Chapter 14

1177 Ultimate Sacrifices

Note the tally above. That is how many brave souls perished aboard the USS Arizona on that Day of Infamy. A memorial was planned, and since Federal Law proscribed use of government funds, the monies had to be raised privately. Tom Parker arranged for his torrid young king of rock ‘n’ roll to perform; all proceeds went straight to the project, not a penny was held back for expenses. Elvis and Parker both bought tickets to the show; the benefit concert raised nearly $65,000 for the Memorial Building Fund.

That, and many other facts, became known as Paul contacted every newspaper in Hawaii and got copies of all articles pertaining to Elvis’ concert. Paul then contacted the photographers to get prints of the pictures that appeared in the papers. Everything was gathered in a few weeks, sent to me, and it was my job to put it all in chronological order, lay it out, and assemble a booklet. The ensuing booklet was fifteen pages, each almost twelve inches square, and what would have been the front cover, had the booklet been separate, was left blank and glued to the inside front cover of this fold–out album. The facing page was a montage of photos and Hawaiian icons (palm trees, lei, etc.) Paul got from Jean–Marc Gargiulo, president of the Paris, France fan club. That left fourteen pages filled with articles and photos. I used virtually every one Paul had obtained, and he got them all.

Good old Jean–Marc; I had met him when we just started the business. He visited Los Angeles along with members of his Elvis fan club; Paul told him to give me a call, since they were in the area, and I insisted they all stop by, about a dozen of them. I rented a 16mm projector so I could show the films we had. They all sat on the living room floor, the movies were projected on the wall, and they especially enjoyed the “Singer Presents Elvis” special. I think they did. It had been nine years since it was broadcast; some of them were too young to have seen it then.

Jean–Marc was the only one who spoke English; a few questions were asked and he translated back and forth. We put out a plate of fruit and cheese and a couple bottles of wine. It was a rather subdued gathering, they just watched. There was little chatter and no whooping or hollering. I figured I could liven this bunch up; I went to the bedroom closet and dug out those Elvis Presley Enterprises hats. I picked out ones with the tag; brought back a hat for each person, and passed them around. Jean–Marc explained to the group exactly what they were; I stressed that these were originals, not available since 1957 or 1958. The hats were in mint condition; they were cute and colorful. Not so this bunch. Not only was there no excitement shown; I stood there stunned as they all put them down beside themselves and resumed watching the film. I didn’t hear a single thank you. Mercy me, not one “merci.” Jean–Marc let me know he was delighted; he didn’t speak for the rest of them because they said nothing to him.

Vicki and I discussed it later; maybe it was some kind of cultural thing. Perhaps they were embarrassed because they didn’t speak English; I sure wished I spoke a little French. I’d just given away over a hundred bucks, this at a time when we weren’t making any money, and I didn’t see the slightest bit of appreciation. I should have said, before they left, “Let me get those hats back, now that you had a chance to look at them.” I’m not that type of person. Jean–Marc never said anything to Paul about it and I never got a thank you note. Back to Hawaii.

We had a mountain of clippings, a wealth of photos, and, as I cut, pasted, and arranged, I could see we were going to produce a masterpiece. Some of the articles Paul obtained were poor–quality Xeroxes. To maintain consistency and assure readability, I took all the articles to a typesetter and had her redo them (in the same newspaper font) so that every word was clear. Paul could not, however, contact every photographer; the only specimen we had of some of the photos was a Xerox of the newspaper page. To improve the quality of those, for some were very important and had to be included, I went to an airbrush artist in downtown Los Angeles and he painstakingly and faithfully touched up the shots. It was obvious, when the booklet was finished, which ones had been airbrushed. However, our airbrush expert did a superb job and the photos and articles told the entire story: the excitement leading up to the concert, the pre–concert press conference, the rave reviews, and the grand total raised for the memorial.

While reading all the stories and putting them in proper order, I came upon something completely unexpected: Theaker is an uncommon name; I had looked in phone books in every major city I passed through since my teen years and had never run across it, not once. Sears, Roebuck & Co. picked up all the promotional costs for the concert, and the executive in charge of all this was Morley Theaker. Uncle Morley? I called my father and asked if he knew of such a person; he did not. We were certainly related, just how I never found out. What I did realize is that when I was finishing high school, a relative was intimately involved in a bit of history that Paul and I would resurrect and share with fans years later. Bizarre? Fate? These were but the beginning threads in that tapestry the Muses wove for us over the next couple years. Those nine sisters had to be watching out for us; we could not have done it all by ourselves.

The booklet was finally completed after much fussing and rearranging to make each page attractive. We needed to attain the proper mix of photos and type to give each page a balanced look. I still had a few small clippings left over: ones that didn’t seem to fit anywhere, were redundant, or were condensed versions of longer articles. Hating to see these go to waste, we decided to make a special inner sleeve that would let us include them. That sleeve was heavy stock, full color, and had a reduced–size reproduction of the album’s front cover on one side. On the other side, these snippets were randomly arranged at various angles to create that “leftover” feel.

