Interview with Rita Rogers
Source: Elvis Australia
January 1, 2017
Elvis Articles, Elvis Interviews, By David Adams
A: Well, I started working extra to support my family, because I always had the goal to be an actress and director and everything, you know. A superstar that's what I wanted to be.
So, I started working as an extra, as a dancer, cause I was a dancer and, with Toni Basil, she is a choreographer and so I went to this interview. It was like the second interview that I went on and it was for 'Viva Las Vegas' and there was like 150 girls on that set and they picked 25 out of the 150 and then they took a whole bunch of pictures of us and everything and then they said they'd call us the next day. And two or three days later, I was a nervous wreck, and they called and they'd picked ten of us and those were the ten girls who went to Las Vegas to do 'Viva Las Vegas' and that's the first time I met Elvis.
Q: When was the first time you saw Elvis?
A: Oh the very first time, I forgot, because in 1956. I didn't meet him but in 1956, I think that was after 'Love Me Tender' came out and Elvis was gonna perform at the Armory and my friend and I, we were so excited to go and we went and everybody was screaming and all the girls and everything and then my friend wanted me to go back stage to get his autograph and I wouldn't go and she goes, 'Are you crazy?' and I go, 'I don't want to'. She goes, 'Why not?' I said, 'Because I'm gonna go to Hollywood and he is gonna be my friend'.
And she goes, 'You're crazy ...', because of my name Aidieme, 'You're crazy Aidieme, you're never gonna be a movie star and you should go back. At least you get to see him in person'. And I wouldn't do it.
But I took the handbill home with me with his picture on it and I kissed it, put it under my pillow that night and I said, 'I'll go to Hollywood and we will be friends'. And then I forgot about it and then comes 1963 and now I'm married with three kids and that's when I started working on 'Viva Las Vegas'. And, after they picked us, because we were supposed to bring one outfit for the casinos and stuff and a bikini. And, of course, I didn't have any money to buy a new bikini and there was this neighbor that had just come from the French Riviera and as I was leaving she gave me her bathing suit and I didn't even look at it, I just put it in my bag.
And, when on the first day of shooting, they said to come out with the bathing suits on, and I put it on and it was really tiny. I was horrified, but I didn't have any other one.
So, when I got on the set, everybody was talking about the, [my] bikini and everything and I was at the table where they had all the doughnuts and everything on the set and I had this big old chair I was about to bite it and I felt someone look me and I turned around and there was Elvis looking straight at me. And then the director yelled and says, 'We're gonna get an x-rating with that bathing suit, so you'll have to go change it'. So they called the wardrobe and I had to go back and change the suit.
And Elvis just walked off with all these guys following him. And I thought I was gonna die. He was so gorgeous, my God! When I came back with the other bathing suit, they immediately put me right next to him and then we just looked at each other and started laughing, we always would start laughing for no reason.
And that's how I first met him.
Q: So, you really became pals with Elvis.
A : Well, right away, because during the shoot and everything, they were going to have a party in his suite and he asked me, he said, 'I invite you to the party so we can all, everybody is gonna get acquainted'. And I didn't say anything, but I didn't go. And then the next day, he said, 'Well, why didn't you go?' And I said, 'Because I'm married and I don't go to any parties without my husband'. He goes, 'You're married'. 'And I have three kids'. He goes, 'What, my God, when did you have them when you were 12?' and then, towards the end of that day, he came up to me and he said, 'You know, I'm really impressed with this thing that you didn't come to the party' and he says, 'If you ever change, I'll lose faith in the human race'. That's what he told me.
Q: He used to pick on you and kind of tickle you.
A: Oh, God! All the time, he used chase me all over the set, try to tickle me on the knees on my stomach and all over, we were really close that way and in all the movies, cause I did nine with him from 'Viva Las Vegas' to, I think the last one was 'Speedway', I'm not positive. But it was 'Spinout', 'Clambake', 'Harum Scarum', 'Kissin' Cousins', 'Roustabout', 'Speedway' with Nancy Sinatra.
And every time we worked, he always made sure that I was next to him so that we could talk.
Q: There's a very famous shot of you with Elvis on a beach scene from 'Spinout', can you talk about that?
A : Oh, yeah. On that one. I was next to him again, always next to him and I had a red bikini on and the director said, 'Go change that bikini' and I I did. They gave me another one and he was upset about that cause now I stood out too much, so I had to again to change it and now it was the black and white one like in the picture, but it was kind of bulky so they had to tie it, but at least he was happy with that. And then the director noticed I had high heels on. And they were gonna put me in the back somewhere or I would have to take off the high heels. I started crying. I was so upset because my legs looked better with the high heels and I'm very paranoid - I don't wanna, so Elvis said, 'Let her keep the heels'. So they let me keep them.
And that's what happened on that set.
Q: How about 'Harum Scarum'?
