King Reader: Baby, Let’s Play House

Baby, Let’s Play House: Elvis Presley and the Women Who Loved Him

by Alanna Nash (2010)

Like an idiot, I saw this book that I had never heard of before in my local book store and didn’t buy it. Not long after leaving the store, I regretted it. Later, after I had read a Beatles book I reviewed in these pages, I took it into this store and traded it in for credit which I used to buy this book. Next Elvis Week, I excitedly cracked it open.

Where the story starts. And ends.

I will forever be indebted to author Alanna Nash. She gifted me with one of the most compelling books I have ever read – about Elvis or no – The Colonel: The Extraordinary Story of Colonel Tom Parker and Elvis Presley, a book that, among other things, provided me with the vital information used to pen the article most-read at this site, the piece on Memphis lawyer Blanchard Tual. And now I have this stunning book to thank her for, one that delves deeply into the Elvis Psyche and how it related to women – certainly a topic that does much to explain Presley the man away from the spotlight, the music and the films. There’s a lot to unpack here so strap in.

A book dealing with the women who loved Elvis Presley can start nowhere else. The first chapter exploring Gladys Presley is key as understanding her and her relationship with her only child is essential to understanding that only child. Additionally, the reader learns that Presley’s life was built on a foundation of trauma, struggle, strife and poverty and this is also key to understanding the man. In the first chapter, “My Best Gal”, Nash says that Elvis and Gladys became “fatalistically close” and all others – Presley’s father included – were intruders. From the outset, then, it’s clear that this is not just a tell-all book about EP, sex and starlets.

Ms. Nash then introduces a chilling phrase that spoke to me volumes and explains so much. Nash says that while Vernon Presley was briefly incarcerated, leaving Gladys alone with her young child, the two “bonded in the unhealthy state (of) lethal enmeshment. “Lethal enmeshment”. This “describe(s) families where personal boundaries are diffused…and over-concern for others leads to a loss of autonomous development. This is the type of deep, psychological analysis you’ll find in this book and the discussion of this concept in particular goes miles in its ability to help the reader understand Elvis Presley, his relationship with his mother and the path he took throughout life. Fascinating stuff here.

The other aspect of Presley’s life that explains much of his character is the loss at birth of his twin. And here another key phrase is introduced to the reader; “twinless twin”. Having suffered the stillbirth of his brother, Jessie, Elvis is said to have experienced shame and guilt stemming from the fact that he had survived. While taking pride in the strength attributed to this “triumph”, Elvis and twinless twins also grieve for the loss of the sibling. Presley wanted to make up this loss to Gladys and began to assume the role – even as a child – of parent while Gladys was the child. As early as the age of three, Elvis appointed himself his mother’s caretaker, particularity while Vernon was away in prison. Presley, of course, maintained this role through to the end of his mother’s life.

“‘When Gladys died, so, too, did Elvis’ ability to bond with a woman. He may have gotten close at times, but he was already taken, as so many twinless twins are…the trauma of being a surviving twin…resulted in an exaggerated need for human contact. This was perpetuated by his relationship with Gladys’.”

Dr. Peter O. Whitmer, Elvis author and expert on the twinless twin phenomenon

This book need only contain these opening chapters to make it essential reading in the Elvis Canon. The reader will likely sigh deeply after only the first 25 pages as a sad realization appears. Elvis Presley never had a chance. Baby, Let’s Play House confirms the fact that, considering the stillbirth of his twin and it’s effect on the psychological make-up of his mother, he was doomed to a life of searching for fulfillment and contentment. Searching for comfort in riches and a parade of women and never really finding it.

“‘I said “I want him to sing, and I want him to be successful, but I want him to go to work at nine o’clock and come home at five. I don’t want him to be out all hours of the night in all these clubs.”‘.”

early serious girlfriend Dixie Locke makes clear her dilemma and the struggle of others. Each knew Elvis was destined to rise but none of them were willing to abandon themselves just to be at his side while it happened.

This lucid book flat-out refutes and stands in opposition to many misconceptions and legends that have proliferated about Elvis Presley and his love life. It provides insight and explanation for many things that people today have trouble understanding. The book shares the words of many of Elvis’ girlfriends starting with those from his teenage years and takes pains to describe these relationships as attempts to complete a broken family circle. It relates Presley’s “stunted emotional growth” that “left him unable to move much past fourteen”. Tellingly, Nash says that 14 would become the “magic age” for his romantic partners as he felt 14-year-olds were “replications of himself and he believed they constituted his missing part”. He thought of them as innocents who needed protection from the barbs of life that he was not spared. Additionally, girls so young were almost certain to be inexperienced sexually. Therefore, they would not necessarily expect sex during their time with Presley and therefore he would not be under pressure to be “memorable” in this area. These girls also would not be able to pass judgement on his performance if things did approach the advanced stages of intimacy. “Better to just stick with girls who were so much younger that they didn’t really expect anything of you”. Nash does note though that this sort of relationship with one so famous and charismatic – no matter how far it went or how long it lasted – was bound to inflict damage on these girls. The author states that the divorce rate among the women she interviewed is high.

