Allyson Adams Interview
Daughter of actor Nick Adams tells the story of her new book
Interview by Piers Beagley
Elvis Presley had just exploded on the American scene and was filming his first movie 'Love Me Tender' when he introduced himself to Nick Adams on the backlot of 20th Century Fox.
Nick was infamous for writing articles about inside Hollywood and now the posthumous publication of Nick Adams raw, unedited manuscript details Nick Adams close friendship with Elvis Presley and the whirlwind eight days in Memphis during the famous singer’s Tupelo Homecoming the summer of 56.
Nick Adams daughter Allyson Adams recently discovered this hidden manuscript and collected research and photos to go into the book. Colonel Parker was also her godfather!
EIN's Piers Beagley wanted to know more about this fascinating story and sat down with author Allyson Adams to hear all about this amazing discovery.
The recent chance discovery of an original manuscript written by Nick Adams in 1956 chronicling his friendship with the young Elvis Presley has offered Allyson Adams, a writer and independent filmmaker an opportunity to learn more about her father and offered new insights into the life of Presley.
"The Rebel and the King," Nick Adams' original manuscript describing his friendship with Elvis, augmented with research and photos collected by Allyson Adams (photo right), was recently published.
"I had no idea the journey I was about to begin when I reached up and got my "Daddy Box" down from the closet to take with me back to California," Adams writes in the forward.
"The cardboard bankers box with 'Daddy' scrawled across it is stuffed with my father's memorabilia. I've carted this box across the country for 40 years and, believe it or not, never opened it because I couldn't deal with my father's story, even though it haunted me."
When Allyson Adams finally opened the box, she found her father's type-written manuscript entitled 'Elvis Presley: Singer, Actor, Man'. "I couldn't believe what I was holding in my hands had been here all along," Adams said.
"I would rather live one day as a lion, than a thousand years as a lamb," wrote Nick Adams, in 1956. "A very great man once made that statement. And that was the first thing that came to my mind when I sat down to write this story about Elvis."
- Please see below on how to get your own signed copy of the book plus free Elvis & Nick photo -
EIN: Thanks Allyson for letting us talk to you. The ‘Rebel and The King’ is truly a delightful book and what a fantastic find.
Allyson Adams: Thank you so much Piers, I have enjoyed our communication immensely.
EIN: You tell the story of finding your daddy’s box full of memorabilia and how you’ve carried it around with you for 40 years. What made you NOT look through this box of treasures for all that time? And why did you open it now?
AA: That’s such a loaded question and to be honest, this is the subject of my upcoming memoir The Daddy Box. So let’s come back to it. Ha! I’m still avoiding it.
EIN: That's great that you're following this up with your memoir and more stories... How long have you been working on the memoir and have you any idea when it might be finished?
AA: There are parts I wrote when I was 17, way before I opened the Daddy Box. Time to finish, don't you think? Next year.
EIN: Did you grow up watching Elvis movies - knowing of your father’s connection with him? Were you a fan of Elvis’ music as a teenager?
AA: I really had no idea the extent of my father’s connection with him, but I knew they were friends. When Elvis died in 1977, I felt sad for Lisa Marie because she was so young like me. And no, I didn’t listen to Elvis as a teenager. I started listening to the The Beatles White Album when I was eight and then The Jackson Five.
EIN: How much do you remember of your young childhood with your father?
AA: You’re going to love The Daddy Box. I remember he was fun and funny. That’s why all those famous guys liked having him around. He broke the ice and was quite entertaining.
EIN: Reading manuscript that your discovered, what was the part that moved you most?
AA: I have many, but mainly finding it and then reading the first line " I would rather live one day as a lion than a thousand years as a lamb." In the book he is describing Elvis, but really he is describing himself. My father was a man of extremes, and for him GO BIG OR GO HOME, was his creed, except he couldn’t go home. It was all or nothing.
EIN: Your father was well known for contributing articles to newspapers and magazines about his famous friends and living in Hollywood. And what a bunch, James Dean, Natalie Wood, Dennis Hopper, Kim Novak! Do you have a collection of his other articles that he wrote at the time?
AA: Yes I do and that’s definitely part of The Daddy Box, as well as all the stories I have heard over the years. I’m writing something now for Halloween about James Dean, Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo and Nick Adams, as a Hollywood Day of the Dead invocation to banish any wayward darkness that may be lingering for the Rebel Without A Cause fallen angels.
EIN: I was surprised to find out that Col Parker was your godfather! How did that come about?
