Today, August 16, 2017, marks the 40th anniversary of Elvis Presley's death. I had met him accidentally in 1967, along with a dozen or so others, as he was trying to enter his dentist's office in Palm Springs, California. Despite being besieged by people out of the blue, he was gracious and funny...and a bit flirtatious.
Ten years later, on August 16, 1977, I was working for Dick Clark in Hollywood when the phones began ringing and ringing—reporters calling with the news that Elvis had died, and could they get a quote from Dick Clark?
As I fielded those calls, I recalled the day ten years earlier when...
I Met The King of Rock 'n Roll
I accidentally met Elvis in 1967 in Palm Springs, California. I was 15 years old, and had just finished marching in a parade with the high school drill team and band. It was terribly hot that late spring day, and my girlfriends and I were hanging out after the parade, walking down a shady median. All of a sudden, one of my pals shrieked, "There's Elvis Presley!"
I looked across the street and there he was, with two beefy bodyguards, trying to walk into a dentist's office. I say "trying" because a small crowd had gathered around him. My girlfriends and I ran across four lanes of traffic to join that crowd. I don't think we even looked for oncoming traffic—we just ran across the street, a gaggle of squealing teenage girls—to see The King of Rock 'n Roll.
Right Before His 1968 Comeback
This was right before his comeback in 1968—dang, he looked good. Tan, healthy, trim. He was very cordial, charming even, to the people in the crowd, signing things they handed to him, saying you're welcome and thank you very much.
After several minutes, he thanked everyone and said he needed to go inside to see his dentist, I, being an overly excitable 15-year-old, yelled from the outskirts of the crowd, "Please, Elvis, just one more signature!"
He looked over the heads in the crowd, smiled at me, and said, "Okay, just one more."
The Crowd Parted...
And let me through and I stood there, looking up at Elvis Presley. My God, Elvis Presley. Gobsmacked doesn't even begin to describe how I felt. He asked me what I wanted him to sign and...I realized I had nothing. So I turned around and said, "Sign my back."
I meant the back of my shirt, but he lifted my hair and placed the pen on the back of my neck and started writing...
Elvis's Memorable Words to Me
"You're too sweaty for me to sign your back," he teased.
Yep. I'll always remember how Elvis Presley told me I was too sweaty.
"I meant my shirt," I rasped, my heart pounding so hard I thought I'd pass out. "Sign the back of my shirt."
I could feel the pressure of his pen on my back...as he wrote he spelled out, "T-h-e b-a-c-k o-f m-y s-h-i-r-t" as though he were signing my exact words.
I turned around and said, "Is that what you wrote?"
And he gave me that curled-lip grin and said, "No, honey, I wrote my name."
And he went inside the dentist's office.
The Shirt Tale
I kept that shirt for years...sometimes I'd take it out of my closet and look at his signature. I moved so many times over the years (I moved three times that first year in Hollywood alone), and somewhere in the midst of all the moves, I lost that shirt. I've sometimes wondered if anyone ever found it and wondered why "Elvis Presley" was scrawled on the back in large cursive letters. They probably thought it was a joke—well, unless they compared a sample of his real signature against it.
August 16, 1977
In my early twenties, I moved to Los Angeles with the dream of working in film production. Within two years, I was working for Dick Clark who at the time was producing a TV show for ABC. Another TV show, Barney Miller, filmed on a nearby stage, and the actors would often stroll over on their breaks and chat with us. I didn't own a television so I wasn't all that sure who these actors were. Probably a good thing because I would have been gobsmacked all over again. (I know, what kind of Hollywood film production employee doesn't own a TV? Well, I didn't have one for years and never missed it, although I enjoyed watching TV at other people's homes. Years later, a boyfriend decided enough was enough and surprised me with a TV for my birthday.)
Back to working for Dick Clark. On August 16, 1977, our phones started ringing and ringing...Elvis had died. As I fielded calls, I looked back on that spring day when I'd accidentally met Elvis, amazed and saddened that here I was ten years later, juggling calls from reporters about his death.
Dick Clark's Significance to Elvis Presley
On the day Elvis died, reporters and others wanted to talk to Dick Clark because of his reputation for promoting, and making careers for, many musicians, especially on his former TV show American Bandstand (1956-1987) that brought rock 'n roll into millions of families' homes.
Interestingly enough, Elvis never appeared on American Bandstand, but that's because he was overseas in the Army when the show became a mega-hit. Clark, however, is credited with keeping Elvis's name burning bright in front of America's teenagers during those years via a series of telephone interviews with Elvis that were broadcast on American Bandstand. Fans, especially girl-fans, couldn't wait for their Elvis to come back to the States. You can read more about it here: How Dick Clark Helped Keep Private Presley Popular.
Forty Years Later
Now it's been 40 years since the day The King of Rock 'n Roll died. Cast members of Barney Miller have passed on, as has Dick Clark. I look back at that job and oddly enough, I can't recall much about my day-to-day job tasks that year for Dick Clark, but I vividly recall the day Elvis died.
"The Day I Met Elvis Presley" - All Rights Reserved by Colleen Collins. Do not copy, distribute, or otherwise use the content of this article without written permission by the author.