Legends: Red West; Red and Elvis at Biloxi, during the
summer of 1956.
This interview was done by Todd Slaughter, President
of the Official Elvis Presley Fan Club of Great Britain, at the
English Fan Club Convention of 3 November 1999. The first part is a
conversation between Todd and Red, the last part consists of
audience-questions to Red.
Red West was, of course, Elvisí friend and bodyguard
since their high school days.
RW - One of
Elvisís greatest wishes was to do a European tour and to come to
England. The closest he got to it was when we were in Germany. Bill
Haley was appearing at some auditorium in Frankfurt and we went
over, and we were standing backstage. Bill Haley was singing Rock
Around the Clock. Elvis just peeped round the curtain for a moment
and the whole auditorium emptied right by Bill Haley and chased us
out the side door, and thatís the closest he ever came to appearing
in Europe, but he always wanted to come here. Many of his fans from
England came to Las Vegas. He would talk to them and that was one of
the things that... the biggest mistakes he ever made, was Elvis not
coming here so that you could see him and he could see how much you
We had a lot of questions put towards Red that weíre
going to go through piecemeal by piecemeal, and there will be a time
at the end of the questions that have been hand-written in for you
to ask other ones, but letís go back to the early days. Itís said,
as legend has it, that you rescued Elvis from being beaten up at
Humes High when a group of boys wanted to cut his hair. Whatís the
real story, and was that what happened?
That is the real story. The story is Elvis was always
different. We had - Iíve got one now - I just did a movie that
required me to go back in time but we had crew cuts, wore tee-shirts
and blue jeans, Elvis had the long duck-tail, the long sideburns and
he wore the loud clothes and naturally he was a target for all the
bullies, and one day luckily I walked into the boysí bathroom at
Humes High School and 3 guys were going to cut his hair just, you
know, to make themselves look big or make them feel big or whatever,
and I intervened and stopped it, and I guess that stuck because a
couple of years later after Elvis had his first record he came over
and asked me if I would like to go with him, I think it was Grenada,
Mississippi or somewhere, and I went and I was with him from then
on, except for a couple of years in the Marine Corps. Whatever,
Elvis and I were great friends. Some things happened that... I want
to dwell on the happier times at this get-together because they
out-weigh the bad times. We had some good times, some great fun
times and, in my opinion, thereís nobody that will ever compare to
Elvis. He was my good friend and Iíll always remember him as that.
It must be very
difficult to walk in the shadow of someone that is so loved, so
adored, so worshipped. Was there ever a time when you felt, "I wish
that couldíve been me", or were you happy to be in the shadow, so to
I wouldnít trade places with him for the world. Bull.
Anybody would... you know, what he had, the adoration and the money.
I mean, thatís what life is about, I imagine everybody here would
like to reach that plateau, to have what he had, and to say "No, I
wouldnít trade places with him" - thatís a hard statement to make.
He had it all, except he didnít have the privacy he shouldíve had,
thatís the main thing that happened to Elvis. He was a prisoner of
his own career.
Was being a prisoner
sort of counteractive to what Elvis couldíve actually done? Do you
think he was too frightened, or was it instilled in him to be so
protected and protective that he dared not go out into the general
No, he tried. Even in Las Vegas where people like
Frank Sinatra, many of the stars, Sammy Davis - they could go out
and pretty well mingle. They could go down if they wanted to gamble
or whatever. People didnít bother them too much. But Elvis tried it
- once - and the whole casino... everybody stopped playing and came
around just to watch and see what he was doing, and he could not get
out and do what most people do, and everything had to be at night.
And still, I mean he would rent movies at night because he couldnít
go to a regular movie, but still the gate was always crowded with
fans and they would follow and they would be at the movie when it
was over, and it was constant. We were always trying to find
different ways to go places but he didnít want to hurt anybodyís
feelings, but he did wish he had a little more privacy.
Working in an
environment where youíre obviously expected to be "the great
protector", were you personally always on edge for something
untoward to happen?
I guess always, because you never knew, even back in
the early days we had our problems. Later on it got to be a real
problem because the threat became bigger. You know what happened to
John Lennon. Well, this could have happened to Elvis much earlier.
In fact, there were threats. We tried to keep it under wraps because
of the people out there, the copycats that would do it.
We were getting threats
in the later years, we took them all seriously. Everybody was on
edge. In fact, one night in Las Vegas, we got one before he went on
stage and even the management said you donít have to go on stage
tonight because this looks real, and he said, "Well, Iím not going
to stop a show because of some so-and-so making threats". But the
lights were up in the audience more, the curtains were closer, my
cousin Sonny and I were a lot closer and that was one of the
strangest feelings Iíve ever had because when he did his last song
he went down into a very low karate stance to make him like a small
target, and Sonny and I came rushing out and stood in front of him,
and we're standing there waiting for whatever was coming. That is a
strange feeling but thatís what we were going through toward the
end, so a lot of things were happening that people donít know about.
Were you frightened?
Was Elvis frightened?
