Interview with Celeste Yarnall:

the beautiful young woman Elvis sang "that song" to in 'Live A Little, Love A Little'

The Celeste Yarnall story is inspiring. She is an amazing woman of many talents who has been very successful in a diverse number of fields. There appears to be nothing Celeste cannot do when she puts her mind to it.

Apart from her initial career as model, spokesperson and actress, Celeste has also managed several talented screenwriters, segued into the commercial real estate business, become a championship Tonkinese cat breeder, run her own successful company, hosted a radio show, produced a "How to" video and regularly appears as a speaker/lecturer.

At a time when many people would be thinking of an easier life Celeste studied for and received her Ph. D in nutrition in 1998 and now serves as adjunct professor of nutrition at the Pacific Western University.

In addition, Celeste has written two best selling books: 'Natural Cat Care: A Complete Guide to Holistic Care for Cats' (Book Sales, 2000, ISBN: 0785811249) and 'Natural Dog Care: A Complete Guide to Holistic Care for Dogs' (Book Sales, 2000, ISBN: 0785811230)

As a model and actress, Celeste was renowned for her beauty and very becoming figure, being named the Foreign Press's Most Photogenic Beauty of the Year at the Cannes Film Festival in 1968. She was also the National Association of Theater Owners Most Promising New Star of 1968.

Celeste currently features as Miss April in Cedco Publishing's popular wall calendar for 2002. The April 2002 issue of 'Femme Fatale' magazine also features a detailed article about Celeste.

Celeste's diverse film credits include

  • 'A New Kind of Love (with Paul Newman,
  • 'Under The Yum Yum Tree (with Jack Lemmon)
  • 'The Nutty Professor' (with Jerry Lewis)
  • cult horror movie 'Eve' (with Christopher Lee)
  • 'Bob and Carol, Ted and Alice'
  • 'The Mechanic' (with Charles Bronson)
  • 'Born Yesterday' (with Melanie Griffith)
  • 'Fatal Beauty' (with Whoopi Goldberg).

On television Celeste's credits include roles in 'Mannix', 'Star Trek', 'Bonanza', 'The Wild, Wild West', 'Bewitched', 'Columbo', 'It Takes A Thief', 'Land of the Giants', 'Hogans Heroes', 'The F.B.I', 'Knots Landing' and 'Melrose Place'.

For Elvis fans Celeste is remembered as Ellen, the beautiful young woman that Elvis romanced with the song 'A Little Less Conversation' to in the film, 'Live A Little, Love A Little'. As we know the track was recently re-mixed by progressive music producer/DJ, Junkie XL and is currently topping charts around the world.

As one of the 'swinging chicks of the 60s', Celeste was not only interviewed by Tom Lisanti for his fascinating book, 'Fantasy Femmes of Sixties Cinema (Interviews with Twenty Actresses from Biker, Beach and Elvis Movies)', but an eye catching photograph of her was also used for the front cover. (EIN reviewed 'Fantasy Femmes of Sixties Cinema' last year and our review is included in the Spotlight on The King section of the site).

Celeste lives and bases her health care practice for cats and dogs in LA and lives in her new home in Westlake Village. Celeste was kind enough to take time out of her busy schedule to talk to EIN. Elvis may have serenaded Celeste with A Little Less Conversation, but it was Celeste who serenaded the interviewer with her own rendition of the song - and yes, Celeste has a very good singing voice!

EIN: Celeste, on behalf of all Elvis fans, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us.

EIN: You have enjoyed an incredibly diverse and interesting career from modeling to acting, to breeder of Tonkinese and Oriental Shorthair cats, great success in academia and holistic animal health care. There is so much for us to cover! I'd like to could start with your film career, it has been eclectic, from screwball comedies to vampire horror, sex farce comedy/dramas. Do you have a favorite genre of film you prefer (eg. comedy, drama etc)?

CY: I really liked doing comedies but in doing any movie I always looked to the character I was going to play.

EIN: Your initial film appearance I believe was as a student in the classic Jerry Lewis comedy, 'The Nutty Professor'. What are your memories of working with such a funny man as Jerry Lewis?

CY: I loved working with Jerry. He was absolutely wonderful and very kind to me. I originally auditioned for only one days work but he liked me so much that he gave me a 'run of the picture' contract. Also in that picture were Stella Stevens and Julie Parrish, both of whom co-starred with Elvis.

