Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Exclusive! Elvis' Secretary Becky Yancey Remembers The King

by Don Wilson

HOLLYWOOD, CA.: September 20, 2016-- Becky Yancey remembers her friend and employer Elvis Presley in this exclusive interview. Her story is like no other that you will read. She was there from the very beginning of his career in 1954. You will soon see how this young lady got the dream job that many girls wished they had, Elvis' personal secretary.

Elvis signing autographs for fans in Cleveland, Ohio on October 19, 1955

Becky attended Elvis' earliest appearances in Memphis and saw his rise to stardom firsthand. That's just the beginning, the ducktailed tip of the iceberg, you could say. Let's get things underway and hear from Becky herself as she shares her memories with us

"When Dewey Phillips first played "That's All Right, Mama" on his WHBQ radio show "Red, Hot and Blue" was the first time that I heard Elvis. I hadn't seen him at the the time, but I fell in love with him though. You know, just his voice and all. I listened to "Red, Hot and Blue every night. The first time I saw Elvis was when he played at Katz Drug Store down Airways and Lamar - on a flat bed truck in 1954. I was 14 years old at the time."

"I saw Elvis at Overton Park Shell on June 1, 1956, I was 16 then. I still have the write up, the clippings from the paper. That was the Carl Perkins show and Elvis was backstage. I had gone with a girlfriend of mine and when I heard that Elvis was backstage, we climbed over the rail and went back there. There is a picture of Elvis and Carl Perkins exchanging autographs and I am standing by Elvis. You can barely see my face and I put my arm on his back." 

"And then there's one of me behind Carl Perkins, as well as one of me with my hand on Carl Perkins' shoulder, that picture was in the paper too."

"I dearly loved Elvis, I was his fan. Like every 14 or 16 year old girl."

Elvis in March 1960, shortly before his return home to Memphis.
"When Elvis was in the Army I met Alan Fortas and George Klein and I met Dewey Phillips. I grew up in Whitehaven, where Graceland is located, I graduated from Whitehaven High School."

I asked Becky the first time that she went to Graceland: "

"Well, my girlfriend and I were driving around and I said something to her, I said, ' Now , I know Alan Fortas, maybe we can get into Graceland. So we stopped and I think Elvis' uncle Travis was at the gate. I told him to tell Alan that I was there and they said 'Come on up.' So, my girlfriend and I went up and there were lots of fans up there."

"I can't remember a whole lot about that night, what I remember is the carpet! Strange... (Becky laughs) I had never seen such white carpet. I remember that Elvis and Sonny put on a Karate demonstration. I asked to go to the bathroom, I wanted to see the other parts of the house. One of the guys said 'Go upstairs and use that one.' so we did and we peeked into Elvis' bedroom. The only other things that I remember about that night is my girlfriend called her mother and told her where we were and she couldn't believe us."

"I remember some girl took a teddy bear that night and Elvis was really upset about it. He said 'If she had only asked me, I would have given it to her.' That's all that I really remember about that night. Another time, it was myself and two other girls and we drove through the gates of Graceland and as we got out, this limousine started coming down the driveway and George Klein and Elvis were in there. 

They said 'Come on, go to the movies with us!' And I nearly broke my neck crawling over my girlfriends to get close to Elvis! I sat with him at the movie that night. It was a thrill, I don't know if I said too much. I don't remember if he said too much either!"

Graceland, 3764 Highway 51 South in Memphis, Tennessee in 1962.

"I had been going up to Graceland a few times and one night I just happen to sit by Elvis downstairs in the TV room and I just looked at him and said, 'Elvis, Do you need a maid?' He said 'No, But I may need a secretary.' So, that's how I got the job. He didn't call me to tell me that I got the job, Alan Fortas did. He knew I knew Alan real well. I started working for him in 1962, I was 21 then."

"When I first started to work for him, I was kinda scared that I wouldn't get in. Elvis' uncle Travis let me in, he worked days. Elvis was in California at that time. I remember Speck Rhodes' daughter Bonya Rhodes McGarrity was working there and Pat West. There were Army type desks and a heater. I was really thrilled and  I answered fan mail. Vernon didn't ever come in the office much then."

What kind of things did you get in the mail for Elvis?

"You name it! Pictures and letters. love letters...women sent nude pictures in, which the guys wanted me to save. There would be people that would write every day and it would be like they were writing a diary - like high school girls. People would write from Alabama would say they saw Elvis driving around there and he'd be in California. Once a woman sent her dead parakeet to be buried at Graceland. I gave the parakeet to one of the workers and they buried it."

"We put all the pictures sent into albums, all the fans, he did look at those. He'd read fan letters...I remember we got letters from Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Cuba and I remember a letter got through from Russia one time! We got them from all over the world. I used to collect the stamps for my son and he has stamps from everywhere. Elvis really loved coming out and reading the fan mail and seeing the albums, especially the girls. We got post cards from everywhere. We would save him a lot of letters if they were funny and thought he would enjoy them."

Seeing some post cards prompts Elvis to talk about The Royal Family:

"I do remember Elvis discussing the Queen of England and he couldn't understand why her husband wasn't the King of England. He didn't think that was right. Elvis said 'He should be The King.' He was on the topic of The Royal family that day, other days he'd discuss religion or other things."

