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Theft in Memphis...!
Célia Carvalho, August 2002

Célia com Suzanna Leigh, em Memphis (Agosto 2002).

It almost looks like the headlines of a newspaper article, right? Well, it well could have been. But that’s another story that I’ll leave for later on. 

One day, I was passing by the Ramada Inn reception – where Olga Susana and I were staying – to look at the ads and the day’s activities on the board, when I saw a familiar face. I found it odd and funny at the same time, to see her there. I called Olga aside and told her, “Look, do you see that lady over there, the one who’s organizing the book booth for sale? She worked with Elvis in one of his movies: it’s Suzanna Leigh.” She’s visibly older, she’s 57 years old – the same age as Priscilla (and my mum’s!) – but we can perfectly see it’s the same face we see in Paradise Hawaiian Style (in this movie Suzanna plays the role of Elvis’ secretary, pretending to be married, since he’s a terrible womanizer. But of course they end up together). I decided to go and talk to her. I usually address people by their surname when I don’t know them, but seeing Suzanna over there, in the midst of the fans, looking so at ease and talking with so many members of my group, I called her by her name, “Suzanna?” She immediately looked at me. Big smile, “Yes, darlin’?”, was her reply. Beautiful British accent, since Suzanna is English. I asked her how much did her book cost. I always felt like ordering it through the English Fan Club, but I was late and then it stopped being advertised. She informed me that now the book can only be acquired through her. If I bought the book, I could choose any one of the beautiful photos she had in exhibition, that she would autograph. I was in a hurry to leave for another Elvis excursion and didn’t have enough money with me. I asked her if she was going to stay there for a while. She told me she would, during the whole week. I said good bye with a “See you tomorrow!” and left with Olga. 

Faithful to my own word, the next day I went to Suzanna to buy her book. I always felt interested by the biographies of other people (even if they’re not related to Elvis, since I love reading), because one can get so much information on their lives and experiences. Suzanna’s book, titled Paradise, Suzanna Style was, basically, on her life as an actress. I was curious to read it. Of course I didn’t tell Suzanna, but this is the Elvis movie that I like less…! However, there are others that I don’t like much either, they’re pretty poor. I asked her how her daughter was doing, since I had read that she had been sick. Her smile broadened even more when I mentioned her daughter. She told me she was very well, she was in college now in the US and Suzanna was considering moving over there, too.  

Suzanna had several beautiful photos where to choose from, but I decided for this one that you can see printed over here, since Elvis and her look so good together. When she wanted to autograph the book and the photo, she asked my name. My name also exists in English, but in order not to get it wrong, I showed her my identification card. I saw Suzanna squinting her eyes and admitting, “I can’t see a thing, darling… Someone stole my glasses.” I was momentarily confused. “Someone stole your glasses…? When and what for?” And then she told me that the previous day someone had stolen a bad full of posters and that her glasses were inside the bag. “But your glasses are of no use to anyone else,” I said, “That’s really awful.” She became serious and told me, “I’m sure they will sell them as memorabilia.” I must have looked really astonished at that – something like that would have never crossed my mind. “I feel sad about that, you know?” I told her, “Just because you were lucky enough to meet and work with Elvis, now people do these things to you? It’s not fair.” Then she felt like sharing another story.  

“Something happened to me once. I was selling my book and, just like you chose this picture, people really enjoy the giant poster of it, which is standing over here behind me. They usually ask me to take photos, but as it’s very tiring to get up and sit down all the time, usually I remain on my seat. There was a couple once who came to me and bought one photo and then got pretty insistent to take a photo of me standing beside the poster. You know how people can get insistent sometimes! I got up. Listen to this, it just took me the few seconds to turn around, when I looked ahead, there was no couple anywhere to be found, neither was a stack of photos. They stole me a pile of photos and there they went!” I could only shake my head. “But this story doesn’t end here. Shortly afterwards autographed photos of me started to be sold in the Internet. And I don’t sell any of my photos through Internet. I’m sure they must have reproduced my signature and are selling every photo this way.”  

I could only tell Suzanna that I was sorry for that type of behaviour, even more so because it came from people who call themselves Elvis fans. To me, those aren’t real Elvis fans, but opportunists who shame those who say they admire Elvis Presley and everything he stood for and still does. I asked Suzanna if I could take a picture with her and she immediately said yes. I sat beside her and asked a fan of my group to take the shot. I think it looks okay! After I said good bye to Suzanna, I went to my room with the book, where I immediately started reading it. Suzanna wrote on the very first page, “To Celia, I hope you like my story.” Because she didn’t have her glasses, her handwriting looks kind of funny!

