Interview with Marlyn Mason | Elvis Presley's co-star The Trouble With Girls

By: David Adams
Source: Elvis Australia
August 12, 2020

Marlyn Mason played the part of Sally Weldon in the 'Ben Casey' TV series during the mid-sixties, before making her film debut, as Charlene (the role was originally intended for singer Bobbie 'Ode to Billy Joe' Gentry), in The Trouble With Girls (And How To Get Into It).

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Q: When 'The Trouble With Girls' came along, did you go out for the role?

A: No. In my memory, I did not audition for it. I had just come off of a Broadway musical. And I got a call from my agent that they wanted me for this movie with Elvis Presley. And I have no recollection of ever reading for it. I just went and met the director, Peter Tewksbury and Lester Welsh, the producer. That, in my memory, if I auditioned for it, I don't remember it. There are a lot of things I don't remember.

Q: When you did get there, tell us what happened.

A: Well, meeting them, I have no recollection of meeting them, but I do remember very vividly the day I met Elvis. And that was the first day of rehearsal. Jonathan Lucas was the choreographer. And I walked in, and there were the two little kids that were also in the musical with us. And here came Elvis ready to work, couldn't have been nicer, couldn't have been more welcoming. And it was like that for the next ten weeks. It was absolute bliss working with him.

Marlyn Mason and Elvis Presley. The Trouble With Girls (And How To Get Into It) 1969.
Marlyn Mason and Elvis Presley. The Trouble With Girls (And How To Get Into It) 1969.

Q: What was your relationship with Elvis like on the set?

A: We hit it off immediately. And from the very first day, he called me Cap. I wore a little cap. And I always wore that cap to work every day. And he just named me Cap. And he says, 'Come on, Cap. We're going to lunch'. And we'd either go to his, like a little apartment that they had on the lot. And we'd go there. The guys would be there. I mean, it was always like a party going on. We never went to the commissary. And I don't remember ever having lunch anywhere else except those times with him that we'd go to his place, because that's where his refrigerator was. That's where his yogurt was. He was very slim, very handsome. Probably at the peak of his, health-wise. I mean, he just looked great.

Q: So, Elvis was eating smart.

A: Eating smart, yeah. He took care of himself then, yeah.

Q: What was he eating at that time?

A: Just we were all eating yogurt. I was always battling a weight problem. And I was 28 when we did the movie, and I was having a slight weight problem. So, I was trying to do the yogurt thing along with Elvis. But he looked great. He couldn't have been in better shape.

Q: How was it working with Elvis?

A: I was prepared not to like Elvis on that first day. I thought 'here's this fellow I've heard about with this music all these years', I was not prepared to like him. I mean, was prepared not to like him. And I was so surprised when he was so sweet and so down to earth. And he likes to rehearse. He loved to rehearse. He always knew his dialogue. He was never unprepared. He was as professional as anyone I'd ever worked with. And never, never in a bad mood. Always feisty. He loved to light firecrackers. And you'd be in the middle of a scene. And if he wasn't in it, and you'd hear boomp off in the distance somewhere. And the director would say, 'Cut. Elvis, we're shooting'. And youd hear laughter. But he loved to do that.

Q: How much did Elvis have his little pranks?

A: Oh, all the time. We were pranking all the time. Ten weeks, that's all we'd do is... I remember we had, the first week, I believe, we were doing a parade scene. And there were lots of helium tanks around to fill up the balloons. So before we'd to a take, we'd both suck up the helium and the director would yell, 'Action'. And we'd start talking with that little high voice that the helium does to you. And we would do things like that all the time. It was just something always going on.

Q: What did the director and everybody else say about the pranks?

A: Oh, he set the tone. I was just talking to someone. Elvis set the tone. I think all the leading actors do for whatever show you're doing. They set the tone for how the crew is going to be and the feeling on the set. And because Elvis was so dear, that show was just ten weeks of happy.

Q: What was your first scene with Elvis?

