June 22 - Talkin’ Elvis, The Colonel and more with Alanna Nash

With the recent reissue of her best-selling book, ‘The Colonel: The Extraordinary Story of Colonel Tom Parker and Elvis Presley’, renowned author, Alanna Nash, took time out of her busy schedule to discuss Elvis, the Colonel and other related issues with Nigel Patterson (Elvis Information Network), Kees Mouwen (Elvis Day By Day) and prolific Elvis biographer Paul Bélard. 

In her candid interview, Alanna provides insightful commentary about the Colonel’s early years before coming to America, when he lost his way in promoting Elvis, the controversial source, Byron Raphael, Lamar Fike’s finding about the rumor the Colonel was involved in the death of a woman in Holland, why Elvis didn’t take more control of his career, the new Baz Luhrmann Elvis biopic, and much more.

 


Nash, a feature writer for Entertainment Weekly, USA Weekend, and The New York Times, Alanna Nash is a longtime chronicler of popular culture. She is the author of various books on Elvis, including ‘Elvis Aaron Presley: Revelations from the Memphis Mafia’, ‘Baby, Let's Play House - Elvis Presley and the Women Who Loved Him’ and his manager in ‘The Colonel: The Extraordinary Story of Colonel Tom Parker and Elvis Presley’. She also wrote biographies on Dolly Parton and Jessica Savitch, interviewed many country stars for ‘Behind Closed Doors’ and was named one of the ‘Heavy 100 of Country Music’ by Esquire magazine. Nash holds a master's degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She was the Society of Professional Journalists' National Member of the Year in 1994. 

 

Q: Hi Alanna, it’s great to catch up with you in 2022. How are you and what have you been up to the last few years?

 

Alanna: Good to visit with you again! As you know, I kind of step in and out of Elvis World for long stretches. It’s a pretty intense place! I was very pleased to appear at Henrik Knudsen’s Garden Party at the Memphis Mansion in Randers, Denmark, in 2018, and to write the preface for Kees Mouwen’s “Elvis Day By Day 2020”. (I have a soft spot for the European fans, especially.) 

 

But for the most part, I have been quite caught up in magazine work, and also writing a personal project, a book about a friend who died in 2017. That will occupy me for the next few years. 


Q: Congratulations on the re-release of your "new" book about the Colonel and Elvis. Can you tell us what's new in this edition of your classic biography of the Colonel's life and why you decided to publish it again?

 

Alanna: Thank you! I’m really glad it’s out in a new edition, though it never really went out of print. This new paperback reprint has quite an exciting Afterword, with a document that my brother-friend Tony Stuchbury discovered about one of the Colonel’s trips to America. It’s pretty mind blowing! It makes the book come full circle, and is the best evidence of his voyages as we’re likely to get. It tells you a lot about both the Colonel’s determination and his character, I dare say.

 

Q: It is only logical that this book sees a re-release with the new Baz Luhrmann Elvis biopic coming out. It is described as "The film chronicles the life and career of singer and actor Elvis Presley, from his early days as a child to becoming a rock and roll and movie star, as well as his complex relationship with his manager Colonel Tom Parker." What is your opinion on the movie and the perspective Baz Luhrman has taken?

 

Alanna: I haven’t seen the film yet. But I did interview Baz Luhrmann about it, who said, “My takeaway as the ultimate outsider is that the Presley-Parker relationship is probably the real love story. Not that there isn’t a great and genuine romance between Elvis and Priscilla (his wife), but the love story that soars brilliantly, but gets a little too close to the sun and tumbles, is Elvis and the Colonel. It’s almost a codependent marriage that, while toxic and destructive, cannot be unwound.”

 

I was surprised he framed Elvis and Colonel as a love story, but if you stretch that word to its farthest possible capacity, yes, I could see that. Elvis saw Colonel as a father figure early on, but that certainly changed. (The term “Stockholm Syndrome” also springs to mind.) As for Colonel, well, as my Dutch journalist friend, Constant Meijers, assesses, “Colonel Parker was a nobody who needed a somebody to be anybody.” 


