"Elvis Presley is the greatest cultural force in the 20th century."

(Leonard Bernstein)


"If you're an Elvis fan, no explanation is necessary; If you're not an Elvis fan, no explanation is possible."

(George Klein)


"For a dead man, Elvis Presley is awfully noisy."

(Professor Gilbert B. Rodman)


"History has him as this good old country boy, Elvis is about as country as Bono!"

(Jerry Schilling)






Marshall Terrill talks to EIN...as Sonny West tours Australia

With Elvis’ close friend Sonny West touring Australia this month, EIN talked to Marshall Terrill, the co-writer of Sonny’s new book ‘Still Taking Care of Business’ about the recent rumours & how the book is going.

EIN – I was totally enthralled by your earlier book about ‘Sergeant Presley’ (Rex & Elisabeth Mansfield’s story) yet there is gossip going around that you’re having troubles getting a publisher for Sonny’s new book.

MT – Well it has been a long process, because Sonny and I shopped a proposal around to a few publishers way back in 2002. However they all said that they wanted to see a finished manuscript before they committed to an agreement. Of course that was the 25th anniversary of Elvis’ death and so publishers were inundated with all kinds of books on Elvis including two that I co-wrote, "Sergeant Presley" & "The King, McQueen and the Love Machine."

Sonny and I still haven’t finished the manuscript but we have recently enlisted the services of veteran literary agent Tony Seidl, of New York-based TD Media, who will shop it around once it is finished and fully edited.

EIN – So do you have any publishers interested yet?

MT - Tony told me last week that there are three publishers who keep inquiring about Sonny's manuscript but they still need to see a finished product. I am hoping to have a first draft finished by the end of this summer and have faith in Tony as he has sold more than 150 books and specializes in celebrity biographies & autobiographies. He has even brokered book and movie deals on subjects as diverse as Elvis, Bobby Darin, Eddie Fisher, Larry Holmes and Joe Frazier.

EIN – How far have you got with the book?

MT - We have completed about 18 chapters and are up to Elvis' historic summit with the Beatles in his Perugia Way home in August 1965. This chapter called ‘Meet the Beatles’ promises to be one of the most-detailed accounts of that meeting. We’ve also been working on Elvis’ Hollywood Years recounting Sonny’s experiences and what he witnessed not only on the soundstage but also behind-the-scenes of each film.

Elvis' relationships with Juliet Prowse, Tuesday Weld, Ann-Margret - whom Sonny calls "the one who got away" – are discussed as well as his feelings towards co-stars, directors, producers and others who visited the set. There’s a good story about the football great Jim Brown who showed Elvis and the guys the secret of how he broke tackles on ‘Roustabout’.

EIN – So are there plenty of new stories that we haven’t heard before?

MT – Well the first few chapters deals with Sonny's family history, his upbringing, his early relationship with cousin Red West, and a first-time account of when he first saw Elvis strum a few songs on an acoustic guitar at Tech High School in 1954. He'll also go into full detail regarding his stint in the Air Force. None of Sonny's early history has ever been written about over the years other than a mere paragraph in ‘Elvis: What Happened?’

People will finally understand the parallel lives that bound Sonny and Elvis for 16 years. Of course, Sonny recounts the first night he actually met Elvis at a roller skating party in 1958 and will tell readers how he was hired two years later when "Sgt. Presley" came back from Germany in 1960.

EIN – What about the other ‘Memphis Mafia’ guys & their relationships with Elvis?

MT – Sure, Sonny talks about all of the members of the Memphis Mafia and since he became Elvis' chief of security in 1969 he will take readers behind the scenes of Elvis' famous comeback in Las Vegas, in addition to the later tours. We will also include a "Where Are they Now?" in the back section - as well answering the 100 most asked questions by Elvis fans!

EIN - I'm ashamed to say that the co-writer of 'Elvis: What happened' "The Dark Other side of the brightest star in the world" was the Australian Steve Dunleavy. Does Sonny feel a lot of the blame lies with Dunleavy and we all know that it is scandals & stories of depravity that sell books - How do you feel Sonny’s new book will go with the fans?

MT - I don't think Sonny would want to assign blame to anyone regarding, ‘Elvis: What Happened?’ Sonny is his own man. With that said, Sonny has expressed in the past that he did not appreciate the sensationalistic way that Dunleavy presented the material. You might remember that what drove a wedge between the authors relationship was when Dunleavy started bad-mouthing Elvis on "Good Morning America" when he appeared on the show with Geraldo Rivera days after Elvis' death. Dunleavy called Elvis a "junkie," which none of the three authors of ‘Elvis: What Happened?’ ever said.

