Elvis recently had a birthday (he turned 75) and I ignored his birthday, at the time, just like I try to ignore my own birthdays.
A McCarthy newspaper writer named Valerie Kellogg wrote “75 Things You May Not Know About Elvis” at the time of his birthday. Some of them amused me…not all, but some. Plus, we recently visited Graceland in Memphis, so I decided to throw out the less-interesting or more well-known “things you might not know” about Elvis, insert a few of my own, and shorten Kellogg’s article to a mere fifty. So here goes:
1) Elvis’ first 2 recorded songs cost him $4 at Sun Studios in Memphis, where he recorded “My Happiness” and “That’s When Your Heartaches Begin” as a gift for his mother, Gladys.
2) Elvis is Norse for “all wise.”
3) When he was 15 months old, Elvis almost died in a Tupelo, Mississippi tornado, which would have meant that he would have joined his dead-at-birth twin Aaron.
4) At age 1, Elvis enthusiastically joined an Assembly of God church service choir in singing, wriggling away from his mother’s grasp to do so.
5) At age 10, Elvis placed fifth singing “Old Shep” at a children’s talent show, thereby surpassing Michael Jordan, who got cut from one of his first basketball teams.
6) Songs recorded: anywhere from 600 to 1,200. [With mixes like “A Little Less Conversation” being released many years after his death, that number could change.]
7) Sometimes, Elvis would sign “Elvis” on a female fan’s left breast and “Presley” on the right. (There is no truth to the rumor that this gave rise to the term “double-breasted.”)
8) Elvis’ maternal grandmother was Jewish, so Elvis added a Star of David to his mother’s gravestone in the mid-sixties. (Since most of the family is buried out back at Graceland in a weird circle that tourists visit, I assume it is this tombstone. It is just a stone’s throw from the really small tea-cup-sized swimming pool that looks like it belongs behind a Hampton Inn in St. Louis.)
9) Other ethnic derivation for Elvis Presley: Scottish, Irish, German, Welsh, Cherokee Indian and French. (A little something for everyone.)
10) “Can’t Help Falling in Love”, a 1961 Presley hit, is set to the melody “Plaisir D’Amour,” an 18th century French love song.
11) Presley hated fish. He wouldn’t allow Priscilla to eat fish at Graceland. We all know he loved fatty, deep-fried goodies, and he also loved biscuits and gravy, potato/cheese soup and meatloaf with mushroom gravy. The dining room table at Graceland, however, was not very large, (considering Elvis’ fame and fortune). It is hard to imagine seating more than 11 or 12 comfortably in the cramped dining room. The room isn’t big enough and the table isn’t big enough.
12) Presley preferred sponge baths.
13) Presley worked as an usher at Lowe’s State movie theater in Memphis. He was fired when he was discovered taking free candy from the girl working the concession stand.
14) Presley was honored, while in the Army, by his commanding officers for “cheerfulness and drive and continually outstanding leadership ability.”
15) Germans called Presley “the rock-and-roll matador.”
16) Elvis smoked thin German cigars.
17) Elvis’ big disappointment while in Germany in the Army? He never got to meet Brigitte Bardot. (I think we can all relate to that.)
18) Presley’s movie idol? Tony Curtis.
19) Hair dye used? Miss Clairol 51D, “Black Velvet” and “mink brown” by Paramount, to make his hair look black onscreen in movies. He once dyed his hair with black shoe polish in his do-it-yourself days. He also dyed his eyelashes, which caused him health problems later in life. (Good thing he didn’t EAT the dye).
20) In 1956, Elvis made “Love Me Tender” and in 1957, he did “Loving You.” In the hiatus between filming these two epics, he had plastic surgery on his nose, had his teeth capped, and had his acne professionally treated.
21) Elvis dated Natalie Wood, but only for a very brief period. He said he didn’t like the way she smelled. (No report on what Natalie Wood thought of the sponge-bathing Elvis’ scent.)
22) “Unchained Melody” was a song he only performed during the last 6 months of his life.
23) Unverified reports claim Elvis’ range spanned three octaves, but unverified reports of the day also said that the Colonel (Tom Parker) would have another singer interpret the song while Elvis listened and then Elvis would record the song after hearing it sung by someone else. It is also true that Elvis never did a World Tour, which was because of legal problems that Colonel Tom Parker, his dictatorial manager, faced in travel outside the country. (The Colonel had passport problems.)
24) Presley had a slight stutter.
25) Elvis used A&D ointment to keep his lips soft.
26) Elvis recorded 15 songs with the word “blue” in the title.
27) Some strangely titled Elvis songs include: “Queenie Wahini’s Papaya,” “Yoga Is as Yoga Does,” “There’s No Room to Rhumba in a Sports Car.”
