We were married on Elvis’ birthday. Hold on there big fellah, it was just a coincidence.
I didn’t even realize it until I woke up in a champagne haze, with the TV still blaring on our wedding night.
I knew the Fates had conspired when I half-opened one eye and saw there on the news, thousands of fans lined up to worship outside the gates at the temple of Elvis, Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee.
I have a deep appreciation for all things Elvis, first and foremost his music.
The early stuff was genuinely ground-breaking, classic Rock & Roll and some of the later Vegas-era tunes were also outstanding.
The King of Rock & Roll may never have threatened to walk off with an Oscar but hey, who doesn’t like it when an Elvis movie pops up on your TV in the middle of the night or on some rainy Saturday afternoon?
C’mon, good clean campy 60’s fun with the star speeding his brains out on “medicine” while bursting into song every five minutes.
Hollywood’s starlet du jour fighting the Elvis magnetism, but in the end, falling head over heals for him and then joining in for a duet.
Yup, formula script writing and songwriting to die for. No academy awards here but a Spinout, Roustabout, Clambake of a good time.
The clothes, the cars, the airplanes… he was great at the whole star power lifestyle, with a hillbilly twist, and Graceland was a huge part of that.
I had wanted to see Graceland for decades, and now the end is near, I did it my way.
One doesn’t just walk through the famous gates of Graceland –oh no — one must be bussed the five hundred or so feet from the ticket booth across Elvis Presley Boulevard.
Not knowing that, we just headed up the driveway like we were family.
Getting stopped gave us a chance to check out the graffiti on the wall by the gates before going across to get
tickets. People from all over the world have etched in their reminiscences, best wishes or just their moniker for posterity.
Once tickets were procured, we were properly herded aboard the bus and instructed to switch on the recorded tour in the provided headsets. Let me add here that Lance LeGault, (The A-Team’s Col. Decker) who narrates the excursion, is perfect.
His deep baritone voice took me back to the days of Rex Allen saying “All you add is love” for Purina Dog Chow.
Lance knows his stuff, he was there. He appeared in three of The King’s films, working as his stunt double and taking on minor roles. Look close, that’s Lance sitting on the side of the stage playing tambourine in the ’68 comeback special.
The tacky opulence hit the moment we walked through Graceland’s front door. These first rooms are actually the most tastefully decorated in the mansion.
The living room looked as if Liberace played the inside of I Dream of Jeannie’s bottle.
Across the entry hall, the dining room decor could best be described as early Southern grandma.
But hands down, the highlight of these first few rooms has to be Mama’s purple poodle bathroom. We craned our heads around the doorway as far as we could to get a good look.
Headed down the hall, past the conventional kitchen, into the heart of The King’s lair, the feel of the house shifted from southern comfort to Hillbilly Cat.
Every living area has a bar — Elvis liked to entertain. The groovy, mod style TV / target practice (when something displeasing to The King came on one of the sets) room, all yellow and black with mirrored ceilings set the tempo.
E had heard that Lyndon Johnson had three sets to watch the news on all three networks at once so… three sets, no waiting on the firing line.
The game room was magnificent, with colorful, patterned, pleated Indian-inspired fabric covered the walls, pillows AND the ceiling.
Tiffany-style lights hover over the billiard table.
Knickknacks that couldn’t possibly be conducive to a game of pool adorn the room.
Then…. the infamous Jungle Room.
The King goes green shag carpet native — on the floors and, oh yeah, the ceiling.
Tiki tacky barely begins to describe this conglomeration. Rock-A Hula! Blue Hawaii must have really rubbed off on E.
A colorfully lit fountain cascades down an entire stone wall and the furniture is unbelievably, well, let’s just call it Paradise, Hawaiian Style.
Leaving the inside of the house, we see Vernon Presley’s office. Vernon was Elvis’ daddy and ran the business affairs from an office right on the grounds of Graceland.
The sign on the door pretty much sums up his business attitude:
“NO LOAFING IN OFFICE STRICTLY FOR EMPLOYEES ONLY! IF YOU HAVE BUSINESS HERE. PLEASE TAKE CARE OF IT AND LEAVE. – VERNON PRESLEY”
From the office we proceeded through a long hallway filled with memorabilia. Gold records, movie posters, photos, clothes, awards and a rather disturbing doll lined the walls.
I found it interesting that none of the three Grammy awards given to The King of Rock & Roll were for Rock & Roll.
He won them all in the Gospel Music category.
It also struck me that all of the suits, even the later Viva Las Vegas models, seemed to be tailored for the earlier, skinny Elvis.
We finished up in the Meditation Garden, which Elvis built for quiet reflection back in the sixties, but due to security issues at the Forest Hill Cemetery, now serves as the Presley family private cemetery.
Here we see the final resting places of daddy Vernon, mama Gladys, grandmother Minnie May, a memorial to twin brother Jessie Garon and, of course, Elvis.
With the tour of Graceland complete, we headed back across Elvis Presley Boulevard into the sea of swag offered to the pilgrims. In amongst the shops disguised as attractions is the car museum. Definitely worth a look.
For all the jokes about his taste in decorating choices of Graceland, Elvis certainly had good taste in cars.
As Rock & Roll royalty, The King had to have a couple of Rolls Royce Silver Clouds, but also a 1975 Ferrari Dino, a ’62 Lincoln Continental, a Mercedes limo and a convertible 280 SL (for Priscilla) from back before most Americans knew what a Mercedes was.
There are also two Stutz Blackhawks in the collection. One, a 1971 model, is the first Stutz ever brought into the United States. The other, a ’73, the last car that Elvis ever drove.
Of course Cadillac was his favorite and there are a couple of great ones here.
The ’55 pink Fleetwood makes your basic Mary Kay model look like nothing but a hound dog…
…but I must say, the 1956 purple El Dorado convertible is as good as it gets. It massively screams cool and you could make at least three Toyotas from the steel in this Detroit classic.
After browsing through several more of the “attractions” and passing up treasures like the $275 Elvis and Priscilla dolls, the $210 incredibly tacky watch, the $319 purse and flask set and a most tempting $3,300 replica jumpsuit, we decided it was time to see the Lisa Marie.
A faux airport gate entrance leads to the “Elvis Fan Detector” security checkpoint and then up the jetway to board The King’s “Flying Graceland” he named after his daughter, the Lisa Marie.
This Lisa Marie is a former Delta Airlines Convair 880, which was a state-of-the-art, long-range jumbo jet for its day and is the best preserved of the few remaining 880’s.
The interior is set up with a lounge area up front, then a corporate style meeting room, both with the mandatory wet bars, and finally Elvis’ private quarters aft.
The stateroom includes a king sized bed (what else?) with the FAA required seatbelt across it and a private dressing room / bathroom complete with 24 karat gold plated fixtures and sink. The gold plating is sort of a theme running throughout the aircraft, right down to the seatbelt buckles.
It was obvious, as we were leaving the grounds, that the spirit of The King never left the building. He lives on in each new generation, as embodied by the Little Elvis we passed as he headed out for a trip aboard the Lisa Marie.
Thank you, thank you very much.
YOUR TURN: Do you love Elvis as much as I do? Would you make a pilgrimage to see the King at Graceland?