AA: I don’t know how it came about but I would have preferred Elvis as my godfather! I was born in 1960 when both Elvis and my Dad were at Paramount Studios and they were all still close. There are several pictures in the book during that time. My mother, Carol, says that the Col and his wife were very nice people and not into the Hollywood scene. June Allyson was my godmother and that’s why my name is spelled with a "Y," but I never got a pony or a Christening gown from either of them.
EIN: I love the photo in the book of you as a baby with your father. There are also photos of you father at Col Parker’s birthday party. Did you by chance go along as a baby - did you ever meet Elvis?
(Right: The Rebel’s Daughter portrait)
AA: Yes, I had breakfast on Elvis’ lap when I was baby. My Mom and Dad took me over to Elvis’ house to visit and hang out. We were all sitting around the table but I don’t remember, that’s what my Mom told me. Darn, no cameras, but it wasn’t that kind of thing. It was low key and real.
I call that photo The Rebel’s Daughter portrait and it’s my favorite photo of my Dad and me because it seals the "Destiny factor" between us. In many ways my path has been Johnny Yuma’s legacy of wandering alone and bringing justice for the underdog.
EIN: (laughing) There are not too many people who can say they had brekafast on Elvis lap!! However as you may well know many people have pointed towards Parker’s gambling debts as the reason he might have pushed Elvis so hard at the end, when Elvis should really have been in hospital. What is your opinion about Col Parker and what you remember of him?
AA: That is way after my Dad was dead and buried and since this manuscript was my first introduction to Elvis during 1956, none of Elvis’ later years and career was on my radar. I basically shunned anything to do with Hollywood or my Dad for many years because I saw through the emptiness of fame and the trap of unbridled ambition. I was born in Hollywood and witnessed a lot of ugly stuff growing up. Nothing would surprise me.
If what I read in your article is true about Col Parker, then I applaud Lisa Marie for taking back control and cleaning up Parker's greedy and wiley wreckage. It's a travesty and he appears to be a brilliant and manipulative carny who knew how to get what he wanted. But it seems most of that stuff came later when my Dad wasn’t around and in the beginning Parker was genius in getting Elvis Presley’s career going and that’s why Elvis stayed loyal to him for so long.
EIN: Elaine Dundy (author of ‘Elvis and Gladys’) was an incredible character. Did you ever get to meet her? What of the story she mentions about your father possibly being in the pay of Colonel Parker and being placed as a kind of spy to keep an eye on Elvis’ comings & going?
AA: I have a very interesting relationship with Elaine Dundy, even though she is dead, and I write about it on my blog www.allysonadams.com "56 years ago in 1956," and it ain’t over yet. I know Elaine was not a fan of my father’s but she never met him and only gathered her info from interviewing people 30 years later. There has been quite a bit of rumor, gossip, speculation and negative things written about my father - and I have not read it all - about his associations with Elvis and James Dean, and whomever he seems to have hung out with.
Frankly Scarlet, I don’t give a damn. I don’t need to defend my father because I wasn’t there and I don’t know what is true or not. It’s all hearsay. I love him unconditionally. I know some people say he was insecure, pushy, opportunistic and he probably was. He wanted to be movie star more than anything and he worked his tail off to achieve his dream.
EIN: And what of the newspaper article that suggested your father and Colonel Parker were jointly writing a book about Elvis?
AA: I spoke with witnesses in Memphis during my Elvis Week journey, who remember my Dad and Elvis carrying around a typewriter during that eight days and Elvis was the one who commented "We’re writing a book!" I don’t know about the other article you are referring to.
EIN: One of the real delights of your father’s manuscript is discovering what Elvis’ home life was really like at the time. Elvis was already $1 million star yet seems so innocent and such a home-comfort loving boy in your father’s descriptions of him. Do you think your father also found a family connection with Elvis’ parents?
EIN: Your father strongly defended Elvis. He even notes his anger.. "while my blood is boiling" when he rallies against a Baptist Preacher who said that "Elvis had reached a new low in spiritual degeneracy". Do you remember your father as a passionate man?
AA: Walking and talking fast.
EIN: In another statement your father says how cruisy-singer Mel Torme said that if he caught any of his kids playing Elvis’ records he would kick their teeth out. And that, "He probably couldn’t get himself arrested, much less sell a record." Some of these observations of the time seem incredible reading them now!
AA: It was a different era! It’s like an episode of Mad Men. How about the description of how they treated the animals while making movies? Wiring sharks mouths shut so they could swim with actors, and letting a boa constrictor suffocate and eat a tiger? If that happened today, PETA would blow a gasket.
