Behind The Scenes | Elvis: That's The Way It Is by Elaine Christan
Source: From the book, 'And Then There Was Elvis'
January 10, 2024
By Elaine Christan, daughter of Virginia Coons
Director Denis Sanders Visits Our Home
Mom's recorded comments:
I didn't get to go to Las Vegas until August of 1970. At this time they were putting together the movie, That's The Way It Is. The director - [Mom let out a deep sigh of disgust] oh my - well they came out here to my house. They were visiting fans and trying to decide how to put different fans into the movie. When I eventually saw what they did in the movie with the fans I was glad that they didn't include us, because I think they made the fans look foolish. They visited my friend Sue and she told me that she had actually talked to them for four hours telling them the good that the Elvis fan clubs did all around the world for charities, and a lot of the things that really would have interested people. Instead, at the end there, her cat walked into the scene so she picked her up and said, 'This is Tinkerbelle, she's an Elvis fan too', And THAT'S what they put in the movie. It made her look stupid!
But they were instrumental in getting us front row seats which we would have had to pay a fortune for aside from [what we paid for] our show tickets. When Elvis came out there on stage, he couldn't really see out into the audience past those lights. The spotlights were right in his eyes. When he came along the stage, to kiss fans at the side of the stage - he was only able to see them then. I hadn't seen him since the end of 1969 to talk to. During the show he got right by us, and when he got right by me - it really thrilled me, the way he did this, because he recognized me - and he said, 'Oh, hi! How are ya?' It just meant everything to me. I really didn't think - you know - he kissed the young girls - so I really didn't think that - I was just glad he said hello or hi - then he reached down and bent over to kiss and I thought, well I'm not going to make him look foolish so I went ahead and kissed him. But it was the greeting that really touched me.
This is how our meeting with the director came about: In August Mom got a call from Tom Diskin. He said that the director of That's The Way It Is (TTWII) wanted to talk to and film some of the fans. He asked if it would be alright for him to give the director, Denis Sanders, our phone number and if Mom could give him the names of some other fans in the area. Mom had become, over the years, so involved with so many fan clubs, that you might say we sort-of had an unofficial one of our own. Sanders secretary called and made an appointment for him to come out and talk to Mom. He arrived in a chauffeured limousine (our neighbors must have wondered what was going on). He and his associate came in for about two hours. At first Sanders thought he would film my bedroom. I had Elvis posters all over it. Then he thought he would like to shoot some film of fans arriving in Las Vegas. He was going to rent a car and fasten a camera to it and film us driving up to the International Hotel. But that didn't happen either. What they did do was pay for one of our shows and seat us ringside!
Sanders did a very poor job of representing the fans. Like Jerry Hopkins, Denis Sanders just did not respect the fans. For example, there was that stupid clip he used of Sue with her cat; and that guy with those glasses - he admitted he wasn't much of an Elvis fan so why was he even in the film? And then there was the poor girl in the church. That was Mom's friend Linda. It was Sanders who wanted to film in her church and the minister agreed to let him. But Linda was horrified by the line of questioning Sanders pursued. He tried to get her to say - and in front of her minister no less - that she loved Elvis more than God. That is why she back peddled herself into a corner by saying she loved Elvis, but she didn't want to marry him. She loved him like a friend or a brother. I later heard that when Elvis saw the film at the studio he said, 'Why - What's wrong with me - Why wouldn't she want to marry me?' He was hurt by that, wondering why she would not ever think of him as someone who could be loved as a husband. I also think Sanders did a poor job of representing the Luxembourg Elvis Convention. Our friends who attended said that they wished he'd left it out altogether.
Now when it comes to Elvis, unlike Hopkins, Sanders represented Elvis well. At least Sanders did seem to respect Elvis. He just didn't get the fans. He made us all look like jerks. And I think that is why the DVD version of That's The Way It Is I has the fan clips edited out of the movie. This 'media' treatment of the fans would continue throughout Elvis' lifetime. The fans receive far more respect from the press these days than they did back then. Now that the press sees Elvis as an iconic figure the fans fare much better, Elvis was an iconic figure back then - the press just didn't know it yet.
