ELVIS AND GLADYS by Elaine Dundy


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The most fine-grained Elvis bio ever--though it ends with the death of his mother. Dundy avidly climbs the farthest limbs of the Presley family tree to illumine the Southern personalities, times, customs and traditions that gave life to the King of Rock 'n' Roll, with special concern for the maternal line. Novelist and biographer Dundy traces Gladys Smith Presley back to William Mansell's marriage to Cherokee princess Morning Dove in 1818, while sketching the Mansell family background through earlier pioneer stock to 16th-century Ulster. The Mississippi Presleys were dirt poor, Elvis's father Vernon a barely 17 smiling, shiftless ne'er-do-well when he eloped with 21-year-old Gladys. As a sweet and cheerful maiden Gladys had been a knockout barefoot buck dancer and all-out madcap at the Charleston--Elvis came by his pelvic gyrations genetically. His half-hour-older twin brother Jesse Garon, born dead, haunted him for the rest of his life and insured Gladys's obsessive care of her only surviving child. A comic book fan, he modeled himself on Captain Marvel, Jr.--stance, haircut, cape and lightning-bolt symbol. Gladys escorted an embarrassed Elvis to and from school for 12 years--to make sure he got his economically all-important diploma. Even the pre-teen Elvis saw that if the Presleys were ever to make ends meet it would not be through the efforts of improvident Vernon. The boy began singing on Saturday radio jamborees for amateurs. And, amazingly, he saw early that he had power over people only when he was singing; not singing, he was weak and foolish, as by extension was his family. So he became a pest about getting girls to like him even when he wasn't singing. Dundy says nothing good about showman Colonel Tom Parker's hypnotic power over Elvis, his venality, low cunning and disgusting personal appearance. She distinguishes Elvis' singing against strings (guitar) as against the bands backing popular vocalists, adding that throughout it all ""pervaded a tenderness that flowed both outwards to the subject of the song and inwards to the song's sufferer. Whatever wisdom he was lacking in his everyday life he never lacked for it in his best work."" Once Elvis is on the road he becomes forever independent of Gladys. What killed Gladys? Elvis. Once fame struck him, she never again had a peaceful moment. Fans lay siege to her home night and day, reducing her to morbidity and mental confusion. Smiles are few. She takes to secret nipping. Even the paradise of her fabulous new home, Graceland, can't revive her. She and Elvis are uneasy on his visits. His grief over her death from liver damage is impressive: ""Oh, God! Everything I have is gone."" Thoughtful and truth-telling, this is Elvis's most literate life story yet, a needed corrective after the horrors shucked by Albert Goldman's Elvis and those by Presley's bodyguards.

Pub Date: June 14th, 1985
ISBN: 1578066344
Publisher: Macmillan