By John Curley
Darlene Perez, a curvy and beautiful brunette and a resident of Southern California, is a model and Priscilla Presley tribute artist who has long been interested in Elvis Presley’s music and life. Known in the Elvis fan community as Darling Presley, Darlene has worked very hard to keep The King’s music and memory alive. In this Q&A, Darlene discusses attending Elvis Week in Memphis last month as well as other Elvis-related topics.
It’s kind of unusual for someone that grew up in the 1980s to become such a big Elvis fan. How did you become interested in Elvis?
Darlene Perez: I thank my late Grandma Perez for introducing Elvis Presley into my life by way of lullabies. It’s fair to say I was her favorite grandchild, as Grandma doted on me all the time. She took care of me as an infant, and babysat me most of my childhood. She loved to sing to me while rocking me in her arms, or bouncing me on her knee. Having a houseful of teenagers in the 1950s, Grandma was exposed to rock n’ roll music from her children. She took an immediate liking to all the greats, especially Fats Domino and of course, Elvis Presley, who were her absolute favorites.
What was the first Elvis song that you remember hearing? And what effect did it have on you?
Darlene Perez: Ah, “Blue Suede Shoes”! Grandma loved to sing “Blue Suede Shoes” while happily bouncing me on her knee to the beat of the song. Grandma was so animated when she sang it, which made it such fun to watch her sing it and learn the words. She included me in all of her hand-clapping and finger-snapping. She had the biggest smile and enthusiasm with that number. I have great memories attached to “Blue Suede Shoes.”
Grandma used to rock me in her arms to ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight” and “Love Me Tender.” I easily could fall asleep to her serenades, very sweet. She always said Elvis had the most beautiful voice she ever heard.
What was the first piece of Elvis memorabilia that you bought?
Darlene Perez: I was always given Elvis memorabilia from family members growing up (i.e., shirts, books, and posters). However, the first piece I bought with MY own money? I believe it was my first vintage LPs at a swap meet. I was in junior high at the time. My parents gave me $20 to spend on whatever I wanted. I come from an antique-collecting family, so, naturally, I had an eye for collectibles. At that age, I had developed an interest in old records and enjoyed surfing through stacks of them at garage sales and swap meets.
This man had a lot of old junk at his booth, so to my surprise, when I looked under a certain table he had, I discovered an old crate filled with LPs. I thumbed through them, and like a needle in a haystack, found me some Elvis Presley. It was like finding gold!
They were G.I. Blues, Blue Hawaii, Aloha From Hawaii, and From Elvis in Memphis. The covers were damaged, but the records inside were pristine. I bought them for cheap and took them home and played them on my dad’s hi-fi. In fact, I still have them. I’ve since bought better condition ones, but I kept the ones I bought years ago, too.
What is the oddest Elvis collectible that you own?
Darlene Perez: Dare I say? Ha ha ha…
You went to Memphis last month for Elvis Week. What activities did you participate in during your time there? And what was the age range of the Elvis fans that you met there?
Darlene Perez: I participated in the usual Elvis Week activities: Tours, concerts, shopping, socializing. Unfortunately, this summer, the weather didn’t work in our favor. Our Pink Caddy outdoor event at the Overton Shell was cancelled due to unexpected rain. We attempted to bring back a recreated 1950s Elvis concert with one of the world’s best Elvis tribute artists. So to have it cancelled like that, because of rain, was a heartbreak.
It’s always exciting to see a healthy mix of generations present in Memphis to honor Elvis. There is no generation gap whatsoever. Honestly, you see newborns to seniors. You see families, friends, celebrities, tribute artists, etc. Everyone from all over the world, all ages, make the pilgrimage to Memphis for Elvis, simply because they are a fan. Elvis touched their life in some way. It’s amazing to observe this population in person. And it only validates how much Elvis is still loved and remembered.
How many times have you been to Memphis for Elvis Week?
Darlene Perez: This was my senior year. I’ve been to Memphis four years now, and I plan to every year for as long as I can.
What does it mean for a devout Elvis fan to attend Elvis Week?
Darlene Perez: Elvis Week is held on the anniversary week of his passing. However, it is a seven-day celebration of his outstanding life and career. The pinnacle of Elvis Week is of course, Vigil night, or the eve of the day he died.
