going.
What a pity it is that that never happened.
Following on from our last question, to what extent do you think
Elvis should have taken more responsibility for his career options
rather than allowing the Colonel to largely dictate what contracts
A lot more, obviously. But artists are not usually assertive and
confrontational people, and the Colonel counted on this. Parker
also counted on Vernon going along with him, and he usually did.
Until I did this book, however, I hadn’t grasped what a force field
Parker was. There was no bucking this man, unless, of course, Vernon
and Elvis had simply paid him an exorbitant amount of money to leave.
Even then, I imagine he would have found a way to stick around.
There was something pathologically predatory about him.
Alanna, were there any things you learned when researching The Colonel
that you didn't include in the finished book. And if yes, can you
give us any insights into what they are about?
I lost a lot of material from all the pre-Elvis chapters. I also
lost a terrific interview with Hugh O’Brian about the time Elvis
was in the army and Parker promoted O’Brian’s tours across the country.
He was a big hit on TV with “Wyatt Earp” then, and he wanted to
go on the road as a singer. Things didn’t work out. I hope to use
this whole thing somewhere else, but the great kicker to it is this.
O’Brian said Parker always insisted on dealing in cash. He asked
Parker one time, “Why do you pay everybody in cash?” And he said,
“Because, boy, there ain’t nothin’ like cash. If there was, God
woulda named it cash.”
Alanna, you met the Colonel on a number of occasions. What were
your impressions of him as a person?
I was very fond of him. He liked to brag about himself, which I
took as a sign of insecurity, and he was very generous. Always picked
up the check, and refused my offers to pay for his meal and that
of his wife, Loanne. He took time for me on three occasions, and
answered my letters. Now, he was always testing you, of course,
and he got quite cross me with me when I attempted to quiz him on
the quality of Elvis’s movies and songs. But I have to say it was
an honor to be allowed to just be around him. As someone in the
book says, “He had it from the eyebrows up.”
The Colonel seems to have had an almost Jekyll and Hyde personality.
What positives and negatives did you perceive in his character?
That’s right. Kindness and cruelty, intimacy and secretiveness,
generosity and stinginess. You’d see all of these things in a matter
of moments. He was quite a study.
And the Colonel's relationships with his two wives. How would you
Well, I can only tell you my impressions. I believe he was really
devoted to his first wife in many, many ways. But I am mystified
as to why he didn’t get the care for her brain tumor that he should
have. He accepted the word of a team of doctors who weren’t qualified
to treat her condition that she was beyond help, that she was suffering
from age-related dementia. In fact, if she had had a brain scan
and been treated early on, she probably could have recovered. As
it was, he kept her at home, away from the kind of care she needed.
She was a prisoner inside her house and her body for nearly 20 years
until she died. Why he didn’t take her to some place like Mayo’s
really perplexes me.
for his second wife, Loanne, I would not want to speculate on that
relationship other than what appears in the book. I will say that
she took extraordinary care of him, and was his protector in many
ways. It was obvious to me that she cared a great deal about him,
and still does.
Why do you think the Colonel refused to acknowledge his Dutch heritage
and his family, even after they made contact with him?
I think there was something in his past that was too painful for
him to admit, perhaps even to himself. He was capable of compartmentalizing
his feelings, and he tried to put his emotions about his Dutch family
in the most remote drawer of his mind.
Do you think the Colonel was 'good' or 'bad' for Elvis' career?
He was the promoter of promoters, but not such a great manager,
in that his own needs always superceded those of his client. However,
you have to admit that he always found a way to keep his star on
top, in one way or another.
Alanna, on a related issue, the Colonel's massive gambling debt
in Las Vegas. How significant do you think this was in decisions
about the contracts that Elvis would sign?
Paramount. He used Elvis as a kind of human shield, especially in
Please tell us about some of the photographs you managed to secure
for inclusion in The Colonel.
Few people outside of publishing realize that an author has to buy
all the pictures for the inside of the book. (The publisher pays
for the cover.) I spent roughly $6,000 for pictures. Actually more
than that, because I bought pictures that I ended up not being able
to use for space considerations. I’m proud of what I found, because
there are a lot of pictures in there you don’t normally see.
I desperately wanted a really fetching picture I had seen of him
with the young Tommy Sands, and could never get my hands on it.
Tommy didn’t even have it. Nor did Graceland, in the Colonel’s private
collection. Ironically, the “National Enquirer” had published it,
but if they still had it, it was locked up in their anthrax-ed building,
and no one is allowed to go in there. Oh yes, I also really wanted
a picture of him with Minnie Pearl, and I found it only after my
deadline had passed. It appears in my “Country Music” magazine story
about the Colonel’s Grand Ole Opry connections. You can read that
on my website.
What has surprised you the most as you've researched Elvis over
so many years and talked to those who knew him?
The dichotomy of the greatness of his talent (which just seemed
innate) and the emptiness of his private life.
Elvis Aaron Presley: Revelations of the Memphis Mafia gave fans
a new insight into Elvis the man and Elvis the performer. One of
the issues discussed was "Elvis the supercop". Why do you think
Elvis had such a fascination with law enforcement?
I think it goes back to his father’s stint in prison. Also to the
fact that he couldn’t “police” his own life. How’s that for psycho-babble?
