In 2003 Hollywood made hit movie starring George Clooney called, "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind," a fictional film about the life of Chuck Barris, the producer of classic television game shows like "The Gong Show," which gave me my first big break. As I sat in the audience, watching it for the first time, I almost dropped my popcorn when one scene featured an Asian guy trying to imitate Elvis.
When I realized that I was the only Asian Elvis ever to perform on the show, I thought it may have well been footage of my original performance, until I noticed that the guy on the screen wasn't actually me, just an actor pretending to be me, pretending to be Elvis! Of all the talent on the long-running show, for them to choose me as the only one to be represented in the feature film was another "first" for Yoshi Suzuki, and another special moment in my crazy, enchanted journey.
During his long career, Elvis starred in an amazing thirty-one movies, and although he passed away over 40-years ago, we're lucky to still have his films to enjoy, forever captured in the prime of his life. To be honest, I thought that most of Elvis' movies were pretty hokey, but every so often his acting rose above the material he was given. Near the end of his career, Colonel Tom Parker forced Elvis to perform in these junky movies, and I think it drained the soul right out of him.
The Colonel even turned down an offer for him to co-star with Barbra Streisand in a remake of "A Star is Born," believing that his fans would not want to see him in a movie without surfboards and scantily-clad young ladies. In my opinion, it was a profoundly poor decision. I think that Elvis was experienced enough to handle the part, and who knows what heights his career would have reached if the Colonel gave him this golden opportunity to star in the single most important dramatic role of his life? That chance would never come again.
Of all Elvis' many films, my favorite still remains "Follow That Dream," where his wonderful comedic talent was used to full effect, his naturalistic and wholly believable performance transforming the typical Hollywood chick flick into something truly special. Elvis' co-star in the film was the luminous Anne Helm, a fine actress who enjoyed a long and successful career in Hollywood. One day in 1991, the largest Elvis fan club in Southern California, "The Jailhouse Rockers," asked me to hold one of their meetings at my home in Los Angeles, and actually invited Anne to join us as our special guest at our little get together in her honor. As we all sat around my big RCA Victor TV, watching Anne perform in the movie on my VCR player(remember those?), suddenly my doorbell rang at the exact moment that she was kissing Elvis on the screen! Her timing couldn't have been more perfect.
Getting to meet her in person was a very special experience for the club and I, and I had mad crush on her, along with millions of other guys in America, so seeing her standing there in the flesh, right in front or me, was pretty intoxicating. I must admit at being a little star stuck. After snapping out of my brief reverie, I quickly ushered her inside to meet her adoring fans. Her dusky hair was pulled back and now silvery gray, but the sparkle in her flashing brown eyes and her stunning, high cheekbones were as a beautiful and unforgettable as they were in 1962.
The moment Miss Helm walked in, it was to overwhelming applause from our small but enthusiastic crowd. As Anne spoke to her rapt audience of Jailhouse Rockers, quite naturally all of the ladies wanted to know what it was like to actually work with Elvis, as nearly all of his pretty leading ladies usually fell in love with him at first sight. In fact, according to Anne, the phenomenally attractive Joanna Moore (who played "Alisha Claypoole," the oversexed social worker in 'Follow That Dream') seemed a little bit miffed when Elvis actually paid more attention to Anne than to her on the set. In the scene where a jealous Anne pushes Joanna into the water, "there was a little bit of reality in there!" according to a smiling Anne, a classic case of ‘art imitating life,' you could say. Only one year later, Joanna went on to marry actor Ryan O'Neal, but it was Anne who actually got to get cozy with The King.
After asking her dozens of questions, the most popular inquiry one was always: Is it true that you dated Elvis during the movie?" Her recollection of the memory was clear to see. "Of course I did!!," she replied. During the filming of 'Follow That Dream,' both she and Elvis briefly dated during the film's six-week shooting in Florida, where they all stayed at the Port Paradise Hotel in Crystal River Florida, "a kind of tiny Motel 6 in the middle of nowhere," according to Anne. She described how Elvis actually picked her up in an old pickup truck on their very first date. "He was all by himself, and it was a very casual, special, sweet affair," but "any time alone with Elvis is pretty special," she admitted. The only other time they were together again was back in Graceland, where this time she was picked up by one of the "Memphis Mafia" in a big stretch limo. "But this time..." she said, "it was completely different." She sadly recalled, "With all his guys around, it just wasn't the same."
In 1986, after raising two children, Anne had already officially retired from her acting career, and was now a proud grandmother. She told us that now she was a professional artist, having had her art featured at many shows and studios throughout Los Angeles, along with two highly successful children's books that showcased both her outstanding illustration and writing skills.
The high point of the day, for me at least, came when I actually got to sing "Angel," my favorite song from the film, directly to Anne, as she sat smiling at me exactly as she did when she starred in the movie, perhaps reliving the moment when Elvis sang the same song to her over 30-years ago. I must admit, it was a totally surreal experience, and an incredibly special one for me. Even today I can't believe where I got the courage to do it, other than the sheer audacity to pretend—if only for just a few minutes—that I was actually Elvis singing to his on-screen love.
Such is the bizarre, exciting, often fascinating life of an Elvis impersonator. But like the unforgettable visit with Anne at my home, we both got to share her personal memories of Elvis that we'll always cherish. After thanking her for coming out to visit with our appreciative group, as I escorted her to her car and watched her drive away, it was as though another marvelous chapter of my life was coming to an end.
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