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Elvis and Gladys Paperback – 2 Nov 1995

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Paperback, 2 Nov 1995
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Product details

  • Paperback: 338 pages
  • Publisher: Pimlico; New edition edition (2 Nov. 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0712661794
  • ISBN-13: 978-0712661799
  • Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 2.6 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,862,435 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"A classic. Gritty, gripping, poiognant. -- The Miami Herald

"Nothing less than the best Elvis book yet. -- The Boston Globe

"The most fine-grained Elvis bio ever." -- Kirkus Reviews

"[Elaine Dundy], brightest and best [biographer] of them all...quick, intutive and open-hearted, has gone straight to the point." -- Evening Standard --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

From the Author

In April of '81 I arrived in Tupelo. I had no plan. I knew no one in Tupelo. That was the way I wanted it. I wanted to come from what has been described as 'Innocence and Distance.' Actually it was the old Western movie gimmick: A stranger comes to town. I am that stranger. Let me take you with me as we mutually discover how and why Elvis became Elvis'

That trip I stayed in Tupelo for five months. There must be something to meeting your luck halfway because I had arrived on a Friday and by Sunday I was listening to a sermon preached by Brother Frank Smith, Elvis' boyhood pastor at the First Assembly of God church. His sermon surprised me: impassioned yes, fire and brimstone: no. It was on the healing power of tears. Nor was it the humorless congregation I had envisioned. The young soloist paused mid-note to say "Y'all have to pray for me, I've lost my key."

The impoverished childhood of Elvis' mother was brought vividly to life by Mertice Finley Collins. She had watched the Smith children, of whom Gladys was one, growing up hungry "tumbling over each other" into the Finley's farmhouse where they were "strictly relegated to the kitchen." Only there could they be fed scraps by Mertice and her mother because her father "could not bear the sight of the pitiful little things swarming around his dinner table; their hungry faces upset him so."

Alongside the grim reality of belonging to a family reduced to sharecropping. living in shacks, working in the fields and at odd jobs, was the portrait Gladys at sixteen, slim, dark and beautiful, performing a wild and memorable Charleston. "Elvis got it honest. Gladys had rhythm." said her friend Grace Reed favorably comparing Gladys' performances to those of her famous son's.

Picture perfect was the description a sister of Gladys gave me of three year old Elvis--( when his father went to prison for forging a check)--running up and down their little shotgun house, each time stopping to pat a dejected Gladys' on her hand saying "There. there, my little baby. " The paternal absence and his mother's low spirits had created an early role reversal in Elvis. He thought of himself as the man of the house and his mother as his child to protect, to take care of. Elvis was not only a devoted son but a good and providing parent. From the age of twenty he was the sole support of his family and always referred to his parents as his 'babies.' Aged ten, Elvis would be seen behind the wheel of their truck every Sunday driving the Presleys off to church. Even then the family seemed comfortably aware that he would always, and in every way, be doing the driving.

It was a front porch society where you stopped to pass the time of day with neighbors on their porches. It was also a singing society . In the evenings couples might get together on a porch and sing hymns or old favorites. The Presleys had fine voices an Aunt of Elvis said, adding Gladys sang alto. " Had Elvis' formative years been spent in an urban setting, the Presley poverty would have been experienced as far more hopeless and humiliating.

Back in London where I was living at the time I did some sleuthing on my own. Elvis was often quoted as saying that he was the hero of every comic book he'd read. One day I sat down in a Comics bookshop to look at those popular when he was growing up. I looked at all those double identity heroes he must have read from Superman to the Spirit. Then I came across Elvis’ face staring at me from its pages: It was the face of Captain Marvel Jr. Being himself a twin (who died at birth) the double identity of the powerful young Captain and the powerless Freddy Freeman existing in the same body would have a special meaning for Elvis: Here was the boy he aspired to be and the boy he was. I began to see how Captain Marvel Jr actually formed Elvis’ personality—-humble and humorous. How subconsciously the grown Elvis copied his hero’s glistening black hair, his sideburns and his triumphant stance. Years later he wore his version of the Marvel Jr. cape. The white scarf Freddie Freeman often wore turned up around Elvis’ neck in performance. Most important was Elvis taking over the lightning bolt emblem Marvel wore on his chest. It became Elvis’ logo, his signature. The lightning bolt turned up on Elvis’ private plane and in his game room. It turned up on the jewelry he gave special friends: the gold neck chains and bracelets. All of them were designed with Captain Marvel Jr.'s lightning bolt in the center.

