Interview: David Stanley

David Edward Stanley is the youngest of Elvis' three stepbrothers who came to live in Graceland in 1960.

David is a renowned public speaker and motivator whose Solutionary Dynamics programs has helped many people improve their lives.

As an author David has written four books about his life with Elvis:
  • Elvis We Love You Tender
  • Life With Elvis
  • Raised On Rock
  • The Elvis Encyclopedia.

With news of David's first feature film, The Headhunter, EIN caught up with him again to discuss the film and Elvis. As always, David Stanley speaks openly and enthusiastically about his life and projects.

In this interview he shares more about his life with Elvis and gives us some insights into what to expect from The Headhunter, including describing powerful scenes from the film.

Hi David, fantastic to talk with you again. Since we last talked it has been a very busy time for you and we expect a very exciting time with the announcement of your first feature film The Headhunter.

EIN: David, how did the idea for The Headhunter come about?

DS: I love movies. Elvis loved movies. I grew up on films. I fell asleep so many times at the Malco Theater in Memphis. So I've always had a fascination with the movies. I've had the idea for a film for about 20 years, and about one-and-a-half years ago I crystallized my concept for what would be a very interesting film - a boy at high school one day, bodyguard to the world's biggest superstar the next!

In fact I have ideas for three films: The Headhunter, Restoring My Father's Honor, and Predator in The Pulpit. The Headhunter is the first of the three to be filmed.

(EIN note: synopses of David's other planned films appear at the end of this interview)

EIN: Please tell us about the storyline to The Headhunter?

DS: First of all I must stress The Headhunter is not a film about Elvis Presley. It is the story about David Stanley and his relationship with Elvis Presley. It is very much about David Stanley on and off the road with Elvis….the end of innocence. I became the youngest bodyguard in rock and roll history to its biggest star. I had to protect Elvis against everything. The only thing I couldn't protect him against was himself.

The film covers the period 1972 to 1977, the years that I worked for Elvis.

1972 was such a big year. As a 16-year-old I started working for Elvis in June that year. I was there for the Madison Square Garden concerts, Vegas and then in 1973 what is probably the most famous concert in history, Aloha From Hawaii.

EIN: David, it is interesting that you have chosen the 1972-1977 period as the focus for most of The Headhunter. It is a period most filmmakers avoid, as it was the time of Elvis' decline.

DS: That's a good point. I chose that period because it is the time that I worked for Elvis. You know, those few years were certainly when Elvis' personal problems took over his life. It was a personal decline, not a professional decline. Medications took on a big role in his life and it is something I reflect on…that I was Elvis' bodyguard but I couldn't save him from himself.

The Headhunter gives me the opportunity to tell the world about the Elvis I knew and loved.

EIN: While the film is your story and not a story about Elvis Presley, obviously your life's course has been instrumentally affected and directed by Elvis' influence. It must therefore be difficult to maintain an effective balance between the two issues. What would you say to this observation and on a related issue, how will The Headhunter be different from other films with an Elvis theme?

DS: As I said before, The Headhunter is really the David Stanley story. While we will show Elvis going on and coming off stage there won't be scenes of him performing on stage. There won't be any Elvis music. It is the relationship we want to emphasise. It's a bit like watching the Titanic. We know the story of the ship, but until the movie we didn't know the Jack and Rose story. Similarly we know the Elvis Presley story but the Elvis and David Stanley story is not well known.
It's a true story about what it was like for me at the age of sixteen to be plunged into the surrealistic, self-destructive world of an international icon. An icon who was also my big brother, surrogate father, mentor and friend. As it is about the David Stanley story, it will be quite different other films involving Elvis.

EIN: What else can you tell us about The Headhunter?

DS: There will be many powerful scenes in the film. The opening scene takes place in 1960 at the dinner table in Graceland. Four lawyers are there and my father, Sergeant William Stanley, is being asked to sign papers.

"If you ever want to see your boys again you'll sign it."

He pauses and says "You've taken everything else but you can't take that!"

The small face of four-year-old David Stanley is seen looking out a window as Elvis arrives in his Army uniform.

My biological father, who had fought Hitler and served in the Korean War, had just lost a battle. His loss would be my gain!

We then use a morphed scene to convey meaning: The first time Elvis sees me he comments, "Man he's a big one".

After he picks me up I rub the soldier's stripes on his uniform and look up. I see my father who says "Son, this is one battle I didn't win".

