So this week marks Elvis’s 75th birthday, and that leads me to ponder, as I do periodically, the very unique relationship that he and my grandmother had.
Yes, that’s right, my grandmother, Nancy Anderson and Elvis Presley were good friends. Weird, I know, but absolutely true.
My grandmother presenting Elvis with a Photoplay award.
They first met when my grandmother, a Hollywood journalist, visited a young Elvis Presley on the set of “Love Me Tender” in the late 1950s. Despite her unusual career, my grandmother was and is an old-school southern lady – a Chi Omega from the University of Alabama with impeccable manners and a lifetime DAR membership. She was all about the garden club, the Episcopal Church and the Junior League.
Before she arrived on the set that day, she was fully prepared to dislike the caricature she’d heard about – that sneering, rude, disrespectful, upstart kid named “Elvis.” (Who names their child ELVIS?)
But when they met that first time, my grandmother instead discovered a lovely, polite, very respectful young man who said “yes ma’am” and “no ma’am” when they talked together, unlike most of the other Hollywood celebs of the day with whom she worked in her role as reporter and editor with Photoplay Magazine and Copley News Service.
My grandmother photographed in 2007 for an Associated Press story on her friendship with Elvis. She’s holding a snapshot someone took of the two of them chatting on the set of “Love Me Tender” on the day they first met.
Over time, the two of them discovered a shared love of Civil War history, and they commiserated about what it was like to be expat southerners. They were both devout Christians living in a time and in a town where that wasn’t considered very hip. There was an immediate rapport between the two of them that grew into a real friendship. My grandmother was about 12 years older than Elvis, so she felt somewhat maternal toward him, and definitely protective. Over the next decade, she also got to know many members of his family and entourage, including Colonel Parker, Priscilla Presley, Priscilla’s parents, and Elvis’s father, stepmother and stepsiblings. In fact, after Elvis died, Vernon Presley gave his first and only in-depth interview about Elvis and his death to my grandmother in a story she wrote for “Good Housekeeping,” in 1978.
Left to right: My grandmother’s assistant of many years, Priscilla Presley, post-divorce Priscilla’s then-boyfriend (Mike Stone?) and my grandmother
As friends do, they did nice things for one another, like Elvis having a piece of his wedding cake boxed up and sent to my grandmother because she couldn’t make the nuptials. And then there was the time my grandmother was visiting her sister in Memphis, and she went over to Graceland and scooped up some Autumn leaves from the lawn to deliver to Elvis back in L.A., at his request. He had told her he missed the changing seasons in Tennessee, especially fall.
Because Elvis liked and trusted my grandmother, he gave her many exclusive interviews and “scoops” over the years. She was approached repeatedly after Elvis died to write a book about him, but she never would have done it, although the stories she could tell certainly would have sold. But she’s mostly held her tongue about her friendship with Elvis, because it really was a friendship. Many of her interviews with him and his family members have, however, ended up cited as sources by other biographers and as part of efforts to prove or disprove various parts of the Elvis myth.
More of my grandmother’s Elvis stories and interviews are starting to show up online, as Google and Elvis fans scan and digitize various articles about him. Here are a few I’ve run across lately that I hadn’t seen before:
Dee Presley Interview – 1980