Why Cant He Get Married?—Elvis Presley
In a backstage dressing room, Elvis Presley slumped wearily on a couch. For a moment he sat, lost in thought, absent-mindedly rubbing the fingers of his right hand, stiff from signing autographs. Then he looked up at his cousin, Gene Smith, and grinned ruefully.
“Ain’t I a sorry sight, Gene?” he said, fingering the big rents in his red satin shirt, the torn trouser leg.
“Man, those little ol’ gals sure go for you,” said Gene.
“They don’t mean any harm,” said Elvis. “They’re real nice kids, and they’ve been swell to me.”
“Notice that pretty blonde, and the redhead?”
“Yeah, sure I noticed . . .” Suddenly, Elvis hit a pillow with a vicious punch, sending it flying across the room. “So what? Can I ask them for a date? Can I even get a little bit friendly?”
He put his head in his hands, and his voice trembled. “Everybody thinks this is such a great big ball, Gene. They ought to know what it feels like, to be in my shoes. If I even talk to a girl, I’m to pick her up. If I’d go out with one to get a hamburger, they’d call me a chaser.”
“Not only that, El,” Gene pointed out. “You know you’ve gotta be so careful. Sure, most of them are real good girls, but there’s always a chance that one of ’em’s out to use you for publicity, or even some kind of hoked-up blackmail.”
“Yeah,” Elvis sighed heavily, and stretched out on the couch, looking vacantly up at the ceiling. “Yeah, I know . . .”
“Try ’n’ get some rest, El,” soothed Gene.
“Poor kid,” he thought, “Poor, kid .. . He sure has to take a lot of bitter with the sweet. Maybe when we get to Hollywood, it’ll be different. He’ll get to meet some nice girls, actresses in his own class. They’ll understand . . .”
But in Hollywood, they didn’t understand. Not right away. They eyed Elvis curiously—then backed off and kept their distance, as if he were some sort of dangerous character.
“I’d heard so many things about him,” said Debra Paget. “How spoiled he was, how he was a moron.”
“I thought going out with Elvis would be—real daring,” said Natalie Wood.
“I didn’t think I’d like him,” said Anne Neyland. “I had an entirely different impression of him because of his publicity and his photographs. I didn’t see how I could like him as a person.”
“I thought he’d be real wild,” said Venetia Stevenson.
“What am I, a leper or something?” Even on the phone, all the way from Hollywood, Gladys Presley could feel how upset her son was. “Now, Elvis,” she said gently. “Don’t you mind. You just go out and meet those girls, and be yourself. If they’re the right kind, they’ll see all that awful publicity about you isn’t true.”
Wonder of wonders, they did see! They did understand!
On the set of his first picture, “Love Me Tender,” Elvis finally got up his courage to be introduced to his co-star, Debra Paget. “Pleased to meet you, ma’am,” he said shyly.
“I was so pleasantly surprised,” says Debra. “He was such a gentleman!”
Later, she laughed when someone asked her how Elvis was doing as an actor. “No, he doesn’t need help in the love scenes!” But they never did get around to dating. Debbie had a very tight schedule at the time—and when she was free, Elvis had met Natalie Wood.
With Natalie, Elvis was in seventh heaven. At last, he had himself a girl, a real, down-to-earth girl, the kind he’d be proud to take home and introduce to his parents. Not that either of them was serious. They just had a lot of fun, going to drive-ins for hamburgers and Cokes, listening to jukebox music. Often, their pal, Nick Adams, went along, and Cousin Gene, and the four of them had a lot of laughs. The kind of fun that’s just routine for most boys. But not for Elvis.
He came back to earth with a thud after Natalie’s trip to Memphis. Both of them were so used to traveling all over the country all the time, that they thought no more of it than other young folks would think of a bus ride to the next town. But the press didn’t take it that way. They blew it up as a big romance—and the “big romance” was over before it had ever begun.
Natalie didn’t see Elvis after that. Both of them knew it could only cause them unhappiness. And now, she won’t talk about him at all. She’s in love, and engaged to be married to Robert Wagner . . .
“Any other star you can name can lead a half-way normal life,” says a Hollywood press agent over his coffee in Schwab’s drugstore, “but not that Elvis. I know it sounds crazy, especially since we press agents are supposed to be a cynical lot, but I can’t help feeling sorry for him. I know what he’s up against. The press will never let him alone.”
No, the press didn’t leave him alone. Not when he dated Joan Blackman. Not when he invited Yvonne Lime to spend Easter Week in Memphis. Not when he went with Anne Neyland. Not when he asked his latest flame, Venetia Stevenson, to stop off in Memphis on her way back to Hollywood . . .
In the darkness of a Memphis movie theater, Elvis Presley took the hand of the lovely blonde Venetia beside him, and grinned like a kid who has just put his hand in the cookie jar.
“Isn’t this great, honey?” he whispered. “Gee, I’m so happy.”
Venetia smiled back at him, and nodded. It was wonderful, sitting there with Elvis. It gave her a strange, eerie feeling, though. Because, except for the manager, who had welcomed them and now sat at a discreet distance, the huge movie house was empty. This showing of “Loving You” had been arranged just for them, because Elvis wanted her to see it and tell him what she thought of it.