EIN: You also co-starred with several other prominent actors with an Elvis connection: Charles Bronson who appeared as Elvis's trainer in 'Kid Galahad' and Robert Wagner - a good friend of Elvis's in the 1950s. Did you ever reminisce about Elvis with your co-stars?

CY: Yes, I have maintained many friendships with many of my co-stars: Pat Priest and Cynthia Pepper, who both were leading ladies with Elvis, are two of my friends. I also see others like Stella, we often catch up with each other at multi-media and fan conventions and on Q&A panels. And sadly, Debby Walley, who I caught up with shortly before she passed away. Debby was working on a book about Elvis, something like 'All the Women Who Kissed Elvis' or 'Kissing Elvis'. A number of us caught up recently at the Elvis Honeymoon Hideaway in Palm Springs. And we do talk about Elvis and the good times we had working with him.

EIN: During your film career you were regarded as one of the top 'Scream Queens' thanks to your appearances in films including 'The Velvet Vampire', 'Eve' and 'The Beast of Blood'. How did you feel about that title?

CY: (Celeste laughs) It wasn't really the direction I wanted my career to go in but like most actors I was really pleased to be working. Like other actors I had a mortgage to pay and kids to raise. I loved working with Roger Corman, he is such a talented man and has left such a good body of work. 'Eve' was a very difficult film to make and so was 'Beast of Blood'. The working conditions in the Philippines were not good. Of course I would have preferred to be filming Jane Eyre or a remake of Wuthering Heights but as an actor you often have to take what is being offered to you. One of the frustrating things about acting is you have so little control over what you do and the finished product.

EIN: Celeste, what is your favorite film you appeared in and why?

CY: I can honestly say working with Elvis was my favorite time. He was such a warm, wonderful, charismatic man. He did not talk about himself but was always interested in what you were doing. I really enjoyed working on films like The Mechanic and Scorpio. Though they were smaller roles it was great to be involved in such good feature films. It was working on 'Eve' that I went blonde for the film. I received many compliments about being blonde that I didn't go back to my natural brunette color for some time.

EIN: Your television credits are amazing. You appeared in so many classic TV shows in the 60s. It must have been a great experience. Can you tell us a little about those times and some of your favorite appearances.

CY: My agent and I are always coming up with new credits. I appeared in so many different shows that it's hard to remember them all. Some of the shows were It Takes A Thief, The Lieutenant, Bonanza, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Land of the Giants and Star Trek.

EIN: One of the programs you appeared in was an episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E: 'The Monks of St. Thomas Affair' (EIN bias: this is one of the interviewer's favorite shows). You have been quoted as saying some very nice things about Robert Vaughn. Like you, he left acting (for a while) and obtained higher university degrees (a Masters degree and Ph. D in Communications). Do you ever see Robert Vaughn or any of your other co-stars these days?

CY: I saw Robert Vaughn a few years ago at a convention in Chicago where his fan club President snapped a photo of us together. Robert is a very professional, very nice gentleman who I really admire. It was great to see him again. Making that episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was one of my favorites. It was a great time and I got along so well with Robert. Claudine Longet, who was married to Andy Williams, was also going for the role.

I have a great story about my appearance on the show. The character I was playing was French so the producers were looking for someone with a really good French accent. Well I can speak French so I practised my accent and went for the part speaking with a strong French accent. My heritage is actually French-Scottish-Welsh. I kept the accent up all the time and they thought I was French. It was only when the donuts came out and I said "I'll have some of those yummy donuts" without any accent that they found out I wasn't French. I remember they said "We thought you were French" and I replied "No, actually I'm American" to which they said "Well, you had us fooled". My punch line was "I guess that means I'm just a damned good actress!"

EIN: You have appeared on film and TV with so many major stars. Who were your favorite stars and why?

CY: Bill Shatner, hands down. I absolutely adore Bill and we've stayed in touch. He is very handsome and charismatic and one of the funniest men alive. If they gave Bill his own talk show like (David) Letterman or (Jay) Leno, he'd blow them away, his quick wit is so good. And Leonard Nimoy is another favorite.

EIN: Did you or do you have a preference between acting on TV or in a film?

CY: Acting on TV is a little bit faster. Acting in a film is more leisurely but at the end of the day I'm grateful to be working. The most terrible day is the last day of a shoot when you know you have to find a new part. My agents were grooming me for feature films and didn't really want me to accept TV parts but the bills have to be paid.

EIN: Celeste, it is almost 25 years since Elvis died. What were you doing when you heard the news and how did it affect you?

