Interview with Loanne Parker, Colonel Tom Parkers Widow
Source: Elvis Australia
March 24, 2006
Q: When did you first meet Colonel Parker?
A: I first met Colonel Parker in 1969. In the spring of 1969, when he came into Las Vegas to sign a contract for the opening of the International Hotel. And the hotel wasn't even opened at that time. It was still under construction. I was working as a secretary to the advertising and publicity director of the to-be-opened International Hotel.
Q: How was it working with the Colonel?
A: Well, at that time I was working for the hotel. But I became the official secretary for RCA Record tours when Elvis started touring. In the 70s. Colonel was business from morning til night. 24 hours a day. He thought about Elvis and his business. He just didn't turn it off. It kept going. He expected everyone to be as dedicated as he was. And that made it a little tough on some of his people, because they needed some private life. And it was tough for them to get it.
Q: So Colonel Parker was 24/7 Elvis all the way?
A: 24/7 all the way. Yes. Colonel never stopped thinking about Elvis. Never stopped thinking about what he could do. He was a perfectionist. If the billboards looked good this engagement, how could I make them look better the next engagement. He never stopped. We would be driving around, and he would say, 'Now that board, that's a good location. But I don't think we'll use it the next time. We're going for a better location'. His focus was what can I do to better present Elvis. What can I do to better protect Elvis when it comes to contracts and business affairs. What can I do to let the people know in a better way that Elvis is going to be there. He never stopped thinking about it, ever. Never.
He had a very unusual mind. Most people have one voice of inner dialogue. It's our inner thought. We think all the time, words are formulated in our minds. That's our thinking process. Colonel had multi levels of inner dialogue. And I'm saying that these occurred simultaneously. It's something that I realized finally, after being around him 24 hours a day, year in, year out. But I've met a few people since that time that are similar. But I've never known anyone who had more than one inner dialogue in their mind. So, where I might think about one subject. And I might think about different subjects, skipping back and forth, Colonel could think about a dozen things simultaneously. And he did that all the time.
Q: So that's one of the reasons he kept everything going?
A: Right. He could be thinking about a contract he was working on. He could be thinking about setting up a tour. He could be thinking about something that was going to be happening at the Hilton. He played Santa Claus for the Christmas parties for the children. He could be thinking about something that he needed to do with his wife in Palm Springs to take care of her. She was an invalid for many, many years, and required around the clock care. He could be thinking about a friend that he was going to have dinner with, simultaneously.
Q: When Colonel Parker came up with an idea, would he get on the phone, or jot it down?
A: Here's another thing. Colonel never made notes. He carried everything in his mind. And when someone would ask him a question about something that occurred maybe six months ago, or 20 years ago, his replay invariably was, 'Let me run my tapes'. And he would sit for a minute, and then he would bring the answer out.
Q: Total recall.
A: Total recall. Yes. Yes.
Q: Tell us about Colonel Parkers generosity.
A: He played Santa Claus for the children at the Christmas parties. We could be driving, or going to dinner, and he would say to me, 'Stop, pull over'. He would see someone who was standing on the street that he knew needed something. And he'd get out of the car and go over and give them five dollars, ten dollars, twenty dollars, whatever he felt they needed. Many times we'd be eating in the restaurant and he'd see an old couple eating a very meager meal. And he would call the waitress over and say, 'Tell those people I'd like to buy their dinner'. Maybe they could order a little more. He was always doing things like that. He gave hundreds and thousands of dollars to charities. Always with the stipulation, no publicity.
Q: So the Colonel had a very warm heart.
A: Yes. Yes. His friends knew -- you didn't have to ask Colonel for something if you needed it. It was one of the things that Colonel would say: 'If you're a true friend, your friend never has to ask you for anything. You voluntarily tell them you're going to give it to them'.
Q: He and President Lyndon Johnson were good friends?
