Libertyland Night, Elvis' Style
For those who still don’t know – even though I doubt it - Elvis loved to have fun big time in amusement parks. Unfortunately, when he got so famous that he couldn’t have fun that way anymore, at least as a regular Joe, he was forced to rent some fairs during the night and, this way, he could do anything he wanted. On those occasions of course the doors were open to all his relatives, friends and their friends, as well as to some of his fans who were lucky enough to be around at the right time. Elvis loved to share what he had. The amusement park in Memphis that Elvis rented countless times is called Libertyland.
Some of the most famous stories regarding Elvis’ crazy antics are related to this amusement park. Elvis loved the roller-coaster (called the Zippin Pippin, at Libertyland) and he could ride 4 hours non stop – on the first coach and standing! People amazed at how he never got sick or lost his balance. One time he scared everybody half to death. While the train was slowly climbing one of the “mountains”, Elvis stepped out of the coach and held somewhere beneath the metallic structure. So, when people saw the train going by without Elvis inside, they thought he had fell and might be hurt somewhere! However, devilish as only Elvis could be, he climbed back right on up inside the coach while it was running and, on the next ride, there he was. For quite some time people didn’t know how did he did that!
Because it was such a special place for Elvis, Patsy Andersen, of EPE, thought Libertyland to be the perfect place to meet with the Presidents of the Fan Clubs from all over the world in August 2002. We had also been invited and I, as vice-president of Elvis 100%, could attend and take someone with me, free entrance. Some members of the famous Memphis Mafia would be present, the guys with whom Elvis got a kick the most during these adventures of his. After a few moments spent reliving some episodes with these people, several attractions and shows would be happening all around the amusement park. It was, without a doubt, an excellent idea. But…
... There is always a “but”. What Patsy and the other staff of the organization could have never anticipated was the weather conditions. On the day that the Fan Club’s Presidents event took place, August 13th, around 08.00 pm, it was raining “cats and dogs” (to quote this English expression), and thundering and lightening. I knew it was going to be impossible to enjoy all the free rides we could have on that night. The weather didn’t look like going to improve. In fact, it didn’t. Both Olga and I (and all the others) were completely soaked. And inside the Cultural Center of Libertyland was a very big group of drenched presidents, vice-presidents and friends, even though happy. People talked, exchanged kisses and hugs. We saw some of the Brazilian fans we had met at the gravesite in Graceland, like Walteir Terciani, a very nice guy. We also met personally a member of our fan club, also Brazilian, Guta Mendes. At the entrance they gave us all some give-aways: a commemorative t-shirt of that night (with an image of Elvis riding the Zippin Pippin), an electric and little fan that worked with batteries and 15 dollars to spend in food and beverages wherever we wanted.
Patsy welcomed everybody and started to apologize for things that were really out of her reach, as the weather conditions. In spite of the rain, it was very hot and, to “help” everything, the air-conditioning of the Center was broken and they had to go and fetch Graceland’s fans to cool us off…! I just knew that Patsy and the rest of the staff should be really upset. The Presidents of the Fan Clubs presented their donations for charity and several institutions. Both Olga and I were astonished before the collected amounts in Elvis’ name – sometimes by fan clubs not that big. There was a fan club that managed to collect 100,000 dollars! (This was the price Elvis paid for Graceland when he bought it in 1957). Patsy said that the fans picked Elvis work where he left off. So, his work didn’t end. And that is truly amazing. I agree and of course I’d love if our own members were more active in participating and more conscious regarding charity initiatives.
Patsy started introducing some members of the Memphis Mafia, who stepped on stage and sat on their places. Present were: Jerry Schilling (one of the youngest members and also the only one who went to college, great friend of Elvis), Joe Esposito (Elvis’ foreman and also big friend), Dick Grob (head of security and friend), Larry Geller (hairdresser, personal guru and big friend), Pat Perry (this was the only feminine member of the Mafia – Elvis loved her for her sense of humour) and, last but not least, a lady that was caught by surprise and called up on stage. I mean Julie Parrish, an actress that co-starred with Elvis in Paradise Hawaiian Style (she was one of the 4 girlfriends he had scattered around the several islands). She was passing by near the fans – in fact, she was right beside me and Olga – when Patsy spotted her and called her up on stage. She went, always saying that she wasn’t a member of the Memphis Mafia and was there as an Elvis fan. She ended up there anyway!
