Sixties City presents a wide-ranging series of articles on all aspects of the Sixties, penned by the creator of the iconic 60s music paper Mersey Beat
Alden (left) was the last of Elvis Presley’s veritable army of girlfriends.
The former Miss Traffic Safety and Miss Mid-South, nineteen years younger
than her lover, found the man she alleged was about to marry her dead on
the floor of his bathroom. The bloated figure in a pair of blue pajamas,
his body pumped with enough pills to fill a pharmacist’s prescription drawer,
was a sad reflection of the man who had once had the world at his feet.
Elvis was gifted with the looks of a Greek god and carefully retouched photographs of the star gave the appearance of his features being sculpted from butter. As the most famous singing idol in the world, a multi-millionaire, a box-office film star, he was the object of adoration for millions of women internationally. Ginger was perhaps typical of the Elvis girlfriend. She was a lot younger than him and a former beauty queen. Elvis loved glamorous women: film starlets, singers, showgirls, dancers, beauty queens. He also liked girls with virginal youth and innocence. Compared to other figures in the public eye, Elvis’s affairs were far from clandestine.
Few stars can have had such a history of ‘girlfriends'. Elvis was open about them. He posed for photographs with them, he lavished gifts on them and they have been thoroughly documented in magazines, books and television dramatisations.
On the surface it all seemed quite innocent: Elvis was attracted to a girl and he sent one of his cohorts with an invitation to a ‘date'. To the media in general, Elvis was just dating a girl – and he could be very generous, with gifts of cars and pets. What received less publicity were the gifts of double beds he gave to some girlfriends, gifts which were probably too symbolic for the press to reveal – for despite the plethora of scandal magazines in the Fifties and Sixties, Elvis was so well loved by the public that his treatment in the media was unusually gentle.
His very first girlfriend
was, reputedly, a little lass from East Tupelo called Caroline Ballard,
daughter of the Reverend James Ballard, pastor of the First Assembly of
God church in Tupelo. Elvis was nine years old at the time! By 1946 and
fifth grade, Elvis was 'seeing' Elois Bedford but allegedly, as she was
boarding the school bus in the afternoon, Elvis handed her a note that
said "I have found another girl".
following year saw the beginning of his fascination with Las Vegas showgirls.
He dated two of the showgirls who worked at the hotel he was appearing in,
Kathy Gabriel and Sandy Preston. He also dated singer Kitty Dolan, who he
met in Vegas that year, and other romantic interests of the period were
Kate Wheeler and Sharon Whiley.
In 1957 he met Arlene Bradley, who claimed that their romance lasted until 1963, and during the same year he dated Las Vegas dancer Dorothy Harmony and had a week-long romance with stripper Tempest Storm (left). During the same year, in Hollywood, he stepped out with Joan Bradshaw. Around this time, Elvis also enjoyed the regular company of three fourteen-year-old girls, Gloria Mowel, Heidi Heissen and Frances Forbes. The Memphis teenagers were Elvis’s constant companions for a time, although he didn’t have sexual relations with them.
It’s indicative of how Elvis felt comfortable in the company of girls in their early teens (Lolitas?) and is perhaps a hint at his forthcoming fascination with Priscilla. 1957 was also the year in which he met another girl he wanted to marry, Anita Wood. The nineteen-year old had all the qualifications which appealed to Elvis – she was a small-town southern girl and she was also outlandishly glamorous, with blonde hair, a dazzling smile and a 35-23-35 figure that had won a number of talent contests.
Their first date was arranged by intermediaries, a typical Elvis move. Once they began dating seriously, Elvis was said to have discussed marriage: in his eyes she was a ‘good girl'. Anita was the marrying kind, but marriage with Elvis didn’t happen. It was suggested that Colonel Tom Parker vetoed it, advising Elvis that he must wait several years before he considered getting married.
(right), who Elvis called ‘Little Beadie’, later got hitched to a
football player, Johnny Brewer. With Hollywood beckoning, Elvis found a
new category of girlfriend – the actress, usually a starlet or a minor actress.
He developed a crush on Debra Paget, the actress in his first film ‘Love
Me Tender’, but she didn’t return the affection. He said, “I sent her flowers,
I was nuts about her, but she wouldn’t even give me the time of day".
As it turned out, the first actress Elvis dated was Natalie Wood. She starred
in his favourite film ‘Rebel Without A Cause’ and he cited her as one of
his favourite actresses. The romance became serious and Elvis took her home
to stay with him and his parents in Memphis. It’s said that they’d decided
to elope to Las Vegas, but Colonel Tom Parker intervened and, together with
Gladys Presley, talked him out of it.