A: 'Harum Scarum' there was a friend of mine, Suzanne Covington, she used to be Elizabeth Taylor's double and she got the job, and then when she got there, cause Elvis, he wanted to know where I was, and so they called me. And I came in 'cause I was already acting then. And, before, when I was an extra, it was different, I was Aidieme Romero, but then I think it was 'Speedway' that I got that itty, bitty part in 'Speedway', but I did it because it was an Elvis film, but I wasn't Aidieme Romero anymore, I was now Rita Rogers with red hair.
And now, I didn't want him to be chasing me and everything. I was real serious.
I was an actress now and he was still chasing me and everything and it was the scene where he is singing and I'm sitting in this kind of sports car and he takes me in his arms and when he's just about to kiss me, then he pushes me away and goes on singing. And I was so nervous and we'd get ready to do it and no one could see it but he would tickle me and make me blow the scene and we'd have to do it over and over again. But that's what I used to do with him on the other shows. I would just do it all the time and I'd had to do it over and over again and I'd always make him crack up and then they had to do it again. So, now he was doing it to me and he wouldn't stop and then Nancy took me to the side and tried to tell me how to do the scene. She didn't know he was doing that to me. He would do it so sneaky, nobody could see he was tickling me and then I'd start laughing and then the director would yell, 'Cut' and we'd had to do it again.
Q: How was it working with Nancy and Elvis on that?
A: Oh, it was wonderful. She was really something.
I remember that my 12 year old daughter, Jonelle, she had a mad crush on Elvis and so on all the movies she always wrote love letters to him and this one day, while on 'Speedway', 'cause I was working as an actress then, so it was just one day, it was that one day shoot, so, I took him the letter and he read it. There were a few extras around and he read the letter and he was very impressed with her letter and he said, 'Why don't you bring her on the set?' And I said, 'What about all the restrictions that nobody could come on the set'. He said, 'We'll figure out something, just bring her tomorrow'. And so I did, I brought her and outside the stage door was Nancy's dressing room and some other dressing rooms and so Jonelle made friends with Nancy and she was picking up everything for her while we waiting for the Colonel to leave and then as soon as the Colonel left, Elvis came out the stage door and he bent down and put his arms around Jonelle and kissed her on the forehead and then he had to go back in and she was real cool, but the minute he went back in she screamed bloody murder. She was so excited. She's never gotten over that.
Q: How was it working with Elvis and Shelley Fabares?
A: Oh, she's really a nice, nice, nice person, Shelley.
And actually Shelley Fabares and myself and, Oh God, Dean Martin, we had a tap dancing group together, the three of us. 'Cause I made friends with her on that set and after all, when I became an actress and everything, that's what we did, we had a little tap dancing thing, but it was wonderful working with him and her. Elvis used to like, 'cause I always next to him, he used to always start telling me things. How he felt about, how he missed his mom and things like that and we were always worried about getting old. I was looking for creams and things. And there was this one cream that I found that was called Formula M and it was supposed to keep you young and everything and I heard that he bought a whole case of it.
Q: What else did you talk about with Elvis?
A: Well, mostly it was about that. He was real concerned about people, relatives coming that he had no idea who they were. We would be off to the side and we'd be holding hands and he'd be telling people that come out of the woodwork and 'They're my cousins' and, 'I don't know what to do. I don't know what they want'. 'Everybody wants something, but sometimes I don't know what they want'. And he would tell me things like that and about his mom. It was mostly about his mom that he talked about. He asked me a lot of questions about how I was with my children and he just liked the fact that I was real loyal to my husband and all that and he liked that and he was very into, keeping your word and loyalty. And we talked about Jesus a lot too.
Q: Did Elvis ever give you any books on spirituality?
A: No, no. We'd just always talk about it, and it was the 60s when we did all the films, but then after that I always went to Vegas when he was performing and visited him there and I had all the numbers to call whenever, 'cause he always said, if I ever needed anything, I always told him I never needed anything.
I was like very proud, you know, had a lot of pride and so, I was always gonna do it myself. He liked that, though.
He thought that was cool.
Q: How was it working with Ann-Margret and Elvis in 'Viva Las Vegas'?
A: I was so impressed and terrified on that set and I found that Ann-Margret really a very precious lady, and I could see the spark that those two had with each other. And we were always talking about that.
Q: Did you get to know Priscilla?
A: I did get to know Priscilla and talked to her when she would come on the sets. Yeah, and I called Priscilla a month before Elvis died and because I had read the book that was written about him, and I was really worried about him and I just had this funny feeling and I called her and she gave me some more numbers where I could reach him, but I didn't get to talk to him. I couldn't, I never did reach him the month before.
Q: When was the last time you saw Elvis?
