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Why Elvis Presley dissed The Beatles to President Nixon

Don’t believe what you hear in the recent Elvis & Nixon film regarding The Beatles. This “comedy” about the infamous meeting between The King of Rock and Roll and President Nixon at the White House unfortunately  enforces false stereotypes about how Elvis felt about The Fab Four.

elvis meets nixon

“What do we have on this guy?” Nixon asks his aide in the Elvis & Nixon trailer.

“He’s one of the most famous men on this planet,” the aide explains. “Loves guns, hates The Beatles.”

While it’s true that Elvis did say some disparaging remarks about The Beatles to Nixon, it wasn’t all cut and dried as to what motivated him to say it.
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Elvis had a spontaneous impulse while flying to Washington DC to try to meet President Nixon. It was December 1970 and Elvis was still troubled by the traumatic experience a few months earlier of receiving a specific threat to end his life by an anonymous person during one of his concerts in Las Vegas.
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Fueled by his passion for guns and police badges, he thought that a trip to DC could help him get an official Federal Agent Narcotics Badge. During the plane ride, Presley wrote an impassioned letter to the President requesting a meeting. Written on American Airlines stationery, the five-page letter also expressed Elvis’ desire to help with the war on drugs.
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Here’s an excerpt: “The drug culture, the hippie elements, the SDS, Black Panthers, etc. do not consider me as their enemy or as they call it the establishment. I call it America and I love it. Sir, I can and will be of any service that I can to help the country out. …I can and will do more good if I were made a Federal Agent at Large and I will help out by doing it my way through my communications with people of all ages.”

As Jerry Schilling, long-time friend of Elvis who accompanied him on the trip, explained: “He had lived the American dream and wanted desperately to be able to give something back to the land that had made his wonderful life possible. He didn’t consider his years of army duty to have settled the debt. He was going straight to the highest authority in the country to try to find a way to use some of his power in a constructive way.”

The letter, which Presley personally delivered to White House security guards after arriving on a red-eye flight, set off a chain of events that hours later had the “King of Rock ‘n’ Roll” shaking hands with the most powerful man in the world. Security prevented Presley from presenting the President with his unique gift, a World War II-era Colt 45 pistol, but Nixon’s aides accepted it on his behalf.

At 12:30 pm on December 21, 1970, Elvis Presley was welcomed into the Oval Office of the White House. According to Egil Bud Krogh, Deputy Counsel to the President, who was present at the meeting, Presley quickly began trying to convince Nixon that he was “on his side, that he wanted to be helpful and that he wanted to restore some respect for the flag which was being lost.”

To justify his position, Presley specifically named The Beatles as a threat to America’s youth. The White House meeting notes describe this exchange:

“Presley indicated that he thought the Beatles had been a real force for anti-American spirit. He said that the Beatles came to this country, made their money, and then returned to England where they promoted an anti-American theme.

The President nodded in agreement and expressed some surprise. The President then indicated that those who use drugs are also those in the vanguard of anti-American protest. Violence, drug usage, dissent, protest all seem to merge in generally the same group of young people.”

While Beatles fans may see that as an outright attack on The Fab Four, it is not likely that Elvis had it out for The Beatles. According to Jerry Schilling, Elvis “loved The Beatles.” Schilling explained that Elvis was just trying to look more patriotic to the President and, in effect, used The Beatles as a scapegoat.

In an interview in 1969, Elvis praised The Beatles to a British reporter: “They’re so interesting and so experimental,” Elvis said. “But I liked them particularly when they used to sing ‘She was just seventeen. You know what I mean.'”

Presley gave The Beatles the most flattering compliment of all when he sang several of their songs during his live shows in later years, including “Something” during his 1973 Aloha from Hawaii concert.

Whatever Elvis’ real motive for calling out The Beatles in this historic meeting, the end result was in his favor. He received a Federal Agent Narcotics badge from President Nixon.

As The Washington Post reported: “‘See that he gets it,’ the President directed his top enforcement adviser, Egil (Bud) Krogh. Unable to suppress his excitement, Elvis hugged the startled Nixon.”

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Note: But the story doesn’t end there.

The new book, ELVIS: Behind The Legend: Startling Truths About The King of Rock and Roll’s Life, Loves, Films and Music, reveals the real reason why Elvis wanted to fly to Washington DC in the first place.

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‘Elvis: Behind the Legend’ reveals behind-the-scenes Beatles stories

Editor’s note: In honor of the anniversary this month of “When Elvis met The Beatles” we are posting this review of the book (written by the editor of Daytrippin’) that was released last year which contains many Elvis/Beatles stories.