CY: I was really crushed. I was driving in my car and the news was so unexpected. I was shocked and saddened. I really feel that Elvis was victimised, pushed to do concert after concert at a time when he was not well. From what I've been told he had an enlarged heart and several other medical conditions.

EIN: In the book 'Fantasy Femmes of Sixties Cinema', you recalled your first scene with Elvis and commented: "I thought I was dreaming. He was exquisitely handsome and looked fabulous. I don't think people knew how incredibly beautiful and absolutely handsome he was - the epitome of the word 'charismatic'." You also revealed the full story behind your first kiss with Elvis. Would you share that experience with us.

CY: You mean the time the director yelled "cut" and we kept kissing. I always thought I was the only one it happened with, but I believe something similar happened with Ann-Margret. I remember we did take after take of this long, passionate kiss - kissing and cut, kissing and cut, kissing and cut (Celeste is laughing as she says this). There were constant retouches of our make-up, Elvis had a much darker shade of foundation than me and it was getting close to lunch, the arc lights were hot and I was getting whisker irritation on my face - I have very sensitive skin. But I was kissing Elvis and I didn't care.

In the end the assistant director said "For God's sake Elvis, let her go so she can get something to eat". There was definitely a powerful attraction between the two of us. I think we were both having so much fun that we deliberately made sure other takes had to be done.

EIN: Did you form any other impressions about Elvis?

CY: He was a darling man, a real sweetheart, a southern gentleman. He really cared about other people. I remember him crying on my shoulder in the trailer during the funeral of Martin Luther King. He felt a real kinship with the black community due to his musical roots coming from black music. He was devastated and greatly saddened by Martin Luther King's death. He also sang Amazing Grace to me in the trailer, acappella. It was also sheer magic watching him jamming on the set.

EIN: What was it like on the set of Live A Little, Love A Little?

CY: It was a lot of fun, a very up movie. I think Elvis enjoyed making the film. He wasn't singing every five minutes and the songs seemed appropriately placed in the story. The original title for the film was 'Kiss My Firm But Pliant Lips' and let me tell you Elvis had great lips!

EIN: Did you ever see Elvis after filming 'Live A Little, Love A Little'?

CY: When we made the film we were both married and Lisa Marie had just been born so that put a damper on things. However, later on I ran into Joey Esposito. We were working on another film, neither of us can remember exactly which one, although I think it could have been a Monkees film. Anyway, I was separated by then and so was Elvis. Joey said to me that Elvis would love to see me again and could Joey give him my number. Elvis was appearing in Vegas at the time. Of course I said yes. I don't know what a panic attack feels like but if ever I had one it was then. I took my Collie puppy out for a walk to think things over. This was in the days when you didn't have an answering machine. When I was out the call came from Joey.

Elvis was going to arrange for his private jet to be sent to pick me up and bring me to him in Vegas. But I was out and never got the call that would have arranged our rendezvous. Joey told me later that they decided I had changed my mind. I've always wondered what if I had been there to take that call. How would things have been different? You may have seen the movie, Sliding Doors, where alternate realities were played out. As it was I reconciled briefly with my husband and my daughter was born. I'm now a grandmother and how can you ever regret something like that. I know one thing for sure, if I had gone to Elvis I would have made sure he ate healthy foods, fresh fruit and steamed vegetables. It would have been a real contest of wills!

EIN: Live A Little, Love A Little was released near the end of Elvis's film career and the reviews weren't particularly positive. Today, many fans and some critics have reassessed it as a pleasant comedy/sex farce. What are your feelings about Live A Little, Love A Little as a film?

CY: I thought it was pretty clever for a movie made in the 60s. The Playboy take-off with the kitty-cat girls rather than Playboy was well done. Both Michelle Carey and I auditioned for the part of Bernice, and looking back on it now I see that her role was quite quirky while mine was a straighter role.

EIN: With the huge success of the re-mixed version of A Little Less Conversation, fans are reinforcing the impact of the song by re-watching Live A Little, Love A Little and commenting very positively on the obvious spark and humor in your role opposite Elvis. In 2002, how does it feel to be, albeit indirectly, a part of the huge success of the re-mixed Elvis track from Live A Little, Love A Little?

CY: As soon as 'Elvis vs JXL' was released in America I went to my local Tower Records outlet and bought 45 copies - that was their entire stock! It is great how well the song is doing in other countries but no-one here seems to know about it.* Even the shop assistant hadn't heard it and I got her to play it in the store and they were all dancing to it. It is a great track. It was a great track in 1968 and I could never understand why it wasn't a big hit. It was originally written for Aretha Franklin by Mac Davis and Billy Strange but they gave it to Elvis when they needed an appropriate song for this important scene in the film. Because of the song, next month I'm going to Britain to appear at the Elvis Experience.

