Tag Archives: elvis presley

From Schlock to Rock: The Unbelievable Saga of Dolores Fuller

My friend Bill West and I will soon begin hosting a television show in Santa Clarita introducing films made in the area.

A lot of schlocky, MST3K-type, low-budget horror and science-fiction films were shot up here, which is good for us, because we’re both big fans.

While tossing around ideas for our first shows, Bill brought to my attention that Dolores Fuller had died just a few days ago.

Fuller was one of the members of the angora sweater-wearing auteur Ed Wood’s “acting” troupe, as well as his one-time girlfriend. She was portrayed by Sarah Jessica Parker in Tim Burton’s incredible 1994 biopic Ed Wood.

I’ve long been intrigued by the story of Dolores Fuller. She was born Dolores Eble in Indiana in 1923, and after coming west, landed a bit part in Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night as an 11-year-old.

As an adult, she worked behind the scenes in television for Queen For A Day and The Dinah Shore Show, before meeting Wood in 1952, when she tried out for a role in one of his films.

The two fell in love and she began appearing in his movies, most notably in 1953’s Glen or Glenda?, a film based on Wood’s closeted transvestitism. Wood’s cross-dressing would eventually doom the relationship, but not before Fuller appeared in Wood’s Jail Bait in 1954, and in the deliciously bad Bride of the Monster the following year.

After splitting with Wood, Fuller learned that there were few opportunities in Hollywood for a Z-movie queen who wanted to advance up the alphabet to choice roles in better productions.

So, she became a songwriter for some guy named Elvis.

Fuller’s road from schlock to rock started when she asked her friend Hal Wallis for a part in Presley’s Blue Hawaii. Instead, Wallis – who earned countless fortunes producing Presley’s films – hooked her up with a composer, and Fuller ended up co-writing Rock-a-hula, Baby, which Elvis performs in the film.

Fuller would eventually write a dozen songs for Presley’s films during the 60s, as well as other tunes that were recorded by another member of music’s royal family – Nat “King” Cole.

She appeared for years at autograph shows and Ed Wood film fests before passing away in Vegas on May 9 at the age of 88.

With luck, Bill and I will find a local connection with Glen and Glenda? so that we can present the film to an unsuspecting Santa Clarita Valley audience.

Should this happen, we’ll leave it to you to decide who looked better in angora – Dolores or Ed.

The President & the King

Meeting a king is no big deal for a president, but when the “King of Rock and Roll” shows up at the White House asking to come inside … that is a big deal!

This actually happened forty years ago today, when Elvis Presley, traveling under the name “Col. Jon Burrows,” walked up to the White House, presented the guards with a five-page handwritten letter, and asked to meet with President Nixon.

The story begins three weeks earlier when Presley was in Palm Springs hanging out with Vice President Spiro Agnew (huh?!) and decided he wanted to enlist in the “War On Drugs.” He soon found himself flying to Washington in the company of California Senator George Murphy (huh?!) writing the letter he would later present to the White House on American Airlines stationery.

In it, Presley stated that he was fully aware of the “communist brainwashing techniques” that were eroding America and offered to report back on a host of America’s enemies, stating “the drug culture, the hippie elements, the SDS, Black Panthers etc., do not consider me as their enemy, or as they call it The Establishment. I call it America and I love it.” He hoped to be made a “Federal Agent At Large” by Nixon, a position that didn’t officially exist.

The letter was passed to David Chapin, one of the president’s aides, who wrote a memo to Nixon’s Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman recommending that Nixon meet with Presley later that same day. The White House then called the Washington Hotel, where Elvis was staying with two of his bodyguards, to offer the invitation. At the time of the call, Presley was at the FBI Headquarters hoping to meet with J. Edgar Hoover (huh?!) but left for the White House when the invitation to the Oval Office arrived.

Presley was escorted in to meet the president, but was barred by the Secret Service from presenting him with the chrome-plated World War II .45-caliber pistol that he brought along as a gift. He then spread out his own collection of police badges on the president’s desk and asked for an FBI badge of his own, which the president okayed. The two men spoke of ways Presley could help the president’s efforts in thwarting the radicals, and Elvis even took a few shots at the Beatles, who he felt were spreading an “anti-American” message. A few pictures were taken of the meeting, which have since become some of the most requested photographs in the entire National Archives collection. After an awkward hug between the two men (and again, huh?!), the Presley party was given a tour of the White House and served lunch. At the conclusion of their visit, “The King” got his presidential Christmas present in the form of his new badge.