Yes, but he did the show. He said Iím not going to be
bullied by some idiot like that, you know, and weíre watching every
move, everything that moved in the audience, and sometimes we
over-reacted on other occasions maybe, but Iíd rather I over-reacted
than not be there on time.
But were you
permanently hyped up? Were you always on edge, expecting the worst?
Always. Always. Especially after these things. We saw
what happened to people by not being prepared, or not thinking
things could happen, so we were always ready as we could be.
Letís go back to the
early days. When did you first talk to Elvis about him being signed
up by Col Parker? Were you aware what was going on at that time?
No, not really. I had nothing to do with that. I was
just having a good time and I saw that the Colonel had a lot more
influence and a lot more experience in that field than the people
who handled Elvis before, so things started immediately he went to
RCA. He did the Jackie Gleason Show with Tommy & Jimmy
Dorsey, which made him visible to the world and not just around
Tennessee, Texas and Arkansas, so I knew that something big was
happening, but I didnít know it was going to be as big as it became.
In the early days, did Elvis Presley mix with lots of
other stars, or did he tend to keep apart?
No, when he was doing the tours with the Browns, Hank
Snow and when he did the Louisiana Hayride, Johnny Horton,
George Jones thatís a funny story, before I forget it! Elvis had had
3 hit records. He was doing the Louisiana Hayride and George
Jones went on right before him and George Jones, who was probably
put up to it by Johnny Horton and the rest of the old-timers, he did
all 3 of Elvisís hits. Weíre standing backstage watching this and
George came off, said "Iím sorry, I havenít had a hit in a long
time" and he walked off. Elvis went out and sung 3 gospel songs,
came off and said, "Letís get the hell out of here". That was funny!
Not at the time, but later on we laughed about it.
Elvis obviously worked with these people, but did he
socialise with them?
Oh, yeah. We have a picture at home. The Browns, they
were a country group, brothers and sisters. They had a hit called
Little Jimmy Brown and we have a picture at home of them celebrating
their father and motherís wedding anniversary and around the table
was Hank Snow, Junior, Floyd Cramer, this was a whole musical group.
He hung out with them then. Later on, it was different, but when he
first started out he liked to hang out with those guys - Jimmy
Horton and those guys. Weíd go out to dinner after the show, but
later on he kinda stayed by himself.
Was there a time when
you thought that Elvis made a conscious decision that he couldnít go
out any more, he could no longer go to the local hamburger place, to
shop, to do anything that normal ordinary people have the
opportunity to do. Did it come all at once, or was there a gradual
learning that there were going to be problems?
it was gradual. When he started making the movies it became even
more evident, became more of a visual thing that people would come
around to see him, and thatís when it really started that he
couldnít even go out the gate and weíd go the back way out, jump
over the fence, whatever, but when the movies started after
Love Me Tender it
became pretty hard to go out in public.
Do you think that you
personally wouldnít have gotten into the movie industry had it not
been for knowing Elvis Presley, being associated with Elvis, or was
that a way in your life that you personally wanted to go?
Thatís what I always wanted to do, but no, I would
never have made it without knowing him because the people I met with
him were the ones who helped me get into it when I came back early
from Germany and went directly to Hollywood. Itís what I always
wanted to do but knowing him opened doors that would never have been
open, so Nick Adams - I donít know if you remember Nick Adams - did
a series called
The Rebel. He was a friend of Elvisís and I
went to Hollywood and met him. He helped me get into the first door
and then Robert Conrad who did
West, we played football every Sunday when Elvis got back and
all those people would come out, Pat Boone I met these people and
ended up working with them so, no, everything I got I owe to Elvis.
That really is a
statement to make, isnít it?
Yeah, it was real, itís true.
Did you have to have
any drama coaching of any kind, or did it come naturally?
No, I studied acting with a guy whoís still around,
Jeff Corey, an old character actor. And Robert Blake I think studied
with him, Jack Nicholson studied with him. No, you donít just go out
and start acting. Elvis could have been, I think, a tremendous actor
if he had had the chance to study first instead of being thrown
right into it. Anybody who wants to be an actor, you study acting
first. You donít just step in front of a camera, youíll forget your
name which I did!
Did you enjoy the
films, the films that Elvis did?
Yes, I enjoyed the first ones.
Flaming Star especially, I could count on one
hand the ones that were good and the rest of them were things that
were thrown at him with no thought of anything other than making a
buck. Forget the songs were bad, the scripts were bad, but for those
of you who saw
Wild in the
Country and those movies I just
mentioned, he had the ability if he had some training, and also he
could have done better in the others.
He just kinda breezed
through the others to get them out of the way because there was
nothing to them as far as he was concerned. I mean,
Wild in the
Country was some of the best acting without a doubt he ever did,
and the one in New Orleans -
King Creole - those were two.
King Creole was written
for James Dean and they changed the name, of course James Dean was
killed and Elvis got the part. But that was a heavy, dramatic acting
part for him and I think he did it very well, but then he lost
interest as the movies went by.
Legends: Elvis and Red, practicing some karate.
I guess when the
British invasion first started to penetrate the charts in the
States, Elvis at that time, and you all at that time, must have
taken a step back and said to yourselves whatís happening here, we
need to reassert our place in the marketplace because all these
limeys are coming over and taking our money.