I look at him again and this time it's Elvis that I see.

One of my other planned films, Restoring My Father's Honor, is about my biological father and the hurt that was done to him. But you know, at Graceland, Elvis was more of a father to me than Vernon was.

In The Headhunter, the first 12 years of my life will be covered real fast, using a narration format.

EIN: How did you come to get the nickname, The Headhunter?

DS: Elvis gave it to me. One day during a karate workout someone commented to Elvis about me. Elvis replied that I was his youngest brother, David Stanley, calling me "the Headhunter". The name stuck.

EIN: The film is currently in pre-production. When is filming likely to commence?

DS: Yes we are in pre-production right now. In fact we finished the script last week. I wrote it with two very experienced scriptwriters, Marty Poole and Dean Daniels. It took us a year to do, with revision after revision, but we now have an advanced draft. We expect to start rolling the cameras in late fall, late November or early December, mid-January at the latest.

EIN: Have any casting decisions been made yet? In particular, many fans will be very interested in who might play the part of Elvis.

DS: We have a shortlist of actors who we'd like to play my character and also a shortlist for the character named Katie.

Because the role of Elvis Presley will not be a feature part of the film we are yet to consider casting choices for "Elvis". We are not looking for a 'high collar, sideburn, on stage' image or impersonator. There was only one Elvis Presley and we can't duplicate him.

The challenge is to find someone who is a really good communicator, someone with a powerful on stage presence. So I'm really holding off on that casting process. In all likelihood it will not be a huge star like Johnny Depp or Nic Cage.

EIN: Will you be appearing in the film?

DS: Maybe a cameo, I'm not sure at this stage. I might just appear in a walk by situation.

EIN: Like the Hitchcock device.

DS: (laughs) yes, it could be like that.

EIN: Is The Headhunter your first experience with filmmaking?

DS: It's my first experience with the movie process. I've worked on several documentaries in the past including Legacy of the Legend released in 1994 and another one with Lamar Fike. As part of my college studies I completed a minor in film production so I have a relevant background.

EIN: How are you finding it?

DS: It is very exciting. I'm directing the film because I know the story well and as a speaker and motivator I think I can pull out the best in the characters. I have a strong vision of what is needed. I want to capture the "look", the "feel", the "dress", the "language", the "lighting", the "mood". The challenge is up to me. It's a big responsibility but I've never been afraid of taking responsibility. And our investors believe in me.

I am surrounding myself with some of the best in the business, a seasoned line director, a highly regarded director of photography. And when you get together with these top people and have a strong sense of vision and purpose, all this magic happens. The 'key' to The Headhunter's success will be our ability to work within its $5m budget.

EIN: David, on the matter of money, how is the Headhunter being financed?

DS: The film is a totally independent undertaking, both its production and financing. As I said we have secured a budget of $5m. Our backers have been very positive about the premise of The Headhunter. They like that it is not just another film about Elvis. They like that it is a human interest story.

EIN: When can we expect to see The Headhunter released?

DS: The Headhunter should be released in late fall 2005.

EIN: Is the Impello Films website the best way for fans to keep up-to-date on the film's progress?

DS: Yes it's a great place for information. It's a great site developed by an associate from Dellaplaine Creative. You can subscribe to our monthly newsletter on the site. It will keep you updated as the film develops. In the next week or so we will be adding some major news about how The Headhunter is progressing.

EIN: David, you are scheduled to appear on Larry King Live on August 16. Given the significance of that date what can viewers expect from your appearance on the show?

DS: I filmed the Larry King segment last week. My brother Ricky, Joe Esposito and Barbara Eden were also part of the interview. Larry King is a friend. I did a similar segment on his show last year and he asked if I'd do another one again this year. He is a big Elvis fan…he's fascinated about Elvis' continued impact on the world. The segment is really a group of friends "hanging out" talking about Elvis. It's a bit like "Hey, do you remember you remember this and that…". It's a celebration of Elvis' life.

EIN: Do you have any other promotional appearances planned in the coming months?

DS: I don't have anything planned at this point in time. I imagine that I'll be asked to do some media interviews next week during Elvis Week. We'll be doing a promo for the film next year.

EIN: David, Solutionary Dynamics. I know from responses to our earlier interview with you that there was a lot of interest in your motivational program. What is its future now that you are involved with Impello Films Inc and The Headhunter?