Q: In 2003 you said in an interview with the Elvis Information Network: "The book was also difficult because it was so expensive to research. I am in deep debt because of that. Unless I get a film deal, I will never recoup it.In 2017 a press-release was issued on a film project by Spencer Proffer, Steve Binder, Joe Berlinger and you, based on your book and with you co-writing the screenplay. Now we have a movie, but we miss your name … Alanna, what happened?

 

Alanna: That’s a good question, and I’m still scratching my head a little bit. 

 

Q: If you had written the script, how would you have portrayed both men?

 

Alanna: Stay tuned!

 

Q: You met the Colonel three times before you decided to write a book about him. In a previous interview with Ear Candy Magazine you stated “I became completely fascinated by him, and charmed by him, too, even as there was something psychologically predatory and off-putting about him. To be blunt, he could be scary, apart from his usual formidable personality. However, I came to have a lot of affection for him.”  

 

When your research was done, what was your main conclusion on the Colonel? Was he the man you imagined him to be? Or just a shadow of the man he once was?

 

Alanna: When I knew the Colonel, he was in his eighties, but he still had plenty of personal power. He was a force field. Now, the Colonel surprised me in that he was quite kind to me on the whole. He was cagey, but he offered help on one hand, and treated me to meals, and made time for me - something like nine hours in all. That was thrilling. 

 

But he also knew that I was writing my Memphis Mafia book with Billy Smith, Marty Lacker, and Lamar Fike, and, well, what’s that old adage: Keep your friends close and your enemies closer? I wasn’t exactly an enemy, but I was a truth teller and a seeker of truth, and I was dealing with a man whose entire life was a lie and a sham. I think he thought that courting my friendship and loyalty - and he was out front in saying it was my loyalty he wanted - would somehow protect him against whatever Billy, Marty, and Lamar had to say about him. 

 

Of course, my allegiance had to be to the truth, above all. And the Colonel’s allegiance was to the con: He had two mantras. The first was, “You either con, or you get conned.” 

 

Q: Your biography goes all the way back to The Netherlands, the city of Breda where the Colonel was born and raised “old fashioned and with a hard hand by his father”. How much of the man Parker was shaped in the upbringing of the boy Dries?

 

Alanna: Oh, an extraordinary amount, if not all of it, I think. His relationship with his father was difficult. He was a headstrong child with a headful of fanciful thoughts, and his father was hardworking and rigid and punitive, and wanted his son to toe the line. That was never going to happen, because Dries van Kuijk was too much like his mother’s family, who were parlevinkers, floating peddlers who traveled Holland’s river and canal system, selling and trading household goods from their barge to other travelers on the water. They were nomads, and they lived by their wits, and they sometimes resorted to shenanigans, a little bit of trickery, to make ends meet. 

 

As an adolescent, Dries became very angry with his father, and he grew up to be quite a moody adult with a lot of anger issues. He probably suffered from intermittent explosive disorder. He had a horrible temper. His employees and the young William Morris guys who were assigned to him were terrified of him, even as they came to love him. Often, he would just explode in rage, and they hadn’t seen it coming. 

 

At other times, he knew how to deal with his feelings. One of them told me this: “When the Colonel would get angry, whether it was a phone call that didn't go right, or a deal that was (about to collapse), he would get out of his chair, walk down the stairs of his office and start what looked like power walking, with his fists pumping up and down and his shirt flapping and walking as though he would walk right through a wall. I’d follow him sometimes, but it seemed to me as if anyone got in his way, he wouldn't stop. He would just walk right through them, because he was going to end whatever caused the anger. And if the person wasn’t there, he was going to walk until that thought got out of his mind. You could absolutely see it and feel it in him.” 

 

As a carryover from childhood, I think, the Colonel liked to hold people up to ridicule. He did this with the Memphis Mafia, with his employees, and the studio heads. It was another way he controlled the power, and he loved power. That’s what was paramount, and the money secondary. Lamar Fike, who often took up for the Colonel’s legacy, saw both sides of him. He told me, "The man was an insufferable human being. There was no saving grace about him. Or I never found one."

 

Q: Parker married twice but had no children. Looking at his hard upbringing, his illegal status and his secrets, we can even understand it. Do you think Parker may have considered Elvis the son he never had?

