The scene was set for a night of heavy passion, as Elvis Presley welcomed one of Hollywood’s most beautiful young actresses into his suite at the exclusive Beverly Wilshire Hotel.
Then 21, Presley was the biggest heart-throb in the U.S. and his date on that September night in 1956 was 18-year-old Natalie Wood, the Oscar-nominated star of Rebel Without A Cause and a wild-child with many previous lovers.
Realizing the publicity value if the two got together, Presley’s manager Colonel Tom Parker had arranged for them to meet earlier that day on the set of his movie Love Me Tender. For Wood the attraction was instant, but less than 20 minutes after entering Presley’s bedroom that night, she stormed out of the door.
‘What’s the matter with your boss?’ she asked his hangers-on. ‘He’s all hands and no action. I thought he was supposed to be king of the sack, but he doesn’t want to do it with me.’
Never lonesome: The King lapped up attention from his young female fans
She should not have taken Presley’s lack of ardour so personally. As a disturbing new biography of the ‘King’ suggests, the 18-year-old siren was simply too old for Presley. Shockingly, he preferred girls who were barely more than children.
Most famously there was his future wife, Priscilla Beaulieu, who was just 14 – ten years his junior – when they met in September 1959. Although sexual from the start, their relationship was portrayed as a sweet and innocent triumph of love across the age divide. In fact, it was just one of Presley’s many unsettling liaisons with minors in the years following his rise to fame.
‘He was fascinated with the idea of real young teenage girls,’ said Lamar Fike, a former member of his entourage. ‘It scared the hell out of all of us.’
Such behaviour had its roots in Presley’s dysfunctional childhood, beginning the moment he was born in Memphis, Tennessee, on January 8, 1935, an identical twin whose brother Jesse died in the womb.
His mother Gladys, having lost one child, was smotheringly protective of the other. Even when Presley was an adult, mother and son shared a secret language in which ice cream was called ‘iddytream’ and milk was known as ‘butch’. When she died of hepatitis in 1958, a 23-year-old Presley was so distraught that he tried to throw himself into the grave after her.
Young fan: Priscilla Beaulieu in 1960, aged 15, the year after she met Elvis
Gladys’s controlling influence left Presley emotionally stunted. A man-boy who looked to others to take care of him until the day he died, he was insecure when it came to adult matters.
This was most obvious in his relationships with women. Fearing that he might not measure up to their expectations, Presley became ever more paranoid about his skills as a lover – hence his fascination with virgins who would not demand full-on sex and could not compare him to other experiences.
Even as his fame grew, and he embarked on relationships with an endless parade of beauty queens – which Colonel Parker ensured were exploited for maximum press coverage – Presley was on the look-out for young ‘cherries’ as he called them.
Among the first was Jackie Rowland, 14, whose mother Marguerite took her to see a Presley concert in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1956. They were thrilled to be invited backstage, but Marguerite became concerned when Presley took Jackie off to a side room.
A few minutes later she opened the door to find Presley teaching her daughter to ‘kiss in a grown-up way’. Unabashed, he asked Marguerite if he could take Jackie to a bar, promising to take good care of her, but she had seen enough.
‘No sir,’ she told Presley. ‘My little girl is under-age and she is coming home with me.’
Before she left, Presley made Jackie a promise. ‘When you grow up, you are going to be mine.’
Love Me Tender: Elvis wed Priscilla in 1969 after pressure from his manager
But within months, she had a rival for his affections in a harem of three adolescent girls, including a petite dark-haired beauty named Frances Forbes. She was 13 when she began hanging around the gates of Presley’s home on Audubon Drive, in a fashionable suburb of Memphis.
‘He didn’t pay any attention to me then, but when I was 14, he noticed me,‘ she said. ‘Fourteen was a magical age with Elvis. It really was.’
Along with her friends Gloria Mowel and Heidi Heissen, both also at that ‘magical’ age, Frances was invited to private pyjama parties in Presley’s bedroom.
During these sessions, he taught the girls how to put on eye make-up the way he liked it – heavy on the shadow and mascara. The evenings would continue with much tickling and kissing, which often went beyond friendly play-fighting.
‘He’d get serious and you’d just push him away,’ said Gloria. ‘But I think if he had really pushed, I would have done it.’
Although he continued to see the trio, Presley’s appetite for such encounters was such that in 1957 he asked his agent Byron Raphael to begin procuring more girls for him. There was no shortage of choice, with hundreds desperate to meet him wherever he went.
Though Presley boasted that he liked sex ‘hot and heavy’, Raphael confirmed that he was far more interested in heavy petting than anything else, particularly when it came to his ‘cherries’.
He recalled one evening when he brought three young girls into Presley’s bedroom. Soon they were all naked, but Presley stayed in his underwear, kissing and fondling them, and eventually falling asleep with his arms around them, as his records played in the background.
Read Part 2 next Sunday, July 29th at 8am!
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