Vernon and Gladys Presley : Elvis Presley's Mother and Father

By: Elvis Australia
January 24, 2015

Elvis' Father Vernon Elvis Presley was born on April 10, 1916 in Fulton, Mississippi to Jesse (1896-1973) and Minnie Mae Hood, 'Grandma Dodger' Presley (1890-1980). Elvis' Mother Gladys Love Smith was born on April 25, 1912, Pontotoc County, Mississippi to Bob (1873-1931) and Doll Smith (1876-1935).

Vernon and Gladys Presley

Vernon & Gladys Presley
Vernon & Gladys Presley.

Vernon was but seventeen when he married Gladys Love Smith, four years his elder, in 1933. Like his relatives before him, Vernon worked at any odd job that came along. For a while, he and Vester, his older brother, farmed together, raising cotton, com, soybeans and a few hogs. Later, he took a job with the WPA, a federal government make - work program during the Depression. Next, he drove a delivery truck for McCarty's, a Tupelo wholesale grocer, delivering grocery items to stores throughout northeast Mississippi. These, then, were the Presley genes, passed along from generation to generation, some of which undoubtedly were inherited by the infant born in that two-room house in the hills of East Tupelo. Gladys sister Clettes married Vester, Veron's older brother. Thus, two brothers married two sisters. Few know it, but in the beginning, their roles were reversed. Vester started out dating Gladys. Vernon, eighteen months younger, originally dated Clettes, 'Yeah', recalls Vester, 'I dated Gladys a few times and Vernon dated Clettes. Gladys didn't like my attitude much. As I have always told you, I was too wild, in those days. So, Gladys quit seeing me and we quit seeing the Smith girls for awhile. Then, Vernon started dating Gladys and soon there was only one object of his affection - Gladys.

On June 17, 1933, Gladys Smith and Vernon Presley eloped and were married in the County of Pontotoc, where Vernon was not known, both lying about their ages. Vernon gave his age as 22, Gladys 19. While Gladys was of legal age Vernon was not at age 17. Gladys would hide her real age for much of her life. In her book, Elvis and Gladys, Elaine Dundy says 'Impetuosity and impulsiveness played a large part in Gladys make up. She knew nothing of half measures, nor was there anything half-heated or self-protective about her'. Elvis would inherit from Gladys his unpredictable impulses.

About the end of June 1934, Gladys knew she was pregnant. Some time around her fifth month she was sure she was having twins - she was unusually large, could feel two babies kicking and had a family history of twins on both sides of the family. Gladys was earning $2 a day at the Tupelo Garment Company, while Vernon worked at various odd jobs, including one on the dairy farm of Orville S. Bean. With $180 that he borrowed from Bean after Gladys became pregnant in the spring of 1934, Vernon set about constructing a family home, and he and Gladys moved in that December.

Elvis' birthplace was built by his father, Vernon, with help from Vernon's brother Vester and father, Jessie, whose relatively 'spacious' four-room house sat next door. Located above a highway that transported locals between Tupelo and Birmingham, Alabama, and nestled among a group of small, rough-hewn homes along Old Saltillo Road. The house had no electricity (It was connected but it was not used due to the cost) or indoor plumbing, and was similar to housing constructed for mill villages around that time.

Elvis Presley

About the end of June 1934, Gladys knew she was pregnant.

Some time around her fifth month she was sure she was having twins - she was unusually large, could feel two babies kicking and had a family history of twins on both sides of the family.

Vernon and Gladys Presley Marriage License.

January 8, 1935, not long before dawn, Elvis Aaron Presley was born. Gladys delivered a second son earlier that morning, a stillborn identical twin named Jesse Garon. Elvis would be their only child.

After the birth, Gladys was close to death and both her and Elvis were taken to Tupelo Hospital. After Gladys and Elvis returned home, it was noticed by family members and friends that she was overprotective of her new born son. Paranoid that something bad would happen to him.

Gladys' mother, 'Doll' Smith died in 1935 and was buried next to her husband Bob Smith, both in unmarked graves. So like Elvis, Gladys lost her mother at a young age. Gladys was 23, Elvis 22.

Elvis' family life was turbulent during his early years, largely due to the poverty and financial circumstances of his parents, Vernon and Gladys, however, Elvis grew up within a close-knit, working class family, consisting of his parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, who all live near one another in Tupelo. There was little money, but Vernon and Gladys did their best to provide for their son, who is the center of their lives.