For the devout fan, it’s a momentous opportunity to attend Elvis Week. First and foremost, the ability to visit Elvis Presley’s grave is truly sacred and special. And to stand in vigil line at Graceland, candle in hand, to pay respects to his memory…is one of the highest expressions of love.
When in Memphis, the devout fan has the pleasure of indulging in everything Elvis. All your senses are tickled pink because you arrive in Elvis-land. Elvis is in abundance which means one happy fan, a kid in a candy store.
You can visit all the places you only read about and seen photos of: Where Elvis lived, worked and played. Places he frequented and those where he would retreat. You can enjoy concerts from sunrise to sunset. There are a dozen daily charitable Elvis-activities to participate in, sponsored by fan clubs and organizations. You enter stores filled with Elvis music, while shopping for Elvis items. You eat the southern foods Elvis enjoyed in Elvis decorated diners. I could go on and on…
Elvis Week is a rare opportunity to be surrounded by people who relate to your Elvis fandom, people who truly “understand” and “get it.” Hundreds of people flock to Memphis, people who never met before, but because of the common interest in Elvis Presley, friendships are instant and blossom. Elvis brings people together. You always return home with an even bigger extended Elvis family. It’s magical.
You told me that you made a special outfit for Elvis Week. Could you discuss that a bit?
Darlene Perez: Yes, I did. I made a couple of outfits, actually. This summer, I did an ode to Elvis’ famous gold lamé jacket. The entire outfit was my take on it, with black leggings and rhinestone-encrusted stilettos. I also took pride and joy into fashioning both Kang Rhee white and Ed Parker black kempo karate outfits. One was casual wear, the latter for evening (although I was unable to premiere it at the Ultimate finals due to a time-crunch situation). I also played with a Graceland-security theme, complete with a reproduced Elvis Shelby County deputy badge. That was fun. And of course, the black and white flower dress and matching hat that Priscilla wore while visiting Pearl Harbor with Elvis in the 1960s. I wholeheartedly enjoy fashioning Elvis and Priscilla costumes.
You’re one of the Rock-a-Hula Girls. What does that involve? Also, could you discuss the charity work of the Rock-a-Hula Girls?
Darlene Perez: The Rock-a-Hula Girls is an official EPE-recognized Elvis fan club started by one of my best friends, Kari Lugo, a few years ago. It has grown to be one of the largest clubs in the states and has raised an impressive amount of money for charity over the years. We are a fun fan club, and have annual fundraisers and events, as well as social gatherings. Our charity of choice is Alzheimer’s Association, in dedication to Kari’s beloved grandmother who had demised from it. Our club membership is free and welcomes males, too. You can find us on Facebook.
Do you think that the Elvis fan sites on the Internet have helped to grow Elvis’ fan base?
Darlene Perez: Yes! The Internet definitely helps to introduce and re-introduce Elvis to general public because it constantly brings Elvis Presley into your home. Elvis is available to you 24 hours a day via Web sites, downloads, videos, and social networks.
Just think of how exciting and innovative Elvis’ Aloha From Hawaii concert was, being the first satellite televised concert. And nowadays, here we have the Internet 30-some years later, bringing Elvis to every corner in the globe, the same fashion as the Aloha concert did, albeit modernized, via computers, laptops, cell phones…
You can explore every avenue of the Elvis world with just a click of a mouse. With the popularity of sites, such as Facebook, new Elvis friendships are building every day.
You’re a hostess at the Elvis Honeymoon House. Could you elaborate a bit on your duties there?
Darlene Perez: The Elvis Honeymoon Hideaway is famously known as the home where Elvis and Priscilla lived and honeymooned 1966-1967. Aside from doing a 1960s Priscilla Presley, my duties include: hostess, master of ceremonies, Web design, personal assistant, event planning, and booking talent.
A portrait of you hangs on the wall at the Elvis Honeymoon House. How did that come about?
Darlene Perez: Yes. In August 2009, I entered the Official Elvis Week Art Contest – Photography Division. My submission was a self-portrait, black and white recreation of the famous Priscilla and Lisa Marie Presley portrait that hangs in the dining room entrance of Graceland. I did hair, makeup, and clothing the best I could to resemble Cilla in that photo and used a vintage 1950s teddy bear in place of little Lisa. The framed portrait, that I titled “The Cilla Head Tilt,” won the 1st place blue ribbon.
