Interview with Anita Mann
Her choreography credits include 5 seasons on the 1980s pop dance television show, Solid Gold, for which she was nominated twice for a Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Choreography, 'The Muppets Go Hollywood' for which she was nominated for her first Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Choreography, 'The Cher Show', 'The Jacksons', 'The Academy Awards', 'The Golden Globe Awards', 'Academy of Country Music Awards', 'The Miss America Pageant' which earned her her first Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Choreography, 'The People's Choice Awards', 'The Grammy Hall of Fame', 'The Emmy's', 'The Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon' which earned her another nomination for a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Choreography, 'The Great Muppet Caper', 'Dick Clark's American Bandstand Live', 'Sesame Street Live', 'The Mighty Morphin Power Ranger Tour', 'Snoopy's World of Magic', 'Arthur Live Tour' as well as countless other live, film and television shows.
Anita Mann has danced with and choreographed for Elvis Presley, Lucille Ball, Michael Jackson and countless other stars while maintaining a four decade relationship with all the major networks.
Q : Anita please tell us how you first met Elvis.
A : Well, it was in 1965, there was an audition for dancers for an 'Elvos movie', actually it was a big casting call from the Screen Extra's Guild kind of thing. And probably about 300 dancers showed up and they put a bunch of dancers in a party scene, I think it was 'Spinout'. And there was just a group call and they had all these girls and guys dancing at a party. You're just kind of like placed there and you ad lib. And I kept hearing the same music and they'd shoot it from all different angles. So I figured to myself I better do the same routine.
A few days later the choreographer, Jack Baker came to me and said, 'Mr. Presley would like to talk to you'. I didn't know what to make of this request, you know, and I was petrified. And I went over to meet Mr. Presley with Jack Baker, the choreographer. And they said, 'We have been noticing your dancing' and they said something about the editor had noticed that it was very easy to cut around you because you were doing the same movement all the time. And we were wondering if you'd be interested in assisting Jack Baker on his next film because his assistant was not available.
And I was usually on the set early, because I always loved cameras and lights. And I was always on my mark looking around at how they were setting up the cameras. And Mr. Baker said to me, 'I've noticed that you watch all the camera shots'. And I said, 'How have you even noticed me?' And I said, 'Well, I'd love to assist if you'd be patient, Mr. Baker. Cause this would be new for me'. And they said ok, and I assisted him on the next film. So because of Elvis, they really got me started with Jack, who started teaching me how to choreography, he took me on to the 'Lucy Show', and then Elvis kept asking me to work on everything that he did after that. I did the Comeback Special, and he really just put his confidence and faith in me. I can't describe how I appreciate that and thank him, but that's exactly how it started, and it just kept skyballing, skyrocketing from there. That's how I started my career and Elvis was really so instrumental and so important for me in my life.
Q : What it was like being on the set with Elvis.
A : The one thing I really remember, and I don't know if this is appropriate, but the one thing that stood out in my mind on the set was one time I was called over to where the guys all hung out, they had this chair for Elvis. And he was talking, he was giving a donation to a group of nuns that were on the set. And I am thinking to myself, ok, this man makes a very good living, I would assume. To me, you know, it was Elvis Presley. And he was so busy and we were working so hard. And he was taking his five minute break to talk to each one of these ladies. And find out where they were from. And I was just standing there listening. And that, like, meant so much to me. It was unbelievable experience to watch him give like that. To give money is one thing, but to give of his time, and to give of his soul and to care about where all of these ladies came from, the sisters came from, to me was, that was just such a highlight and memory for me.
Q : Did Elvis ever give you any pearls of wisdom?
A : Yeah. One of the things that he would always say to me is, 'Is it natural? Does it feel right?' And I would always remember him saying, 'That doesn't feel right, it's gotta be natural'. And that to me was, well, I certainly know why I loved him so much, just to watch him as an entertainer. Because it always looked like it felt right. And that is so important to me, and that's one of the things that I've really carried with me for a long time. Don't make it phony, don't, if it's not comfortable, change it. If it doesn't feel right, the audience will know it's not right. And that was, I think, one of the greatest, for me, pearls of wisdom that I have never forgotten.
Q : It's obvious you loved him. Personally, what does Elvis mean to you?
A : I was a rock and roller musically. I was born in Detroit. And music had so much meaning to me. I learned to tap dance on street corners, you know, sticking bottle caps in my shoes for sounds. I'm from that environment. And I related so much to him as a soulful human being, maybe a little bit out of step with time. You know, like a little bit, maybe in a different place than maybe the world was ready for. And I don't mean to get that deep about it, but that's how I feel about my music, and that's how I feel about dancing, I was not a great technical dancer, I do care about technique, obviously in the dancers that work for me, and I was frightened that my technique was not as good as it should have been. But my love for the music and for the dance, I think, made me successful. And I related a lot to that kind of style of performing from Elvis.
Q : So Elvis changed your life.
