Judy Fowler: “Is My Face Red!”—Elvis Presley
I was face to face with Elvis himself, being introduced to him. I never dreamed it could happen to me!’ He was smiling and saying, “I’m sure glad to meet you, Judy.” And I couldn’t think of a thing to say! I was beet red! And do you know what? All I could think was that I almost didn’t enter the contest! Helen, my girlfriend, was the reason I did. We read about it in Photoplay together. “You send Elvis your kiss and maybe win a personal visit with him,” Helen suggested. “Oh no, Helen. I’d never have the luck,” I begged off.
“But he sent you a telegram once, so why. . . .”
“But that was different.” Last summer I had to have an operation for cancer, and my girlfriends wanted to do something nice for me. They knew what Elvis meant to me, so they wrote Colonel Parker about it. He and Elvis wired me best wishes for my recovery. And I did recover!
But to actually meet him? It would be—well, more than I could bear. And anyway, I’d never win. Even to hope was crazy.
Yet, that night in my room, there I made space on the top of my desk for writing. I had to push aside some of the china dogs I collect, to make room for my elbows. And when my real live dog, my poodle Beanie, came whimpering for attention, I had to humor him by scratching his ears.
“Don’t bother me right now, Beanie,” I told him. “You know I love you dearly, but this letter is very important.”
I smoothed a sheet of paper and thought about Elvis.
“Dear Elvis,” I wrote. At last my contest entry was under way. Then, after those two beautiful words, I stopped. I didn’t know what to say next!
“Dear Elvis.” At the thought of him, my breath was short, and my heart was so full of things I’d like to say, I should have been able to write a book. I wanted to thank him for the telegram and let him know how it speeded my recovery. I wanted him to know how sincerely I admired him and how much pleasure his records and movies give me and so many of my friends here in Phoenix. And, of course, I wanted to welcome him home from the Army.
That was it—a welcome was the best way to start. While I thought, the pen began to move. At the end of an hour, I’d finished the letter. I thought to myself, “It isn’t anything special, not good enough to win, but every word is sincere.”
When I folded my letter and put it in the envelope, my fingers trembled. Elvis, himself, might touch this very envelope. Surely, at the touch, he’d realize how I felt when I wrote it.
Medium rose lipstick
Next, I had to enclose a kiss print. This was going to be important, but it wouldn’t take me long to select the right shade of lipstick, because I don’t have many. My mother and I have argued about this occasionally—lipstick, eye makeup, things like that. I really don’t care a lot for heavy makeup and don’t wear much, but sometimes wear more than she thinks is appropriate.
I looked at my lipsticks on the dressing table. A pale rosy pink was my favorite, but it was worn down so low I was afraid it wouldn’t make a clean, definite lip line.
Another, that a friend had left by accident, was too purple. She is a decided brunette, and the dark shade is becoming to her but not to me. Of course, Elvis (and the Photoplay editor) wouldn’t know I don’t wear purple lipstick but somehow using it didn’t seem honest. And, with Elvis, I wanted everything to be completely honest.
Finally, I chose a lipstick of my own, almost new and still with a good point, in medium rose. It was darker than the shade I usually wear, but it was mine and I do wear it sometimes, so I wouldn’t be cheating.
Carefully, I shaped my lips, wishing for a lipstick brush—something I’ve never had.
I remembered seeing a demonstrator in the dime store apply makeup. She said the correct way to put on lipstick was to start by carefully outlining the upper and lower lips, and then you just fill in from there. I tried it, but my hand wobbled, and the lipstick smeared. I wiped off the first attempt with cleansing tissue and tried again.
Beanie was sitting up watching with interest, making little puzzled noises. I threw the tissue at the waste basket but missed, and it fell on the floor where Beanie examined it, sniffing.
Next try was more successful and, pressing carefully, I made a kiss print on the paper.
“How would it be to kiss Elvis himself?” I wondered, and was ashamed of myself for even thinking such a thing.
I didn’t expect to win
At dinner, I told Mother I had entered the contest.
“Well,” she said, “whoever wins, I know she won’t be one bit a sweeter girl than you are.”
My mother and I live alone and she works very hard to support me. She’s a billing clerk but also a singer, and she likes Elvis’ records almost as well as I.
“Of course,” I told her, tasting my soup, “I don’t expect to win.”
Mother didn’t answer but patted my hand reassuringly.
