Terrill talks to EIN...as Sonny West tours Australia
– Well it has been a long process, because Sonny and I shopped
a proposal around to a few publishers way back in 2002. However
they all said that they wanted to see a finished manuscript
before they committed to an agreement. Of course that was the
25th anniversary of Elvis’ death and so publishers were inundated
with all kinds of books on Elvis including two that I co-wrote,
"Sergeant Presley" & "The King, McQueen and the Love Machine."
Elvis’ close friend Sonny West touring Australia this
month, EIN talked to Marshall Terrill, the co-writer
of Sonny’s new book ‘Still Taking Care of Business’
about the recent rumours & how the book is going.
– I was totally enthralled by your earlier book about
‘Sergeant Presley’ (Rex & Elisabeth Mansfield’s story)
yet there is gossip going around that you’re having
troubles getting a publisher for Sonny’s new book.
and I still haven’t finished the manuscript but we have recently
enlisted the services of veteran literary agent Tony Seidl,
of New York-based TD Media, who will shop it around once it
is finished and fully edited.
– So do you have any publishers interested yet?
- Tony told me last week that there are three publishers who
keep inquiring about Sonny's manuscript but they still need
to see a finished product. I am hoping to have a first draft
finished by the end of this summer and have faith in Tony
as he has sold more than 150 books and specializes in celebrity
biographies & autobiographies. He has even brokered book and
movie deals on subjects as diverse as Elvis, Bobby Darin,
Eddie Fisher, Larry Holmes and Joe Frazier.
– How far have you got with the book?
- We have completed about 18 chapters and are up to
Elvis' historic summit with the Beatles in his Perugia
Way home in August 1965. This chapter called ‘Meet the
Beatles’ promises to be one of the most-detailed accounts
of that meeting. We’ve also been working on Elvis’ Hollywood
Years recounting Sonny’s experiences and what he witnessed
not only on the soundstage but also behind-the-scenes
of each film.
relationships with Juliet Prowse, Tuesday Weld, Ann-Margret
- whom Sonny calls "the one who got away" – are discussed
as well as his feelings towards co-stars, directors, producers
and others who visited the set. There’s a good story about
the football great Jim Brown who showed Elvis and the guys
the secret of how he broke tackles on ‘Roustabout’.
– So are there plenty of new stories that we haven’t heard
– Well the first few chapters deals with Sonny's family history,
his upbringing, his early relationship with cousin Red West,
and a first-time account of when he first saw Elvis strum
a few songs on an acoustic guitar at Tech High School in 1954.
He'll also go into full detail regarding his stint in the
Air Force. None of Sonny's early history has ever been written
about over the years other than a mere paragraph in ‘Elvis:
will finally understand the parallel lives that bound Sonny
and Elvis for 16 years. Of course, Sonny recounts the first
night he actually met Elvis at a roller skating party in 1958
and will tell readers how he was hired two years later when
"Sgt. Presley" came back from Germany in 1960.
– What about the other ‘Memphis Mafia’ guys & their relationships
– Sure, Sonny talks about all of the members of the Memphis
Mafia and since he became Elvis' chief of security in 1969
he will take readers behind the scenes of Elvis' famous comeback
in Las Vegas, in addition to the later tours. We will also
include a "Where Are they Now?" in the back section - as well
answering the 100 most asked questions by Elvis fans!
- I'm ashamed to say that the co-writer of 'Elvis: What
happened' "The Dark Other side of the brightest star
in the world" was the Australian Steve Dunleavy. Does
Sonny feel a lot of the blame lies with Dunleavy and
we all know that it is scandals & stories of depravity
that sell books - How do you feel Sonny’s new book will
go with the fans?
- I don't think Sonny would want to assign blame to
anyone regarding, ‘Elvis: What Happened?’ Sonny is his
own man. With that said, Sonny has expressed in the
past that he did not appreciate the sensationalistic
way that Dunleavy presented the material. You might
remember that what drove a wedge between the authors
relationship was when Dunleavy started bad-mouthing
Elvis on "Good Morning America" when he appeared on
the show with Geraldo Rivera days after Elvis' death.
Dunleavy called Elvis a "junkie," which none of the
three authors of ‘Elvis: What Happened?’ ever said.
said Elvis had "a prescription abuse problem." On the other
side of the argument - Geraldo Rivera called the three authors
"liars," saying that Elvis was the straightest celebrity he
ever interviewed. It was that childish display on the show
that led Sonny and Dave Hebler to call a press conference
to set the record straight.
a side note, two years later Rivera again called Red West
and asked if he and Sonny could appear on his "20/20" Elvis
special. Red said, "Only under one condition - that you apologize
to me and my cousin for calling us liars." Needless to say,
Red and Sonny never did appear on the show. They also cut
off all association with Dunleavy.
