The first question whenever I tell someone I was in an Elvis movie is “which one?” And my answer is usually “Not one of his ‘corny’ movies like ‘Girls, Girls, Girls’ or ‘Speedway.’”
I was never a bikini-clad teenager dancing the Watusi to a lame Elvis musical number. I was not an extra in the stands as he sped around the racetrack as a race car driver. I was in the movie that most people say, “I’ve never heard of it.”
I was in Elvis: That’s the Way It Is, a documentary movie directed by Denis Sanders about Elvis Presley that was released on November 11, 1970. The film documents Elvis’ Summer Festival in Las Vegas during August 1970. It was his first non-dramatic film since the beginning of his movie career in 1956, and the film gives a clear view of Elvis’ return to live performances after years of making movies.
Although the majority of the footage takes place onstage at the International Hotel in Las Vegas, there are several other parts to the film:
The opening credits sequence contains footage of Elvis’ show at Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix on September 9, 1970. This was the first show of Elvis’ first tour in 13 years.
Elvis and his band are seen rehearsing for the Las Vegas engagement at MGM Studios in Culver City, California.
Later rehearsals show Elvis in Las Vegas with his back-up vocalists The Sweet Inspirations, Millie Kirkham and The Imperials Quartet.
Footage of an Elvis Appreciation Society convention in Luxembourg was shot on September 5, 1970. Radio Luxembourg DJs Tony Prince and Peter Aldersley are on hand to lead the festivities. A tandem bicycle owned by Elvis was raffled off to a lucky fan in the audience. Additionally, various musicians are seen performing their own versions of Elvis’ songs.
What’s not mentioned in the above Wikipedia information is that the movie had interviews with an assortment of “fans,” interviewed and seen throughout this movie in small segments?
I had been writing about Elvis for a couple of years. He was not too popular with the readers of Tiger Beat, but since Elvis never, ever appeared in Europe or the UK, he had an enormous fan following there. I was the Hollywood Correspondent to the New Musical Express pop music newspaper published in the UK, any and all information about Elvis was devoured by the readers.
I was often hounded by the Public Relations director of RCA records, Greylon Landon, to publicize Elvis’ latest movie (and the corresponding soundtrack album on RCA) and I would do this as a favor to him, because I could sell my Elvis stories to the NME. I also had two friends from high school, Tony and Don, who were complete Elvis “nuts.” That’s a fan to the 100th degree. So Greylon would send me premier tickets to new Elvis movies and I would pass them along to Tony and Don.
But in the summer of 1968, Greylon called and told me he had something really special. It was not to be publicized in advance, but he brought two tickets over to my office for the “Elvis starring Elvis Presley” TV show taping. He let me know this was a small group of people invited to view the taping of this TV special. This time I was not giving the tickets away. I did invite my friend Tony, as Don was out of state on vacation with his parents. It would have been a difficult choice if they both had been in California on that night.
Long story short, I not only enjoyed the TV show taping, but became an instant Elvis “nut” after seeing the new and improved Elvis. He was lean, dressed in black leather and to hear his voice live and up close, I was just overcome with his musical prowess.
Being witness to what would become known as the Elvis Comeback Special; I wrote many articles for Tiger Beat and
the NME. When it came time for Denis Sanders to make his documentary film of Elvis he wanted to include fans in the story. As he told me in a personal interview when I asked him why he wanted to include fans in the documentary, he replied, “Because I feel you don’t have an entertainer without an audience. I feel that they are completely inter-related. Some sense of his effect on his audience is as much a part of the drama as the entertainer himself.
Then I asked if he had any idea when he began that the fans would be like the ones he put on film. He was candid, “No, I didn’t know anything about Presley fans. I started with two girls and they put me in touch with other girls who had been in fans clubs and then the whole thing snowballed. I didn’t have too much time, I had to function as a detective, follow the leads. I also wanted to get a cross section. I didn’t want to have just girls who were 18 years old. I also wanted everything from teenyboppers to old ladies, men, different nationalities and had to find them. I found you that way. I got in touch with you from a fan that said: ‘Go see Ann Moses, she’s a fan.’”
When Denis first contacted me I was thrilled when he said he wanted to interview me for the film, but it was so much more than that! He said I would be a guest of MGM for Elvis’ show where they would be filming! An offer I couldn’t refuse. What few realize, though, is while I was so involved and so comfortable in the world of celebrities and Hollywood, I would get nauseous whenever I would have to speak on camera or make a live appearance. I always preferred being on the back side of the camera!
That said, I made my way to Vegas in August of 1970, I was more than excited. But it got better and better. As I gave my name to the Maitre de of the International Showroom, he led me and my party of four down to the table that was one table to the right of center stage and we had the front four seats. Of course, I was not shy about sitting in the first seat closest to the stage
It was a complete joy to see Elvis live again (as I had been present at his first live appearance in 10 years on July 31, 1969 for his opening show at the International), but I was well aware that the hand-held cameras were recording Elvis and the “fans” that would be a part of the documentary.
It was later in the month that Denis came to my Tiger Beat office and interviewed me with cameras rolling for my “interview” portion that appears in the film. I sat at my office desk and answered his questions nervously, and then they shot cover footage of me walking down the hall and talking with my Art Editor.
It’s difficult to find the original VHS version of the movie, as it was re-cut in 2001 and I and the other fans ended on the cutting room floor of the new version and more performance footage was added.
What did end up in the original version of the movie was the interview in my office, and me watching Elvis from my stage side seat. Denis asked me about my job and I told him about my responsibilities as Editor of Tiger Beat. He asked, “What is an Elvis fan?”
My answer: “It’s so hard to describe what an Elvis fan is. It’s like a phenomenon like falling in love. You can’t describe how it happens, it’s just you’re in love and you know it, and it’s the same with being an Elvis fan.” My final quote in the movie is about seeing all of Elvis’ opening shows and I tell him, “I always go to every opening. I cover them for the New Musical Express in England, but even if I didn’t write for the paper, I know I’d be there. I just couldn’t miss it.”
These vignettes are spread throughout the movie and there are some great moments with the other fans:
There’s nerd guy who calls Elvis “The Willie Mayes of entertainment,” and tells Denis “If I don’t like your film I’m going to write you a dirty little letter.”
Then there’s the church lady who tells us that being an Elvis fan is “more than just following his music, real Elvis fans devote part of their lives to him.”
I love the 50ish grey haired woman and her 80ish white haired mother. Mother says she likes Elvis, “because he’s a religious boy and he respects his parents.” And the daughter tells us, “He puts so much into a show. Mother likes lots of action. She doesn’t like it when they shoot him from the waist up. She likes to see him move and I admit I do too. He sets my Phi Beta Kappa key a janglin’.”
My greatest thrill came when Denis invited me and some of my friends to a private screening at MGM studios. I had never seen myself on the big screen before and I thought he had done a magnificent job on the documentary. He showed us an Elvis we had never seen before.
And after previewing the movie for us, he showed us some outtakes, one which I will never forget: Elvis bending over to kiss the women in the front row, as he was singing “Love Me Tender.” The best shot of all was when Elvis kissed me. That shot did not make it into the movie, but the kiss and seeing it on the big screen is etched in my memory forever!
Good times. . .Ann Moses reporting about “back in the day.”