"I rode the Pippin with him at the Fairgrounds and I wrote about it. I threw up with him in the seat that was very embarrassing. I had been riding the thing  before he asked me to ride it. They changed the name later to the Zippin' Pippin'. But still, that was a special fun time. Elvis told me not to feel bad about what happened, he always brought extra clothes with him. He always brought extra pairs of pants because he wore them so tight."

Christmas At Graceland

"Christmas at Graceland was a magical time because of the preparations before Elvis came> At one time the Nativity scene was rented and Mr Phelps, he would bring it out and put it up. It's the same one that is used today and the 'Merry Christmas To All From Elvis' and it was a special time getting it all together." 

"Then Elvis wanted the blue lights, the electrician (George Coleman) came out and did that. he just called about that and it turned out really good. Then the Christmas tree...everything just seemed so magical before he got there. And then the Christmas cards, I forgot how many that we mailed out. We read all of the Christmas cards that we got in. A lot of the cards were sent into the house."

"After he married Priscilla, she came out for the cards to decorate inside the house. Elvis received so many Christmas cards, many would be sent to Le Bonheur Children's Hospital. Christmas was special. I never spent Christmas Eve or Christmas day with Elvis, I spent those days with my family. New Years's Eve I spent going to Graceland or the Manhattan Club or whatever club that he rented out.Those were fun times."

"I can still picture Priscilla coming into the office with her daddy for the first time. She used to spend a lot of time with us, she was really shy. We'd go out to lunch and dinner. I went to the movies with her. Priscilla was with Patsy Presley a lot too."

Vernon Presley and his son Elvis in 1969.
"Elvis' family was like my family. I was there many years, even today, Graceland is still a big part of my life. It was just a fabulous place to work."

Elvis joking around on the set of "Harum Scarum" in 1965.

"Elvis was always pulling jokes, he was always coming out to the office. He would bang on the side of the building to scare us. I rode the stockcar with him one time, it nearly scared me to death, it was always so fast and all. There were so many things over the years."

Elvis And Scatter

"Scatter, this is funny...I think the guys taught Scatter to do a lot of things. I walked by Scatter one day and I had a wrap around skirt, back when they were in style. I was walking past Scatter and he just reached up and pulled that skirt around! It scared me to death and it wasn't funny to me. It was funny to Scatter, I guess. I wasn't really too wild about Scatter."

Richard Davis, left with Elvis on location in Seattle, Washington in 1962.

"Richard Davis and I were friends, Richard came there after I did. but I knew Richard before he started working for Elvis. He and Jimmy Kinglsey came a few months later, after I did in 1962. I remember them well, they were good friends."

Vernon Presley and Becky Yancey in the office  at Graceland.

"Later on in the 60's I started doing more of writing the bills and handling insurance, more of the business type things. Writing checks became one of my jobs. It ended up that the bills from the homes in California were all sent to Graceland. I had to write checks for Graceland, the Circle G Ranch and all that. I would cover a truck in insurance and before you know it, Elvis would be giving it away. So, therefore you had to get it off the insurance."

Linda Thompson

"I didn't live too far from Graceland, I lived in the subdivison behind him, Linda Thompson had the house on Old Hickory and I can remember my husband and I would be out driving around and whenever I saw Linda passing in the car, she was always singing. She's a very upbeat person, you can tell by her book."

Janelle McComb, Elvis Presley and Linda Thompson in 1972.

"I remember seeing Linda Thompson, but I never really got to know her well and I hate that. I recently read her book and I feel like I know her now. Her book is wonderful. I love biographies and think it is one of the best autobiographies that I have read in a long time. I like Linda's book because not only did she cover Elvis, but Bruce Jenner (Kaitlyn) , David Foster. I just did not realize how many songs she has written. I think she has had an interesting life - and she still has. I just loved her book. In fact, I will go back and read her lyrics again."

Becky Begins Writing in 1975

"I began writing my book in the latter part of 1975, on through 1976. It wasn't supposed to come out until January 1978, but when Elvis died in  August 1977, the New York publisher rushed it up." My Life With Elvis by Becky Yancey and Cliff Linedecker was released in 1977 by St. Martin's Press.

Elvis Is Gone - August 16, 1977

"I first thought 'It must be a mistake, because I heard all of this stuff before. I wasn't working at Graceland then. I was helping a friend at Howard Johnson's, she was a manager and she had a girl coming to be her office manager, but she couldn't get her for awhile, so she wanted me to help her out. I was doing that when I heard about it and I called Graceland and Patsy told me that it was true. It had been rumored before...but it was truly devastating. So unreal, it was such a shock. But, it's amazing that after all of these years - he will go on forever, because we have his music."

"Elvis loved his fans. I don't know if they realize how much he did. I would think they would know it, surely, because he did. I have never known him to turn down a fan for an autograph, if anybody asked him for one. He never turned anyone down and a lot of stars today will."

"Mindi Miller appeared in England recently. I think she is a super person. I can tell by her comments that she is nice. I have never known her to put anyone down. I listened to her interview with George Klein and Mindi is good. Mindi Miller is a movie star, she's done films, she's modeled, I've never done that, but I do get picture requests. I love Elvis' fans and I love to meet them."

Thank you Becky for such a wonderful interview!

"Don, I don't do many interviews, but I love your pictures and your website. I really think you should put out a book."

Thank you Becky, maybe I will...

Visit: www.donwilsonshollywoodbeat.com

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