No, Elvis always said thereís room for everybody. He
was never threatened, in fact when he had his home in Bel Air, and I
guess everybody knows about when the Beatles came to his house. It
was one of the best, fun times we ever had. We just sat around.
Ringo, myself and my cousin played pool. Ringo was kind of a loner,
the rest of them and Elvis sat and chit-chatted all night and had a
ball. The only thing, when he was in the Army, he felt like his
hands were tied and everybody was doing their thing when he was in
the Army but he said Iíve got this to do, and then I hope theyíll
remember me when I get out, but he never wished anybody any bad luck
or anything like that. Maybe youíve heard he did, but donít believe
I guess when Elvis was in the movie
studios, your duties of being a protector, looking over your
shoulder, were less of a problem once Elvis went back into live
entertainment. Initially Las Vegas was a relatively easy place I
think to protect, but once on tour, it must have been a nightmare.
The tours and the
personal appearances we were on guard, but in the movies, we were
doing the movies with him. I was in every fight scene, either
doubling him or fighting with him or doubling for somebody else.
That was fun, we didnít worry about anything then, maybe to and from
the studio, but not too much. We were all involved in the movies and
having a ball.
But I guess whilst youíre in greater Los Angeles,
driving round Beverly Hills and so forth, itís not that unusual even
these days to see famous people driving in the back of limousines,
so the fact that Elvis Presley was driving in Bel Air really
wouldnít have made that much difference to people, or would it, or
No, although there was always somebody that was at
the gate all night waiting for him to come out and theyíd jump in
their car and follow us, but that was just people who loved him and
no real problem there, no.
Did he get up to
anything that you donít want to talk about? Did you have a secret
thing that you all would go and do which nobody really knew you were
doing, and Iím not talking about the other thing, Iím talking about
the normal. (RW - What other thing??). How did you escape
from it all basically?
We just donít talk about it. I donít really know how
to answer that. He did have a crap table in his house that people
werenít supposed to know about that we shot craps and gambled a
little bit. No, there was nothing really unusual.
Did you visit Malibu, or go fishing, or was there any
way you were able to escape where no-one would see you. Thatís the
point Iím making.
No. The only time we went fishing was early in his
career. He used to love going to Biloxi, Mississippi. We went out on
this boat - his cousins, his girlfriend and whatever, and that was
fun. We fished, I remember I caught a shark, he caught a bunch of
these bonita, whatever. But that was in the early days, that was the
late 50s - 54/55.
Thereís some charming
film footage of Elvis going to Catalina island. Did you accompany
him when he did that?
No. I think I was in the Marine Corps then. That had
to be in 56/57 when he was doing his first movie. I miss that, I
miss those days because that had to be - his cousin Gene was with
him - and the first time in Hollywood had to be an experience, I
wished I could have seen that, but Iíd gone into the Marine Corps.
Did you feel you
missed out by not being there?
No, I think things worked out the way they were
supposed to for me. Yeah, I missed that initial changeover from
Memphis to movies, I missed the first two, and I wish I couldíve
been there because Iíve seen pictures, that was really some crazy
times for Elvis because he was young and all this thrown at him, and
he handled it pretty well, but I heard there were some pretty wild
times in those first couple of movies.
Going on to Las
Vegas, because I think thereís the three schools of fans - the fans
that like the 50s, the fans that do like the movies, because an
awful lot of the music that we play at our events believe it or not
are from the movies that generally probably Elvis didnít like, and
possibly didnít like recording, but the songs to us all here have
their own magic. But I guess itís easier to relate to Elvis in the
70s which of course was a combination of very happy times, with
Elvis Presleyís success at getting back into live entertainment, and
very sad times. I mean, I always remember at one of these early
sessions several years ago there was a guy at the back who stood up
and he said, "I would never believe that Elvis Presley would ever
take drugs, and that bastard that prescribed them should have been
shot". We all have a tendency of, from time to time, putting on
those rose-colored glasses, but was it for Elvis, was the majority
of his lifetime a happy experience?
Yes. Thatís what I was saying earlier. I want to
remember the good times because they were exceptionally good. He was
like a brother, he was closer to me than my own brothers, we grew
together from high school to a year, a couple of years before his
death. There were many, many good times. Like I said, we used to go
to Biloxi, go fishing, we had these wild fireworks fights at night,
on the golf course, the crazy things we did on the road, we had a
certain little game we would play to break the boredom. Weíd drive
along the countryside, weíd be going over a bridge. We had this
little thing where somebody was talking about something they thought
was really important, youíd tap them on the head, they were supposed
to like change the channel, go to completely something different.
