Tag Archives: Elvis Presley

Acting like you’re famous and wishing you were: The Million Dollar Quartet

3 Sep
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Actor/musicians (from left) Brandyn Day as Jerry Lee Lewis, John Michael Presney as Carl Perkins, Ari McKay Wilford as Elvis Presley and Sky Seals as Johnny Cash

If you’ve been to a minor league baseball game, you know it’s tame fun with a hint of sadness. What’s sad is that many of the wildly ambitious and talented players will never hear the roar of a real crowd or get the glory that accompanies fame.

For me, the experience is similar to seeing a Broadway show at a regional theater. The one difference is that on good nights the actors at a regional theater do hear the roar, a sound satisfying beyond money. Still, after the curtain falls, you’re in a bar wearing street clothes and looking normal and someone asks what you do for a living and you’re afraid they’ll laugh if you say you are currently performing on stage as Elvis Presley.

At the Bucks County Playhouse this weekend in New Hope, Pennsylvania, I saw not only Elvis but actors portraying Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins. This 50s-era group of rock and roll royalty once came together by chance at a small recording studio called Sun Records. For a few brief hours on Dec. 4, 1956, they formed what came to be known as the Million Dollar Quartet.

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That was the show I saw, “Million Dollar Quartet.” It was based on the recordings the four made under the guidance of legendary producer Sam Phillips. When I walked into the theater my first impression was that the set, a recreation of Sun Records, looked really good. Knowing little about what I was to see and hear, I was even more impressed when a Playhouse employee announced that all music would be live and performed by the actors on stage. Nothing had been prerecorded.

As I waited for the show to start, I assumed the audience would be kind but not overly enthusiastic, mainly because it was a very old audience. More than a few people had walkers and canes and I wasn’t feeling too good myself. When the music started playing – there are 22 numbers in the show – I was relieved that the reaction was, if not effusive, at least respectable.  The performances, however, were so good that younger people might have been up and hollering. Even so, I was confident the people who created the show were experts at pacing and that we weren’t supposed to really let go until the end. This turned out to be true.

A few points in general about the show, which continues thru September 29: Johnny Cash didn’t look much like Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis came off too much like Harpo Marx, but as a regional show is was worth the ticket price. As one of those so-called jukebox musicals, songs dominated over plot. A minimal story line involved Sam Phillips’ struggle over whether to sell out to RCA; Johnny Cash’s worry about telling Sam he was leaving Sun for Columbia Records; and Carl Perkins’ anger at Elvis for recording his song, “Blue Suede Shoes.”

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From left, the real Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash

In the end, everyone came together in mutual respect, understanding and friendship. This fresh harmony allowed the actors to finish in concert style with three strong numbers. Right before the concert, there was a touching bit that probably doesn’t sound touching if written about. Sam Phillips, the record producer, asks the four boys to pose for what he says will be an historic photo. They pose, Sam shoots, and the actual photo the real Sam Phillips took on Dec. 4, 1956 comes down from the ceiling. Everyone claps. Some tear up.

The concert consisted of  “Hound Dog” by Elvis, “Ghost Riders In the Sky” by Cash and “See You Later Alligator” by Perkins. These numbers were clearly full-tilt/high energy and the crowd, some with walker assists, finally got on its feet and went nuts. After “Alligator,” the boys proudly marched off stage and Sam Phillips urged us to demand an encore, which we already were doing.

The boys came back. They ripped it up and shook the house with Jerry Lee Lewis doing “Whole Lotta Shakin.” Sam Phillips, who so far had only dialogue and narration, coolly pulled out a harmonic and gave an incredible mouth organ solo.

It all ends, and we cheer loudly. This was the best part because you could see the actor/musicians break character, glance at each other in unexpected ways and silently say with expressions of delight and satisfaction, “Seems like we did pretty good tonight.”

The loving reception gave them hope that even if they are in the minors now, one day soon they could be called up.

