Interview conducted by Nigel Patterson. Copyright EIN: May 2010
Introduction: In Elvis circles the name Paul Lichter is one few fans have not heard of.
Many will have bought one of his numerous Elvis books such as the massive multi-million copy sellers The Boy Who Dared To Rock and Elvis In Hollywood, or some of his highly sought after deluxe coffee table releases such as Elvis Memories A Love Story or EP In Concert, while some will have bought items from his three decades old mail order/online organisation, Elvis Unique.
In fact, Paul is one of the world's biggest selling authors of Elvis books (if not the biggest), with millions of copies of his titles having been published.
As one of the world's biggest Elvis collectors, Paul has amassed a staggering inventory of Elvis items, with Elvis Unique specialising in vinyl, CD and book releases from countries all around the world.
In addition, throughout his colorful life, Paul has also been a rock concert promoter and manager of the legendary 60's groups The Soul Survivors and the Vanilla Fudge.
Elvis with Paul Lichter
5 lucky EIN readers will win a numbered, autographed copy of 'Viva Elvis - Viva Ann-Margret - Viva Las Vegas' courtesy of Paul Lichter, Joe Tunzi and Tristan Lichter! Paul has told EIN:
"I've spoken to Tristan and Joe and we would like you to have a contest for visitors to your site. The three of us will autograph 5 copies of the book (see book cover below) and these will be the only 5 copies ever signed by all 3 of us. We will number these books 001-005 so that your lucky winners will receive a real collectible."
EIN: Paul, we have been trying to get you to sit down for an interview ever since the news first broke about your new book, Paul Lichter Presents Elvis In Vegas which everyone in the Elvis world has been waiting for and now you surprise us with Viva Elvis - Viva Ann-Margret - Viva Las Vegas. It's even more exciting when two of the most prolific Elvis authors join forces. How did this all come about?
PL: It is really a shame that the news concerning my book Paul Lichter Presents Elvis In Vegas was leaked prematurely by a gentleman that I trusted and spoke with via phone off the record. I'm sure he meant no harm when he dropped the news about the book on the Internet. I had actually been working with Joe on our book prior to signing my contract with my publisher in New York. Both Joe's and my hectic schedule postponed the release of Viva Las Vegas for years.
EIN: Please tell us how the project came about and is this something you and Joe have been planning for a long time?
PL: Joe Tunzi and I have been close personal friends since 1970 the year I started the Elvis Unique Record Club. Those familiar with my history will recall that the first national publicity for the Elvis Unique Record Club was an ad in Rolling Stone magazine. In the first week after the magazine came out 1,100 people joined the record club. One of the first envelopes we opened was from Joe Tunzi. After that Joe contacted me via phone and mail quite often. His thirst for everything Elvis and his knowledge of Elvis was insatiable even then.
In 1972 when I went to Chicago for the Elvis shows Joe helped me distribute over 50,000 publicity folders for the Elvis Unique Record Club to fans as they approached the arena. In 1975 when my first book, Elvis In Hollywood, was published by Simon & Shuster, I embarked on a promotional tour across the United States doing newspaper, radio and TV non-stop. I was in Chicago for a long day of media events including an appearance on the Roy Leonard Show. After the taping, as I exited the studio, there was Joe with coffee and donuts.
EIN: I had no idea you and Joe have known each other for so long and it has taken the two of you all this time for collaborate on a book. I would have thought you two would have realized what a great thing it would have been for all Elvis fans.
PL: You know it’s funny but when someone meets Joe Tunzi for the first time they often go away with the impression, “is that guy for real? Nobody can be that nice.” I’m here to tell you that Joe is that nice. Joe Tunzi is the real deal. Joe has told me many times how much he loved Elvis In Hollywood and my second book, The Boy Who Dared To Rock and how he can remember looking into the book store’s window and seeing Elvis books there and how much he appreciated Elvis books written by a true and dedicated fan. He’s often told me that I am the best and how much I’ve inspired him. That is one of the greatest compliments I’ve ever received because if my work influenced Joe in any way to create JAT Publishing and to produce the finest Elvis books on a consistent basis for all these years I’m very proud.