A: They were good friends. Colonel used to tell a story. President Johnson was in Los Angeles and called the Colonel and said, 'Colonel, I'm gonna be leaving tomorrow morning'. He was staying at one of the big hotels. 'But if you'd like to stop by, I'd like to see you for a few minutes before I leave town'. The Colonel was in the lobby and he was just waiting, and there were a number of people there. There were of course the publicity people and so forth. And the president and his staff came down through the elevator. And Colonel said it was like a wedge, the secret service made like a wedge to go through the people. And when Lyndon Johnson saw Colonel, he stopped. And he said something to one of the secret service men. And the little wedge just opened up, Colonel walked inside, he and President Johnson spoke for a while, and then the president went on his way. And as the president was going out the door, one of the newsmen said to Colonel, 'Oh, you must know the president pretty well'. And here's Colonel's sense of humor, he said, 'Well, I don't know about that. But he sure knows me, doesn't he?'
Q: The Colonel was friends with other presidents. Ronald Reagan?
A: Ronald Reagan, yes. In fact, before he was president, we were on the road touring in the south. And Ronald Reagan was having problems getting a plane to go, he was making on one of his tours, doing speeches. And we loaned him one of the planes that we were using on the tour. To go to the next town. And of course he knew him from the movie days as well. He knew Harry Truman. And President Bill Clinton. We were very good friends with the president's mother Virginia, a wonderful, wonderful woman. We attended her 70th birthday party in Las Vegas. And after Colonel died, President Clinton wrote me a wonderful letter. And because of this letter, Elvis is officially king. Because when the top president person in the United States says Elvis is king, that makes it official, doesn't it.
Q: The president and his mother were Elvis fans?
A: President Clinton met the Colonel first, before he was even president. He was then Governor Clinton. And one of our friends was holding a fund raising dinner here in town. And as a special surprise, he asked Colonel to come to the dinner to meet the president. Because he knew the president, he was the governor then -- would like to meet him. And it was a nice surprise, and they had a very long chat. They had a very long talk. That was the beginning of their friendship. And then Virginia, president's mother came to our house often with her husband. She was again, I say she was a wonderful woman.
Q: The Colonel had a bad back. Wasn't there a time when he picked up Elvis?
A: When the Colonel was a young man, he was always big for his age, he said. And tall. He was six feet tall. Although in later years he became a bit stooped. But he was about six feet tall. And when he was a young man in Holland, one of his jobs was carrying big rounds of cheese from the factory onto the barges that would carry this cheese on to destination. And he said they were extremely heavy. Like a hundred and fifty pounds or something. And he felt that during his formative years, he was maybe 13, 14 years old, that he hurt his back during that time. That was the start. Because he had back problems all of his life.
But when they were filming That's the Way It Is at the International Hotel, I was sitting in Colonel's booth with Colonel, and they had a runway, it was going out into the audience. And at one point Elvis was singing and going on the runway out into the audience, and Colonel looked around. He always sat right on the outside of the booth so he could slip out at any minute. He looked around and he said, 'He's gonna get in trouble'. The fans from the back had started to move forward and he was about to be mobbed. And Colonel jumped up, ran up, picked up Elvis and put him on the other side of the barrier. And I sat there. I just, I absolutely could not believe it. He came back, sat down like nothing had happened, and I said, 'Colonel, your back. Are you alright?' And he said, 'I had to help him'. It was that simple. He didn't think. He just did it.
Q: Colonel Parker was always looking out for Elvis?
A: At personal appearances, Colonel would sit in front of the stage. And he always was watching the audience to see what was happening with the audience. He knew Elvis was taking care of his show on stage. That wasn't his business. His business was to protect Elvis, to make sure that things didn't get out of hand.
Q: Colonel Parker was really loving with the fans.
