Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer Elvis' Fantastic Voyage

By Susan Ellis

AUGUST 11, 1997:  I think people would be hard-pressed to find an event in pop culture with two such huge American figures that could top this." What Alan Rosen is referring to is the 1970 three-day trek during which a gun-toting Elvis Presley, decked out in a purple velvet suit complete with matching cape and huge gold belt buckle, broke free from the confines of Graceland alone without knowing his own phone number or how to use a credit card to eventually land in front of President Richard Nixon requesting that he, Elvis, be made the country's first Federal Agent at Large in order to steer the day's youth away from drugs.

The fateful meeting of The King of Rock and Roll and the Commander in Chief was recorded in former Nixon White House aide Egil "Bud" Krogh's 1994 fond remembrance The Day Elvis Met Nixon. But Rosen, writer and producer of the Showtime film Elvis Meets Nixon takes it a step further, or, rather, many steps back and forward, following Elvis, who is traveling under the name of Richard Burroughs, from the time he leaves Memphis on a Saturday night to go to Washington, D.C., through his off-the-cuff overnight trip to L.A., and back again to Washington the next day.

Elvis Meets Nixon is labeled as a mockumentary, with Rick Peters playing Elvis and Bob Gunton as Nixon. Included among the scenes of Elvis' great adventure are interviews with the likes of Dick Cavett, Wayne Newton, and Nixon staffperson Alexander Butterfield. And while there are disclaimerish lines such as Cavett's, "If what you're about to see didn't happen exactly this way, it should have," Rosen swears that most of it actually happened, including the scene in which Elvis pulls a gun in a D.C. doughnut shop. "The events are pretty accurate," says Rosen. "I made up the dialogue, but that did happen in the doughnut shop."

The seeds of the film were planted long ago, says Rosen, when he first saw the photograph of Elvis and Nixon shaking hands. While he says he completed a rough draft of the script before the publication of Krogh's book, Rosen re-read books by Jerry Hopkins, Dave Marsh, and Greil Marcus, among others, to prepare and watched a couple of the singer's movies in addition to conferring with Elvis bodyguard Jerry Schilling, the man whom Elvis visited in L.A. that night and brought back with him to D.C. Further, Rosen passed the script along to Priscilla Presley. "She and I spoke a number of times," says Rosen. "I made a number of changes at her request. They were small changes. I was glad to do it. It wasn't anything about the story. She told me some of the script was accurate as to what happened and some of it wasn't, but she was mainly concerned about Elvis' image. I let her know in no uncertain terms that I was an Elvis fan and this wasn't out to get Elvis."

Rather than getting Elvis, Rosen says his goal in the film is threefold. First, he wants to show Elvis' sense of humor through scenes such as the one in the doughnut shop and another which makes light of the legendary TV-screen shootout. Secondly, he wants to demonstrate the parallels between Elvis' and Nixon's life, saying, "These two individuals seemingly have nothing in common, except that they both came out of the '50s. Their careers did rise and fall together. They got knocked out of the '60s -- Elvis by the new music and the Beatles, Nixon by the Kennedys. They did make that comeback together in '68 a month apart, and they were born just a day apart, though not the same year. So there was something." Finally, Rosen aims to make a point he says he's never seen in print, that Elvis, though certainly square by 1970's freewheeling, war-protesting standards, was a trailblazer who made all establishment-shaking possible by doing it first in the '50s.

All of the above, Rosen concedes, is played for comic effect. "Everybody seems to have their own relationship to Elvis and to Nixon. The notion of putting them together brings with it a certain kind of heightened-reality expectation," he says. "When I later did read about the actual meeting, it was rather dull and uneventful. I wanted to get the tone of the actual meeting in there, but take some dramatic license and put it on a more entertaining level and still be true to the psyches of both men." While explaining his take on the meeting, Rosen suddenly feels the urge to confess. Contrary to the film's Elvis/Nixon duet of "My Way," he admits, "They didn't sing really."


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