This is the best Elvis Presley story anyone has ever told me.
Over the years that I’ve worked as a writer, I’ve interviewed hundreds of celebrities, and it seems that anyone who ever met Elvis Presley has told me a story about him. Gary Lockwood, Cynthia Pepper, Jimmy Osmond, Tura Satana, Peter Noone and others have talked about their real-life experiences with the “King of Rock n’ Roll”, who has become a cultural icon that is so large that he almost seems more like a myth than a man. Through all the stories, I started to hear a running narrative that gave me a sense of what he might have really been like. Everyone I’ve talked to has reported that he was very polite, very personable, not the smartest, but very nice.. They all describe a simple guy who got in way over his head.
But out of all the stories anyone has ever told me, none gives me goosebumps than the story told me by former child actor Barry Livingston. No story about Elvis has humanized him more in the simplest of ways.
Still active in Hollywood as a character actor today, most people remember Barry Livingston in the role of Ernie Thompson, the bespectacled adopted brother on the long running 1960’s sit-com “My Three Sons.” Barry was actually one of two brothers that worked in television as his older brother, Stanley Livingston, also starred on “My Three Sons” as middle brother Chip. Stan had been doing the acting thing longer time than Barry had, having appeared in films prior to “My Three Sons.”
As a young kid, Barry grew up wandering the back lots of Paramount Studios, often when his mother brought him to the studio while Stan was working, and also when there was downtime between takes when Barry started appearing in film and television himself. Look, it was a different time back then, and it wasn’t unusal to see small kids charging off by themselves. So, Barry spent his youth exploring sound stages and prop and costume rooms as a kid.
Well, Barry told me about this one time where he was wandering around Paramount. He was making “My Six Loves” with Debbie Reynolds, which means this would have been sometime in 1962 or 1963. Anyhow, while walking down a side alley he noticed a huge stretched limosine. It was the color white and was the biggest car he had ever seen. He went to the tinted windows and tried to look inside, but there was no one there. But while he was trying to see inside, he suddenly saw a familiar figure walk out of a sound stage door not far away from him. It was Elvis Presley.
Elvis smiled at Barry and said “Hey kid, what do you think of the car? I’m thinking of buying it.” Barry gave Elvis his approval and then Elvis says “You want to take a ride in it and test it out?”
Normally getting into the back of a stranger’s car is a really dumb thing to do, but this wasn’t a stranger! This was Elvis Presley! Elvis opened the door, and Barry scrambled in. Inside the upholstery was all white, and there was a TV. Elvis got in and turned on the TV. On the television was a Popeye cartoon, and the car began to move.
Barry says that they drove around the studio for a while. He said that Elvis didn’t talk much, and the two of them just sat in silence, watching Popeye. He also told me that Elvis looked really tired and seemed kind of sad.
Eventually they got back to where they started from, and Elvis told Barry he better go find his Mom. Barry thanked Elvis for the ride and ran off for his next Paramount back lot adventure. He never saw Elvis again.
Out of all the Hollywood stories I’ve heard over the years, this one is a favorite of mine. It humanizes a man who has been raised to such a mythology in our society that he sometimes appears god like. It’s a rare insight to a quite and normal moment in an icon’s life, and I love the image of Elvis and this nerdy looking kid with big glasses just riding around watching Popeye. It’a not the kind of story that ends up in a biography, documentary, or the new big budget film. Instead it’s very raw, very simple, and very human.
To read my full interview with Barry Livingston, which includes his full telling of his enounter with Elvis in his own words, read Weekend at Ernie’s: A Conversation with Barry Livingston at samtweedle.com,