EIN: So what took you guys so long to work together?
PL: In 1997 Joe and I first discussed doing a book together. At the time I was leaving Memphis for Europe to promote my latest book, EP In Concert, and the first televised rock and roll memorabilia auction, Elvis Is Back Via Satellite, and Joe was equally busy with his many projects.
We both were happily married. Joe to Doreen and me to Betty and had children to raise. Joe’s daughter, Kristina, has grown up to be a fine young lady and a leader in rock and roll and music promotion. My son, Tristan-Elvis, is an athlete who won state championships in Tae Kwon Do in Pennsylvania and Arizona before moving on to ice hockey. He was a star player whose team traveled internationally and it was Betty and my great pleasure to be able to have the time to go on the road for the many years Tristan played the game. On the day Tristan was born Colonel Parker told me that I needed someone to carry on and not to miss a moment. I listened to him and you know something? You could learn more in 4 minutes by listening to The Colonel than you could learn in 4 years at a university.
In 2002 Joe and I made up our minds to do a book on the great Elvis and Ann-Margret film Viva Las Vegas. We both agreed that other than Elvis’ first 6 or 7 movies and the two concert documentaries “Viva” was the one film that deserved a book. George Sidney, the director, captured the colors and feel of Las Vegas and his two stars sang up a storm never failing to ignite the screen with a smoldering sexuality that has never been captured as well especially in a family movie that, of course, featured no nudity. By 2005 I felt the book was done and ready to go. Joe and I had different graphic designers lay out the book and although they did a good job we both felt that the design failed to capture the vitality and excitement of the film.
The book was put on the back burner while Joe worked on his Recording Sessions book, which as you all know, was a monumental task. In the meantime this past December Tristan graduated from Arizona State University with a degree in Graphic Information Technology/Graphic Design. Joe saw some of the work that Tristan is doing for my New York publisher on Paul Lichter Presents Elvis In Vegas and called me. Joe was very excited and said, “Paul, this is it, just what we’ve been looking for. Let’s have Tristan do our Viva Las Vegas book. His ideas are fresh and it’s time for some young blood.” I agreed with him and we decided to give Tristan a free hand and boy has he made us proud.
There are subtle and extraordinary design elements throughout “Viva Elvis – Viva Ann-Margret – Viva Las Vegas”. The great photos jump off the pages. The full-color treatment captures both the look and feel of George Sidney’s original concept. The text is wonderful and the hundreds of unreleased or rarely seen photographs make this book one that every Elvis fan will enjoy and treasure.
PL: It was very exciting to be able to create with Joe and Tristan. It worked because we all left our egos at the door. Joe described our approach as John, Paul and George in the studio working together on the songs for a new album. That the songs may be great individually but they have to work as a whole to create an epic album. I feel that we accomplished what we set out to do. Viva Las Vegas is an epic book.
EIN: Great! I know many fans are really looking forward to it. What was it like for the three of you to work together and can we expect any more books from your new team?
As for any future projects that we may do together that will be up to the fans. If they want it and they ask for it I’m sure we’ll do it. Working with Joe and Tristan has been great fun.
EIN: Paul, you were very friendly with the Colonel. Please tell us about that friendship.
PL: Colonel Parker always had Elvis' best interests at heart. So, understandably, he wasn't pleased when I started Paul Lichter's Elvis Headquarters Unique Record Club in 1970. At the time I was young, naive and didn't have legal representation. The Colonel had Roger Davies, Elvis' representative at the William Morris Agency, contact me by letter requesting that I remove "Headquarters" from the title of my company because it gave the impression that Elvis or his representatives owned the company. I did as the asked.