 

Alanna: I believe three things: One, Elvis was his alter ego, and he wanted to make himself as big a star and as much a legend as the man whose career he guided. It was his way of getting even with the world. Two, he saw Elvis as both his “attraction,” as he called him, using a term that sounds way too much like carnival lingo, and a human shield against his immigration woes and everything that threated him. (His second mantra was, “Always have something better than a contract.”) And three, he leveraged Elvis against his gambling debts, and he used him in Vegas as a chip. 

 

I don’t think he was interested much in being a father per se. He certainly wasn’t much of one to his stepson, Bobby Ross, though he tried to help him in business a little when Bobby was grown, having Bobby and his wife, Sandra, help with Elvis promotion. But the Colonel mentored a lot of young men, from some of the William Morris guys to (Colonel’s secretary) Trude Forsher’s son, James, and he was very kind to fan club head Todd Slaughter in the U.K. 

 

Btw, he might not have been capable of fathering children. Bob Ross’s widow, Sandra Polk Ross, thinks he might have been sterile. She told me, “In those days, mumps was the greatest cause of sterility in men. My opinion is that if Colonel had been capable of having children, he would have had children with (his first wife) Marie, because he loved kids.” He was fond of Bob’s children with his first wife, Sandra says, and he was good with her own son, Kenneth, when he was little.  

 

Q: Your catalog of Elvis related books is regarded as being among the best in the Elvis library, ranked alongside those by Peter Guralnick, Jerry Hopkins, and Bill Burk. Of all your Elvis books, ‘The Colonel’ has been the most controversial. 

 

How did you feel about the reaction to it, in particular around the possibility of Tom Parker (Andreas van Kuijk) having killed a woman in Holland and the late Bill Burk’s concerns about the integrity of one of your key informants, Byron Raphael?

 

Alanna: Thanks for the kind words. Well, first of all, the murder theory is just that, a “theory,” based on circumstantial evidence and someone in Holland fingering him for the deed through an anonymous letter to the journalist Dirk Vellenga, who documented Parker’s origins in Breda, the Netherlands. It’s pretty clear that the letter writer believed wholeheartedly what he/she was saying, based on what he/she had been told by family. Dirk, who was a careful journalist, believed it was true, too. 


I’d say people who criticize me for advancing that idea, or saying that I accused him of murder can’t read. Nowhere in the book do I say that he did it. I simply offer that circumstantial evidence and let the reader decide. I even state, quite emphatically, that there is no forensic evidence to connect Parker to the murder, but that there are a number of factors that need to be considered in light of the date of his disappearance and his refusal to ever go back to Europe.  

 

Certainly, he lived his life as a man who had something awful to hide, who acted out of fear, and who couldn’t fix his immigration problems, though he had plenty of opportunities and legal channels to do so. But he never did apply for a passport or apply for U.S. citizenship. I documented that in my research. His past, whatever it really was in its fullness, haunted him. And this lack of a passport became a major problem when Elvis wanted to tour abroad, of course. 

 

After my book came out in 2003, Lamar Fike called me and told me he brought it up to the Colonel’s family when he was in Holland in 1980. I just transcribed that tape. Here’s what he said:  “I asked his sister (Adriana) about it and she said, ‘Well, we just don't discuss that,’ and I said, ‘Okay,’ so I hit a nerve and I backed off. Lamar believed it wholeheartedly. He said to me, “Never any doubt that he *didn’t* kill her.

 

As for Byron, well, that’s a whole other topic. If Bill Burk was critical of his integrity, I’d say that’s because Bill was jealous he didn’t find Byron first. I found him in kind of a circuitous way. I was looking for a researcher on the West Coast, and the journalist Todd Everett suggested a woman named Judy Raphael. She went through the Hal Wallis correspondence with Colonel for me at the Academy library, and worked for me for several months in 1998. 

 

Almost as a postscript when we were emailing about how we would do this, she wrote: “Btw, my brother toured with Elvis and the Colonel one spring in 1957 when he worked for William Morris, and still seems to remember Parker vividly and with relish.” I stared at that email for a full minute, disbelieving. Why hadn’t she mentioned this earlier? Well, because they didn’t get along, and communicated only through their mother. But eventually, I made contact with Byron and learned his incredible story, which was far more than touring with Elvis and the Colonel. So for Bill to say that is bull and it angers me. At least one of the Memphis Mafia guys also went so far as to say Byron was never around Elvis. 

