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Hey, Boys and Girls, what an amazing way to start 2010!  Not only does this week bring us a new decade, but we start it off with an exclusive interview to celebrate what would have been Elvis Presley’s 75th birthday.  In collaboration with Turner Classic Movies' celebratory marathon of Presley's films, close friend, bodyguard and confidante, Jerry Schilling was kind enough to share some of his thoughts and memories on this special day.


Jerry Schilling


The Lady Miz Diva:  Hello, Mr. Schilling it’s great to speak with you on this special occasion. It’s the eve of what would have been Elvis Presley’s 75th birthday. 

Jerry Schilling:  Well, how do you think I feel? {Laughs}


LMD:  Can you picture Elvis at 75 years old?

JS:  You know, I knew his father close to that age.  He was a very handsome man.  I think Elvis would have been identical at age 75, I think looks-wise and career-wise.  It’s too bad we don’t have the opportunity to know that, but I think he would have been pretty dynamic.


LMD:  So you don’t imagine him stopping even at age 75?

JS:  No, because entertainment was his life. I think it was his life when he was a small kid even before he got into it and he got into it at 18 and 19 years old.  That’s who he was, that’s what he was about.  And it wasn’t a job to him, it’s who he was.


LMD:  I’d always read Elvis was very down-to-earth and self-effacing.  What would he have made of being made into a deity and a trademark?

JS:  I think as history goes on, we tend we tend to think in iconic images, but the Elvis I knew was a guy who wanted to push his career to become a more dramatic actor, who wanted to take his music around the world.  You know, we look back at Elvis and we go, ‘This was the greatest star,’ but he had his ups and downs.  He had movies that didn’t do well and songs that he didn’t wanna do. I mean, don’t get me wrong, he had a great career or we wouldn’t be talking about him 30 years later, but in reality, I’m trying to convey to you how his mind was and how he was doing.


LMD:  What did he think of his film career?  Considering his fame as a singer, was it important for him to be taken seriously as an actor?

JS:  Absolutely.  You know his film career pretty much came pretty close to the same time as his singing career.  He had Love Me Tender {1957}, Loving You {1957}, Jailhouse Rock {1957} and King Creole {1958}, so it wasn’t like he had been a long-established recording artist for any length of time.  In Elvis’ mind, he was an entertainer whether that meant singing or acting.  I think he didn’t distinguish between the two. That being said, he never sat around and talked about it, he wasn’t that kinda guy.  This is my observation over the years.


LMD:  Also, Elvis was performing in an era where it wasn’t as unusual to have multi-tasking artists as is it today.  Frank Sinatra and Doris Day were huge singers who were taken very seriously as actors.  It wasn’t as odd then as is seems now.

JS:  But his wish - and actually I have an audio of his own voice – he did want to be a singer, but his true love of his life was to be an actor.  He said it in an interview with some guy down in Texas and they asked him if he would be singing in his movie and he said, “No.”  He did a screen test for a movie - I can’t remember the name now, it was a very famous movie {The Rainmaker - 1956} – but he said, “I don’t care to sing in my movies.”  They gave him another role; they loaned him out to Twentieth Century Fox for Hal Wallis and a film called The Reno Brothers….


LMD:  Which became Love Me Tender.

JS:  Cause they had the song into the movie and that’s how that came about.  But Elvis was a reasonable guy.  He said, “You know what? If it’s just the title …” But then it grew into other songs.  I think creatively he was taken advantage of.  And with all of his fame and success in music - he felt blessed with more than he wanted to accomplish – he said in his own words, “You know, I don’t think anyone was out to try to hurt me, but Hollywood never got who I was.” That’s a direct quote.


LMD:  Which leads perfectly into a question I had about those early films.  My favourite Elvis film is King Creole…

JS:  His favourite film was King Creole!


LMD:  Okay, Mr. Schilling you’ve made my year and it’s only January 7th.  The rawness in that film is just amazing; he’s got the feral qualities of a Marlon Brando or James Dean.

