Once upon a time, it was every girl’s dream to find herself in Elvis Presley’s arms. For many, the dream became a reality, complete with diamond rings, luxury cars, and the promise that Elvis would be true.
Others had to be content with a pillow fight and a lesson from him on how to apply eyeliner.
But none of them ever forgot her time with Elvis, and they all kiss and tell in Baby, Let’s Play House: Elvis Presley and the Women Who Loved Him (Harper Collins, $27.99, 684 pgs), Alanna Nash’s sprawling, dishy biography that hits the streets this week just in time for Elvis’s 75th birthday.
In this astounding look at the King’s unstoppable pursuit of women from his elementary school days until his untimely death at 42, hundreds of girls and women pass through the revolving doors of Elvis’s love life, filling nearly 700 pages. From celebrities like Ann-Margret, Natalie Wood, June Carter and Tuesday Weld, to forgotten puppy loves from Elvis’s childhood in Mississippi, the accounts of long-ago crushes and affairs range from charmingly innocent to deliciously trashy.
Many of the women Nash interviewed for the book were no older than 14 when first recruited to keep Elvis company. Most claim that Elvis played the gentleman, settling for pajama parties where he often styled his new friends’ hair, gave them makeup lessons, or engaged in tickle fights punctuated by kissing. He wasn’t always successful, as when he “came on like Godzilla” to teenaged fan club president Kay Wheeler, but Nash suggests that he made a sincere effort to group his harem members into “adult” and “too young.”
Even though some of his old flames are now as old as Elvis would be, they’ve never gotten over him. No woman ever did. Nor did they blame him for his blatant two-timing, escorting Girl One out the door while Girl Two waited patiently in the wings. He was irresistible, his carefully tailored come-ons as effective with strippers, bank tellers, and movie stars as with the hesitant parents dazzled by his “Yes ma’am”s and “No sir”s as he whisked their daughters upstairs. Yet his romances flared hot and died fast.
“He didn’t date anybody steadily for more than fifteen minutes,” said one-time girlfriend Barbara Hearn. His erotic style infuriated Natalie Wood, who flounced out of his house one day in a rage: “I thought he was supposed to be the king of the sack!” she said. “He’s all hands and no action.” Tuesday Weld said he looked better with his clothes on, and Peggy Lipton was similarly unimpressed: “He kissed like a god—but that was about it.”
But others were deeply aware of Elvis’s vulnerability. “One of the things I knew instinctively was that he couldn’t be captured, and shouldn’t be captured,” said Connie Stevens, “He was a very dear, precious person.” Patti Parry, the only female member of Elvis’s entourage, glimpsed the source of his confusion: “Nineteen-year-old truck driver overnight becomes superstar and super stud, which he wasn’t.” Barbara Eden thought he “was like a racehorse that you work too hard and then lose.” Shelley Fabares found Elvis to be “a private person who had no privacy.”
If there is one off note in the book, it’s the parade of psycho-sexual theories Nash imports from Elvis biographer Peter O. Whitmer (The Inner Elvis) to bolster her analyses of the King’s raging dependency on women and his phobias about long-term relationships. Whitmer’s weighty, somber analysis of Elvis’s “lethal enmeshment” with his mother, Gladys, and “complicated grief” over his dead twin brother often threatens to sink the whole don’t-come-a-knockin’-while-the-King-sized-bed’s-a-rockin’ boat.
Maybe it’s because Elvis’s kookiest quirks—his love of weapons and uniforms and sheriff’s badges, his deep-seated need for women made up like Egyptian queens, or his cravings for hotdog and hamburger buns by the bagful—lose too much of their nutty mystique when chalked up to his being a “twinless twin.”
Throughout his life, even at the end, when drugs and excess shot him down in flames, Elvis never lost his magical hold over women. “No one has ever taken Elvis’s place in my heart,” said one of his first young loves, June Juanico. “One day with Elvis was like five with anybody else,” said girlfriend Sheila Ryan. Ginger Alden, the last person to see Elvis alive, remembered when she first met him: “I know this sounds funny, but when Elvis entered the room, I thought trumpets would sound.”
On August 16, 1977, the day he died, Priscilla Presley summed it up: “The sun went out.”