Interview with Susan Henning

By: David Adams
Source: Elvis Australia
June 10, 2018

Susan Henning was born in North Hollywood, raised in the San Fernando Valley, the blonde, tan, blue-eyed California girl epitomized the Healthy All American girl. She won 'Miss Teen USA' in 1965. Susan appeared in Elvis' movie, 'Live A Little, Love A Little' and says her all-time favorite was the 1968 'Elvis Special' where 'Elvis and I came together again igniting our chemistry to thrill the fans'.

Q: When did you first meet Elvis?

A: I first met Elvis on the set of one of the film, 'Live A Little, Love A Little'. I was topless and the bottom half of me was a mermaid.

Q: Did you get to talk to Elvis much on the set?

A: They had to get me in position with a wheelchair because I couldn't walk with my tail fin. And I was in position and then Elvis had come onto the set and we waved to each other and we were introduced from a distance. And that was really our introduction. I was sort of incapacitated with my tail and wheeled about, and he had his own dressing room, and we didn't do much talking on the set. It was after the filming that we were introduced.

Q: Do you recall your lines in the film?

A: I remember my co-star beside Elvis was a big whale. And I remember I had a jelly doughnut and coffee, and he was trying to photograph me, and I was complaining. And this huge whale jumped up out of Marine World and ate my little jelly doughnut. So it was pretty much just a pain to him and the whale was a pain to me and not too much dialogue.

Q: So when you finally were officially introduced to Elvis, can you tell us about that?

A: Elvis number one man Joe Esposito came to the dressing room and knocked on the door and said, 'Elvis would like to meet you'. And I said, 'Certainly, of course'. And we were introduced, and he asked if we could take a ride at the particular Sea World where we were at they had a tall tower. And it went way up above and turned a 360 and you saw the ocean view. And the three of us, Joe and Elvis and myself, went up there. And we spun around in the tower and it was really wonderful. We talked and got to know each other. I think there was sparks that flew, and we both enjoyed each others personality and just enjoyed each other. So there had to be more to come after that.

Q: Did you get to see him any more during the filming?

A: I think that was it.

Q: You were also in the 68 special. How did you get the part in the Bordello scene?

A: The 68 special, that was the second time I saw Elvis. And I don't know that he knew I had just interviewed at NBC and got the part of the virgin girl of the night, to say it politely. At the time I guess hopefully I've maintained an element of naivete, but it was just another interview that NBC was looking for someone to play a dance scene with Elvis. And I wasn't really a dancer per se, but I guess I had the innocent look at the time. And I did the interview and got it. And when I walked into the room we were to practice and rehearse the dance, he had his back to me. And he had his little macho pose, and I think I had a pair of short shorts on. And I thought, 'Oh well, there's Elvis, we're gonna have fun'. So I remember walking up and sticking my leg between his leg and kinda doin' a little can-can and his favorite slogan was, he looked down and went, 'My boy, my boy'. And we hugged and it was fun to see him again, it had been almost a year.

Q: When Elvis first saw you at NBC, did he remember you right away?

A: Well he first saw my leg. And then when he turned around, yeah. There was definitely a charisma when we were together up in that sky tower. In fact, when I met him, the first time, I was actually engaged to a wonderful man, he got the third place Mr. California. A very handsome, tall, dark and, and I remember I was attracted to Elvis and it really bothered me cause I thought, if I'm true to this man, and I remember telling my fiancée, 'There's a guy that I am interested in, I think maybe we should think what we're doing, because if I'm truly that infatuated with you, I shouldn't be looking at another man'. I didn't tell him who it was. But definitely, there was the infatuation that budded at the movie and continued on.

Susan Henning and Elvis Presley 1968
Susan Henning and Elvis Presley 1968.

Q: How long a workday did you work with Elvis at that time?

A: I think the bordello scene was probably just a couple days. I know I was there for most of the tapings, I know it wasn't when I was through. At that time I think I was a support system, I was down on the side and he'd smile and I liked to be with him on the off time.

Q: Is there anything about shooting the special that stands out in your mind?

A: People have said, 'What did you think, all the stories'. I feel very privileged that I think I got to know him at a time when I can honestly say, I met one of the most beautiful human beings, and when you say not fake, certainly he could perform, and when the cameras were rolling, he performed. But offstage, what a beautiful person, how honest, real, humble. How few men are humble like he was. And I think it was just a beautiful time in his life. There were no drugs. There was no nothing. It was just a man doing his job, looking for some fun when he was off camera.

Q: So was there a little romance blooming?