Book review
by Shelley Germeaux,
The John Lennon Examiner

The new book, Elvis, Behind the Legend: Startling Truths About the King of Rock and Roll’s Life, Loves, Films and Music by Trina Young, reveals many surprising new stories and viewpoints about Elvis Presley’s life, including several about his association with the Beatles. Young does not attempt to re-write Elvis’ biography, but instead focuses on several behind-the-scenes revelations that few know about, even seasoned experts. The stories are sure to alter the reader’s perception of the man behind the title, “The King of Rock and Roll.”

Elvis: Behind The LegendThe John Lennon Examiner has received a digital copy of the book from the author, and found it to be incredibly enlightening, enjoyable, and as the subtitle suggests, “startling.” The author wrote, “Often taking a back seat with historians to The Beatles in terms of rock and roll influence, Presley’s legacy has been marred by misconceptions of the man as an entertainer and human being.” As most Beatles fans are aware, Elvis was John Lennon’s biggest hero, the one he emulated, the one he idolized—until Lennon was bemused with Elvis’ career after spending two years in the Army.

At 145 pages, each of the thirty-two chapters brings to life a different story, written chronologically throughout his life. To name just a few, the book begins with a revelation concerning his speech impediment, a fact that is not well-known. The identity of the mystery woman behind the famous 1956 photo called “The Kiss” is revealed, and how Elvis is responsible for making the Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor a reality. Readers will learn about the secret girlfriend he was going to see in Washington, when he inevitably met with President Nixon.

Young points out that Elvis developed a private spiritual life, and connected with gurus long before the Beatles made their association with the Maharishi so public. His association with the Beatles is addressed in several chapters, shedding light on various aspects, such as: the difference in earnings from their appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, the day The Beatles met Elvis in 1965 at his home in L.A., and the truth behind his “grudge” against the band. The disparaging statements he made to President Nixon about the Beatles—something fans have been angered by for years– are explained from a different vantage point.

In addition, included in the appendix is a comparison of record sales between Elvis and the Beatles, which may surprise fans of both. The book is well-researched, with a sizable bibliography, and a great read. The John Lennon Examiner recommends this book for Beatles and Elvis fans alike. It is an enjoyable and fun read that will shift readers’ perceptions about “The King of Rock and Roll” for the better.

See the official website for Elvis: Behind the Legend. The paperback and kindle editions can be purchased on Amazon.

Follow Shelley Germeaux on Twitter and Facebook


When Elvis met The Beatles, was there a secret reporter present?

Journalists Chris Hutchins and Ivor Davis battle over Beatles history

By Trina Yannicos

The most legendary meeting in rock and roll history between Elvis Presley and The Beatles took place on August 27, 1965 with one caveat – absolutely no photos or recordings allowed! But did that also mean that there were not any reporters or journalists present?

It is well known that there were no official photos taken of the meeting or any recordings made during the alleged “jam” session. However, music fans may be surprised to learn that there was one British journalist present inside the house when The Beatles met Elvis.

The request for no photos was made by Presley’s manager, Colonel Tom Parker, when finalizing the details of the meeting with The Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein. The Beatles were happy to comply with this. They didn’t want a media circus surrounding the precious moment when they would get to meet one of their biggest music idols, The King of Rock and Roll.

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However, The Beatles had to include one reporter from the UK music magazine, NME, or New Musical Express, in their entourage. His name was Chris Hutchins and he played an integral part in setting up the meeting. He had contacts with both The Beatles and Colonel Parker, and he was the one who initiated communication between the two camps.

Hutchins had been covering The Beatles during their U.S. tours and he frequently reported his firsthand accounts with The Beatles in the NME. On August 28, 1964, Hutchins reported in an NME article that Presley had invited The Beatles to meet with him at Graceland in Memphis, because he missed them in Los Angeles.

Unfortunately, The Beatles would not be able to stop in Memphis at that point in their schedule. So, instead, according to Hutchins, Brian Epstein and Colonel Parker had their own meeting in Los Angeles. The next day, The Beatles met Colonel Parker and he gave them gifts including leather belts with western holsters. Meanwhile, Hutchins helped put Paul McCartney in touch with Elvis and they spoke briefly on the phone.

The following year, on May 28, 1965, Hutchins reported in the NME that the Beatles were hoping to meet Elvis in August when they were back in Los Angeles for their U.S. tour. At that point, they were told that Elvis was scheduled to be in Hawaii filming Paradise Hawaiian Style, and they were out of luck.

But things changed in August, when Elvis returned early from filming. On August 27, 1965, the day the actual meeting took place, a story ran in the NME by Hutchins with the headline “NME is arranging a meeting between Elvis and Beatles!”

Finally, on September 3, 1965, the NME ran their exclusive story on the meeting. The headline stated: “NME has only reporter present when Elvis meets Beatles.”

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sept31965-headline

In the article, Hutchins states that there was an informal jam session which started with Elvis playing the bass along to records playing on his jukebox. John, Paul and George were reportedly provided with guitars. However, there was no drum set for Ringo. “They used language of music!” a callout in the article read.