“The stillbirth of his twin, and his unnatural closeness to his mother…rendered Elvis a hopelessly poor mate for life.”

What follows then is a litany of remembrances from many of the girls Elvis interacted with throughout the Louisiana Hayride days, into his early stardom and beyond. Almost each time much insight is gained from the manner in which these interactions unfolded, endured and ended and the story of these women is shared, as well, including how their lives have been since exiting Elvis World. Additionally, though, Nash provides much info on Presley’s career which allows this to serve as also a great reference book.

“The sheer volume of women with whom Elvis had some kind of relationship, whether sexual or emotional, now bordered on the pathological.”

and this is stated at a point before 1960

Not being in possession of the list, I would say that Alanna Nash’s book runs down every, single woman that ever interacted with Elvis Presley – the ones that turned him down, the ones who were more his sister, the ones he opened up to platonically, the ones he dated, the ones he lived with and the one he married. Speaking of Priscilla Presley, the chapter on her is…mind-blowing. If I say one thing, I’ll have to say it all. Let’s leave it at this – what you’ll learn about Cilla here will more than open the doors of enlightenment.

“The meeting and courtship of twenty-four-year-old Elvis Aaron Presley and fourteen-year-old Priscilla Ann Beaulieu is a beloved part of American cultural mythology: the handsome rock king, grieving for his mother in a faraway land, the beautiful young princess, wise beyond her years, waving forlornly at his departure, only to become the virgin bride, conceiving on her honeymoon and bearing the great man’s only child, a daughter, who at her father’s untimely demise, inherits the kingdom of Graceland. Such is the fairy-tale romance of Elvis and Priscilla…but…the truth has been re-written and altered so many times that even many of the participants are not precisely sure what happened.”

Of the many women interviewed, very few had anything negative to say about his treatment of them. Some were hurt but most all blamed his life situation more than him. Early on, the real girls couldn’t or wouldn’t keep up with him and the scrutiny of the media helped to squelch more than one romance and then none of the starlets were working out, either, most not wanting to give up their careers to be Mrs. Elvis Presley. However, try as I might, it is hard to explain away his infidelities. Psychological things were at work, for sure, but many things you’ll read here are hard to defend.

Elvis’ decline is described in unique terms as it is related through the words of women who were there by his side. The conclusion is widely accepted that because Elvis could not separate from Gladys and Jessie, he could not give himself to another. This in turn lead to destructive behaviour and to his eventual demise.

“‘Elvis had no parameters. He moved the lines of behaviour wherever he wanted them, and if he went too far, he moved them out farther. His discipline was nonexistent.'”

Lamar Fike

Nuggets? There are a plethora of nuggets in this book. A sampling; author Alanna Nash was the first journalist to see Elvis Presley in his coffin, Gladys Presley’s heritage is partly Jewish and full-blooded Cherokee, Elvis loved “virgins, beauty queens, tiny brunettes with China doll faces”, this book contains one credible paternity story, you’ll hear the stories of Kay Wheeler and Tura Satana who both became noteworthy for reasons outside Elvis World, Natalie Wood thought EP was square, Debra Paget received a marriage proposal and Presley learned many of his patented dance moves from women. You’ll learn about the only female member of the Memphis Mafia, a name I’ll admit I had missed, the co-star with which E had one of his few “real relationships”, the co-star he clashed with, a sad episode with Peggy Lipton and of his relationship late in life with the woman who aborted his child.

“It was the worst possible time for Elvis to be falling in love–only four months earlier, he had made promises to a military captain and installed a teenager in his home and in his bed. But neither he nor the kittenish redhead could deny what was happening.”

don’t worry – Ann-Margret is discussed in these pages

Baby, Let’s Play House tells a story that boils down to the power and magnetism of Elvis Presley, the man. These things (“like getting hit with a tidal wave of charisma”), combined with southern charm in excess and others getting the sense that he was troubled, lost and needing companionship – ranging from that of lover to mother to sister – allowed him to live outside the normal rules of life. Many of the girls themselves have said in these pages that they were offended, hurt and marginalized by his actions – but they all came away mesmerized, forever changed and agreeing that regardless of it all he was irresistible. While not everything can be excused, the parameters were simply different for Elvis Presley. This is seen in many aspects of his life but it is illuminated mostly in his relationship with women.

This book will divert from talk of the women specifically to describe major events in Elvis’ life and career. But Alanna Nash always brings things back around to the ladies and provides a unique perspective on this oft-told story, the story of Elvis Presley, and I cannot stress enough the importance of this book in telling that story. Alanna Nash has issued a tale that is essential reading if one wants to fully understand Elvis Presley.

“He was the King. I can’t blame him…he loved all women really. He appreciated us all.”

actress Barbara Leigh

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