Animal Instinct: Elvis Presley’s Pets

In “Tiger Man,” Elvis Presley sings that he’s the “king of the jungle” – and that’s a pretty accurate description of the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Elvis loved animals of all kinds. He had many pets during his lifetime – so many, in fact, that it would be a pretty difficult to name them all. We’ll stick to a few of the favorites for this week’s blog. When Elvis purchased Graceland in 1957, he bought not only the house, but 13.8 acres of the surrounding land. That provided for a nice little farm for the Presley family. Elvis’ mother, Gladys, had some chickens, and Elvis owned a turkey named Bowtie. Vernon, Elvis’ father, raised hogs, and he smoked and cured pork in the old pump house that Elvis, years later, would turn into a temporary makeshift firing range (you can tour this building at Graceland). Elvis was given some donkeys, but because the fence around the property wasn’t finished yet, he kept the donkeys in his new, empty swimming pool. The Presley family added even more animals to their farm when Elvis, Vernon and friend Lamar Fike drove a limousine to Germantown, just outside of Memphis, to buy more chickens and ducks. Lamar sat in the back of the limo with the birds to try to control them, but they flew around and made a mess. They cleaned and fumigated the limo, but it was never the same, and the vehicle was eventually replaced. And speaking of birds, Elvis once had a mynah bird that would repeat the excuses it heard about why Elvis couldn’t come to the phone: “Elvis is asleep,” “Elvis isn’t available,” “Elvis isn’t here.” One day the bird began repeating all of the phrases, over and over, which Elvis thought was hilarious. Australian fans sent Elvis a wallaby – twice. Once was while he was filming “Jailhouse Rock” in 1957, and the second time was in 1962. He donated each of the animals to the Memphis Zoo. Elvis also had a few peacocks, but they scratched at their reflections in the shiny paint of his cars – so they, too, went to live at the Memphis Zoo. Elvis owned several horses throughout this lifetime – in fact, you can read more about them here on a past Graceland Blog post. His favorite horses included Rising Sun, a golden palomino quarter horse and a Tennessee Walking Horses named Bear. A...
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Elvis Presley, the Student

Get your No. 2 pencils out – it’s back to school season. The stores are full of supplies and school bells are ringing, and surely, Elvis fans everywhere are wondering: what was Elvis like as a student? Elvis is often described, especially in high school, as a “fair” student, earning a lot of B’s and a few C’s. He graduated high school in 1953, not long before his incredible career took off. But of course, Elvis’ school years began in Tupelo, Mississippi, where he was born. He began first grade in the fall of 1941 at East Tupelo Consolidated School on Lake Street. Elvis continued his elementary school years in Tupelo, mostly uneventful, until the fifth grade. October 3, 1945, was Children’s Day at the Mississippi-Alabama State Fair, and all of the schools were let out for the day. Elvis’ fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Oleta Grimes, entered Elvis into the fair’s talent show after hearing him sing in the morning prayer program at school. He sang “Old Shep” with no accompaniment. He won fifth place, and the prize was a few dollars worth of ride tickets. Elvis would later recall that his mother, Gladys, gave him a spanking that day too, probably for riding the more dangerous rides and giving her a scare. Elvis entered sixth grade at Milam Junior High School, which is still there, in Tupelo, in September 1946. His classmates remembered Elvis as a shy boy who didn’t fit in very well, but that he loved music. He often sang gospel favorites and songs he learned from listening to the Grand Ole Opry on the radio. Gladys bought Elvis his first guitar in 1946, and by the time Elvis entered the seventh grade at Milam, he was bringing that guitar to school with him most every day. He’d play during recess and lunch time for his classmates. His classmates were mostly indifferent to his performances – and a few were even hostile. During Elvis’ eighth grade year at Milam, a group of bullies cut his guitar strings. Elvis’ classmates knew how much Elvis loved his guitar, and some of them took up a collection to buy him another set of strings. A few months later, the Presley family moved to Memphis, where Elvis was enrolled in the eighth grade at Humes High School. Vernon later recalled that Elvis looked very nervous as he walked his son to the...
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Elvis Presley Takes Care of Business

Long before he was the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, long before he was a millionaire, Elvis Presley was a working stiff like the rest of us. It’s hard to imagine Elvis – studded jumpsuit Elvis, rock ‘n’ rolling ’68 Special Elvis, movie star Elvis or gold lame Elvis – working a 9 to 5, but a young Elvis had to make a living. This Labor Day weekend, let’s take a peek at how Elvis took care of business long before he came to wear those TCB necklaces. Elvis took the entrepreneurial route for his first job. In his freshman year of high school, he teamed up with three friends, Buzzy Forbes, Paul Dougher and Farley Guy, to start a lawn business. With a push lawn mower that his father, Vernon, purchased for him, and a few sickles, Elvis and his team mowed yards at the cost of $4.00 per yard. Elvis’ next job title was movie theater usher. He began working at Loew’s State Theater on Main Street in Memphis in September 1950. The next summer, Elvis worked at Precision Tool. He worked there for three months and he operated a spindle drill press at the plant, which manufactured rocket shells for the military. Elvis earned $27.00 a week. In this same year, 1951, Elvis took his driver’s license test using his uncle Travis Smith’s 1940 Buick. Elvis returned to work at Loew’s State Theater as an usher in April 1952. His second stint there only lasted five weeks – he was fired due to a fight with a fellow usher. Rumor has it, the other usher started the argument because he was jealous that a female co-worker had the hots for Elvis. Elvis may have lost that job, but soon after, he got a car. Vernon purchased an old Lincoln, which became Elvis’. In August 1952, Elvis applied to work at Upholsterers Specialties Company. He actually fibbed on his application, giving his birthdate as January 8, 1934 – making him one year older and, therefore, old enough to work there. He only worked there a month, earning $109.00. In September, Elvis began working as an assembler at a furniture manufacturer, MARL Metal Products. His hours were 3:00 p.m. – 11:00 p.m., which didn’t fit in well with his school schedule. His mother, Gladys, made him quit the job after she learned he was falling asleep in class....
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Elvis Week 2017 – That’s a Wrap

