Interview with Richard Davis

By: David Adams
Source: Elvis Australia
June 11, 2020

Interview with Richard Davis a longtime member of Elvis' Memphis Mafia.
Richard started working for Elvis after Elvis returned from the Army and continued to work for him until 1971 as a body guard, a stand-in in 23 movies and eventually a wardrobe manager. He remained friends with Elvis until the end. Known among the other Memphis Mafia members for his quick wit and for being a bit of a prankster he once dropped a water balloon on Elvis' head as he walked out of his trailer in fresh makeup for a movie shoot.

Q : Richard, please tell us when was the first time you met Elvis?

A : That would have to be back in about 1960 I would think. I was assistant manager of the Memphian Theater, and one night I was at work and Elvis rode up on his Harley-Davidson hog motorcycle and had Anita Wood on the back of it. And of course the movie had already started and the lights were out and he came to the door and came on inside the lobby and he wanted to go up into the balcony. The Memphian Theater had a balcony but it was closed off to the public. So he wanted to know if he could go up in the balcony. I said, 'Well, sure you can go up in the balcony if you want to. You can go anywhere you want to' So he went up with Anita and atayed up there all night long. That's the first time I ever met him but he wouldn't have remembered me from then.

Elvis Presley and Richard Davis
Charlie Hodge, Richard Davis, Elvis Presley and Felton Jarvis at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas, Nevada : August 6, 1970.

But the first time I actually met him was in 1961. Two friend of mine who were already working for Elvis, Adam Forrest and Sony West, asked me did I waa come up to Graceland and meet Elvis, and I said, 'Well, yeah. Sure, I'd love to'. So they took me up to the house one night and I got up to the house and Elvis welcomed me at the house and we sit around and shot pool all night long and had sodas and watched movies and told jokes and everything. And when I got ready to leave he said, 'Look, you know, anytime I'm in town you're always welcome to come back'. And I said, 'Well, thank you very much'. And so I kinda took advantage of his hospitality. So every time he'd come back in town between movies I'd go out to the house, go to the gate and Vester or Harold or whoever was at the gate I'd say, 'Well, you know, call up the house and tell him Richard's here'. And they'd call up the house, say, 'Richard's -- Oh, yeah, let him come on up'.

So I just started kinda ruing around with Elvis and the guys that worked for him at the time. Although I wasn't working for him I became a good friend. Apparently he liked me 'cause he was always inviting me to come to whatever they were doing, whatever functions he was doing. He was always doing something, whether it was ruing the movies all night long or the roller skating rink or the amusement park or whatever he was doing, playing football, whatever. He'd always invite me to come along.

And then in 1962 I was up at the house one night and he said, 'I'm leaving tomorrow to go to Los Angeles, start a new movie ('It Happened at the World's Fair'). And I said, 'Jimmy Kingsley and I are leaving about a week after you leave and we're going to California on vacation'. And he said, 'Here's my phone number and my address, give me a call and let me know when you get there, and come see me'. So when Jimmy and I got to California, and got settled in, we called him. He said, 'Come on up to the house'. Well, we couldn't find the house. And if you've been to Bel Air, you know what I'm talking about, the streets are -- they have no sidewalks. It's all hedges and big fences and walls and everything. You can't find anything. So we couldn't find the house, so we drove back down to the security gate and called on the phone and told Elvis, 'we can't find the house'. He said, 'Don't worry about it, I'm gonna send Lamar Fike down and to get you'. So Lamar comes down in a Rolls Royce limousine and we follow him back to the house.

Elvis Presley, Red West, Glen Campbell and Richard Davis at George Klein's wedding, December 5, 1970
Elvis Presley, Red West, Glen Campbell and Richard Davis at George Klein's wedding, December 5, 1970 - (View larger image).

So Elvis, he meets us at the door, and tells us, 'Come in, have a good time, enjoy yourself, you know, whatever'. And so here's two little country boys and this big, beautiful mansion, big crystal chandelier, marble hallways, stairways going up both sides -- and all these beautiful girls walking around. Every one of 'em was like a movie star. I'm thinking, 'Oh, my gosh. You know, we've made it now. We have actually made it, right?'

