Interview Elvis' Kissin' Cousins co-star Cynthia Pepper

By: Elvis Australia
January 9, 2019

Interview with Cynthia Pepper who played PFC Midge Riley inĀ Kissin' Cousins - an Army stenographer assigned to accompany a lieutenant (Elvis) to the hills of East Tennessee to negotiate the sale of land to build a missile base. There, they encountered angry property owners, including the lieutenant's cousin, (Elvis)!

Q : Cynthia can you tell us a little bit about your career. You actually came from like a show biz family?

A : Right. My mom was a showgirl with the Ziegfeld Follies. And my dad was a singer and he married Ginger Rogers when he was 20 and she was 17. And I have two letters from Ginger to my aunt in Milwaukee saying that we're going to Hollywood and it was kind of like a star is born type of relationship. They were only married about three or four years and then she really made it big and his star kind of went down. So he had a fabulous life. I met her a few years ago at 20th Century Fox. I mean quite a few years ago and I went up to her and I said, 'Ms. Rogers' and she said, 'Yes', and I said, 'My name is Cynthia Pepper. I believe you know my father', which is a silly thing to say but I was nervous because, of course, she knew my father. She was married to him. And she put her arms around me and said, 'How is the dear boy?' And I said, 'He's fine'. And that's the only time I ever met her, but they became friends afterwards, after they got the divorce.

Cynthia Pepper and Elvis Presley, Kissin' Cousins.
Cynthia Pepper and Elvis Presley, Kissin' Cousins.

Q : So what got you interested in movie making?

A : Well, it was in my blood actually. I mean literally when we lived in New York and I slept in a drawer, which is like Judy Garland in a Star's Born in a trunk. She's born in a trunk. And when we went back to Los Angeles I wanted to study acting and dancing and so forth and went to Hollywood High with some other stars, I mean who became stars and just grew up in it. The only thing I've ever really known that's show business.

Q : Who were your classmates at Hollywood High?

A : Stefanie Powers, Linda Evans, Mike Farrell was a couple of years older than I was. We went to school with David and Ricky Nelson but we were kind of in between as far as the ages go. It was a wonderful time then. It was in the happy days, you know, the late 50s.

Q : What was your first film?

A : When I graduated from school I got a part on 'My Three Sons' for a year and then from that I auditioned for the television series 'Margie', she was a girl in the Roaring Twenties at 20th Century Fox. And that was a wonderful experience because I love the 20s. I'm not really an up-to-date woman. I like the twenties and that kind of a thing and just stayed on that for a year and a half, on 'Margie' on ABC.

Elvis Presley, Elvis Presley, Kissin' Cousins.
Elvis Presley, Elvis Presley, Kissin' Cousins.

Q : Tell us how you learned about 'Kissin' Cousins' and how you got involved in that?

A : It was strange because I was working, but I was in a lull period, which happens in show business. And I was out shopping and I was just kind of depressed and I thought, 'Oh, you know, will I ever work again'. You know, actors always think that. Will I ever work again. And I actually said a prayer, you know, 'If you want me to stay in this business, God show me a sign'. I really did that. And I came home and we had a lady who cleaned for us once a week and she said call your agent the minute I walked in. So I did and he said, 'If you can get out here in half an hour and so forth, you've got a part with Elvis'. And when I was in high school we used to go up to Sunset Boulevard to Music City and I used to hear 'Heartbreak Hotel', never thinking that a few years later I'd be working with him and getting paid and this is what's happened. I mean it's been a wonderful trip because I've met wonderful people through Elvis. He's changed a lot of people's lives.

Q : Tell us about your first day on the set of 'Kissin' Cousins'. What happened?

A : Well, I remember going to my dressing room and I had met him and I remember he was very, very tall and blue eyes and I'm short so it looked like I was standing in a hole. And he just looked at me. He was very sweet and I went to my dressing room and in my dressing room were roses and it said, 'To Cynthia love from EP'. and being very, very naive I thought he's got a crush on me, not knowing that he was very kind to all his leading ladies and this is what he did. And I was more like a sister to him, a little sister to him. That's how he treated me and that was wonderful. I like that.

Q : How was it working with Elvis on the film?

A : Oh, it was wonderful. I think anyone whose ever worked with him has nothing but nice things to say about him. I know that a couple of people in the cast knew were friends with my father and they would joke with me and maybe say a few naughty things and I remember a couple of times Elvis said, 'Not in front of the little lady', and I thought I gave that impression that I guess that I was naive and innocent and I liked that. I really liked he was a gentleman and offered me his seat a number of times that he would have done with any lady and just a true gentleman. He taught me karate because in the film I had to throw him over my shoulder. It took a while to teach me that and it was just a dream come true actually.