JS:  It’s interesting that you’re saying that.  That film was originally written by Harold Robbins and was prepped for James Dean just before his critical accident, and Elvis’ producer, Hal Wallis, went to the director, the very famous Michael Curtiz, who directed Casablanca, and he said, “I want you to meet Elvis Presley.” {Curtiz said} “There’ll be no Elvis Presley in my movies!” But it was tough for Elvis, it wasn’t easy, but afterward, Elvis went up to Michael Curtiz and said, “Mr. Curtiz, I wanna thank you because now I know what a director is.”


LMD:  Did he study acting? 

JS:  No.  You know, we did all-night movie screenings.  One of our favourite pastimes was to rent a movie theatre in Memphis after it closed at midnight.  I remember looking at movies again and again.  It would have been great if he would have had some professional training.


LMD:  So, like with his singing, he was a natural.

JS:  Well, he was a natural who’s really thought through what it is to be a natural.  Elvis picked up things from the other stars, or somebody walking down the street.  Elvis would try things - and I don’t mean that word badly – but they made it look like he was a natural.


LMD:  How did he prepare for a film?  Did he run lines with the guys?

JS:  Very seldom.  He had a photographic memory.  He had the other actors he could count on to help in general.  I think in the beginning, he was caught up in the game of it, but then he realised he wasn’t going to get any roles that were challenging to him, like in the sixties.


LMD:  There is a big difference in the quality of the films he made before he went into the army and after he came out.  Why do you think that was?

JS:  I think it was a combination of a lot of things.  I think he was signed a couple of people like Colonel {Tom} Parker {who} thought for long-term that when Elvis came back, back into movies!  Problem with that is that there was no script approval, no casting approval, not at that time.  And even in that situation, there was a few good movies when he came back, but there was quite a few movies that were down to this; ‘You’re paying this much money for Elvis; he’s gonna sell. We don’t have to pay for a top-notch director or co-stars.’


LMD:  The other film I love is Viva Las Vegas because, a) he seems to be having a great time, and b) it’s one of the only times he is matched with an actor as magnetic as he was in Ann-Margret.  Can you speak on that for a moment?

JS:  That’s a really good movie.  That had a good co-star and that a good director, that had good music. Blue Hawaii was a wonderful movie, too.  Elvis didn’t like when they would be great they would make another one the same way. You know it was making the same movie over and over again.


LMD:  Were you with Elvis when he was making Viva Las Vegas?

JS:  No, I came out after, but when I came out to California, Ann was the first female person I met out there.  And they worked. They had a great chemistry off-camera, as well. They were really fun together


LMD:  Now that Elvis has crossed so many generations, what do you feel is the most important thing for the young people who may not know him as well to understand about him. and what do you feel is the most important aspect of his life for them to experience?

JS:  What a great question. You’re talking about young people and I grew up around Elvis.  You know what, Elvis wasn’t a person to stand on a box and preach, but I think he would probably would say to young people that are getting their start today that if you want to be an entertainer, or an actor, early on that you also must respect the business side.  He didn’t.  He learned that later, but he was a pioneer in management.  A real dichotomy; the old school that the singers sang and the actors acted and the new school singers own their songs and actors have script approval.  So maybe that’s what he’d say.


LMD:  What is your favourite memory of him?

JS:  I have so many I really do.  I’ve done everything from play sandlot football with him, to going to with him to President Nixon in the White House. With all those things and everything in between, my favourite moments of Elvis are just sitting up late at night and talking with him. I learned a lot about life just talking to him.  I was very, very lucky.  


LMD:  At the end of it all, what would you say inspired you about Elvis most hat helps you in your daily life?

JS:  I think it’s his honesty. He was all about show business and all that stuff, but in a very honest way. He was not pretentious and I was really impressed with that.


LMD:  Thank you so much for your time, Mr. Schilling. I hope you go on to let the young folks know what was so special about this feller from Tupelo and Happy Elvis’s Birthday to you!


~ The Lady Miz Diva Vélez

January 7th, 2010



A special thank you, thank you very much to Sarah Schmitz of TCM for her invaluable fabulosity.




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Exclusive Photos by Jerry Schilling

Film stills courtesy of Turner Classic Movies



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