A meeting for the ages
The Beatles’ next American tour was in August ’65. It was a strange time for Presley, whose career was in a decided slump.
“Elvis’ movies were not doing well — not because of Elvis, but because they weren’t giving him challenges, or properties he had talent for,” says Jerry Schilling, a member of Presley’s “Memphis Mafia.” “I saw him protest the scripts; he tried to do something and was told ‘You do this, or you do nothing.’ And it wasn’t just the Colonel. It was the Colonel, it was the record company — they were all together. Elvis did not have anyone to represent him like artists have today. I always thought that the Colonel would have been happier if Elvis had turned out to be Bing Crosby rather than a rock-and-roll star.”
It had perhaps not escaped Presley’s notice that the two films the Beatles had made, “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Help!,” had each been commercial and critical successes, while his own films, like “Girl Happy” or “Harum Scarum” didn’t fare as well.
There are differing reports on Presley’s feelings about The Beatles. According to some accounts, his response on being asked to meet the Fabs was “Hell, I don’t want to meet those sons of bitches!” But Schilling insists there was no jealousy; Presley was simply more concerned with the state of his own career at the time.
“When The Beatles came out, that was a period [where] Elvis wasn’t listening to any contemporary music,” he says. “It was a very hard thing for him to do, because he felt there was good music there and good productions, and he knew he wasn’t getting the material. At that stage, if he listened to music, it was gospel or country because he didn’t feel disappointment or frustration. A few years earlier, like in the ’50s, of course he would have been discussing different R&B artists. But The Beatles’ rise was just at the low point of his career, and the high point of their career.”
When it was determined that both The Beatles and Presley would be in the same city at the same time during their U.S. tour, a series of complex negotiations ensued. Would Elvis come to The Beatles’ rented house in Benedict Canyon or would The Beatles visit Elvis at home in Bel Air? How many people could be present?
Parker and Epstein met to hash out the details, Parker even coming by The Beatles’ house to meet them in advance. It was ultimately decided that The Beatles would visit Presley at his home on Perugia Way, and so on the night of Aug. 27, the group and their entourage (including not only Epstein, but also press officer Tony Barrow, driver Alf Bicknell, tour manager Neil Aspinall, and road manager Mal Evans, literally a card-carrying member of Elvis’ fan club) arrived via limousine.
Harrison later recalled that The Beatles got a bit stoned on the way. “We pulled up and there was these big gates and somebody said, ‘Oh yeah, we’re going to see Elvis!’” he said in the “Anthology” film. “And then we all fell out, just like in a Beatle cartoon, we all fell out the car, all in hysterics trying to pretend were weren’t silly.”
“We were nervous as hell,” Lennon agreed, something that was clearly obvious to Jerry Schilling, who was at the historic gathering. “I could tell that night that they were in awe,” he says. “Especially John. John is my hero out of The Beatles — if there’s an Elvis in the Beatles, it was John.” And after initial greetings between the two parties were exchanged, the nervousness led to an uneasy, and increa