You could mistake it for any small American town the morning after the night the circus arrived. Carnival booths, shooting galleries and popcorn stands face each other across a dusty road littered with empty paper bags. It looks seedy enough to be the real thing until you gaze down the road where bored property men are adding another house to the film set's mock town.
But there is no mistaking the young man slumped in a canvas chair, halfway down the road, staring aimlessly ahead.
He is wearing blue jeans, blue shirt, short blue jacket and black boots.
His face is made up in a light even tan and his hair has been dyed jet black.
The make-up people have done a good job on him, though they have done nothing about the rosebud mouth, strangely small and almost feminine.
Pop idols have come and gone over the past eight years but that mouth still has a hypnotic magic for millions of girls around the world.
So has the name.
He sits there bored, resigned to the film-making waiting game, while pretty starlets swivel by.
They are just about to shoot Roustabout, Presley's 16th film, for producer Hal Wallis who discovered him for the screen.
At that time, Hollywood dismissed Presley as a fluke. But the fluke minted enough money - a reputed £5,000,000 - to make them eat their words with their cocktail olives.
"Never", producer Hal Wallis (right) insisted, "not for one moment, have I thought of Elvis as a freak. I am reminded of this when I am asked why it is I have not gone after the Beatles the way I went after Elvis.
"My answer is that I have no use for them. I doubt that they can last more than a couple of pictures.
I don't want to be unkind and call them a flash-in-the-pan, but they are no match for Elvis, the unknown Elvis of 1956.
Not that I haven't had a good look at them. I have. And I found them wanting. They have no sound, no rhythm. I wouldn't touch them. It's as simple as that."
After talking to the star-maker, I moved over to the star. What did he think of the Beatles who deposed him from the Top Ten and the jukeboxes? There were many questions to put to him. Why for instance, had he never visited Britain, where a personal appearance might win back fans from the new boys?
I said: You haven't appeared in a live show at all in the past few years. Why are you hiding from the world?
Presley replied: "I haven't been hiding, There is no deliberate attempt to keep me out of the public eye.
I know people have said the Colonel (Colonel Tom Parker, the mastermind behind Presley's career) has some sort of strategy about my exposure to the public. It isn't that at all.
But we do have a programme which calls for three pictures in a year and that is a lot of pictures. It doesn't leave one with much time in between.
Q: You rest up? Even if you realise that your insistence on staying out of the public eye may cost you some of your popularity?
Elvis: I wouldn't say that. But the Colonel says I cannot go to one country without offending people in another country, and I guess he is right. Somebody will always be unhappy.
But it's different with movies. They go everywhere. Yet, don't think I wouldn't love to go to England, for instance, and make a couple of appearances there.
I've been thinking of that for some time, and I'm as close to going as I was a couple of years ago.
Q: You make it all sound so difficult, but is it really? I’m sure the people in Germany, for instance, wouldn’t mind if this year you visit England only.
Elvis: This is not the way the Colonel sees it. And I trust the Colonel.
Q: In the meantime, the Beatles have taken over. People have said that, in a sense, you, or the absence of you, are responsible for their emergence and their fabulous success.
Elvis: As for the Beatles, all I can say is so much more power to them. They’ve appeared on three Ed Sullivan shows in this country and I watched the all.
Q: What did you think of them?
Elvis: You can’t ask me to tell you what I really feel about them. I don’t think I should. I don’t think it would be fair to fellow entertainers.
Remember, I am a lucky guy myself. I’ve never forgotten that. It’s too vivid in my memory. I’ll say that the Beatles have got what it takes, and in great abundance that they have been given a heck of a vote of confidence. I’m sorry, but I have to be diplomatic.
Q: You don’t sound envious, but as you watch the teenage audiences scream, it must have brought back memories… Wasn’t it more or less the same to you?
Elvis: More or less. But let me add, I sure wish them luck.
Q: A lot of what you say implies that money is of no importance to you?
Elvis: I’m not implying anything. I am most grateful for my good fortune. But I am a man of simple tastes. I don’t need the money for myself. For a while, I was like a kid with a new toy, but it was never my goal and never will be.
Money can never buy everything your heart desires. It won't buy love, or health or true happiness. And even sometimes when you give it away, you don't get the thanks you're entitled to.
Presley, the ex-truck driver from Mississippi, is now the master of a mansion outside Memphis, Tennessee, which he calls home, and a villa outside Hollywood he regards as his working quarters.