A: Oh, gee, I can remember rehearsing ... It had to have been outdoors, because we shot the parade scenes first. So, it would have had to have been part of that whole parade sequence in the story.

Q: Tell us a little bit about your character.

A: Oh, I screamed and yelled at him through the entire movie. I was the union lady, and he was the manager of this troupe called Chautauqua which is a real... In fact, I think they still have it today. And it was the story... The purpose of Chautauqua was to bring culture to the rural areas. And so he played the manager, and I took care of all the little children. And I was this union person. I was always screaming at him for this or for that, and screamed at him through the whole movie. And of course, you could tell we were both very much in love with each other. But we were never going to tell each other that. And it was -- and I think it comes through in the film.

Q: So, there was no big romance with Elvis off screen.

A: Oh, no. He was married and had Lisa Marie was about six months old, I think. Because I remember him bringing a picture of Priscilla and the baby. And she was on the floor with the baby. She was kind of on her side like this. And the baby was laying right in front of her. And I remember Lisa didn't have any clothes on. It was a typical -- like just a beautiful mother and daughter picture. And I couldn't get over how beautiful Priscilla was, because I'd always seen her with the big hairdos. And her hair was just straight and loose. And she was absolutely stunning. She was as beautiful as he was handsome. And I thought what a couple they make. She never came to the set however. I asked him one day, 'Does Priscilla ever visit?' And he said, 'No'.

Q: Do you remember Colonel Parker on the set?

A: Yeah. He was not an approachable person. I didn't care for him, I guess. Because he was just different than everybody else on that, you know, connected with the movie. He was very stand-offish. And remember one day, I called him over. It was Halloween, and I had brought in a little red wagon. And a friend of mine had carved a pumpkin of Elvis' face that was -- I mean, it was just spectacular. The teeth, he had little black... He used the little pumpkin things for teeth, the seeds and had pipe cleaners for the hair. But I mean, it looked -- the pumpkin looked like Elvis. It was just magnificent. And I had filled it with cookies. And Elvis thought it was great. And the Colonel happened to come on the set. And I said, 'Oh, Colonel, come over here'. And Elvis very gently leaned into me and said, 'You don't call the Colonel over. You go to the Colonel'. I never liked the Colonel after that. But he was not around much. I had no relationship with him at all.

Marlyn Mason and Elvis Presley. The Trouble With Girls (And How To Get Into It) 1969.
Marlyn Mason and Elvis Presley. The Trouble With Girls (And How To Get Into It) 1969.

Q: You were recording with Elvis in the studio, right. When did that take place?

A: That took place, oh gosh, it was a famous little recording studio on Sunset Boulevard just east of Vine.

Q: Was it Radio Recorders?

A: Oh, gosh, that's very familiar to me. And it could have been. Probably was. And I remember Mac Davis was there. And we just had a wonderful time. It was a silly little song that I recorded. But it wasn't until years later from this man in England wrote to me. And he said, 'Did you know that you were one of four women to record with Elvis?' I had no idea. I was in company -- good company with, I think, it was Ann-Margret. You might know. Ann-Margret, Nancy Sinatra, Shelley Fabares, I think, and myself. Yeah. So, it's kind of nice.

Q: What was the song, 'Signs Of The Zodiac?'

A: 'Signs Of The Zodiac'. Yes. A little spiffy little tune. Yes, I have a picture that I use for my fans that want one of me and Elvis together. And I'm in his arms. He's behind me, and he has his arms around me. And we're in the middle of the number. And I always sign it, 'In the arms of the King'.

Q: What was so unique about Elvis as opposed to other entertainers?