A : Oh. It sounds ridiculous. But it's absolutely the truth. First of all, I couldn't believe I was on a stage at 18, on a soundstage shooting a film next to Elvis Presley and I was getting paid. Every day you'd just pinch yourself and say, 'How could I be living, this is a dream', you know, it's like, you just can't imagine you're getting paid to do something that you love doing so much.
Q : How was Elvis the actor? Do you have a favorite role?
A : He as an actor, he surprised me. I don't think he was given the credit. I know that the films were like, I said was it 'Spinout' or 'Speedway'? That makes it seem to me as though it's interchangeable. And some of the films, to be absolutely honest, could have been 'Clambake', 'Spinout', two syllables, you know, changeable. One time it's a race car driver, or one time it's boat, a speed boat builder, or driver. Whatever was going on at that time, there was a genre of film that was very similar, it was like all the beach party movies. I don't remember, although Teri Garr will remember, maybe. But I don't know. If it was 'Beach Blanket Bingo' or 'Pajama Party' or 'Beach Party', you know, like, there was a time that a lot of things were the same. But when I looked at Elvis acting, I really give him much more credit than probably he was getting at the time. And I think he deserves more credit as a better actor than he had gotten. And he always knew his lines, and he really could do it on one take, and he really knew what was expected of him, and he didn't give the director, like, you know, I'm not ready, and none of that attitude, a total pro. And I think his acting abilities are much greater than I think a lot of people will really understand.
Q : Can you preface it with, my favorite movie, my favorite song, and tell us what it is?
A : Well, my favorite Elvis movie and my favorite song are not the same. But you know what, I loved 'Viva Las Vegas'. I just, I loved it, so my favorite movie was 'Viva Las Vegas'. And I wasn't in it, but I loved it. My favorite song. 'I Can't Stop Loving You' is my favorite song. And it's another song that he did on the Comeback Special, it was probably written by Earl Brown, 'If I Can Dream', I think that's the name of it. That is my all-time favorite song.
Q : Tell us a little bit about the 68 Special since you were involved in it. Do you have any specific memories of that?
A : Oh, I do have some good memories. Elvis said to Steve Binder, the director that, I have a girl dancer that I want in the TV Special. So of course, I was put in it with nobody wanting me to show up. That's the first time I didn't audition for a job. You really are supposed to audition, it's better to audition and go through the right process, that's the way life should work. Not a matter of somebody saying, oh I know somebody. But it just seemed as though I didn't know about the audition, I never knew that there was an audition. And Elvis somehow or another said he wanted me to dance on this. So I went in without meeting anybody. As it ended up, after one or two days of rehearsals, I always worked for those choreographers after that, and we became friends. And everything worked out so beautifully. Elvis was totally responsible for my being on those specials.
And I think that there was a number that I don't remember if it aired or not, but my memory was kind of a bordello number, I remember like this kind of like strange set, and we walked in around a chair and it was so good, I thought, and so well done. And so ahead of its time. And, well the whole special was just an amazing special. My favorite thing is him sitting around. I mean, as much as I love the dance numbers and love dancing, but him sitting around with the guys and doing that concert, to me is a classic and will always be a classic. Everything about that TV special was beyond memorable for me.
Q : Where were you when you found out we lost him?
A : I was actually on the road. I was doing a job and I can't remember what it was. It was a show traveling. And I wanted to spend that night by myself. And I didn't, it was really hard for me to work that night. It was hard to work for quite a while, it was such a shock. But I was not at home, I remember I was on the road, and that made it even harder for me.
Q : What do you think there was about Elvis that still makes him one of the best-loved entertainers above so many others?
A : I think being a real person, I kind of go back to being out of place, out of step sometimes with the time. Like, being something so unique at a time in life. Makes you stand out more. Although probably he would stand out at any time. But I think that something about his courage and his ability to go out there and be himself and not compromise what he was made him somewhat of an idol, a hero, a person that you worshipped for a lot of reasons other than his talent as a singer. But I think that something about him hits a nerve in people. That he is a real human being that was very approachable and very much like any of us, and, but had a quality that transcended, you know, film, and he could look at the camera, and you look, you thought that he was looking at you. And I think that he just reached everybody on such, I think, it came at a time when, you know, after World War II, at a time that escaping from a lot of things that were going on in the world, was important. And I think that his fun, and his freedom and his real individuality came at a time that the country was really ready for it.
Q : Well you're a classy lady and thanks for your memories.
A : Oh, thank you, thank you so much.
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Tupelo's Own Elvis Presley DVD Video with Sound.
Never before have we seen an Elvis Presley concert from the 1950's with sound. Until Now! The DVD Contains recently discovered unreleased film of Elvis performing 6 songs, including Heartbreak Hotel and Don't Be Cruel, live in Tupelo Mississippi 1956. Included we see a live performance of the elusive Long Tall Sally seen here for the first time ever. + Plus Bonus DVD Audio.
This is an excellent release no fan should be without it.
The 'parade' footage is good to see as it puts you in the right context with color and b&w footage. The interviews of Elvis' Parents are well worth hearing too. The afternoon show footage is wonderful and electrifying : Here is Elvis in his prime rocking and rolling in front of 11.000 people. Highly recommended.