This inevitably formed the basis for the never-ending stories provided by friends of Elvis who were there that night as well as members of The Beatles’ entourage. While some of the eyewitness accounts that have come out over the years may be embellished or dispute what actually happened that night, one thing that should be clear is who was actually there.
The Beatles’ publicist, Tony Barrow, confirmed in his 2006 book, John, Paul, George, Ringo and Me, that Hutchins was present:

“Having acted as a catalyst to get the whole shindig off the ground, of course Chris Hutchins had to be invited. And if even a single journalist was to be involved, The Beatles wanted to bring me along. Presley would have his army of minders, the self-styled Memphis Mafia, on hand, so The Beatles’ roadies, Neil and Mal, made it onto the swelling list of guests, along with their driver, Alf Bicknell.  John said: ‘Let’s stop there or it’ll get out of control.’”

Hutchins also appears in two of the four rare photos that were taken that night by a fan as The Beatles were leaving and getting into their limos. In the photo below, Elvis, in a red shirt and black jacket, stands behind Hutchins who is wearing dark sunglasses.

1965photo-hutchins

However, in 2014, British journalist Ivor Davis claimed in his book, The Beatles and Me on Tour, that he was also present at the meeting. He had traveled with The Beatles on their 1964 U.S. tour reporting for the London Daily Express.

From the chapter in his book titled “Elvis, We Hardly Knew Ye”, Davis says: “Shortly before six o’clock on the evening of August 27, 1965, I got a call at home from Mal. ‘Ivor, get over to the house in an hour – we’re all going to see Elvis.'”

The fact that a second journalist would be invited to the secret meeting seems highly unlikely. There were already strict orders from Colonel Parker that no press, except for Hutchins, were to be permitted. And Mal Evans was even a bigger Elvis fan than John, Paul, George and Ringo. The fact that Mal would jeopardize the plans for the meeting seems suspect. But, unfortunately, since Mal died in 1976, it is not possible to get his response.

“The deal with Hutchins was that there would be no pictures, no taping, no leaking of details in advance,” Tony Barrow explained in a 1994 essay. “Keeping the time and place confidential was in his interests because Hutchins would have the story exclusively to himself. The Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein, was nervous about a leak and warned me, ‘The boys will pull out if the rest of the press find out.'”

But there is a chance that Davis may have been present OUTSIDE the house with other reporters and fans who found out about the meeting.

As Tony Barrow explains, “I was not surprised to find that news of the Presley-Fab Four party did reach some of our media entourage despite our great efforts to keep all of the details to ourselves… Several of the most enterprising guys, including Daily Express West Coast correspondent Ivor Davis and the intrepid Larry Kane, joined forces to tail our limousines as we left The Beatles’ villa.”

To his own admission, Davis did not feel the need to report on the fact that The Beatles had finally met Elvis. No story on one of the biggest show business meetings of all time?

“We wrote very little about the meeting – bizarrely, in retrospect, none of us thought there was much to write about,” Davis stated in his book. “And without pictures (not even a pool photographer to record the meeting), my editor in London ruled that they wouldn’t need my story.”

In email correspondence with Daytrippin’ from 2015, Chris Hutchins absolutely refuted the possibility that there were any other reporters present:

“I can assure you that I was the only journalist present on the night I arranged for the Beatles to meet and spend some time with Elvis Presley in August 1965. As you will have read in my books it was almost three years after John Lennon asked me if I could ever arrange such a meeting up to the time it took place. During their summer tour of 1964 I took Elvis’s manager, Colonel Tom Parker (who became something of a mentor to me) to meet the Beatles at their rented home in Benedict Canyon and he promised them in front of me ‘that Chris here and I will do whatever we can to make sure you meet him.’

The following summer I had several meetings with the Colonel, then with Elvis himself to agree the meeting should take place. Next I set up and attended meetings with the Colonel and Brian Epstein to sort out the details. The Colonel insisted that (a) the meeting had go be at Elvis’s house (b) there were to be no photographs taken or recordings made and (c) there were to be ‘no journalists other than me present and no ‘hangers on’ in Elvis’s house.’

I am aware that others have claimed to be there and written accounts – largely using information I published later with the consent of the Beatles, the Colonel and Brian Epstein. Rest assured they were not there.”

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30 years ago, John Lennon’s sons help induct Elvis Presley into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

This month marks several Beatle-related anniversaries with The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, the RRHOF Induction ceremony used to be held in January. In later years, the ceremony was moved to the Spring.

On January 20, 1988, The Beatles were inducted at the 3rd annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony by Mick Jagger.

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On January 19, 1994, John Lennon was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Paul McCartney. He was the first member of the Beatles to be inducted on his own.

