'ELVIS: Live at the International'
50th Anniversary Edition
By Kieran Davis
Book Review by Nigel Patterson - September 2022
In 2011, Kieran Davis released the highly praised book, Elvis Live At
In 2022, he has published an expanded 50th
Anniversary edition… and what an expansion it is!
The latest edition dwarfs the original with 432 pages compared to 172 in the original release. And the added 250+ pages of added material is stunning, making the 50th Anniversary release one of the best Elvis books published in 2022.
Published as a limited edition EIN's Nigel Patterson checks out whether the 2022 edition lives up to the description..
Reviewed by Nigel Patterson, September 2022
Note: the images featured are of a lesser quality than appears in the book
"Back by popular request" is a seriously updated edition of the author's excellent 'Elvis Live At The International', first published in 2011. The book is a large sized (21.3 x 30.2 cm/ approx. 8 x 12 inches) "coffee table" release. While the original book contained 172 pages, the 50th Anniversary Edition comes in at a massive 432 pages.
The book is housed in a sturdy hard cover and the gloss paper stock, high quality. The page design is strong and while each page is dense with information, it is not overpowering or cluttered.
As its title reflects, the book covers Elvis' appearances at the International Hotel in Las Vegas between 1969 and 1971 (it was renamed the Las Vegas Hilton in July 1971). The narrative element is significantly based around fan, Peggy Elzea’s copious diaries, and a bumper array of archival material. Peggy’s experience seeing Elvis in Las Vegas is one every fan will envy.
There is so much fascinating information, original newspaper reports and so many striking images in the book that it is hard to know where to start in describing it, and this review will undoubtedly not do justice to Kieran Davis' fantastic work!
The book is split into five chapters, each chapter corresponding to Elvis’ season at the International:
Chapter 1 – July & August, 1969
Chapter 2 – January & February, 1970
Chapter 3 – August & September 1970
Chapter 4 - January & February, 1971
Chapter 5 – August & September 1971
A double page close-up color spread of the "Bill Miller presents Elvis" sign at the International is a stunning opening start to the book.
The Peggy Elzea Diary Record and other non-archival narrative elements
Peggy Elzea's diaries and files are obviously extensive given the variety of material reproduced in Elvis Live At The International. They include letters from Michael Lindeck, Manager of the International and Colonel Parker's Office and confirmation postcards of Peggy's show bookings, while her detailed minute-by-minute account from her diaries are candid and wonderfully expressive reading which makes you feel as though you are there with her. Peggy has a flowing and fun writing style which conjures wonderful images and the emotional impact of seeing Elvis live on stage.
About the experience of attending an Elvis show, Peggy recorded:
Before the show a woman offered me money for my seat by the stage. “Not on your life!” I said with such ferocity she looked set back – she had a lot of gall! While I was standing outside the showroom waiting to get in for Elvis’ closing midnight show, Tom Diskin [Colonel Parker’s right-hand man] and Yannick walked by. Tom stopped, looked at the scarf around my neck and said, with a twinkle in his eye, “You know that’s a prop and I have to take it back.”
“No!” I said backing off, “you will have to wrestle me to the ground for it!”
For the entire evening all of those wonderful moves were there - shaking his head up and down and making his hair fall across his face; closing his eyes and drawing his mouth down in a pucker and standing sideways on the stage while throwing his arm up and down in time to the heavy beat.
The August 21, 1969 Midnight Show was a particularly important one for Peggy, with her diary record stating:
This was the night I made my LAS VEGAS debut!!!........
With agility which surprised me, I hopped on to a chair, on to out table and on to the stage, I didn’t run on after Elvis, I just stood parallel with my chair, Elvis was singing in the middle of the stage, when he saw me, (still singing) he came straight over to me and I flung my arms around him and gave him a gigantic hug. The audience let out a tremendous roar.
About the International showroom, Peggy recorded:
The funky angels were atrocious, large gold male cherubs sans fig leaves, hanging along the edges of the ceiling. Elvis paused, then posed like a cherub with his right leg out behind him and his left leg in front and bent at the knee. He sang, "Well..." and dragged it out with his left leg shaking a little. He stopped, cleared his throat said another "well" and then smacked the back of his leg saying, "C'mon! Wake up, boy," Launching into 'I Got A Woman' his left leg was shaking throughout the entire song.
Elvis was really working hard and sweating a lot. He wiped his face on his scarf three or four times and tucked it back inside his shirt.
This has got to have been the best Elvis show yet. It was an excellent performance, perfect seating, and Elvis gave me his scarf! I was really terrific because I got the scarf he had worn all the way through the show.