A: Oh sure. You know he was, I think, I started in the business when I was six, and at that time I met him I was probably 19 or 20. And having dated many of the stars of my era, going way back, Jimmy Caan when we were all budding. I wasn't enamored so much with who he was as who he was as a person. And I was so attracted to just his down-home, it seemed like so many of the men of Hollywood were, either I was seen as just a body or a blonde, or a self-satisfying toy. Girls were not thought of too greatly then. And I think Elvis really looked through all that. I felt like he was looking into who we were, what did you like to do, what were your interests. And I think he was searching too. And, there was a real, I think wholesome connection. And certainly a physical attraction.

Susan Henning, Miss Teen USA, 1965
Susan Henning, Miss Teen USA, 1965.

Q: What do you think Elvis was searching for?

A: I thought about that, and I know at times we had talked about the Bible. And I think he knew there was something more. But I think when you're in the business, you're never quite satisfied with what it gives. There were times when I would cry that nobody loved me for anything but my body. And it was what I presented. And I think he had a restlessness of an inner peace. And he had so much to give, but I think he was looking for maybe a peace that God might have given him, and I do think he had the Lord in him. But I think it was difficult to find in the circumstances he was in.

Q: How long did you see Elvis?

A: I don't remember how long it was, we did the special, and then we did a couple trips together. At the time you are just who you are and you're dating and you don't really, so my time is sketchy. I think it was probably over a period of a year, maybe a year and a half.

Q : What type of things did you and Elvis do, did he take you to the movies?

A: No, no, I met him one time in Arizona we went, and I think a lot of his fun, since he was so much out was just to be in. And we would really just stay in the room, and that sounds all perverted, but I mean, you can have a lot of fun in the room besides doing what people might think. I mean, just talking and, he loved to get into deep thoughts of, and he loved to eat. And then there was a trip in Las Vegas, and I think one time it was with a group of guys, and we all sat around, it was in a couch and there was a table, and they had the guitars and it was just bashing. And that was just fun. I think he loved fellowship, he loved to be the center of attention. But he loved to be surrounded by friends or people that he enjoyed.

Q: Did Elvis tell you about any plans that he had for going on the road or anything?

A: Well I knew he was gonna start Vegas. And when he started that is when our relationship, I did go on to get married, he went on his way and I went mine. So I met him, I feel at a beautiful time when he was just a precious person, and what he did after, I really don't have knowledge of.

Susan in an advertisment for Pepsi
Susan in an advertisment for Pepsi
Q: Did Elvis show a keen interest in you and your career? How would you encapsulate your relationship with Elvis?

A: I think he enjoyed times when he wasn't on stage, and so often if he was in the public, he was on stage. So the private times were the times he could let down. One of my greatest fun times was to comb his hair, and do it in different ways that he had never worn it. And he thought that was so funny that I would comb his hair in bangs, or part it down the center like a butler, or, we just played with each other. You could do fun things, you could have deep talks with him, he was very articulate. And certainly we talked about the future, I think we had different goals for each of our futures. I don't think we would have been harmonious. I had been 19 years in showbiz, and I was ready to phase out, and he was definitely committing and going deeper. And, that's opposite.

Q: Was that really the reason why you stopped seeing each other?

A: No. I think he had a multitude of women and I think I was one of, I don't know, one of many probably. But there's a lot of wonderful women out there, and later he found different women. But I think both of us enjoyed our time and we both sort of mutually went two different ways.

Q: When was the last time you saw Elvis?

A: I think it was in Las Vegas. It was right when he was really, cause it was right after that that so many photos came out with him in his white suit. And I was not in that era. I was right before that.

Q: Why do you think Elvis is so loved, especially after all these years?

A: Because he wasn't the average, he was so above the normal person. I think he was intelligent. I think his humility, but look at his voice. The tremendous range, his musical abilities. He was gorgeous. He was just gorgeous. And he, I mean some men have good looking, some have good personalities, he had it all. I don't know anything that Elvis didn't have.

Q: Is there any particular thing you'd like people to know about Elvis?

A: I was very surprised, he used to love to recite the Lord's Prayer. And I was a Christian in my early childhood days, Mom said we had a Bible on our dining room table, or on our living room table. And she said more or less were Christians. And I didn't really know, and I think Elvis was one of the little budding seeds in when we would have our spiritual talks. But I had no clue that an actor would have a love for God or even want to talk about the Bible. That was a surprise, a very pleasant surprise, and he had a part in turning my life around.

Q: Do you have one particular special moment about Elvis that you treasure?

A: Hmm. I think the particularly precious moments are precious cause you don't say them. And certainly there are some very special moments.

Q: Any you can say?

A: I loved when I could get my way. Sometimes he'd have things that he'd say, I don't do that. And I said, 'Well, I can't do it if I don't do it'. And then I play my games. It was fun to have him be respectful.

Q: In those outtakes, you can see the connection between you and Elvis.

A: Yeah, now that, there was definitely, it was just the right time at the right place, we both were looking for each other and found each other.

Q: That was great. Thank you.

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