Q : When you would talk with Elvis like in conversations, what would you talk about?

A : We just talked well, I'll tell you one little story that I have and I guess I've told it before, but he was singing to me in the show and we were up in Big Bear and he had to sing around a jeep and right up close to me and we had to stop because it was raining a bit, so we stopped and he said, 'Cynthia', and I said, 'Yes'. He said, 'You know, I don't know what I'm doing here'. I said, 'What do you mean?' He said, 'I should be driving a truck'. And that gave me chills. It kind of told a lot about Elvis that that was his roots. That he was a country boy, simple, not simple-minded, but simple and we just kind of chitchatted after that. We didn't delve into that, but I remember that. That's the one thing I remember that he's ever told me was that. And I like that. I thought that was a good thing.

Q : Do you remember any practical jokes or any things on the set that Elvis would do?

A : No. I didn't experience that. I'm sure he did, but I didn't. I know I had a lot of girlfriends come to visit me. Some I didn't even know because I was working with Elvis, you know. They were my best friends.

Q : You made a lot of fast friends?

A : Oh, yeah. Yeah.

Q : So when you were working with Elvis, do you remember anything with his sense of humor or different things he would do on the set?

A : Well, I know he's done practical jokes, but like I said I didn't see any of that. I know the director used to kid with me, and Elvis, I don't know if he liked it or not, he used to kid with me that I was with him the night before or something. The director would make a joke about it in front of everybody and I would die. And I think he said, 'You better stop that, the little girl'. You know, he was very protective of me and he called he his little speckled pup and they had that in the film. So I saw him in a different light maybe than other people did. We all have different memories and so he was very protective of me.

Q : What do you think there is about Elvis that makes him so unique?

A : That he's still going on and on. I think because he was really a real person. He was down to earth. He was kind and he was generous. I've heard lots of stories about how generous he was, which I think he did because he really wanted to. He wasn't to impress anyone in show business, if you've been in it long enough, you realize that's a rare quality, a very rare quality. And I remember one time, I have two step-children so to speak and I went to show and tell with them. One of them was in the fourth grade and I had to say that I kissed Elvis. So these are little kids that wanted to know what it was like to kiss Elvis and they were interested and so it just goes on and on. I'm really amazed. I didn't think at the time that I was doing it that I'd be sitting here talking to someone about it. You know, you don't realize you do the job and you enjoy it and he just is still in my life. And anyone who's worked with him, I think they feel the same way. Never heard a bad word about him.

Q : So Elvis in some way did save your life?

A : Oh, absolutely. I've met a lot of wonderful people because of Elvis. I only regret I never saw him in concert. I never did that and I wish I had.

Q : Where were you, Cynthia, when you heard Elvis passed a way?

Cynthia Pepper.
Cynthia Pepper.
A : I was up in San Francisco in a car. We were with two friends and my husband and my son and we went up there because it was his 12th birthday and it was on the radio. I didn't know he was sick. I was shocked. It was like when you know if you were born when Kennedy was shot, it's the same feeling. You never forget it. And the guy was driving, our friend almost stopped. I mean, we were on the freeway and just couldn't believe it. And I teared up and it didn't sink in right away. I mean I didn't know he was sick. I mean he would go on forever, you know, and he does, but I mean I never expected it. And that's where I was. I remember that in San Francisco. It was a little vacation we had.

Q : Did you meet Colonel Parker?

A : Yes. Next question.

Q : Do you have any memories?

A : No. I really don't. I didn't know him that well. But I would see Priscilla with Lisa Marie and my son were pretty much the same age and we used to go to Hollywood, I think it was West Hollywood park. And now my son says, 'Oh, I wish you still knew Priscilla' because he'd like to get to know Lisa Marie and I remember that. A few years after we worked on the film, we'd meet at the park and talk a little bit and that was really the last time I had any contact with the Presley other than, you know, literally.

Q : So after the movie was finished, you followed Elvis' career?

A : Yes. Oh, definitely. Definitely.

Q : But you never came up to say, 'Hi' to him.

A : I never. I just never did. I never saw him in concert. Of course, I regret that but I can't change that. But I have my own private memories and the movies, the songs. I mean, my station that I put on, I hear him all the time. You know, and sometimes they'll play it in the restaurant and I'm thinking, 'Gee, I'm the only person here who's kissed Elvis'. I'll say it to who I'm with. I mean, that is really amazing. I mean, it's an honor. I mean, it's really something.

Q : You've never worked with anyone like him before?

A : No. No.

Q : That's wonderful, Cynthia.

Cynthia Pepper : The Making Of 'Kissin' Cousins'

Elvis Presleys Movies Kissin' Cousins : MGM 1964

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