That Las Vegas is a city that never sleeps and throws up surprises when you might not expect them, is well illustrated in these excerpts:
After the midnight show, I wandered around the casino for a little while and was able to speak to James Burton, Tom Diskin and Sonny West. Judy and I had made plans to meet up at 3 a.m. and we went the casino Theatre Lounge to see the Ike and Tina Turner show......I didn't get to bed until after 6 a.m. in the morning as I met Vernon Presley in the Cafe Continental and talked to him for a little while. He said that he remembered me from last year and that it was nice to see me again.....It didn't seem right to just blurt out a request to see Elvis again. I also didn't get a good feeling whenever I saw Joe Esposito, I think partly because of the way things went last time....
At 4.30a.m. I went back downstairs to the casino and guess who was there playing blackjack? Elvis! Beside him was Priscilla. I saw them from across two tables. Priscilla looked up, smiled, and made a “hello” with her mouth. Elvis also saw me……After a little while, I walked around behind Elvis and his group. At one point Elvis leaned back and said to us, “I won seventy-five. That will pay for my breakfast tomorrow.”
The depth of Peggy’s detail is impressive:
While watching Ann-Margret’s show, Elvis’ expression usually ranged from straight faced to glum. A few things drew his laughter including: during one dance Ann turned sideways to the audience and did several quick bumps. Elvis said in surprise, “Lord!, I do that!”
The account of Priscilla’s reaction to a routine gone wrong during one of Ann-Margret’s musical numbers makes for great reading.
Peggy Elzea also details what Elvis said during each song at each of the various shows she attended, including one of the concerts that Elvis closed with Bridge Over Troubled Water.
A standout account from Peggy is her conversations with Vernon Presley (which explains why the book features a neat red, yellow and black promotional card for a Muhammad Ali vs Joe Frazier World Heavyweight title fight at Madison Square Garden in New York). Other interesting highlights are Peggy drinking a Coke with song publisher, Julian Aberbach, her successful $10.00 tip that secured her a place only one seat from the stage, and her account of the costs involved in being in Vegas.
Apart from the wonderful diary accounts by Peggy Elzea, gravitas for the book is provided through contributions by well-known Elvis world identities, Rex Martin (Worldwide Elvis News Service Weekly) and Rocky Barra (Strictly Elvis), plus equally intriguing and informative accounts from lesser known fans.
Maria Davies’ A Report Of The Happening of The Decade – Elvis Presley Shows, International Hotel (20 th August to 23rd August, 1969, is not only a terrific read but it comes with a two pages montage of Elvis in his opening Las Vegas outfit:
“…black bell-bottomed pants with pale blue inverted pleats from knee to ankle on the outside leg, black” matador jacket with stand-up collar – open to the waist, a silver belt around his hips, a pale blue silk scarf around his neck….”
Ian Fraser-Thomson’s article, Memories of July 31 st, 1969 (the invitation only “first” night – Ian being the only fan known to have seen the show), is a further very interesting and expressive inclusion. Ian’s account of Elvis’ rehearsal for opening night being piped through the hotel speakers is incredible to read, as is how he got to attend both Elvis’ afternoon rehearsal and the actual Opening Night performance.
About Opening Night, Ian states:
The electricity was palpable [on Opening Night]. The anticipation of the crowd on this potentially precipitous and momentous occasion lent to an uneasy and anxious anticipation of what was about to be revealed before their eyes and ears….
….when Elvis appeared and when like a dancer sidestepped across the stage, a powder keg exploded followed by a residual thunder of applause and screams welcoming Elvis.
The Archival Material
The volume of archival items in the book is staggering. Parts of the book have a scrapbook design which works a treat. There is text, images, overlays, etc, which are well presented so as not to make pages seem too crowded, but rather function to generate your interest in the contents of each piece of information and image. Some of the reproduced materials have a smallish font size but this is not a major issue.
Trying to list all of the different types of information, both narrative and visual, is impossible to do, but these will give you an idea of the diversity of the book's content:
- Show Transcripts
- Strictly Elvis No. 20 (reproduced concert review)
- CD and LP album covers
- On Stage – February 1970 (album review)
- correspondence between Peggy and other fans including Judy Palmer
- fan club reports
- detailed accounts backstage meetings
- candid color photos taken by fans during the shows
- countless media and fan reviews
- RCA record promotional leaflets
- RCA "9 pages Press Release on Elvis' return to live performances”
- Judy Palmer’s backstage meeting with Elvis (with photos)
- The night Elvis signed autographs from the stage
One of the reproduced fan club reports is five pages from the Fall-Winter edition of The Elvisites International E.P.F.C. newsletter providing a detailed account of Elvis, not only in Las Vegas, but on the road for his six-city tour in September 1970:
The night they appeared in Phoenix they had a bomb scare & no one was allowed in the Coliseum until a thorough check was made of the place. But once the Elvis fans were in, & Elvis was on stage – nothing could stop the excitement that was generated. Phoenix will never again be the same. Nor will the other 5 cities.
There is also Judy Palmer's five pages account of Elvis' 1970 winter engagement in her bi-monthly newsletter to members of the Kissin' Cousins fan club, and interesting excerpts about the engagement taken from the two main Elvis magazines in 1970, the UK's Elvis Monthly and Rocky Barra's Strictly Elvis the US.