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But on January 23, 1986, it was Julian Lennon and Sean Lennon who took part in the first annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony. On behalf of their father, John Lennon, they helped induct Elvis Presley into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame along with Jack Soden, President and Executive Director of Graceland, and Memphis DJ and close Elvis friend, George Klein.

 

Julian Lennon, aged 22, appeared in all black, while 10-year-old Sean Lennon was dressed in a handsome white tuxedo. Julian, with Sean standing at his side, was the first speaker in the presentation of Elvis Presley’s award, followed by Jack Soden. The award was then accepted on Elvis’ behalf by his close friend, George Klein.

John Lennon’s admiration for The King of Rock and Roll is now common knowledge among music fans. Lennon said his love for rock and roll was inspired first and foremost by Presley. He credits his motivation to form his first band, which evolved into The Beatles, as a result of wanting to be just like Elvis. Even after the group took shape, their goal of being “bigger than Elvis” helped them achieve worldwide success.

That night at the induction ceremony, Julian Lennon started out with a brief introduction: “Our father was a big fan of Elvis’s and, of course, Elvis was loved all over the world, and we are all influenced [by] him,” Julian said. “I think a lot of people in the world get a lot of pleasure from listening to him and love him greatly.”

Then he read a direct quote from John Lennon, which spoke volumes: “Elvis was the thing, whatever people say, he was it. I was not competing against Elvis, rock happened to be the media I was born into – it was the one, that’s all. Those people who picked up paintbrushes, like Van Gogh, probably wanted to be Renoir or whomever went before him. I wanted to be Elvis.”

Then, Jack Soden read a brief statement from Lisa Marie Presley. He then introduced George Klein, who gave a dramatic and celebratory speech about his friend and best man at his wedding, Elvis Presley. Here is just a brief part of the speech:

“On January 8, 1935, a star was born. You see a star is not made, a star is born… The real honest to goodness rags to riches rise of the most inspiring version of the American Dream to ever happen. In doing so, Elvis fulfilled the hopes and dreams of an entire generation. The world was never to be the same again. You see Elvis Presley wasn’t a star, he was a damn galaxy!”

Other inductees that night at the induction ceremony in New York City included Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, James Brown, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly and Sam Phillips. Notably, Elvis Presley holds the record for being inducted into the greatest number of Music Hall of Fames – 16 to be exact.
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If you enjoyed this article, more fascinating stories about Elvis Presley and The Beatles can be found in the new book, ELVIS: Behind The Legend: Startling Truths About The King of Rock and Roll’s Life, Loves, Films and Music

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Who was bigger: Elvis Presley or The Beatles?


50th anniversary of when The Beatles met Elvis Presley

Exclusive excerpt from the book, Elvis: Behind The Legend: Startling Truths About The King of Rock and Roll’s Life, Loves, Films and Music

by Trina Young

elvis-looksatbeatlesmagThe most infamous rock and roll meeting of all time occurred when Elvis Presley met The Beatles. On August 27, 1965, John, Paul, George and Ringo along with their manager, publicist and assistants came to Presley’s house on Perugia Way in Los Angeles to meet their rock and roll idol.

The Beatles were the ones who pushed for the meeting. After all, it was Elvis who was one of the main influences for John Lennon to start the band. “Without Elvis, there would be no Beatles,” Lennon famously remarked in later years.

A British journalist who also attended the infamous meeting was Chris Hutchins, a reporter for the New Musical Express (NME) at the time. He had been documenting the anticipation of The Beatles’ possibly meeting Elvis since Paul McCartney called and spoke to Presley on the phone a year earlier.

During their concert tour in the summer of 1964, The Beatles tried to arrange a meeting with Elvis, but they could never coordinate their schedules. Instead, Colonel Parker visited with The Beatles and gave them gifts of Elvis souvenirs.

Finally, in August 1965, the stars seemed to align since The Beatles were in L.A. for their concert at The Hollywood Bowl and Elvis was in L.A. having just returned from Hawaii where he was filming Paradise Hawaiian Style.

Unfortunately, Colonel Parker, with the agreement of Brian Epstein, insisted that no pictures or video be taken of the infamous meeting. Therefore, this historic event is recounted solely through eyewitness accounts from the people who were there.

It was a typical night at Presley’s home with members of Elvis’ entourage on hand as well as a few of their female companions including Presley’s live-in girlfriend and future wife, Priscilla Presley. Also added to the mix was Colonel Parker who was there on this special occasion to make sure things ran smoothly. . . .

Finish reading the entire story on Beatles-History.net

 

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Exclusive interview: Director of ‘U.S. vs. John Lennon’ and ‘Who is Harry Nilsson’, John Scheinfeld, discusses John Lennon, Yoko Ono and his new film on Elvis

Writer/director John Scheinfeld wrote, directed and produced the acclaimed documentaries The U.S. vs. John Lennon and Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him)?.