By Lanny Morgnanesi

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The day Elvis died — my story

18 Aug

 

Elvis Presley died 35 years ago on Aug. 16, 1977. It’s a day I’ll never forget.

I’d like to tell the story of that day. It involved a nearly naked lady who said she knew Elvis and pleaded with me to help her.

I rose early that morning, my first as a reporter for a suburban Philadelphia newspaper. As I shaved, I listened to the radio.  A contemporary rock station was playing an old Elvis song, which was odd, since he was pretty much a forgotten relic by then. Then there was another Presley tune, and another.

Within moments I learned from the DJ that the King had died. I thought that sad, since he had been so great and influenced so many, but I moved on. Bigger things awaited me. I was a journalist now.

No sooner had I settle into my desk than the phone rang. Pretty cool, I thought. Someone knows I’m here.

“Are you a reporter?” a woman on the line asked.

Not a good first call. From that one sentence I could tell she was drunk and high.

“Yes, I’m a reporter,” I said. “How can I help you?”

She threw a bunch of nonsense at me then said, “Please make them stop. I don’t want any of their money. I don’t want anything. Please make them stop and leave me alone.”

She sounded truly upset.

“Don’t want any of whose money?” I asked.

“Elvis’. I don’t want anything. Can you tell them that?

I was on the verge of hanging up.

“Tell who?” I asked.

“I don’t know. His lawyers. They keep threatening me,” she said.

This was all quite ridiculous but I kept talking because I had nothing else to do that morning and maybe there was a local angle to Elvis’ death. That would play well in the next day’s paper.

“Why would they threaten you?”

“They think I’m coming after their money because I had Elvis’ child. But I’m not. I don’t want the money.”

That busted the wacko meter.

“Look,” I said. “I have to go.”

She raised the level of her lethargic monotone.

“No, don’t go. You’re the only one who can help. Come visit me and I’ll tell you the whole story.”

There was more pleading, and I took her address. I told my boss what I was doing and where I was going. He laughed and looked at me with a combination of pity and loathing.

The woman’s working-class neighborhood was only a few minutes away. It had small houses but everything was neat and well-kept. Then I came upon a lawn that hadn’t been mowed for months. There were two cars up on blocks and several of the home’s shutters were hanging off the windows.

Unsurprisingly, this was the home of my caller.

I knocked on the door.

The woman who opened it looked like a zombie, with vacant eyes and blotchy skin and messy long hair. Her body, however, was magnificent. I knew that because I could see it.  All of it. She was wearing a nightgown as sheer as cellophane.

“Come in,” she said.

The immediate question to myself was: Do I stay or go?

My racing mind told me there was trouble ahead but also that this probably would never happen again for as long as I lived.

I would stay.

She pulled me in, sat me down, encircled me with vine-like arms and began kissing me with her putrid mouth.

After some difficulty, I pulled her off.

“I came here for a story,” I said, knowing there most definitely was not one. “Let’s hear your story.”

“Would you like a drink?” she said.

It was 10 a.m.

“No. Just tell me your story. Tell me about Elvis.”

And she proceeded to tell about where and how they met; the liking he took to her; how he came onto her strongly and how she yielded simply because he was Elvis.

“Do you have photos of you and him together?”

“Not really,” she said, walking over to a cabinet. “Just these, from about that time.”

They were photos of her, younger and very beautiful. She looked just like Priscilla.

“What happened since then?” I asked.

“This,” she said, turning the back of her neck to me and pulling up her hair to reveal a large surgical X. “I had an accident and an operation.”

I should have pursued this but didn’t.

“So you say you had a son with Elvis. Do you have his picture?

She did, a number of them.

In each and every one he looked just like a teen Elvis. Remarkable. It was starting to seem as if there might be some truth to all this.

As we continued to speak about the threatening calls, an uncomfortable noise came from the bedroom.

We were not alone.

Then he emerged. Zombie Number 2.