Youíd say, "I thought the thing we did ...", youíd tap his head,
heíd say "Oh, to hell with it ..", take his shoes off and throw them
out the window into the river!! Things like that, stupid little
things just to break the monotony, but they were fun, they were
Bill Black was one of
the craziest guys I ever met, you know, the bass player. We had some
good times on the road in those early days and they far overshadow
the bad times, although the bad times were bad, but we had too many
good times to dwell on that. Itís just something that happened. Now
weíre talking about it, like me, Iím dying for a cigarette right
now!!! I have a brother whoís addicted to gambling. I might as well
get into this now and tell you. People have come up to me and said,
"Why the hell didnít you do something to stop it?" They donít know
that I did try. They didnít know I got fired because I tried, but
his step-brothers and a member of one of the singing groups were
bringing these things to him. When I found out about it I kicked the
door in, I stomped the guyís foot and broke his foot, said "You keep
bringing them Iím just gonna work my way up". Elvis, of course,
found out about it and I was gone. Iíd been with him since junior
high school, but the drugs took over in the end and I can understand
it in a way because he had no privacy, he was bored with his life.
Let me go through the
thing here. He started out great doing personal appearances, then he
went into the movies, the movies got to be a drag because of what
weíve been talking about - the songs were terrible, the scripts were
terrible. So he went to Vegas instead of working maybe 5 nights a
week and 2 nights off or 6 nights and 1 night off for a couple of
weeks, like Frank Sinatra and everybody else did, he worked for 4
weeks for 7 nights a week, 2 shows a night. The Colonel was
downstairs gambling enjoying himself. So, this got to be .. OK I
want to go back on the road, I want out of this. The movies got to
be a drag, this is getting to be a drag, I want to get back in front
of the audience around the country, the world. The Colonel started
booking him into the same towns. Each tour weíd hit Roanoke,
Virginia, weíd hit so-and so and so-and-so, Atlanta, Georgia. He
wanted to come here. He wanted to go to Australia, he wanted to go
to Germany, he wanted to go anywhere but Roanoke, Virginia and
Atlanta, Georgia, but no, and why the Colonel did that? I asked the
Colonel why canít we tour Europe. Why canít we go to Australia.
Canít handle security, canít handle security. We didnít know he was
an illegal alien and he could not go outside the US.
I wondered why he never
came to Germany while we were there. He always sent other people
there. He never left the USA, once he got there he never left, and
that hurt Elvis. If Elvis could have gotten out and seen you people
and entertained you and everybody else, it couldíve been different,
but he was a prisoner of his own success and letís just say the
Colonel got him where he was, but he also put him where he is.
In a few moments Iím
going to put some questions over to you, but I have had some
questions here that are a combination of questions that I guess have
already been discussed, but (to Red) let me ask you a question here.
Tony Curtis once said that kissing Marilyn Monroe was like kissing
Hitler. Did Elvis Presley ever kiss Marilyn Monroe?
No he didnít, thatís one he missed.
From B Davis, the
lady who asked the first question, thereís another question that
obviously youíre very well aware of because youíve been involved in
it. A recent release from RCA has been the album "Private Elvis" and
I know that most of the tapes, if not all of them, were supplied by
you to Ernst Jorgensen. Is there more material, or does he now have
I donít believe so, unless thereís something up in my
attic - Iíve got a couple of tapes up there that I need to listen to
- but I donít think thereís anything else out there at all. I think
these Home Recordings was the end of it. I canít think of anything
else laying around that they can come out with.
This is a poignant
question, everybody looks back at their life. This is from Margaret
Smith, she said is there any "if onlys" for you. Is there anything
that you think, "if only" in connection with Elvis?
Of course. Thereís always that question, if only,
then I guess you think back. I did as much as I could at the end,
but you know thereís a lot of things I canít put my finger on, but
Iím sure thereís a lot of things I would say if only this, things
couldíve been different, I donít know anything else we could have
done at the end. We did all we could.
You, during your
lifetime, have worked with an awful lot of stars. A lot of stars.
Whoís the best, who was the most fun to be with?
Elvis. He was the most fun to be with. I worked with
John Wayne in
The Man Who Shot
Liberty Valance, Lee Marvin,
James Stewart, Iíve worked with a lot of people. Robert Conrad, we
had a lot of fun, he was crazy, still is! I worked on
West as a stuntman, broke every bone in my body, then was
fortunate enough to get the co-starring role in
Black Sheep Squadron. I donít know if you ever saw that show over here or
not, about Pepe Borington, the World War 2 ace.
I would have to say
Elvis was the most fun because anything went with him. We did things
on the set that drove directors crazy, like one time for instance he
was in there getting his hair all slicked back, took 30 minutes to
get that hair in place, I was up in the rafters. This was at
Universal. We were on the old
Hunchback of Notre Dame set. I
was up in the cat-walk with a water balloon. After the make-up man
did all his hair he stepped out, took about 2 steps and I dropped
this water balloon. It hit right in his hair, and his hair of course
went right down the side of his face, he didnít even look up! He
just turned around and went back into the trailer and started over.
Another thing on that
same set, Charlie Hodge - somebody had thrown water on him. He took
his shirt off, they had a big fan there for circulation, a big floor
fan. He hung his shirt on this fan to dry out, then walked away and
got another shirt, but every once in a while heíd come back to check
if it was dry. But while he was gone we just poured more water on
it! All day!
