Book Excerpt: Elvis and the Colonel

(First of two parts)

Editor’s Note: The man who called himself “Colonel Tom Parker” is at once one of the most flamboyant and yet least-known figures in the history of show business and popular music. As the manager of Elvis Presley, he steered the career of the phenomenon who became the king of rock ’n’ roll. Throughout Presley’s meteoric career, Colonel Parker’s guidance of the superstar often raised questions about career decisions that seemed more to Parker’s benefit than to Presley’s. Not until long after the death of both of these legends did it become known that “Parker” was actually an illegal Dutch immigrant named Andreas van Kuijk. In her new book The Colonel: The Extraordinary Story of Colonel Tom Parker and Elvis Presley, author Alanna Nash explores the mysterious background of van Kuijk/Parker and how it played out in Presley’s life and career. This excerpt from the book begins in 1963 when the teenaged girl Elvis met while he served in the U.S. Army in Germany becomes a serious figure in Elvis’ life.

Trouble in the Kingdom:
The Colonel Tightens His Grip

In March 1963, Parker worried about the arrival of a different kind of visitor, though there was nothing in her demeanor to indicate that she would become a pivotal figure in anyone’s life, let alone the Colonel’s. Petite, pretty, empty-headed except for the usual teenage obsessions, and positively gooney-eyed with love, sixteen-year-old Priscilla Ann Beaulieu had captured Elvis’s heart in Germany, and now she was moving to Memphis.

The stepdaughter of an American air force captain newly stationed near Friedberg, Priscilla had bragged to a girlfriend back in Texas that she was “going over there to meet Elvis.” She achieved her goal in a week and a half. Lamar Fike remembers that she showed up at the house that first night wearing a blue-and-white sailor suit and white socks. “I said, ’God Almighty, Elvis, she’s cute as she can be, but she’s fourteen years old. We’ll end up in prison for life.’ I watched that from the very beginning with abject fear.”

Parker had long known about her, both from his spies among the entourage, who reported Elvis’s every move, and from stories in the press. Life magazine had photographed Priscilla at the Rhine-Main air base as she waved Elvis good-bye, captioning their picture “The Girl He Left Behind.” Elvis denied that he was smitten (“Not any special one,” he told reporters when they asked if he’d “left any hearts” in Europe), but an elaboration (“There was a little girl that I was seeing quite often over there . . .”) and a telltale grin said otherwise. It was she he’d spent his last night with in Germany, and he hadn’t stopped thinking about her, instructing her to write to him on pink stationery so her letters would stand out in the avalanche of mail. On several occasions, he’d brought her to the States to visit.

Now, Elvis had persuaded Captain Beaulieu to let Priscilla come to Memphis and attend Immaculate Conception High School, where, he told him, the girls wore uniforms and studied under the tutelage of stern-faced nuns. The implication was that Elvis would marry Priscilla when she was old enough, but “he didn’t give them a time,” she remembered later. “He just said, ’I want her here.'”

The immediate promise was that a chaperoned Priscilla would live on nearby Hermitage Road with Vernon and his new wife, Dee. That arrangement lasted only a matter of weeks, Priscilla slipping back and forth between the houses. With Grandma Minnie Mae Presley serving as lenient watchdog, the teenager soon took up residence at Graceland, sharing Elvis’s bed-though chastely, she maintains-and learning the drug protocol that allowed her to participate in his night-for-day world.

During Presley’s army years, Parker had steadfastly refused to allow Elvis’s most serious girlfriend, Anita Wood, to travel to Germany to see him. (“We had to keep everything so quiet . . . the Colonel said it would hurt his career.”) But though the Colonel took an unusual liking to Priscilla, he was furious at such a Lolita-like setup. Elvis was now twenty-eight years old, with twelve years’ difference in their ages. Not so long before, in a redneck hormone storm, the piano-pounding Jerry Lee Lewis had ruined his career by marrying his underage cousin. This situation wasn’t nearly as dangerous, but if discovered, it would still be a scandal, and Presley’s movie contracts had morals clauses in them-a fact, along with paternity suits, that was never far from Parker’s mind.