I originally met The Colonel for the first time briefly when I met Elvis in his dressing room during the Burbank 1968 TV Special filming. By 1969 I had become good friends with Al Dvorin, Elvis' legendary announcer who coined the phrase "Ladies and Gentlemen - Elvis Has Left The Building". Al had worked with The Colonel since the 1940's holding many jobs and, unknown to me at the time, Al had spoken to The Colonel about my many activities and The Colonel had told Al that if he wasn't on the inside and was on the outside he'd be Paul Lichter. A great compliment from a great man.
During Elvis early 70's tour stops I would hire temporary help from a company known as Manpower who provided me with 6-12 people who I would give white newspaper boy canvas bags filled with publicity pamphlets for the Elvis Unique Record Club. Their job was to give these publicity folders out to fans as the approached the concert hall. I made sure that there would be a beautiful photo of Elvis on the front and back of the booklet and my employees simply had to shout, "Free pictures of The King." I'll tell you this, no one threw them away.
My actions didn't go unnoticed by the crafty Colonel. Once again I heard from Mr. Davies telling me that The Colonel was losing $10,000 at every concert because the fans weren't buying The Colonel's official Elvis photo for $1.00 I responded by telling The Colonel that I had figured out a way to save him $90,000. If Elvis was doing a ten city tour and I was costing him $10,000 at each stop that totaled $100,000 in lost revenue. I suggested that The Colonel send me a check for $10,000 and I'd stay home and we'd both win.
There were many similar battles but by 1974 The Colonel was looking upon my efforts with benign neglect even allowing my crew access to the arena an hour or two early to place our publicity folders on the seats. The Colonel told me that way the fans would buy his Elvis photos on the way in and not see my photo publicity folder until after they were in the arena saving him the $10,000 I asked for and the $90,000 he would have lost.
EIN: And your relationship with the Colonel after Elvis' death?
PL: After Elvis' passing The Colonel and I maintained a close friendship. He would advise me on ideas for some of my books and how to promote them. Both he and Loanne, Uncle Colonel and Aunt Loanne to my son Tristan, were wonderful to Betty, Tristan and I. We corresponded often via letter and phone and, of course, we would go out to dinner or lunch when we were in Vegas.
Courtesy of The Paul Lichter Elvis Photo Archives
Many are not aware that The Colonel was a special consultant to the Hilton's who through birthday parties for The Colonel at the hotel. They were often star-studded affairs with many of The Colonel's celebrity friends and associates not only from his time with Elvis but his entire Wonderful World Of Show Business experience. Colonel Parker always made sure that Gladys Presley's grave would be covered with flowers every Mother's Day just as Elvis had done when he was alive. The Colonel always lived up to his motto of "Elvis and The Colonel" even though Elvis was now physically gone.
Colonel Parker was offered millions to write a book buy he rejected these offers telling me that there wasn't enough money in the world for him to write dirty things about his boy.
When The Colonel passed away Jerry Shilling and Joe Esposito immediately flew to Las Vegas to help Loanne through this terrible time of grief. His funeral was held in a private banquet room at the Hilton. The marque read, "Farewell To The Colonel". Betty, Tristan and I were invited and, in fact, Tristan and I were honorary Pallbearers. From Eddy Arnold to Priscilla Presley, from Jerry Weintraub to Steve Wynn and the many others who took turns at the podium remembering this wonderful man. It was both a reflection and an honor to have been a part of this great man's life. Throughout the memorial Elvis gospel music filled the room.
Colonel Parker was the smartest man I've ever known but even more importantly he was the most honest, caring and compassionate individual I've ever had the pleasure to call friend.
EIN: Paul, your online and mail order organistation, Elvis Unique, is one of the world’s longest existing Elvis outlets. Tell us a little about it and what you offer.
PL: Paul Lichter's Elvis Unique Record Club started in 1970 with a 2 inch ad in Rolling Stone magazine offering our catalogue for $2.00 deductible from the first order. The ad read simply, "Elvis Loves You - Become a member of the only club in the world to feature a complete record discography and all Elvis memorabilia. Within a week of the magazine hitting the news stands 900 people sent $2.00 and the Elvis Unique Record Club was born.