So later on that night Elvis walks over and he says, 'Richard, you guys stick around. Don't leave when everybody starts leaving, I waa talk to you'. And so everybody started leaving and he gets up and he goes back to his bathroom. He's back here about five minutes and then he calls for Joe Esposito. And Joe was like his foreman, right hand man. And so Joe goes back there and Joe's back here about five minutes. And then Joe comes out and he calls me and Jimmy back there. So we walk in the bathroom and Joe locks the door. Now here's four grown men standing in a bathroom, right? But it was a BIG bathroom.

So Elvis says, 'I've been talking to Joe and we're leaving tomorrow to go film 'It Happened at the World's Fair' and we're gonna be filming inside the World's Fair while it's actually going on'.

Elvis Presley
Elvis Presley.

'Now I could actually use some more security while we're there. If you and Jimmy would consider going to work for me I'd love to have you come to work for me as security'. Well I don't know what was going through Jimmy's mind, but I know what was going through mine, and I immediately said, 'Oh, yeah! That's great!' Because I've never been to a World's Fair before in my life, I'm a little country boy, and working for Elvis would be fantastic. So we both said yes. And Elvis says, 'Okay. It's only gonna be for two weeks now, while we're filming actually on location. When we get through we are gonna film the rest of it in the studio, and I really won't need you then'. And we said, 'That's okay. That's great'. Well, we finished location, we came back to L.A., both me and Jimmy were expecting to get fired, but we didn't. So my job just went on and on and on, for 15 years.

Q : What was it like making movies with Elvis?

A : Making movies with Elvis was not a job, it was a pleasure. Every day was like a holiday. Every day was fun. Elvis had the greatest sense of humor of anybody I've ever met in my life. And there was never a day that went by that -- when you got up in the morning you didn't know what to expect, and every day you didn't know whether -- he was always pulling a practical joke on us, we were pulling one on him, or we were pulling it on total strangers. Now if you're around us long enough, eventually we were gonna get you with something. And making movies with Elvis, this carried on to the movie sets.

Now we probably drove a lot of directors and producers to drinking, taking drugs and having gray hair, because we cut up on the sets more than we did anytime, in any place.

Q : Can you tell us about your friend Elvis?

A : Elvis treated all of guys that worked for him, that was employed by him as family. He didn't treat us as employees. We were like a family. We all got along great together. Well, you had to or you couldn't stay in this group, because Elvis would not have anybody working for him that couldn't get along with everybody else and fit in into the ier circle. We did everything together. When Elvis slept, we slept. When Elvis partied, we partied. When Elvis worked, we worked. We did everything together. And the humor and the relationship and the love between all of us when we were together, you could feel the vibes in the group, you could feel it. I mean so strongly that sometimes maybe if one of us wasn't feeling well or one of us had a problem, hell, Elvis sometimes could tell it. He'd sense it'. Hey, whatsa matter? Oh, no, oh, yeah, I know something's wrong. Whatsa matter?' You know. He'd make you open up to him. But it was a great relationship.

It was a good working relationship. It was not just like a job. It was fun. Elvis made it fun. And that's why our years together were so good. And he said many times, matter of fact, that, when we were making movies, 'When these movies cease to be fun is when I quit making 'em. And so they were fun'. He made sure that everybody had a good time. And that was our relationship together.

Q : And some memories about Las Vegas.

A : There's so many things it's hard to pinpoint. Well I got one thing. I don't remember what year it was. And one thing that happened is back in the dressing room before he went on one night, somebody came back and told Elvis, 'Muhammad Ali is in the audience and he would like to meet you'. And Elvis said, 'Oh, yeah, yeah, bring him on back', 'cause Elvis loved Muhammad Ali. So Muhammad Ali comes back there and he's got his entourage with him and -- big old guys, man. You know, and big bodyguard guys.