Elvis also dated actresses Rita Moreno and Dolores Hart. Dolores appeared with Elvis in ‘Loving You’ and ‘King Creole'. He often gave nicknames to the girls he liked and he called Dolores ‘Whistle Britches'. She later entered a convent as a nun, which gave rise to speculation that she did it because of her unrequited love for Elvis. Immediately before he left for Europe he had several girlfriends, including the Las Vegas showgirl Dotty Harmony, who accompanied Elvis when he arrived at the Kennedy Veterans’ Hospital in Memphis for his army examination. After the physical he took her to the airport and put her on a plane to Los Angeles.
Other girlfriends included June Wilbank, Yvonne Lime, Jana Lund and Venetia Stevenson. When Elvis was drafted and stationed in Germany in 1958, his appetite for beautiful young girls was unaffected. He was soon seen with a teenage Russian actress, Vera Tschechowa, nightclub dancer Anjelika Zehetbauer and a sixteen-year old girl, Margit Buergin, who he called his ‘little puppy'. The most important relationship in Germany was forged when he met a fourteen-year-old American girl, Priscilla Ann Beaulieu.
between the star and a girl who was merely a child would seem to be somewhat
bizarre. When she was introduced to Elvis, the child, who he was to call
‘Cilla’, was wearing a blue and white sailor-suit dress with white socks.
Her stepfather (her father had died when she was six months old) allowed
them to date on condition they were chaperoned, and they continued dating
throughout his tour of Germany. Elvis invited her to Graceland and then
asked her stepfather’s permission for her to live at Graceland permanently,
with Elvis as her guardian.
With an assurance that she would be enrolled at school and would be chaperoned by Elvis’s father and stepmother, Joseph Beaulieu agreed. Priscilla was being groomed to become Elvis’s wife and the couple were eventually married in May 1967. All indications were that it was Colonel Tom Parker who insisted that Elvis marry Priscilla, who had just turned twenty-one. In the meantime, Elvis embarked on a Hollywood career in earnest and his attention returned to romances with actresses.
He dated Nancy Sharp, a wardrobe mistress, when he was filming ‘Flaming Star'. In 1961 he was often spotted with actress Connie Stevens and by 1963 was dating actress Sharon Hugueny. Other actresses his name was linked to included Peggy Lipton and Cybill Shepherd. Cybill was later to come to prominence following her appearance in ‘The Last Picture Show’ and found fame in the television series ‘Moonlighting'. She was seventeen and a former Miss Teenage Memphis when the thirty-one-year-old Elvis began dating her in 1966. The actress most associated with Elvis is Ann-Margret, who was called ‘the female Presley'. She co-starred with him in one of his most popular movies, ‘Viva Las Vegas'.
Stunningly beautiful, intelligent and a talented singer, dancer and actress, she completely charmed Elvis and the two began a serious relationship which lasted after the filming had ended. It came to an abrupt end, however, without any explanation. Elvis, at one moment completely besotted by the vivacious star, suddenly became uninvolved. Rumours abounded that the split came after Ann-Margret had committed the unforgivable – she’d discussed their romance with the press. While in London Ann-Marget mentioned that Elvis had given her a huge, pink double bed and that the couple were considering marriage. However, the other theory is that Ann-Margret had a career of her own, while Elvis wanted his wife to be the little woman who waited for him at home. He realised that a relationship between two career-minded people wouldn’t work.
the mid-Sixties Elvis dated some singers, went out with Jackie de Shannon
for six months and also went on dates with Bobbie Gentry. Kathy Westmoreland,
a soprano who was often introduced in concerts by Elvis as "the little girl
with the beautiful high voice", was a backing singer for him between 1970
and 1975, working alongside The Sweet Inspirations and replacing Millie
Kirkham who had to leave to have surgery. She claimed that the two of them
had slept together during this period, although they didn't have any sexual
relations, the details of their 'affair' being outlined in her book 'Elvis
Some of his girlfriends went on to marry celebrities. Venetia Stevenson married Don Everly in 1962; Judy Powell, who he dated in 1958, married millionaire Adolph Spreckles and Sandy Ferra, a girlfriend in 1960, was to marry Wink Martindale of 'Deck of Cards' fame.