Alan Fortas, when we
were doing King Creole,
Alan was always pulling jokes on everybody else, so we got him with
one. We said, "Alan, you gonna do a line today, youíre gonna be an
actor", go to make-up. So he went to make-up, they made him up, they
put the make-up on, they put this little tissue on his shirt so he
wouldnít get make-up on his shirt. We said "You sit here, and donít
take that tissue out or youíll mess your shirt up". So he sat there
all morning, we gave him some line, made sure he had this line
memorised, so he sat there doing this line with this tissue on his
shirt. Lunch came, weíre getting close, weíre going to break for
lunch now. After lunch I think that might be the first shot. And
after lunch they always touched up your make-up because you might
have gotten some chicken grease on your mouth or whatever. So, they
retouched his make-up, said keep the kleenex in, he sat there all
afternoon doing his line, waiting on his little line. At the end of
the day, the first assistant came over and said "Alan, weíve run out
of time, weíre gonna have to do this tomorrow". You guyís been
putting me on he said, and everybody had a good laugh at that! We
were always doing things like that.
interesting question here which, as a father, youíll know yourself.
Was Elvis a good dad, and did he ever change a diaper?
Never. No way would he ever change a diaper! He would
have made a mess of it. That was not one of his things that he could
Do you think, if there had been at that time a Betty
Ford clinic, do you Elvis would have voluntarily taken part in that,
or did he feel that what was going on wasnít a problem?
I donít think he ever knew it was a problem, but at
the end he always had Dr. Nick with him or a nurse or whatever. I
think he thought if anything happened they would get to him in time
or something. We thought about that many times, if there were a
Betty Ford clinic, but even when he would go into the hospital which
he did quite a few times at the end, I would say "what do you
thinkís causing this", heíd say just a problem with his stomach, Iíd
say what do you thinkís causing this you donít think itís because of
the things youíre taking .
And then something that
sticks out in my mind is when, going back to when I told you about
breaking in the door and stomping on the guyís foot, well when that
did get to Elvis he called me in, he said "I want you to leave these
people alone. I need this". I said "You need this". He said "I need
this". I said, "Well. you went a lot of years without it", he said
"But now I need it", and then when we got back off the road he went
to Las Vegas and his dad called me, took Sonny and Dave Hebler in
and said "Weíre cutting back on expenses and Iím afraid you guys are
gonna have to go". I left, that was it. But I tried.
You are obviously a
very powerful man, I can tell that because about 10 minutes ago when
you tapped me on the head I think you broke my skull! You are a very
strong man, and I wanted to tell you a very funny story as well.
Well it wasnít funny at the time, but you might all like to share in
it. In 1972 we took a group of fans to the States, it was to see
Elvis Presley in concert in Las Vegas. We had a fabulous time, it
was marvellous, it was real good fun! The Colonel was very
hospitable to everybody, we got good seats at the showroom.
I guess the mistake we really made was that the
second year we decided to go back again. The Las Vegas Hilton wasnít
that tolerant this time because here was 250 people from Britain
who, on the whole, had no intention whatsoever of gambling in the
Hilton, but they did want to see Elvis and everybody had got
reservations. At a stroke those reservations were cancelled, every
single one of them, and we couldnít get in to the Hilton. We could
get in, but we couldnít get into the showroom.
What we had to do was pretend that we were a stronger
organisation than we actually were, and there were two people on
that trip - one from a national newspaper in Britain called the
Daily Mirror and a disc jockey called Tony Prince who was a
broadcaster from Radio Luxembourg. What we did was we went to a
radio station in Las Vegas and pretended to be the BBC covering a
story that 250 Brits had been thrown out of the Las Vegas Hilton. I
was then subsequently summonsed to meet Emilio who threw the seating
plans at me and said, ďPick 250 names and **** off!Ē
So I went in with Tony
Prince (the guy from Radio Luxembourg that did the BBC hoax) and we
picked 250 names twice and everybody had a name. Not their own name,
and we wrote them on pieces of paper, and we told everybody in our
group to remember their names, but of course there were lots of
Jewish names - Bloombergs and things like that, and people didnít
remember them, so you could see this whole group of people dressed
in C&A clothes looking so conspicuous with their little card in
front of them with their own name written on to gain access to the
For me it was a trauma, for my first wife, she
was traumatised by the fact that 90 percent of the time I was in Las
Vegas I was in the bar because I really couldnít handle it. When the
time came for the normal photograph with an award from a British
newspaper (which was a music paper called the New Musical Express),
we were summonsed by the Colonel, and the Colonel by this time was
quite pissed off, to tell you the truth because he had hassle from
the Hilton, we werenít really welcome there, Elvis didnít know we
were there, it was traumatic for us all. And my first wife, bless
her, decided to tell Elvis what she thought of what was going on in
an attempt to protect me! Now you (Red) might not remember this, you
picked her up and threw her against the wall! But these sort of
things must have happened to you countless times.
Yes. I think I remember this! What happened, why were
you not (given tickets), I mean after coming all that way to see
him, was there a mix-up at the Hilton?
