Elvis: My Best Man

Elvis: My Best Man
George Klein with Chuck Crisafulli
(Crown Publishers)

In conjunction with the National Portrait Gallery’s Echoes of Elvis exhibition in Washington, D.C., the gallery organised an Elvis Day on January 22, 2010, which — among other things — featured a talk and a book-signing by George Klein. At his talk, George said all the right things — how he argued with Elvis and the Colonel in an attempt to get The King to make some worthwhile movies; how he realised Elvis’ records in the ’60s were a pale imitation of what had come before . . . you know the sort of thing. He seemed like a decent guy and I coughed up my $25 for a copy of Elvis: My Best Man.

Certainly George (known to those in the Elvis World as ‘GK’) has the right to tell his story. After all he was at Humes High with Elvis and stayed friends with him right to the end. He retells all the familiar tales — E (as GK called him) singing Old Shep in Miss Marmann’s class; failing his audition for Eddie Bond’s band in 1954 (“Just about broke my heart”); going to black clubs and churches; performing at Ellis Auditorium; how much he admired Dean Martin and Charlie Rich; getting into fights with jealous boyfriends — all of which of course have been told many times before (most notably by Peter Guralnick in his two-part biography).

There’s also a selection of photographs from across the decades, but few will be new to hardened collectors.

There were some things I hadn’t heard before (and I hope the diehard fans will forgive me if this is all old information): How he fell out with disc jockey Dewey Phillips after Elvis introduced him to Yul Brynner and Dewey said, “My, you’re a short little mother, aren’t you?”; and how Elvis referred to Jim Denny as “the motherfucker who kicked me off The Grand Ole Opry”. I knew Elvis liked to sing gospel with The Jordanaires and spent a day on the set of Jailhouse Rock doing just that, but I hadn’t heard about him spending a night singing gospel with James Brown. And I’m not sure I’d heard his quote about Tupelo: “I don’t want to remember Tupelo — those were hard times.” I also learned that in 1975, Elvis paid for “minor face-lifts” for himself and GK. (Incidentally, GK missed the filming of the dance sequence in Jailhouse Rock because he was having a nose-job — paid for by his friend.)

Away from Elvis, Klein also talks about his association with Dewey Phillips and his dealings with several others stars who appeared on his local Memphis area Talent Party TV show, including Fats Domino, Jackie Wilson, and Sam Cooke.

The oddest thing about the book is how proud Klein is of the fact that his main function seems to have been to procure women for Elvis. His job in Hollywood was to pick up girls for parties “that often did get a little wild”, and right to the end he was still arranging dates for Elvis. He also tells us about the girl-on-girl show that Elvis choreographed in Tampa in 1970 (which E’s father Vernon also attended — one of the few references to him in the book), and that E said on another occasion that “Ann-Margaret almost sucked my thumb off.” And there was the European starlet who “kissed him in places he’d never been kissed before.”

The saddest thing is that — despite his claims that he argued about the shoddy movies and complained about the “lousy ‘B’-side crap material” — GK never really took a stand. It was he who introduced Elvis to Dr. Nick, and he defends the good doctor throughout the latter half of the book. After a “very poor show” in Vegas in 1975, GK’s words to his friend were, “You knocked them out.” As he puts it, “I never wanted to be a critic as far as he was concerned.” He complains that Vernon could have sent Elvis to rehab, but was “too concerned about job security.” I guess GK was worried about losing the friendship of his best man. Steadfast, loyal and true (and sad).

Colin Davies

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