A: Colonel appreciated the fans. He knew that without the fans, it wouldn't be the same. There would be no business. There the fans bought the albums. The fans supported Elvis. The fans were there. He enjoyed them. And he appreciated them. He would, at the showroom at the International Hotel, it was like any showroom in Las Vegas. You made a reservation. You stood in line. And when you got to the maitre d, you did the best you could to get a good seat. And a lot of times this cost a little bit. Well, Colonel got very annoyed with this practice. He didn't, in fact, he didn't like it at all. But he couldn't do anything about it. It was Las Vegas practice. So, many times he would see a fan standing in line, and maybe recognize the fan as being a hardcore loyal fan. And he would walk them through the line, and say to the maitre d, 'Where are you going to put these people?' And the maitre d couldn't say anything but, 'The best seat, Colonel'. Colonel would wait and to make sure they got a good seat. Or, he had two booths at his disposal for every show. And he made sure that if he wasn't going to use the booth, I called the showroom and released the booth, so the fans could have it. And many times he would put the fans into his own booth.
Q: Would Colonel Parker go ahead of time to set up the shows?
A: When we were on the road, when we were touring, we would do a pre-tour. And this was the nucleus of Colonels group. I would go. Pat Kelleher from RCA Records would go. George Parkhill, who was part of Colonel's staff, would go. Quite often we would take one of Elvis men. One of his staff. And then we would take someone from Concerts West, Management III, which would be Tom Hulett, one of those men. We would take a jet. A small jet. And we might do six towns in one day. That was not unusual. We had a system. We would fly into the town. I stayed on the plane. Typed up notes from the previous town. The rest of the men would get into a prearranged car. They would go to the building, they would talk to the building manager. They would make the concession deal. They would physically see the rooms where Elvis would be staying. They would make sure security could be handled properly there. They would look around to see what restaurants were in the area. In fact, they would check everything. They would check the time from the airport to the building. The time from the airport to the hotel. All this was done in advance. So that when the show actually came into town, it was very easy for them.
Q: Did Colonel Parker pull any practical jokes?
A: Oh, Colonel Parker played practical jokes, but never to hurt a person. I've never known him to do a joke that was harmful to the person. He was very sensitive about people's feelings. Colonel was a moon child. They have a great sensitivity. As an example, before I worked for RCA Record Tours, Colonel called me one day and said, 'Loanne, I've got a problem. I've got a meeting of some really important men in Los Angeles. And Jim O'Brien, my secretary, has the flu. Could you possibly fly over and take notes at this meeting? I would really appreciate it'. And of course, I was terrified. But I said, 'Yes, Colonel, I'll come. Flew over'. Colonel and George met me at the airport. We drove to the office. And I'm excited and I'm nervous and I want to make a good impression, and all. And he's told me over and over, these are really important people. It's very important to me. We walk in, and I said hello, and Jim O'Brien was there. And I thought, what's happened. I said to Colonel, 'Jim's here'. And he said, 'Well, he recovered. But we still need you to take notes'. We walked into what was Colonel's conference room, we opened the door, and there was the long conference table with a dozen chairs. And each one had a big teddy bear in it. That was Colonel's sense of humor. That was his practical joke kind of thing.
Q: You were with Colonel Parker in Portland when Elvis passed away?
A: The day that Elvis died, Colonel and his basic staff were in Portland waiting for Elvis to arrive. I was in my room. I was doing some work. And Colonel was in the room that usually we would have, he would have a suite and, we would use the living room area as a temporary office. He came to my room, knocked on the door and I could see he was physically upset. He said, 'They have some bad news'. He said, 'I've got a call and they think, they're not sure that Elvis is going to live'. He said, 'I'll keep you updated'. And he went back to his temporary office. And of course I was in shock. I remember I just paced the floor. I was in shock because honest to God we never thought Elvis would die. He had almost become bigger than life to us and he felt he could handle everything. And in hind sight you can look back and say, well, that wasn't too intelligent of them. But you had to be there, you would have to have felt the emotional impact that we felt on the tours. You would have to realize that our every moment was guided by what Elvis needed, what we could do for him. Now I was not personally involved with his daily activities the way his own staff was. But from a business point of view, it was always in our minds, always. And suddenly to think that it would be gone was just inconceivable, you couldn't believe it. I felt it's going to be all right.
