Baby, Let's Play House
Elvis Presley and the Women Who Loved Him
By Alanna Nash
HarperCollins, 704 pages, $36
American celebrity biographer Alanna Nash sets the tone early with this sleazy doorstopper. Elvis Presley, she writes, experienced his first documented erection when he was about four.
He had been watching his aunts dancing wildly and, to their amusement but the dismay of his mother, exclaimed, "Oh, my peter!"
This seminal event, Nash contends, inexorably linked music and sexuality in Elvis's psyche.
Until his death in 1977 (he would have turned 75 on Friday), "Little Elvis," as the priapic member was affectionately known, was astonishingly busy. If Elvis didn't invent the hedonistic, modern rock 'n' roll lifestyle, he perfected it; all those who came after him are mere johnny-come-latelies.
This might even apply to Hollywood lothario Warren Beatty. Apparently Peter Biskind estimates in his forthcoming Beatty bio that the Shampoo star lathered almost 13,000 women.
Beatty reportedly didn't lose his virginity until he was 20. But Elvis got an early start. As a scrawny teen playing small town honky-tonks on the Louisiana Hayride circuit in the early 1950s, Elvis enticed women with his southern bad boy looks.
He did not care who was single and who had a boyfriend. He suffered some serious beatings from irate rednecks when they caught the scrawny teenager and their girls "inflagranti delicto" in the backseat of Elvis's car.
Whom did the satyr seduce after he became famous? The better question might be: Whom didn't he seduce?
He claimed to have bedded women on all 31 of his films. He courted at least five women on the 17-day shoot of the 1964 film Kissin' Cousins, including Ann-Margret, Yvonne Craig (Batgirl in the original Batman series) and Cynthia Pepper (Season 1 of My Three Sons).
However, he had detractors. An unsatisfied Natalie Wood once angrily claimed Elvis and his cronies were gay.
The book's title, Let's Play House, really tells the story. Elvis, we learn, was unable to form long-term, meaningful relationships with adult women.
He was trapped in a never-ending, self-destructive downward spiral of pubescent affairs. In an effort to prove that practice doesn't make perfect, Nash reports that Elvis visited a prostitute named Tura Satana to help improve his technique.
Nash has published two previous books about Elvis, both of them supposedly decent. Here her quest seems to have been to interview or gather information on every woman who ever passed through the revolving door of Elvis's bedroom before and after he became famous. A Herculean task, to be sure, but she bravely faced the challenge.
Unfortunately, she focused on quantity over quality, much like her subject. The end-result is many, many hundreds of pages of tedious reading.
Was it simply because Elvis did what rock stars do? Can we see a difference between his life and the octogenarian Rolling Stones, the falsely sainted Beatles or any number of famous musicians?
Those leery of Freudian interpretations won't be keen on Nash's book. She often quotes from Peter Whitmer's The Inner Elvis: A Psychological Biography of Elvis Aaron Presley to support her theory that Elvis's peculiar relationship with his mother and the traumatic effect on him of the stillbirth of his twin brother, Jesse Garron, are the key elements in the development of his psychopathology.
As well, this exploitive tale will not satisfy anyone wishing to discover how and why Elvis had such a revolutionary effect modern music and why his appeal continues.
He many have been a hound dog, but his strengths, not his weaknesses, are what make Elvis important.
Winnipeg writer Ian Stewart has Elvis's Greatest Hits on his iPod.