If Elvis insisted on living with Priscilla for any length of time, the Colonel saw, they needed to marry, and Parker told him so. A marriage might calm Elvis down, especially in Hollywood, where the starlets lined up to be admitted to his parties.

After first joining Elvis in California, where he was making “Fun in Acapulco” for Paramount, Priscilla was relegated to Memphis, where she waited impatiently for him to return between pictures. Priscilla was not alone in noticing that his behavior, fueled by a steady stream of uppers, downers, and sleeping pills, was becoming frighteningly erratic. In fact, one night Elvis’s temper was so raw he threw a pool cue at a female party guest who had insulted him, injuring her shoulder and collarbone. He was sorry-he broke down and cried and said he hadn’t known what had come over him, except he felt increasingly boxed in by the lightweight movies he derisively termed “travelogues” for their quasi-exotic locales. He was doing three and, soon, four a year, rubbed thinner with every picture, and suffering nosebleeds on the set from anxiety.

“Fun in Acapulco,” Elvis’s fifth film since “Blue Hawaii,” was a perfect example of the kind of empty fare that continued to satisfy his fans, if not the actor himself, and is memorable only for a quavering, if coincidental connection to the life of Andreas van Kuijk. In it, Elvis plays an ex-circus performer, an aerialist, who in a moment of fright and misjudgment, allows his brother to fall to his death. Traumatized, he flees the circus world to escape his past and assume a new life in a foreign country.

The film, which at one point has Elvis’s character, Mike Windgren, sending a telegram to his hometown of Tampa, Florida, was directed by Richard Thorpe (“Jailhouse Rock”), who again explores the theme of a young man jeopardizing his future through the tragedy of accidental death. As in his earlier film, Thorpe includes the character of a talent manager-a pint-sized Mexican shoe-shine boy (“Are you sure you’re not a forty-year-old midget?” Elvis asks)-who takes 50 percent of his client’s money, insisting he’s not an agent, but a partner. Since Elvis was unable to travel to Mexico, the studio relied on a variety of process shots, mostly background projection, to place him south of the border.

By now, in keeping with the Colonel’s cross-promotional synergy, RCA culled most of Elvis’s singles from the largely dreadful soundtracks. Since 1961, he’d enjoyed a chart-topper with “Good Luck Charm,” and watched a pair of hits, “Can’t Help Falling in Love” and “Return to Sender,” climb to number two. Yet no Elvis release was a sure bet anymore-some singles failed to crawl out of the thirties-and Parker put the pressure on Bill Bullock in RCA’s New York office to make things happen. “I may not type good,” Parker joked, a comment on his two-fingered keyboard style, “but they sure do know what I mean up there.”

Indeed, they did. A memo went around at RCA with the instructions “always remain friendly with the Colonel,” a directive that struck fear in the hearts of those who remembered how he’d gotten one executive fired over an altercation regarding Brother Dave Gardner, whom Parker had brought to the label. Now, if Presley wanted his records mixed one way-with his voice as part of the instrumentation-and Parker wanted Elvis more out front, it was Parker the label obeyed.

In early ’62, he worked out a new arrangement with RCA concerning previously released material. The agreement provided both Elvis and the Colonel with substantial new revenue from special side deals, which Parker would later refer to as joint ventures. They would split those monies 50-50.

The contract, which Parker insisted be no longer than one page and contain no legalese, would be renegotiated seven months later. It was changed so often, said one employee, that “RCA has nothing to say about anything Elvis does or anything we do for him.” Though the label’s lawyers insisted the company back out of promoting a forty-three-city tour in late ’62-an artistic disappointment for Elvis and a financial loss of more than $1 million-Parker was regarded as the absolute power.