There was no mix-up at the Hilton, everybody had got
their reservation forms but somebody - whether there been a change
of casino management at the Hilton - but someone had decided that
the people that should be sitting in the casino seats should be the
high rollers, and 250 people in a 2000 seater showroom is more than
10% and it was 10 percent more I think than they wanted to bear, so
as a business they really didnít want us there and of course it was
the only time that I couldnít find Col Parker so we had to pull this
stunt. We pulled this stunt, it really worked, but I was told that
if I ever tried it again they had a dam down the road that I might
like to visit!
Yeah, there was a few of the boys in Vegas! I
apologise to you. (Red introduces his wife in the audience). This is
a story. She was in the booth, in the middle and when Elvis was
there they had the tables right up to the stage, long tables. Elvis
had put on a pretty good show that night. The curtains were closing,
Iím coming out, Sonnyís coming out, walking with the curtains. This
girl with a mini skirt is running down this table toward Elvis. I
saw her and, just as the curtains closed, she hit me in the back,
Elvis of course stepped back and laughed and walked on, but she was
trying to get through so I reached, I reach and I got my arms around
her, and I hear this applause and these whistles. Everybodyís having
a ball out there and Iím wondering whatís going on. My wife told me
when she got backstage that when I grabbed her, I was holding her
through the curtains, had my arm around her to keep her from coming
through, well her skirt went up and there was nothing underneath!
And all these guys shouting..... hold on Red!
Another time one was
running down the tables, fell on some guyís lap and her wig flipped
off. Never slowed, she got up with these little pin curls and kept
coming!! I donít know if youíve heard Elvisís live song (Are
You Lonesome Tonight), well this guy sitting down here with a
toupee on and some girl was trying to get to Elvis and knocked the
toupee off and Elvis is singing "...and your bald head..." He just
fell about, if you heard that recording thatís what that was about,
he was singing live and the guy got his toupee knocked off and he
couldnít sing the rest of the song, and the voices over here never
missed a lick, they just kept it going like they were supposed to
and he just, "...and your bald head...". Well, thatís where that
Legends: Red, playing the part of a policeman
in Follow That Dream movie; Elvis, at Red West's marriage.
There is of course
that famous story about you all going into the showroom of the
Hilton and painting the cherubs black. Now everybody knows the
story, but the question I would like to know is where did you get
the paint, because paint shops in Las Vegas arenít that easy to come
The back of the stage had this very tall mesh wire
thing. Behind that was all the stuff for the stage, paint, whatever.
So we were backstage after the show was over, the showroom was empty
and Elvis said, "I want to paint those black". So I took my shoes
off and I climbed over, and this thing had to be 20 feet tall! I
went over, down the other side, got the paint, hooked it on to my
belt, came back over, put my shoes on and we went and painted them
black. And the next night nobody seemed to notice it, and he said "I
want you to notice what we done last night to change the showroom
and to acknowledge my back-up group, the Sweet Inspirations.
Everything is white. No longer, look". The spotlight went over to
these black faces and the Sweet Inspirations were falling about!
Thatís how that came about.
Did you do these things out of boredom or was it just
to be plain stupid?
We were mischievous, even in our later years. I was
always thinking of crazy things to do, that was his idea, and it was
just to break the boredom but also to have a good time and probably
shock the people at the Hilton. I mean, whoíd dare do something like
that? But they left it alone. It was there for a long time before
they changed it. In fact, the last time I went back I looked to see
if it was there. Itís been changed, but that was fun, every night
weíd go out on stage and look and it was still there.
Had Elvis Presley
lived, and I guess you knew him as well as anybody knew Elvis
Presley, what do you think at the grand old age of 65 he would be
He would be doing the same thing he was doing then.
If you notice, I know I have, after Elvis died the music seemed to
change. Itís not like it was then, it went to country in the US
after that, course you canít call it all country now, but Elvis
would still be doing Hound Dog and things like that, still doing the
same thing. Hopefully weíd have made some changes, but heíd still be
doing it. He wouldnít have changed his music.
Did he want ever to
change his music? He never thought that he wanted to become more of
a gospel act?
No, we were in the audience watching Bobby Darin
once. Bobby Darin, if youíre familiar with Bobby Darin, started out
with Splish Splash then he got into Frank Sinatra, started sounding
a lot like Frank Sinatra. We were in the audience one night and he
did Splish Splash, stopped in the middle of it, and said that was
another time, then he started on one of his later hits that sounded
like Frank Sinatra. Elvis yelled out, "Donít knock what got you
there!" And he stopped, he knew who it was, and he said "You know
what? Youíre right." and thatís what he felt, you know, Bobby Darin
made the changeover from Splish Splash to Frank Sinatra type songs.
Elvis was so embarrassed when he did that show with Frank Sinatra
after he got out the Army. He was singing one of Frank Sinatraís
songs and Frank Sinatra was singing one of his. That was the most
horrific, embarrassed he ever was because that was not his type of
Did you and Elvis sneak into many shows in Vegas?