EIN: Many fans don’t realise the enormity of your Elvis archives. Please tell us about your collection.
PL: I'm the luckiest man in the world. I've been able to earn my living from doing something that I love. While most fans have to be content with trying to find that next Elvis item for their collection I have the opportunity to buy rare Elvis collectibles in quantities from 1-1,000 over and over again. My inventory is all my personal collection until someone buys it.
When I started the Elvis Unique Record Club I didn't suspect that I could make a living selling Elvis records. I only hoped to be in contact with other Elvis record collectors who could help me complete my collection. It just grew from there. When I was doing research for my book Elvis In Hollywood MGM Studios was in the process of opening up their hotel in Las Vegas and were liquidating their archives so I had the opportunity to purchase all of their Elvis movie memorabilia. I soon owned every Elvis lobby card, press book and one-sheet, half-sheet, three-sheet, six-sheet and 24-sheet billboard posters in quantity. As time went on I acquired all of the 1956 Elvis Presley Enterprises memorabilia and virtually anything and everything from Elvis' lifetime.
When I created the Memphis Flash magazine and Elvis In Hollywood I realized that what the fans wanted most were pictures of Elvis. Today Paul Lichter's Elvis Photo Archives has over 40,000 negatives, positives, transparencies and photographs.
When I was a kid my wife Betty lived across the street from me. She knew, of course, about my love for Elvis and would jokingly ask me if I had the opportunity would I rather meet Ann-Margret or Elvis. Now, all these years later, I married her, met Elvis and have just completed a book on Elvis and Ann-Margret.
The Elvis world has some of the most wonderful people and I am grateful to all of Elvis' wonderful fans who have supported Elvis and all of my efforts. It goes without saying you'll always have the haters. The half-dozen or so who debate whether the signature on the back cover of my book Elvis In Hollywood that they have in their collection is somehow my personal copy signed from Elvis to me. They debate this on message boards and whether or not the signature is authentic and yet profess to know everything and anything about Elvis. They question whether or not I ever met Elvis. They are sometimes fueled by one so-called Memphis Mafia member who has actually reported on your site that Elvis never knew me and neither did any of the guys.
First, the guys that matter, the guys who haven't prostituted Elvis' memory, have gone on record more than once about knowing me, etc: Mr. Diskin, Al Dvorin, Alan Fortas, George Klein, Jerry Shilling, Jon Taurog, Joe Esposito to name a few. I think that the reason this sad, jealous individual claims to have never seen me is owing to the fact that he was actually never present when I was there because Elvis and Vernon were not happy about being taken advantage of financially and their payment to him was as much for the job he completed as for him to stay away.
If anyone cares to Google, Elvis Museum and look at their inventory, they will find that this gentleman sold them a copy of Elvis In Hollywood that I had autographed to Elvis, even providing them with a letter of authenticity. Strange, since he claims that Elvis never knew me. Even stranger is the fact that the book I autographed for Elvis is still a part of Granceland's archives and when they showed the Secret Room at Graceland on the Oprah Winfrey Show the book was one of the items on display. There was also a TV special on the Travel Channel where the Graceland archivists showed the book.
EIN: Can you see the day when you stop collecting things Elvis?
PL: You know, it's like The Colonel said, Elvis has never really gone away, he just moved and in the Paul Lichter world there's a lot of truth to that. Every day, all day, I'm either on the phone talking about Elvis, working on my next Elvis project or looking at another beautiful photograph that I've just discovered. You never know when the next audio treasure may turn up. It's like when I flew to Waco, Texas to see some home movies that Eddie Fadel wanted to sell me. He never mentioned that he had reel to reel tapes of Elvis recording at his home. When I got to his house the films were great but the recordings were extraordinary.
