I wasn’t a person one would call an Elvis-freak.
But we were contemporaries and I could not help but admire his talent, once he burst upon the scene.
When he was born, I was just shy of 3 years old.
He was born to Vernon and Gladys Presley in a two-room house in Tupelo, Mississippi, on January 8, 1935, whose birth anniversary this is, in fact.
I recommend checking out his family's history, which is extensive and interesting:
- Elvis Presley Family History : 1669-1935
Elvis Presley - Elvis Presley 1800-1935 Family History.
Elvis with his parents.
When he hit the airwaves beyond Memphis, his adopted home, I was a new bride living in Waco, Texas, where my husband was an Air Force officer stationed there at James Connally Air Force Base. In fact we’d been married in September of 1954 at the base’s chapel. Our music tastes ran to the likes of “Ebb Tide”, “Tenderly”, “Mona Lisa”, “You Belong to Me” from artists like Frank Sinatra, Nat “King” Cole, Frank Clacksfield’s Orchestra, Dean Martin and that genre.
I was not aware of the phenomenon brewing over in Tennessee. I was focused on making a home. But on a grocery-shopping outing about that tme, my husband turned on the car radio and called my attention to an amazingly different singer named Elvis Presley, whose music was being recognized and played by the DJs at the local station. He was singing “Hound Dog”.
Considering the music we were used to, this was quite a shock, as you can imagine! - - But we liked his sound and predicted he’d be a success. :-)
Elvis on TV
Of course we were to follow his blossoming career as he was introduced on early TV on our tiny little round screen one could hardly see in the daytime! But at least at night the likes of Ed Sullivan, Milton Berle and Steve Allen, even in fuzzy black and white, were visible making a big fuss over this new singer.
Elvis the Hearthrob
He started touring across country in 1955 and 1956 and visited Waco during one of the tours. He was very sensitively interviewed by a local newspaper reporter in 1956 on one of these cross-country, where he made several other stops not that far away, in Wichita Falls, Texas and in Oklahoma and Arkansas. He was still just the Elvis who had gotten a first real break, rather than the glittering celebrity he became. But there was no mistaking the voice, the looks and the manners. All he had to do was start singing and slinging his anatomy around and audiences were mesmerized. Yet people were astonished at his humility and real courtesy.
He never failed to address people as “Sir” and “Ma’m”, to say “please” and “thank you” and all the other niceties which were still expected of a respectable young man. He had an almost vulnerability about him - until he began to sing and rotate “The Pelvis”- and magic footwork and legwork. He was extremely talented. One had to like him!
And He Came To Waco
In the spring of 1956, he visited Waco where he performed at the Heart O' Texas Coliseum, and - I'm sure - to a sell-out audience. We were not among them, however. One might think, from the price of the tickets, we surely could have afforded it. But that was when I had to very carefully budget our food for $10 a week and we had a young son and soon would have a daughter on the way.
At the time of this visit to Waco, Elvis was growing in fame but as a person he was still “wet behind the ears” when it came to the massive adulation and controversy he set off wherever he appeared. He was still vulnerable and overwhelmed with wonder, amazement, and - insecurities as he strode forth in public, though he was confident when singing, strumming and performing.
It was during his stay for this performance that a reporter named Bea Ramirez from the Waco newspaper was able to manage an interview only shortly before he appeared on the stage of the Coliseum. She was able to catch the feelings of that moment, when he was only 21. I can only imagine the excitement there on both sides of the footlights. And it is my understanding that he always remembered this reporter and called her "Honey".
Here are excerpts from her interview:
Shortly before he was to go on stage at the Heart O’ Texas Coliseum, Elvis Presley, the 21-year-old king of the nation’s rock ’n’ roll set, sat in a darkened Cadillac limousine for an interview—well hidden from the sight of nearly 4,000 screaming, squealing teen-agers who were on hand to welcome him Tuesday night.
All the hep cats were there and not enough fuzz (cops). Out in the stands and on the floor, his audience of idolizing teen-agers did all but hiss and boo to rid the stage of a group of other hillbilly entertainers and bring Presley out behind the microphone that he handles more like a limp blonde than a mechanical gadget.