RLF Victor Productions Ltd. recently pegged the Emmy and Grammy nominee to direct Fame & Fortune, an adaptation of the 2007 best-selling book Elvis: Still Taking Care of Business written by Sonny West, (Elvis’s bodyguard and confidant) with biographer Marshall Terrill. Fame & Fortune is slated for theatrical release in 2012 to coincide with the 35th anniversary of Presley’s death.

In this exclusive interview with Daytrippin’, Scheinfeld discusses working on the John Lennon and Harry Nilsson films, his dealings with Yoko Ono and how the greatest rock ‘n’ roll summit in history  between Elvis and the Beates will be the centerpiece of his new feature film.

Q: What made you want to do The U.S. vs. John Lennon and why did you zero in on that one aspect of Lennon’s life?

JS: It is very rare to find a largely unknown story about someone as famous as John Lennon. When the information was de-classified in 1997 I remember thinking, “I had no idea.” The reason, of course, is that what the US government tried to do to John Lennon was done in secret. Due to the efforts of Jonathan Weiner, a professor at the University of California – Irvine, we have a very full picture of what happened. I was totally fascinated as was my colleague David Leaf. We did a treatment and for seven years we tried to sell this as a theatrical documentary and got a lot of “Who cares?” That surprised us and then we put it on a shelf for a while. Then it turned out that in a post 9/11, post-Iraq world, people began to see the relevance of a story which, at its heart, had an unpopular war…a president who lied to the country…and that if you protested the government came after you. Does that sound familiar?! Although ours was a story rooted in the past, it had a great many parallels to what was going on in the new Millennium. We had meetings set up at numerous studios to start pitching it again. Our very first one was with Lionsgate and, literally, they did not let us out of the room. They said, “We want to make this.” We were an example of good things come to those who wait. The working experience with Lionsgate was tremendous and we got to make the movie we wanted to make. It’s a project of which I am really proud.

Q: How were your dealings with Yoko Ono?

JS: We first reached out to her attorney, Jonas Herbsman, and told him what we’d like to do and this is how we’d like to do it. He liked the idea and set up a meeting with Yoko. She gave us her blessing after that initial meeting, but not her complete participation. I think she needed to see from us that we had integrity and that we were going to do what we said we were going to do. I believe she’s had some experiences where that was not the case. I knew that she had an archive of very rare material, including film and photographs, and I wanted access to it. In all of my documentaries I want to present the most rare and little-seen audio-visual material possible, not just the stuff you’ve seen in dozens of other documentaries.

So we went to see her at The Dakota and showed her more of a rough cut than we ordinarily would have. It was running obscenely long, close to three hours, and there were lots of holes in it where it said, “Photo here” or “Film clip here.” As you know, when you walk in, you have to step over the place where John Lennon was shot and killed, which is a bit creepy Then we were ushered up to the apartment, had to take our shoes off when we got inside and went into the kitchen. There was a big 50-inch TV up on the wall and Jonas Herbsman is there, who is a great guy. We were chatting and then Yoko walks in. She doesn’t really say hello or good morning, or offers us any coffee or tea and sort of says, “Lets go.” We put in the DVD and it plays. All the way through, she’s taking notes on a little pad. My heart is dropping into my stomach and I’m convinced she hates it. When it finishes, nobody says a word. Then she turned to me and said what she later said publicly, “Of all the documentaries made about John, this is the one he would have loved.” From that moment, the doors opened and we were given access to the archive. I don’t think a day or two would go by where Yoko or one of her staff would call and say, “You need to see this” or “Yoko wants you to have that.” There was so much cool stuff in the archive that really helped make the film special. Also, it was really gratifying to have earned her trust.

Q: What are some of the materials you are referring to?

JS: Well, from 1969 to 1972 it was, in effect, the John and Yoko Reality Show. They had a camera crew following them around capturing their various activities, concerts, meetings, protests, even just walking around New York City. That provided a wealth of great material for us. There’s also a wonderful moment in an interview segment in which Yoko describes her favorite moment during the Bed-In. She recalled that it was late at night, all their handlers had gone, the press had gone, it was just John and Yoko alone in the hotel room together. It was a beautiful night, there was a full moon in the sky and John turns to her and says, “Isn’t this great? Here we are promoting world peace and love and we have both.” And I turned to Jonas and said, “That’s in the movie!” and we all laughed. The reason I’m telling you this is that we needed some footage to illustrate the story. John and Yoko had their own camera crew at the Bed-In and they shot some lovely, lovely footage of them in bed together. It was tender and so sweet and showed that the love affair between them was so strong. But it was in that archive that we found that footage to illustrate that moment.