Elvis watched his own scenes tensely, and he gripped her hand a little tighter.
The film ended, and the lights went up. “Well, honey?” he asked anxiously.
“Oh, Elvis, you were wonderful!” she told him. “Your acting has improved so much. You’re lots better than you were in your first picture.”
“Gosh, thanks,” he muttered, embarrassed, and quickly changed the subject. “C’mon, now. Mom will have dinner waiting. Guess we’d better leave by the back door.”
It didn’t work. A blinding flash struck them as they came out, leaving them dazed and blinking.
“Thought you’d give us the slip, huh, Elvis?” the photographer crowed.
“Why, Venetia Stevenson!” a reporter exclaimed. “This is news!”
The next day, the picture hit every newspaper in the country. And Venetia Stevenson’s name was added to the list of Elvis Presley’s “Memphis romances.”
“I don’t get this bit,” a Memphis reporter groused. “It’s getting to be a big publicity stunt for him, or the girls—or both—if you ask me. This business of bringing them home to meet mother—if he’s so serious about them, why doesn’t he settle on one and get married?”
Why? Because Elvis Presley can’t get married.
Elvis would like to get married. That’s the heartbreaking, ironic twist. “Sure, I’d like to get married some day,” he says, in a wistful tone that implies that this is something that happens to other people, but not to him. Then, he adds, matter-of-factly, “Right now, I have no plans.”
One of his henchmen put it more bluntly: “Marriage is the farthest thing from Elvis’ mind,” snapped Tom Diskin, associate of Elvis’ manager, Colonel Tom Parker.
Behind those words lies a pathetic story. The story of a boy who has everything—and nothing. The story of a boy who is lonely and misunderstood, hungering for love, or even just a little bit of the normal boy-girl companionship that others take for granted.
Back in Hollywood after her three-days’ stay in Memphis, beautiful, gentle Venetia Stevenson spoke quietly about Elvis. There was no rancor in her heart, no bitter words for those who had branded the visit as a publicity stunt.
“I had the wrong idea about Elvis, too, before I met him,” Venetia said. “I thought he was real wild. Then, when a mutual friend introduced us about a month ago, I found out how wrong I was. He’s so nice! So quiet, polite, friendly and easygoing. It’s a shame that people don’t know him as he really is!
“We dated for two weeks before he left,” she went on. “Then, when Elvis heard that Ed Sullivan had picked me as the Most Photogenic Girl in the World and I was going East to appear on his show, he invited me to return by way of Memphis. I’d never been to the South before, and it was wonderful. The people there are so friendly and warm. We had a quiet time, because I was so tired from my trip. I rode around the farm on a tractor and drove Elvis’ cars. Elvis’ mother cooked wonderful southern food, and if I’d stayed there another day I’d have gained weight. The only time we went out was to go to a fair, and to see his movie. Most of the time, we spent at home with his folks.”
And Venetia made it very clear that she intended to go on seeing Elvis, let the publicity fall where it may. “He’s called me since I’ve returned,” she said, “but I was away at a horse show and missed the calls. But he’ll be back for a recording session soon and I’ll see him then.”
“Sure, she means it,” snorted a hardbitten movie executive. “Venetia’s a nice girl. But she’s got a great big career ahead of her. Wait’ll the people around her start putting on the pressure. She’ll find out it’s not so simple to date Elvis Presley . . .”
Yvonne Lime found out, the hard way. “I met Elvis when I worked with him in ‘Loving You,’ ” says cute, blonde Yvonne. “He remembered me from the role I had in ‘The Rainmaker’ and came over and introduced himself. He asked me out, and my first date was with him and his folks. We went to see ‘Giant’ and he sat between his mother and me, holding both of my hands. We all enjoyed the movie very much, and we weren’t too mobbed because it was a small theater, and when we came out it was raining. It was a wonderful evening.
“We dated for the next two weeks, and then he left on a tour. He called me from different places, and when he got back to Memphis, he asked me to come and visit for Easter Week.
“We had some great times together. I remember one party we gave together that was really very funny. He invited his friends from Memphis, and I invited mine from Glendale. We decided to have beach party, but it rained. We went to the beach anyway, but it didn’t stop. Finally, we had our party in Elvis’ apartment in the Beverly-Wilshire Hotel—all forty of us!”
Just then, a Mexico City paper reported that Yvonne and Elvis were coming there to be married.
“We never discussed marriage,” says Yvonne hotly. “We dated a lot, but we never went steady. We both went out with others.
“When those marriage rumors broke, we thought it best not to go out anymore. Every time we dated, it was in the papers that we were going to be married. I don’t hear from Elvis at all now,” she said wistfully.
“The way I heard it,” a Hollywood insider said, “Presley’s press agent blamed Yvonne’s for the marriage item, and vice versa. And the kids are the innocent victims of the fracas, until they can prove who really did plant it. It’s a dirty shame.