Still Elvis made them wait … and he stared out at them, half scared and half unbelieving. Then with some sort of spasmodic movement, he turned to talk about himself. “What do you want to know about me, honey?”
“Elvis, have you any idea at all about just what it was that started the girls going crazy over you?”
“No, I don’t. I guess it’s just something God gave me. I believe that, you know. Know what I mean, honey? And I am grateful. Only I’m afraid. I’m afraid I’ll go out like a light, just like I came on. Know what I mean, honey?”
Presley has a way with that “honey” business. When he talks, he looks straight ahead, or sort of dreamy like in no direction at all. Then he turns with that “know what I mean, honey?” His face is close, real close. Right in your face—almost.
“When do you start making your first movie, Elvis?” (Everybody calls him Elvis.)
“Oh, early in June, I think, because … ”
At this point he stopped talking and stared ahead into the crowd. He squinted his eyes, jerked up a pencil (which had no lead) and began scribbling on the dash of the car. Then he turned and said: “Huh, did you say something?”
“Elvis, when you start acting, will you keep the sideburns?” (The sideburns come down below his ears.)
“Oh, I don’t know, it depends on what type part they put me in. You know, I’m supposed to do ‘Billy the Kid’ pretty soon.”
“But Elvis, ‘Billy the Kid’ has been done to the ground.”
“Yeah, I know, but this time it will be different.” The way he says “different” it really will be.
“Elvis, will you sing in your first movie?”
“No, honey, sure won’t. Going to be in it with Katharine Hepburn and Burt Lancaster, and I won’t sing. I don’t want to, I want to be an actor.” Then he turns and stares into the crowd again, listens to one of the other entertainers singing and grins slowly.
“But Elvis, have you thought how unhappy all these girls are going to be if you stop singing?”
“Huh, what was that? Oh, I’ll never stop singing, honey, never.”
He was beginning to make me wonder if I knew what I was talking about, so I changed the subject: “Elvis, I hear you walk in your sleep.”
“Well, I have nightmares.”
“I dream I’m about to fight somebody or about to be in a car wreck or that I’m breaking things. Know what I mean, honey?” (I don’t have any idea what he means.)
“Where are you from?”
“From Memphis, Tenn.”
“Oh, yes, that’s where all the hill-billy singers come from, isn’t it?”
“Maybe so, but I’m no hill-billy singer.”
“Well, have you typed yourself … I mean your type of singing?”
“No, I don’t dare.”
“Cause I’m scared, know what I mean, honey? Real scared.”
“I don’t know … I don’t know. Know what I mean, honey?”
“At this point I thanked him for his time and started to make a beeline for the door. He grabbed my hand, sat there looking sleepy-eyed into my face and fanned his long lashes while he said: “Write me up good, will you honey?”
And he drove out to meet the hysterical adoration of young girls and boys whose emotions he has found are easy to stir up with a song.
I found no video of the Waco interview, so I included these excerpts. But I did find a video of one he gave in another Texas town of my acquaintance, Wichita Falls, probably his next stop after Waco, being just a couple hundred miles north of Waco:
Fort Hood & The Elite Circle Cafe in Waco
His familiarity with Waco was re-awakened when he was a private in the Army and stationed at Fort Hood, at Kileen, not far from Waco in 1957. I had just given birth to our second child and we were leaving the Air Force and Waco that summer. But the traditions Elvis started didn’t go unnoticed. He frequented a favorite eatery called the Elite Circle Cafe, which was then downtown - where everything was and all the through traffic passed right through the heart of towns. Later the building burned and has since been rebuilt near the Interstate. In fact, we’ve stopped and eaten there a few times en route to Austin. One of their famous featured sandwiches is the “Elvis Sandwich” - which is quite a - ahem - mouthful, I’m sure. I’ve not tried it. But its description sounds like food he’d have loved.
So on this, what would have been his 76th birthday, I’m pausing to remember him with this small tribute.
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