However, if you look at our page on the Presley and Smith family history, you will find that Gladys did not have a strong role model in a mother, and Vernon did not have a strong bond with his father.

Both these facts would impact heavily on Elvis Presleys life.

Elvis Presley 1939
Elvis Presley 1939
On November 16, 1937, Vernon along with Gladys' brother, Travis Smith and a friend Lether Gable were indicted for forgery. A check that Orville Bean had made out to Vernon had been altered and the culprits stood accused by Bean. Vernon had sold Bean a hog and received for it, a check for only $4 - a sum much less than he had expected. Vernon was furious; as the hog was worth much more, and he had been counting on the money. There is no record of how the deal was arranged or for how much.

Vernon talked it over with Travis and Lether and an idea emerged, since Vernon 'had been sold short', why not make the check closer to the amount deserved? Courthouse records do not include details of how large a sum of money the check was altered to, but in her book, Elvis and Gladys, Elaine Dundy says that based on the memories of the people she talked with, it was either fourteen or forty dollars.

According to Vernon's old friend Aaron Kennedy, he thinks the check was not altered but forged by putting a blank check over Orville Bean's and tracing his writing on to it. In any case obviously none of the men had any idea of how a bank operates to prevent such fraud. Great pressure was put on Orville Bean by the community of East Tupelo to show leniency toward the offenders, to no avail.

A bond for bail was fixed at $500 each. On January 4, 1938 only two bonds were filed for Travis and Lether Gable. Oddly the records show, Vernon's father, JD Presley and JG Brown stood sureties for Travis Smith but not Vernon. At least there is no record of such so it appears that Vernon spent six months in custody awaiting trial. JD had apparently never liked Vernon. He had kicked him out of home at 16.

It was Elaine Dundy that uncovered this evidence but it is not possible to know the truth as there not finding a record does not prove Jessie did not bail his son. Elaine Dundy does conclude the worst. It should be pointed out (As Elaine Dundy does in her book) that J.D. was farming on Orville Bean's land; Orville Bean was his landlord so it may have encouraged J.D. to stay on the 'right side' of the landowner.

So it was inevitable that on May 25 1938, Vernon, Travis and Lether were sentenced to three years in the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman for forging the check.

In his book, Day By Day, Ernst Jorgensen states, 'Gladys is unable to maintain the repayment schedule on their home causing the family to lose this house, and she and Elvis are forced to move in with relatives'.

In his book, Last Train To Memphis, Peter Guralnick states that 'During the brief time time Vernon was in prison, Gladys lost the house and moved in briefly with her in-laws next door.

Elaine Dundy in her critically acclaimed book, Elvis and Gladys, states; These are hard times for mother and son. Understandably, in view of Jesse Presley's attitude toward his son, Gladys had grown more and more uncomfortable living next door to her father in law. At some point during Vernon's prison sentence, Gladys moved out and stayed with her first cousin Frank Richards. Whatever the reason, the Presleys never return to the house Vernon built, stories differ as to the reason and how the house left their ownership.

Vernon, Elvis, Gladys Presley, 1941
Vernon, Elvis, Gladys Presley, 1941
On February 6 1939, Vernon was released from Prison with a six month suspension of their sentence, granted on condition of continued good behaviour. This leniency is the result of a 'petition of the citizens of Lee County and on a letter from Mr. O. S. Bean, the party on whom the checks were forged'. The document is signed by Governor Hugh White.

Evidently, if Vernon ever was angry with Orville Bean, he didn't seen to hold a grudge as he brought a new house from him in Tupelo in 1945.

[Ironically, Elvis' fifth grade teacher, would be Mrs Oleta Grimes, Orville Bean's daughter. And it was Mrs Grimes who was highly impressed with Elvis' classroom performance of 'Old Shep'. 'He sang it so sweetly'. She took him to the school Principal, Mr Cole, and again Elvis sang 'Old Shep'. Mr Cole was similarly impressed. This was a few weeks before the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show, held in Tupelo. Elvis was promptly entered.]

In 1940, Vernon was granted an indefinite suspension of his sentence.