What Sue had tried to get across to Sanders was that the fan clubs actually did things for charities in Elvis' name. A British fan club bought a seeing-eye-dog for the blind every year. That was very expensive to pay for all the training, etc. Elvis had set the tone for this by giving so much to charities himself. Aside from other charities Elvis gave to during any given year, he also gave to 25 Memphis Charities every Christmas (I know he did this in the early 1960s, I'm not sure if he continued this in the later sixties and seventies, but most probably he did). In 1963, for example, he gave a $1,000 check to each of the 25 charities. By today's standards that doesn't sound like much. But with inflation the current value of $1,000 in 1963 is a little over $8,000 (times 25, that's $200,000!). Sue tried to get across the good that Elvis, and in turn that his fans did - but Sanders was only interested in making a joke out of the fans. He may have laughed - we didn't.
August 14, 1970 - Las Vegas [TTWII]
By Elaine Christan, daughter of Virginia Coons
It was hard knowing Elvis was playing in Las Vegas and we, as a middle-class family of five, just could not afford to go see him. We had our memories of watching him film the 68 TV show, but he was constrained there. Our friends who did go to the 69 and Feb 70 shows just raved about how great Elvis' shows were. Unlike the shows we had seen at NBC these shows had no cue cards and no one running the show but Elvis! The press had re-proclaimed that Elvis was the 'King' of Rock 'n' Roll and it was a very exciting time to be an Elvis fan.
Director Denis Sanders had promised to give our family a complimentary Elvis show in Las Vegas for the help Mom had given him in contacting the fans. The plan was to see the August 14th dinner show. The trip to Las Vegas was 285 miles, which translated to 4.5 hours of driving with no stops. Mom and scraped together enough money for us to see the midnight show too, as since we had to pay for the International Hotel rooms that night anyway it would have been a shame to not see both shows. I was 16 now, and Mom was 47.
We drove to Las Vegas in Daddy's little Corvair. Arriving at the International Hotel was very exciting. Elvis photos were EVERYWHERE. Both the Colonel and MGM had plastered all the halls and entrances and even the elevators proclaiming Elvis was in town. The now famous sign outside the hotel was flashing Elvis' name and even the taxi cabs had Elvis ads on the sides of the cabs and on the top. We knew MGM had been filming for Sanders', Elvis, That's The Way It Is documentary, which seemed to really add to the excitement. First we had to deal with the logistics of standing in line to confirm our room reservations, and then standing in line to confirm our show reservations, and then we took an elevator up to MGM's office at the hotel. There they gave us a slip of paper so that we could go in on the invited guest line for the dinner show.
Despite our complimentary pass we just couldn't tip the rates that the Maître de, Emilio, expected. They split the five of us up and we had a choice of two seats close to the stage but not next to it and three seats closer but further on the side (way further, to one side of the long amplifiers that were on either side of the stage). Mom opted to be closer, so my sister and I went with her and my Dad and brother sat away from us. It was a disappointing arrangement for a family, but it was a free show so we were still grateful. As we settled in we realized how 'stuffed-in' the audience was. Not even 'elbow room', As I waited for the show to begin I rested my am on the stage, Elvis' stage!
Elvis came out to thunderous applause. He was wearing a white jumpsuit with silver ring-type studs on it and a red scarf around his neck. This jumpsuit came to be known as the Metal Eyelet jumpsuit. Elvis was dynamite! From our distance that jumpsuit looked pure white with no design. The lights shown off of it and it made his movements in the dark seem so mesmerizing. Once during the show he came over to where I was and sat down on the amplifier about five feet away and sang a song there! Then a women asked him to sing happy birthday to her little girl and he sang 'Happy, happy birthday, baby,' real bluesy.
I was disappointed when TTWII came out that they did not use any clips from this show. I have seen a photo of Elvis on stage where you can see my brother David in the audience. There is a photo of Elvis stepping over 'our' amplifier and another very dark photo that I think is Mom as Elvis gave her a kiss.