Pretty Anne Neyland, who plays with Elvis in his new M-G-M picture, ‘Jailhouse Rock,’ discovered, too, that dating Elvis could cause complications in her life—but in this case, the complications were created by Elvis himself.
“As I told you,” said Anne, “I was prepared not to like Elvis. So when I met him, it was quite a shock. He handled himself extremely well, and he’s much better looking than his photographs. He’s gallant and charming and very sweet—just the opposite of what I thought he’d be!
“He got my phone number from the publicity department, and we began dating steadily. Since he’s back home he calls me about once a week.
“I had a very small part in the picture. I haven’t told anyone this—it was a part sort of written in for me, at Elvis’ request. He wanted me to be in the picture, but he didn’t want me to play the role that I was originally up for—the part of a movie star, an older girl who’s been around. About a week after we began dating, I found out I wasn’t going to do that role. It wasn’t until much later that I found out Elvis had something to do with that.
“You see,” Anne went on, smiling, “Elvis is a very funny boy when he likes a girl very much. He puts her on a pedestal. and he makes her out to be so sweet and so naive that she can’t look at other boys when she’s going around with him. As far as he was concerned, I was too sweet to play the movie star part, because this girl had been around and he didn’t want me to do anything like that.
“I was quite shocked and upset when I discovered this. I tried to explain to him that it was my business. That I want to play all kinds of roles, and the parts I play have nothing to do with what I am like myself. But he thinks if he likes a girl well enough to marry her, she wouldn’t be in this business.”
But what of Barbara Hearn, the quiet, lovely brunette back home in Memphis, who has been close to Elvis and his family for years? Who spends much time at his home and sees a lot of him whenever he comes there, seemingly indifferent to the other girls who come to visit?
The hometown folks would like to see Elvis marry Barbara. “She’s a mighty fine girl,” they say. But Barbara knows that, just now at least, it isn’t in the cards. Maybe, if Elvis hadn’t been swept away from her by the ruthless current of his career . . . maybe it would have been different. But every time he comes home, she notices a change in him, a disturbing change that she cannot understand. He’s as friendly as ever, on the outside . . . but inside, there’s a baffling barrier, a withdrawal . . . and Barbara, a stranger to the world of show business that has claimed Elvis, can only wait, hoping for a change.
Anne Neyland has noticed it, too. And, because she is a part of that world, she sees what has happened to him. “I’m having a wonderful time with Elvis,” Anne says thoughtfully, “But the last three years he’s so used to people tearing at him wherever he goes that he’s drawn into a shell. He’s so used to being alone with a few close friends and going for drives and playing records that you can’t get him out of it. I think he’s at a stage now where he’s just given up trying to make himself a little more normal life. It’s quite frustrating. In the beginning it’s very different. He’s so very, very sweet. He’d do anything in the world for you. He puts you on that pedestal, and it’s very exciting, but after a while, it’s just too much. I love the quiet life!
“I don’t know why he goes out with so many different girls,” Anne went on. “He’s one of those people who just cannot be alone. He needs to be with someone he really likes. He feels he has to surround himself with his close friends as a sort of protection against loneliness, because you can be very lonely in a mob of strangers.
“One night we were watching TV and they showed a scene of people rollerskating. I said, ‘Oh, I haven’t done that since I was a child. I’d love to go rollerskating again.’ He said he’d love to do it, too, but how could he do something like that? The crowds wouldn’t let him skate in peace and be alone with his date.
“Now I’ve been loaned out by M-G-M to make a picture called ‘Motorcycle Gang.’ Elvis says he’s going to come back and really show me how to ride one. At least, that will be fun for us.
“No wonder that when Elvis finds companionship, he doesn’t want to leave it behind!” Anne said vehemently. “He clings to it, because he needs it.”
Another Presley date, Joan Blackman, agrees. “When we went on our first date,” says Joan, “he had several of his buddies along with him. We went to see ‘Rock, Pretty Baby’ and I was surprised to find that he was a lot of fun to be with. He’s got a wonderful sense of humor, and I’ve always found him to be polite and considerate. But Elvis likes a lot of people around him—generally there’d be eight or ten with us—watching TV, playing records or dancing around in his place. Yes, he’s really very nice—a fine friend to have.”
How can Elvis tear himself away from this, the only security, the only happiness he knows? To do that, to give it up for just one girl, he would have to be very sure. And, when his career creates so many obstacles and difficulties, how can he ever be sure?
“I think going into the Army will be good for him,” Anne Neyland says. “It would get him out of the shell he’s in right now. He calls me many times at three, four or five in the morning, when he’s been awake all night. He’s a very nervous person, very high-keyed. A few more years, the Army, and getting out among other people should help this.”
Anne stood up, and looked out of the window, into the darkness, where the bright lights of hundreds of homes in Beverly Hills twinkled—homes where families were gathering, and children laughing.
“Elvis told me,” she said slowly, “that marriage is the last thing on his mind. But I think if he would find someone who would share his life right now, he would get married.”
She shook her head sadly. “I just don’t know any girl who could stand it. I can see what his life is doing to him. But one thing I do know. He needs it.”
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE NOVEMBER 1957