A : Oh, God, it was in Las Vegas and I was in Santa Fe, New Mexico, finishing a film called 'El Salvaje' (The Great Gundown) and there was this girl named Micky Saint Clair that I had met at Dennis Hopper's house and she was a song writer from Memphis and her big dream was to meet Elvis and take him her tape. And I got her a job on 'El Sabahe' as an actress and she was real tall and lanky. She looked like a guy and, but a wonderful singer. And so we picked up my son. My son at that time was 12. We picked him up in Albuquerque and we drove down Highway 66 listening to Neil Young's 'After the Gold Rush', over and over and over and over again and then we got to this little motel where we stayed before we went to where Elvis was and he walked in and he couldn't believe it all the teddy bears and he was real impressed because we didn't have to stand in a long line. It was like a snake, all the people waiting and we just went right to the front and sat a table right in front and everything and then my son was really impressed that Elvis was singing right at me, he goes and there was the women fainting all over and after the show we had to go up to the suite, I wanted to give Elvis the tape and my son couldn't go and they wouldn't let him go so my son really got upset so anyway we went up to the suite and Micky got to meet him and that was the last time I had anything to do with Elvis.
When we walked in that night with Micky we started doing patty cakes, cause that's what we always did. So we did patty cakes and she got to meet him and she was so excited and gave Joe the tape, so Elvis could listen to it later and then Elvis was tired, he went to bed and we went back downstairs and my son was really mad so I started yelling at him. I was so upset when we were in the coffee shop and pretty soon I get paged.
And it was Elvis. And he said, 'Would you leave your son alone and quit yelling at him'.
So, all the way in the car after that, my son, 'What did he say again, mom?'
Q: You wore a ring for Elvis?
A: Yeah. You know, cause he would've loved this ring. Don't you think?
Q: What is the fondest memory you have of Elvis?
A: Those were some of the happiest days of my life, the 60s when everybody was crazy out there, but I was, working seems like every day on some movie with him, because it was nine movies, altogether.
Q: On the sets, how was Elvis' sense of humor, anything specific you remember?
A: Oh, God! I don't remember specifically, but a lot of them. I mean, he was like always laughing and carrying on, and, you know, messing up, we had to do the scene over and over again, cause he didn't like the movies at all. So we didn't take them seriously.
Q: Do you remember the fireworks and water gun fights?
A: Oh, that too. A lot. And chasing, like I said, chasing and trying to grab in, you know, acting like little kids. But you know what I was impressed about with Elvis is that when Lance LeGault would in go and do the dance and we'd rehearse it and rehearse it and rehearse it with Lance, and Elvis would just be there watching, and in one take he could do all the choreography within one take, just from watching Lance.
I was so amazed with that. I couldn't believe it.
Q: How many times did you see Elvis perform, was in Vegas?
A: It was in Vegas, yeah, when I went. God, about six or seven, eight times.
Q: Where were you when you found out Elvis died?
A : Well, the night before he died, I was with a girl named Mary Nighthawk and this guy named Paul Rosenberg and his father owned the Mann's Theaters and we were up at Ronnie Blakley's, it was a hotel on Sunset and we were up at her place partying and I got my little book out and 'I need to call Elvis' you know, 'I want to call Elvis, cause something's wrong'. And they wouldn't let me and Mary Nighthawk took my phone book away from me and all night long and I didn't let up. I wanted to talk to him. Let me call him. They wouldn't let me call him.
So, Paul took me home and I lived in this one little room apartment in West Hollywood to stay with me because I was just so distraught and I think the book stayed with Mary Nighthawk because I couldn't call him when I got home, but I wanted to call him and I kept talking about it. Well, I didn't sleep all night.
Around noon, my ex-husband called me and told me Elvis had died and I freaked out because I felt that I would've been able to, they would've gone looking for him if I had called, you know, to get him to come to the phone or, I don't know. I mean, you always think, what ifs, you know.
Q: You remained friends with some of Elvis guys?
A: Yeah. I always stayed friends with Joe Esposito and I was always calling him or he was calling me and I was real happy 'cause Joe used to always go to my children's shows 'cause my son is a performer and so is my daughter. And, I always stayed close with him.
Q: Did he give you encouragement for your career?
A: Yes. We talked about acting a lot. And he thought it was real cool. We talked about acting.
Q: Did you think Elvis knew how big and loved he was?
A: I don't think so. I don't think he fully realized who he really was.
Q: Do you think he was searching?
A: I think so. He was in conflict about things.
That thing with Priscilla really was a thing with him. But, mostly his mom, he talked about a lot. He really, really missed her. He felt like everything was gone because she was gone.
Q: So the loss of his mother and the divorce, that really got to him?
Q: Would he talk to you about that?
A: Yeah, but, you know, I can't. I mean, he talked to me a lot about that, I can't say all those things. I wouldn't. He told me stuff that I'm sure the world would love to know, but I can't do that, and I'll never do it.
Q: Why is it that Elvis is so popular now?
A: Because I think he was an innocent. You know, and he was real.
Q: How Elvis was, like how would you describe him to someone who never met him?
A: Oh, I don't know. How would you describe God?
Q: Thank you very much.
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