From the several stories they told, those that stuck more in my mind were the ones that Larry and Julie told. All the others I already knew about and have mentioned some of them in this article. Larry told that the first time he was invited by Elvis to go to Libertyland, he went to ride the roller-coaster with him. When the ride was over, Larry got up to leave. Elvis pulled him down again, “Where are you going, man? We’ve just started!” Larry says that he rode for 2 hours non stop on the roller coaster! “I was so sick…!” But this is how Elvis was, he had to be exaggerated at everything. Julie told a delicious story. She didn’t mention Libertyland, since she only co-starred with Elvis in the movie I already mentioned. She told us that when she heard about the auditioning for Paradise Hawaiian Style, through a friend, she applied for a small part which simply consisted of a girl that was crossing a bar and a man slapped her behind. “I couldn’t care less!” she said, raising her hands to her face, “I’d do anything to be in an Elvis movie and to get to meet him!” When she auditioned they decided to give her a more consistent part. She would become one of the 4 girlfriends Elvis had, showing up several times throughout the movie. She also told that one of the first scenes she had to shoot with Elvis was the one where she’s embracing him, as if they just finished kissing. “My God, I thought I was going to die! I had just been introduced to him and was going to start right off with a love scene!” What I enjoyed the most about Julie was listening to her telling a story just like any other of us – an Elvis fan, completely surprised and delighted to be near him. The most interesting thing was to listen to her talking as if she had just met him…!
The event was over, the invited guests were in a hurry to return home, since the next day they were going to be interviewed for several TV networks, newspapers, etc… and it was right at the end that I decided to talk a bit with Larry. I had already met him in 1997, at the end of the first Elvis-The Concert, at the Mid-South Coliseum, in Memphis. At the time, me and my travelling friends – Sandra Santos and Lu Ribeiro – were very touched and Larry was, too. I asked him to autograph my programme and told him that I had loved to listen to him talking about Elvis at Humes High School. Lu ended our short conversation by saying, “Thanks for having been Elvis’ friend.” Larry’s eyes got even more misty. I wasn’t expecting Larry to remember me. They meet hundreds of fans every year, after all. But I wanted to talk with him. He is a very warm and down to earth person. I know just how much Elvis loved him and I know Larry loved Elvis very much, too. When I got up on stage and called him, he was saying goodbye to someone. He couldn’t give me his immediate attention, but he held my hand and kept it close to his chest until he turned to look at me. He smiled and I told him I had tried to find his book, If I Can Dream, without success (he told me how I could get it). But I was reading another one, also written with his cooperation, Elvis’ Search For God, by Jess Stearn, and was enjoying it very much. He told me this book was different from all the others that I had read on Elvis and I was going to read about things that I couldn’t find anywhere else. He was right. But even those things I didn’t know about, it was like my intuition captured them somehow. Larry told me that the author of that book had just died, two weeks ago. I was sorry about that, since he was a someone who wrote on spiritual matters and I think this is something in need in our materialistic world – spirituality. I asked Larry to take a photo with him. Walteir did me the favour to play as my photographer (it seemed he didn’t do anything else every time we met!) and the photo came out pretty good! It’s one of my favourites. Larry gave me his personal business card so I could write him.
When I was preparing to leave, I saw that Julie Parrish was sitting on my chair…! I couldn’t resist and stopped to chat a bit with her. I told her where I was from and if she minded to take a photo with me. She’s a very nice and pretty lady, whose face looks almost the same as when she worked with Elvis. Walteir took another photo. After the farewells, everybody left the Center. I know some went to attend the shows, movies and karaoke that were happening around the amusement park. But the place was almost deserted… the weather wasn’t the least inviting, it kept on raining and everything was wet. We decided to go back to our hotel to rest. Tomorrow was another day.