There was some also some footage of them dancing alone on a street in lower Manhattan and we found a way to use it creatively. There are many similar moments in the film, but it could not have happened without Yoko opening up her archive to me. She also had dozens and dozens of rare photographs that had never been seen before. We augmented all of this with our own treasure trove that found by casting a wide net around the world.

There are two pieces of film we found that I’m really proud of: one is from Vienna in 1969 when John and Yoko came there to do an event. The press turned out in full force and entered a room to find John and Yoko in a white cloth bag. We read about this but had never seen it. An Austrian TV network found a roll of footage that had never been developed in their vault. I think we showed it for the first time. Then there was a piece of footage that eluded us for a very long time. After John won his case against the U.S. government, he was interviewed on the steps of the New York courthouse in July of 1976. I knew what he said because the New York Times quoted him, but we couldn’t find film or video anywhere. All the archivists at various news organizations told us that it didn’t either exist or had been destroyed a long time ago. I’m fairly relentless when it comes to tracking down material and wouldn’t accept no for an answer. I knew what day the immigration case ended, so we went back to the archive and asked what footage they had shot that day. Bingo! In a far corner of the CBS archive was a 20-minute roll of film that had been developed, but was never used. There was John receiving his green card in an office and then there was footage of him being interviewed outside the court. In answer to a question he offered up a typical Lennon witticism that ended up getting one of the biggest laughs in the movie (I won’t tell you what it was – go see the movie!). Lennon knows he’s saying something funny and he winked at the camera, so I froze on the wink. Our film wouldn’t have been the same without that moment. It’s these little pieces of footage that you don’t expect to find that make all the difference in the world.

Q: What were on Yoko’s notes?

JS: Funny you should ask – she never shared them with me. She could have been making up a grocery list for all I know (laughs). Over time she had a few notes, but nothing major. She was extremely supportive of our vision. I remember at one point she said, “I think you have too much of me in the film.” This was great – she wasn’t your typical Hollywood star who would say, “There needs to be more of me.” I do remember, sometime later, that I was struggling with how to end the film. I was talking to Yoko about something unrelated, when she started to speak about how it felt to have her husband there one minute, she turns, and then he’s gone. His murder was so sad and unexpected – they never had a chance to say “Goodbye.” I thought it was a very poignant and emotional thing for her to share. This was a very profound moment for me…and gave me the idea for a new ending that would be emotional and yet inspire.

Q: Yoko has historically been a closed off person who rarely shows any emotion, but you could see in the clips of her and John, there was a great affection for one another.

JS: It’s interesting you say that because, when we started, we didn’t intend the John and Yoko love story to be a significant part of the film. However, the more time I spent with her and with people in her world, it became so clear that this was truly an extraordinary love story. You can see it, hear it, you can feel it and it was very clear it needed to be a more important part of the movie. It added so much emotion and heart to the film…and touched me deeply…to see just how much they really and truly loved each other.

Q: To me, the real star of the film was Lennon’s immigration attorney, Leon Wildes. He was so poignant and told the best anecdote in the film. Tell me about him.

JS: I conducted the interview in New York where Leon still practices. Here’s what I found most interesting – John and Yoko didn’t go to a radical left-wing lawyer – they went to a very conservative attorney whose specialty was immigration matters. The U.S. government wanted to deport him and they went with the attorney who they felt best could deal with that situation. At the time, Leon only vaguely knew who John Lennon was, but as things progressed, he developed great respect and a special relationship with John and Yoko. Early on John asked Leon, “So what do you think? Can we win?” Leon told him, “I think this case is a loser.” John asked why and Leon said his opinion was based on his prior experience in similar cases. But Leon had found some interesting wrinkles in the case and in the law that enabled him to formulate a creative strategy. Eventually, he filed suit against the government and, amazingly, won. I think it was his brilliance as an attorney that took what should have been a routine case and found a way to score a big win for his clients. Nice man and a very good memory for the atmosphere of the times.

Q: What kind of reaction did the film receive?

JS: When you make a film, you spend far too many hours in a small dark editing room hoping you’re doing good work, but you never really know until it’s released and people see it. From the premiere at the Venice Film Festival, to debut screenings at the Telluride and Toronto film festivals there was a buzz about the film. People were responding to it and it was resonating with them in a powerful way. It wasn’t just a story about a rock ‘n’ roller – the issues we were dealing with – freedom of speech, government abuse of power, the futility of some wars – plus the courage of John Lennon and Yoko Ono to stand up to the government as a true life David and Goliath story — all of these things hit a chord with people. And not just in the United States. The movie played in theatres all over the world and it has proven to have a strong afterlife on DVD. To this day, I still get emails and Facebook messages from people who are just now discovering the film, which I find very gratifying.

Q: Let’s discuss your follow-up film, Who Is Harry Nilsson? (And Why Is Everyone Talkin’ About Him…)? How did that idea come about?