Once a film is finished, he drives 2,000 miles back to Memphis with the private army he calls "my guys" (cousin Billy Smith, aide Joe Esposito, transport boss Allan Fortas, pals Jim Kingsley and Richard Davis)
Elvis is at the wheel every inch of the way, "These are the happiest days of my life," he said.
This seemed an apt moment to ask about the other side of his life which has been kept so secret.
I said I hoped he would be as outspoken as he had earlier, Presley said he didn't as a rule discuss his private life.
I told him; "I see you as a red-blooded young man with normal instincts. I refuse to accept the theory that you spend your time with your guys or timidly taking girls out on dates that end with a shy kiss on the doorstep."
Presley replied, "I'll admit something to you. But without going into details. Let me say that I've led quite a fast life, really, and that I'm as red-blooded as the next guy.
The difference between me and the other guy is that I hate to publicise it. I've been in love, but it's not true that I am secretly married or that I am secretly engaged, I have no permanent attachments and you can take my word for it."
There have been many rumours that Presley was engaged to Priscilla Beaulieu, the pretty 19-year-old daughter of an American Air Force captain he met while in the Army in Germany.
Last year, Priscilla took up an offer from Presley's father to live with the family at Memphis because her father was still in Germany. Presley's public promptly assumed she was engaged to Elvis.
Elvis: I know what people are saying. I knew that people would say it even before Priscilla came to stay with us. I had to make a decision and I made it. All I can say is that Priscilla is a great girl and I like her very much.
You never know what the future holds. All I can say is to repeat that I am not secretly married or secretly engaged.
Q: According to Ann-Margret (his co-star in Viva Las Vegas) you were or are engaged to her. This is not true either?
Elvis: The papers quoted her as saying it, but later she told me how it happened. They asked if it were true she was in love with me. Well, she was in love with me and she didn't want to lie about it. So she told them. And that's how it happened.
Q: And she told you all this?
Elvis: Yes. Because she felt she owed me an explanation. She is an honest girl, a good girl and she told the truth. I have great respect for her.
Q: Would that mean that all is over between you two?
Elvis: I haven't seen her in a while, but that is because she has been working in a movie. But that's all. I like her very much. I guess I have now told you more about my private life than I've told anybody. You can't expect more than that.
The main point I want to make is that I am not ready for marriage. I mean it sincerely and I feel very strongly about it.
Of course, people don't believe this is so and think I am playing games, but it is a deep conviction with me.
There are a great many, things want to do and I have to do them all first, and it may take a long time.
Meanwhile, I intend to stay the way I am and lead the life the way I lead it now.
I like my present ways and there is no reason in the world to change anything.
I believe I have matured since I first came to Hollywood. You see it reflected in my pictures. The dialogue is more mature because I am ready for it.
You asked me how far is the Colonel "the boss"?
I have left it to the Colonel to guide my career and I trust him because he knows his business like nobody else. But I draw my own conclusions and make my own decisions.
Which includes anything from picking the songs for my new film, to cutting a new record, to falling in love....
Q: It still leaves the Colonel with a heavy load of responsibilities doesn't it!
Elvis: You bet it does...
Presley smiled as he said that. Across the Paramount studios, in an office, cluttered with Presley posters and records, the legend behind the legend is talking on the telephone to a film magnate.
|Colonel (a title he claims was conferred on him by several State governors) Tom Parker's voice is as sweet as honey.
"If you don't want us." purrs the Colonel. "you wouldn't call us. You know what's good for the public and so do we, so we are in full agreement, aren't we?"
"Nobody has yet lost any money on a Presley picture and you're much to good a man to be the first . . . Now 1965 and 1966 are filled but if you want a word of advice, take spot No.1 in 1967 for 750,000 dollars (nearly £270,000) and I tell you, sir, you will never regret it."
Nothing can bother Elvis Presley while Colonel is taking care of things in the background. Tough-talking producers, hard-dealing impresarios, the Colonel looks after that side of the business.
Girls, Presley can handle.
And as for the new popliners who are challenging him. . Well, Presley has 51 Gold Discs to show he was king for eight years and could well be again.
"The Beatles?" asks Presley "Do they bother me?" Of course not. They are entertainers like myself and I guess they are as dedicated as the rest of us. In the long run, this is all that matters."
Mr. Elvis Presley is of course, entitled to his own opinions.
Interview by Walter Rainbird – from the WEEKEND magazine June 10, 1964.
Interviews & images compiled by Piers beagley
-Copyright June 2013
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