Actually, I think there’s a lot of truth in that.
Few fans will be aware that during the mid 1970s undercover FBI
agents traveled as part of Elvis' entourage. What can you tell us
I don’t think I can add to that in any significant way, actually.
Alanna, after writing three books about Elvis you must have formed
a view on who Elvis Presley was. How would you sum up his personality
That’s too great a task in a small space, at least for me. I will
say he was a deep and true artist who emerged almost full-blown
on his first recordings. It’s as if he had been dropped in here
from another planet, and that he simply got lost trying to find
his way home.
In Revelations of the Memphis Mafia, Billy Smith commented that
"But at times, I wonder if he (Elvis) loved any body." Elvis' ability
to love - what is your view on his emotional capability?
I think he got stuck emotionally at about 18. I think he was capable
of great love, but he was immature about expressing most of it.
That wasn’t uncommon for men of his age group in the ‘50s, ‘60s,
and ‘70s. I also think that’s one reason he was so taken with the
mystics—they opened up a huge window for him on the greatness of
the human condition. EIN: To what extent, if any, do you think Elvis
had a self-destructive personality? AN: I’ll quote the poet William
Carlos Williams: “The pure products of America go crazy.”
What do you think killed Elvis Presley? Creative apathy or a combination
of personal-psychological factors?
A combination of personal and professional disappointments coupled
with reckless behavior and an inherited tendency toward addiction.
I think he could not stand what he had become, and numbed the pain
out whenever possible. As Mike Crowley says in the book, “Nobody
killed Elvis except Elvis.” But you have to wonder why the Colonel
did almost nothing to stop him.
EIN recently published an interview around the enduring Elvis Is
Alive phenomenon. Do you have a view on this sub-culture in the
Only that some people want him back so desperately that they will
do anything to keep that hope alive.
Alanna, the first book of yours I ever bought was the biography
Dolly (Parton). Dolly is known to be a big Elvis fan. Did you and
Dolly ever discuss Elvis?
Thank you for buying that book. It came out first in 1978, and is
available again with an updated final chapter. (“Dolly: The Biography.”)
Alas, I never did ask her about Elvis, but I do know that he wanted
to record one of her songs (variously reported as either “Coat of
Many Colors” or “I Will Always Love You,” though I’ve heard her
reference the latter) and she wouldn’t give up part of the publishing,
as Parker requested. She said she cried all night over the decision,
particularly as she could have used the money at the time.
Dolly Parton, the person. What is she like?
She’s like Elvis…at times you think she must have been dropped in
here from some super-evolved nova. There’s something otherworldly
about her, and about her talent. Something mystical, almost. Of
course, that’s combined with that very human charm and sense of
humor and her extraordinary looks. She’s irresistible.
Can we talk about Alanna Nash. Who is Alanna Nash and what does
she do in her spare time?
She’s just a ordinary journalist beguiled by an extraordinary story,
that’s all. Spare time? What’s that?
Where do you call home?
How did you get involved in writing/journalism?
I was a trained musician as a child, and I combined my love of music
with my love of words. If I’d had any real talent, I would have
been a musician. But I didn’t have, and I was embarrassed by performing.
I was more comfortable behind the scenes.
Which of your books has given you the most satisfaction and why?
Well, I have to say this one, in that it seemed an “ungettable”
story. Some people say I still haven’t gotten it, but I think I’ve
gotten as close as anyone is going to get. And I did so only because
so many people were willing to help me, starting with the Colonel’s
family in Holland. They wanted to solve the riddle as much as I
did. We became a team, of sorts. Marie Parker’s daughter-in-law,
Sandra Polk Ross, in Florida, also was incredibly supportive and
helpful. She has become a true friend. And Byron Raphael was a great,
untapped source for the Colonel’s early years in Hollywood. He also
served as one of the Colonel’s confidantes, to some degree, and
he was eager that I understand both sides of the Colonel’s nature.
Do you have any plans for writing a fourth book about Elvis?
No. I think there isn’t enough new to say. And this book was really
more about Parker than Elvis. I would like to explore his early
years a bit more. My hope is that people who haven’t talked before,
such as Andy Griffith, will come forward and share their stories
for the historical record.
Who or what will your next book be about?
I have so much debt on this one yet that I can’t think about delving
into a new project, other than magazine work!
You are busy promoting The Colonel over the coming months. Where
can fans get to meet you?
My website, www.colonelparker.com , will list those events. I may
be going to England in the fall as the English edition appears.
We have to work that out yet, though, so it’s really premature for
me to even say that.
Alanna, it has been a great pleasure talking to you today. Once
again our sincere thanks for making time available to us and we
wish you continued success in the future.
Nigel, thank you for asking such probing questions. You always write
so intelligently about this topic.
Alanna Nash's web site: www.colonelparker.com
EIN's review of The Colonel: The Extraordinary Story of Colonel
Tom Parker and Elvis Presley My Friend Elvis, also released as Elvis,
from Memphis to Hollywood: Memories from My Eleven Years with Elvis
Presley, and Elvis Aaron Presley: Revelations of the Memphis Mafia
are currently out of print.
to published reports, the Fortas book was never actually published
as “My Friend Elvis.” It will be reprinted in 2004. EAP is available
on Amazon.com and through my website, but at a dear price. Thanks
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