There are so many different dimensions to Elvis Live At The International that in one sense it is a varied and colorful history lesson about Elvis' initial years as the #1 headline act in Las Vegas, and through the fan diaries and fan newsletters and magazines, of the broader Elvis world, for instance the early days of bootlegging Elvis, it's high level of secrecy, and the lack of integrity of some bootleggers. In one pen pal letter we read:
Well, I finally got my tapes back from my "friend". He told me he could not have copies made, but yet one of pen-pals wrote to me and said they enjoyed the copy of MY tape that he had sent them.
The press reviews, while strong in 1969, were becoming negative by August 1971:
Associated Press, August 1, 1969: PRESLEY MAKES A KINGLY DEBUT AT INTERNATIONAL - ELVIS SHINES IN VEGAS APPEARANCE
Variety, August 20, 1971: As performances go, Elvis Presley's, at the Las Vegas Hilton, is sloppy, hurriedly rehearsed, uneven, mundanely lit, often silly and haphazardly coordinated. Elvis looked drawn, tired and noticeably heavier - weight wise, not musically - than his last appearance......As a performer, Elvis is most undisputedly the reigning monarch....
Other press reviews feature headlines including Return of the Pelvis (Newsweek), Presley Makes Kingly Debut At International, Presley ‘Shakes Up’ Las Vegas Audience, Elvis Ponders World Tour, A Perfect Formula Don’t Change Nothing, Threats Against Elvis Force Tightest Security At Vegas, Elvis Presley Brings Squeals At Opening, and Crowd Cheers Elvis’ Return To Vegas.
Other archival items which are fascinating include:
- Elvis’ 1969 signed contract (Agreement) to appear a series of 10 engagements at the International over five years
- Four pages of b&w progress photos of the International during its building phase
- International Hotel external building and internal floor plans (including Elvis' suite)
- Countless press clippings
- copies of the paraphernalia Peggy Elzea accumulated in planning her trip, travelling to, and while in Las Vegas both at the International and other casinos, and doing the usual tourist outings
- posters promoting Elvis' appearance
- International Hotel cards promoting Special ELVIS Special like 'Polk Salad with Corn Muffins and Honey $1.95'
For some strange reason I found the floor plans of the International, fascinating to view, as were the images of the partially built hotel.
Elvis Live At The International also includes six pages of show contracts (James Burton, Ronnie Tutt, Glen D. Hardin and Jerry Scheff).
The Visual Element
While the narrative is wonderful and the archival material is mouth-watering, the visuals in Elvis Live At The International are also stunning! They comprise professional shots, fan candids, and archival images.
My only (minor) reservation about the visual element is that I feel a color image on the front cover of the book would have been more attractive to the prospective buyer.
Regardless of this concern, the many visual highlights in the book are impressive. They include a 10-pages spread (pp248-257) of Elvis' Summer Festival jumpsuits. To say the generally close-up photos are sensational would be an understatement! Similarly, the four-pages section, The Stage Attire of 1969 is a cool view.
Some of the hundreds of other eye-watering visuals include:
- Elvis during his opening season in black outfit with guitar in hand (pp48-49)
- Another energetic full color image from the opening season (p56)
- Montage of color candids taken post shows in August 1969 (pp62-63)
- Montage of Elvis on stage in his opening black two-piece suit (pp84-85)
- Main entrance floor plan showroom gaming check in coffee shop (pp132-133)
- A wonderful series of close-up photos of Elvis’ various jumpsuits, most in glorious color and some very close up allowing you to notice fine details (pp166-175)
- Stills from 8mm film footage of Elvis live on stage in August 1970 (pp234-235 and 370-371)
- A fantastic b&w shot of Elvis sitting on a stool on stage (P247)
- A scary image of Ann-Margret misbehaving during a photo shoot on the top floor of the International (p302)
- Close up, full color (black, red and gold) image of Elvis’ Black Cisco Kid jumpsuit (P321)
- Close pp, full color image of Elvis’ white Cisco Kid jumpsuit with black leather shoulder inserts (p330)
- Elvis' amazing Turquoise, Silver and Coral Navajo Jewellery (pp374-375)
Overall Verdict: Kieran Davis is to be congratulated on Elvis At The International 50th Anniversary Edition. What he has produced is one of the outstanding Elvis book releases of 2022. Through its neat blend of narrative, historic archival material and impressive photos covering Elvis’ seminal Las Vegas years, the reader is left wanting more. This is a release that you will return to time and time again, discovering and rediscovering great stories, enjoying intricate details, and savouring fantastic images. It is also a great complement to watching Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis biopic.
Buy the book
(First printing “sold out” and only a few dozen copies of the second printing are left)
Review by Nigel Patterson.
-Copyright EIN September 2022
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