Above: image of me with Denese Dody and Roger Redford
In 1996, Denese invited me to attend the official ceremony to commemorate Elvis’ star on the Walk of Fame in Palm Springs, California. It was quite an honor. Nearly everyone close to Elvis was there, some of the Memphis Mafia, along with his favorite backup singer, Kathy Westmoreland. Even Colonel Tom Parker came along for the ride, so it was a pretty big deal. The Chamber of Commerce gave us the royal treatment, putting us up at his secret Palm Springs Honeymoon Hideaway, where Elvis spent two blissful weeks with his young new bride, Priscilla, whom he called, ‘Cilla.’
The house was truly stunning, featuring a big swimming pool, an overlooking a gorgeous view of the rugged San Jacinto Mountains, a desert vista about as far from Tennessee as anyone could possibly get. As I stood by the pool, in very likely the same place that Elvis once stood in 1966, I couldn’t help but think that Elvis thought the same thing as he gazed across the serene desert vista, far from the poverty of his youth and the hectic life of the city. It was a dramatic departure from the dogwood and maple trees of Graceland to the spiky cactus that dotted the endless sand of the San Gorgonio Valley. The custom made house itself was built on three distinct levels, and all of the rooms were actually curved, without a single right angle in the entire house… it was an amazing place. In many ways, the living room reminded me of the front room of Graceland, only bigger.
Outside of that, the 5,000 square foot dream house was totally unique, just like Elvis himself. I discovered that the dream home is available for rent to anyone who can afford an overnight stay, but what an amazing thing it is to experience such a memorable time at Elvis’ actual honeymoon getaway.
After we got comfortable in one of the many guest rooms at the hideaway, I was soon introduced to Colonel Tom Parker, who by then was a fat, crusty old man, with a personality to match. I must admit, I didn’t like the penny-pinching curmudgeon very much, and apparently, neither did anyone else. He wasn't very friendly. I avoided him like the plague, along with the other guest, Roger Redford, another terrific ETA from Las Vegas. I have always felt that the Colonel cared more for money than Elvis himself. His greed was well known. I learned from Jerry Schilling that when Elvis died, Parker had even changed Elvis’ original business contract (a monstrous managerial fee of 50% of every dollar Elvis ever made) by secretly changing his already whopping fee by simply taking a bottle of White-Out and upping it to 75%. Well, let’s just say that it changed my mind about the Colonel being an ethical man. Had Priscilla not discovered the illegal alteration, he would have robbed Elvis blind, even after his death.
Although the Colonel did tremendous things for Elvis' career, in the end, I doubt that Elvis meant anything more than a meal ticket to him. The day Elvis died, his entire personal fortune had been totally looted by his team of trusted "financial experts,” leaving barely $100,000. in his entire estate. When Priscilla learned the horrifying truth, she immediately fired all of Elvis’ lawyers, and to her credit, took complete control of the estate by herself. Desperate for cash and deeply in debt, she was the one to suggest that they open his home to the public, even against the best advice of nearly everyone. At first, she only charged only $5. per head for people to view the home of The King, closing off only the top floor at the request of Vernon. At first, no one thought it was a good idea, but soon the word got out, and a visit to Graceland has now become a treasured destination for millions of his fans, worldwide.
When she discovered what a lucrative enterprise it could be, she kept the tour going to this day, turning a terrible loss into an unexpected gain. But when Elvis’ daughter, Lisa Marie, turned eighteen and became the legal inheritor of Elvis’ entire fortune, she actually wanted to move into Graceland personally, wanting to be closer to her father, but making it strictly “off limits” to his adoring fans forever. That is when her attorney advised that it would not be a very good idea, not only destroying millions of dollars in valuable revenue, but disappointing his loyal admirers at the same time. Can you imagine a trip to Graceland without ever getting to visit Elvis’ home?? Eventually, Lisa Marie took his advice not to move into Graceland, much to her credit and good sense.
Above: the “scandalous” photo of me with Kathy Westmoreland
But as stuffy as the Colonel was, the same thing couldn't be said about the other guest in our party, Kathy Westmoreland, whom Elvis affectionately named, "Minnie Mouse" because of her remarkably petite stature. Elvis called her, “The little girl with the big voice,” a high, beautiful soprano that could move mountains. I truly felt that she liked her nickname, so for the rest of the weekend, I just called her ‘Minnie.' Kathy was as friendly and easygoing as the Colonel was cold and standoffish, and we got along famously. When we got to know each other better, Kathy confided that, “I think Priscilla resented me,” knowing that she and Elvis and had once shared intimate moments together, although long after they had both gone their separate ways. She believes that this was the real reason she was never even mentioned in Priscilla’s book.
Today, Kathy gives private vocal lessons to a few lucky students, long after her performance years with Elvis were over. She really enjoys passing along her amazing vocal technique and years of personal experience to the talented youngsters now stepping up to take her place, hoping someday to become stars themselves. Here’s an hilarious picture of Kathy and I cavorting on Elvis’ actual bed (I’m still trying to explain that to my girlfriend), with her little "Hound Dog" standing on top of me, a tiny little Chihuahua. Lots of great memories, with great people, at the romantic desert hideaway that for two weeks The King once called home.
It finally came time for Elvis’ induction into the Palm Springs’ Walk of Fame, and the street was jammed to overflowing with fans, TV cameras, reporters, and curious bystanders, all wanting to catch a glimpse of we lucky few honoring our beloved friend. As I stood there with Denese Dody, Roger Redford, and Kathy Westmoreland, we all smiled ear-to-ear as Elvis’ beautiful star was placed in cement on two of their busiest avenues, at the corner of North Palm Canyon Drive and Taquitz Canyon Way.
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