Guest Blog: My Elvis Story

This guest blog is by Ann Moses, who was editor at “Tiger Beat Magazine” from 1965 – 1972 and sat on the stage for Elvis’ “’68 Comeback Special,” toured Elvis’ and Colonel Parker’s offices, observed filming for “Change of Habit” and attended Elvis’ opening show in July 1969 in Las Vegas. Here, she shares her memories of being a part of the 1970 documentary, “Elvis: That’s The Way It Is.” Hear from Ann at Elvis Week 2018 at Conversations on Elvis: Elvis Connections, on Friday, August 17 at the Graceland Soundstage. Get tickets to this event now.

By Ann Moses

It seems as though every person I meet has their own personal Elvis story. For some it was seeing him for the first time on TV or hearing him for the first time on the radio, for others it was the first day of a love affair with a man few of them would meet.

Ann Moses with Elvis

Ann Moses with Elvis

My personal Elvis story began in 1956. I was nine years old and as was our Sunday night custom – we had dinner on TV trays in front of the family TV. Back in the day, at least in our house, my dad would be the one to choose what TV shows we would watch. Luckily, Sunday night in Anaheim, California, “The Ed Sullivan Show” was on at dinnertime, airing at 7 p.m., I think. Our menu was always the same (almost). Every other night of the week my mom made a home cooked meal and we sat at the dinner table as a family. Sunday was mom’s “day off” from cooking and we had Pink’s hamburgers (10¢), French fries, and malts. Pink’s was a pre-McDonalds hamburger stand just a mile from our house. My dad would drive and pick up the order and it was always a special treat. Every other Sunday he would pick up two take-out pizzas from a pizza place down the street. Mom would make a green salad with blue cheese dressing as a side dish. It was in this iconic ‘50s setting that my Elvis story began. On September 9, 1956, my older brother (by 18 months) and I were absolutely blown away when Elvis sang “Don’t Be Cruel,” “Love Me Tender,” “Love Me” and “Hound Dog.” We had heard his songs on the radio, but seeing Elvis on TV changed everything. He was like nothing we had seen before – ever!

Elvis on "The Ed Sullivan Show."

Elvis on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”

Christmas was only three months away, and knowing the truth about Santa Claus at age nine, I asked my mom and dad for an Elvis scarf and an Elvis skirt for presents. The skirt I wanted was just like a poodle skirt, but with a picture of Elvis in place of the poodle. But being the frugal child-of-the-depression that my mom was, I did not receive a store-bought Elvis skirt for Christmas (my mom made all my clothes, and she was an excellent seamstress and tailor). As crushed as I was, my parents were awesome and my favorite present that Christmas was the Elvis scarf I received and wore to school constantly that spring.

Elvis remained a part of my life, but only as one of the many artists we danced to at our sixth and seventh grade garage dance parties. There were no basements in California, so as pre-teens, we were only allowed to clean up the garage to have friends over for dance parties, spin-the-bottle and seven-minutes-in-heaven kissing games. To the best of my memory, I spent more time daydreaming about my “boyfriend” of the moment, childhood romances that lasted for weeks, and then on to the next. By the way, in my book “Meow! My Groovy Life with Tiger Beat’s Teen Idols,” I begin my Elvis chapter by saying I first saw him on the Dorsey Brothers’ “Stage Show” (his first TV appearance), but I realize now, our first Elvis sighting was his appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”

By the time Elvis joined the army, our thoughts had turned to things closer to home – getting our parents to drive us to the beach (a half hour drive down Brookhurst Avenue to be on the sand in Huntington Beach) or getting our parents to drop us off at Disneyland. Disneyland opened in 1955 (just two miles from our house) and as pre-teens, our parents were more than happy to let us off at the front gate – there were no admission fees then – and we “played” all day at the park. We usually got Disneyland ticket books in our Christmas stockings, so if we saved some of the coupons, we could ride over to Tom Sawyer’s Island on a raft and spend the day endlessly climbing over the barrel bridge or playing hide and seek on the big rocks that dotted the island. Sorry, Elvis, but we did not miss you.

My second Elvis story was part of a whole new chapter of my life. My interest in journalism began in junior high school, blossomed in high school, and by junior college, I did my first celebrity interview, with the Dave Clark Five, for my college newspaper. Within a year, I was working for Tiger Beat magazine, and a year after that, I began contributing articles to the New Musical Express, a British pop music newspaper.