EIN: We understand that the finale of the Elvis Experience involves you being serenaded with 'A Little Less Conversation' by several of Europe's leading Elvis impersonators?

CY: Yes, I only hope they'll let me sing along with them.

EIN: Is there anything else you would like to say about Elvis or the filming of Live A Little, Love A Little?

CY: Elvis was incredibly talented. He was really into the martial arts and was so good at it. He could also have been a professional football player. Watching him throw a spiral was amazing. I still feel I have a strong connection to Elvis. He was a big dog lover as am I and I'm now into Tai Chi as he was into his martial arts. There has been some debate about whether the Great Dane on the set of Live A Little, Love A Little was in fact his. What I do know is that it worshipped him and followed him around everywhere. Another thing about filming the movie was that I learnt to do The Jerk. The choreographer taught me. It was all quite cute, me in my 60s prototype short skirt, ala Austin Powers.

When Elvis and I were filming A Little Less Conversation, Elvis was required to lip sync the song. He hated lip-synching and sang to me over his own vocals. At the end of the recording Elvis went to the sound engineer and got the vinyl recording that he gave to me. The sound engineer protested that he would lose his job but I still have that record today and it is one of my most cherished possessions. I only wish I had got Elvis to sign it.

There's also one horror story I have that happened during filming. I have two back up arrangements to ensure I wake up for early starts. My answering service and alarm. Well I was due in the make-up chair at 4.30am and both systems failed. I was peacefully sleeping when the 2nd Assistant Director called me. Well I put on my make-up in the car, fluffed up my hair and quickly got into my dress when I got to the studio. I made it on time and no-one was any the wiser.

EIN: Your career now appears to be far removed from your days as a model and actor. Do you miss the glitz and glamour of acting?

CY: I look at it this way. I add things in my life. I don't close doors, I just leave them open and follow what comes up. I still act when a part comes along. I completed a film late last year with Priscilla Barnes (from Three's company). It's called 'Sometimes What You Want' and we're hoping it will do well when released soon. I am no longer active in commercial real estate but I still have my licence. I'm always keeping the doors open.

EIN: Do you have any plans to publish more books?

CY: I'm talking to my publisher, Charles E. Tuttle, at the moment regarding my two books, Natural Cat Care and Natural Dog Care. There may well be others. I've often thought about writing a book on Natural Health Care for Humans and maybe even my autobiography. I feel something coming, I'm just not sure what.

EIN: You obviously derive a great amount of satisfaction out of your current work in the nutrition field and applying this to the holistic care of cats and dogs. Can you tell us a little about your work.

CY: I run my holistic pet care practice here in LA with my business partner, Imelda (Lopez-Casper), and I'm into homeopathy, which I think is big in Australia too. I also practice alternative healing methods and I am involved with non-verbal communication. I also still have my adjunct professorial role at the Pacific Western University.

EIN: Celeste, your talents appear to be limitless: model, actress, business owner, best selling author, health care expert, professor of nutrition to name just a few. What does the future hold for Celeste Yarnall? Are there any more challenges you want to conquer?

CY: Playing the Harp! I bought a pedal Harp, a Lyon & Healy CG85, and I am learning to play it using the Grandjany method. It is a big challenge - it's very difficult to play. I'm training with Tony Robinson Bogart who was Johnny Mathis's harpist and who also played it in the Phantom of the Opera. I love Celtic music. Elvis loved the harp too and had one in his orchestra. Learning to play it myself is another way I'm keeping alive my connection to Elvis.

EIN: Celeste, it has been a great pleasure talking to you. Our sincere thanks again for taking the time to speak with us and we wish you continued great success with your inspiring endeavours in the future.

Celeste also has her own very informative web site: www.celesteyarnall.com.

A second web site: www.celestialpets.com is devoted to Celeste's great interest and expertise in holistic healthcare regimen for cats and dogs.

You can also contact Celeste's Yahoo group at: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/TheOfficial_CelesteYarnal_FanClub

* EIN Note: Elvis vs JXL was the biggest selling single in the US last week and debuted in the Billboard Hot 100 at #50 (the Hot 100 being based on both sales and airplay).

Celeste Yarnall was interviewed by Nigel Patterson, President, Elvis Information Network by telephone on July 2, 2002.

EIN, 2002.

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