During World War II, while Vernon was away helping to build a prisoner of War camp for the WPA, Gladys was admitted to hospital. In the words of Mrs Leona Moore, now a retired nurse, who was working at the Tupelo hospital at the time, 'The truth is she had a miscarriage'. This explains why Gladys never had another child, she had tried, and unfortunately failed.

Soon after Vernon returned, his father J.D. suddenly took off again. This time for good. He left Tupelo, working his way northwards, ending up in Kentucky where he later became a night watchman at a Pepsi Cola plant in Louiseville.

On August 18, 1945, Vernon purchased a new four room house in Berry Street, East Tupelo from Orvile Bean. The price is $2000, with a down payment of $200 and monthly instalments of $30 plus 6% interest.

On July 18, 1946, Just eleven months after purchasing the house on Berry Street Vernon 'sold' - actually transferred the deed over to his friend Aaron Kennedy for $3,000 to avoid foreclosure proceedings. Immediately then, Aaron Kennedy gave Orville Bean a deed of trust, which is the same thing as a mortgage.

The Presleys move into Tupelo, first to Commerce Street, then to Mulberry Alley, a small lane running beside the fairgrounds, just opposite the town's black neighbourhood, 'Shake Rag'.

You can read about Elvis Presley from his first recordings at Sun Records and subsequent success in music and movies, starting with our Elvis Presley 1953-1955 page then via the follow-up pages, through to 1977.

On March 17, 1957Elvis bought Graceland. Elvis along with his parents, Vernon and Gladys had lived in a well-appointed house at 1034 Audubon Drive, in Memphis, TN, since March 20, 1956. (Vernon and Gladys moved in on this date while Elvis was on tour).

Elvis Presley with his father, Vernon, at home in Memphis on July 4, 1956
Elvis Presley with his father, Vernon, at home in Memphis on July 4, 1956.

Elvis Presley with his mother, Gladys, at home in Memphis, Tennessee, on July 4, 1956
Elvis Presley with his mother, Gladys, at home in Memphis, Tennessee, on July 4, 1956.

The Death of Gladys Presley

Gladys Love Presley died on August 14, 1958, not long before Elvis was due to be shipped to Germany.

All though the summer Gladys has been feeling ill.

As her condition worsened Elvis insisted that she do something about it, putting his parents on a train to memphis so that Gladys can see her personal physician, Dr. Charles Clarke.

August 9, responding to an 11.30am emergency call, an ambulance transported Mrs. Presley from Graceland to Methodist Hospital, where her condition is listed as grave.

August 12, after more effort than it would take for any ordinary soldier, including calls from Gladys' Doctor to military personnel in Washington and Elvis' desperate threat to go AWAOL, Elvis was finally granted emergency leave, flying from Fort Worth to Texas and going straight to the hospital to visit his mother.

August 13, Vernon remained at his wife's side throughout the night, while Elvis after spending the evening at home, returns in the morning and again in the afternoon, not leaving until close to midnight.

Vernon & Elvis Presley - August '58
Vernon & Elvis Presley - August '58
Vernon & Elvis Presley August '58.

August 14, at approximately 3.15am, with her husband at her side Gladys Love Presley died at the age of 46. Both Elvis and Vernon are inconsolable. In the early afternoon with hundreds of fans at the gates, Gladys is brought home to Graceland. Elvis wanted the funeral conducted at the house but Colonel Parker convinced Elvis that security will not be able to be effectively maintained so the service is held at The Memphis Funeral Home.

Gladys Presleys Coffin Forest Hills Cemetery August 1958.
Gladys Presleys Coffin Forest Hills Cemetery August 1958 : Click to view larger image.

August 15, Gladys funeral is held at 3:30pm.

Elvis sobbed hysterically while Gladys' favourite gospel group, the Blackwood Brothers, performed at the service in the Memphis Funeral Home, and he was equally inconsolable at her Forest Hill Cemetery grave site, crying out, 'Oh God, everything I have is gone'. Elvis leans over the grave, crying out, inconsolably, 'Goodbye, darling, goodbye. I love you so much. You know how much I lived my whole life just for you'.

The mourning continued through the next few days as Elvis was granted extended leave. Evidently his fans were grieving too -- they sent him more than 100,000 cards and letters, around 500 telegrams, and more than 200 floral arrangements to express their sympathy for his loss. Still, even though it would never be the same, life had to carry on.