You can read all about how I became an audience member at Elvis’s ’68 Comeback Special in my book. On that infamous night, sitting only a foot or two away from the king, I became a born-again Elvis fan.

Most of my work days for Tiger Beat were filled with going out to the sets of “Here Come the Brides” to report on the latest teen idol, Bobby Sherman, and still reporting on the news of the various Monkees and where their careers took them after their show was cancelled. In my private life, I was going out with my future husband, Don, who had been an Elvis fan forever. We met at Disneyland, both working at Sunkist in Adventureland. In high school, he and his friend Tony would come over to my house, without notice, and ask me to go out for a Coke, and I would go willingly, but sometimes with my hair in curlers. Oh, the horror! (Hey, there were no hair dryers to quickly dry your hair back then!) They’d sing Elvis songs as we drove around, and I would laugh and enjoy their silly fanboy antics. Then Don went to Vietnam, serving in the army. Tony went to law school. We all were reunited a few months after my disastrous 21st birthday party in 1968. Now back from Vietnam, Don contacted Tony and they both came up to my house in Hollywood for dinner.

Soon, Don and I were dating; and Tony had met my then-roommate, Nancy, my good friend from high school. Tony and Nancy were married in Las Vegas two weeks after I introduced them! So, now we were all living in Hollywood.

The Comeback Special was an incredible experience. Don did not attend with me – he had promised his parents that he would go camping for the entire summer with them as soon as he returned from Vietnam. So, I invited the only other Elvis “nut” I knew – Tony. After the taping, I joined Don and Tony as an Elvis “nut.”

When I was invited to Elvis’s grand opening at the International, Don and I decided to make that into our honeymoon — a working honeymoon for me, as I had been contributing articles to the New Musical Express in England. They would eat up any article on Elvis, as Elvis was huge in the UK and Europe, though he never performed there. So, after what was one of the most incredible performances I had ever seen, I rushed to the press conference and immediately after that, up to our room to write my story (into the wee hours of the night) so that I could send it airmail to London the next morning. Airmail took about seven days to England. No Fed-Ex, no electronic mail, some of you remember.

Elvis speaks at a press conference about his Las Vegas concerts.

Elvis speaks at a press conference about his Las Vegas concerts.

On the home front, my brother was in dental school at University of Southern California and one of his fellow students was married to Paul, a life-long Elvis fan. Before we knew it, we were the nucleus of our Elvis fan group. We invited friends and every couple of months, someone in the group would hold a party where the action was always the same: every party began with beer, wine and munchies, and we would all visit and listen to Elvis records. On the very first party night the guys would begin to lip-sync to Elvis records and then pantomime Elvis. Thus, our Elvis fan group sort of had a life of its own. Every party was this way, and we enjoyed the hell out of every party. I remember clearly the Christmas party we had at my Hollywood apartment in 1969. We had a blue flocked Christmas tree with blue ornaments and the party was a rousing success, just like every other time.

In 1970, Denis Sanders, director of “Elvis: That’s The Way It Is,” called me at my Tiger Beat office and asked if he could interview me for his documentary movie. I agreed, reluctantly, as cameras made me very nervous. I liked being on the other side of the camera. But Denis came to my office, filmed me answering his questions, and then did some filming of me interacting with one of my art directors. It was after the cameras stopped rolling that Denis and I were chatting and I mentioned our Elvis group. He encouraged me to tell him more and when I did, he asked for permission to film one of our parties for his movie!

I asked some of the others in our group, and they thought it was a fabulous idea. Like me, they were flattered to be considered as something worthy of being in a movie. My reticence at the filming part was downplayed by Denis – he told me “we’ll bring one little camera, you won’t even know we’re there.”

So, our big night was set for a Saturday night, at the second floor apartment of Paul and his wife, Cheryl, in Redondo Beach. When Don and I pulled up to the apartment, we couldn’t believe our eyes. In front of their garage door, outside the apartment was a generator the size of a VW! I was so nervous. Then we go inside where all our friends are gathered and we see a full size 35mm movie camera on a huge tripod in the corner of the room, plus a lighting man, cameraman, sound man and Denis.

