Inside Graceland

- Book Review by Sanja Meegin

Inside Graceland is an 112 page book of never before seen pictures from the collection Sherif Hanna.

More than half the photos are from 1975 and they demonstrate just how much Graceland has been redecorated since Elvis died. Apart from the unique pictures the book is also filled with quotes and stories from the people who were there in the 1970s including Linda Thompson and Sandi Miller.

Sanja Meegin revels in the delight of so many unseen photos in this book from 'Elvis Unlimited'.

There are several books currently available that showcase Graceland as it is today – more or less a ‘display home’ with a museum-esque feel about it. "Inside Graceland", however, gives the reader a rare insight into how Graceland looked when Elvis actually lived there.

The book – an Elvis Unlimited production - is an absolute treat for the avid Elvis fan, and I, for one, have been eagerly awaiting its release. All of the never-before-published photos (and there are over 100 of them) are from the private collection of Sherif Hanna – whose very large and rare ensemble of photos is well known in the Elvis world. And although a few of these photos from the "red era" at Graceland have been seen on the internet and even published in Jeanne Lumay’s recently released book, 'Elvis, Linda and Me' – at least 90% of these photographs have never been seen before.

As most fans would be aware, there are very few photographs available of Elvis actually inside Graceland. And although he is not photographed in this book either, there is still plenty of photos to keep fans entertained and really get a perspective of how Elvis’ home looked whilst he lived there – which is a world away from how Graceland looks now.

The book is more or less divided into 3 parts – the house and its surroundings from 1974-1977, the trophy room and grounds after 1977, and the trophy room after Graceland was opened to the public in 1982 – which looks completely different to what is does today, some 26 years later. There are also quotations/recollections from Larry Strickland, Linda Thompson & Sandi Miller, however this is primarily a photo book.

The first part of the book, and the most detailed, features very rare photographs of Graceland’s entry foyer, dining room, living room and the piano room, how it used to look in the mid to late 1970’s and it is intriguing to see what the interior of the house looked like during this time. The red and gold décor is incredibly ornate and flamboyant and although today it would most probably be considered tacky and over the top – there is no doubt that during the mid 1970’s the furnishings would have been extremely fashionable.

Above: The amazing detail of the Louis XV style lounge room and Peacock windows in the distance.

Some of the furniture featured (ie. The Louis XV style sectional sofa and a couple of the lamps) have been shown as part of the current display at Graceland in the last couple of years. However, there are many items in these photos that have never been seen before – such as several statues, chairs, rugs, and a set of mirrored tall folding screens, that Elvis erected due to superstitions his parents instilled in him to never close up doors and windows.

It’s debatable whether or not it was Elvis’ girlfriend Linda Thompson or Elvis himself that chose the red and gold look for the house – but it is said that when Jack Soden visited Graceland in 1981, Aunt Delta told him that "Elvis didn’t really like all this red when it was put in. He started using the back stairs so he would not have to look at it. It’s a shame that we cant use all that nice blue and white stuff that was put in storage. That’s what Elvis really liked and always used".

Perhaps this is ultimately why Priscilla chose to restore Graceland back to how it was when she lived there in the late 60’s, early 70’s – and how it is now displayed for the 500,000 or so tourists who visit the house each year.

Larry Strickland, a member of Elvis’ back up singing group "The Stamps Quartet", shares a favourite memory of his from Graceland. He tells of the time that they were recording in the Jungle Room and were running overtime. The Stamps were due to do a concert in North Carolina and it looked as though they were going to miss it. Elvis wouldn’t hear of it, and loaned them his private jet and had them flown from Memphis to North Carolina and back – which Larry says "would have probably cost him 10 times more than what we were being paid for the concert". The Stamps were flown back to Graceland to finish the album, but then realized that they didn’t have a way home to Nashville. Larry remembers Elvis saying "Y’all take my limo. I'm getting a new one anyway". Just like that Elvis gave away his limo to the band!

There are many photos of Elvis’s long term girlfriend Linda Thompson, in and around Graceland featured in this book – in the entrance foyer with Elvis’s pet dogs, with her parents and the maids in the kitchen, clowning around in the TV room and Jungle Room, and even out in the Meditation Gardens where, if you look closely, you will see the original ornate stones that were laid on the ground, instead of the concrete that is there today.

(Right: Linda Thompson in the Meditation Garden. Note the original ornate paving)

She reflects on her years with Elvis, telling the story of how they met at the Memphian Theatre in July of 1972 and how she sensed from that very moment that they were "kindred spirits".

