I was born and raised in Atlantic City, New Jersey, the youngest of four children. My parents also raised three of our cousins. Their mom passed away when they were young children. My mom passed away while I was still in high school. By the time I was eight-teen, I was on my own. I got a job at Prudential Insurance Company but it did not pay all of the bills. I got a job at night at to local bowling alley. They had a bar ( The 300 Lounge) attached to the bowling alleys, and although I was to young to serve alcohol, I could make and serve sandwiches. There was live music in the bar, four days a week. That is where Len came into my life.
Len was born and raised in Levittown, Pennsylvania. These cities are about an hour and a half apart. He was in his senior year of high school, and was an above average student. His cousin, Joe, was already out of school and playing in a local band, The Off Beats. He and Joe are very close. The drummer in the band had quit in the middle of an engagement. Len had been playing drums for many years. Len talked his parents into letting him quit high school and work with the band, even though he was only two months from graduating. He reasoning was, if he did not help them, then all four of them would lose there jobs.
He started working at the 300 lounge. After a couple of weeks, their lead singer had to go for his two-week National Guard training. Len took over the lead singers spot from behind his drums. He never liked being in the spotlight. I was surprised to find out that he sounded very much like Elvis. I knew he was an Elvis fan but I did not know he had such a beautiful voice. He never did Elvis imitations. He sang the songs that were popular at that time, only doing a couple Elvis songs each night. While serving sandwiches I was constantly asked if that was Elvis. My standard reply was “ what would Elvis be doing in a place like this?”
Within the year, Len and I were married.
The band traveled all over the East Coast spending three and four months at a time, on the strip in Miami Beach. In between trips to Florida, they would play clubs in the Philadelphia area and as far west as Ohio. There were four other wives, but I was the only one without children and able to travel with a group. Each year, the Off Beats, would take off either January or February for vacation.
On November 8, 1971 we saw our first Elvis live performance at the Spectrum in Philadelphia. There was only one drawback, our seats were at the opposite end of the Coliseum, and three rows from the very very top. Elvis was about the size of an ant. Even from way up there, the show was fantastic. It was after that performance, we started planning our first trip to Las Vegas, for Elvis’ February engagement.
When we told the band of our plans for February, they were quite upset. They hadn’t planned to take a month off. They had wives and children to support and were not very good in managing their money. Len was not willing to give up his dream, so he gave the band his two week notice. He never played drums again.
You had to make reservations in advance to see the ELVIS Shows. Len sent for show tickets on the 6, 7, 9, 11, 13 & 14. We would see a different entertainer on the 10 & 12 and on the 15, we would pack for California. I asked him if it was a different ELVIS show each night and he said no. He would do the same basic show, sing the same songs each night. I asked why did we have to see six shows. With much irritation I was told “I am spending five days and nights with you and your cousin, you can spend six one hour shows with Elvis and I.” The funny thing is after seeing my first ELVIS show, I went and booked a seventh show myself. I enjoyed Elvis’s music but that time, I wasn’t the kind of Elvis fan that Len was. He had all of Elvis’s records, knew all the words to his songs, even the dates when Elvis recorded each of the songs, along with the numbers on the records. His mom once showed me a photo of Len impersonating Elvis at the age of 10.
When we returned home, Len got a job as a meat cutter for Pantry Pride and I ran and accounting office for a Lincoln Mercury dealership. We saw Elvis once in April in Richmond, Va, then twice in June of that year. He appeared at the Madison Square Garden, doing four shows, June 9, 10th and 11th. We attended both shows on June 10.
Time went by quickly, until our Elvis vacation came around again. We flew out early on August 20 and stayed until August 28. We were able to see 12 shows in seven days from the 20th to the 27. This was accomplished by saying a show every night with both dinner and midnight shows on the 22nd, 23rd, 25th and 27th. Although on the first vacation we did see shows with other entertainers, it was the only time we would see anyone other than Elvis in Las Vegas.
We had good seats for the matinee show at Madison Square Garden in June and were able to get some very nice photos. I took photos with me to Vegas to show some English fans. We had met then in February and stayed in contact with them over the months. They were also planning to return for August engagement. There was one photo that Len and I particularly liked. Elvis is leaning over one knee, at the start of hound dog, looking directly into the camera. It is a stunning shot.
There was a casino called Circus Circus on the strip. A balcony surrounded the gambling floor. It had many little stores where you could shop. In one of these stores you could get your photo taken and then they would put it in a button for you, while you waited. I asked the lady if she could do it with a picture that I supplied and she said yes. You guessed it. I had the hound dog photo made into a button. Everyone wanted to know where I got it and could they see our other pictures. When I told them how I did it they wanted to buy the photos. We made many new friends that year because of the button. We would be going back to Vegas in February. In the six months between engagements, we received telephone calls asking if we would bring certain pictures with us from either the Richmond or Madison Square Garden concerts
Between August 72 and February 73, we did not see any elder shows and the time seemed to drag by. Finally February came and we were off to Vegas again. We had reservations for 19 shows between February 9 and February 23, starting with the midnight show on the day we arrived. After getting the money for the photos that we promised to bring our friends, we realized we could see an extra show.
We were able to see some portion of every Vegas show from 1972 through 1976, for a total of 120 shows. In December of 1976 we lived our dream of seeing every show from opening night through the closing show. Ninety-five percent of all of those shows, we saw from ringside seats and never even left the hotel from the time we checked in till the time we checked out. After the midnight performance we would meet all of our friends in the coffee shop at the Hilton. We would talk for hours about that night’s performance and anything about Elvis. We would also see the people that worked with him, the Memphis Mafia, and his family. One morning we were there so long that Priscilla brought Lisa Marie in for breakfast.
