Interview with Dolores Fuller
Source: Elvis Australia
July 15, 2006
Elvis Articles, Elvis Interviews, By David Adams
By the end of the 1950s, she'd started her own record company, Dee Records, and one of the talents that she discovered was a New York-born singer/guitarist named John Ramistella, who later became Johnny Rivers. Later on, her ability as a songwriter manifested itself through the intervention of her friend, producer Hal Wallis; Fuller had wanted to get an acting role in the Elvis Presley movie Blue Hawaii, which Wallis was producing, but instead he put her in touch with Hill & Range, the publisher that provided Presley with songs. Fuller went into a collaborative partnership with composer Ben Weisman and got one song, 'Rock-A-Hula Baby', into 'Blue Hawaii'. It was a beginning that eventually led to Elvis Presley recording a dozen of her songs. Fuller also had her music recorded by Nat 'King' Cole, Peggy Lee, and other leading talents of the period. She was portrayed by Sarah Jessica Parker in Tim Burton's 1994 Wood biopic, Ed Wood.
Q : How did you get started writing songs for Elvis' movies?
A : Well I have to attribute my break in getting into songwriting for Hal Wallis. He was an old friend of mine, and when I was trying out for a part in the 'Blue Hawaii' movie, he said, 'Dolores, if you can write like this, why would you wanna be an actress?' He says, 'It's a much more rewarding career'. And goes on and on, the rest of your life. And so he says, 'Tomorrow morning you be at Hill and Range and meet Freddy Bienstock and we'll put you with one of the writing teams'. The competition is terrible. Twelve teams of writers, the top writers in the country. Tepper and Bennett, Mack David, all, everybody trying for the title song. But I had had this background in acting. Whereas I would try for the dance number, and usually get it. Because I also had years of ballet training. And I could motivate the plot. Where some of the others, it just put a song in here. In fact, when 'Spinout' was given to me as a script, it was called 'Raceway'. Joe Pasternak, MGM picture. And I said, 'Oh God, all these writers are gonna be trying for the title, I gotta think of something else.' So I wrote 'Spinout' with Ben Weisman, and they liked it very much and changed the title of the movie.
Q : What was it like to work with Elvis?
A : Well, you didn't really work with Elvis. If you were lucky, I was invited to the set, when they were shooting one of my songs. And Elvis was very well mannered, he called me ma'am. And he would come over to me and sometimes invite me over to some party that was going on, when he lived over in Bel Air. And sometimes I'd have lunch with him at the commissary. But mainly you just worked with the publisher. And all these teams of writers would submit their songs, and I'm lucky enough to have gotten 12 movies. 'Rock-A-Hula Baby' was probably the most important. 'Do the Clam' and 'Spinout'. 'Got Lucky', 'Beyond the Bend', 'Cindy Cindy'. 'Big Love Big Heartache', you know. Fun.
Q : Did Hal Wallis's advice stick did you go back to acting?
A : Oh, you know, that's something you always want to do if you have the opportunity. In fact, I sometimes train younger people for diction and speech. There's a wonderful little actress in Las Vegas where I live, Brooke Rogers. Ever since she was 13 years old, that was her whole desire is to be an actress. When you find a talented young person like that, you have to help them, you know. So I didn't want her to sound like every other kid in the school, and she had to lower her voice and let your tones glide down evenly, and you know, a lot of exercises that I had gone through for years and years with Stella Adler.
Q : You were married to?
A : Oh, I'm married to Philip Chamberlain, who is a film historian. He was the director of the 'Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences'. And he started the film department of the 'Los Angeles County Museum of Art'. And he has 50,000 files on the history of film. And he's putting together a web page, so everybody can write books or want any history of the old films, can find out about the directors. And we have negatives that no one else has. They can send in for them.
Q : Tell us about Ed Wood.
A : Oh. I loved that man. He was so talented. And if he was only alive today to see what was going on, how many young film writers, producers, would-be producers, you know, associate themselves with him. They say 'If he did it, I can do it'. I met him when he was looking for somebody that he could groom. So I guess he interviewed a lot of young actresses. But I came in with an angora sweater. And he loved angora. And I had a couple of jobs and a car. So anyway, we fell in love and we became actually a team. We worked together as a team. And the way the 'Ed Wood' movie is, you'd never know that. They portrayed me sort of as an actress just out to get what I could get as a part. But I contributed all the wardrobe because I worked for some of the top manufacturers of clothing. So anything he wanted I could say, 'Yes, we could use that for this scene and put their name on the screen'. So he never had to worry about wardrobe for any of his pictures for the women.
Q : What about Johnny Depp's characterization of Ed?
A : It was beautiful. Eddie was not always that up. He had his heartbreaks too. It was a little Andy Hardy, but oh, what a great actor he is. And I just loved the portrayal. He captured a great deal of Eddie's personality.
Q : What about Sarah Jessica Parker?
A : Sarah Jessica Parker smoked all the time. And I never would smoke. And she didn't contact me. Here she's playing my life, and she didn't bother to do any research. And when she was asked, on the David Letterman Show, by David Letterman, 'What's Dolores like, is she still alive? What did she do with her life?' She turned her head because she didn't want to give me any air time, she said, 'I'm going home and have a ground glass cocktail.' You know, just, ornery.
Q : Did you ever meet her?
A : I met her at the press party after the 'Ed Wood' movie. And she said, 'I just got through telling everybody that I just played the part of the worst actress in the history of film'. That wasn't nice, it wasn't professional. She didn't know me, you know. It hurt.
Q : Thanks very much.
If you like reading this article, you will love the book; Writing For The King - a 400 page Book with more than 140 interviews with songwriters like Paul McCartney, Leiber & Stoller, Pomus & Shuman, Red West, Mark James and Tony Joe White. Included are two CDs, the first contains previously unreleased RCA recordings of Elvis performing live in Las Vegas (1969 through 1972), the second a selection of the original demos submitted to Elvis.
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'Writing for the King' by Ken Sharp is a fascinating behind-the-scenes story of politics, money, inspiration and great trivia about Elvis and the songs he turned into classics.
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