We sneaked into a lot of them, yeah. Thatís what he
did before, see we were there a week early to rehearse then weíd go
through the 4 weeks of hell, then weíd stay for the week after to
unwind, and he went to (shows), especially Tom Jones, he would go to
as many shows as he could, Andy Williams. We were talking earlier
about him socialising with people. He did. He would always invite
Tom Jones over and the quartet was always up there, and after doing
a show for an hour and a half or whatever he would go upstairs and
Tom Jones would come over and Elvis and the group would sing. Tom
Jones maybe joined in a couple of times but Andy Williams, people
like that, he liked to invite them over and stay up, so thatís what
we did after the show. Elvis was always singing, he loved to have
the gospel quartet up there and the Sweet Inspirations and they
would sing gospel songs, whatever, and just have a good time.
Were there lots of girls?
There was hundreds of girls, in fact my wife one time
was there and I took her up to see him. I mean, thatís what he
wanted. He wanted an audience of just people to talk, he had his
religious quotes and he liked to talk to all these people. Of course
he would be looking through the crowd and seeing how they look, but
that was the norm after the show to unwind, he wanted a lot of
people up in the suite and there always were a lot of people up
Would you say, and I
know some of the women would want to know this, but would you say
that Elvis Presley was a predatory male?
OK. Thereís a before and after. When he first went to
Vegas, and I guess the first movies, no female was safe, but in the
later years Linda was there or Priscilla was there. In the last
couple of years I canít think of anybody but just whoever he was
going with at the time, Linda, the other girl (canít think of her
name), and the rest of them were just somebody to talk to. Thatís
the truth. I guess he was getting old! He had these books that
people would bring him, some of them a little strange, but he was
into that more than anything else. He was beginning to see things in
the sky and things like that.
Was that detrimental
do you think to Elvisís psyche at the time? Do you think those
people should not have done what they did?
These things should never have been brought to him
because the people who brought them were strange, and still are, and
it got him off onto another thing. He was looking for something and
he thought this was it.
Do you still now,
today, see those people, Linda, Ginger and so forth.
No, we visited Linda, my wife and I and some of the
group, we were in California. We went out to visit her. Lindaís
nice, you know, sheís OK. She did the best she could but the group
is split now. I was the first guy, the Memphis Mafia is what they
started calling us. I was the first guy, then came Lamar, Sonny,
Marty and Billy. Billy was always there, Billy was like our younger
brother but he was not involved in all the road stuff as much as we
were until he got older. But then he had the other group, we kinda
separated, things happened, but we donít get along well.
Iím now going to put it over to you (the
audience). Is there anybody that wants to ask a question?
Iím getting old and
my hearingís going, so be kind to me.
What was Elvisís
His mother was an angel. He loved his mother, she
loved him, she worried herself sick about him, she didnít take any
crap off anybody and she was a very strong-willed woman and I miss
her. The last time I saw her I was in the Marine Corps. I was home
on leave. Elvis was making
King Creole and I went by Graceland to see her and Vernon
and they called Elvis. They said Elvis wants you to fly out and then
ride the train back to New Orleans. Elvis wouldnít fly in those days
and they were finishing up in Hollywood, and then we got a ride in
the train to New Orleans. I had a weekís furlough and the last thing
his mother said to me was, "You take care of Elvis", and I took that
seriously for the rest of my life.
Do you think Elvis
needed the 68 Comeback to get back on the hit trail again?
He was wondering, after all the movies, he was a
little unsure of himself and thatís exactly what that was for, to
see if he still had it. The thing the Colonel had for him would have
destroyed him. He wanted him to come out and do a bunch of Christmas
songs! And Elvis said to hell with that, Iím doing this, so that was
his "testing the waters".
You say you became as
close as two brothers. Did you ever have a fight with Elvis?
Never. Never. Like I just said, his mother said take
care of him, donít hurt him. There were three times that I came very
close, but he wouldíve had to almost pull a gun or a knife on me
before I would hit him. No, I wouldnít do that.
Did Elvis ever want
to meet Marilyn Monroe when he had the chance, and are there any
photographs anywhere that you know of?
Yes, he did want to meet Marilyn Monroe but she was
busy. It never happened.
Did Elvis have anyone
to confide in other than those who were on the payroll or depended
on him financially?
When you wrote the
book discrediting Elvis and he died a few weeks later, did you feel
any responsibility for his death?
No, I did not feel any responsibility because Elvis
was dead once before but we found him just in time. I knew it was
coming and that was one of the main reasons I wrote the book
because, like I said earlier, I tried to stop what was going on
while I was with him and that didnít work, so we wrote this book to
just put right in his face what was going on and it still didnít do
any good, but it was a coincidence, I grant you that, but I know
what kind of shape he was in.
You people donít know what kind of shape he
was in. I knew and everybody that was with him knew if we hadnít
been there a couple of times before he would have been gone, and we
were trying to open up his eyes and, like you said, there was no
place to put him and we couldnít put him into hospital, the only
person who could put him there was his father and that didnít
happen. So he was just kinda out there, helpless.
When was the last
time you spoke to Elvis and was it on good terms?
Last time I spoke to Elvis was when he called me,
when he knew the book was being written. In fact that conversation
was in the book, and he called me to see how I was doing. I think he
was a little nervous about what was in the book. We had a long
conversation. That was the last time I spoke to him.