 

Well, that’s absurd. Byron was a fixture with Trude Forsher in the Colonel’s early West Coast offices on the studio lots, and there is a photo of Byron and Trude and Tom Diskin with Dolores Hart and Elvis at the “King Creole” wrap party. And there are numerous pictures of Byron with Colonel and Trude at the studios, including one with Trude, Colonel, Tom Diskin, and Nick Adams. He’s also referenced in some correspondence Colonel had with the William Morris office in 1958. He was with Colonel for several years, and remained friendly with Colonel through the ‘70s, though that friendship was strained for several reasons, including Byron’s gambling habit and Colonel’s ruining his career at William Morris in having him humiliate his own bosses on the Colonel’s behalf. 

 

Trude talked with me about Byron, and her son, James, not only remembered him from his time with the Colonel, but interviewed him on video in Byron’s last years. Some of the Memphis Mafia guys may not have known about him because he preceded them by many years, though Lamar remembered him, of course, because he went back so far with Elvis. 

 

Now, people may not like the story Byron and I did together for Playboy magazine, but that’s tough. I find it both amusing and astonishing that American fans, more than European fans, still have this puritan attitude about Elvis and sex. The man rose to fame in part by being a highly sexual performer. And he became the male sex symbol of the 20th century. But they want to erase all that from their thoughts. Listen, Elvis all but drew the blueprint for the archetypal rock and roll star. And Byron didn’t shy away from that in the Playboy piece. But to me, Byron was invaluable for his primary accounts of life with Colonel. Because he literally lived with Colonel and Marie for a time, and Colonel controlled his entire life. 

 

Speaking of Byron, here’s a story he told me that I don’t think made it into the book, but which I love. He was traveling all over the country with Colonel, chauffeuring him. Byron said, “One night snowed in in Hobbs, New Mexico, we shared the only room available in a small hotel. That night, I woke to horrendous noises. Turned out to be Colonel snoring. I did everything to wake him out of his deep sleep enough to stop the noise. Nothing worked. Finally out of desperation, I started cursing. “Colonel, you blank, blank. Colonel, you blank, blank, blank.” Next morning, Colonel said to me, “Byron, you must be angry as anything, because you've cursed me all night long.” He’d been awake listening to me. Well, I learned to watch every step of the way. When you worked with the Colonel, he knew what you were thinking before you did.”

 

Q: Alanna, many consider the Colonel to only have been good for Elvis’ career in his early years. In ‘The Colonel: The Extraordinary Story of Colonel Tom Parker and Elvis Presley’ you are very candid about the Colonel’s personal weaknesses. In writing the book did you form a view on the point where the Colonel’s effectiveness in guiding Elvis’ career changed?

 

Alanna: I think his effectiveness, as well as their relationship, started to fall apart during the movie years, when Elvis realized that the success of “Blue Hawaii” had locked him into the trap of “travelogues” with a set number of insipid songs written to fit the scripts. That meant not only that the Colonel and Hal Wallis killed his dream of becoming a serious actor, something we caught a glimpse of in “King Creole,” as well as “Wild in the Country” and “Flaming Star,” but also that RCA was going to pull his singles from those tepid soundtracks. And then the exhausting treadmill of Vegas was the final nail in their coffin. 

 

Now, you could say the Colonel always knew how to keep his star on top, moving him from records and concerts to movies and Vegas and back out on the road, with special events like the satellite special and the comeback special in between. But the splendid turnaround of the comeback special just fell into the Colonel’s lap. As we all know, he basically tried to thwart that. And if Elvis hadn’t died, I really don’t think the Colonel knew where to take him next, except that he allegedly had been talking to Peter Grant about taking him overseas, since the Colonel himself couldn’t go. Would that have really happened? I don’t think anybody knows. But can you imagine how that would have rejuvenated Elvis? And the money it would have made for both of them? 

 

Q. You stated in an interview that the Colonel was "the promoter of promoters", but looking back now, wasn't he just a “carny” traveling from town to town setting up shows and making a dime at the expense of the main attraction? Basically, living his childhood dream?

 

Alanna: Well, he was a great promoter, no doubt about that. But he fell down tremendously as a manager, because his own needs superseded those of the best interests of his client.  But he was far greater than just an itinerant carny. 

