Reviewed by Nigel Patterson, December 2009 ©
"By far the best study of Elvis Presley I have read. ‘The King’ emerges more clearly from this mosaic of his troubled love life than from any linear biography to date ... Impressively researched, written – and felt.”
(Philip Norman, New York Times bestselling author of John Lennon and Shout!)
Alanna Nash returns to the Elvis world with her latest stunning book, Baby, Let’s Play House: Elvis Presley and the Women Who Loved Him.
Spanning more than 700 pages and based largely on exclusive interviews with many of the women who were Elvis' friend, lover, sweetheart, peer or family member, it is a book which enlightens, challenges and confronts.
Baby, Let's Play House lives up to its pr of revealing Elvis as 'a charming but wounded Lothario who bedded scores of women but seemed unable to maintain a lasting romantic relationship'. It is also the most comprehensive female perspective on Elvis ever attempted.
The names are familiar and some unfamiliar and their perspective on Elvis is always enthralling. Baby, Let's Play House also details important early girlfriends and provides the stories behind those women who dared to turn Elvis down.
Be it Ann-Margret, Linda Thompson, Cybill Shepherd, Petula Clark, Tanya Tucker, Karen Carpenter, Tempest Storm, June Juanico, Mary Ann Mobley, Carol McCracken, Regis Wilson or Carolyn Bradshaw, the accounts offered are a searchlight which explores and reveals things hidden well below the carefully constructed outer facade Elvis so often put on for his fans and the media.
As always, Nash’s narrative is written with verve and vigor, exhibiting a strong writing style which engages and illuminates the reader.
The story is detailed in chronological order with the book taking on a seminal, evolutionary account of the rise and fall of Elvis on an emotional and spiritual level. For some, it will be viewed as a sad and poignant portrait of Elvis’ emotional fracture and decline. For others, it will be a unique gateway to Elvis’ inner feelings, his thoughts, desires and reaction to handling fame.
I was married for 36 years, and I've got two beautiful children and beautiful grandchildren.
I've been blessed in many ways. But I have just never been able to stop loving Elvis
Throughout the book there are moments of exhilarating highs and pockets of despairing lows. At times Baby, Let’s Play House is factual, at times it is visceral, and on occasion it confronts. A quite graphic account from Sheila Ryan of having sex with Elvis is likely to affront many fans; while the story behind the infamous scene in Girls! Girls! Girls! where ‘little Elvis” becomes noticeably erect is also revealed with a great one liner from Elvis about the unfortunate occurrence.
Many readers will be particularly interested in the author’s writing on Priscilla Presley. Not surprisingly, Ms Presley was not interviewed for the book and instead, Nash relies on material previously published in the controversial book by Suzanne Finstadt, Child Bride. Importantly, Nash presents never-before-published legal information
about Priscilla’s lawsuit against Currie Grant, the man who introduced her to Elvis.
Nash also repeats narrative from her controversial article for Playboy featuring claims by Byron Raphael.
These inclusions need to be considered in context. Sheila Ryan’s account of her intimacy with Elvis is what she wanted to express (we do live in a progressive society); Finstadt’s book was a strong release, arguably featuring truths, half-truths, pure fabrication (by some of those interviewed) and reasonable conjecture – all potent ingredients for a great read! (In some respects Baby, Let’s Play House shares similar engrossing and saleable elements). Raphael’s claims were published as a discrete article in Playboy and some level of criticism was to be expected given the sensational nature of several of his claims.
It is very important to appreciate that Baby, Let’s Play House offers a much broader canvas, a multi-layered landscape which pierces the Elvis emotional psyche and its complex textures. In so doing it provides us with a long missing pathway to his innermost desires, wants and fears. That pathway is littered with glorious revelations, fractured feelings and our own indelible emotional reaction to what we are reading. As one window to the inner Elvis, it is powerful stuff!
There are also other accounts recorded in Baby, Let’s Play House which may sit uneasily with some fans, for example, challenging one of the myths in the Elvis world, Jo Smith (wife of Elvis’s close cousin, Billy), comments that Elvis did not pay much attention to Lisa Marie; and the contention that Elvis experienced prolonged grief disorder (complicated grief) which stunted his emotional and psychological growth as an adult.