Consequently, the staff went into a frenzy if he happened to drop by unannounced. Joan Deary, [RCA Records executive Steve] Sholes’s secretary, worked out a signal with someone downstairs so she could get the office in order before she met him at the elevator, when Parker would “just explode out into the hall.” The first time it happened, she rushed to put out an autographed picture the Colonel had sent her boss for Christmas. “None of us liked it,” she remembered, “and we’d put it in a drawer behind the door to Steve’s office. I went flying in there to pull it out, and I banged into Steve, who was also trying to get the picture out of the cabinet and on display.” Bill Bullock [another RCA executive] was only half kidding when he sent Parker a large office clock inscribed, “Colonel, it’s whatever time you want it to be.”

Unlike the men at RCA, ever-present for Parker like dutiful sheep, publicist Anne Fulchino was the only one to contest the Colonel. Concerned about Elvis’s morale and the erratic chart placement of his records, she asked Tom Diskin [Parker’s assistant] to take her to see Presley on the Paramount lot one day in early ’63. “That kid was not only unhappy, he was ashamed for me to see him prostituting himself with those crummy pictures,” she remembers. She sat down with him and explained her campaign for promoting his records, “practically drawing him a diagram on how you build a star.”

Elvis realized he needed to make major changes in the direction of his music and his movies, and promised Fulchino he would do so. But though she believed Elvis “knew Parker was not the right manager for him-the way the Colonel wanted him to go was not the way Elvis wanted to go”-he allowed himself to be hamstrung with unsuitable projects.

On the set of “Kissin’ Cousins,” filmed only months after his talk with Fulchino, Elvis told costar Yvonne Craig that he figured the Colonel would know when the time was right to return him to dramatic pictures. Was Elvis merely saving face? The Colonel’s dominance was so strong that Presley may have thought he was incapable of standing up to him, even to demand stronger scripts after Parker turned down his one request to approve them. (“If they’re smart enough to pay you all that money, they’re smart enough to write a good script.”) But Elvis’s reticence-his lack of emotional backbone-proved to be his fatal flaw.

Fed by his father-who was beginning to question the Colonel’s choices, though still bowing to financial concerns, keeping the books and fretting over every penny-Elvis’s constraint found its genesis in the mother-son teachings of Gladys. After her husband went to prison in 1938, it was she who taught her young son to fear authority so that he might survive in a hostile world, never dreaming that he would rise above his social class, where such behavior would become inappropriate.

Elvis made fun of the Colonel to the guys, yet he remained subservient to his face. His refusal to challenge the Colonel factored into the stunting of his personal growth and development, as well as his self-loathing and escalating drug dependency. He turned his anger inward and numbed it with pills.

A turning point came in 1963 with the filming of “Viva Las Vegas,” Elvis’s best MGM picture in the post-army years. With the casting of Ann-Margret, the first costar to generate real electricity with Presley on screen, Parker should have seen that “Viva Las Vegas” plugged two live wires together, made a formula musical sizzle, and ensured that future films reconnected such high voltage.

But Parker was threatened by an actress who both competed with his star and engaged Elvis’s attention offscreen, as Ann-Margret did from the start. And it’s true, as the Colonel complained, that it was difficult to distinguish just whose film it was. Instead of playing up their natural chemistry, he grumbled that Ann-Margret got more close-ups and flattering camera angles, and fought to cut their duets to just one song. Finally, he vetoed special billing for her in the advertisements that MGM hoped would help draw audiences beyond the usual Presley fans. “If someone else should ride on our back,” Parker told the studio, “then we should get a better saddle.”

Parker was likewise clueless as to how the movie rejuvenated his client’s spirits and musical dynamism, particularly with the jumpy title tune. During filming, the Colonel brought his friend Gene Austin to the set and had Elvis rehearse the tunes to the old crooner for comments.

