Extraordinary True Story of Elvis' Compassion for A Dieing Girl
fans will remember the touching story of a pen-pal relationship
Elvis had with a yopung girl, Karen, who was dieing from the
effects of cerebral palsy.
this article EIN looks back at the story, in both its book
and movie form.
Elvis's death in August 1977 there have been numerous films
and telemovies released about his life. They include Heartbreak
Hotel, Elvis and the Colonel, The Woman Who Loved Elvis, Elvis
and the Beauty Queen and Elvis (The Movie).
including screen versions of Lucy de Barbin's fanciful tale, Are
You Lonesome Tonight?' and the definitive Elvis life story based
on Peter Guralnick's two part Elvis biography ('Last Train to Memphis'
and 'Careless Love') have been mooted but are yet to eventuate.
I can only think of three books about Elvis that have resulted in
a film adaptation. Two of these are Elvis and Me (the mini-series
based on Priscilla's memoir) and the awful Elvis Meets Nixon (based
on Bud Krogh's book of the same name).
third Elvis related movie based on a book is Touched By Love, a
screen adaptation of Lena Canada's memoir, To Elvis With Love. In
many respects Touched By Love is the most important 'Elvis
related' film ever made. Both the book and the movie detail the
struggles brought on by cerebral palsy* and the great ability of
Elvis to bring joy and happiness to people.
Elvis, With Love - The Book Paperback edition released by Scholastic
Book Services, USA, 1978, 190 pages, Not illustrated, ISBN: 0590057790
movie, Touched By Love, was based on the book To Elvis,
With Love. Lena Canada's now very rare memoir tells the powerful,
true story of Lena's friendship and love for Karen, the young girl
crippled and dying from the effects of cerebral palsy. It is also
the story of the power that Elvis holds for many people. In Karen's
case the exchange of letters and gifts between Elvis and her bring
incredible joy and happiness to the remainder of her greatly shortened
story takes place on the outskirts of Stockholm in Sweden where
Lena Canada works as a nurse in what is called the 'Brown House':
'a charming, old-fashioned building, which, thanks to its size,
gave an impression of majestic dignity.' The house had been carefully
converted into a boarding school-hospital and was home to twenty
physically handicapped children.
was while working in the Brown House that Lena formed a very special
bond with the child only referred to by her Christian name, Karen.
It was a bond that would bring great joy and sadness. The horrendous
physical disability facing the children is vividly represented in
the author's narrative.
Karen, Lena Canada wrote: 'She was a small child, and the spastic
contractions of her skinny body made her appear grotesque and horrifying.'
Despite its depressing parts, To Elvis, With Love is a story
of hope and inspiration. From the first time Karen speaks to the
incredible fun she and Lena have, this book will touch your heart.
effect of Elvis on both Karen and Lena's lives is strikingly told:
'Elvis regarded us from the record cover. His eyes seemed to see
what was happening between Karen and me, and his eyes understood;
they seemed to overflow with pity and compassion.'
with the film version, Elvis does not feature in the book until
the story is well set. It also more adequately explains (than does
the movie) how Elvis and Karen came to have a regular exchange of
letters and gifts. Lena had come across the name of a Hollywood
correspondent with close links to Elvis and contacted her with Karen's
the correspondence started, Elvis gave Karen a special address to
write to, an address that by-passed his secretaries and came directly
to him. While the Hollywood correspondent is not named it would
not be unrealistic to surmise that it was either May Mann or Rona
Barrett, both of whom had strong links with Elvis' camp in the late
1950's and throughout the 1960s.
the story progresses and Karen receives more and more letters and
gifts from Elvis the viewer really begins to appreciate the incredible
power Elvis has and it is uplifting to see its positive effect on
a young, crippled girl missing things that the majority of us take
for granted. Following Karen's death Lena Canada moved to California.
It took her several years to overcome the pain and sense of loss
she felt. While in California Lena would drive past Elvis's home
on Perugia Way. On one occasion Elvis pulled up along side her at
a set of traffic lights and smiled. Before Lena could say anything
the lights had changed and Elvis disappeared into the distance on
his large Harley-Davidson.
the movie, To Elvis, With Love is difficult to locate today.
Long out of print, second-hand bookstores are the best way of finding
a copy. Online fans can obtain a copy through the second-hand bookstore
network offered by Barnes & Noble at: www.bn.com. At the time of
writing this article 13 copies were available through B&N (1 hardcover
and 12 paperback).
By Love - The Movie
1980. Directed by Gus Trikonis; Production
Auditor: Lisa King. Produced by The Elvis Company
Deborah Raffin: Lena Canada Diane Lane: Karen Also starring:
Michael Learned, Clu Culagher, John Amos, Mary Wickes and
Clive Shalom as Topper.