However, overwhelmingly, the accounts of the many women who encountered Elvis on one or more levels, is not about the sensational, it is about Elvis the human being – a person, like all of us, with hopes, dreams, fears and internal weaknesses; a compassionate man with incredible talent who struggled to understand his fame and handle his demons. Elvis’ ability to befriend, love and what he really wanted in a woman but was unable to find, are all explored in-depth throughout the book.
It is through these elements that Nash's narrative is at its most powerful.
Elvis scholars will welcome the recently discovered letters from the 1938 prison file of Vernon Presley, including one from Gladys Presley, who pleads for his early release.
Elsewhere, Raquel Welch describes how "they took the sex out of Elvis" and we learn that to some it appeared Elvis considered the women in his life to fall into two categories:
the girls at home (virginal and innocent, to be protected and molded into Elvis' ideal of young womanhood), and the girls on the road (sexually eager fans, showgirls, and strippers).
At the center of Nash's findings are a number of psychologically driven motifs, particularly:
- Gladys the mother figure;
- the importance of family;
- Elvis' ongoing focus on the death of his twin brother, Jesse Garon; and
- Priscilla as the Madonna figure.
I think he put women in two categories. You were either one of the girls, or you were a lady. Once Priscilla had Lisa Marie in 1968, she became a Madonna figure for him. And I think that may be one reason why they split up. In Mississippi he was taught to be kind and take care of ladies, and then he had the other constantly thrown at him.
(Mary Ann Mobley)
What is most evident about these recurring themes is that they reveal Elvis communicated very differently with the women in his life than he did with men, and in the context of the Southern fundamentalist religious ethic Elvis was conditioned within, their influence on his life was especially powerful and decisive in his life:
When they got to Graceland, the guys unloaded the bus, and as Marty started to leave, he went in the hallway to see if Elvis needed anything. He was near the front door, next to his parent' bedroom, kneeling on one knee, his head in his hands sobbing. Larry was standing over him, trying to console him.
"Elvis, what's wrong?" Marty said.
"Marty, I saw my mama."
"What do you mean?"
"I walked in the door, and I saw her standing there. I saw her, man."
Nash’s research reaffirms the belief that the only place where Elvis was truly happy was on stage experiencing the undying adulation of his audience.
There are also many moments of humor throughout the book:
On Elvis wooing Shelley Fabares, Sonny West says:
“He went after her from the first picture. He thought she was adorable. But she said to him, ‘I’m dating someone,’ and she said it was serious, so he backed off. But that chemistry was still there. So the next picture he went after her again. He said, ‘Are you still goin’ with that same guy?’ She said, ‘No, I’m not.’ Elvis said, ‘Great!’ Then she said, ‘I’m engaged to him now.’ So the final picture: ‘Are you still engaged to that guy?’ She said, ‘No, I married him.’ After a while he said, ‘You were weakening, weren’t you?’ And you had to get married to stop it, right?”
Photo Source: mypresleygallery.com
It is also fascinating to read how Elvis related to women on different levels. From friendship to playfulness, affection and deeper intimacy, Elvis had a special connection with the opposite sex. Sadly, he was unable to cement that connection
at its strongest level - a weakness which would subliminally gnaw away at Elvis' emotional and psychological resolve.
While Elvis Aaron Presley: Recollections of the Memphis Mafia presented the ‘macho” experience around Elvis, Baby, Let’s Play House: Elvis Presley and the Women Who Loved Him is the counter-balance, offering the softer, and eventually more powerful, feminine experience. As polarised bookends to the Elvis story, they are unlikely to be bettered.
As with all good books they must add to our knowledge of their subject matter. Alanna Nash, has once again, added immeasurably to our appreciation and understanding of Elvis Presley, the charismatic and supremely talented musician, a man who tragically was impeded by a tortured soul of internal demons which eventually contributed to his tragic demise.