A: I was not a fan of his music when I met him. And after working with him and then seeing him sing just, you know, amusing himself, I realized what a great voice he had. He had a magnificent voice. I thought sometimes it sounded almost operatic. And I thought why doesn't he ever use that? But the kind of music that he did didn't call for that. I think the closest maybe he came to it was doing 'My Way' or in a couple of those songs where he really goes to the high notes. I don't know what his uniqueness was. I don't think that's answerable. When they say, He has it or she has it, there's nobody can define, it. It's just something that draws people to you. And he was like that. I mean, every day we would see him, he'd come on the set and he -- I remember he had on a white gabardine suit with that light blue silk shirt and that white fedora. Oh, my God. You couldn't see enough of it. I mean, it was, everyday it was like seeing it for the first time. And he was -- there was just something about him. And when he talked to you, he looked right at you. And he was so polite. Mr. Tewksbury, the director, was never Peter. He was always Mr. Tewksbury. It had that southern charm.

Elvis Presley and Marlyn Mason. The Trouble With Girls (And How To Get Into It) 196
Elvis Presley and Marlyn Mason. The Trouble With Girls (And How To Get Into It) 1969.

Q: There was that scene where he was hiding in the closet, and you were searching for him, right?

A: Yes. That's one of my favorite scenes, yes.

Q: There's also a little tension there. You could tell you did care about each other.

A: Oh, yeah. That scene... Oh, the other actor that was in that scene with us. I want to say. Oh, it's right on the tip of my tongue, and I can see his face as plain as day. There were three of us, and it was a real chatty, talkie scene, and I was at my peak. And you can see Elvis. It's genuinely enjoying doing that scene. He was always into it. But that was one of my favorite scenes in the movie. We had a lot of fun doing that. And I'm trying to remember that actors name, and I can't.

Q: Tell us about the fireworks scene.

A: Oh, that was... I was a little afraid of that, because I never liked being around stunts and anything where there was any danger. And I had to make sure that I was going to be okay, that I wasn't going to -- none of were going to get, you know, hit with a missile. Because and when you see it in the movies, it looks much more dangerous than it was. But it was lots of fun to shoot. I don't recall, I think we shot it at nighttime. Yeah.

Q: What did you and Elvis talk about?

A: We talked a lot. We talked music. In fact, the only argument, which was a nice argument, was about music. The first two weeks of shooting we did the parade scene, and then we went into what was supposedly a big tent. And there was a big baby grand in there. There was this piano. And Jonathan Rubenstein was one of the kids in the movie. And he was a fine pianist. And so between shots, he'd sit down at the piano and grind out these show tunes, and I'd do my Ethel Merman bit. And Elvis didn't have anything to do with musical comedy, had never performed it, as far as I know. And he said, 'Hey, Cap. Get in here'. So, I went over to his dressing room and said, 'What do you want?' And he said, 'What's all that Broadway stuff you're singing?' And I said, 'Well, that's the kind of music that I come from'. And so we started discussing it, and he was sort of putting it down. And I said, 'Well, what do you know about musical comedy and Broadway?' I said, 'that's part of American -- what is American music'. And so, we got into a little heated... And I said, 'Let me tell you something'. I said, 'When I met you, I didn't like your music, but since I've known you and heard you sing a little bit of it', I said, 'I'm starting to appreciate it. So, maybe you'll start appreciating this music'.

So, the next day, Joe Esposito brought in a little cassette. This is when the cassette first started coming out and a little recording machine. And he said, 'I want you to know this is from Elvis'. And he bought this himself. I never forgot. I wished I'd saved those things. I didn't save anything that Elvis gave me. But it was sort of his way of saying, 'Okay, I'm sorry for coming down hard on your music'. I think that's what it -- that's how I took it to mean.

Q: Do you remember what the cassette was?

A: Oh, one of them was 'Camelot'. And there were several other Broadway shows. But I just thought it was a very sweet thing on his part to do. And I can't remember if I took him a book on musical comedy. I think I did, but I'm not sure, a little history of American musical theater.

