'ELVIS: Live at the International'
By Kieran Davis
Book Review by Piers Beagley
The full story of Elvis' time at the International Hotel from August 1969 to September 1971.
From Kieran Davis, the author of the excellent 'Elvis On Tour- November 1971', this book contains 170 pages describing in meticulous detail exactly what it was like to see Elvis at the International. Taken from the diaries of super fan Peggy Elzea, the chapters describe meeting Elvis backstage, the shows, the hotel, the staff, the food, even the call-girls.
There are sections of tape transcripts, jumpsuit descriptions, photographs of memorabilia, the hotel's advertising campaign, the list goes on. If you ever wanted to know how Elvis chipped his tooth on stage in 1971 even that is in here. With approximately 100,000 words, there will never be a better chance to read about Elvis' first engagements in Vegas as seen through the eyes of a fan who was there. Peggy wrote down her memories forty years ago but they are as honest and fresh as if it all just happened yesterday.
EIN's Piers Beagley checks out whether the book lives up to the description.
With so many books and releases surrounding Elvis' return to live performances in Las Vegas, fans must wonder whether they can be anything new to discover or say.
Ken Sharp's recent ELVIS VEGAS '69 for instance was a wonderful book packed with stunning photos, fascinating text, reviews and interviews.
So it was with interest that I wondered how much more I could really learn from Kieran Davis' new book 'Elvis Live At The International'. The answer is that it is quite a revelation to discover even part of the many goings-on behind the scenes as Elvis "super-fan" Peggy Elzea witnesses so many great concerts – forty-four in all - and reports in detail on every one.
The book is a brilliant compendium of Peggy Elzea's diaries of the time, full of her marvellous insights and first hand accounts. After Kieran Davis' splendid Elvis November Tour 1971 book the initial surprise is the stunning amount of text packed within its 170 pages.
|Peggy Elzea's story starts in March 1969 when she first hears that Elvis is about to return to live performances while the detailed daily diaries start on August 23 1969. As she writes "the start of my Grand Adventure" - and what an adventure it is!
Peggy Elzea was a "super-fan" determined to meet everyone she could - and of course ELVIS - and she wrote down all her feelings - her excitement often oozes from the page - as well as the minuscule details of every show she attended.
There really is a lot more that one can learn of what it was like to be an Elvis fan in Vegas in this great era. The dreadful compulsory bribing of the waiters (it is incredible how much they had to pay to get a good seat), behind the scenes tracking down Elvis’ companions, how the International shows worked as a whole - the meals, the drinks, where to sit etc - as well as the performances themselves.
Who was in the audience at each show, such as Kenny Rogers (Feb 22 1970), Johnny Rivers (Aug 30 MS 1971), Richard Egan (Aug 12 DS 1971 - "I got killed in Love Me Tender and he got the girl!") is also nicely clarified.
I always thought Elvis’ occasional statements, "What’s that? Smoke?" were off-the-cuff comments whereas Peggy Elzea notes that this was Elvis’ strong hint for the audience members not to smoke while he was performing - which they usually ignored.
The book even reveals how Colonel Parker was first thinking of TTWII as a Closed Circuit TV show in theatres....
"Elvis is also doing a closed circuit TV concert from the Las Vegas Convention Centre on August 8.
Elvis Presley may do the nightclub concert he now has at the Hotel International for over 300 theatres via closed circuit TV, with a projected gross of $10 million! Not bad for a coupla’ hours." - in a letter from March 1970
Best of all we also learn about what it was like trying to get to know Elvis' acquaintances, trying to get into Elvis' suite, and finally meeting Elvis.
The first exciting International season of August 1969 takes up the first 36 pages of the book.
By great coincidence Peggy Elzea arrived at the International on August 23rd just as RCA were recording Elvis' performances.
So the way to really enjoy the book is to listen to the concerts while reading all her personal accounts of the time. Elzea often describes Elvis' on stage moves, the atmousphere and how he reacted to his faithful audience, which gives you an even greater understanding of the shows you are listening to.
By her forth concert, August 24th Dinner Show ('Live In Las Vegas' box-set) Elvis has already noticed Peggy and kisses her during the performance..
"The dinner show was as good as the previous night with the notable exception that Elvis kissed me! During 'Love Me Tender' Steve and Sue let me past them to the side of the stage and I held my right hand out to Elvis. He took my hand in his left hand (as he had done the night before), looked to his left into the audience then bent down and kissed me on the mouth. A soft warm kiss that was well placed! His face leaned to his left and a whisker prickled me below my nose. Elvis’ nose touched me on the right side of my nose and his face touched mine. His face was sweating and warm and he kissed gently but with authority. My first kiss from Elvis!"