Between the shows we went up to our room, mostly so Mom could see if her cassette recording of the show came out. She played back the tape and it was blank! She was so upset. She didn't know what had gone wrong. The recorder was hidden in her large purse and there was always the chance of being searched and having your recording devices or cameras taken away. Elvis had sung the 'cattle call' at the dinner show and Mom wanted that so bad. She was determined to get a tape of the midnight show.
From our hotel window we could see that there was a flash flood out in the desert. Every once in a while lightening would flash and light up mountain ranges in the distance. It was one of the prettiest sights I have ever seen. But the high winds made the International Hotel sway and that was unnerving. I was told it was supposed to sway to withstand the winds, but that didn't seem like much consolation when you're nearly 20 stories up and the building starts moving!
We weren't in the room long as we had to rush downstairs to stand in line for the midnight show. When we got back down to the line for that second show it was already stretched way out passed the casino area and down the halls. We didn't even know if we were going to get in!!!
We sat in the third tier of the balcony for the second show that night, nearly center stage. Elvis wore a white jumpsuit with chains across the front and a red snakeskin belt. I have seen many times on internet sites that this red belt from the 8/14 midnight show was a macramé belt, but it was not. Elvis kidded about this red snake skin belt, he said it was 'hard to find a red snake, not too many of them hanging around', I believe it was the belt to the jumpsuit known as the Ladder Jumpsuit (worn during this engagement and on tour in San Francisco, CA).
Elvis was in a really goofy mood this show. He introduced himself as Johnny Cash, and then did a few verses of 'I walk the Line' and 'Folsom Prison Blues'. I was amazed at how much he could sound like Johnny Cash. (If you listen to Elvis during the Million Dollar Quartet sessions he impersonates a number of country singers and he was particularly good at imitating other singers.)
He seemed to be really enjoying this show, despite the cameras and the house lights being up so MGM could film him. He changed the words to the several songs and really had fun messing them up. He even did a few bars of 'Blueberry Hill' which he sang as follows: 'I found my thrill on Blueberry Hill, when they found my STILL, on Blueberry Hill', At the close of the show he even laid down on the stage and directed the orchestra with his foot!
Back in our room Mom quickly pulled out her cassette player to check the tape. Success! She got a really nice tape of that show. During the show I took a roll of 35mm film. I was using a 100mm lens and sneaking every shot. This was the first time I got to take photos of Elvis on stage. But when we developed them Elvis was very small in the prints.
When TTWII came out, we were disappointed that Sanders did not use film from either of these shows. We were told latter that MGM got us on film, but alas, we wound up on the cutting room floor. Thank God! After how dumb Dennis Sanders made the fans look we were glad to have been spared! Still, I would love to see a good shot of Mom getting a kiss from Elvis.
September 30, 1970 | Elvis at MGM
Having spent the September 26-27 weekend in Palm Springs, Elvis then returned to his home in the Trousdale Estates. For the next couple weeks he would drive to MGM, which although considered to be in 'Hollywood' is actually in Culver City, not too far from his home.
There was so much excitement now among the fans that Elvis was 'Elvis' again; touring and releasing chart toppers. Elvis was now so photographed everywhere he went that the folks close to him were expected NOT to take photos of him. Joe Esposito was the exception as he took photos for Elvis. Yet with all the excitement surrounding him now, even those close to him could not help but take a few photos once in a while. On these two pages are such photos taken at the front gate of MGM as he was talking with fans and signing autographs. Elvis was at MGM to view a screening of TTWII. I'm not sure what stage of production it was in at that time, but it was not released yet.
Our friend Judy was visiting us and we heard about this day and what a great mood Elvis was in. We heard he was going back to MGM to view TTWII on the studio lot the next day too, so that was that, Mom and Judy just had to go to the house in Trousdale to try and see Elvis before Judy went back home to Spokane, Washington.
Mom's Last Elvis Autograph
Back at MGM the next day, Elvis again stopped to sign autographs for the fans waiting at the main gate. He was there once again to view a studio screening of TTWII.