 

You could make the case that he’s the father of American popular culture as we know it today, applying the carnival techniques of marketing and merchandising to rock and roll. Every time you buy a t-shirt at a concert, you’re going back to Colonel and Hank Saperstein with Elvis charm bracelets, Elvis lipstick in “Hound Dog” orange, and Elvis scarves, dolls, plastic guitars, and glow-in-the-dark busts. Every time you buy a souvenir booklet at any kind of show from a vendor who walks the aisles at intermission, it’s the Colonel selling Eddy Arnold songbooks. 

 

As Bob McCluskey, former general promotion manager for RCA Victor, told me, “The specter of Tom selling pictures and records down the aisles of a venue was one to behold. That, to my knowledge, no pop manager had ever done.” 

 

And let’s not forget that William Morris did not book Elvis on the Dorsey Brothers’ show. They dragged their heels on Elvis, not seeing the full potential. Parker used an independent agent, Steve Yates, to book those four consecutive weeks, later six weeks, on CBS-TV’s Stage Show, where he debuted his RCA single, “Heartbreak Hotel.” When the Morris office found out about it, Harry Kalcheim fired off a blustery note. Parker answered him by saying, “I don’t think this artist was pitched full force. You know as well as I do offering a new artist is one thing but selling one is another. If I waited for someone to call me with deals all the time, I would have to start selling candy apples again.” He out-thought and out-worked all those guys.


Q. Elvis fans generally said Elvis was depending on the Colonel, but it obviously also was the other way around as he "declined / refused" to manage other artists or more artists at the same time. What do you think, could the Colonel have become “the promoter of promoters" if he had continued to work with country artists? 

 

Alanna: Well, remember that country performers were always seen as the red-headed stepchildren of the entertainment business. They were looked down upon to a large extent, especially by New York and West Coast bookers, who considered them déclassé and thought there was no money in them. But Parker knew that wasn’t true, and from his days in the carnivals and Gene Austin’s Star-O-Rama Theatre, he knew how to get folks into the big tent. And remember, too, that he built Eddy into a household name, so perhaps he would have been the country promoter par excellence. Those Grand Ole Opry stars who relied on him for bookings were majorly impressed with him. 

 

Here’s what Minnie Pearl told me: “When I came along, nobody owned their home. They lived in trailers or rooming houses. Nobody had any insurance, and very few of them had bank accounts. They carried all the money they had with them. When one of ’em got ready to buy a house, the real estate man would say, ‘How do you intend to take care of this?’ And they’d say, ‘Will cash do?’ They had no idea how big this thing was going to be.” But for Parker’s first country show, he lined up a promotion with a grocery store chain to sell discount tickets with a newspaper coupon. Minnie remembered that the audience was large enough to fill the house for several performances. “It was the first time we had any connection with anything like that,” she said. “The store paid for the advertising, and many more tickets were sold, because every (grocery) cashier in a three-county area was working what amounted to a box office. The man was thinking even then.

 

Q: Professor Howard DeWitt, in his book, ‘Elvis: The Sun Years’, commented that “the Colonel’s Svengali-like behavior cut Elvis out of much of the decision making”. What is your perspective on this? Do you have any idea why Parker did not put a clause in the movie contracts which would have allowed Elvis to have some input on the scripts and particularly the songs that were chosen for the movies? 

 

Alanna: Elvis was a passive person, as are most artists. He wasn’t confrontational, and that had been drilled into him since he was a small child and Vernon went to prison: don’t make waves. On top of that, he didn’t want to fool with business, and Vernon was supposed to be looking out for that with the Colonel. Money was success and money was power. 

 

The Colonel put it to Elvis succinctly: “We do it this way, we make money. We do it your way, we don’t make money.” I mean, look at the initial box office of “Flaming Star” and “Wild in the Country.” Colonel would have explained it to Vernon that way, as well, and that’s all Vernon needed to hear. Remember what Hal Wallis said: “The idea of tailoring Elvis for dramatic roles is something that we never attempted. We didn’t sign Elvis as a second Jimmy Dean. We signed him as a number-one Elvis Presley.”

