As the years go by, our memories become like a dense forest through which we make our way down familiar and well-trodden trails. Smaller unnoticed paths branch out, often leading to half-forgotten memories. I recently came across that path and began to think of incidents with Elvis that I have rarely spoken about, incidents with a common thread: Elvis’ generosity even in small matters.
Of course, Elvis’ generosity is legendary. During his life he gave away houses, cars, motorcycles, jewelry, furs, clothes and money as if it were going out of style. His generosity knew no bounds. He gave to the poor and needy, but did not discriminate against the rich. He once removed a thirty thousand dollar ring from his finger and gave it to singer and comedian Sammy Davis, Jr.
“Nobody thinks of giving anything to a rich man,” he explained. “They are also people. They like to think that someone thinks enough to give them something.”
Once he had the urge to give in, there was no stopping Elvis. One afternoon on the Paramount lot while filming “Easy Come, Easy Go,” we were walking to the soundstage. A salesman rolling a large suitcase filled with an assortment of jewelry yelled as he ran toward us, “Elvis, wait, I have something you can’t pass up. You have to see this.”
Out of breath, she exclaimed, “Just look at this beauty,” as she opened a drawer and pulled out a diamond ring that she handed to Elvis. Elvis admired it, put it on his finger, and almost immediately told Joe Esposito to give him a check. On set, Elvis proudly displayed his latest acquisition. After lunch, he was on his feet, waiting for the cameras to set up, every now and then looking at the ring and smiling.
David Winters, Elvis’s choreographer, walked over and Elvis showed him his new ring. David’s eyes read. “Elvis, man, that’s beautiful; I love your ring.”
Elvis removed the ring from his finger and handed it to her.
“Give it a try,” he said, “and see how it looks.”
David put it on his finger. “It looks great on me.”
Elvis glanced at her beaming face. “It’s yours,” he said, smiling as he turned and walked away from the stunned choreographer.
The example of Elvis’ generosity that most recently came to mind was an event that occurred one afternoon in 1965. We were in the Dodge motorhome, driving through the Arizona desert on Route 66, approaching the sacred Hopi mountains.
Elvis had been behind the wheel as usual, until he had a deep vision, an experience that shook him to the core. It was a spiritual shock and a turning point in his life. After that, he was too excited and distracted to drive, so he asked Red West to take the wheel.
Elvis motioned for me to follow him into the bedroom at the back of the vehicle, where we sat for a while in silence. Then, as night began to fall, we started talking about what had just happened as we continued down the road to Flagstaff.
Finally, we both fell asleep, when we were abruptly awakened several hours later by shouts of “We’re on fire! We’re on fire!”
We straightened up and Red pulled up quickly on the shoulder of the road and stopped. Jerry Schilling, Red West, Billy Smith, Elvis and I jumped in to see what was going on. The rear axles and landing gear were on fire. We all immediately collected sand and gravel from the desert with our bare hands and managed to put out the fire. The vehicle was wrecked and would not start. Fortunately, we were only a few miles from Needles, California, in the Mohave Desert. The five of us pushed the motorhome into town, where we checked into a motel.
“Let’s get some vehicles, Larry, and go home,” Elvis said wearily. “Go rent some cars. Here’s my wallet.”
His wallet was full of a variety of credit cards, but no cash; Elvis never carried cash. I started walking in search of a car rental agency. It was about eight in the morning, I hadn’t slept and needed to shower and shave. I must have looked quite disreputable, an assessment confirmed by the wary look on the face of the man behind the counter.
“Yes sir, I’d like to rent two cars. I’m with Elvis Presley. He’s down the street at a motel.”
Thinking it would help, I handed him the wallet. Leafing through the cards, he asked, “What are you telling me? Elvis presley? “
“Yes,” I replied.
Throwing the wallet at me, he yelled, “Get out of here!”
As I was leaving and heading back to the motel, it occurred to me that the easiest way to get from Needles to Los Angeles would be by taxi. When I got back to the room I called a local taxi service and people were happy to help. Within minutes, two taxis were at the motel and we were ready to go.
We loaded all the luggage into a cab, then Jerry, Red, Billy, Elvis and I crawled tiredly to the second. As we drove down the highway, our young driver couldn’t help turning his head every few minutes to look at Elvis or look at him in the rear view mirror. That was understandable, but when I hit a cruising speed of ninety miles per hour and still couldn’t take my eyes off Elvis, I yelled, “Hey man, slow down! You’re going to kill us. Yeah, this is Elvis Presley. Calm down or I’ll have to take the wheel. “
All the way back, our driver was visibly nervous. When we got to Bel Air about four hours later, the other guys who had lost us on the road during the trip were lined up in front of the house, waiting.
While everyone was taking care of the luggage, Elvis asked me how much it cost. I told him one hundred and sixty dollars for both taxis. Then he asked how much cash I had with me. I checked my wallet. “Just over five hundred dollars.”
Elvis said, “Hey, these guys probably don’t even leave Needles, and they sure don’t get clients like us every day. They work hard and they could probably use a break. Just give them what you have there, I’ll give you your money back more. late “.
I may not have told this story much over the years, but I bet those two taxi drivers have told it over and over to anyone who wanted to hear it.