I paid him $10,000 for the master tape and agreed to the one thing that was more important than money to Eddie, that I would let the fans know of his friendship with Elvis. I did that with the release of my album, Forever Young Forever Beautiful. People have commented on my choice for the front cover. The painting was chosen because it was legal. RCA had the rights for the use of Elvis' photograph on any recorded material. There is a misconception that Forever Young was a bootleg album. It was no such thing. If it were I wouldn't have released it on my Memphis Flash label with my name and address on the cover. All writers and artists royalties were paid.
In 1974 I started the Memphis Flash magazine, the only Elvis magazine to tell it like it is and late that year my first book, Elvis In Hollywood, was published by Simon & Shuster. It would wind up selling a little over 9,000,000 copies and spend 8 weeks on the New York Times Best Sellers List. By the end of 1975 we were over 100,000 members of the Elvis Unique Record Club and 88,000 subscribers to the Memphis Flash.
Fans have the opportunity to purchase of 11,000 original Elvis items. Anything from Elvis first Sun record to personal belongings. Everything and anything as long as it is rare and original. We do not offer Graceland souvenirs or many after death memorabilia. All of this is now available at our website http://www.elvisunique.com
I would be remiss not to mention that while Elvis was alive my name, image, likeness and all activities were licensed by Elvis and The Colonel through the original Elvis Presley Enterprises and once the Estate recreated Elvis Presley Enterprises I had the same arrangement with them and, I have to tell you, that Jack Soden, Priscilla and everyone involved at Graceland were always very fair and had only one thing on their agenda, to do what was best for Elvis and his image.
The confusion occurred when RCA attempted to get an injunction against the album claiming that I didn't have the right to use Elvis' image on the cover. My attorneys countered with we would be glad to put the record and cover in a blank brown bag and rerelease it. We figured the publicity alone would have sold another million copies. RCA agreed that I could legally do that but they had the means and money to take it all the way to the Supreme Court. If didn't mind spending a million dollars in litigation I would ultimately win. I did mind and an agreement between RCA and myself was reached. I was allowed to sell all of the remaining original pressings but not allowed to do a second pressing. In turn they sanctioned Paul Lichter's Elvis Memories Are Forever LP and Elvis My Life extended play making both of these releases the only non-RCA Elvis records ever legally licensed.
EIN: Recently, there was some controversy about the Eddie Fadal audio material which you own. Please tell us about this.
PL: Yes, recently I saw where Joseph Pirzada released my Fadel material on his magnificent Off Duty With Private Presley CD/book package and I saw where a handful of the know-it-alls on the message boards were complaining because he didn't give them so many seconds of my material. I spoke to Joseph about this and this fine gentleman does not deserve to be criticized. The party who supplied my material wrongly represented his ownership and what existed. I told Joseph that there is much more on the original tapes. If the world needed a double album he could easily provide it for them if they wanted many more versions of Happy Birthday Baby.
I don't see a time when I won't have a challenge and as long as there are challenges I will keep collecting Elvis. At the moment I am attempting to conquer Japan, one of the only countries in the world that I haven't conquered. I have over 800 Japanese Elvis pressings but there are still approximately 100 more to go and they are on my website under Paul's Want List.
EIN: Many Paul Lichter books are highly sought after collectibles. Have you considered re-issuing any of your titles?
PL: Well, thank you. I'm very proud that the fans appreciate and want my older works. Probably Elvis Memories A Love Story and EP In Concert along with Portrait In Music are the most requested. I receive literally hundreds of requests every year. Joe Tunzi and I have actually kicked around the idea of re-releasing some of my older books. Who knows? Right now I am busy working on some new surprises one of which my appear in time for Elvis' next birthday.
EIN: Many of your earlier book releases are notable for their quality gloss paper stock. What can fans expect regarding Paul Lichter Presents Elvis in Vegas?