– So in the end do you think Sonny is ashamed by the final
published book 'Elvis: What happened' and does he really think
it needs updating or correcting in any way?
- No, I don't think Sonny is ashamed of ‘Elvis: What Happened?’
He claims that it was written as a challenge to Elvis to stop
abusing prescription medicine and stands by that. If you spent
just 10 minutes with Sonny it becomes very evident how much
he loved Elvis.
has said time and time again that, unfortunately, his love
for Elvis didn't come through in that book. So I don't think
what we're doing is updating readers, we're just taking a
different approach. Where ‘Elvis: What Happened?’ was very
serious and dark, our book is funny where it's appropriate,
sad where appropriate but the real focus is to be as insightful
as we can.
my opinion, Sonny has the most insight into Elvis more than
anyone I know. But to answer your question, there's no correcting
to be done because that would imply that ‘Elvis: What Happened?’
contained untruths. Sonny, like Red, is a straight shooter
and can only tell the truth.
I think that was his undoing with Elvis because the Wests
and Dave Hebler were the only ones to confront Elvis about
this problem. It's funny in a way because everyone jumps on
the bandwagon today to say they tried to help Elvis with his
problem, but trust me, Sonny, Red and Dave were the only ones
actively trying to do something about it, and that got them
singer Waylon Jennings told Sonny years after Elvis' death,
"I wish I had a Sonny West in my corner when I was out of
control." That's quite a profound statement.
- Dave Hebler comes across as a unsavoury character
compared to Sonny & Red (he was of course with Elvis
for a very short time compared to them), How does Sonny
feel about Dave Hebler now?
- I guess I'll have to disagree with your assessment
of Dave Hebler coming across as an "unsavory character"
- and yet I've never met the man! I think that label
was pinned on him because he was in the inner circle
for a few years while Sonny and Red were employed with
Elvis from almost the start. Everyone accepted what
Sonny and Red said, but for some reason, they didn't
accept Dave Hebler.
what Hebler said about Elvis in that book. Was it true or
untrue? If it was true, then why hold anything against him?
If it was untrue, then you'd have to accuse Sonny and Red
of being liars, too. And I know that's not the case. Sonny
has a lot of respect for Hebler and they still have a friendship.
know a lot of people in the martial arts industry, because
of my association with the Steve McQueen book, and what I
will say is that most of the people in the martial arts are
very straight-up citizens who have a high moral and ethical
code. That is a large part of their teachings. So I think,
without actually knowing Dave Hebler, that he has been unfairly
– What about the final years?
- Sonny does discuss his firing in July 1976 in detail and
does of course go into the reasons why he co-wrote ‘Elvis:
What Happened?’. He'll also give a chilling account of where
he was the day Elvis died on August 16, 1977, and how he reacted
to the news and exactly why he called for that press conference.
– I liked the photos of Elvis in the army in ‘Sergeant Presley’
what are you doing with this book?
– Well we have thousands of pictures to choose from. Sonny
has saved several photos over the years and Russ Howe (www.kingcandids.com)
has also generously agreed to lend us the use of his photo
collection so there will be some great, unpublished candids
for the fans.
– I’m looking forward to it - and also seeing Sonny
out here touring.
- There are so many new stories that I’m sure Sonny
will share some of them with you when he’s out there.
As a hint, you should ask Sonny about the time Elvis
locked himself in the Palm Springs house and didn't
know how to get out of the compound. It's a very funny
story! After all, it is always great when you discover
a few more facts about the greatest entertainer in history.
- Thanks for talking to us and good luck with the book. Please
stay in touch.
– Well this month you good people of Australia have a chance
to meet Sonny West, so go up and say hello and shake the man's
hand. You'll find out right away he has a heart of gold. He
has such a giving spirit - very much like Elvis.
I'm hopeful that once ‘Still Taking Care of Business’ comes
out, all the ill feelings about ‘Elvis: What Happened?’ will
be over. I know that's asking a lot, and may even be extremely
naive, but the bottom line is that people change over time,
their feelings change and circumstances change. Time has a
way of doing that. Does anyone out there really want to hold
a 30-year grudge?
note - Some images are taken from Russ Howe's website www.kingcandids.com
and may not be featured in the book since the photos have
not been finalised.
EIN copyright May 2005 **
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