Mom and Judy left our house in the evening to drive to the Trousdale house hoping to see Elvis on his way home from MGM. As luck would have it, I was very sick with a cold AGAIN and Mom would not allow me to go with them. I was sixteen. I was heartbroken. I hadn't been up to the house since July of 1969, which was over a year ago. When Mom and Judy got home they told me all about seeing Elvis. I was so upset I didn't get to go. They told me Elvis came home very late in the evening and he was in the back seat. The car pulled into the driveway and stopped while the gate opened. Elvis was wearing a blue shirt and blue scarf and a black leather jacket.
Judy had a scrapbook she wanted Elvis to sign. He took time to look at it and sign it for her. He recognized Judy from the late sixties when she got to see him several times at Graceland. She ran a fan club from her home in Spokane, and Elvis always remembered the fan club folks.
Even though it was very late at night, there were other fans at the Trousdale gate. This night it was the regulars and there wasn't the usual pushing and shoving. Elvis stayed in the car, but spent more time with the fans than he did lately. He recognized all the fans there. It had to be a relief to him on the days that he realized that the people there were not going to act-up.
Mom had brought with her the latest album, the RCA Camden LP, Almost in Love. Elvis looked it over carefully, and then he signed the back of it for Mom.
One of the girls said, 'Oh look, they have U.S. Male in stereo', Elvis got that little grin on his face again, and he said, 'Now, how do you get a U.S. male in stereo?'
Funny thing about Elvis' signature is that Elvis usually brought the 'Y' in Presley back up to make a loop. In this signature he did not do that. With so many fake signatures now on eBay it is hard to tell sometimes if a signature is authentic. EP Enterprises claims to certify signatures, but frankly they get the information wrong on so many photos these days I'm not sure I would trust their certification. Two other reasons why it's hard to know the real thing from a fake: 1) is that Graceland received a lot of mail and a lot of requests for signatures. The secretaries that worked in the back office at Graceland would sign Elvis' name to photos for the fans and they were quite good at doing so, and 2) Elvis gave out a ton of signatures himself but often by signing something in the palm of his hand, or on his knee, or someone's back, etc. That he wrote on so many different types of surfaces while balancing items in so many different ways made his signatures less like each other than if they had all been signed at a desk. I have a signature where he signed the emulsion (picture) side of the photograph and the pen did not transfer any ink so the signature can only be seen if you hold the photo in such a way as to see the impression. The impressed signature is clear; it's just invisible except under certain lighting! So here is the signature from that night as Elvis balanced the Almost in Love LP on his knee; possibly hoping it wouldn't break!
'And Then There Was Elvis | A Superfan's Adventures in the Elvis World' is as good as promised, it is full of interesting stories and fantastic quality photos.
And Then There Was Elvis | A Superfan's Adventures in the Elvis World from Erik Lorentzen's KJ Consulting is a 400-page hardcover book containing the richly illustrated memoirs of superfan Virginia Coons. Virginia Coons was a die-hard fan, to the point of fanaticism, without ever really getting in the way. Over the years she built up contacts with people close to Elvis and the Colonel. Priscilla wrote her personal letters and Elvis himself had quite a bit of contact with her. Every written word tells a unique piece of history. Now her memoir can be read in this unique book and takes you to her experiences with Elvis and shows once again what he really was like as a person. It's like stepping into her shadow and seeing everything through her eyes. It holds so many fun-to-read stories, its incredible. And the photos are sensational. Highly Recommended.
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Never before have we seen an Elvis Presley concert from the 1950's with sound. Until Now! The DVD Contains recently discovered unreleased film of Elvis performing 6 songs, including Heartbreak Hotel and Don't Be Cruel, live in Tupelo Mississippi 1956. Included we see a live performance of the elusive Long Tall Sally seen here for the first time ever. + Plus Bonus DVD Audio.
This is an excellent release no fan should be without it.
The 'parade' footage is good to see as it puts you in the right context with color and b&w footage. The interviews of Elvis' Parents are well worth hearing too. The afternoon show footage is wonderful and electrifying : Here is Elvis in his prime rocking and rolling in front of 11.000 people. Highly recommended.
Tupelo's Own Elvis Presley DVD Video with Sound.