“He was singing one song,” recalls Austin’s wife, LouCeil, “and the Colonel said, ’Now, Elvis, I don’t like about eight bars of that. Call David Houston [Austin’s godson, then a hopeful country singer] and sing it to him, and then tell him to give you the Gene Austin licks for those bars.'” Elvis was angry and embarrassed, but kept it to himself, concentrating instead on his banter with Mrs. Austin. “When you’d pay him a compliment,” she remembers, “he’d always say, ’Thank you, ma’am, honey.'”

After a string of disappointing flicks, “Viva Las Vegas,” directed by George Sidney (“Annie Get Your Gun”), would topple “Blue Hawaii” as Elvis’s highest-grossing film ever-by 1969, revenues would reach $5.5 million, up from Elvis’s usual picture gross of $3 million. Its success should have shown Parker that spending money for more alluring costars, creative directors, and imaginative scripts would go a long way to assure his client of longevity. However, at the time, all he saw was that “Viva Las Vegas” had soared over budget.

At MGM, Parker preferred working with men like Sam “King of the Quickies” Katzman and Joe Pasternak, who guaranteed tight shooting schedules and production costs, and welcomed the fact that the Colonel rarely requested story conferences. Katzman nonetheless asked the Colonel to read the screenplay for “Kissin’ Cousins,” but Parker told him it would cost him $10,000 and then diffused such an outrageous demand with a vote of confidence similar to what he’d told Elvis: “If you didn’t know what you were doing, you wouldn’t be here.” “Kissin’ Cousins” was an embarrassment to Elvis, however, and Katzman would go on to make the worst picture of Elvis’s career, “Harum Scarum.”

When Joe Pasternak made the first of his two Elvis pictures (“Girl Happy” and “Spinout”), both shot in thirty-two days, the producer took the Colonel aside and said, “Look, you can’t make a picture where the star takes seventy or eighty percent of the cost.” Parker was resolute. “He said, ’I’m sending you Elvis Presley.’ He didn’t want to boost the price up, but he wouldn’t budge on Elvis, and he’d want to save on everything else.”

Elvis resented the financial shortcuts on his films, as well as the shoddy technical workmanship on “Kissin’ Cousins” that prominently showed his stand-in, Lance LeGault, in the finale march. (“Sam Katzman said, ’It’s too expensive to shoot it over-no one will even notice,'” remembers Yvonne Craig.) But he was particularly crushed to read an interview with Wallis in the Las Vegas Desert News and Telegram in which the producer said it was the profits from the commercially successful Presley pictures that made classy vehicles like Peter O’Toole’s “Becket” possible. “That doesn’t mean a Presley picture can’t have quality, too,” Wallis added, but the damage was done.

Still, while Presley usually managed to remain calm and professional on the movie sets, his frustration sometimes poured out in the soundtrack sessions at Radio Recorders, where he could barely hide his discomfort at recording bland and pathetic pop songs like “(There’s) No Room to Rhumba in a Sports Car,” “Do the Clam,” and “Petunia, the Gardener’s Daughter,” provided by the Hill and Range [music publishing company] writers. One day, anguished at a song put before him, Elvis made a crack about somebody in the business. Everyone laughed, but he quickly recanted. “I didn’t mean that, guys,” he said. “The Colonel told me to always say nice things.”

[Music publisher] Freddy Bienstock understood the predicament but was powerless to change it. “Once we started on the MGM contract, with four pictures a year, it was like a factory,” he says. “Each producer would send me ten or eleven drafts of the script, and I would mark those scenes where a song could be done without being absolutely ridiculous, and then I would give those scripts to seven or eight songwriting teams. I’d wind up with four or five songs for each spot, and then I would take them to Elvis and he would choose which one to do. But there was no way to have better music, because from the moment one picture was finished, we would have to get started on the next one.”

Presley was especially embarrassed to be locked up in Hollywood doing mediocre films while the Beatles-who would visit him at his Perugia Way home in Hollywood in August of ’65-threatened his supremacy in musical history, even as his “Roustabout” soundtrack would best their latest album on the charts. But an argument can be made that whatever Parker’s intent, Hollywood helped keep Elvis a big star and in the money during a period when his record career might have languished, especially in the protest-and-psychedelic era.