August 16, Elvis insisted upon attending the funeral of Red West's Father who died the previous day. Later in the afternoon Elvis insisted on visiting his mothers grave at Forest Hill Cemetery.

August 18, Elvis' seven-day leave is extended for five more days, during which the Memphis Highway Patrol tries to cheer Elvis up by giving him helicopter rides over Graceland and the city.

September 22, Elvis boards the USS Randall bound for Germany.

Vernon's Father, Jesse Presley died on March 19, 1973 aged 77 of a heart attack. His Mother, Minnie Mae Hood Presley died on May 8, 1980 aged 89. As most people know, Elvis Presley died on August 16, 1977. Elvis' Father, Vernon Presley lived almost two years past Elvis' death, he died on June 26, 1979 in Memphis, Tennessee aged 63 [1916-1979]. Just past the pool area is the Meditation Garden is where Elvis, his mother Gladys, his father Vernon and grandmother Minnie Mae Hood Presley lie buried. All are survived by Elvis daughter, Lisa Marie Presley and her children.

Interviews with or about Elvis Presley The Real Story of Elvis Presley : In 1956 Vernon and Gladys Talked About Raising Young Elvis
Interviews with or about Elvis Presley Interview with Vernon Presley by Nancy Anderson : Good Housekeeping, January 1978

Interviews with or about Elvis Presley The Death of Gladys Love Presley : August 14, 1958
Articles about Elvis Presley Display of mother's Star of David headstone revives talk of Elvis Presley's Jewish roots
Articles about Elvis Presley Gladys Presley's Elvis-designed tombstone returns to Graceland

Elvis Presley Video Video: Vernon Presley Talks : 1972
Photos Photos of Vernon and Gladys Presley
Articles about Elvis Presley 
Jessie D. McDowell (J.D.) Presley : Elvis Presleys Grandfather
Articles about Elvis Presley 
Elvis' middle name, is it Aron or Aaron?

Elvis Presley Video Vernon Presley Sings : Don't Close Your Door Direct link (02:59). It was in 1973 in his office at Graceland, that Vernon Presley wrote and recorded this song called 'Don't Close Your Door', it's the only known recording of Vernon singing, it was originally contained on an audiotape, but it has now been re-mastered. The lyrics are said to be about the marital troubles that Vernon was having with his second wife, Dee at the time.

Articles about Elvis Presley Elvis Presley Family History : 1669-1935
Articles about Elvis Presley Elvis Presley Biography
Articles about Elvis Presley Elvis Presley's Graceland : 3764 Elvis Presley Boulevard

Elvis and Gladys, one of the best researched and most acclaimed books on Elvis' early life, reconstructs the extraordinary role Gladys played in her son's formative years. Uncovering facts not seen by other biographers, Elvis and Gladys reconstructs for the first time the history of the mother and son's devoted relationship and reveals new information about Elvis--his Cherokee ancestry, his boyhood obsession with comic books, and his early compulsion to rescue his family from poverty. Coming to life in the compelling narrative is the poignant story of a unique boy and the maternal tie that bound him. It is at once an intimate psychological portrait of a tragic relationship and a mesmerizing tale of the early years of an international idol.

Paul Simpson: Elvis and Gladys, is a fine biography of the young Elvis and the most important person in his live - his mum. At times, Dundy achieves an astonishing empathy with Elvis and this is one of the few books which genuinely has new things to say about Elvis, detailing his boyish passion for Captain marvel Junior, his Jewish and Cherokee blood, and his 200 mile hitchhike to enter a country music festival when he was just 18. One star off though, for a very weird chapter on Elvis' influences, and for Dundy's obsession with Parker, which leads her to suggest some labyrinthine plots. For all that, a must read. ****

David Neale: Interesting and detailed family history. Probably one of the very best books about Elvis -- superbly researched and written. Good read and a MUST on every fan's bookshelf!

Elvis Day By Day - By Ernst Jorgensen & Peter Guralnick is a complete account of public, private, rare, forgotten, and renowned moments, captured with such detail and immediacy they read like diary entries in a life--from first steps to the first time the young 'hillbilly cat' stepped on stage; from the creation of a revolutionary new sound to the last days of a universally known, tragically misunderstood music legend.

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Elvis Presley Video Tupelo's Own Elvis Presley DVD

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.

Tupelo's Own Elvis Presley DVD Video with Sound.