Interview: Rex Martin (Part 2)
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ALSO: Read more about Rex Martin including special info on his amazing Elvis film collection and old friends he wants to re-establish contact with
Introduction: Rex Martin and his legendary publication, the Worldwide Elvis News Service Weekly, were an integral part of how fans "got their Elvis news" in the late 1960s and 1970s. The Weekly News Service represented a fundamental shift in both the frequency and currency of fan's access to Elvis news around the world.
The weekly grew from being a small concern into a mass circulation publication recognised throughout the Elvis world.
The importance of Rex's innovative publication cannot be underestimated (and a potent parallel can be drawn between the function of the Weekly then and the function of Elvis news today provided by the Internet!).
In the second part of a fascinating interview, Rex talks about, among other things:
- how technology changed the Weekly
- the start of his Elvis Film Events
- his trips to the US to see Elvis in concert
- mass Elvis billboards arranged by the Colonel
- early encounters with the King
- filming the King - security and technology
- Aussie friends ***
- meeting Tom Diskin
Rex's vivid narrative of life and technology in the 60s and early 70s paints a wonderful panoramic of the landscape in which his weekly Elvis news publication crystallised and grew. It is a slice of what was an often frenetic, challenging and very rewarding part of the Elvis story.
EIN: How did the reviews for the Weekly come about?
RM: I knew at the time that there were many fans who received the Weekly who would like to go home and write a review after seeing an Elvis concert. And only a few days or a week later they would see it in print. So getting the news, reviews and info out so quickly could not have happened but for the Weekly. Fans were inspired by having that kind of service and on some occasions we even had complete reports of every show in Vegas from the opening night to closing night. The reports included details of all the jumpsuits, the songs and the interesting things Elvis said to the audience. Most of these issues were almost newspaper sized, double foolscap and they continued like that until issue 101.
While I was working at the printers some new types of offset printing machines were released which were table top. So from issue 101 I switched the Weekly to mini booklet format as I could produce these very quickly using the faster table top machines. The new machines were easier to set up and their speed was a great improvement on the early printing machines. And as my print runs were going up to over 600 and pushing towards 1,000, obviously if I was still using the old machines my print time would have taken much longer. So the table top machines came along at just the right time.
In 1973 I opened up an office across the road from where I was working in the printers. It was above a typing agency. This allowed me to get long reports from Vegas re-typed up in a nice format on a clean page for only 50 pence a sheet, which was a discount they gave me because I was renting the top floor above them.
Worldwide Elvis News Service Weekly #87 (9 Dec 1972)
EIN: When did your Annual Film Shows start?
RM: The first Annual Film shows in Cheltenham started with a 2 day event in the early 70s. At the time I'd also arranged an extra event with coaches to a double Elvis film night in Stroud which was about 20 miles away. And later on we moved to regular Easter shows at the YMCA for 3 and 4 day film shows.With Elvis' workload I was never really short of news and this meant I often had to resort to putting out double issues, one after the other, often only days apart. Thgis was the only way I could keep up getting out all the news and reports I was receiving.
In 1977 I took a year's free lease on a shop in Leicester. I'd stopped working at the printers by that time and I moved production of the Weekly to this new shop. I actually stopped working for the printers at the end of 1973 as they weren't going to allow me to take another February holiday to the US to see Elvis. As it turned out I actually didn't go until June 1974. After leaving the printers I bought my own printing equipment to keep the Weekly going.
EIN: Rex, How many times did you see Elvis live in concert?
RM: I went on 5 trips to the US and I saw 64 concerts in total. The last Elvis show I saw was in March 1977.
On my first trip in 1972 I was 26 years old and they had a thing called Youth Fare for air flights. I just qualified for the 126 pounds return youth fare to Los Angeles which was a bargain price. I went with 3 friends and was looking forward to around 14 shows.
Virginia Coons, a person whose name many long time fans will recognise, met us at the airport and she put us all up. She also drove us to see one of Elvis' California homes and his star on Hollywood Boulevard. And later that day all four of us traveled to Vegas on a Greyhound bus. I remember that was really exciting because the Colonel had swamped the billboard people and there were Elvis billboards all the way from LA to Vegas. Even the bus seats on the sidewalk had been changed to have Elvis on the back of the seats.
And when we got to Vegas the same things had been mounted on top of all the taxis. And there were giant pictures of Elvis. The anticipation and excitement was overwhelming by the time we got to Vegas.
Before the first show the four of us put in $10.00 each for tipping. We sort of knew what tipping was about thanks to people like Maria Davies in Liverpool. So we tipped Emilio $40.00. And he handed us on to the guy who seats you and we ended up giving him $30.00 which we probably didn't need to do. And we got a pretty good table at the front of the stage.
It was the August shows and we saw Elvis wearing the two-piece trousers and short jacket. You know the paisley shirts and the other jazzy printed shirts which he liked at the time. I remember one was a pure white shirt with lots of ruffles on the sleeves. It made Elvis look like the Count of Monte Cristo.