I was too busy studying for the next several days to dare think too much about Elvis. Sometimes when I saw his picture in the paper I wondered who’d get to meet him, but I could never picture myself as the one.
Again, it was without a warning, without a hint, that a very ordinary day became memorable—even more memorable than the day I entered the contest.
I got up sort of late-ish one nice, warm, sunny Saturday morning. I was slow about dressing, because I didn’t have to go to school. Mother had already been at work for a couple of hours. I was idly puttering around my room, making my bed, dusting my china dogs, when the doorbell rang.
Truthfully, I was a little bit annoyed by the bell, because I still wasn’t completely dressed. “Now who could that be at this time of day?” I wondered. I rummaged for a housecoat as the bell rang again, and jerked a few bobby pins out of my pin-curled bangs.
It was a special delivery postman.
“Miss Judy Fowler?” he asked. He handed me a letter, turned and went down the steps.
For me? I began to rip open the envelope before I shut the door. I never got special delivery letters.
When I saw “Photoplay” printed on the envelope, I knew it had to be about the contest and my knees got shaky. My heart pounded so violently during the half-second it took me to open the letter and read the first few lines, that I could feel it in my ears. I was frantic to know what it said, but at the same time I was afraid.
I skimmed the words. Then I began to shake all over. I’d won! I’d won the contest. I was going to meet Elvis Presley face to face!
I raced to the telephone to call my mother. Luckily, she was on her coffee break so I could blurt it out right away. Even now, I can’t remember exactly how I told her the wonderful news. And she says all she remembers about the conversation is screams, giggles, squeals and “Elvis—Elvis—Elvis.”
Two weeks pass in a hurry just before exams, but they drag terribly if they’re the two weeks you have to wait before you meet your idol. The weeks I waited to go to Hollywood were both. School was nearly over for the year, exams coming at me fast, and I’d wondered where the days went in such a hurry.
“Golly, tonight I’ll just have to study,” I’d say.
But when I thought about the contest prize, the clock stopped. Every night, before I went to bed, I’d look at the calendar and think, “One day less before I see him.” Then, I’d think, “What should I say to him, first thing?” And on that thought, I’d be wide awake for hours, worrying.
I’d almost choked to death
What should I say? Wondering about it frightened me. Once, I’d met Ricky Nelson, and I’d almost choked to death. For a little while, just a little while, when Elvis was in Germany, I’d thought I liked Ricky better than anybody in the world, and the time I met him I was so excited I couldn’t say one word. Not even, “I’m glad to meet you.
Suppose this happened with Elvis? I was only getting to meet him once—just one wonderful day—and if I said the wrong thing, I wouldn’t get a second chance.
I asked my mother what to say to him.
“Just say anything,” she advised. “Now if you freeze, Judy, I’ll feel like spanking you.
I tried practicing in front of the mirror, smiling and nodding, carrying on a conversation with Elvis. I tried not to look too excited but also not too stiff.
If I blurted out, “I think you are the most sensational person in the world,” he’d decide I was a hysterical little girl. But if I was cool and stand-offish, how would he know how much I like him?
“Tell him we think he’s grown up a lot since he went to Germany,” many of my friends suggested.
“Kiss him for me,” someone said.
“Oh, that Elvis! What’s so great about meeting him?” some boys scoffed, but I could tell most of them would like to. themselves. The boys, who were special friends of mine, were particularly nice. They teased me a little about my prize, but they seemed genuinely glad I’d won and truly interested in the plans for my trip to Hollywood.
Of course Marg, my best friend, was thrilled that I won. I called her as soon as I got the letter from Photoplay. But one or two girls were openly, unpleasantly jealous.
“I don’t see why Judy should get to meet Elvis more than I should,” one of them complained. The funny part was, she hadn’t even entered the contest!
My mother and I flew to Hollywood by jet and were taken to the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Wednesday. Thursday was to be the big day.
Riding to Paramount studios with one of the editors of Photoplay, I tried to look at all the things he pointed out, but I couldn’t concentrate. I’d been awake since five that morning. I hadn’t been able to eat breakfast and I kept hoping I’d picked the right dress to wear today. Mother had bought me two dresses especially for the trip. One was pink, the other was yellow and white striped cotton. It was a hard choice, deciding which to wear to the studio. It was the yellow and white that I finally put on, and I kept wondering if I should have picked the pink.