The popular consensus that Parker denied Elvis a significant place in ’60s music history comes under fire from several music journalists, including Michael Streissguth, who doubts that Elvis-working strictly in music-would have escaped the fate of other ’50s stars. RCA was slow to respond to ’60s rock and roll, and since Elvis wrote none of his own material, the label would have had difficulty knowing what do to with Presley during those rapidly changing times.

“By dumb luck,” says Streissguth, “the movie years had the effect of preserving Elvis economically while the wild music environment passed over. Elvis was not spent from years of musical rejection, so when the time was right and people were ready to see him in concert, he was fresh and ready to pounce on the opportunity. Inadvertently, Parker’s decisions in the early and mid-’60s gave us the great Elvis music of the very late ’60s and early ’70s.”

Starting around 1963, the Colonel, whose physical meetings with Elvis had always been sporadic, became even more remote, spending much of his time in Palm Springs, the hangout for Frank Sinatra and the good ol’ boys of Hollywood. For several years, he’d commuted on the weekends, filling the car with weighty bottles of Mountain Valley Spring water and schlepping [wife] Marie’s favorite houseplants from Los Angeles, staying first at the Spa Hotel, where he enjoyed the baths, and then at a house at 888 Regal Drive, compliments of the William Morris Agency. Then one day in the mid-’60s, he fell over in the driveway with another heart attack-his third-which left him using a cane. Once he grew stronger, he employed it as a prop.

Byron Raphael ran into him at the Tick Tock restaurant in Los Angeles not long after, and he could tell that something awful had happened. “He’d really changed. He had that cane, and he was bent over. It shocked me, because he was like an old man.”

To most people, Parker explained he just had a bad back, and pointed to an exercise contraption and the elastic brace he wore around his waist and upper torso for proof. But he was convinced he couldn’t survive yet another coronary, casually telling associates, “You don’t see any hearses with luggage racks on them,” and made the decision to spend the rest of his life as if there were no tomorrow.

Only the biggest and the most would do. First, he wanted a new house in Palm Springs. He went to work on Abe Lastfogel’s wife, Frances, paying her a visit while she was in the hospital, hauling in a big vase of flowers and sweet-talking her into letting him have the larger, $250,000 one-floor plan house at 1166 Vista Vespero. There Marie would make everything in the house blue and white, right down to the drapes and bedsheets and even gravel in the driveway. And the Colonel coud relax by the pool and get RCA to install a commercial freezer for the vast amounts of meat he bought and inventoried like gold, even as he struggled to keep his weight in check. Parker didn’t mind being fat-as far as he was concerned, his size suited him and added to his psychological heft. But his doctor dictated otherwise.

Sometimes Parker showed up at Elvis’s recording sessions and tried to lift his client’s mood. On occasion, he ordered lunch in for everyone, and routinely traded jokes with bassist Bob Moore, who had known the Colonel since the Eddy Arnold years and considered Parker “a great, great man,” and with Buddy Harman, who drummed on at least nine of the soundtracks and likewise found him to be “a pretty nice old codger, really.” It was a sentiment Parker went out of his way to foster with the Nashville musicians, if not necessarily with the L.A. players. Moore, who’d been on nearly all the movie recordings, remembers the time he walked into the control room where Hal Wallis was sitting in the producer’s chair. “Boy,” the Colonel said to Wallis, “get up and go get me some coffee. Let Bob sit here.”

At other times, it was Elvis he humiliated in front of the movie execs. After Wallis sent Parker a letter complaining that Elvis looked “soft, fat, and jowly around the face” in “Viva Las Vegas,” asking the Colonel to have a talk with him about his weight, Parker grilled Marty Lacker about his boss’s eating habits at a recording session. “He’s just been eating what he always eats,” Lacker said, at which point Parker banged his cane on the floor and then raised it in the air, yelling, “Don’t lie to me! Tell me!”