They said Elvis had "a prescription abuse problem." On the other side of the argument - Geraldo Rivera called the three authors "liars," saying that Elvis was the straightest celebrity he ever interviewed. It was that childish display on the show that led Sonny and Dave Hebler to call a press conference to set the record straight.

As a side note, two years later Rivera again called Red West and asked if he and Sonny could appear on his "20/20" Elvis special. Red said, "Only under one condition - that you apologize to me and my cousin for calling us liars." Needless to say, Red and Sonny never did appear on the show. They also cut off all association with Dunleavy.

EIN – So in the end do you think Sonny is ashamed by the final published book 'Elvis: What happened' and does he really think it needs updating or correcting in any way?

MT - No, I don't think Sonny is ashamed of ‘Elvis: What Happened?’ He claims that it was written as a challenge to Elvis to stop abusing prescription medicine and stands by that. If you spent just 10 minutes with Sonny it becomes very evident how much he loved Elvis.

Sonny has said time and time again that, unfortunately, his love for Elvis didn't come through in that book. So I don't think what we're doing is updating readers, we're just taking a different approach. Where ‘Elvis: What Happened?’ was very serious and dark, our book is funny where it's appropriate, sad where appropriate but the real focus is to be as insightful as we can.

In my opinion, Sonny has the most insight into Elvis more than anyone I know. But to answer your question, there's no correcting to be done because that would imply that ‘Elvis: What Happened?’ contained untruths. Sonny, like Red, is a straight shooter and can only tell the truth.

Ultimately, I think that was his undoing with Elvis because the Wests and Dave Hebler were the only ones to confront Elvis about this problem. It's funny in a way because everyone jumps on the bandwagon today to say they tried to help Elvis with his problem, but trust me, Sonny, Red and Dave were the only ones actively trying to do something about it, and that got them fired.

Country singer Waylon Jennings told Sonny years after Elvis' death, "I wish I had a Sonny West in my corner when I was out of control." That's quite a profound statement.

EIN - Dave Hebler comes across as a unsavoury character compared to Sonny & Red (he was of course with Elvis for a very short time compared to them), How does Sonny feel about Dave Hebler now?

MT - I guess I'll have to disagree with your assessment of Dave Hebler coming across as an "unsavory character" - and yet I've never met the man! I think that label was pinned on him because he was in the inner circle for a few years while Sonny and Red were employed with Elvis from almost the start. Everyone accepted what Sonny and Red said, but for some reason, they didn't accept Dave Hebler.

Examine what Hebler said about Elvis in that book. Was it true or untrue? If it was true, then why hold anything against him? If it was untrue, then you'd have to accuse Sonny and Red of being liars, too. And I know that's not the case. Sonny has a lot of respect for Hebler and they still have a friendship.

I know a lot of people in the martial arts industry, because of my association with the Steve McQueen book, and what I will say is that most of the people in the martial arts are very straight-up citizens who have a high moral and ethical code. That is a large part of their teachings. So I think, without actually knowing Dave Hebler, that he has been unfairly criticized.

EIN – What about the final years?

MT - Sonny does discuss his firing in July 1976 in detail and does of course go into the reasons why he co-wrote ‘Elvis: What Happened?’. He'll also give a chilling account of where he was the day Elvis died on August 16, 1977, and how he reacted to the news and exactly why he called for that press conference.

EIN – I liked the photos of Elvis in the army in ‘Sergeant Presley’ what are you doing with this book?

MT – Well we have thousands of pictures to choose from. Sonny has saved several photos over the years and Russ Howe (www.kingcandids.com) has also generously agreed to lend us the use of his photo collection so there will be some great, unpublished candids for the fans.

EIN – I’m looking forward to it - and also seeing Sonny out here touring.

MT - There are so many new stories that I’m sure Sonny will share some of them with you when he’s out there. As a hint, you should ask Sonny about the time Elvis locked himself in the Palm Springs house and didn't know how to get out of the compound. It's a very funny story! After all, it is always great when you discover a few more facts about the greatest entertainer in history.

EIN - Thanks for talking to us and good luck with the book. Please stay in touch.

MT – Well this month you good people of Australia have a chance to meet Sonny West, so go up and say hello and shake the man's hand. You'll find out right away he has a heart of gold. He has such a giving spirit - very much like Elvis.

And I'm hopeful that once ‘Still Taking Care of Business’ comes out, all the ill feelings about ‘Elvis: What Happened?’ will be over. I know that's asking a lot, and may even be extremely naive, but the bottom line is that people change over time, their feelings change and circumstances change. Time has a way of doing that. Does anyone out there really want to hold a 30-year grudge?

EIN note - Some images are taken from Russ Howe's website www.kingcandids.com and may not be featured in the book since the photos have not been finalised.

** EIN copyright May 2005 **

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