The cover itself was an adaptation of a full–page ad for the concert that appeared in the Sunday entertainment section of Hawaii’s main paper, The Honolulu Advertiser. It featured a marquee trumpeting the concert, a ticket kiosk, and a head to toe shot of Elvis in his concert suit standing alongside. The cover was prepared by Jeremy, a pop artist in the valley, and was quite colorful. To make the black and white photo of Elvis stand out, our airbrush artist added a thin yellow line all around the picture, silhouetting Elvis. That was just what was needed, and the final result was beyond my expectations. Incomprehensibly, although the album sold well and those that bought it simply raved about it, it was the poorest seller of all those we ever made. The majority of those who purchased our albums, and this may have been due to the fact that our record buyers were no different than record buyers everywhere, were made up of an under–thirty crowd. Most people, once they settled down and started raising families, rarely bought albums any longer. So, most of our record buyers were into the “new” Elvis that played Las Vegas and toured extensively in the late ‘60s and the ‘70s. Sales be damned, this was our finest hour.

The Dorsey and Sullivan albums were on the Golden Archives label; the one we reserved for albums highlighting material from the early part of Elvis’ career. The labels were simply black lettering on yellow paper. They were professional, but certainly nothing distinctive. That would now change: I asked Jeremy to design a new label, in full color, that would fit with this theme. I suggested a pirate’s chest, overflowing with gold and jewels, with the Golden Archives lettering above. Jeremy created a label with fat, cartoon–like, lettering in a semicircle surrounding the chest. That took up the top half of the label. It was perfect. So perfect, that we had the labels for the Dorsey and Sullivan albums redone for future pressings.

Without “Cary,” this project would never have seen the light of day; he was certainly owed something. “Cary” had recently moved into a new home and this was welcome news. I offered to give him a dollar for each album we sold and he was delighted. Costs for this album far exceeded any single album we ever did. Typesetting costs were many times the usual amount because all the articles had to be redone. The inner sleeves cost 50¢ each, the cost for negatives was thousands more than normal because of the booklet, and the booklets themselves added another 50¢ to the cost of each album. Airbrushing and the cost of Jeremy’s artwork were another few thousand dollars. When all was tallied, this album cost almost three times as much as the Sullivan album, our most expensive single album to date. Redoing labels for the earlier Golden Archives albums was another significant expense, especially since the labels were now a more costly full color.

Orders had been coming in steadily, the “Command Performance” album had paid for itself and was now turning a profit, all the other albums sold well as we continued to send out mailings to new names purchased, and we found ourselves with a surplus of cash before the work on the Hawaii album began. When all the costs for the Hawaii album were paid we were broke again. We priced the album a dollar higher than our other single LPs, both at retail and wholesale, but that went to “Cary” and our profit margin was less. The initial order was for 10,000 copies and I wondered just how long it would be before we would need to reorder. It had already been decided that the special inner sleeve would be included with these first pressings only. Not only did cost enter into that decision; the acceptable spoilage rate (acceptable to the printing industry, not to me) for those sleeves was twenty percent. We paid for 10,000 inner sleeves and received just over 8,300. Such are the vagaries of that business. Ten thousand sheets were run through the presses but almost 1,700 were smeared, smudged, wrinkled, or had some other imperfection. You don’t always get what you pay for, but I can’t say I was the least bit disappointed. I had learned to accept this nuance, and the day I picked up the albums was a proud moment; we had done what we set out to do. The album was released almost a year to the day after Capitol put out that Beatles album. I put ten albums in a box, hurried over to the Post Office, and sent them to Paul via Express Mail. Per usual, orders started arriving the week the album was to be delivered.

Paul called the next day, within minutes after tearing open the box, and he was simply ecstatic. We both were. Still, it was almost three months before we recouped the costs associated with this album. Reorders would cost less per unit, since we had an extra 15,000 covers with booklets printed; the inner sleeves would not add to the unit cost again, and all the setup costs that factored into the first pressing were one–time expenditures. We would start to make money from this album when we began selling the second 10,000 copies. By the time we did reorder, almost a year later, we had sold four times more of the New Years LP than we had of the Hawaii LP. Even “Command Performance” and “The Legend Lives On” were twice as popular with our buyers. “New Elvis” always outsold “Old Elvis,” and by a hefty margin. But I was over thirty now, and I could no longer be trusted. One thing was certain: no sooner did we begin to see our cash situation start to look healthy, we found a way to spend it. Our lifestyles had improved—better restaurants, new cars, and all the bills were paid, but planes, yachts, and the mansion were as much Dreamstuff as ever.

When the Hawaii album was nearly finished we started talking about the next album. The problem was, we did not have a full album’s worth of unreleased material. Aside from the Berle show, we had nothing unreleased. Would the Hawaii album be our swan song? How could we ever top that one? We could, we would, and we did. Kindly stay tuned.


 to chapter 15