But it wasn’t so much Presley’s eating habits that altered his looks as it was his pharmaceutical habit, according to Lacker, one of the entourage members who alternately carried Presley’s black makeup kit, which the singer filled with pills. Often, they dictated his moods.

At the next session, it was Elvis who couldn’t contain his rage. “He had this big orchestra in there,” remembers Lacker, “and he started singing. He didn’t settle for the first take. They were getting ready to do it again, and Elvis reached his breaking point. He started ranting, ’I’m tired of all these f*****g songs, and I’m tired of these damn movies! I get in a fight with somebody in one scene, and in the next one I’m kissing the dog. What difference does it make how many times we do this song? I’ll tell you what. You just cut the tracks for this next movie, and I’ll come in later and put my voice on.'”

Shortly after, the Colonel invited Elvis to join him and Marie and the Tuckers for dinner, but Presley declined, much to Parker’s embarrassment. “Colonel just damned near begged him, and he wouldn’t do it,” Tucker remembers. For years, the Colonel had boasted of never mixing business and pleasure with his client, not even the simple sharing of a meal. (“You do your thing and I’ll do my thing, and it’ll be beautiful,” he had said.) Elvis was in no mood to start now.

With the movie and record deals in place, Parker found himself with plenty of time for something he now considered doubly important: having fun. When he got a call from a promoter about possibly taking Presley out on tour, he’d tell him Elvis was tied up for the next three and a half years, but he’d be happy to rent the gold lamé suit for the weekend for $5,000. Or maybe they’d be interested in Elvis’s cars. He had a tour of those going out soon, and he wasn’t even kidding about that one.

Parker spent much of the day in his fun-house offices at Paramount and MGM cutting up with the cost-free additions to his staff-Jim O’Brien, his private secretary, on loan from Hill and Range; Irv Schecter and John Hartmann, supplied by the William Morris office; and Grelun Landon, courtesy of RCA. Soon, Gabe Tucker would also be there on the Morris dime.

On occasion, Parker referred to O’Brien as Sergeant. But as usual, nobody had any real rank except Diskin, whose desk, a third the size of Parker’s, was in the Colonel’s private office at MGM. The rest were privates who helped Parker carry out his schemes. Each morning, the staff arrived at the mazelike Elvis Exploitations offices at MGM and prepared a list of VIP birthdays so the Colonel could make his congratulatory calls, the aides lining up in front of a microphone in the office and singing to whomever their boss had on the phone. “I thought it was kind of rank,” remembers John Hartmann, who went on to manage David Crosby and Graham Nash, Canned Heat, and the group America, “but I did it anyway.”

“We didn’t hurt ourselves workin’,” says Tucker, whose MGM office was in Clark Gable’s old dressing room, and whose duties included tamping down the Colonel’s pipe, which replaced the cigars when Parker got upset. Tucker also ran the “cookhouse,” a so-called carnival kitchen Parker made by throwing an oilcloth over the conference room table, adding ketchup bottles and kitchen chairs, and promoting a stove and refrigerator from the studio so Parker could cook slumgullion, a boiled stew that hearkened to his hobo days.

Most of the time they ordered food in. But after “Easy Come, Easy Go,” the Colonel would appropriate actor Bob Isenberg from the cast to wear a chef’s hat and serve occasional lunch guests like Abe Lastfogel, who choked down the slices of ham the Colonel piled on to watch the little Jewish man squirm. When that grew tiresome, Parker totaled up the free meals he’d gotten in the last month, instructing Tucker to pick a name from the directory of MGM executives and call to say, “The Colonel thinks you ought to invite us to supper.”

Soon, the requests grew more elaborate and grand. The president of RCA sent him a check for $1 million without any paperwork when Parker asked for a loan for Vernon Presley, allegedly to buy a Memphis skating rink. The Colonel liked his tests.