PL: Elvis' fans deserve the best and that what I've always tried to produce for them. Sometimes it even backfires. When I originally published Portrait In Music I created the book as a 12x12, the size of a record album, and demanded that the printers use 100 pound coated stock paper. That meant that each page was about the weight of the front cover of The Boy Who Dared To Rock. Well, the book came out and I thought, "This is fantastic! Look at the weight and quality!"
Anyway, the first printing sold out immediately. Shortly thereafter I started hearing from fans that they loved the book but they were having a problem. The pages were so heavy that after repeated reading the pages were falling out of the binding. When I did the second printing I put a spiral binding on the book and to my amazement most of the people who bought the first printing bought it again so that they could have the spiral binding version for repeated use when they used it as a guide at record shows, etc.
Paul Lichter Presents Elvis In Vegas is my biggest book to date. Much of what was leaked on the Internet about the book is true. Contractually I am prohibited by my publisher from revealing too much information in advance. Everything and anything from 1956 thru 1977 is included. The book does not abruptly end with Elvis' final Vegas show in December, 1976. There are more pages of text than one will ever find in a photo book. At the moment there are between 800 and 1,000 photos, 99% in full-color. These images are mostly unseen and extraordinarily rare. There are even candid photos of Elvis that he, himself, posed for.
I am sure that the quality and production of the book will be first class. One of the major reasons I went with a publisher instead of self-publishing is because a book of this size and quality would be prohibitive if I published it myself and the cost for the fans would be very high. My publishers are treating this book as their number one priority and are sparing no expense in its production and promotion. All fans worldwide will be able to purchase the book at their local bookstores. Those fans who visit your Elvis Information Network will have an opportunity to win autographed copies when the book is published.
EIN: One final question. When can we expect to see Paul Lichter Presents Elvis In Vegas? I know you said you couldn’t give us too many details but can you give us a couple of hints?
PL: Within the next couple of weeks I will be sending the final manuscript to my publishers in New York. There are hundreds of pages of text and almost 1,000 full-color photographs. Everything and anything pertaining to Elvis in the Bright Light City is covered. If you took the “Boy Who Dared To Rock” and combined it with EP In Concert you would have a good idea of what to expect. I can tell you this, the first printing will be the largest for any Elvis book since 1978 and the book will be available in stores worldwide. My publishers have told me that the release of Paul Lichter Presents Elvis In Vegas will be a book event and heavily promoted.
I will keep you updated as to the time of its release. Any date I would give you at this time would simply be a guess.
EIN: Thank you Paul for sharing your time with us.
PL: No, thank you. It has been my pleasure to be interviewed by you on your great site. The Elvis Information Network stands alone and I think it’s to your credit that all interviews, reviews, etc. are always handled in a fair and unbiased, completely honest way. You guys rock!
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I always respected P L and own some of his great books on the King, I admire the way his devotion to Elvis goes far and far and I respect him for all that.
With all the respect I could not see his devotion to Col.Parker, to such an evil man that in the eyes of mostly everybody was a burden in Elvis life and carreer, honest, caring, those are very high words to say for somebody, I will never forget and would like to mention an interview done on Chanel 7 by Ted Kaplan to Col. Parker, I think that is the way you spell his name, where Ted expose Col. to the world and when the Col. could not even respond coherently to the questions asked to him regarding Elvis carreer, and the way he opposed to his performances overseas, Ted also mentioned to him his lack of compasion for the man that he got to know when he was still a kid and he mentioned to him the way he conducted himself at Elvis's funeral, I am not saying all this, the world is saying it.
There is a say like this: If you do not want to expose the bad side of a person or his evil side, because of your soft heart and consideration to that person's memory, just do not answer the questions or kept silence about it but please this time I have to say that I was very dissapointed with PL's regards to the Col. when the world knows the contrary, please do not try to cover the sun with one hand.
Aside from all that, great interview.
Thanks for the interview, the details about the Eddie audio recording is interesting - I have the Forever Young LP - and thought it was weird it was a 70's painting of army days recording, as well as the new Off Duty - now I will have to compare the two
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