Verdict: Baby, Let’s Play House is a stunning new release from Alanna Nash. Combining Nash’s signatory strong writing style, vivid revelations which enhance our understanding of Elvis as a person and firsthand accounts by those interviewed, it is a delightful and thoroughly entertaining read. There is never a dull moment and it will be hard to beat as the one of the two best Elvis book releases of 2010 (the other likely to be Lamar Fike’s upcoming memoir). Recommended reading (but be prepared to be confronted!)
Hardcover: 704 pages
Publisher: itbooks (HarperCollins Imprint)
About Alanna Nash:
Alanna Nash is the author of six books, including Simon & Schuster’s The Colonel: The Extraordinary Story Of Colonel Tom Parker And Elvis Presley (winner of the Belmont Award for the best book in music, 2004); Dolly: The Biography (Cooper Square Press); Behind Closed Doors: Talking With The Legends Of Country Music (Alfred A. Knopf), Elvis and the Memphis Mafia (HarperCollins, Aurum), and Golden Girl: The Story Of Jessica Savitch (E.P. Dutton), which suggested Disney's feature film "Up Close and Personal," starring Robert Redford and Michelle Pfeiffer.
The winner of the 2004 CMA Media Achievement Award and the 2009 Charlie Lamb Award for Excellence in Country Music Journalism, she has written about music for such publications as “Vanity Fair,” “People,” “USA Weekend,” “TV Guide,” “Playboy,” “Entertainment Weekly,” “Ladies Home Journal,” “The New York Times,” and “Reader's Digest,” where she was a contributing editor from 2004-2008. Nash, whom “Esquire” magazine named one of the "Heavy 100 of Country Music," co-edited Will the Circle Be Unbroken: Country Music in America, published in 2006 by the Country Music Foundation and Dorling Kindersley. (That book brought her second Belmont Award.)
Other books by Alanna Nash
- The Colonel: The Extraordinary Story of Colonel Tom Parker and Elvis Presley (2003), Simon & Schuster, Inc.
- Behind Closed Doors: Talking with the Legends of Country Music (2003), Cooper Square Press
- Elvis Aaron Presley: Revelations from the Memphis Mafia (1995; reissued 2005), HarperCollins - (Contributors: Billy Smith, Marty Lacker, Lamar Fike)
- Golden Girl: The Story of Jessica Savitch (1988), E. P. Dutton
- Dolly: The Biography (1978), Random House
Alanna Nash on Wikipedia
Read EIN's review of Alanna's book:
The Colonel: The Extraordinary Story of Colonel Tom Parker and Elvis Presley
EIN will publish the first part of its in-depth interview with Alanna Nash in the coming weeks
Luc LePage: Hi there, I've read all 3 books Alanah Nash wrote about Elvis. As hard as they are, they are essential to understand Elvis's journey in this life.
And again,like the first two, reading Baby Let's Play House, made me feel more angry and depressed as I went through it. At the end, I was very, very sad. I believe Alanah Nash is honest and because she respects and admires Elvis, she constantly wanted to get to the bottom of facts and avoid fantasy. Facts are stuborned and I think we need to learn about certain things. How a talent like Elvis ended up this way and at an age where he could have grown in maturity both in his personnal life and as an artist? As documented fans, we know Elvis came from a deeply disfunctionnal family and that caused a lot damage to his personnality. And a devious Parker came along to take over that talent and moreover that vulnerability.
I won't go over all the opportunities that Elvis missed to change the course of his career. It's been already commented here with great accuracy by many thougthful and documentedl fans. Thanks to all of them. I've came to a conclusion a long time ago, that Colonel Parker was a fantastic promoter but a poor, if not egotistic manager. Elvis was his golden goose, and that assumption became clearer as time went by.
One thing that still bugs me, is how come security was so tight around Elvis in Vegas 1969, that Steve Binder could never get to meet Elvis. We know that Parker hated him and feared he could influence Elvis artistically. Obviously, the dear Colonel had given strict orders to to make sure Binder would never come close to Elvis. To whom was he given this order? Members of the Memphis Mafia must have been aware of this! And how come his phonecalls to Elvis personnal number were never returned. Somebody must have watched and blocked them. Who was it?