Upon working with the Honeymoon House, as the PTA, I gifted them with a copy of the photo. To my surprise, they hung it on the wall of the main entrance at the historic home. This means the world to me as I adore the Honeymoon House and love it like my second home. It is an honor to see it hung on the wall, as usually the walls (in any Presley residence) are reserved for members of the immediate family. So to see my “Cilla Head Tilt” every time I visit, is not just a rarity but extremely heartwarming.
How did you get involved with being a Priscilla Presley tribute artist? What part of that do you enjoy the most?
Darlene Perez: I’ve loved Elvis all my life and I had always been enchanted with his Priscilla. Her story and her 1960s Mod look always captivated me.
Years ago, an Elvis Tribute Artist friend in the business encouraged me to take a shot at Priscilla makeup and costume, citing certain facial features and similarities. It was something I took lightly, but made me pay more attention to details…where I started to study her makeup, wardrobe, mannerisms, etc.
Upon my observations, I took notice of Priscilla having somewhat a signature pose in most all her photos and footage during her Elvis years. She had the tendency to “tilt” her head often in various ways and stances.
In 2005, I coined the term “Cilla Head Tilt” and used it online on my Web site and MySpace, often emulating the Priscilla tilt poses famous in her photos. Almost overnight, it became a catchphrase in the Elvis world, synonymous with those Priscilla photos and videos, and ultimately, with myself as well.
I had a 60s-themed birthday party at the Honeymoon House shortly thereafter, with the guests wearing period clothing. I was dressed in a recreated version of Priscilla’s famous 1967 navy blue and gold tunic pants outfit. Long story short, it was a hit with the H.H., so much in fact that presented me with a special marble award for my “creative attire and outstanding salute to Elvis and Priscilla’s Honeymoon May 1, 1967.”
I was invited to attend all events dressed up as Priscilla and would speak to the audience at events, about Elvis and Priscilla, the costumes, being a fan, sometimes even joining the Elvis Tribute Artists in singing duets. I was interviewed many times at the home for the local television and newspaper. My increasing role at the Ladera Circle residence became evident and was made official in January 2010.
The best way I like to describe the role of a Priscilla Tribute Artist is like that to Snow White at Disneyland: You are dolled up in character, complete hair, makeup and costume, walking around as a live addition to the attraction. It’s a novelty presentation. As a 1960s Priscilla, I greet tourists and take photos with them. The guests are always surprised to see me. They relish in the beehive and the outfits I make. It’s exciting for them and they love it.
I enjoy being a PTA at the Honeymoon House because to represent Elvis’ Priscilla in this way, or any, is an honor. I love the added nostalgia it brings to the home. I love recreating 1960s hair, makeup, costumes. I enjoy public relations and the media, so it’s a natural shoe-in.
The profession of a PTA is a unique one, and a first, so I strive to do the best representation that I can. I hope to inspire more female Elvis fans to follow in my footsteps and channel their inner Priscilla. It’s fun to don the fashion and cosmetology of the Mod 60s!
You started the Girls Gone Elvis Web site earlier this year. What are your future plans for the site?
Darlene Perez: Trisha, co-founder/BFF, and myself recently selected the Elvis pinups for the year 2011. It promises to be an exciting edition with some new faces, new questions, and photos! We will be having a celebrity centerfold and our 2010 calendar girls will still be viewable but in an archive.
Trisha and I are also collaborating on a male edition of GGE, to be announced and unveiled come January. We have selected 12 Elvis men and centerfold, in a more modern and fashioned-based theme. Something totally different and unique! Stay tuned for that one. Both premiere in January.
Why do you think that Elvis still resonates over three decades after his death?
Darlene Perez: Because he’s the King! In my opinion, the reason Elvis lives is because he is timeless. His music transcends generations. His incredible catalogue of music is the bulk of it, everything else follows. Elvis dominated music and influenced pop culture like none other. Elvis remains a fountain of inspiration, the American dream.
Thirty-three years strong. It’s such a testament to the impact he’s made on history… and the lives of his fans. Legends never die. To quote an Elvis lyric: “Today, tomorrow, and forever, you’ll always be my love.”
If Elvis were still alive, he would have celebrated his 75th birthday this year. Do you think he would be surprised that his music still means so much to so many people?
Darlene Perez: Yes, Elvis would be very surprised. And he would be extremely humble about it.