And then, of course, Colonel came and he said, 'He's gone'. He said, 'I talked to Joe, I talked to Vernon'. And his biggest concern at that moment was Vernon. He said, 'I don't know if he can make it'. Because we knew Vernon's health was not good. He said, 'He's so distraught, I don't know what's going to happen to Vernon'. And, of course, that was it. One of the most difficult dinners that I've ever experienced was the night that Elvis had died. Colonel said to that staff that were there, 'We're going to go to the restaurant here in the hotel and we're going to have dinner. We're going to eat, you're not going to put on a sad face, you're not going to be depressed, no one is going to sit and cry. We're doing this for Elvis'. Everyone in that restaurant is going to be watching us. And he's going to be proud. And we did it. Need I say, no one ate very much and we all lost weight over that meal, we pushed food away on our plates, but we maintained a normal exterior. And it was true, everyone in the restaurant was focused on our table.
Several of the people asked to go take time to go shopping because we brought tour clothes. And our tour clothes were functional, workable cloths, they weren't dressy clothes, we didn't go out socially on tours. And they said, Tom Hulett I believe said, 'Colonel, I need to get a suit. I don't have a suit with me, we can't go to the funeral in the clothes we wear on tour'. And Colonel said, 'Tom, these clothes were good enough for us to work for Elvis, they're good enough for us to wear at his funeral, he would understand. And if he saw me in a suit, he wouldn't recognize me'. So we went to the funeral in very basic work clothes, in our work cloths. I had slacks, I had nothing else. Colonel wore one of his caps, he always wore a cap. He wore a sport shirt, you know, a pair of slacks. And on the plane when we were flying to Memphis, Colonel gave us a little talk. And he said, 'I want Elvis to be proud of us today. And everything that you do, think of him. But I want you to maintain a very calm exterior. No one breaks down, no one cries. This is our chance to act the part that he would want us to'. And we did the best we could.
Q: The Colonel still worked with Vernon when Elvis passed away?
A: Vernon asked Colonel to stay on and to help them and I think in Colonel's mind, he had been focused on Elvis for so many years, you can't turn off something like that. He thought about Elvis continually. And this didn't stop, he was working for Elvis in his own way until the day he died.
Q: He made a lot of personal experiences?
A: First of all, at the funeral they asked the Colonel to ride in one of the limousines, in one of the front limousines with family. And Colonel said, 'No, I have always been behind the scenes with Elvis, that's the way I want to maintain it'. And he rode in the limousine but not with the family group.
After that, after all this was gone he made several personal appearances on Elvis' behalf in a sense. On the 10th anniversay of Elvis death they cleared everything out of the, what we used to call the Elvis suite at the Las Vegas Hilton and Colonel brought in memorabilia, pictures and all kinds of things. And they allowed the fans to tour and go through and look at all of these things. Colonel sat at a table and as the fans came by he shook hands with them, he talked with them and it was very nice. And by the way, one of the people who came by during that period, we did this for five days, Wayne Newton did a tribute to Elvis in the showroom and we went to the shows every night and sat in the booth where Colonel always sat at Elvis shows because he wanted the world to know that he was still there for Elvis. But one of the men who walked through that line was a Canadian. And he said to Colonel, 'Colonel, I've got a young singer star who's going to be a sensation, she's fabulous'. Colonel said, 'Tell me about her'. He loved to hear about young up-and-coming artists. And they had quite a long conversation. Colonel, he said, 'If I can help you in any way, just let me know'. Well, that man was Rene Angelil, who is the husband of Celine Dion. And he was talking about Celine Dion. And, he had come to our house on occasion and Colonel would talk with him. When Celine did a show here in Las Vegas, she wished Colonel a happy birthday from the stage and we visited with them. They're wonderful people.