Nixon sent a letter to Presley on December 31, thanking him for the visit, and for the gift, which is now on display at the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda.

Elvis, of course, died of a drug overdose in 1977 at the age of 42.

Nixon and Presley. Just about the only Christmas-time pairing in history weirder than that Bing Crosby/David Bowie duet.

Damn the Torpedoes! Tom Petty is 60!

Tom Petty, who turns 60 today, from 1976.

Some memories seem encased in temporal bubbles that keep them outside the normal flow of time. For me, this usually seems to be events that happened during high school. One of them was the appearance of Tom Petty on the music scene. It seems like yesterday, but when you do the math, you discover that it was over 30 years ago.

How can that be?!

Wasn’t he just “damning the torpedoes?” And howling to “Full Moon Fever?” And traveling with the Wilburys?

Nope. All those things were decades ago. As was Petty’s birth. Six decades ago, in fact, on October 20, 1950.

If you have ever wondered which current rock and roll superstars decided to go into music careers after seeing the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show, one of the answers is Tom Petty. This happened four years after Tom, as a 10-year-old, met Elvis Presley on the set of Follow That Dream near his home in Gainesville, Florida. These two events made a lasting impression on young Petty, who went on to form bands with a few fellow Gainesville residents, including Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench, that would later morph into the “Heartbreakers” when Tom went solo in the late 70s. Their first album was called simply Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers in 1976, which produced the hit singles, “Breakdown” and “American Girl.” The group has been going strong ever since.

Along the way, Petty, with the Hearbreakers and occasionally as a soloist, has sold over 60 million records and woven his sound into the fabric of American pop radio. In 1988, Petty was able to repay former-Beatle George Harrison for helping forge his future all those years ago, by joining Harrison’s supergroup, The Traveling Wilburys.

Petty, along with the Heartbreakers, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002 and is currently on tour promoting Mojo, the group’s twelfth studio album, which debuted in June at #2 with 125,000 sales its first week.

Not bad for an old guy.

It’s About “Buddy” Time

If I could borrow Mr. Peabody’s Wayback Machine for a day, I’d be tempted to set the dial to October 15, 1955 – 55 years ago today – and head for Lubbock, Texas. On that day, a young headliner named Elvis Presley played shows in two clubs in the Lubbock area – Fair Park Coliseum and the Cotton Club – with soon-to-be legend Buddy Holly as his opening act.

Holly, who had recently graduated from Lubbock High School, was a regular at the Cotton Club, where he was often let in free by the owner’s daughter. The club was unique at the time in that it was a West Texas roadhouse that was “blind to race, color, or musical genre.” This cross-pollination of styles greatly influenced Holly. One of the acts he saw the previous April was Presley, who had created a following in the South from the Louisiana Hay Ride radio program. On seeing the future “King,” Holly immediately changed his musical style from Country-based to the new genre of Rock and Roll.

A few months later, nineteen-year-old Holly and his partner Bob Montgomery, performing under the name “Buddy and Bob,” opened for Presley (Johnny Cash was another of the opening acts). It was thrilling for Holly to be on stage with his idol, and the excitement would only compound when he caught the eye of a talent scout that night from Decca Records and ended up in Nashville a few months later cutting his first demos. (Incidentally, Decca would misspell Buddy’s last name, dropping the “e” from Holley. Buddy would perform under the new spelling for the rest of his too-short career.)

The Fair Park Coliseum still exists, but the original Cotton Club closed down several years ago. It had a wall that all of the performers who played there signed, but some moron later painted over it when it was converted into an adult book store. It has since been reopened as a performing hall.

It was recently announced that Holly will finally be given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on September 7, 2011. The date would have been Holly’s 75th birthday, and comes over 52 years after his death in a small plane crash, along with early rockers Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson.

Holly and Presley were two of the original ten performers inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986. With his Walk of Fame tribute, he will once again share the stage with Presley, who already has a star at 6777 Hollywood Boulevard.