It was Elvis twinning into Captain Marvel Jr. that made me see the powerful twinning force that ran through his life. He twinned into all different forms of music making him a different kind of singer from the great entertainers. As a tour de force Country singer Buddy Bain pointed out that in the hymn "How Great Thou Art you can hear Elvis go from Metropolitan Opera to country, to folk, to blues, to rock, almost from note to note without breaking his feel.

My book Elvis and Gladys took me four-and-a half-years and I wasn’t bored for a minute. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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By the time Elvis was in first grade, he and his schoolmate Wayne Earnest had evolved a system that would both double their money and their reading pleasure. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Bookaholic on 28 Mar. 2008
Format: Paperback
Elvis Presley is the grandaddy of all pop icons. His image is everywhere - no entertainer besides Marilyn Monroe has been so endlessly marketed and impersonated. Thirty years after his death, sightings of The King are still reported in tabloids across the globe.

But how well do we really know Elvis? Under the layers of kitsch, the man himself is sometimes forgotten. For some, he is a caricature. This is surely an injustice to one of the finest singers in common memory, who wins the hearts of millions every day.

I've always been curious about Elvis's early life - the death of his twin, his Southern background, and his close relationship with his mother. My own knowledge of Elvis comes chiefly from his music, having listened to my parents' records as a child. Elvis And Gladys seemed like the perfect chance to rediscover the man whose voice is so familiar, but whose soul remains elusive.

The book is written by Elaine Dundy, author of one of my favourite novels, The Dud Avocado, and researched with the assistance of genealogist Roy Turner, who has also contributed to several biographies of Marilyn Monroe.

The first part of the book deals with Elvis's ancestry, which was wonderfully diverse. He had both Cherokee and Jewish blood running in his veins, giving the lie to the notion that in the old South, races didn't mix. Dundy examines his lineage chiefly through the maternal line, and though Elvis's forefathers were mostly poor, she treats them with the same respect as if they were stars in their own right.

Gladys Smith Presley has often been stereotyped as a pushy showbiz mom. But Dundy expertly picks at the myth and explores not just the beginnings of a rock `n' roll star, but the mother-son relationship itself.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A. King on 9 Feb. 2006
Format: Paperback
This book is only second to the Bill Burk books, for telling the truth without any of his so called friends contributing their version of stories.
If I could I would make every Elvis fan or even just the Elvis curious read this book.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Marnei on 25 Aug. 2007
Format: Paperback
Really liked this book, it's one of the few books that tries to find out what made Elvis the person he was, where he came from and why he behaved in the way he did, by delving into the family history you begin to see the whole person.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By E. Braben on 24 Oct. 2010
Format: Mass Market Paperback Verified Purchase
This book was published in 1985 but it is well worth reading. It's a literary book and very well researched by a good writer. I've read many Elvis biographies and wondered if this would add very much and it did. It put Gladys and Elvis in context not just their lineage but the times she and he grew up in. I found myself being more sympathetic to Gladys and I now understand better how her own traumas led to her becoming unable to let Elvis grow up and away from her. Her illness and death was very sad to read about. She had helped make her son 'somebody' but his fame and success and what it entailed for their relationship was more than she could bear.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Carol Stevens on 26 July 2011
Format: Paperback
I really enjoyed this book, being a real Elvis fan this book covered a lot of information that is not available in other books.
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