Could you have done
Yeah, I couldíve lied a lot but everything in that
book is the truth. I donít know if you read the book, but did
anybody see the good things in that book? 90 percent of that book
was the positive things but youíve got to cover it all. One thing
about these other books, theyíre a bunch of bullshit!
Where were you when
I was in the middle of an episode of
Black Sheep Squadron called the 200 Pound Gorilla. It was about me, I
was filming with Robert Conrad and the stunt coordinator - we were
rehearsing a scene, it was early in the morning, and Chuck came
running in and said "Man, I think I just heard something on the
radio about Elvis dying". Well, Robert Conrad had become friends
with Elvis, and we talked many times about what had transpired. Itís
the only time I know of a show shutting down. Nothing shuts down a
movie or TV show, the show must go on, well, that show shut down
that day. My wife and my two sons came over crying, and we werenít
worth a damn the rest of that day or the rest of that episode, but I
remember it well.
Did Elvis ever
consider writing songs with you, Red?
He would give me titles. He gave me the title
Someone You Never Forget. I think he sat down once. Charlie, he and
I sat down and tried to write something but he couldnít stay still
long enough. He would give me a title and say go write it, so thatís
how that happened.
You were saying
earlier that youíve always considered yourself as one of Elvisís
closest friends. This is a sort of two-part question. If that were
the case, I think had it been one of my friends I wouldnít have felt
that I wanted to write a book like that and make it public, and also
I think youíve been quoted as saying that you did it to help Elvis
and make him aware. If that is the case, if you just did it to help
him, would it be fair to say that any money made from the book you
donated to charity?
I agree with you myself but I was broke. No, I wrote
it for money. Is that what you want to hear? I wrote it for money
and to try to help him. Youíre gonna dwell on this goddam thing? Iím
sorry you feel that way but I loved the man very much. You donít
know what I went through trying to keep him away from this. Yes, you
got your opinion about me writing the book. OK, Iíve told you my
side of it and you canít accept that, then Iím sorry, but yeah I
wrote the book to try to save him and I wrote it to make money.
Is it true Elvis
carried a gun everywhere and have you any stories to tell about
Yes. We all did. After weíd all been deputised in
Denver, in Las Vegas and Memphis. We had security investigations of
our past. We were all armed and dangerous.
TS - I think what we
should do now is end on a funny story. Of all the pranks that Elvis
Presley pulled on members of the Memphis Mafia, what do you consider
to be the funniest?
OK. This is one of the things we did to break the
boredom in Las Vegas and this was in the book, one of the good
times. We had these threats and they had come and gone, so we didnít
have anything to do, we were going to pull something on the Stamps
Quartet. Elvis, Sonny and myself got together and said lets pull one
on the Stamps, letís tell them that weíve had another threat, go
through this, this, this... OK, so thatís what we did. First we got
the real security guards from the hotel to empty their guns,
afterwards we thought what if somebody had really tried something
that night. But anyway, down in the dressing room after the show we
got the Stamps and said, "Hey, fellas, now this is serious, we got
another threat tonight so I want you to take the elevator, go up to
the 30th floor, get out of the elevator, walk through a hall into
So, all the way there,
Sonny and I are priming these guys, "Man, be on your toes for this
sound". Bad. They were nervous wrecks all along the way to the
elevator, we went upstairs, we went into the suite and there was a
way around to the front of the suite and there was a way around to
the back through the dining-room, down into the living-room. I went
in with them, closed the door, Sonny fell back and went around the
other side. As soon as we got in the suite I said, "OK, looks like
weíre OK". Then all of a sudden Sonny shouted "Son of a bitch!",
boom ... we put blanks in our pistols. JD Sumner knocked Elvis down
and laid on top of him, Donnie Sumner jumped over the bar, hit his
knee on the top of the bar and almost broke his legs. He was hiding
behind the bar. I went running up these three steps, fired a couple
of shots, Sonny fired a shot. I grabbed my stomach and said, "Oh,
Iím hit" and I fell down these steps.
All the guards that
followed had been shot, all these shots going off, all these guards
were "dead". One of the Stamps was underneath the table, he was very
religious and he was praying! And the other one, the wild man of the
group says "Give me a gun, give me a gun". He went over and actually
grabbed one of these dead guardís guns. "The son of a bitch is
empty". By that time, Sonny stuck his arm around Elvis (who was
still on the floor with JD Sumner on top of him) and all Donnie
Sumner could see from behind this bar was this hand with a gun. He
picked up a big tomato juice can and threw it, it missed Sonnyís
hand and Sonny turned around and he said "Son of a Ö.. " and fell
about (laughing). Thatís the sort of things we did to amuse
Closing Message From
Red to the Fans:
I just want to tell you how thrilled I am to be here
with you and share these things with you. Iíd hoped we could keep it
on an upbeat thing because thatís the way he would have liked it and
Iím sorry that you never got to see this man in person.
recommend the reading of the
phone conversation that Red West taped recorded between himself
and Elvis, in October 1976, exact date unknown.