But we talked a lot. And the one thing that is the saddest thing he ever said to me. And it just was heart breaking. It was a very serious moment. I don't know how we got into the conversation. But he said, 'I would like to make one good film, because I know people in this town laugh at me'. And I thought with all his success, he wanted to make a movie that was apart from all his so-called Elvis movies. And, of course, that never happened, and we'll never know what his potential was. Because I found him to be extremely talented, had great comedic instincts, great timing, very... You could ad-lib with him. We'd do a lot of that. If the director was doing a close-up on Elvis, and he wanted a certain reaction, he would come to me, and he'd say something like, 'I don't care what you do, but this is the reaction I need from him'. So, I remember one time I was out of camera, and it was a close-up of him. And I was supposed to be seated, so his look was looking down at me. And I started slowly unbuttoning his shirt and taking his belt off very quietly. And he was just giving me these looks. Well, that was what the director wanted. And he just responded. He didn't stop and say, 'What is she doing?' He just rolled with the punches. It was great. He was great to work with.

Q: So, you think given a dramatic role, he would have been good?

A: I think he would have been fabulous, but we'll never know. He might have been terrible. But I'd like to think he would have been reached a level that he didn't even know he was capable of.

Q: What type of things would Elvis do on the set? Would he be listening to different recordings and things like that?

A: No, if we were on the set, there was a lot of sitting... I remember sitting in his lap a lot, just hanging out with him and his guys. But no, he would mingle. He was not aloof in any way at all. But of course, he'd spend some time in his dressing room. I remember once he called me in, 'Cap, get in here'. I'd go in. 'What do you want?' He said, 'Pick out whatever you want here'. And he would have clothes brought in for himself. But he ordered a bunch of scarves and hats. And he knew I liked to wear caps and hats. So, he said, 'Pick out whatever you want'. I said, 'Well, you pick out for me'. So, he picked out a little hat that he thought looked good on me. And he picked out a scarf. I'd give anything to have that hat and scarf now.

Q: And then he signed a photograph to you as well.

A: Yes. Yes, I have the signed photograph. Yes.

Q: Tell us the story about how that came about.

A: Well, it was funny. People talk about Elvis' spirituality. We never got into any religious discussions at all. I'm not a religious person. Our conversations never got into that. But I think when you're in tune with somebody, it's like you get it. You sense things. And I could be sitting 50 feet from him, and I'd get a feeling, and I would turn. And he'd be looking at me. And sometimes it would happen with him. I'd be watching him. And he would turn and he'd... And we talked about it. And I said, 'What is that?' And he said, 'It's da witness'. So in the picture, the autograph says, 'Da witness knows'. And I took it from there was just that little knowing thing between us that was -- neither one of us could explain it. I felt very close to him. And I can say that I know that he liked me very much. And I liked him very much. There was just -- it was a very sweet relationship. And I mean, it, you know, will always be very dear to me.

Q: When the film came out, did you keep in touch with Elvis?

A: Never had a social contact with him at all. Charlie Hodge called me once or twice after the movie, but I never saw Elvis socially, never talked to him away from. If it was a weekend, I didn't know from Elvis. Only that five days a week working. It would have been interesting. I would have liked to see him in a social situation. And because I have no idea who the private Elvis was. And if he was... I mean, he couldn't have been... He had to be a fairly decent person in his private life, because he was so wonderful to work with. And I never felt that there was anything phony about him in that niceness. And that has to carry over into your private life I think. But live with, who would know. I don't know what he would be like to live with.

Q: When he was on the set, did he ever get into touch football games or anything?

A: Yes, there was a little football scene, I think, if you remember in the movie. And they were playing then, not a lot, but a little bit. Because we weren't -- once we moved in, there wasn't... Once we left all the outdoor shooting, then we moved in, there was no place to play football.

Q: On the set with Elvis did you ever get in of his little practical jokes?

A: Oh, gosh. We got into one that was something to do with pies. I can't remember what it was. I remember they got a pie for me, and I threw a pie in this guys face. But I can't remember what the incident was. And I remember a fellow once shot some tear gas into Elvis' dressing room as a joke. He didn't know I was in there. I was sitting on the floor. Elvis was sitting on here, and a couple of the guys were over here. And the door opened, and right with the floor this little pop sound, and it was tear gas. And it got me in the eyes. Oh, I was a mess for about two hours. They had to do my make-up over. I was just a mess. And that was the kid whoever did that, I have a picture of him with the pie. The next day, I threw a pie in his face. Because I wanted him to know I wasn't mad. Because he didn't mean to do it. But it scared him, because he thought he'd, you know, done some damage to me. Well, he had for a couple of hours. But Elvis handled all of that very well, I mean, I never saw the man angry, ever.

