Interview with Actress Marianna Hill

By: Elvis Australia
August 26, 2023

After accepting the Paramount contract, actress Marianna Hill found herself cast as the second female lead in the Elvis Presley vehicle, 'Paradise, Hawaiian Style' (1966). Often cast as ethnic types, Hill now found herself playing Hawaiian nightclub singer Lani Kaimana, one of several women who Presley's character romances while manipulating them to help his helicopter charter business. Hill relished the opportunity to work more closely with Presley. After briefly working with him on 'Roustabout', it was not until she did 'Paradise, Hawaiian Style' that she really had an opportunity to get to know him.

As she recalls, 'Paramount put me in an Elvis movie, and that was a wonderful experience. I'm so glad I had the experience of knowing Elvis. What a fabulous talent! He was a force of nature! He just came out of the earth with this voice that was this brilliant culmination of humanity. He was King of the World and yet he was the sweetest person you ever met in your life. He had his friends around him and they would all bring their lunch pails and their briefcases. I'd say, 'I want to know what's in those briefcases!' and they'd say, 'No, you can't look in them!' and I said, 'Oh, yes I will!' So I looked in one of the briefcases and somebody had a bunch of comic books and Coke bottles. It wasn't for Elvis, it was for his friends. They were reading comic books and drinking Coca Cola. Those were his buddies and they loved him and were there to protect him. At the time, I wondered if their presence kept him from the world, so to speak, and in a cocoon. But I now realize that a lot of it had to do with their desire to protect him because he was truly innocent. He was who he was because he was pure and he didn't put on airs to cover up his insecurities. He simply *was,* and that was his great gift'.

In 'Paradise, Hawaiian Style', Hill distinguished herself as one of the few actresses - Ann-Margret, Juliet Prowse and Nancy Sinatra being some of the others - who performed a duet with Elvis Presley on-screen. She performed the sensual and playful 'Scratch My Back (Then I'll Scratch Yours)' with Presley in a club sequence early in the film.

Hill humbly recalls, 'I'm not the greatest singer or dancer but I rehearsed it over and over again. These wonderful people helped me do it because--this lovely couple who were choreographers--they said, 'Oh, Marianna, we know you don't think you can do it'. I said, 'What am I supposed to do?' And they said, 'We're going to get you through it'. They just worked with me on it and somehow we did it. We rehearsed it all the time, it became tattooed on my soul so that I can do it even now, because I wanted to be good with Elvis'.

Because co-star Suzanna Leigh, a blonde actress from England, was dating Elvis Presley during the filming of the movie, she urged Presley to make Marianna Hill, who was blonde at the time, wear a black wig for the film. Leigh describes the incident in her memoir, 'Paradise, Suzanna Style'. This change in appearance may be one reason why Hill's character was portrayed as Hawaiian in the storyline.

Marianna Hill and Elvis Presley, 'Paradise, Hawaiian Style', 1966.
Marianna Hill and Elvis Presley, 'Paradise, Hawaiian Style', 1966.

When asked, Hill confirms the veracity of Leigh's admission, 'Yes, that's true. I remember it was such a terrible wig, but let me tell you something: I actually had very light hair at the time, but I look good in black hair and I don't know why. Maybe it has to do with my dad being half Native American. Even though they dressed me like some kind of dog, because it was not a pretty wig, somehow I looked fine! I never saw the movie, but I enjoyed wearing the wig. I always liked wearing subdued, different looks so I don't have to be me. It's much easier to be some other character than to be me. My friend Devon Rachel was this psychic and she read everybody like Aristotle Onassis and she once said to me, 'Oh, Marianna, just be yourself'. I joked, 'I don't know how to be me! I can turn into anything, but don't tell me to be myself! Which one of them?! I've got about four thousand of them living rent free inside my mind!' (laugh)'

Even though Suzanna Leigh made Hill wear a black wig in 'Paradise, Hawaiian Style', she still enjoyed working with Leigh and the other female co-stars in the film, including Julie Parrish and Irene Tsu.

'I love Irene Tsu. She's the most wonderful girl and we were friends for many years. She's fantastic! I think about her a lot because a lot of the people from that film are gone. Irene was such a fabulous goddess and such a wonderful gal! Julie Parrish, who was also a wonderful girl, passed away and went off to Heaven. She's up there with God and the Angels now. I really dug Julie Parrish, and I also liked Suzanna Leigh. I ran into her in London. She said, 'Oh, Marianna! I've felt such guilt for what I did to you'. I said, 'What for? What did you do to me? You're great!' And she said, 'I made you wear that wig!' So I reassured her, 'I looked fantastic when I wore that wig! What a big problem to have! I didn't have an issue with the wig! Put anything on my head, I don't care! I did a movie once called 'The Traveling Executioner' where I was bald and that was fantastic, so who cares about the wig?' (laugh)'.

Source : Hillplace

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