The Tupelo fair Elvis and Nick Adams with camera far right.
EIN: Your father also captures Elvis’ real enthusiasm for the movies. The fact that Elvis knew ‘Rebel Without A Cause’ so well obviously surprised your father. Your father says "I didn’t think anyone had ever noticed me in Rebel, but standing in front of me was the hottest box office attraction in 30 years and he had remembered me was telling me what a good job I had done." What do you feel reading such an incredible statement?
AA: I loved it because my father wanted to be noticed and accepted, and Elvis did that. Elvis wasn’t jealous about others success like most people in Hollywood and that was so refreshing to my father. Also Elvis had this ability to see a movie once and repeat all the dialogue verbatim, plus act out all the parts, and was that way with music too. Elvis had uncanny, natural gifts.
EIN: Your father obviously observed and listened to Elvis very closely and there are pages of quotations from Elvis, some of them extremely moving. One of them describes the poverty of Elvis’ early years. "When I was 18 years old I saw my daddy sitting at the edge of the bed with his head in his hands and he felt so bad because things weren’t going well at all and there were so many bills they didn’t see any way out it. He just couldn’t see how could get up and face the world".
What did you feel when reading these stories?
AA: That we all have these defining moments in our lives when we make powerful choices to create a better life for ourselves no matter what the odds. It reminded me of how people in America (and the world too) feel now during these hard economic times. Elvis and my Dad’s story is a good old fashioned rags to riches American tale.
I might add that most of the longer Elvis passages were tape recorded by my Dad, so those are his actual words.
EIN: In the book your father describes Elvis’ generosity and a one point says that every time they went shopping if Elvis bought anything he would also buy one for your father as well. Do you have any idea what happened to all his personal possessions? There would be some fantastic memories there?
AA: Coincidentally, when I was in Memphis at the Peabody Hotel during Elvis Week, I had just been on the news talking about Elvis and my Dad riding in Elvis’ Messerschmitt, and the bartender recognized me and said "Elvis gave that Messerschmitt car to Hal Lansky’s father and that’s his store right there." So I met Hal Lansky of the Lansky Brothers Clothiers and he showed me a picture of my Dad with Elvis and the Lansky Brothers. I had seen that same photo of Elvis a hundred times but my Dad was cut out of the picture. But now here he was.
This is the store where Elvis bought a lot of his clothes and eventually traded the car for a bunch more.
EIN: Elvis and Natalie Wood went with your father to see a private showing of his newest film ‘The Last Wagon’. Your father is a little overcome at seeing his name on the screen such large letters. He noted that "Seeing my name on the screen meant that maybe some day I would be able to give my parents all the things they never had, just the way Elvis helped his parents".
Do you think your father was proud in what he achieved coming from such poverty and there is that similarity that they both came from nothing and both managed to help their families to a better life?
AA: Another one of my favorite parts in the book that gives insight into my father’s inner world. I also took the liberty of adding a portion from a letter my Dad wrote in 1949, the year before he left for Hollywood, where he muses about his future and his life as a peasant. That’s such a telling moment because it shows his vulnerability and also part of he, Elvis’ and Natalie’s bond. Natalie was also Ukrainian like my Dad, and these were young kids with big dreams who came from nothing and they were making it! It’s such a priceless, innocent time for any artist that is on the brink and then it’s never the same again. Your star rises and life is changed, and it certainly was for Elvis and Natalie Wood. She reached an incredible pinnacle at a very early age, did beautiful work and was quite the randy one.
EIN: Interestingly I found an excerpt from your father’s book in another Elvis book called ‘Rebel Heart’ by Paul Lichter. In that book one of the officers in the ROTC unit - a Gerald Billion - who also attended Humes High, tells his story about meeting your father and then your father tells him his story about Elvis. However the words are exactly the same as in your father’s manuscript. Have you any idea how this happened? Has the excerpt been taken from an early newspaper article of your fathers?
AA: Like I say, this is my first Elvis barbecue and I learn things everyday. I am not aware of it but as I mention in my foreword, my father wrote an article called "I Defend Elvis" that was taken from the much longer manuscript. You would be surprised that a lot of what my father wrote about Elvis during that trip became some of the first things people learned about the real Elvis. Many famous Elvis photos during that time have Nick cropped out of them, but he was there! There had been so many lies and misconceptions written about Elvis attacking his faith and character, mostly from jealousy, that Elvis cooperated with Nick very closely to give a truer vision of himself.