It's impossible that nobody from his entourage wasn't aware that Elvis liked BInder. How come none of the Memphis Mafia did nothing about that? It's very hard to believe that nobody knew about the wall Parker was building up to prevent Elvis to stay in conctact with Binder. But on the other hand, Elvis should or could have called Binder himself. Facts are stuborn: he didn't do that.
Those among that gang that still defend or diminish the damage Parker did to Elvis today are either dishonest or as guilty as Parker. I was schocked to read Sonny West saying that Parker " cared about Elvis". Parker cared essentially about the money Elvis could provide. Parker took advantage of Elvis's weakness,. As a good manager he should have protected Elvis against his own weakness. Then there would be only Elvis to blame, but then maybe more sadly.
Laurie Falkenburg: Hi, I read your interview and unfortunately read her book. All I can say is what a bunch of bull. I can't get over the accusations that she makes about Elvis and his family. The broad stokes she paints with a fine brush is just nonsense. To say that because of his relationship with his Mom he suffered and was never ever able to truly love anyone is so sick and sad. I have studied psychology and almost became a psychologist and this is nothing but a far reaching attempt to analyze someone without all the facts. I regret that I wasn't my money, but it did get a great final resting place. I burned it in my fire place. I read Dr. Nick's book and enjoyed his book and I thank him for finally setting the record straight. This woman needs to see a doctor shrink herself, maybe she has Daddy issues.What didn't get enough hugs or attention growing up. Pick on someone who can defend themselves, not someone who's been deceased for over 30 years. Don't waste your money unless you need something to burn.
EIN Note: Ms Nash makes it very clear in her book that her conclusions are made in the context of detailed psychological analysis of Elvis by Dr. Peter Whitmer Ph.D. in his book The Inner Elvis.
Cynthia Black: Thanks for a wonderful review of Alanna's new book. I bought it on the first day of release and read it from cover to cover. It was refreshing to read about Elvis from the fairer sex. Alanna has opened my eyes to an Elvis I hadn't known before. I hope she never stop[s writing about Elvis, she is so good at putting others thoughts on paper.
Ida Ritter: I do not know if I made this too long. To tell you the truth I could write a lot more about this book. I red Alana's other books on Elvis and appreciated them very much, this one is not my favorite one, but everybody is entitled to their own opinions. Here is mine:
This book has brought many controversies, and I could see why, I personally think that there is no need for some of the physical description of some situations at times which I considered unnecessary. Even though is a good book, I could not say is my favorite one, I found it hard at times to continue reading so many detailed situations that at times it seems with no end.
A parade description of all the women and girls in Elvis’ life which is very well done by Alanna, this help us understand better his fears and physocoligal problems that he never was able to overcome, why he was never able to hold on to any relationship with women, as well as his erratic behavior in the last years of his life and again why he was such a lonely and missunderstood individual who always had by his side the wrong people, so sad to realize how this book describes how Elvis became involved with every woman he possibly could, including almost all his co-stars?
My final thought is: Was it really necessary to expose in such a manner, at times very graphically, this side of Elvis’s life in such an open way? This I leave for all of the individual Elvis fans to decide. I already red the book and have my own opinion of it.
Barbara Tonks: I have enjoyed all of Alanna Nash's books and after reading your interview with her I can't wait for Baby. Let's Play House. Alanna really captures what Elvis was all about and she is the best writer on Elvis in the world today.
Nerida Langdon: ALANNAS NEW BOOK SOUNDS GOOD
Tony Sykes: I read on another site that Ms Nash's book was garbage. After reading your review and her interview I'm glad I waited to make up my mind on whether to buy it or not. I enjoyed Elvis and the Memphis Mafia a great deal and Baby, Let's Play House seems as it will be the "other bookend" as you put it. Keep up the good work!
Sally (USA): The new Alanna Nash book is getting a mixed bag of reviews. Your review is the most detailed I've read and I think it gives the book a much better perspective than other reviewers which have been offended by a small part of it. Thank you for bringing some perspective to the book.
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