Interestingly she writes several detailed and fascinating pages about Elvis' August 25th 1969 Midnight Show describing is as "The very best show of all the ones I saw" - and this has yet to be released in full by FTD, although of course a large potion of it was used for ‘In Person'.
There are so many unique tidbits to discover that the book never becomes a repetitive description of all too similar performances.
Did you know that in the middle of the "laughing" Midnight August 26th 1969 show (FTD All Shook Up) Elvis was given a sheer orange nightgown by a fan to wipe his face on! Elvis also picked up half a dozen of the room keys thrown on stage making his comment, "I'm gonna have a busy night" even funnier.
It is during this period that Peggy meets up with Steve Toli (photographer & collector), Joe Esposito and then Vernon who offers to take her to meet Elvis.
And only THREE days after arriving in Vegas Peggy Elzea does indeed meet Elvis....
... I followed Vernon down another series of steps where we turned to the right and went in to a small 8 to 10 foot wide `L' shaped hallway. There was a door with a silly picture of Sammy Shore on it. This was the dressing room area! Vernon walked into a dressing room ahead of us and shut the door. I waited for what seemed like an age and then the door opened with about 3 hands holding the doorknob. It opened back into the dressing room. There was a figure standing in the shadows wearing a white jacket – it was Elvis! He was wearing medium blue hip hugger pants and similar coloured shirt, a white jacket with collar, black boots and a red scarf with a gold curlicue design. He wore a belt that was 6 inches wide decorated every 8 inches or so with gold lion heads that had a ring in their mouth. There were three strands of chains hung between each of the lion heads.
Elvis walked out of the dressing room looking directly at me with a pleasant smile on his face and his hand extended slightly. With three strides he was standing right in front of me. I thought, "Good grief, he is human size! Except he has an unusually beautiful body." His shoulders were broader than most men of his size and he was somewhat taller than me – easily 6 foot 1. He was very lean with the hips of a boy, in fact they looked just like they did in 'G.I. Blues'. He was so handsomely and tastefully dressed. He smiled so warmly with his eyes as well as his mouth. My right hand was full of my purse and camera so Elvis took my left hand in his and gently stroked my forearm with his right hand. He did it kindly as if he was pacifying someone
who needed calming down.
"How are you?" said Elvis
"Fine, thank you. How are you?"
"Fine, thank you. How are you?" was his reply as if he was slightly nervous.
I broke in quickly with, "I am Peggy" and tilted my head to the right, bearing down on it as has become my habit, "I'm from Columbia, Missouri."
-I'm pleased to meet you, Peggy."
I began babbling in a soft voice (and with a big smile) something like, "You just knocked me out. That was a marvellous show. You're such a great performer...." Babble, babble, babble.
Elvis took his hands off of mine, slowly put them on both sides of my face and slipped his fingers on my neck from about an inch behind my ears down to my collar bone (as if he was throttling me). I shut up completely, being in such a doll-like position where Elvis could relocate any portion of my body as he saw fit. He smiled at me and slowly leaned in and kissed me just off centre and to the left of my mouth. His lips and cheek were very soft, warm and dry. It was the most gentle of kisses.
He had a very faint beard shadow but I couldn't feel it. His lips weren't thick at all but so soft. He wasn't sweating and had a nice soft smell of talc. I at least had the presence of mind to not wiggle around in case it caused him to give up hope on me altogether. In this position I had virtually nothing of Elvis to kiss back on, so I turned a fraction so I could try and kiss his cheek. Then I thought, "Hold it, you fool! He may quit if you try that." But then it dawned on me, "Hey stupid! Elvis is standing right in front of you. Put your arms around him!"
As you can tell, Peggy’s diaries and her story is full of marvellous descriptions and a wonderful read for any true Elvis fan.
To be honest there are very few photos of Elvis performing on stage and I would have preferred more as this would have given the book an even greater depth. However these can of course be found elsewhere on the Internet and in other photo books.
Instead Kieran Davis features a huge range of International memorabilia, news-clippings and posters etc, and best of all a lot of RCA and Colonel Parker's documents and letters.
There are however several of Peggy's candid photos from around Vegas as well as other fan photos of Elvis which you may have seen elsewhere but are now put in context with stories of the time.
Finally in August 1971 Peggy gets given a scarf from Elvis during the show.
"He has been wiping his face on it and it is nice and sweaty and has the fragrance of a nice shaving lather on it."
Shown above a photo of Peggy Elzea with her 1971 scarf - and there are also a few unpublished photos of Elvis on stage in the later chapters.
