Elvis' Pajama Party
In honor of the King’s 75th birthday, an exclusive excerpt from Alanna Nash’s new biography about his famous sleepover parties. From Cybill Shepherd to Natalie Wood, VIEW OUR GALLERY of Elvis’ legendary loves.
In fall 1956, [Elvis’s father] Vernon went over to the local Oldsmobile dealership where the family often had their cars repaired and serviced. As he was leaving, the owner, a man named Mowel, asked if his 14-year-old daughter, Gloria, could meet Elvis. Vernon said that was ﬁne, and for Gloria to come on over anytime.
On October 11, Gloria showed up on Audubon Drive and nervously rang the doorbell. She was shocked to see Elvis answer the door himself. Gloria was cute, sweet, and personable, and she knew music—she’d identiﬁed “Ruby, Baby,” a recent hit by the Drifters, who Elvis loved, playing on the phonograph in the den. After her visit, Elvis invited her back another day. Soon, she was taking her friends Heidi Heissen and Frances Forbes, who were also 14, and Elvis began asking them over for evening swims at the house, or just to sit around and watch TV.
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Frances, a petite dark-haired beauty, had been hanging out by the gate since she was 13.
“He didn’t pay any attention to me then, but when I was fourteen, he noticed me. Fourteen was a magical age with Elvis. It really was.”
Fanatical in their devotion, the three girls followed him everywhere he went in Memphis. Elvis had an easy rapport with the trio and felt as if he could ask them what the other kids were saying about him and his music. They were his local contacts with the larger fan base, but it went deeper than that. “He was fascinated with them,” in the view of Lamar Fike, who was starting to integrate himself into Elvis’s entourage.
In no time, Elvis was inviting the girls to go to the Rainbow Rollerdrome, and by 1957, they became his constant companions, part of the group that went to the Fairgrounds to crash into one another in the dodge 'em cars and eat endless Pronto Pups. They also participated in other outings around town, all of which seemed designed to make up for the friendships and good times Elvis missed out on in high school. “They were just as nutty as fruitcakes, but they were fun,” Lamar remembers. “He got irritated with them sometimes, but very seldom. All three of them were pretty cute girls.”
As Elvis’s attraction to them grew, they started staying for private pajama parties—just 14-year-old Heidi, Gloria, Frances, and their 22-year-old host, holed up in his bedroom. “When you were in that room, you wanted to shut out the whole world for the rest of your life,” Gloria says.
In an odd suspension of time and gender, Elvis became not only their age but also a teenage girl. After their swims, he’d wash and dry their hair, and they’d blow his hair dry, too. He’d tease them, say to Gloria, “Frances was jealous tonight because I was throwing you in the pool!” Then they’d all giggle, and he’d show them how to put makeup on their eyes the way he liked it, heavy on the shadow and mascara. It was sexy, he said, and sometimes he’d apply the eyeliner himself. Then they’d lie on the beds and roughhouse and have pillow ﬁghts, Elvis tickling and kissing them until they couldn’t take it anymore.
The girls insisted that nothing overtly sexual happened inside Elvis’s pink lair, though it came close on occasion, as Gloria remembered.
“We’d tickle, ﬁght, laugh, mess around, but all you’d have to say is, ‘Stop!,’ and he’d roll over and quit. It would never be mentioned again that night. But next time, it would be the same thing exactly. You’d ﬁght with him, kid around and scufﬂe. The next thing, he’d get serious and you’d just push him away. I think that if he really pushed, I would have done it.”
She knew that Elvis, a boy-man, was looking for a child-woman he could mold into his idea of a perfect mate. Fourteen-year-olds were just the right age, as they allowed him to play the role of the older man who would teach them about life.
No matter how Elvis deﬁned his philosophy of rearing young girls, the relationship contained a strong erotic element and was reminiscent of the days when he invited several girls into his room at once on the Hayride. Now Elvis and the girls would sit on the bed yoga style, with Elvis in the middle, and he’d kiss each one. “Gloria is jealous ’cause I kissed Frances,” he’d say, and then turn it around: “Frances is jealous ’cause I kissed Heidi.” Eventually, they’d tire of it all, and Elvis would turn out the light, lying with an arm around two of them, with the third girl stretched out across his feet.
“Elvis was always kissing,” says Frances, “and it was a good kiss, a real good one. He might be doing anything—playing pool, anything—he’d walk up and kiss you, or he might turn his cheek for you to kiss him. He did that in the car a lot. He was especially romantic when it was just you and him. He might talk to you about things that bothered him, and just like teenagers, you’d neck a little bit. Elvis was like a teenager somewhat—the things we did were things that kids do. They really were all very innocent. A lot of people didn’t think so, but it was a different day and time.”
Heidi, Gloria, and Frances were always the last fans to leave Audubon Drive. At three or four in the morning, Elvis would sit up and kiss each girl and say, “I love you, and I’ll see you tomorrow.” Lamar would drive them home, and they’d catch a few hours of sleep before getting up and going to junior high. “The amazing thing is that I never had one problem with any of the parents. Not ever. It was something I assumed would not happen, and it didn’t.”
Elvis didn’t want his mother to know they’d stayed so late, and before Gladys got up, they were out and gone. But chances are she was well aware that they were there, and that she probably wouldn’t have minded, given her approval of Jackie Rowland. She knew that Elvis, a boy-man, was looking for a child-woman he could mold into his idea of a perfect mate. Fourteen-year-olds were just the right age, as they allowed him to play the role of the older man who would teach them about life. If he could ﬁnd one who had his mother’s coloring, who shared her values, and who also somehow felt like his twin soul, she would hold him captive.
His friendship with the trio lasted through the early 1960s, about the time he met 14-year-old Priscilla Beaulieu.
This excerpt is courtesy of It Books.
Winner of the 2004 Country Music Association Media Achievement Award, and the 2009 Charlie Lamb Award for Excellence in Country Music Journalism, Alanna Nash is the author of six previous books. Esquire magazine named her one of the "Heavy 100 of Country Music."