"The picture of Daddy with Elvis" is what my family calls the 1961 photograph of the King and my father, the late Tom Donahue. In the photo, Elvis has slicked hair and that slightly sneering smile of his. He's wearing a dark suit and a tie. My father is standing next to him.
Also, in the photo, which was taken at the old Hotel Claridge, are Col. Tom Parker and a couple of my dad's business associates at Paramount, where my dad was a salesman at the time. I've never seen the photo published anywhere, so I thought the 35th anniversary of Elvis' death was a good time to share the picture and some memories of growing up an Elvis fan.
The picture was taken on Feb. 25, 1961, which Tennessee Gov. Buford Ellington and Memphis Mayor Henry Loeb had declared "Elvis Presley Day." Elvis performed two charity shows at the old Ellis Auditorium.
The event shown in the photo was a special $100-a-plate luncheon at the Claridge. Elvis was given a plaque and a diamond-studded watch, which honored his record sales of more than 75 million.
My dad was at the luncheon because Elvis was a Paramount star at the time. Before he became branch manager, my father was an "exhibitor" or salesman for Paramount, which meant he traveled around the Mid-South selling Paramount movies to the theaters. All the major movie companies, including Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Warner Brothers and 20th Century Fox, had offices in Memphis.
The exhibitors tried to push their movies to the theaters in small and big towns. "Blue Hawaii" was the big Elvis movie that year, but we saw them all. My family used to get into the movies for free.
I don't remember my dad saying much about meeting Elvis at the Claridge. He did tell us about sitting next to Elvis' father, Vernon Presley, at some event where food was served. They were eating fried chicken. Presley turned to my dad and said, "I love grease."
My brother Tom and I were Elvis fans. We had a lot of those early singles with the young Elvis sounding a little nasal in "Love Me Tender" and echo-y on "Heartbreak Hotel." My favorite Elvis songs to this day are "Old Shep," a tune about a boy and his dead dog, and the rousing "Let Me" from the movie "Love Me Tender."
We watched Elvis on "The Ed Sullivan Show," but we actually got to see him in person on stage in 1957 at the old Russwood Park. My dad loaded us all, including my mother, brother and baby sister, into the company car, which usually was a Chevy, and we went to see the King. My memory is Elvis wearing a baggy green suit. The actress Susan Hayward also was on the bill, but I don't remember seeing her.
I do remember the year we got a Christmas card from Elvis. I'm sure it was a mass mailing to his business associates, but nobody I've asked, including his buddy George Klein, remembers this card. It was a regular Christmas card, but inside was a perforated record that you punched out. It was a recording of Elvis wishing everyone a "Merry Christmas." We put it on the record player. When my father got home from work, we told him Elvis was at our house. We turned on the record player and Elvis began to talk. It was like he was hiding in the living room.
I finally thought I was going to meet Elvis when my dad took us to one of the King's private movie showings at the old Memphian theater. I had a pack of peppermint Life Savers in my pocket, so I rehearsed what I was going to say when I was introduced: "Elvis, want a mint?" But Elvis never showed up.
The King is dead, but he still resonates with my family. The picture of Elvis in his Army uniform that my brother painted for the cover of the 1977 Liberty Bowl program is the best portrait of Elvis I've ever seen. My sister, Kathy McLallen, conducts Elvis tours. And just about every year I cover the Elvis tribute artist contests, which have grown from one competition to several.
Still, I've never heard an Elvis tribute artist perform "Old Shep" or "Let Me" on stage.