For the first three or four shows the four of us went together and we were seated to the left of centre stage at the front. During one song I held up a copy of the Weekly. All around me was this sea of women's hands, all trying to get a kiss or scarf from Elvis. Anyway, down through this sea of hands Elvis reached over and took the Weekly. And then he went into a mock stance moving his head quickly back and forth as if he was reading the whole issue. Then he gave me a nod and gave the Weekly to Charlie.
Also at one of those early shows I shook his hand from the front of the stage and then after a few days I decided I'd go up into the balcony. Those fans who were taking a flash picture had to be careful and put everything undercover as the security would be roaming all over the place trying to find them. For this reason I only took available light film. I had a Super 8 10:1 zoom camera. It had a massive lens and used these 3.5 minute cartridges which I hid in my shirt and around my waist.
This logo was prepared by Rex to accompany an article written by Maria Davies about Elvis' 1969 Vegas shows. EIN will be publishing Maria's great article in early January 2009 as well an article about a number of Elvis related items owned by Maria which went under the auction hammer.
It wasn't until 1973 that sound cameras were generally available. On my later trips I used a JVC stereo portable cassette with left and right microphone sockets. JVC had a system similar to Dolby Noise Reduction.
After a week on my first trip I didn't want to return to England so I said farewell to my three friends who unfortunately couldn't stay any longer. I then moved in with two Australian fans*** who had entered a newspaper competition and won a trip to come to the US to see Elvis at the Hilton. I think they got see about 4 or 5 days of shows. It was a great prize, return flights, hotel room and 4 or 5 days of Elvis shows. And they even charged their meals to the Hilton! I think the prize was paid for partly by the newspaper and partly by RCA Australia. They said they'd mislaid one of their room keys at the Hilton so I got one so I could share a corner of their room, sleeping on cushions for the brief times I did catch some sleep.
The Aussie fans were supposed to leave for LA a few days later to visit Disneyland but they'd caught the Elvis bug like I had - in fact like anyone would have after seeing Elvis' shows. So anyway we all moved over to the Somerset Motel when the Hilton booking ran out. It was just behind the Hilton car park. So we kept on watching Elvis. Then when the weekend came they had to leave as they had a flight back to Australia.
Some other friends arrived from LA and we shared a room at the same motel and traveled back to LA to cash in half of the Greyhound ticket I hadn't used and cabled for some more money from my bank. This meant I could stay on for the nine September shows, including the special 3am show on Labor Day.
I remember during the 1973 shows Elvis split his pants and sang "Until It's Time For You To Sew" with the Sweet Inspirations all laughing at him. Then one time he threw the ripped pants out into the audience. When I got into the elevator later I traveled up with the girl who got the pants and we had a chat. She also let me examine Elvis' pants. They were made of very thin material; so thin that you could almost see through it!
When the September shows came Elvis didn't have any pants left so he had to go back to wearing jumpsuits. There was the blue jumpsuit with the silver swirl, a version of the Madison Square Garden jumpsuit with slightly different colour in the tabs and everything.
On the final night Tom Diskin came looking for me to take to meet Elvis. At the time I was with some friends in the front row of the balcony. Their daughters were down on the front row at the righthand side of the centre of the stage. Tom knew Virginia Coons and my other friends and because he also knew their daughters he asked them where their mums were sitting. And of course they pointed to the balcony and he looked up and when he saw me he waved to me and I'm pointing to myself going "Are you waving at me?" and he's saying "Yes" and he kept on waving for me to come down to the showroom to meet him.
I really didn't think it was going to happen. I had thought it might happen in August because the people from LA had been lobbying Tom on my behalf to try and get him to take me backstage to meet Elvis. One of the reasons it didn't happen in August was that Tom got married and had his honeymoon right in the middle of Elvis' Vegas season. Tom had met his wife when she came over from France to present an award to Elvis. She worked for MGM France. Anyway they started dating. She was quite a pretty woman and quite buxom and Elvis used to wag his finger at Tom when he saw them together.
From the Rex Martin Archives
Anyway as Tom had gotten married I didn't think he would have time to arrange for me to meet Elvis. But when he came back from his honeymoon he did remember and arranged for me to meet Elvis as part of the British fan club group and Tony Prince, a popular disc jockey with Radio Luxembourg.
I'd actually seen the British fan club group being taken by the Colonel through a side door next to the stage before his 8pm show.
On the day I was to finally meet Elvis I had these booklets and a camera out in Len and Rosemary Leach's car which was parked just outside the Hilton entrance. So after realising I was going to meet Elvis I ducked under our table and took out all the cartridge films I had hidden in my shirt, rushed down the stairs from the balcony, through the Casino, through the front entrance and out to the car park. I had the key to the car and I got out 3 booklets of the News Service, two other books that I had printed and my camera. I then rushed back into the Hilton and got to the stairs leading up to the balcony. By this time I was really panting and found out that Tom Diskin had come back and found I had gone. Anyway Tom was still there. He took one look at the camera and said "You might not need that".
