Interview with Barbara Leigh

Model and actress, Barbara Leigh talks to EIN about her lovers Elvis and Steve McQueen, and more

Interview by Nigel Patterson

"The King, the Mirror, Spiritualism and the Love Machine"

(July 2002)

Barbara Leigh is an accomplished model and actress who currently works for the Playboy organisation. As an actress, Barbara has appeared in numerous TV series and on the big screen with major stars including Rock Hudson and Steve McQueen.

Barbara is also fondly remembered as the 'original' Vampirella.

In 1970 Barbara was introduced to Elvis and that meeting began a torrid, two year affair.

From Barbara Leigh's new website . .

  • My favorite movie was Junior Bonner, which starred Steve McQueen, the hottest male movie star at that time. Playing his leading lady in the movie was exciting and an unforgettable experience as was working with the film’s director, bad-boy Sam Peckinpah. I met Steve during the casting for the movie. I was not Sam’s first choice but did win the part of “Charmagne” through good fortune. The actress chosen for the part had to decline after an illness and Steve fought for me to win that part. We were having an affair, which is documented in my book The King, McQueen and the Love Machine, co-written with author Marshall Terrill.

    It was during this time that my boyfriend Jim Aubrey introduced me to Elvis Presley as MGM Studios was producing a feature film about him, the seminal documentary Elvis, That's the Way it Is. This was a monumental time in my development as a human being, knowing very little about sophistication and being exposed to life beyond the velvet rope. I was, however, a quick study. I learned fast that it was either keep up or get left behind… As glamorous as this time was in my life with dating three famous exciting men, it was not the most exciting time for me – those years came later when I was married to Peter Schmidt and living in London, NYC and South Hampton, New York… but that again, is another story.

Barbara's biography (co-written with noted author, Marshall Terrill), 'The King, McQueen and the Love Machine' was released in August 2002. In this interview, Barbara speaks candidly about her time with Elvis.

EIN: Much has been written about your affair with Elvis Presley from 1970-1972, but strangely enough, not much is known. You've been able to keep the details under wraps for more than 25 years. Why have you finally decided to write "The King, McQueen and the Love Machine," a book about your relationship with Elvis now?

Barbara Leigh: Out of respect for Elvis, I never spoke of our relationship while he was alive. We kept our affair secret. Outside our immediate group of friends, no one knew for sure. Elvis was very much married at the time and I was what some would call a starlet. We were careful not to be photographed or appear together in public because had our relationship been discovered, I'm sure it would have been a huge scandal.

After Elvis died I have only granted two interviews. The first one was a BIG disappointment. The author, Albert Goldman, wrote the despicable "Elvis!" in the early 1980s in which he tried to sell a lot of books by trashing Elvis' reputation. I met Mr. Goldman in New York City where we both lived in the late 1970s. He had contacted me through a friend with the intent to write about me, with or without an interview. I decided to at least meet with him and feel him out. When he arrived at my apartment, I was totally disarmed. His appearance was that of a quirky professor (which, he was) wearing sneakers, blue jeans, T-shirt & jacket. He smiled a lot and he seemed nice enough. I believed he was a fan, but he ultimately proved me wrong. Although he wrote my interview as given, he demeaned Elvis in every way possible. I never got past the first few pages, and I never read it again. I was sickened this man who never knew Elvis, and could write such horrible things about a wonderful human being.

It was almost 20 years since I did another interview, the second one was with Peter Guralnick who wrote the best-selling book, "Last Train to Memphis." Based on his work, I decided to grant him an interview for "Careless Love," the sequel to "Last Train to Memphis."

I met Peter through Joe Esposito and liked him right away. You could feel Peter's admiration for Elvis, and he made me proud. In 1996, I received a letter from the well-known biographer, Marshall Terrill, who wrote a best-selling biography called, "Steve McQueen: Portrait of an American Rebel." Marshall wrote me because he wanted to do a book on my relationship with Elvis. I was already starting work on my book and actually telling my story into a tape recorder when he wrote, so I figured it was fate. I called him and we set up a meeting. Marshall lives in Arizona, so he flew to Los Angeles where we met at my apartment.

(Right;Barbara Leigh & good friend Joe Esposito)

Marshall's enthusiasm for me to tell my story won me over in that visit, plus the fact that he knew about the importance that Elvis Presley, Steve McQueen and James Aubrey had played in the 1970s was a bonus. I didn't have to explain to him who these powerful men were, and their place in pop culture history during this time period.

Often at the Famous Chiller Theater Convention in NJ, and other convention's too I've been asked why didn't I write my autobiography. Although, this book is not a total autobiography of my life (it heavily covers the years 1970-1973) it gives you the feeling of reading my journals through these three years. After flying to Arizona to spend time with Marshall and work on the book, we decided after Marshall got to know me that there were too many books on Elvis alone and maybe the fans might enjoy reading a bigger romantic story.