By Love, the film version of Lena Canada's book, is relatively
slowly plotted but very engaging. It is the synergistic integration
of the slow plotting with its subject matter that drives it forward
and gives it such a great impact. This film is like a snowball rolling
down a hill. It starts out small and slow but by the time it comes
to rest it has gathered amazing speed and grown greatly in size
are many very emotionally charged and moving scenes in Touched By
Love. The first major scene involving Elvis when Karen and Lena
visit the local store and Karen's demeanour is literally uplifted
when she sees Elvis's face on magazine covers and then several of
his LP's on the shelf brings a smile to your face.
more moving is a scene where Karen breaks free from the shackles
of her physical and psychological despair and begins dancing in
her wheelchair to Teddy Bear. Despite her love and admiration for
Elvis there is an incredible inner tension for the crippled Karen:
"He's so alive. I love him…I could never move like that".
of the film is the backing musical score. In particular, it is an
instrumental version of Love Me Tender that heightens the story
very effectively in several important scenes. It is a poignant element
as we see Karen waiting day after day for the first letter from
Elvis with the pouring rain outside symbolising the depressing reality
of her physical and emotional plight. That scene makes you feel
for Karen and it is easy to actually become angry at Elvis for not
plaintive words in anger and frustration heighten the impact: "Please
let him answer!.…hot stuff, aren't you [Elvis]….you can't even send
a goddam postcard".
when that first letter finally arrives Karen is totally overcome,
suffering a seizure in her panicked, emotional excitement and requiring
oxygen. Later she says to Lena: "You worry too much. I knew it would
scene highlights Elvis's ability to touch people deep inside. Lena
asks Karen: "What do you want for Christmas?" "Nothing", replies
Karen, "I have everything I want."
are a number of involving sub-plots in the narrative. The relationship
of the highly intelligent Topper with his best friend, the lifeless
Louie who never moves or speaks, but with whom Topper conducts conversations
for the both of them, tugs at your heartstrings, especially when
Topper's parents come to take him home, thereby splitting up the
previously inseparable pair.
the six Elvis songs featured in Touched By Love only two are sung
by Elvis (Love Me Tender and Reddy Teddy). The others (Don't Be
Cruel; Teddy Bear; Hound Dog I Was The One and a second version
of Love Me Tender) are very competently sung by a singer shown only
in the credits as Alan.
acting in Touched By Love is first rate. The two leads are very
strong, particularly Diane Lane**, whose portrayal (and transformation)
of Karen from a lifeless body in her wheelchair to an animated and
vibrant, talkative young girl is exceptional. It is one of those
rare experiences that make you question and appreciate your own
life. You will recognise many of the supporting cast: Michael Learned
played Mrs Walton in' The Waltons', Clu Culagher appeared in several
television programs, notably 'The Virginian, John Amos was a stand-out
in the mini-series 'Roots' but is more well known as JJ's father
in the television comedy, 'Good Times' and Mary Wickes was a regular
supporting actor in many 1950s and 1960s movies and television shows.
By Love is an emotionally challenging journey. Its powerful themes
of denial, obsession, sacrifice and struggle are cogently presented.
As you experience Karen's various struggles with her disability,
her looks and her strong feelings for a handsome singer she feels
unworthy of, you are drawn in and you too experience her pain in
wanting and needing to be loved.
penultimate scene is very touching. Karen's death is not unexpected
but it occurs suddenly, wrenching one's emotions without any real
Maltin's 2003 Movie & Video Guide says of Touched By Love:
'Sentimental drama, based on nursing trainee Lena Canada's memoir,
of cerebral palsy victim's pen-pal relationship with Elvis Presley.
Fine performances by Lane and Raffin.'
By Love is a difficult movie to locate. It is rarely shown on
television and the video release is long deleted. A DVD release
or video re-issue can only be hoped for. If you are fortunate enough
to see it, be prepared. It is an emotional roller-coaster of a ride,
so have your tissues handy.
Touched By Love/To Elvis With Love is a generally little
known or forgotten part of the Elvis story. It is an uplifting true
story of love, hope and devotion and its important message is one
of the most important parts of Elvis's legacy, one that deserves
to be remembered forever. The end statement of the film says it
all: 'To Elvis Presley for his compassion and ability to spread
palsy is a medical condition. It is not a disease or illness. As
a result of injury to the brain a person has problems with his/her
motor control, problems walking, talking, eating and speaking. Cerebral
palsy can be a congenital condition or caused in the womb or during
birth due to a lack of oxygen getting to the brain.
In recent years Diane Lane has become one of Hollywood's leading
actresses. Her recent credits include 'Unfaithful', 'The Perfect
Storm' and 'Under the Tuscan Sun'. You can visit her official web
site at: www.dianelane.com
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