Linda comments that the 4½ year relationship "still means a lot to me and it really did change my life". She goes on to say that "I think about him often, when I hear his singing voice, I get sentimental".

Its also interesting to read that although one would assume that they had very little private time together with Elvis’ incredibly busy touring schedule during the mid 1970’s, Linda is quick to point out that "I had more privacy [with Elvis] than I ever had with anyone in my life" – going on to say that they would spend days at a time in the upstairs area of Graceland watching some of Elvis’ favourite shows on TV, such as Monty Python and anything with Peter Sellers.

Above: Two fabulous shots of Linda Thompson in her relaxing attire!

On my many tours of the mansion over the years, I have often wondered what the various rooms and grounds of Graceland would have looked like when Elvis lived there – this book answers all those questions and it is truly fascinating to see how many things have been redecorated over the years. Actually, the only room in the house that looks the same today as it did back in the 70’s, is the TV Room.

Its always great to read an anecdote from long-time fan and Elvis acquaintance, Sandi Miller. Over the years, she had many a visit to several of Elvis’ homes in Los Angeles, however in this book she reflects on a visit to the house from January 1976, when the house was still elaborately decorated for Christmas. Elvis was keen to offer a tour of the home, and whilst walking through the many rooms,

Sandi noticed several Christmas trees, each with many unopened gifts under each. Elvis explained to her that they were all from fans and when he had the time, he would open a few here and there and have his secretary send out thank-you notes. Elvis mentioned that he couldn’t keep every gift he received and he would often give them to the members of his group, particularly if it was clothing that didn’t fit him. Toys were donated to the hospitals. After Elvis had shown everyone his home, the group ended up in the music room for the rest of the night, where they listened to music and talked and laughed. This was a great room for entertaining with its baby grand piano.

The remainder of the book shows how Graceland looked after Elvis’ untimely death in 1977 and when it was opened to the public 5 years later. Along with photos of how Graceland was decorated for Christmas and some rare shots of Elvis’ cars, motorbikes and horses, we are shown how the Trophy Room used to look, with several items shown that are no longer on display today and are probably tucked away somewhere in storage.

Item such as a replica of Elvis and Priscilla’s wedding cake, several of Elvis’s hats and books, old family photo albums, a bar with a Pepsi machine, tour jackets and a very large display of jumpsuits.

It is interesting to see that Elvis’s jumpsuits (there were 82 on display back then) used to be displayed just hanging there on a wooden rack – only a few covered with plastic, and not even behind any kind of guard rail – my how times have changed!! All jumpsuits on display at Graceland today are in security monitored glass cases.

It is also very interesting to see what is in the racquetball court building that Elvis had built in 1975. On the current tour of Graceland, fans are only able to see the lower level of the building, where there is a small bar, a piano, a pinball machine and some gym equipment. The court itself now houses a display of some of Elvis’s jumpsuits and awards. In this book you will find many photos of how the racquet ball court looked in 1975, not to mention what the upstairs looks like – which is completely sealed off from the public nowadays. On the current tour, as you enter the racquet ball building, if you look up you will notice a balcony. In this book we are shown what is actually on that balcony – 2 very large leather recliner chairs and ottomans and a restroom.

Other rooms upstairs include the large blue tiled shower with gold plated shower heads, the custom line roman bath/spa, gold plated basins and Elvis’ private dressing room with red phone on the wall.

It really is exciting to see these photographs as the upstairs level of the racquetball court (like the upstairs rooms at Graceland) are more than likely never to be opened to the public. One would assume that these rooms remain the way that they appear in these photographs today.

Verdict: Overall, "Inside Graceland" is a must-have, and if you only plan on buying a couple of newly released Elvis books this year, make sure that this is one of them. The paperback book features 110 glossy pages of photos that are of perfect colour and clarity. This glorious collection of never before seen photos is an absolute must for Elvis fans who have always wondered what Graceland looked like when the King lived there. Highly recommended.

Review by Sanja Meegin.
-Copyright EIN March 2008

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Go here for Sanja Meegin's other reviews and articles:

Elvis Week 2007 Exclusive close-up Photos

Elvis Week 2006 - The exclusive Sanja Reports

Elvis jumpsuits and Graceland Close-up

Review of 'Elvis By The Presleys'

Review of 'Behind The Image Vol.2'


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