We began our party, but this was not a comfortable setting. The guys were as nervous as we were. They had some drinks and even went outside for a puff or two. After a couple of hours, they were more relaxed and our party went on as usual. Don and Tony did a duet, Paul sang his heart out – all of them banging on guitars (I know Tony and Don could not play guitar at all), but all the sound was coming from the Elvis records playing full blast. The songs were primarily his ‘50s classics like “Shake, Rattle and Roll,” “Hound Dog,” “All Shook Up” and “Jailhouse Rock.” When the night came to a close, Denis was very pleased with the film he’d shot.

These stills are from Ann's Elvis party that was shot for "That's The Way It Is."

These stills are from Ann’s Elvis party that was shot for “That’s The Way It Is.”

 

Party 2_stroke

Following the party filming, Denis let me know that he wanted to film several of us in Las Vegas as we watched Elvis on stage. Don and I had seen Elvis twice (his opening night and the following night at the midnight show where I was allowed to shoot photos from the balcony). But Denis said he would make arrangements for six of us to see one of the shows he was filming for the movie. We were all still in school or working, and at around age 22, we all were living on tight budgets. We made it work by all of us squeezing into Tony’s two-door compact sedan without air conditioning and making our way through the desert to Vegas. Looking back, it was a super fun trip! Yes, it was hot, we had all the windows rolled down, but having a mini-Elvis party in the car for the five-hour drive made it a blast.

This still is from Ann's party filmed for "That's The Way It Is."

This still is from Ann’s party filmed for “That’s The Way It Is.”

After getting settled in our rooms, it wasn’t long before it was time to get dressed up for the dinner show. The extra-special surprise was that Denis had arranged for us to have seats slightly right of center stage and they were the three closest seats to the stage on either side of the table. None of us could have anticipated what would happen next.

Don and I were just as excited as Tony, Nancy, Paul and Cheryl, who were seeing him live and up-close for the first time. After a few numbers, Elvis retreated to the side of stage, and as the music began to “Love Me Tender,” Elvis walked toward the edge of the stage and bent down on one knee in front of me. He reached out his hand to mine and in the next moment I was kissing Elvis! It wasn’t a mere peck, it was a full on-the-lips kiss and it lasted long enough to register exactly his soft lips, his taste and his smell. It was like the world had stopped, if only for a moment. Then, Nancy and Cheryl were next for a kiss, all of it caught on film, then El made his way along the stage and kissed more of the ladies, a part of the act that became so important to his devoted fans.

The next day on our drive home, we were all tired from an incredible night, but it was one of my favorite road trips as we all reminisced about every detail of the night before.

My contributions to the movie were complete; so I was a very surprised to get yet another call from director Denis Sanders. It was only a few weeks after our trip to Vegas and he invited me and all the guests at our Elvis party to a private screening at MGM Studios. None of us knew what we would be seeing, but everyone was giddy over passing through the studio gates and being directed to one of the famous studio screening rooms. It was an intimate setting, about 30 seats, but the screen was a normal theater movie screen. Huge!

For the next half hour (or more!) we watched all the scenes that had been filmed at our party, in Technicolor with professional sound. Not one of us had ever been on a movie screen before. It was mind-blowing! But then it got even better. Next we watched as Elvis made his way over to our table at the International and we each got to see ourselves kissing Elvis. It wasn’t a dream, it was real! And it was miraculous to see it on a 50-foot screen! We all left in a daze that afternoon, as none of us had ever had such an experience in our lives.

Ann's party was filmed for "Elvis: That's The Way It Is."

Ann’s party was filmed for “Elvis: That’s The Way It Is.”

What we did not know then was that all of the footage we saw that day would end up on the cutting room floor. We were all super-impressed with the final cut of the movie, but a bit sad, too, as we all wanted those experiences to be memorialized on film forever.

Even though it’s not the way it turned out, we were all so grateful for the experiences that Denis and Elvis etched in our memories. We felt like the luckiest Elvis fans on the earth.

Hear Ann share her Elvis memories during Elvis Week! Go to ElvisWeek.com now to plan your experience.


3 Comments

  1. MARITZA VENEGAS

    WOW! I am so envious of your experience of actually being part of such a momentous event. Your parties sound like a blast and the chance to actually kiss Elvis is truly a dream come true. Thank you sharing this memory.

  2. stephen stathis

    TTWIS: When EP was on, no one could touch him. I loved the scenes when he walks through the audience, stops picks up a drink and motions toward the stage. Just the coolest guy who lived on his terms and maybe died on them.

  3. Robert

    What a terrific story! Thanks for sharing,

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