We changed direction of the book and wrote about a three-year period in my life when I dated these three famous men, and bring the readers up to date to where I am now. I had fun writing this book, but it wasn't easy to tell some very personal things. It's a little scary to share so much of myself, but I hope that anyone who reads our book will know that it was written with love, especially my love for Elvis.

EIN: When and how did you first meet Elvis Presley?

Barbara L: Elvis was introduced to me through my boyfriend, Jim Aubrey, who was the president of MGM studios at the time. He was a powerful player in Hollywood and was the inspiration for Jacqueline Susan's famous book and movie "The Love Machine." Jim took me to see Elvis' show at the Las Vegas Hilton in August 1970 because he was making arrangements for MGM to distribute, "Elvis: That's the Way It Is". After the show we were invited to meet the King back in his private dressing room. I met Elvis face-to-face when he sat down next to me, staring directly into my eyes. He spotted me in the audience that night and was prepared to get my phone number that night without anyone seeing. He got a great delight out of stealing Jim Aubrey's girlfriend.

EIN: Where were you in terms of your career at this point?

Barbara L: I was a successful international model at the height of my career, and was an inspiring actress just beginning to make some movie appearances. I was an ingenue in the movie business, and was very close to making a big breakthrough.

I had a few films and television appearances under my belt, but my career took a big upturn with "Pretty Maids All in a Row" starring Rock Hudson.

(Right;Playing Chess in "Pretty Maids All in a Row")

EIN: When did you first take notice of Elvis Presley?

Barbara L: It must have been the first time I saw Elvis on "The Ed Sullivan Show" in 1956. I was just a kid, but I immediately loved him. My family and I were watching TV when Elvis appeared, and we didn't know what to think. His voice was beautiful, his moves were sexy; like nothing anyone had ever seen before. He was so free and alive. Elvis expressed who he was, and how he felt through his famous shaking and swiveling. He certainly got my attention as I got up and tried to move like he did, but was quickly sent to my room. Little did I ever dream that I would meet him one day.

EIN: When did you know you'd be lovers?

Barbara L: From that moment in his dressing room when we locked eyes, I knew we would be friends and lovers. I wished it! When Elvis wanted something he usually got it. As we spent time together our relationship grew. We tried spending as much time together as we could manage, but it wasn't easy with his career, his marriage, his other women and my work schedule. Life was always a challenge with the King.

EIN: What was Elvis like behind closed doors?

Barbara L: I think that Elvis was really a very simple man by nature, but complex through his megastardom and fame. He was what he appeared to be-honest, kind, generous, loving, and forever the entertainer. Fame and all the trappings can change a simple man into a complex man, and that's the way it was with E as with most celebrities. Their lives are no longer normal, and they belong to their fans.

EIN: What was your main bond with Elvis?

Barbara L: Elvis's spiritualism is well known by anyone who ever spent anytime with him. You couldn't help but see that in him. He was an old soul. I loved spending private time with E because that is when you saw the real Elvis. Often he shared his spiritual thoughts and knowledge that he learned from certain beloved books he cherished. I've been down on my knees praying with Elvis. If he thought prayer would help, he prayed. He was a humble man before God. He loved church, singing church hymns, which he did for me at Graceland while playing his piano. We sang "Amazing Grace" together. Elvis told me I had a beautiful voice, and always made me feel special. He had that rare gift, and he wasn't afraid to use it. He was a dear, dear man.

EIN: It didn't bother you that Elvis often surrounded himself with women, and of course, he was still married to Priscilla?

Barbara L: Elvis was the King, and a King has to have his harem, right? I didn't think about him being married or about the many, many other women in his life. When we were together I tried living in the now. The '70's philosophy of "Be Here Now" by Ram Dass which, was a book that Elvis liked and so did I. It was a popular mantra of the day that professed to live only in the now. I never believed that I was the only girlfriend, and I accepted Elvis for the time we spent together. I was lucky enough to share with him and I never asked him any questions, and he did likewise. We didn't ask any questions about other relationships because we knew what the answer would be. I took the bad with the good. The only time it bothered me was when I'd have to compete for his attention at the Vegas Hilton when beautiful girls were showing up and trying to steal the King's heart in front of me. That was tough.

EIN: As you mentioned before, you were already involved with James Aubrey and was about to embark on an affair with Steve McQueen. How did Elvis accept that?