DS: I still do Solutionary Dynamics. About six times a year I address a group of people in LA and the results are amazing. I love speaking and I really like helping people. However, because of my work with The Headhunter I haven't been able to produce a DVD edition of the Solutionary Dynamics program, nor write a book version. They are simply "on hold" at the moment.

Both the DVD and book will come out at sometime in the future.

The reality is that I am now practicing what I'm teaching others. Making The Headhunter is fulfilling my dream of bringing my story with Elvis to film. I'm applying my Solutionary Dynamics principles, rather than just talking about them.

EIN: Have you had an opportunity to watch the new deluxe DVD releases '68 Comeback Special and Aloha From Hawaii? And if yes, what memories did they bring back?

DS: I have watched Aloha. It's a great release and brings back many positive memories. It was such a monumental concert, a piece of history that will remain with us for the rest of our lives. And obviously I love that concert because I was actually there!

I had my sons over the other week, one's 18 years and about to go to uni in Waco, while the other one's 21 years. I remember my 18 year-old saying "I'm going to college". I pointed to this cool footage of me as walking beside Elvis' jeep in Aloha and said "That's what I was doing at your age". It's so surreal yet so real.

EIN: If Elvis was alive today what would he be doing?

DS: You know I remember Joe Esposito answering this question. Joe said if Elvis was alive today he'd probably be directing films. I agree with Joe.

EIN: David, a personal question. I was just wondering if you ever reflect on how your life might have been had you not become youngest brother to Elvis? What would David Stanley possibly be doing now had his life been different?

DS: That's a hard question. You know my biological father was a strong disciplinarian. As an Army man he fought in Normandy and Korea. He was a 19-years career soldier. I think I probably would have finished school and joined the service rather than getting into entertainment. My Dad also liked training dogs and hospital administration so you never know. However my mind was so shaped by being around Elvis.

EIN: In your books about growing up around Elvis you have been very candid about the highs and lows in your life. How do you view the bad times today?

DS: I think I told you this last time we spoke, but writing Raised On Rock was a cathartic experience for me. I was able to reveal the grand façade of how my life had become. Like Elvis there was no accountability and in the end it took his life. I was lucky I was able to reverse my self-destructive path.

I really want to stress here that while there was a negative ideology of being with Elvis, I in no way blame Elvis. He was, and still is a great man. We are what we are brought up to be and how conditions unfold around us. Each of us has our strengths and weaknesses.

Elvis gave and gave and didn't take care of himself. I did the same thing for a long time. How I lived my life was not Elvis' fault. I had choices and for a while I chose the wrong ones.

I wouldn't trade my days with Elvis for anything. Today, I look back smiling at the many, many good times, and knowing that despite the negative times I learned from my experience. Like Elvis I spiraled into a cycle of sex and drugs. It caused me to have an affair, it destroyed my marriage. But my experience helped shape who I am today.

I hope I will be seen as an accomplished filmmaker, an accomplished speaker and author. And at the end of the day I can look back and say I'll always be Elvis Presley's brother. That could be a good inscription for my tombstone.

EIN: Is there anything you would change about your life?

DS: I wouldn't swap my life for anything. If I could do it over again I might do it a little differently but those years growing up around and working for Elvis were wonderful, exciting times.

EIN: David, I've asked you this before, but why is Elvis so revered?

DS: I think my brother Ricky got it right. He once said "Elvis personified cool". That's as good an answer as any.

David, as always, it has been a great pleasure talking with you. Like many fans, we at EIN look forward to the release of The Headhunter and hopefully we can talk to you again around that time.

David Stanley was interviewed by Nigel Patterson on 5 August (Texas time)

Visit the Impello Films website

Read EIN's interview with David in 2003

About David Stanley's other planned films

Restoring My Father's Honor: Restoring My Father's Honor is the true and untold story of Sgt. William J. Stanley, a combat veteran who survived the bloody beaches of Omaha, the carnage of the Battle of the Bulge and the Chinese intervention of the Korean War. It is the story of a man who earned the Purple Heart, Bronze Star and Croix de Guerre for his heroic actions in combat. The story of a man who knew victory in battle, only to be felled by the weapons of power, money, greed and fame.

Predator in The Pulpit: Predator In The Pulpit is the intriguing story of a former rock and roller turned to a powerful evangelist whose story and presence dominates the evangelical platforms of the 1980's. Trained by the best, he rises to the top of the evangelical world only to discover that there are more lies, deceit and greed in his world of evangelism than he ever knew in the world of his rock and roll past.

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