Beer can in hand, having probably digested a few Quaaludes (very popular at the time), a boy who could have been 18 or 15 shuffled out slowly like Frankenstein’s monster. His face was swollen, marked and bruised.

He never lifted his feet; he just slid them along. He looked straight ahead and not off to the side at us. But when he reached the spot where we were, he paused and ratcheted his head toward me.

“Are you the reporter?” he asked.

“Yes,” I answered.

“Well . . . I just want you to know  . . . that I’m not f—- her.”

Then he screamed and nearly cried, “But her old man thought I was and he beat the shit out of my face with a flashlight.”

Silence took over the room.

Then the boy said to me quietly, “You know . . . there’s something going on here.”

“Yes, I know,” I said.

Then, with utter contempt and a snarl he said, “You don’t know.”

Silence again.

It was broken by a knock on the door. I had been on an edgy alert the whole time but this sent me into an adrenaline-laced panic. My assumption was the woman’s husband had returned, armed this time with more than a flashlight.

I packed up my notepad and chose the window out of which I would jump.

The knocking continued. It was ignored by both boy and woman, as if it wasn’t there.

Finally, the door opened and a weak female voice was heard.

“Jimmy? Jimmy? Are you there?”

Jimmy’s mother stepped into the house. She was as frightened as I.

“Jimmy, it’s time to go. We are going now. Let’s go.”

He stayed put but she grabbed his arm and tugged and tugged and got him out the door.

I was right behind.

Back in the newsroom, I set my stuff down and planned to tell the story to my editor. Before I could, the phone rang.

“Is this Lanny, the reporter?”

“Yes,” surprised that my name was known.

“You don’t know me,” the male voice said. “I’ll admit this is kind of a strange call, but you may be the only person who can help me.”

Two in one day!

“How?” I asked.

“Listen, I’m not crazy or weird. I’m an actor in New York who is just trying to make a living. Things were going OK then all of a sudden there is this talk up here about me being Elvis’ son. Do you know anything about that?”

The weird had become bizarre.

“I might. But not much.”

Pause . . .

“Do you know my mother?” he asked.

“I think I just left her house.”

“What did she look like?”

I figured I would lie, but for some reason quickly changed my mind and asked, “Do you really want to know?”

“Yes,” he said.

So I told him, and not gently.

“Well, she was very high and she was very drunk.”

“That’s my mother,” he said.

We spoke a little longer and I took his number. I said I would call if I learned anything new.

At that point I stopped reporting and dropped the whole story. I was curious, but this wasn’t journalism. I had real work to do. I went over and told the tale to my editor, who gathered a crowd and made me tell it again. I must have told it five or six times that day, and many times after.

Of course, I never wrote a word of it for the paper, and the mystery of what really happened was never solved. I did call the police and told them what I had witnessed. They told me they knew about her. That’s how it was in those days. People knew, but not much was done.

About a week later I was leaving the newsroom to go out on a story. Normally I would leave by the rear entrance, but this day I went out the front, near the reception area. As I did, a visitor called my name.

“Lanny. Is that you?”

She was wearing clothes this time and was completely sober.

I was assaulted again by those vine-like arms and she tried to kiss me. I pulled away.

“You are gay. Aren’t you?” she said.

When I returned from my story I asked the person at the reception desk, “What was that woman doing here?”

“She placed a classified ad.”

“Can I see it?”

“Sure.”

It read:

“To the lawyers, representatives and family of Elvis Presley. I make no claims whatsoever to the estate of the deceased performer.”

***

EPILOGUE

Everything written here is true and exactly as it occurred. Had I intended this to be a fabrication I would have devised a better ending. The only untruth is the lie that this was my first day on the job. Actually, I had been a reporter for two years and possessed a master’s in journalism. I should have known better than to waste time on that crank call.

But had I acted wiser and more professionally, I would not have had this story to tell.

On the 35 anniversary of his death, may he rest in peace, Elvis Aaron Presley, and may all his children, however many there are, find happiness and success.

— Lanny Morgnanesi

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