He began spending weeks at a time in Palm Springs, where Milton Prell had a house (they both also kept an apartment at the Wilshire Comstock in L.A.), and where he could keep a closer eye on his neighbor, Hal Wallis. The producer continued to humor him, sending him, while on a trip to England, a small dish from the Elephant Club for Parker’s collection. Parker wrote him a letter, thanking him for swiping it. “I could tell you that I bought it, but I know that you would have a lot more respect for me if you felt that I had lifted it,” Wallis replied.

Their relationship remained cordial but strained, although Wallis succeeded in getting the Colonel to read perhaps his first script, for the carnival-themed “Roustabout,” which Wallis produced in part to honor Parker’s colorful past. (“Of course, we want you to be associated with the project, as I know how close this type of life is to you,” he wrote.) Afterward, Parker sent Wallis an affectionate letter in which he complimented the producer’s ability to make a picture jell. “You have a certain magic wand that makes these things come out even, even if other people don’t understand it all the time,” he said. “This I respect more than I can put in words.”

Parker may have meant the flattery as a kind of balm. “When I was doing ’Roustabout,'” recalls the screenwriter Allan Weiss, “I went down to Palm Springs and spent a weekend with the Colonel, interviewing him specifically on his circus background. When I got back, Hal Wallis said, ’How did it go?’ I told him it went fairly well, and I thought we had a good subject for Elvis. Then he said, ’It was an expensive weekend.’ I thought, ’Oh, my God, is he referring to the hotel I stayed at, or what?’ I learned later that the Colonel had billed him for his time.”

Wallis took such things in stride, but the two could also go for days and not speak. Afterward, in Palm Springs, it would be as if the incident had never happened, Parker going to dinner and tossing his hat on one of Wallis’s priceless Rodin sculptures just to rankle his host, or asking the producer to play golf with Marie’s grandson, Tommy, when the boy and his sister, Sharon, came for the summer. Later, the Colonel would throw a black-tie party and invite Wallis, among others, answering the door wearing nothing but Bermuda shorts.

Underneath his various guises, however, the Colonel wrestled with increasingly dark moods of depression. Aside from his concern about his heart and his growing estrangement from Elvis, he was deeply worried about Marie. In the past, there were times when he’d avoided going to Palm Springs because he didn’t want to have to put up with her carrying on about her cats-a dog lover, his ardor barely extended to felines, and he was jealous of her doting on a particular male cat named Midnight.

“I was at the house one day,” remembers Lamar Fike, “and Colonel and I were sitting in the den, talking. Marie came in all distraught and said, ’Midnight’s on the roof! Midnight’s on the roof!’ Colonel said, ’He’ll come down.’

“She came back in a little while and said, ’Midnight’s still on the roof! Do something!’ So Colonel went out with a hose about as big as a fireman’s, with tremendous pressure, and aimed it at that cat, and blew it over the garage and the porte cochere, and out into the street. It landed on its feet, but boy, was it surprised! Colonel came back in and said, ’Now, that’s how you get a cat off a roof.'”

Lately, though, he’d demonstrated more compassion. Marie’s health had begun to deteriorate. She complained to Gabe Tucker and to her brother, Bitsy, that living with the Colonel was constant stress, and sometimes he got on her nerves so badly she suffered debilitating headaches that left her unable to think straight. But the Colonel believed it was more than that; her mind seemed to be slipping, and sometimes her rantings, he said in off-the-cuff remarks, drove him crazy. Since she was also becoming severely arthritic, after the Tuckers moved out Parker hated to leave her alone, so first he had RCA sales manager Jack Burgess stay up all night with her and play cards. When Burgess grew weary, it was Irv Schecter, one of Marie’s favorites, who got the call. Schecter was probably only too glad to be out of Parker’s office, where the Colonel thought his William Morris recruit had developed ulcers.

From THE COLONEL by Alanna Nash. Copyright© 2003 by Alanna Nash. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc., N.Y.

Next: Weddings bells and more for Elvis.