Friday Night Forgotten Oldie: A bizarre moment in US history

December 21, 1970


Photo: The White House

Somehow, Elvis Presley and members of his so-called Memphis Mafia, friends Jerry Schilling and Sonny West with the help of presidential aide Egil “Bud” Krogh managed to get into the White House and meet President Richard Nixon. Elvis wanted to talk to the president about America’s drug problem but also secure a special badge.

Peter Carlson wrote in the Smithsonian Magazine:

Around noon, Elvis arrived at the White House with Schilling and bodyguard Sonny West, who’d just arrived from Memphis. Arrayed in a purple velvet suit with a huge gold belt buckle and amber sunglasses, Elvis came bearing a gift—a Colt .45 pistol mounted in a display case that Elvis had plucked off the wall of his Los Angeles mansion.

Which the Secret Service confiscated before Krogh escorted Elvis—without his entourage—to meet Nixon.

“When he first walked into the Oval Office, he seemed a little awe-struck,” Krogh recalls, “but he quickly warmed to the situation.”

While White House photographer Ollie Atkins snapped photographs, the president and the King shook hands. Then Elvis showed off his police badges.

Nixon’s famous taping system had not yet been installed, so the conversation wasn’t recorded. But Krogh took notes: “Presley indicated that he thought the Beatles had been a real force for anti-American spirit. The President then indicated that those who use drugs are also those in the vanguard of anti-American protest.”

“I’m on your side,” Elvis told Nixon, adding that he’d been studying the drug culture and Communist brainwashing. Then he asked the president for a badge from the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs.

“Can we get him a badge?” Nixon asked Krogh.

Krogh said he could, and Nixon ordered it done.

Elvis was ecstatic. “In a surprising, spontaneous gesture,” Krogh wrote, Elvis “put his left arm around the President and hugged him.”

Before leaving, Elvis asked Nixon to say hello to Schilling and West, and the two men were escorted into the Oval Office. Nixon playfully punched Schilling on the shoulder and gave both men White House cuff links.

“Mr. President, they have wives, too,” Elvis said. So Nixon gave them each a White House brooch.

After Krogh took him to lunch at the White House mess, Elvis received his gift—the narc badge.

The encounter has been made into a movie that opened in theaters today, “Elvis & Nixon.”

This Elvis fan is a bit troubled … the movie is a comedy.

“I like to call it a historical fiction or a historical bromance,” said filmmaker Liza Johnson.

“It does come from this very surreal chapter in American history that is true. In the moments when the kind of real realness wasn’t available to us, we would kind of go from the character and figure out it might … be funnier [to have] his outsize personality and his glamorous effects in a more government style [hotel], that’s almost an oxymoron. There is an incredible comedy of situation when this supercool rock ‘n’ roll world and, let’s say, this not cool governmental world collide with each other.

“There’s no denying that there’s an absurdism to the clash of style between these two men, and we all really liked the way that the project acknowledges the absurdism of that situation. We all wanted to embrace the comedy of the occasion without allowing the comedy to mock the characters. I don’t think anybody wants to see a big takedown of Elvis Presley, and everybody’s already seen a big takedown of Richard Nixon, because that’s what happened in real life.

“My ambition is that the comedy should allow you to learn something about these two powerful white guys in this particular moment. It should deliver something meaningful about their personalities.”

The day Elvis met Nixon this song was #32 on the Billboard charts. It was originally recorded in 1966 by Dusty Springfield, her biggest hit

 

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