The human side of Elvis
Jerry Schilling's book on his 23-year long friendship with Elvis Presley is a "heartfelt narrative".Updated: Aug 22, 2006 15:31 IST
When he was 12, Jerry Schilling couldn't believe the voice he heard on the radio singing "That's All Right" belonged to a teenager from his own north Memphis neighbourhood.
A few days after hearing the song, he was playing a pickup football game, and the quarterback on his team was the same kid from the neighbourhood, 19-year-old Elvis Presley.
"We went into a huddle, and I said, 'Wow, that's the guy with a song on the radio!"' Schilling told The Associated Press. Schilling has written a new memoir about his 23-year friendship with Presley, but he didn't use the book to convince anyone that his childhood friend was a great performer or a rock 'n' roll legend. Instead, Me and a Guy Named Elvis, written with Chuck Crisafulli, shows Presley's more human side, the intelligent and passionate man who struggled with drug abuse and was frustrated with his mediocre Hollywood movies.
After Presley's death in 1977, Schilling, who still lives in the Hollywood Hills, California, the home that Elvis bought for him, worked for Elvis Presley Enterprises and produced documentaries and TV specials about the performer.
But Schilling had always said he wasn't interested in writing an Elvis book, as other members of the inner circle had done. He changed his mind only when Schilling's wife, Cindy, urged him to tell the story.
|Jerry Schilling (left) and Elvis Presley|
Schilling worked with Crisafulli, an entertainment journalist who has written several books. Publisher Gotham, an imprint of the Penguin Group, said that the pair wrote the book side by side over the course of three years, and it was a very successful collaboration. There are about 30,000 copies in print of the book, which already has been sent back for a second printing since its August 17 release.
"It's a fun, complicated book about a simple friendship in a complicated world," Schilling said in a recent interview while in town to promote his new book. "(His death) was the biggest loss of my life, ever. I still miss him."
Peter Guralnick, author of the two-volume biography of Presley, Last Train to Memphis and Careless Love, said Schilling's memoir is a balanced treatment of Presley and offers insights into the characters that surrounded the musician.
The book is "a personal memoir that, while it places its narrator squarely in the midst of historic events, never claims credit for those events in the way that so many self-serving memoirs are inclined to do," Guralnick wrote in the book's foreword. The memoir also received the blessing of Presley's wife Priscilla and his daughter Lisa Marie.
Davis-Kidd Bookseller in Memphis sold more than 80 copies of the book during a preview weekend- a good showing for a topic that has tired most folks in Memphis, said Katherine Whitfield, marketing manager for the store.
|Jerry Schilling wrote a moving memoir of his friend, Elvis|
Me and a Guy Named Elvis
stands out from other Presley-themed books because it's clear he's not just trying to make a buck off his famous friend, Whitfield said.
"I think a lot of care was put into it," she said. "He talks about Elvis sort of like an older brother. I've seen a lot of people tell a lot of stories; it's hard to fake that sincerity." Publisher's Weekly agreed, saying the memoir's "heartfelt narrative makes this more than just another piece of Elvis product."
Schilling started working for Presley in 1964, doing whatever was needed as Elvis moved from concerts to movie sets to the studio. Those who worked for Presley- the so-called Memphis Mafia- became his friends and confidants. Presley even allowed Schilling and the others to live in his Memphis home at Graceland. Schilling recalled a time while he lived at Graceland when Presley asked him to go for a drive with him. After a quiet ride, they pulled into the cemetery where the entertainer's mother, Gladys, was buried.
"Seeing him before that monument, it came to me that, perhaps for the very first time, I could see my friend as a small, fragile human- just like any other," he writes.
Even when Presley started seeing Priscilla, the Memphis Mafia was always around. Presley's manager, "Colonel" Tom Parker, shut his buddies out of their 1967 wedding in Las Vegas, but Presley managed to invite them along on the honeymoon.
"When he carried Priscilla across the threshold of their new Palm Springs home- the so-called Honeymoon House- the first thing Priscilla saw on the other side was us," Schilling writes. Presley wanted his buddies around, but he wanted them to keep their distance from Priscilla, Schilling said, even though they were all living under the same roof.
Schilling once saw Priscilla in the kitchen of Graceland looking flushed and asked her if she was feeling OK- not realizing she and Elvis had been arguing. Priscilla later told Elvis that Schilling cared about her feelings, and it drove Elvis crazy. Schilling said Presley stormed into a room where his friends were watching TV and announced, "I don't need anybody else taking care of Priscilla and checking how she is." Schilling said he didn't talk to Priscilla again for almost a full year.
Even though the couple argued and eventually divorced, they remained close through the rest of singer's life. But the person who made him the happiest was his daughter, Lisa Marie. "Elvis and Lisa were just magic together," Schilling said, adding that Presley wanted more time with his family just before his death.
Drugs have long been the suspected cause of Presley's death, and Schilling said he took pills to escape the disappointment he felt about the direction of his career. Elvis wanted to produce his own film about karate, but Parker refused to allow it. Elvis tried to make the movie himself with Schilling's help, but it was shelved as Elvis spent more time in the hospital to combat fatigue and drug usage.
He was also excited about the chance to appear alongside Barbra Streisand in the movie, A Star Is Born. "He thought the role- which eventually went to Kris Kristofferson- would prove he could do more than be the good-looking nice guy he played in most of his movies."
Parker ended Presley's participation in A Star Is Born with demands of twice the salary that Elvis was being offered and that he be billed before Streisand, who not only starred in the film, but also co-produced it.
"It was the creative disappointment that killed Elvis," Schilling said. "The drugs were just a Band-Aid."
First Published: Aug 22, 2006 13:46 IST