The Sex Symbol
Life in Elvis’ world was always interesting and often unpredictable.
I remember one afternoon in December of 1965; we were discussing the history and origin of the Christian church as I was blow drying Elvis’ hair upstairs at Graceland. We had some of our best and most interesting conversations in bathrooms! I told Elvis about a book I was reading that delved deeply into the subject, with extensive research from the early Christian fathers, legends, obscure historians and other esoteric literary sources of antiquity.
Sharing several of the more fascinating features of the book, I assured him that I would give him my copy as soon as we returned to Los Angeles to begin his next movie. “No, no,” Elvis said. “Why don’t you just go and get the book for me tomorrow?”
“Elvis” I explained, “You can’t find that book anywhere in Memphis.”
Elvis didn’t bat an eye. There was no question he would get what he wanted.
“Larry, that’s no problem; all you have to do is catch a late plane tonight for LA, get the book, and you’ll be back here tomorrow in time for dinner.”
When I arrived at Graceland the next day Elvis was in the dining room eating and looked up at me when I entered the room carrying two satchels filled with books.
He immediately stopped eating and his face lit up. “I’ve been expecting you.” Elvis jumped up and excitedly motioned me to follow him upstairs to open his gifts and for me to do his hair.
The first book I showed him was the one he sent me to LA for. He then pulled several others out of the satchel and scanned them – but there was one that especially caught his eye. It was a large colorful book about Hollywood’s first movie stars from the silent era, filled with great pictures and biographies. Elvis was fascinated.
As I was brushing his hair Elvis began thumbing through the pages curiously, and then stopped. He was struck by a picture of silent screen star Mary Pickford. “Man, look at this,” Elvis said excitedly. “The very first movie star in Hollywood was Mary Pickford. She was the original movie star, and all the rest followed; you know, Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin, Gloria Swanson, Buster Keaton – all of them, but she was the very first one. And do you know what her real name was?” Elvis didn’t wait for my answer. “Gladys Smith! Man, I can’t believe it, that’s my mom’s name. Only difference is my mom’s middle name is Love,” Elvis said proudly.
Elvis went back to the book, shaking his head, chuckling to himself every now and then as he read out loud unusual fascinating facts and anecdotes.
While I was spraying his hair, he suddenly exclaimed, “Whoa! There he is.” Elvis pointed to a full page picture of legendary Rudolph Valentino.
“Just look at his face, Larry. This guy had pure sexual power; you can see it in his eyes. I mean, he was the number one sex symbol back then. And he died when he was only 32. See this picture of his funeral, women went nuts – they actually threw themselves on his casket. Man, he was something else.”
“Elvis, that’s exactly who you are. You’re the biggest sex symbol of our time.”
Elvis looked completely mystified – as if I told him that Martians just landed on the grounds of Graceland. “What the hell are you talking about?”
I was stunned. Elvis honestly had no idea what I was talking about. Here I was standing next to the most extraordinarily handsome man of our time – a living masterpiece. He had the face of a Greek god. He was the king of rock and roll and a major movie star. The most exciting and beloved star in history, bursting upon our culture like a powerful comet, disrupting and transforming the course of music, style and our lives forever. Yet he didn’t truly comprehend, nor accept his dynamic, unprecedented influence, and how he was ultimately perceived.
There was always the small boy in him, a shyness that was so deep-rooted going back to a childhood in Tupelo that never left him. Naturally he was acutely aware that he was “Elvis Presley,” whose adoring fans spanned the globe. What blew my mind at that moment were his innocence and his natural humility. And those very qualities were part of his beauty and phenomenal appeal.
Before I began working with Elvis I met, as a hairstylist in Hollywood, the most glamorous, sensuous and handsome stars and celebrities in the history of motion pictures. Great stars and movie idols in their prime such as Paul Newman, Rock Hudson, Warren Beatty, Robert Wagner and many more, all talented, all exceptional looking. And as I’m writing this I can tell you for sure and there’s no doubt about it, Elvis Presley was a notch above the rest.
It wasn’t only his astonishing physical beauty, although that in itself was quite something to behold. He had a truly loving soul and an absence of the arrogance that often accompanies such great looks and fame. It was the inner Elvis that shone through, that captivated all who encountered him, whether in person or through the media. Yet the greatest sex symbol of our time remained unaware of his power.