 

Q: Following up on that, what is your opinion regarding the two publishing companies owned by Parker that filtered the songs offered to Elvis? Another example of the Colonel taking care of his own business? How bad was it for his career? 

 

Alanna: Yes, but also another example of the Colonel’s loyalty. He had built his team with Eddy Arnold, and he was loyal to them with Elvis. That included William Morris and RCA and the Aberbach music publishers. Now, does it also mean the Colonel knew he had sway with them? Of course! But the Colonel put a lot of store in loyalty and respect, even though we may think his ideas about such things were distorted. 

 

And he also saw this: By the end of 1945, when most New York publishers saw no percentage in what was then called country-and-western music, the Aberbachs had three songs at the top of the charts and US$50,000 in the bank. The Colonel wasn’t about to argue with success. Now, you asked, “How bad was it for Elvis’s career?” Well, just look what happened when Elvis finally bucked Colonel in that regard with Chips Moman. 


Q: In 1960, Elvis got US$125,000 to perform two songs on the Frank Sinatra show. In 1969, Elvis' contract with the International paid US$100,000 a week for a four-week engagement. US$125,000 in 1960 would be worth close to US$151,000 in 1969. Do you think that Elvis was grossly underpaid? And it got worse in the following years. Was Parker already into heavy gambling at this time and would it have influenced the negotiations?

 

Alanna: You have to look at what other people were getting in Vegas at the time, and I don’t have those figures handy. But coming off of those dreadful movies, and looking pretty washed up before the Singer special, Colonel may have been working a little bit of a miracle to get Elvis that much at first. 

 

But yes, of course, one reason Parker took him to Vegas was so he could gamble. That unquenchable thirst would have definitely influenced future negotiations. When they worked the tablecloth deal, Alex Shoofey, the executive vice president of the International Hotel, was amazed that Parker hadn’t asked for a sliding scale, considering the amount of business Elvis brought to the hotel and its casinos. Shoofey later told people that Parker said, “’Now tell me again. You’ll give me the same money for the five years?’ And I said, ‘Absolutely.’ I mean, this was unheard of that anybody would sign for five years for the same amount of money, no increase. So he took the tablecloth, he wrote the contract on the tablecloth, and he signed it. He was very receptive, very cooperative, and very easy to deal with.”

 

Q: Of all the books you have written, which one is your favorite on Elvis and which is your favorite non-Elvis release?

 

Alanna: I’ve always said “The Colonel” is my best Elvis book, simply because it was such a major test of my interviewing, investigative, and writing skills. For that reason, it is still my favorite of my Elvis-related books. My favorite non-Elvis release is my biography of NBC News anchorwoman Jessica Savitch, “Golden Girl”.  

 

Q: With more than 3,000 titles published, the Elvis book library is one of the most eclectic for any person. It traverses biographies, memoirs, reference books, music related volumes, Elvis’ live performances, Elvis’ radio, TV and film impact, photo-books, conspiracy stories, academic analyses, Elvis as art, Elvis and race, Elvis and religion, genealogical research, general literature, Elvis for younger readers, more than 300 fiction titles, and a similar number of non-English language releases. 

 

There are many more Elvis books released each year than Elvis music albums. What is your perspective on this phenomenon?

 

Alanna: Elvis is the quintessential American story, and he is emblematic of the full dramatic scope and historical arc of this country, from his rise from obscurity to his conquering of the world to his tragic self-destruction, and the growing pains of the nation. He is beautiful, he is irresistible, his music and his appeal is timeless, and he’s the most important figure of the 20th century. How can we ever look away?

 

Q: Alanna, do you read many books about Elvis and, if yes, what are some of the more interesting titles you have found in recent years?

 

Alanna: I don’t, honestly. When I’m in Elvis World, I’m all in. But when I’m not in Elvis World, I try not to think about it. Quite frankly, some of the fans are really petty and mean-spirited. Elvis has been my life’s work. But it hurts me to see what has happened around Graceland, and the really brutal and vicious things that people do and say to each other in his name. He would never want that, and it makes me sad. 

 

Q: A surprisingly popular sub-genre in the Elvis library is conspiracy theories, including Elvis having faked his death, Elvis was murdered, illegitimate children, claimed brothers and sisters, letters by Elvis to his secret spiritual confidante, and secret recordings. Have you explored any of these and do you have a view on their role in the Elvis story?