Elvis Presley

So Elvis and Muhammad Ali are sitting at the table, we had a big round table in the middle of the room. And so they are sitting there talking. While we're all away from the table and we are all kinda staring across the room at each other, Elvis' bodyguards and Muhammad's bodyguards. We were talking every now and then to each other trying to be friendly. And so apparently Elvis and Muhammad Ali got into a conversation about boxing and karate, 'cause Elvis loved karate, as you know. He was into it very deeply, he was an eighth degree black belt.

And all of a sudden Elvis stands up and Muhammad Ali stands up. And we were all thinking, 'What is going on?' And so Elvis goes into a karate stance. Muhammad Ali goes into a boxing stance.

And next thing we know, Muhammad Ali is on the floor, on his butt.

We're thinking, 'Uh oh. We are gonna have to fight our way outta here apparently'.

Elvis Presley and Muhammad Ali - February 14, 1973
Elvis Presley and Muhammad Ali - February 14, 1973.

Well what happened was Elvis was comparing karate to Muhammad Ali as far as what was the best, and Muhammad Ali took a stance and Elvis just swept his feet out from under him with one leg.

[We cannot confirm this, so make of it what you will]

It happened that fast. And then Muhammad Ali sitting on the floor looked at Elvis and start laughing and Elvis start laughing, so we all start laughing. So we were all like, 'Thank God we ain't going to have to fight to get outta here'. Because these are big guys. But anyway, that was one of the funny things that happened.

Elvis gave him a robe for his fight before he went on before his championship fight, a nice beautiful robe. I think it was a white and green robe. They became very good friends.

Muhammad Ali wearing the robe given by Elvis. March 31, 1974
Muhammad Ali wearing the robe given by Elvis. March 31, 1974.

Q : How was it touring with Elvis?

A : Never a dull moment. Touring with Elvis was fantastic. I mean the one nighters were great but they got very tiring and when you're on the road all the time it gets old too. Playing Vegas was great. We were there a month and then we'd be off a month or so, and then we'd come back a month. I liked Vegas more'n, I did the one nighters I think. The one nighters would really wear you out ...

Q : What was your capacity when you were working for Elvis on the road?

A : When I first started with Elvis in 1962 my capacity was basically a gofer, I guess you'd say. But I became his wardrobe manager, which means that I bought all of his clothes for him, his personal clothes, wardrobe, or had them custom made for him or whatever. And I was one of his bodyguards and I was also his movie stand-in for 23 movies. So I had my hands full right there.

Q : You helped design some clothes with Elvis, didn't you?

A : I did help design a lot of his personal -- not his stage outfits, which were done by Bill Belew, but his personal suits. I designed some of them, had 'em special made by a custom tailor in Beverly Hills, California and I don't know if he's still in business now. Barry Serto is his name.

Q : You used to go get some of them at Beau Gentry's, what was it?

A : Well I used to buy a lot of his clothes at Beau Gentry's, Fred Segal's. I used to have a lot of his shirts, custom shirts, sport shirts made at National Shirt Shop, which is on Sunset Boulevard.

Q : How did you and the rest of the guys handle death threats and things to Elvis?

A : The death threats. They were pretty scary. We didn't have that many of 'em per se, but the ones that we did have were -- it got pretty scary, I mean 'cause you never knew -- there was a lotta nuts out there and you don't ever know if one of 'em is really gonna follow through with it or is telling the truth or whatever.

And it got pretty scary.

I mean there were times we did call in the FBI and and times we even had to call in dog sniffing bomb squad dogs to check places out before we opened the auditorium up for the fans, before we started a concert. And it's stuff like that that gets pretty hectic and pretty hairy, but thank God none of it ever came about.

Q : Elvis sometimes carried a Derringer in his boot, didn't he?

A : He carried a Derringer in his boot. He carried two on his waist and one on his back, one behind his neck, I don't know. He carried a lotta guns, yeah. :-)

Q : Why do you think he was so armed, Richard?

A : In case I got outta line he had something to shoot me with. I don't know. :-)

Q : One for all the guys.

A : I don't know, yeah. One for each one of us. :-)

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