Tom then took me backstage below the Hilton stage next to Elvis' dressing room. It's the one with the panelled walls you see in Elvis That's The Way It Is when Elvis is reading the telegrams. The chairs, except two, had all been pushed against the walls. There was a black and white monitor showing how Jackie Kahane and the Sweet Inspirations were going in the show. It was very small, probably only 9 inches square. It was there so Elvis could see how long he had to before changing into his jumpsuit and going on stage.
So we were taken into this room where there were 10 fans from the British fan club including two girls from Sweden. One of the guys had on a kilt, although he wasn't Scottish. Tony Prince had all these Elvis buttons sewn up and down his legs. Anyway they opened the door and the others were expecting Elvis, but in fact it was only me. It was a bit of downer for them.
I recognised some of the fan club members and the Vice-President.
And a few minutes later the door opened again and in walked Elvis ..................to be continued
End of Part 2 of EIN's interview with Rex Martin.....
but more to come, including in Part 3....
finally meeting Elvis!!!!
Part 3 to be published in January 2009!
Read Part 1 of Rex's interview
ALSO: Read more about Rex Martin including special info on his amazing Elvis film collection and old friends he wants to re-establish contact with
Rex Martin talks to EIN - the penultimate part!!:
Today, EIN presents the 3rd part of our riveting interview with Rex Martin, publisher of the legendary publication, the Worldwide Elvis News Service Weekly.
Rex's blow-by-blow account of the Elvis world in the 1960s and 1970s is a fascinating time capsule bringing to life an exciting era fondly remembered by many fans. Relive the excitement as Rex reminisces about being in the center of things "Elvis"!
Rex Martin saw Elvis in concert more than 60 times and as one of the most influential publishers in the Elvis world he amassed an incredible photo and audio-visual library.
Rex's Worldwide Elvis News Service Weekly brought readers all the latest news within days!:
(Three animated motion gifs are being prepared to share with EIN readers)
Comment on this interview
Interview conducted by Nigel Patterson in November 2008
Copyright EIN 2008
Do not re-post this interview without permission
Marie (UK): Great write up with Rex, really enjoyed reading it.
David K: What a legend Rex Martin is!!!! I thoroughly enjoyed your interview with the great man and look forward to the next instalment. Merry Christmas to all at EIN!
Brian Quinn: Great to see that Rex has surfaced once again. I knew Rex for many years, subscribed to his GROUNDBREAKING Newsletter, and attended some of his film conventions which were outstanding. It's nice to hear that he has done well for himself and he comes within my definition of a 'REAL ELVIS FAN'. I sincerely hope that he will now remain on the scene as the Elvis Legacy needs him. I look forward to reading Part 2 of the Interview. Welcome back Rex.
Christopher Brown: I was a long-time subscriber of Rex’s news service, and have all but the first 25 issues, I think. It was wonderful getting weekly (and sometimes twice a week) news about Elvis, upcoming shows and recent shows with detailed reviews and newspaper articles. Many of my own show reviews were printed in his publication – a real honor, and a backbone to the two books I published, ON TOUR WITH ELVIS and ELVIS IN CONCERT.
I probably said it back then, but I’ll say it again – thanks Rex for all your work in getting Elvis news out. Your publication and with Rocky’s were the two essentials of Elvis information in the ‘70s.
Terry C: I was born after the era of Rex Martin's Elvis weekly. After reading the first part of his interview I wish I had been around. The guy was ahead of his time!! I can't wait to read more of Rex's memories. Keep it coming.
Christopher Tyler: When interviewing people who saw or met Elvis ask a lot more questions as to what their first impressions of Elvis were when he came on stage? What songs and performances from the concerts they saw stand out in the person’s mind. Of the 60 shows he saw, how consistent was Elvis etc?
EIN Comment: Chris, there is plenty yet to come from Rex in his multi-part interviews with EIN, including the questions you have asked.
Jenny: Thanks EIN for another fantastic interview. I was a subscriber to Rex's wonderful newsletter for many years and I always looked forward to it arriving in my letter box each week.
Frances Smythe: Before my marriage I attended a lot of Rex's Elvis discos and they were really fabulous. I had such a good time with all my Elvis friends. Thank you Rex for what you've done over the years for Elvis fans. You probably didn't get appreciated very often but you can believe me we DID appreciate all your efforts to bring us Elvis.
Jon-Jon: What a cool dude is Mr Rex Martin. Cool interview too.
Frank (Lancs): What a blast from the past! Rex Martin published one of my all-time favourite Elvis publications. It was always full of the latest news and reviews and it made me feel as though I was part of what was going on. Without the Weekly Elvis fans lives would have been much worse off, it filled an important space in the world of Elvis.
Penny Charles: I met Rex once at one of his discos. I used to go regularly with my friends Sue and Terry. Rex was a lovely person and his discos meant the world to us as young Elvis fans. I really enjoyed his interview and will be reading the next part with a lot of interest and memories of a great time in my life.
Garry Turner: I remember the Rex Martin newsletters as if it was only yesterday. I still have a large batch as part of my Elvis collection. Rex's newsletters were current and entertaining. It's good to read he's still around. I'm looking forward to part 2 of his interview with EIN.