Finally, we were at the studio. “Sh-hhh,” someone said as I slipped through a door with a “Closed Set” sign hanging on it. “We’ll have to be quiet until we see what’s happening.”
I’d never been in a movie studio before, so I had no idea what to expect. It was dark just inside the door, and the darkness was filled with funny shapes, like when you step into an attic. Then I began to make them out. They were props and people. As we walked forward from the door toward the set, the light increased until we stood right on the edge of the stage where they were shooting Elvis’ picture, “G.I. Blues.” A row of dressing rooms were to the right, and one of them had a on Sa the door that said, “Elvis Presley.
On the set, a lot of soldiers surrounded a tank, and one of them was Elvis! He looked almost exactly the way I’d thought, only not so thin. His smile was like a magnet, and it occurred to me he has the whitest, most even teeth I’ve ever seen.
“Judy,” my mother said, nudging me, “don’t chew your lower lip that way. Don’t be so nervous.”
“She’s just fine,” John Dalvalli, a publicity man with us said. “In a minute now sag this scene breaks, she’ll get to meet Elvis.
The moment finally arrived
Finally the moment arrived! Elvis came up to me, smiling his nice, friendly smile, and before I could even smooth down my bangs, he was saying in his soft, dreamy voice that he was very glad to meet me.
What—what—what had I planned to say to him? I mumbled something. All the bright, clever greetings my friends and I had planned vanished from my mind.
“Come into my dressing room,” he invited, “so we can talk.”
I wagged my head like a puppet but didn’t answer.
“What’s the matter?” he asked. Turning to my mother, he said, “I don’t believe she knows how to smile.” But he was kidding—oh, I hoped so!
He put his arm around me to help me over the wires and cables on the floor, and I got stiff as a statue. Poor Elvis. He tried ever so hard to put me at ease, and he must have thought I was a terrible dope, because the harder he worked at being friendly, the less I could say.
“Please, God,” I thought, “let him know I’m not talking only because he’s too wonderful for words.”
Of course I did talk some during the day. What about? What did we say? I’m still in a sort of trance, I guess, because honestly, I can’t remember many details.
I know Elvis asked if I was a senior in high school, but he was probably trying to flatter me. I’m only a sophomore and I don’t look like a senior. At least I don’t think I do. He asked some other questions about school and about my friends. And he was so polite and friendly to my mother, that she was captivated.
I got to watch him work for a while. Once he said the wrong line, and I was afraid somebody’d be mad at him, but nobody was. Later he, or somebody, told me that actors often make mistakes the first time they go through a scene, and I needn’t have worried.
I forgot to tell Elvis that my friends thought he’d grown up a lot, and I didn’t tell him how much I wanted to kiss him. Once or twice, I started to ask him if he’d kiss me, but my courage failed.
The last time I saw him, he was standing with a group of men. He waved to me, calling, “Goodbye, Judy.”
Mr. Diskin, one of Elvis’ managers, knew how hard it was for me to say goodbye, so he did a very kind thing. Our party was about to leave the Paramount lot when Mr. Diskin whispered, “Come on, Judy. Let’s go back and see Elvis one more time, shall we? Just the two of us?”
We went back to the set but couldn’t find him. He must have been called to makeup or somewhere.
I felt happy and miserable
After we left Paramount I cried, because I’d seen Elvis and talked with Elvis, and maybe I’ll never talk with him again.
I felt happy and miserable all at once.
Now, when I remember my trip to Hollywood, I’m only happy.
Maybe I’ll never meet Elvis again face to face, but I have souvenirs to keep forever. He signed my school yearbook and some pictures. I’ve put up a bulletin board in my room just to display the Elvis mementos.
And just before we left the studio, Colonel Parker gave me another china dog for my collection, one that was Elvis’.
Now, when I dust my dogs, I can touch the one that Elvis touched. When I hear his records, they’ll have a special meaning, because now I know the singer behind the voice.
And, most important, if I ever hear anyone question that Elvis is wonderful, I can set them straight and be sure I’m right. Of course I always knew—he is handsome, kind and modest—but now, thanks to Photoplay, I’m sure.
—by JUDY FOWLER as told to NANCY ANDERSON
SEE ELVIS IN “G.I. BLUES” FOR PARAMOUNT AND HEAR HIM SING ON THE RCA VICTOR LABEL.
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE OCTOBER 1960