EIN: Gerald Billion tells the story of being in Elvis’ house when your father and Natalie Wood came in. He noted that "Nick was wearing jeans and Natalie was barefoot, wearing black pedal-pushers with a leopard-skin designed vest". He said he liked your father because he and Natalie were such nice "normal people" and with no airs and graces.
AA: Can’t wait to read it.
EIN: A sensitive subject that I hope you don’t mind me asking about would be about both Elvis’ and your father’s over-use of prescription drugs. It seems certain that Elvis returned with the habit after his stint in the army. Now of course we know the dangers of it, but back then it was legal and something that few people frowned on.
Do you feel sad about this similarity and that no one recognised the danger. It seems that it led to both of their deaths way too young?
AA: The more I learn about Elvis, the more I understand what a tragedy the end of his life was - not unlike my own father's - and that's why I'm so grateful that my introduction to Elvis was through my Dad's eight days in Memphis with him. This little time capsule is a highlight of Elvis' rocket to historical notoriety. The last glimpse of innocence before the end of an era. Unfortunately, it ate him up. Iconic fame has a price tag, and sometimes it ends up on the end of your toe in a morgue .
And this question certainly hits close to home and the territory I cover in the Daddy Box. Addiction and alcoholism are family diseases and they play themselves out in many ways. There is so much stress and pressure for any public figure, that I don’t think people realize that celebrities are people too. Great artists are sensitive souls that are thrust into a lion’s game to which some fair better than others. It’s a tough racket. This is Hollywood folks, not Bozeman.
On a lighter note, most of all, I love the chapter 'The Gospel According to Elvis' because Elvis lays out a simple spiritual formula for success and never mentions religion or political agenda. Elvis says, and I’m paraphrasing, "Every time something good happens to you just thank God for the blessings that he has bestowed upon you and you will have more good luck and more blessings in your life. Have the faith of a mustard seed and you can move a mountain." The first time I read that, it lifted my spirits and affirmed my spiritual search. That’s exactly what I needed to read at that moment and so it was a gift my Dad gave me even though he was gone.
My Dad tells about Elvis listening to Mahalia Jackson’s "You’ll Never Walk Alone" over and over because he liked the way she made the words sound, and then later Elvis would record it. When I listened to Elvis sing that song it made tears stream down my face, and now whenever I need some comfort, I listen to it.
EIN: So it that your favorite Elvis song? And what is it like for you to be immersed in this "Elvis World" and to meet all his fans at Elvis week?
AA: 'A Little Less Conversation' (JXL Radio Mix) is my favorite Elvis song and I play it for inspiration to get going.
My stepfather told me today that 'You'll Never Walk Alone' is from the musical Carousel, which I didn't realize.
I have learned so much about Elvis World and my father since I published this book only two months ago that my heart and mind are full with lore, genealogy, music, the rawest magic of any living performer to walk this earth, rumor, speculation, homespun god lovin' folk with the warmest hospitality, fans, connections, spirit visitations, where would you like me to start? In many ways I am still soaking it all in, but I am thrilled to be part of it all. The best part of Elvis, of course, is his music, and no matter what I hear or see of him, I love him truly, madly, deeply. Finally, after all these years I get it. Looks like I saved the best for last.
EIN: Thanks so much for talking so honestly with us Allyson about Elvis and your father. And good luck with the memoir - 'The Daddy Box' is sure to be an amazing tale.
Interview by Piers Beagley.
-Copyright EIN October 2012
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|Amazon Book Description: Elvis Presley had just exploded on the American scene and was filming his first movie, Love Me Tender, when he introduced himself to Nick Adams on the backlot of 20th Century Fox. Nick was a struggling actor, part of the Rebel Without A Cause gang and showed Elvis the town, introducing him to Natalie Wood. Nick was infamous for writing about his famous friends and now the posthumous publication of Nick Adams’ raw, unedited manuscript, The Rebel & The King, details his close friendship and whirlwind eight days in Memphis with Elvis, during the famous singer’s Tupelo Homecoming the summer of 56.
Nick Adams starred as Johnny Yuma in the western television series, The Rebel, in 1959-61, and was nominated for an Academy Award in 1964 for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Twilight of Honor with Richard Chamberlain and Joey Heatherton. Nick appeared in such film classics as Rebel Without a Cause, Mister Roberts, Picnic, Pillow Talk and No Time for Sergeants, as well as Japanese Godzilla movies, Monster Zero, Frankenstein Meets the Outer Space Monster, and Boris Karloff’s last horror movie, Die Monster Die. He died tragically of a mysterious overdose at 36.
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The Elvis Information Network has been running since 1986 and is an EPE officially recognised Elvis fan club.