Elvis met the Beatles (as remembered by Priscilla Presley)
Some stars want to meet other stars. Some stars have to hang out with other stars. Not Elvis. I can’t remember him once telling the Colonel to arrange a meeting with anyone famous. He saw Hollywood as the home of phonies. He certainly felt out of place, which is why the minute the movie wrapped he was gone. One memorable evening, the Colonel arranged for Elvis to meet four famous people. But I believe it was the Beatles who were eager to meet Elvis, not the other way around. In fact, when John, Paul, Ringo and George walked in, Elvis was relaxing on the couch, looking at TV without the sound. He barely bothered to get up. Naturally he was curious about the Beatles. He respected them. Mostly he respected the way they had achieved their artistic freedom. He saw how they did whatever they liked to do. He appreciated their songs and especially their film ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ where their creativity and sense of fun came through so powerfully. ‘Help!’ was out or just about to be released. He also admired Bob Dylan and appreciated Dylan’s serious songwriting. But Elvis, like all iconic entertainers, was conscious of competitors. He understood that generational idols come and go, and that, for this new generation, the Beatles were the new idols. He viewed this whole world of music coming from England – the Beatles and Stones and the Dave Clark Five – with tremendous interest and I suppose some trepidation. He acknowledged their talent and energy – he told me so on many occasions – but he worried about losing popularity. And in 1965, no one was more popular than the Beatles. The night they arrived at our house on Perugia Way in Bel Air there were nearly as many security men outside as fans. This was definitely treated as a summit. The fact that Elvis greeted them with studied casualness didn’t mean he didn’t care. He did. He was simply affirming his role as Original King. The Beatles respected that role enormously. When they were escorted into our living room and finally greeted Elvis, all they could do was stare, especially John and Paul. Intimidation was written all over their faces. They couldn’t have been more humble. At first it was awkward. They looked to Elvis for an agenda. Clearly Elvis was running the show. But Elvis was simply content to recline on the couch and watch soundless TV. Was this going to be the extent of the evening’s activities? Thirty minutes or so into their visit, Elvis got up, put a song on the stereo, picked up his bass and began playing along with the music. It might have been something by Charlie Rich, I’m not sure, but it broke the ice. Out came the guitars and a jam session was under way. Paul was surprised Elvis played bass. The truth is that Elvis had been teaching himself bass for a while and, given his natural talent, was accomplished within no time. For the rest of the evening there was more music than talk. I don’t think Elvis asked the Beatles a single question and I know the Beatles were too overwhelmed to ask a question of Elvis. But they got along and made sweet music together. I regret that no one had a camera or tape recorder to record the historic moment. When it seemed Elvis was ready to retire, the evening came to an end, but not until we all enjoyed several hours of music and idle chatter. John and Paul invited Elvis to their place – they had leased a house in nearby Benedict Canyon – the next night. Clearly they wanted to maintain and extend this relationship. Elvis smiled and said, ‘We’ll see’. But I knew he had no intention of returning the visit. Elvis rarely went out in Hollywood, not even for show business royalty. Several of Elvis’ boys, though, took up the offer. When they returned they said that John wanted Elvis to know that without him there would be no Beatles. He was their first and best inspiration. Elvis liked hearing that, but even such a compliment wasn’t enough to invite them back.
Priscilla Presley Remembers (from ‘Elvis by the Presleys’)