Q: Vincent Price was in the film as well.

A: I shared a dressing room with Vincent Price and John Carradine. The first day of shooting, I did not work, but I was being fitted for my wig. And so I went to work. And I was on the sound stage, and I needed to put my purse and my script somewhere. And I asked the AD, I said, 'Where can I put my stuff?' And he said, 'Just a minute'. And he said, 'Oh, you can put it in Mr. Carradines and Mr. Prices dressing room'. So, I can say I shared a dressing room with the two of them. But other than just meeting them, I never had any conversation with them.

Q: Do you remember them meeting Elvis?

A: No, no. I think they only worked one, maybe two days.

Q: Because they had no scenes with Elvis.

A: No. No. No. They had to have met Elvis that day though, because Elvis was on the set. I was on the set.

Q: Do you have any memories of the little girl on the set?

A: She was very professional. She was not a little temperamental brat at all. And it's sad how she ended up. She overdosed, I believe. Yeah. She was a sweet little girl. Yeah, she was in 'The Signs Of The Zodiac' number with us. Yeah. But she was very professional. Everyone was.

Q: Did you ever get to see Elvis perform live after the movie?

A: No, but I think, if my memory serves me, that his special came on.

Q: The 68 special?

A: Yes. And I was stunned. I really fell in love with him as a performer when I saw that. That was probably one of the all time great specials, I think, ever for my taste anyway that was ever seen. I mean, he was great. I remember all the people were around him. He was on a small stage. And I think was also the same time he came to work one day and said, 'I signed to play Vegas'. I don't think he'd ever played Vegas. Is that true? He played Vegas after 68. And he was so thrilled. He was like a little kid. He was so... 'I'm going to play Vegas'. You know, I mean, there was an innocence to him that was... I think that was part of his it, the thing that made him so charming, this, there was a vulnerability to him. And I think that's part of... You kind of want to take care of and...

Q: So, did you follow his career?

A: No, no. When he died, I was stunned. I knew he did one film after mine. I think it was with Mary Tyler Moore? I think that was his last film. And, no, I didn't know what became of him after that, other than seeing the pictures when he started to get heavy and not looking so good. And I thought, oh, too bad and wonder what's going on with him. And -- but whenever I saw those pictures, I still remembered when I was with him.

Q: So, could you elaborate on when you first saw the 68 special on television?

A: Oh, I just remember I was just astounded at his performance. I couldn't believe it. If you look at that, he is so natural. He is so at home. I never felt that he was performing. He was just doing something that he loved to do. And it came natural to him. He knew how to -- it wasn't even knowing how to do it. He just did it.

Q: Where were you when you learned that Elvis had passed away?

A: You know, that I don't remember that. I know where J.F.K. was. I mean, I know where I was when J.F.K. died. But I don't -- I think I was home and probably heard it on television and it was just sad. I almost couldn't believe it.

Q: After a quarter of a century, why do you think Elvis is as big as he ever or a lot bigger?

A: Why? Because he, again, it's unexplainable. He even surpasses Monroe and Jimmy Dean. I mean, they've -- I mean, they grow in stature in their deaths. But Elvis, there's just no... I mean, he's just the king. There's only one Elvis. There's only one Marilyn, there's only one Jimmy Dean. But Elvis, I think, the music because people hear the music more. We don't visit the Monroe films over and over and the Jimmy Dean films. But all of always hear Elvis music somewhere. And it keeps him very much alive with us.

Q: What does Elvis personally mean to you?

A: Oh, probably the best ten weeks of my career. I get teary eyed. Yes, it was just a wonderful time. Yes. And it was a great, a great privilege for me, and honor for me to have been with him that time. And when he was in such good shape too.

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