JS: The attorney for the Nilsson estate, Lee Blackman, had seen some of my work and asked if I’d be interested in doing a documentary about Harry. Now, I’d known Harry’s music since my college days — I’d play his records on my morning radio show at Oberlin College. The interesting thing is that the first song I’d heard of Harry’s was “You Can’t Do That.” It took me by surprise because I was expecting just another bad cover of a Beatles song. I was wrong! It turned out to be Harry’s brilliant creation – a song of his own that wove together the titles of many songs by the Fab Four. On his early albums, you can hear a very strong Beatles influence. In fact, as far as Harry was concerned, the Beatles were the only band of consequence. So imagine Harry’s delight when his heroes bring his music to the attention of the world and, later, become his friends.

So…after doing a considerable amount of research I felt that Harry’s was a compelling story that needed to be told. Lee found independent financing for the film and went on to become our Executive Producer. We made it betwixt and between other projects. There was a rough cut ready around Christmas 2005 and the head of the Santa Barbara Film Festival, Roger Durling, heard about it and after seeing it said, “I’ve just gotta have this and show it at our film festival.” We liked the idea as a way to test the film in front of an audience and to build some buzz. So my editor, Peter Lynch, and I finished a cut just for the festival. It turned out to be a wonderful night. Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys was there as was Danny Hutton of Three Dog Night, Micky Dolenz of the Monkees, and May Pang, who hung out with Harry and John Lennon during “The Lost Weekend” period, flew in from New York. We got great reviews in Daily Variety, Hollywood Reporter, Leonard Maltin loved it, and all of a sudden, people were talking about our little movie.

We planned to release it theatrically in late 2006/early 2007, but we ran into some unexpected issues regarding the master recordings in the film. There are bits and pieces of 60 songs in the movie – a lot for any film much less a documentary. As a result, the film was in limbo for a few years. Eventually, everything was resolved and Pete and I went back into the editing room and properly finished the film. The world premiere was at the Cinema Village Theater in New York in September 2010 and we played there for three weeks, which for a documentary is amazing. Even more exciting, we got seriously great reviews from most major publications and influential critics. Icing on the review cake was a full-page column in Entertainment Weekly by Stephen King. What an honor that he would pay attention to our “little film that could,” not to mention rave about it!

Q: You’ve got some big names for Who Is Harry Nilsson? but Ringo Starr’s absence is felt. Why did he not grant you an interview?

JS: We tried every which way to get Ringo to talk on camera. What came back to us each time was that there are three people he just does not feel comfortable talking about in person: John Lennon, George Harrison and Harry Nilsson. It’s just too emotional for him and I totally respect his feelings on the matter. Ringo was, however, tremendously supportive of the film including providing us with photos and making it possible to use Son of Drac, a film that Ringo and Harry made in the early 1970s but has been locked away in a London vault since 1974. At the end of the day, we were happy to have his support and understood the decision he made. Sometime later we had heard that he saw the film and liked it but thought some things were missing from the story. And I said to myself, “Yeah, Ringo, you were missing…” (laughs).

Q: Fame & Fortune, the first ever big screen biopic on Elvis Presley, will be your foray into features and continues your examination of pop culture icons. What drew you to this particular project?

JS: I had been approached by the producers, Ricki and Cindy Friedlander of RLF Victor Productions. They had optioned the 2007 book called Elvis: Still Taking Care of Business written by Sonny West and Marshall Terrill. I saw it as a “buddy movie” – about the extraordinary friendship between two guys that played out over a 16 year-period and how that friendship was impacted by fame and fortune. This was of great interest to me. I like to use the analogy of “The King’s Speech” – a film that was about many things, but at its heart is about a journey taken together by two friends. In addition, I really liked the idea that this would not be an Elvis biopic – that’s been done many times on television – but, rather, was a unique window into the world of Elvis Presley as experienced by someone who was there. The Friedlanders had developed a script and were looking to bring on a director to bring a filmic vision to the material and to rewrite the script to match that vision. I understand that they talked to a lot of directors, most of whom had far more feature film experience than I did. But, as Ricki says, they kept coming back to me because they believed that I had a real affinity for rock icons and everything that comes with it, that I really understood the rock and roll experience, the pressures and temptations affecting a young man eager to express himself creatively, the roller coaster ride of fame and fortune and personal excess that can overwhelm an artist. And I do. I feel very comfortable with that world and so began many long conversations during which Ricki, Cindy and I discussed the changes I wanted make in the script, how I saw the film, how I saw casting, how I saw the story playing out and how I would treat the characters and character arcs. Happily, we were on the same page creatively. I believe they also made a lot of calls to all kinds of people asking what it was like to work with me and finally they took a leap of faith and brought me onboard. I couldn’t be more excited and appreciative.