We never took photos of Elvis in Vegas, only at concerts. Coliseums are made for ice hockey and basketball, not music. Some were better than others, but Las Vegas had fantastic sound. We were there to hear and see Elvis at his very best.
Elvis got to know us by sight as the two fans from New Jersey. We would give him photos of himself. If he saw me with something in my hands, he would always come over to see what it was. We never gave him nice of pretty pictures. What ever we had it was either funny or dirty and always made him laugh.
Over the years we saw 42 concerts, for a grand total of 162 performances. There were a group of us who helped each other get good tickets. In the early days, you had to mail in to get tickets and we always got good seats. We found out the reason. We would be coming in from out of town and stay at a hotel, buy food at a local restaurant and full our car with gas at a local station, thus bringing money into the area.
We never went to Memphis to Elvis’ death. Friends of ours made a trip down and Elvis left for Tahoe the morning they arrived. If Elvis wasn’t there, then there was no reason for an Elvis fan to be there. We always said that we would wait till he retire from touring to go down. There was also a financial reason. We wouldn’t be able to see as many shows in Vegas, if we took money out to go to Memphis. We did not give each other gifts for birthdays, anniversaries or Christmas. All of that money would go into our Elvis fund.
When Elvis passed away we were anxiously waiting for the August tour. We has three front row tickets. Len’s mom call afternoon and said she had just heard the news that Elvis had passed away. At first we didn’t believe it was true. All we could think of was his dad passed away and the news people got it wrong. After an hour of calling friends who would know, we were forced to believe the truth, Elvis was gone.
The next afternoon we were on a plane to Memphis, along with many other fans. When we got to Graceland, the crowd was all the way down the driveway and out into the street. There was a Shriners convention in town that made thing even worse. It was a terrible time. That night they opened up the street to traffic. Many of the fans from out of town stayed on the street across from Graceland. Because of the convention, there were no motel - hotel rooms available for miles. We watched a car run over a girl crossing the street , dragging her body and killing her. The next day was Elvis’ funeral. We watched the white limos and went to the cemetery to say a prayer. We could not get return air tickets for two days, so we decided to rent a car and slept in it that night.
A good friend of ours knew Janelle McComb and had told us, to look her up, if we ever got to Tupelo. Janelle was a dear friend of the family that stayed very close to the Presley family since the early days in Tupelo. In the morning we decided to get away from the sadness of Memphis. We drove to Tupelo.
Our first stop was Elvis’ birth place. It was very humbling to see that one room shack. I decided to call Janelle to see if she was home form the funeral in Memphis. When she answered the phone and I explained who I was, she said we were just what she needed and that we should get over to her house as soon as possible. We arrived around midmorning and did not leave until late that night. I had a small book of photos in my purse and she was just overwhelmed with the photos we took of Elvis. She told us so many stories and we shared ours with her. It was a wonderful day that all four of us needed.
In keeping in touch with Janelle, we knew all about her wishes for the birth site. We wanted to help her raise the money to build the chapel. In Las Vegas the dinner menu was Elvis’ souvenir. Len and I would be the last ones out of the showroom. On our way out will collect the menus that were not used. We would send them out to our friends that were not able to get to Memphis for that engagement. We were usually able to get 20 or 30 extra menus. The summer engagement in 1973 was the exception. We came home with a suitcase full of these menus. There were hundreds. We decided to sell these menus to raise money for the chapel. We also made a complete list of Elvis’s appearances both at shows and concerts and sold them. In appreciation for our work there is a stained-glass window in the chapel with our names on it. The back wall of the chapel has 18 stained-glass windows. One of the two center windows is the Scales of Justice. The plaque below it reads ------------------------------------------. Jannelle told us, that is where we belonged, “front row center.”
Dear after Elvis passed away, Col. Parker and Elvis’s dad Vernon Presley arranged a 10 day convention at the Hilton in Las Vegas. They wanted the fan clubs to be involved but they didn’t want to be bothered with them. Len and I were asked to run the fan club booths. There were five booths with two free tickets to get in each day. It was tough because everyone wanted the closing weekend but we handled it. In exchange for help we were given a discount on our booth. It was a wonderful event with a highlight being the dedication of the showroom.
My next big project was after Len passed away. I attended the second Elvis Presley Memorial Dinner. The dinner benefited the Make-A-Wish Foundation. I was so impressed with what was being accomplished in Elvis’s name. The attendees met some of the families these child was helped through this organization. Through a friend, Priscilla Parker, I met Marion Cocke. Marion. She was Elvis’s personal nurse and friend for many, many years. An Elvis friend of mine, Sande, and I helped with donations, set up and also made some of the centerpieces for the tables. We continue to help and became a part of Marion’s Teddy Bear team of helpers.
I do not go to Memphis any longer. It has changed so much since the early days. In the beginning the fans that used to go to Las Vegas to see Elvis, now came to Memphis to see each other and pay our respects. The shopping center across from Graceland was an open field. We hung out at the Hickory log, a small hamburger joint. There’s not much around there it was in the suburbs. There was a convention downtown each year. It was organized by a man called Ed Say. You did conventions all over the East Coast. Several of the Elvis photographer’s sold at these conventions. We had many happy times, sharing our stories with other fans and listening to their memories.
Today, I treasure the memories and friends we made thru this great man ELVIS PRESLEY.