Barbara L: Elvis knew about Jim Aubrey because we met through "James," but he admired Aubrey and looked up to him. The feeling was mutual because Jim liked Elvis and admired him, too. They were total opposites, it's partly what attracted them to each other. Jim had the sophistication and charm of Ayan Rand's Howard Rowark's character from the "Fountainhead," and Elvis had the genteel charm of a southerner. Elvis later found out about Steve McQueen when I was filming "Junior Bonner"in Prescott, Arizona. Elvis decided he wanted to visit me in Arizona, and it was an awkward moment. Elvis basically forced me to tell him that I was dating Steve, and living with him on location. Elvis and Steve were more alike in that they both came from nothing, and there was fierce competition between the two. Elvis referred to Steve as "that motorcycle hick" while Steve referred to Elvis as "that guitar hick."

EIN: What was it like to be on tour with Elvis in the early 1970s?

Barbara L: Touring with Elvis was exciting at first, but quickly became tiresome. The best part was always watching Elvis on stage, I could never get enough of seeing him perform and hearing him sing. The bad part, however, outweighed the good. The bad included horrible food, lack of rest, too much female competition and little private time with the King. I loved flying next to Elvis on his planes, and it gave us time to talk without being interrupted. I had his undivided attention because he couldn't go anywhere. And those were the times that made it all worthwhile.

(Right: Barbara & friends at 1973 Elvis concert)

EIN: What were some funny or endearing quirks Elvis had that brings a smile to your face?

Barbara L: One of Elvis's endearing quirks was that he could never pass a mirror without stopping to check himself out. He just had to make sure he was still the King (laughs). It was done in a way that was so sweet and funny that I didn't take it seriously, and neither did he, but there wasn't a mirror he didn't like. Elvis also had a great sense of humor and loved playing practical jokes on the guys and whoever was there. Elvis also couldn't keep a secret to save his life. If he swore not to repeat something, you could count on him spilling his guts. He just couldn't keep a secret well.

EIN: What was special about Elvis as a human being?

Barbara L: Elvis was the most generous person I've ever met both with his money and himself. He loved giving gifts and watching people's faces when they got them. There wasn't a motive to his sharing other than just his love. With Elvis, a lot of getting a BIG gift was being there at the right time and place. In one of his many generous moods, he decided to buy Charlie Hodge a Mercedes car. Lucky for me, I was there at the time, and I got a little brown Mercedes. It was an exciting experience for all us all, but Elvis was the most excited because he truly loved to give. I loved my little brown Mercedes, and Elvis knew it. Elvis loved to adorn his women with beautiful clothes, and he loved getting guns or us too, so we'd be safe. He loved giving jewelry and surprising you when you least expected it. It was Elvis's joy to give and make people happy, he shared all these things with me as well as many others. He was truly one-of-a-kind.

EIN: What led to your eventual breakup, and did you keep in touch?

Barbara L: Our schedules became more and more difficult to align, and gradually after he met Linda Thompson in 1972, it was pretty much over. We remained friends but drifted apart romantically. Through the years we kept in touch through Joe. And, from time to time Elvis would see one of my commercials, or Playboy layouts, or see my Vampirella magazines and he'd call to catch up on what was going on. He always kept tabs on me through Joe.

NOTE : Although Hammer Film’s “Vampirella” was never made, I had the wonderful experience of being cast to play Vampirella and to be the first to wear her famous costume, complete with boots and jewelry in front of a live NYC audience.  Harris Comic’s hired the Famed Israeli Photographer, Hank Londoner, to take pictures of me in full Vampirella Costume in the dark streets of NYC, and in his NYC studio. 

(Right:Vampirella featured in FILMFAX magazine)


EIN: As we get ready to celebrate the 25th anniversary of his death this year 2002, why do you think Elvis Presley is more popular than ever?

Barbara L: Elvis's music is the one true GIFT he's left behind, and it is continually being shared with the world. The music will never die, but apart from that, it's the other intangible things that keep him alive-his love, his laughter, his films, all the photos that we see and have access to will keep him alive for generations to come. I don't think it's bad to worship something that makes you feel good. And Elvis' memory makes people and fans feel happy. He will live forever in the hearts of all his fans. From my perspective, Elvis isn't dead, he's just left the building.

"The King, McQueen and the Love Machine" can be ordered in both hardback and tradeback from Amazon - Click here

For more great Barbara Leigh photos and stories go here to her new 2011 website

Click to comment on this article


Interview by Nigel Patterson.
-Copyright EIN July 2002/ September 2011
EIN Website content © Copyright the Elvis Information Network.

EIN Website content © Copyright the Elvis Information Network.
Elvis Presley, Elvis and Graceland are trademarks of Elvis Presley Enterprises.
The Elvis Information Network has been running since 1986 and is an EPE officially recognised Elvis fan club.















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