‘Elvis Live At The International’ author Kieran Davis has also gathered other reviews from fan club magazines (Rex Martin, Elvis Monthly, Judy Palmer Kissin' Cousins Fan club etc) as well as Peggy's friends to provide even more of an insight.
Another "super-fan" Judy Cherry was a good friend to Peggy and the correspondence between them is another glimpse into the exciting times of being an Elvis fan in that era.
One page is dedicated to Judy Cherry's story of meeting Elvis on February 18th 1970, it includes....
.. The first thing I said when he came out was just a whispered "Elvis!" He put his arms around me and gave me a nice warm hug. I told him I had waited 14 years for this and he said "Have you? That's a long time to wait, isn't it honey?" then gave Jamie (the girl with me) a nice hug and said, "Did you come all the way from England"
She said, "Yes"
He said, "Thank you hon".
I said, "Elvis, do you have time for a couple of pictures?"
His answer was a warm, "Sure." So while Jamie was getting my camera out, I showed him a copy of the Elvis Presley Story, that I had brought with me, and told him I had had it since 1957. He seemed genuinely amazed. He came across this one real old picture and said, "This really is old, man. I was 21 years old here!"
In between these dribbles of conversation we had taken one picture (shown above), had some trouble with the flashcube and now were taking another picture... then (and isn't this beautifully typical of Elvis?) he turned to Jamie and said, "Now we are gonna get one with you, aren't we honey?" I got the picture, he said goodbye to Jamie and came over and gave me a hug. I said, "Goodbye, Elvis, I'll see you tomorrow night... whether you see me or not: cause I'll be going to the show every night for the rest of the time."
He seemed really surprised at this and said "Eleven times! Thank you so much, sweetheart. I just wish I could meet everyone of you!"
He kissed me goodbye and he was gone but the 5 or 6 minutes will stay in my heart forever.
‘Elvis Live At The International’ coincidentally arrived at my house the same week as the ‘Elvis Rebooked’ box-set of Elvis’ second Vegas season.
Elvis’ Jan/Feb 1970 International season is described in detail in Chapter 2 over 23 pages - another amazing coincidence is that again she arrived in Vegas just as RCA were rolling their tapes!
So again it is fascinating to compare Elvis' recorded performances with Peggy's descriptions.
By now Peggy was secretly recording the concerts as well, and in this chapter Peggy also transcribes every performance and what Elvis said in detail along with his on-stage reactions.
Elvis kissing Peggy Elzea and her friends even made it onto the 1970 ‘On Stage’ album!
February 18, 1970 Midnight Show.
.... Elvis was joking a lot at this show and giggled his way through 'Don't Cry Daddy.' He spent a lot of time kissing the girls at the front of the stage and after 'Polk Salad Annie' I received my second kiss! Elvis came over to where I was sitting and several girls stood up. He kissed each of the girls in turn before reaching me. I put my hand out, and as he took hold of it he pulled me closer so that could reach me. It was a quick kiss, but beautiful. As he walked back towards the centre of the stage, the girls near me were still vying for Elvis' attention. On the tape you can hear Elvis jokingly say, "I've already kissed you. You've already had it. You want it again, right? You've already had it, too. You want it again, hmm? Just hang loose, everybody. We'll get it."
Fats Domino was in the audience tonight and Elvis seemed genuinely honoured that he had come out to see his show. He even sang a line of 'Blueberry Hill.' As he did, a girl at the front table threw her room key onto the stage. Elvis quickly retrieved it and with a smile on his face threatened to read out the room number.
Sadly Peggy missed out on the TTWII August 1970 season due to last minute family commitments. However again the details are filled-in by her friend Judy Cherry in Chapter 3 with some particularly interesting stories and correspondence.
While of course it would be nice to know even more of the behind the scenes to this famous season the sheer amount of material we already have, be it video or CD releases, means that it is not as great a disappointment as it could be.
Chapter 4 - Elvis February 1971 season
Peggy Elzea returned to Vegas for Elvis' February 1971 season and of course by now she knows even more ways of getting around.
More delightful stories of this season is spread over 27 pages and Peggy even ends up sitting near Elvis and Priscilla when they attend Ann-Margret's Opening performance..
I heard a loud fizzing come from their table and thought, "That's the loudest champagne I ever heard." When I glanced over Elvis was having an Alka-Seltzer with his cigar. Poor baby! He did seem tired and tense, even in the dark I could see those strain lines in his face running from the inside corners of his eyes to his jaw. Elvis and Priscilla whispered and giggled a lot during the show. Early in the show, Elvis was whispering directly into Priscilla's ear and she had the most blissful smile on her face.