When his marriage to Priscilla was breaking down, Elvis began dating Vicki Peters and in 1971, after he and Cilla separated, he began dating Las Vegas showgirl Sandra Zancan, beauty queen Diana Goodman and a young girl from Memphis called Cathy Jo Brown Lee. His major romance of the early Seventies was with another beauty queen, Linda Thompson, and they lived together in Graceland from 1972 to 1976, although in 1975 he was also dating a Playboy Playmate, Sheila Ryan, who was later to marry James Caan. Thompson was a former Miss Liberty Bowl and Miss Memphis and the story of her four-and-a-half-year live-in romance with Elvis was filmed as ‘Elvis and the Beauty Queen’ in 1981. The working title of the movie had been ‘Elvis and Me’, which actually became the title of another television movie – about the romance between Elvis and Priscilla Beaulieu Presley, in 1988. When Elvis split with Linda he began stepping out with a succession of girls, including Malessa Blackwood, an eighteen-year-old girl from Memphis, and glamour girls Mindy Miller and Ann Pennington. Elvis’s last major romance was with another live-in lover, Ginger Alden. At the time of Elvis’s death Ginger, who found his body, claimed that he had proposed to her on 26th January 1977 and that they had intended getting married the following Christmas. Ginger later said that she was able to contact Elvis via psychic dreams.
With so many girlfriends
out in the open, it would seem uncharacteristic for Elvis to have had
secret love affairs – but since his death there have been claims by numerous
women. A bizarre element is the number of claims from women who said that
they had been either married to Elvis or involved in lengthy secret affairs.
In several cases the women revealed their marriage secrets in publications
such as the National Enquirer – but in most cases confessed that their
marriage certificates and other evidence of their wedlock to The King
had been lost. Barbara Young claimed she began a two-year romance with
Elvis in 1954 and gave birth to his daughter, Deborah Presley, in March
1956. Strikingly similar is the claim by Barbara Jean Lewis, who said
that she met Elvis in North Carolina in 1954 and gave birth to his daughter,
Deborah Presley, in 1955.
Elvis’s preferences veered from the angelic to the temptress, from the tender young innocent to the overtly sexual. There seems to be no middle ground. Such a firm pattern lends itself readily to analysis and no doubt a psychological profile would provide some insight. Elvis had a stillborn twin brother, Jesse Garon. Gladys insisted that she had been carrying identical twins and impressed upon Elvis a belief that the personality of his stillborn brother had been transferred to him. Possibly Elvis felt he had two people inside his head. There was also the influence of his mother, Gladys. He adored her – and any future wife and mother of his children would also be placed on a pedestal. His future wife would therefore be chaste…while he, on the other hand, could continue to sow his wild oats!
While Priscilla had been living at Graceland and studying at local schools, Elvis had moulded her into the image of his various fantasies, encouraging her to dye her hair black because he liked the colour of Debra Paget’s hair. Yet the decision to marry Priscilla was the Colonel’s. The man who had prevented Elvis marrying other amours literally ordered him to propose – and then took control of the wedding arrangements and resulting publicity. Exactly nine months after the marriage, Elvis’s only child, his daughter Lisa Marie Presley, was born. The marriage didn’t even survive five years and the couple split in 1972 when Cilla became romantically involved with a karate teacher, Mike Stone. Elvis divorced her the same year.
Priscilla then sought a career in show business, although she turned down the role of Tiffany Welles in ‘Charlie’s Angels’ before appearing as Jenna Wade in the ‘Dallas’ series. In recent years she has appeared as the romantic foil of Leslie Neilson in the ‘Naked Gun’ comedy movies. Through the years she has also been involved in affairs with a number of men, including actor Michael Edwards, hairdresser Ellie Ezerzer and writer Marco Garibaldi.
She gave birth to Garibaldi’s child, Navarone, in 1987. Priscilla Presley who, at first, appeared to be a little girl easily manipulated, developed into a strong, mature businesswoman with a mind of her own. The fact that his own wife would reject him for another man shattered Elvis’s confidence. For the King to be cuckolded was humiliation enough, but many of his friends felt he began to go downhill after such a blow and began to lose himself in drug dependency.
Women would still flock round him, he could still take his pick of beautiful, teenage girls – and continued to do so – but something within Elvis had died when Priscilla turned out to be a Delilah.
|Bill Harry attended the Liverpool College of Art with Stuart Sutcliffe and John Lennon and made the arrangements for Brian Epstein to visit The Cavern, where he saw The Beatles for the first time. Bill was a member of 'The Dissenters' and the founder and editor of 'Mersey Beat', the iconic weekly music newspaper that documented the early Sixties music scene in the Liverpool area and is possibly best known for being the first periodical to feature a local band called 'The Beatles'. He has worked as a high powered publicist, doing PR for acts such as Suzi Quatro, Free, The Arrows and Hot Chocolate and has managed press campaigns for record labels such as CBS, EMI, Polydor. Bill is the critically acclaimed author of a large number of books about The Beatles and the 60s era including 'The Beatles Who's Who', 'The Best Years of the Beatles' and the Fab Four's 'Encyclopedia' series. He has appeared on 'Good Morning America' and has received a Gold Award from the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors.|
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