Q: You said something very profound in an earlier interview that summed up Presley in a sentence, and that was, “What do you do when all of your dreams come true by the age of 20?” Is that the premise of the film?

JS: I don’t think that’s the actual premise of the film, although it will be an aspect of Elvis’ character that will be portrayed. I’ve seen a number of the made-for-television movies about Elvis, going back to the Kurt Russell miniseries in 1979.  In my opinion, they have tended to concentrate on the more sensationalistic aspect of Elvis’ life and, more often than not, he comes off as a caricature. I think that does a real disservice to a great artist. What I want to do with this film is take Elvis out of the tabloids where he’s been for far too long and show him as a fully-realized, complex, three-dimensional human being. I want to recognize the remarkable achievements without apologizing for the man. Sonny’s experience with Elvis allows us a very unique window into that world and enables us to present stories that are largely unknown to the average person. To be sure, it was a roller-coaster journey for Elvis, personally and professionally. There were demons he was battling his entire life as well as a streak of self-destructive behavior that eventually contributed to his untimely passing. But none of that should undercut the remarkable achievements of the man, and that’s what we will show in our film.

Q: Will you chronicle when the Beatles met Elvis in August 1965?

JS: Absolutely! Many rock ‘n’ roll historians don’t even pay attention to this meeting, but to me, the night the Beatles came to meet Elvis, was a very significant event. And the reason why I believe it’s a significant event is that it was the past (Elvis) colliding head-on with the future (The Beatles). This to me was a pivotal moment in which he came face-to-face with the artists who had replaced him at the top of the rock ‘n’ roll ladder. That had to be an extremely humbling experience, not to mention causing him to do some serious self-examination. That, in my opinion, makes for great drama.

I have read at least six different accounts of what happened that night…and they don’t all agree. How could the people who claim to have been there remember things so differently? Some thought they jammed on rock oldies, others said they didn’t. Some remembered Elvis greeting the Beatles at the door, others say that never happened. So where did the truth lie? Then I came across an interview with John Lennon in which he described in some detail…and with great enthusiasm…what happened that night. Having spent so much time in the world of Lennon, I know that he had a tendency to pooh-pooh things, to downplay their significance. So, for him to speak of this event in such detail and with such excitement, I had no doubt his was the true account. Then I went back and read Sonny’s book and, what do you know, his account, while not identical, is very close to Lennon’s. So, to my way of thinking, this shows that Sonny has a great eye for detail, a good memory, and is a reliable teller of the truth. I am loving writing this scene. The result, I hope, will be truly magical and joyous moment in which the audience will be a fly on the way watching the interaction – personal and musical – between Elvis and the Beatles.

Q: Did you find it mildly amusing and ironic in your case, that it was John Lennon’s imitation of Peter Sellers, (Editor’s note: Scheinfeld directed The Unknown Peter Sellers in 2000) that eventually broke the ice with Elvis? 

JS: You know, that was one of the great things that I had learned while doing the research. I had no idea! (laughs) I knew the Beatles loved Peter Sellers and listened religiously to his avant-garde radio show in England, The Goon Show. How cool, therefore, that Lennon and Elvis find common ground in one of Sellers greatest characterizations – Dr. Strangelove. And not just the unique voice, but the hysterical moment when the good doctor is strangled by his own gloved-hand. According to Lennon’s and Sonny’s account, once the ice was broken, these great artists appreciating each other, having a good time, sharing some stories of what it was like to be on the road, dealing with fans and a pressure-filled career to the point where they could relate to each other in a way that few others could. Some writers tell of mutual animosity as a result of this rock and roll summit meeting, but I do not believe that was the case. From my point of my view, Elvis was thinking more in terms of what was happening with his career and the choices he made…or the choices thrust upon him.

Q: What’s most interesting is that it’s taken almost 35 years for Elvis’ story to make it to the big screen. Why do you think it’s taken that long to get to this point?

JS: I think the first thing to make clear here is that we’re not doing The Elvis Presley Story. We are doing Fame & Fortune, which is the Sonny West story. In so many ways, that’s what really intrigued me because we have a very distinct point of view of Elvis. I like the notion of someone being off to the side and seeing everything through his eyes. That to me will make for very compelling drama. I don’t know why there hasn’t been a feature film about Elvis in the 34 years since his death. That’s a question that only Elvis Presley Enterprises can answer. At the end of the day, I want to make a powerful, emotional and highly entertaining film that transcends mere biography, one that celebrates one of the most important musical legacies in pop music while staying true to the spirit of a rock icon and the love his fans have for him.

For more information about the movie, check out the Fame & Fortune website at http://rlfvictorproductions.com/index.php?p=fame

Fame & Fortune Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/FameandFortuneMovie

Fame & Fortune Twitter page: http://www.twitter.com/FameFortuneFilm

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