By Jon Waterhouse It’s time to pack the blue suede shoes back in the suitcase and slip the jumpsuit in the garment bag. I can imagine the director of an Elvis movie shouting after shooting the final scene, “That’s a wrap!” Similar to a motion picture, all of the fantastic scenes of Elvis Week 2017 linked together to create something massive and magical. As the projector in my mind replays the events of the past nine days, I smile recollecting some of my favorite experiences. The Live Interviews This year arguably had the largest special guest list in Elvis Week history. Elvis’ friends, family, co-stars, musical collaborators, and others participated in live interviews, often with unexpected moments. The highlights are way too numerous mention. Some include Priscilla Presley and Jerry Schilling giving behind-the-curtain recollections; the king’s martial arts trainer, Bill “Superfoot” Wallace, karate kicking onstage; and rockabilly queen, Wanda Jackson, telling the story of how Elvis taught her to rock. The Fans Elvis fan interaction and the shared communal experience may just be my favorite aspect of Elvis Week. That instant bond and understanding among fans impresses me to no end. Hugs and handshakes from familiar faces I’ve met in years past came daily. And newfound friends from throughout and the world —Australia, Japan, Qatar, the UK and elsewhere— add to my personal, ever-growing list. The Gospel Concert More than any genre, gospel gave Elvis peace in his own personal valley. So, Elvis Week gospel shows always have extra significance. The fact this performance featured guys who actually crooned alongside the king —Terry Blackwood, Bill Baize, Larry Strickland, and Donnie Sumner— made it priceless. And Donnie, if you’re reading, you need to take the comedy act on the road. Seriously funny. Elvis Presley’s Memphis This new 40-acre entertainment complex brings fans closer to Elvis than ever. Jaw-dropping exhibits, many featuring 360-degree views of stage wear, automobiles, and more, provide amazing perspective. With a live entertainment venue, a pair of full-service restaurants, and gift shops, Graceland visitors can easily spend a full day exploring Elvis Presley’s Memphis. The Guest House at Graceland Memphis’ largest hotel project in nearly 100 years opened its doors last fall, and it served as a hospitality hub for Elvis Week 2017. With an exterior inspired by the Colonial Revival style of the Graceland mansion, the hotel interior boasts 450 rooms, a pair of restaurants, a...
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Elvis Week Day 8 – A Graceland Wedding and Ultimate Advice

By Jon Waterhouse For the first time in my life, I’m a best man in a wedding. A best man for a groom I have never met. At the altar inside Graceland’s Wedding Chapel in the Woods —it’s located behind the Elvis Presley Enterprises corporate office and next door to Graceland— I stand next to Berend Peters. He and his girlfriend of 12 years, Naomi Quijs, traveled all the way from the Netherlands to tie the knot on Elvis’ property. In an effort to have a better understanding of the Graceland wedding experience, I asked the couple if I could participate in the ceremony. Surprisingly, they obliged, and I broke out my best Lansky Bros. jacket for the occasion. Awaiting his bride to walk the aisle, Berend looks calm and cool in his rockabilly hipster wedding duds. His short sleeve shirt reveals a mass of tattoos, including an Elvis portrait and the label of Elvis’ first Sun single, “That’s All Right.” “Are you nervous?” I ask. His shakes his head “no.” Struggling with his English, Berend does his best to explain this is he and Naomi’s third trip to Elvis Week, and Graceland means a great deal to them both. Others couples certainly feel the same. Savannah Faircloth, one of Graceland’s special events facilitators, says 20 weddings have been scheduled throughout Elvis Week 2017. Pairs from the UK, Australia, Japan, Canada, and elsewhere have or will do the deed at Graceland’s Chapel in the Woods. And Elvis Week 2017 marks the first time a Chilean couple have exchanged vows at the chapel. Faircloth said Graceland has been in the wedding biz since 2000 and hosts approximately 125 weddings annually. Depending on the price, the all-inclusive package can range from simple to all-out extravagant. A couple can have a basic ceremony in the intimate chapel with a photographer and a faux cake for photo ops. Or they can shoot the moon with various add-on options including a catered reception in the Presley Motors car museum. Sometimes celebrities from Elvis world drop in as surprise guests. During an Elvis Week 2017 wedding, Elvis’ bodyguard Dick Grob crashed a ceremony. “It’s kind of a one-stop shop,” Faircloth said. “We do everything for the brides; everything from booking the vendors to bustling them up in their dresses. We help them with anything they need. So it’s a stress-free experience where you can enjoy...
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