28) Elvis began using “Also Sprach Zarathustra,” a 19th century Strauss tone poem and theme of the 1968 movie “2001: A Space Odyssey” because he liked its rhythm and movements.
29) UK viewers couldn’t see Elvis much-vaunted TV special “Aloha from Hawaii” because the BBC refused to pay the price for the 1972 concert.
30) Presley and the Beatles met at his BelAir, California house in 1965, after Colonel Tom Parker forced Elvis to invite the Fab Five over. That same year, Elvis talked about joining a monastery. No word on whether he discussed entering a monastery before or after meeting the Beatles, who ended his reign as undisputed King of Rock ‘n Roll.
31) Presley met Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys in 1975 but Wilson says that the meeting went badly. Wilson made an unexpected karate move on Presley, after Presley had asked him specifically not to do so. (I now understand why Brian Wilson spent so many years alone “in his room”).
32) When Presley met Richard Nixon in 1970, Tricky Dick said: “You dress kind of strange, don’t you? Elvis replied, “Well, Mr. President, you got your show, and I got mine.” We didn’t find out the extent of Nixon’s “show” until Watergate, but it’s not hard to imagine Elvis drawling that statement to Nixon.
33) The Washington Post broke the news of that secret meeting between Nixon and Presley. [I think we’ve all heard the stories of Presley’s fascination with law and law enforcement, his desire to be named a ‘special agent,’ etc.]
34) When Presley met Muhammad Ali, he gifted the boxer with a robe that said “The People’s Champion.” Ali, for his part, gave Presley boxing gloves that said, “You’re the greatest.” [This surprises and confuses me. I thought Ali was “the greatest?” The two probably should have traded gifts.]
35) Once, after receiving a kidnap/assassination threat, Elvis performed with a pistol in each boot.
36) In the early 1970’s, Presley would impersonate a police officer and pull people over and hand out autographs. He had purchased police equipment for his 36th birthday.
37) Some members of the Memphis Mafia called Presley “Crazy.” He turned down the opportunity to play Kris Kristofferson’s role in “A Star Is Born” opposite Barbra Streisand, because the Colonel wouldn’t let him take the part. The chance was a career-making comeback opportunity, and ex-wife Priscilla urged him to take the role. Now THAT was “crazy.” What was NOT crazy was the way Priscila turned Graceland into a moneymaker after Elvis’ death.
38) Once, while showing a woman a karate move in his Las Vegas hotel suite, he broke her ankle. (Sounds like an instant replay of the Brian Wilson bad meeting.)
39) In Chinese astrology, Presley’s sign was “the dog.”
40) Four psychics told actor Patrick Swayze that Elvis was his guardian angel. If so, Elvis didn’t do a very good job of watching over the recently deceased actor, who died too young of pancreatic cancer.
41) The year before he died, Presley was prescribed about 10,000 pills. (I wonder what the count against Michael Jackson’s final year would be: which would score highest?)
42) When Presley played Madison Square Garden in 1972, he rented the New York Hilton’s top floor.
43) Presley’s pet turtle’s name was Bowtie.
44) Other Presley pets: a basset hound, 2 Great Danes, a Pomeranian, several horses, some donkeys, some peacocks and guinea hens, ducks, chickens, a chimpanzee, a monkey and a mynah bird. His golden palomino, Rising Sun, is buried at Graceland, along with his parents, his grandmother and his twin brother who died at birth.
45) Presley’s pet chimp, Scatter, is thought to have died of liver disease, since the chimp had developed a drinking problem. Some think a maid, whom he had bitten, poisoned the chimp. (Wonder whatever happened to Bubbles, Michael Jackson’s chimp?)
46) Presley believed he would die in his forties like his mother, Gladys.
47) Presley had a strange “Madonna/whore” fixation. According to Priscilla Presley’s autobiography, once she gave birth to Lisa Marie, he no longer considered her sexually desirable because she was the mother of his only child. Presley did have a longstanding attraction to co-star Ann Margret, though, and always sent her a large floral tribute whenever she opened in Vegas.
48) When Elvis was alive, there were about 170 Presley impersonators (1977). Today, it is estimated that there are around 250,000.
49) Presley had one room of his Graceland mansion (the house that grew like Topsy and has many wings that were added to the sprawling structure) completely carpeted in shag carpeting and sometimes recorded there. The Jungle Room, a strange futuristic circular bed with fake fur: many “Elvis’ taste was all in his mouth” moments while touring Graceland.
50) Elvis’ last words (to his girlfriend Ginger Alden, who had cautioned him against falling asleep reading in the bathroom) were; “Okay, I won’t.”