While watching Ann-Margret's show, Elvis' expression usually ranged from straight faced to glum. A few things drew his laughter including: during one dance Ann turned sideways to the audience and did several quick bumps. Elvis said in surprise, "Lord! I do that!"
There was a comic, Steve Martin, on in the middle of the show. His comic set-up was that he would pretend he was doing something spectacular but actually he was doing something very simple. At one point he was working with the long, thin, twistable balloons. After much puffing, twisting, squeaking and furious activity he held up a mess and said, "Puppy dog!" Then he worked over the balloons some more forming a complex geometric form, "Hong Kong flu virus!" he said. Elvis laughed at that - could it be he has known that virus personally? Then the comic was being a magician. "Now I will pull a bouncing baby rabbit from this hat. He reached into the hat and tenderly lifted out what at first appeared to be a baby rabbit. Then he threw it on the stage and it bounced about 15 feet in the air. Elvis laughed.
…At 4:30 a.m. I went back downstairs to the casino and guess who was there playing blackjack? Elvis! Beside him was Priscilla. I saw them from across two tables. Priscilla looked up, smiled, and made a "hello" with her mouth. Elvis also saw me. I stood by the slot machines watching them for a while. Elvis was carrying the cane on a wrist strap. He was wearing the previously described black and red outfit plus a black, short fur coat with black faceted buttons draped over his shoulders. This is the coat he is wearing in the famous Sonny West wedding picture. Elvis was also sporting the red sunglasses, a cigar, and a straight face. He was standing at the end of the blackjack table toward the Showroom end of the casino. Priscilla was sitting next to him on a blue velvet seat. This whole scene had a James Bond movie quality to it.
Two example pages of memorabilia taken from the book
Chapter 5 - Elvis 1971 Summer Festival.
This was the final season from where Peggy's detailed diaries are published, and in someway you realize what a sensational point to remember Elvis from, while he was still on that exciting high and looking as gorgeous as he ever would. In the epilogue Peggy explains that she did return once more to Vegas in August 1972 but it seems the earlier magic wasn't the same.
September 2 1971 Dinner show
Elvis then comes back over to me. I am standing by the stage holding a pink napkin out to him to wipe his face. He leans over in front of me and says, "You do it, honey." I have the napkin in my left hand, so it is a little awkward, but Elvis leans over so the top of his head is in front of me. I pat the napkin very gently and gingerly on his face, his forehead and checks because I certainly do not want to accidentally poke him in the eye or nose! He stays leaned over and my right hand is free so I lightly pat him on top of his head (at this point the audience goes "Aw!").
The patting goes over so well that I pat his head again. His hair is quite long this time and he has on a lot of hair spray to make it stay combed back. I prefer his hair falling forward on the left as it usually does. This light patting causes his hair to fall forward but he does not mind and he leaves it like that.
The book also features a chapter on the Lake Tahoe first season of 1971, as well as a VERY detailed chapter on all of Elvis' live performances 1969-1971 recordings with tracklists and dialogue a lot presumably taken from her own cassette recordings.
With the few extracts above, I hope fans get an idea of what this book has to offer and what detail has gone into its production.
Very sadly Peggy Elzea passed away while the book was being written - the book is dedicated to her memory.
Overall Verdict: Another totally absorbing book from author Kieran Davis. Peggy Elzea's diaries
are a treasure-trove of wonderful stories, exciting emotion and intricate details. As with
Davis' first book on Elvis' November 1971 Tour, 'Elvis Live At The
International' is packed full of interesting text, which takes plenty of time to read and
fully appreciate. This is a book to take time over and read while listening to
all the Elvis concerts from that dynamic era. My only minor gripe is not having
enough on-stage photos to match the performances being described, but other
photo books can provide that. Peggy's discussions with well-known acquittances
like Tom Diskin, Vernon, Maitre D Emilio etc all add more colour to the Elvis
story we think we already know. With 170 pages packed with approximately 100,000 words
this will keep any fan entertained for days if not weeks! One of the very best
Elvis books of 2011.
Sadly the author's website indicates that the book is already Sold Out, so check your local Elvis dealer for copies or cross your fingers for a reprint.
NEW INFO - 'Live At The International' possible Reprint: Due to on-going fan interest about the fascinating book 'Live At The International' featuring super-fan Peggy Elzea's detailed diaries, author Kieran Davis is now considering the possibility of a reprint.
He is working with his publisher to determine the number of copies to make it cost effective. EIN will bring you the news as soon as we know.
Please contact Kieran Davis via his website below to get your name on his waiting list.
Go here to Kieran Davis' website.
Review by Piers Beagley.
-Copyright EIN January 2012
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