The photo Suzanna autographed for me.

Now that I have read her whole story, I feel astonished. Suzanna’s life really deserves to be told in a book! On Elvis, I will only tell one of the things she shared. This photo she autographed for me was taken on the set, when both of them were just hanging around. The clothes they’re both wearing aren’t even from the movie, but their own clothes. Someone thought they looked good together and took this photo. Elvis reacted in a way that not even Suzanna could have predicted. He kissed her deeply. Suzanna says that she only remembers having slipped her arms around his neck and melting to his kiss. After the kiss, which was dully captured in a photo, Elvis smiled at her and said, “Well, that won’t do your career any harm, baby!” Suzanna was just at the beginning of her career and Elvis knew that whatever he did was news. And, sure enough, the next day the photo was published everywhere.  

Suzanna tells that she kissed Elvis only one more time. Well, he kissed her, at the end of shooting Paradise, to say good bye. He came to her dressing room, where they said good bye. Of that kiss, Suzanna says, “His kisses held an intensity that melted my very being. A person could go to the gallows with such a kiss lingering on their lips, knowing life had been good.” They thought that they would be seeing each other soon, since Suzanna was scheduled to co-star another Elvis movie, Easy Come Easy Go (another poor one). But some drawbacks in her personal life prevented her from continuing her career as actress in the United States and her life was suddenly turned upside down. She kept very good memories of Elvis, of never ending hours of conversations during 4 months. Elvis called her “Little Sister”, since he said she was like the little sister he never had. Suzanna was 20 years old at the time and Elvis was 30. Elvis told Suzanna that, even though she was Priscilla’s age, the latter looked pretty childish by comparison. In Priscilla’s defence, who wasn’t exactly a “mama’s or daddy’s girl”, because she had to help her mother with all her 5 younger siblings, Suzanna went through very difficult situations in her life, since she was just a little girl. It was only natural for her to have matured much faster.

August 14th was the last day I saw Suzanna at our hotel. The day started with rain, even though the afternoon was sun shinny. As it was raining, Olga and I decided to visit the memorabilia shop that was selling Elvis stuff at our hotel and which was enormous! Usually only a room the size of a bedroom was reserved to sell articles. This year, a room bigger than the breakfast lounge and yet a smaller one, were full with SO MANY Elvis items, I can’t even describe it to you. After having visited the shops, we sat at the reception, waiting for the rain to stop. Suzanna arrived, prepared her book booth and greeted me with a smile. “Hi, darling!” Then she approached me quietly, took me aside and said, “Can I ask you a favour?” I said sure. “I wanted to go to the Elvis shop, but I can’t leave this here, because things might get stolen. Could you stay here and look over my booth just for a few minutes?” I found it so sweet of her! First because I could see the glint of the Elvis fan that she is shinning in her eyes and then because she trusted me enough to take the job. “Sure, you go ahead,” I told her, “And relax that nothing will disappear!” She smiled, patted me in one harm and off she went, very pleased, like a child who’s going to visit a candy store. Yes, Suzanna has always been an Elvis fan and we can almost say that she met him because she worked hard for that to happen. Definitely, she’s a very intelligent woman.

I looked over Suzanna’s booth for around 15 minutes and answered the fans questions on her book. She came back, thanked me a lot and sat on her place, certainly feeling happier for having visited the shops and, who knows, perhaps with a new buy inside her purse.  

I couldn’t help feeling said though, for knowing that several unpleasant aspects also surround Elvis. And Elvis and the people who met him aren’t to blame. When someone does something like this – stealing somebody’s possessions who is related to Elvis – that person can only be called one of two things, or both: fanatic and/or disrespectful. And I think that’s a shame, Elvis didn’t deserve that, he doesn’t deserve to have fans like these. Those who met him don’t deserve this. And last but not least, Elvis fans who behave as adult and responsible people, don’t deserve this either. These few examples (I prefer to think they’re just a few) are the ones who give Elvis fans a bad name after all. But I feel happy to know that, in spite of the bad experiences, there are still some people who are able to trust another fellow Elvis fan they just met – like Suzanna did with me!

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