Interview with classic film, television & musical stars
by Nick Thomas
Fifty-one years ago, Elvis Presley’s final feature film was released. Although many of his 31 movies were often dismissed due to weak and predictable scripts, critics generally regarded Elvis as a fine actor, which was evident in the dramatic “Change of Habit”.
Co-starring Mary Tyler Moore, Ed Asner was also cast in the 1969 film, his second appearance in an Elvis movie.
“I liked him, he wasn’t pushy,” Asner told me. “In ‘Kid Galahad’, he had a lot of hangers-on and was busy learning karate and breaking boards, but was a good guy. He became a lot slicker as an actor by the time we did ‘Change of Habit’.”
Michael Dante also appeared in “Kid Galahad”, sparring with Presley in the boxing flick. The two performed the fight scenes themselves, with Presley landing a blow on Dante, cutting his lip.
“He kept apologizing over and over,” Dante recalled to me. “But he was a joy to work with, a true gentleman – never late, no temperament, and a fine actor.”
Veteran supporting actor L.Q. Jones teamed up with Elvis in three movies. While filming “Stay Away, Joe” in a small Arizona town, he says thousands of people gathered to glimpse the star, included “a little old lady” whose son had actually tied her to a rocking chair in the back of the family truck.
“The mother was too ill to bend to get inside the truck, so they tied her to the chair and drove some 200 miles so his mother could see Elvis,” Jones told me. “So I go tell Elvis, and he stops everything. He and his band come over, break out their instruments, and give a 30-minute recital to the lady. That was Elvis, a huge star but not a conceited bone in his body.”
Elvis had many leading ladies including Marlyn Mason in “The Trouble with Girls”, who snagged an on-screen kiss.
“It was a comedy kiss,” said Mason, emphasizing there were no fireworks. “Some of that dialogue was so corny, but he managed to bring a realness to it. He was a natural comedian and his timing was just impeccable. I just found him to be a very genuine person.”
Kids weren’t immune to Elvis’ charm, either.
Seven year-old Susan Olsen (Cindy from “The Brady Bunch”) wasn’t an Elvis fan when she also appeared, briefly, in “The Trouble with Girls”, telling me “I couldn’t understand all the hype over him.”
But that changed when she followed the crowd for an autograph.
“He signed the photo, handed it to me, and said ‘Here ya go darling,’” she recalled. “He had this special aura about him – I was just dumbstruck, I couldn’t say anything. When he looked at me, I thought, ‘Oh, I get it.’”
Nick Thomas teaches at Auburn University at Montgomery, AL, and has written features, columns, and interviews for over 700 magazines and newspapers. See www.getnickt.org.