Q: When the tabloids came out with things about him, did Colonel get upset?
A: Colonel was always hurt by the way the tabloids talked about him. The really, really tough time was, when a guardian was appointed for Lisa Marie in Tennessee. And this guardian said that they were going to do a total audit of everything. It turned into being a big mess, a really big mess. But the way the press picked it up, they said that Elvis Presley estate was going to sue Colonel. That was not true. The guardian representing Lisa, appointed by the Judge in the State of Tennessee, was going to bring a law suit. And they told the estate they had to join them. The estate went to the judge - this was in the papers very small because it wasn't sensational. They asked the judge to excuse him, they did not want to bring law suit against the Colonel. And the judge ordered that they proceed. This was not initiated by the state, it was not something the estate wanted at that time, this was a legal order. But the newspapers all came out saying: the estate says Colonel cheated Elvis. And the facts were very much distorted by the press. It was a very sad time for the Colonel.
He found out who his friends were. Billy Martin was one of the first people who called and said, 'Colonel, can I do something for you? Do you need help?' Eddie Arnold called and said, 'Colonel, just know I'm in your corner'. Ambasador Walter Annenburg called and said, 'Colonel, if you need some help, let me know'. And that's just a few people I mentioned. Colonel's personal friends were there for him all the way. I mean, he would read these accounts or see us on TV and he would say, 'Why are they doing this? I did the best I could all of my life. Why are they doing this to me?' One of Colonel's wonderful traits was that he loved to see anyone be successful. He was overjoyed if a friend had success. And he could never understand why the public seemed to glory in seeing a successful figure brought to the knees. It was something. It totally bewildered him, he never understood it.
And this whole thing was a mystery to him. In the beginning he didn't defend himself, he said, 'Why should I? I've done nothing wrong'. And finally toward the end, when it was blown totally out of proportion, he started to talk and the press pretty much ignored that, they didn't want to hear it. Now, in defense of the press I've go to say: the press reports what the general public wants to hear, and that's what they were doing. Colonel never held any grudge against anyone in the press personally. He knew they were doing the job they had to do. It broke his heart that that public demanded this kind of journalism, that was the whole thing.
Number one, Colonel Parker never took 50% of Elvis earnings, never. It's true, they did sign a contract in the 70s which was a partnership contract where they each were to receive 50%. But Colonel never collected his 50% because it was about that time that Elvis needed extra money for his divorce settlement with Priscilla. And they were running short on funds. And Vernon said to Colonel, 'Colonel, would you just take your regular 1/3 for a while until we get on our feet'. Colonel took his regular third and he never, never took 50%. Now, I'm talking about Elvis personal appearances, I'm talking Elvis recordings and so forth - they did have an understanding that if Colonel initiated project wherein Elvis needed to lend only his likeness or his name, that Colonel receive 50%. This would be photo albums, merchandise, things like that. Colonel conceived the ideas, Colonel followed through on the ideas. And Elvis had contrbuted nothing but his name and likeness, which without it, of course, would have been impossible. When those kinds of things came about, Elvis was quite willing to have Colonel take 50%.
Q: Is there anything else you'd like to tell the fans of Elvis about the Colonel?
A: Well, what I would like to tell the fans about the Colonel: number one, he was always there for Elvis in every way he could be - it became very difficult. I recall we were on, we were touring and he came back to the room one night and he was crying. He said, 'I've lost him, my friend is gone'. It was because he went to have a meeting with Elvis and Elvis couldn't be aroused for the meeting. We all have weaknesses, we all have failings and Colonel understood there was in Elvis. He tried every way he could to help Elvis overcome it, but it was not possible. I want the fans to know that he cared about Elvis always., and that he did his utmost to prolong Elvis life, to keep things going. They had a great partnership - he never interfered with the creative part of Elvis. He said, 'Elvis is a star, he knows exactly what he's doing. I'm not going to tell him what to sing or how to dress or how to act. He knows how to do those things. I just do the business part'.
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