 

Alanna: I have not, though such things always swirl around glamorous figures and tragedies. However, there have to be illegitimate children. Lamar got close to identifying a son in Shreveport, a child adopted by a prominent banker, and he basically got run out of town. The sheriff paid him a visit. 

 

Q: Some fans are critical of how the Elvis estate is being operated. In particular, admission prices to tour Graceland and attend Elvis in Concert performances have risen to a level which many fans can’t afford. This contrasts with the Colonel’s policy of keeping prices to a level that all fans could afford, i.e. Elvis was available to all fans regardless of socio-economic status. What is your view on this issue?

 

Alanna: As I said, it makes me sad. And it chagrins the historian in me to see the real man become obscured or swallowed up by the myth that emerges from the estate’s marketing and merchandising campaigns. 

 

Q: Similarly, with fundamental changes in book production technology, the Elvis book world has become essentially a tripartite structure involving mainstream commercial releases, quality fan club titles, and for want of a better term, vanity, print on demand (POD) releases written by individual fans.

 

While commercially produced and POD releases are affordable for most readers, the excellent coffee- table volumes produced by larger Elvis organizations have prices that are prohibitive to many fans, and they are books that won’t be found in your local library. How could access to these more expensive books be facilitated to a greater number of fans?

 

Alanna: I honestly don’t know. 

 

Q: Interest in Elvis continues at a high level and demand appears to be still predominately driven by those who became fans when Elvis was alive. How can EPE and Sony maintain and preferably increase interest in Elvis among new generations? 

 

The movie will obviously give Elvis’ legacy a boost, and with an Elvis inspired rap album also being released by Warner Bros. and the expected launch of a dedicated live-streaming Elvis Presley channel (Cinedigm and EPE), do you think EPE and Sony can reach a new / younger fanbase?

 

Alanna: Yes, I think they can. But what is the trade-off? That’s what makes me nervous. Elvis, the man and the deep, trailblazing artist keeps being repackaged and rebranded as simply a commodity. In 1994, Parker took a jab at the estate, insisting he had never “exploited Elvis as much as he’s being exploited today.” I could see the Elvis potato head and the Presley sink strainer eventually morphing into a Mickey Mouse action figure strumming a guitar.

 

Q: Apart from your Elvis books one of your other critically acclaimed releases is the original biography, Dolly / Dolly The Biography, about the legendary Dolly Parton. Now in her seventies, Dolly goes from strength to strength, her latest triumph being topping the New York Times best-selling fiction list with her witty thriller, (written with the world’s leading fiction writer, James Patterson), “Run, Rose, Run”. 

 

When did you last catch up with Dolly?

 

Alanna: I haven’t actually interviewed Dolly since 2016. I had a tragedy in my life the following year, and I’ve been a bit underground since then, preparing a book about it. 

 

Btw, years after I wrote my book about Dolly, I found out that we are related, something she suspected from our first meeting in 1977, just by looking at me, and learning that my mother was from Sevierville, Tn., Dolly’s hometown. I had two genealogists run it. It’s not close enough to get in the will, but it’s enough for bragging rights. We are fifth cousins, once removed, through our mothers. I told Dolly that in 2016 and gave her the documents. She put her hands together and squealed as only Dolly can, and reached an outstretch hand across the table and said, “Hello, Sis!” She was adorable.  

 

Q: When you compare Elvis and Dolly as popular culture icons, how do rate them as a person and as an artist (taking care of their business)?

 

Alanna: If Elvis had been half the business person Dolly is, he would have run rings around the Colonel.

 

Now that’s a nice thought to hold on to, and wrap up this interview. Alanna, thank you very much for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk with us. We appreciate your insight and thoughtful answers. 

 

The updated edition of Alanna Nash’ 'The Colonel: The Extraordinary Story of Colonel Tom Parker and Elvis Presley' was released July 21, 2022 as "the legendary partnership at the heart of a major motion picture”. 


For more information on the book and Alanna Nash visit her website at >>> https://colonelparker.net/.


Photo credits: "Portrait Alanna" by Vivian Knox-Thompson, "Elvis and Alanna in Randers" by Anthony Stuchbury.