Alanna Nash is author of three acclaimed books on Elvis Presley (Elvis: From Memphis To Hollywood, Elvis and The Memphis Mafia, and The Colonel: The Extraordinary Story of Colonel Tom Parker and Elvis Presley). In her latest, Baby, Let’s Play House: Elvis Presley and the Women Who Loved Him, she examines Elvis’ complicated relationships with women — family, friends, and girlfriends. It’s a fascinating look at Elvis’ psyche, with much new information about all the King’s women, as a sobering analysis of his inner psychological turmoil. Alanna spoke at length about her work on the book with Examiner:
How did you come to do the book?
In 2007, I got a call from Ladies Home Journal saying that they wanted to do a story for the 30th anniversary of Elvis. And just off the top of my head I said, “Why don’t I find women who’ve known him in various ways — platonically, romantically, family members, co-stars — and just let them talk. And get an all-female perspective of what he was like.” And so that’s what I did. And it spawned a segment on the CBS Early Show, and the magazine also ran a contest, and they said had more entries to than any previous contests. So I thought ,“Oh, people are interested in the female side of Elvis.” And somebody, and I can’t remember who, said to me, “I guess that’s your next book.” And I said, “Oh, God, no, I’m done with Elvis.” And then I went well, wait a minute. There hasn’t been a book that really examined him from the all-female point of view. So I wrote a proposal for that. And then I had to actually write it!
How did you decided to do a full-fledged biography?
At first I thought it would be a small book, kind of an expanded magazine article, maybe give a chapter to each person. And then when I started really doing the research, finding the women and talking to them, I realized it was much larger than that. So then I thought, oh God, I’ve got to write a whole biography. I’ve got to write a whole story of his life. And then, you know, I just got sick. I realized I had a huge amount of work ahead of me. But I felt that was the only way to effectively tell the story. Because you had to lay these women into various eras of his life, and show how he leaned on them to get him through his life. I found two women who taught him various dance steps. And then there’s Anne Fulchino [from RCA Records], who had taught him how to eat pork chops — in other words table manners — who really kind of polished him up. And Mae Axton [co-writer of “Heartbreak Hotel”] who threw him the right song. All these women stepped up to shepherd him through the early part of his career.
How did the book develop?
One of the very first people I called, was Peter Whitmer, to try to get a handle on Elvis’ psychological state. Because I loved [Whitmer’s book] The Inner Elvis, I thought it was such an important book that hadn’t got the attention that it deserved. And the more I would learn about Elvis, I would run various things past Peter. And so Peter got involved with me almost as a partner in the book, in that he was with me every step of the way. And it turned into a psycho-sexual study. Peter really helped me with that, and pointed me in various research directions and did research himself to help me with it. And so it became a biography told from the female point of view as well as the psycho-sexual study of a man with a complicated grief disorder.
What was the underlying theme of the book for you?
I had a couple of questions going in. As much as I knew about Elvis, I was haunted by two questions. One was how could such a charismatic male who had so many women at his feet, eager to be with him, not have been able to find an important long lasting romantic sexual attachment? And the second was, where did a white boy with such a conservative religious background get the moxie to be able to go on stage and move in a way that would really shock the world? Because I’m old enough to remember when he first came on the scene, and how really scandalous it was when he first happened. I mean, people were really really shocked. And unless you were alive then, I think it’s impossible to convey how he turned the world upside down. How did he get to be like that? And what kind of baggage did that hang on him, and in his inner reactions with women? I think his grief and his trauma at losing his twin left him never feeling whole unless he was around his mother. And then when she died he really was not ever able to feel whole. He was always feeling amputated. I think his grief disorder, and his heightened need for human attachment and the comfort of being around another person, was such that he was doomed. He was just doomed in being able to have a monogamous healthy romantic sexual ongoing relationship.
There’s a parallel there with his career; he never really took full responsibility for his career either.
You’re right, and that’s very astute of you to say that. But part of his complicated grief, and he really is textbook for it, is that they are unable to get a handle on adult responsibilities or problem solving. So he was perfect for the Colonel [Parker, Elvis’ manager]. I don’t know anybody who would’ve been strong enough to really buck the Colonel, but certainly not a person as sensitive and psychologically hampered as Elvis.
That’s a lot of points to make in one book.
This is a book that takes some thinking on the reader’s part; it’s not something you just sail through. But there are all these patterns that fit together hand in glove in his life and in his career. And I talk about this grief disorder or stuck grief in the beginning of the book. But then I wrote this epilogue to kind of refresh you, because it’s a long book, how all of these patterns really did fit together and he is a textbook case of complicated grief.
For more info: Alanna’s website Order the book Part Two Part Three
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