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Interview Elaine Dundy

October 06, 2004 | People
From Elaine Dundy, author of the book "Elvis And Gladys" we received the answers on the question you wanted to ask her.

Questions on the person Elaine:

EN: Can you tell us something more about the woman behind the name we all know from the books?

ED: I see that my life has three strong events that shaped it – living in Paris (from New York), meting and marrying my famous husband, drama critic, Kenneth Tynan of who after three months I sent the following wire from London: “Have married Englishman. Letter follows.” The third was returning to America and meeting Americans whom I immediately saw as real people as opposed to the snobbish one of my college days.

EN: And to get a feel for your Elvis-preferences, what is in general your favorite Elvis-stuff? Can you name your favorite Elvis-song, -movie and –album and of course tell us why you selected these titles as your favorites?

ED: Looking back I find Suspicious Mind is my favorite song. It is something that always surprises me by how he experienced the song. And there are also a few others in this category like Way Down, Gospel, my favorite album is He Touched Me for the same reason. When I expressed how vast the range of his categories, my sister replied, “He didn’t see a contradiction between the two.” Favorite movies: Wild in the Country and Follow That Dream.

Questions on the author Elaine:

EN: Can you tell us how you got into writing and how you ended up writing about Elvis?

ED: The human voice raised in song has always been important to me from Luciano Pavrotti to Ethel Merman. I didn’t know Elvis was alive until he was dead. Until his death August 16, 1977, it was possible to get through a day without hearing his name. Of course, I remember all the early outrage he caused but believe me it was easy not to see any of his films. Because I assumed they were all bad. (Not true).

My husband suggested I try a novel because my letters to him had a strong narrative drive. I don’t know why but is was somehow okay ot say you were writing a novel, wasn’t everybody? But for some reason not okay to write a play or a film script. Too pretentious?

Questions on your book:

EN: In the Tupelo museum there is a room with some of the court records in bound books. However the ones for the period when Vernon & Travis etc were indicted, covering Nov '37 to May '38, are not there. Do you know if these are held elsewhere or are they just lost. Did you ever get to refer to these - it sounds as if you might have?

ED: Good question, especially because the answer is a mystery. I did see the court records and when I looked again I couldn’t find them. Was someone “protecting” Elvis’ reputation? Vernon went to Parchamn, a really tough prison. (Look in the end of chapter about Vernon – last line).

EN: Why does everyone refer to the house on Mulberry alley as "Near the City dump"? It 's at least 5 blocks to the filled in Gum pond. Nearly all Front Street, inc Tupelo Hardware, is closer to the Gum Pond site than Mulberry Alley, which is the other side of Main St & the railway line!

ED: Good point. You know something I don’t.

EN: As a guest writer in the Graceland News 1988 edition, you wrote about your impression of Elvis's 10th Anniversary. How do your impressions of today match those of that time?

ED: Elvis got bigger and better, didn’t he?

EN: Did you ever meet Elvis or Gladys, and how was that meeting?

ED: They were both dead when I wrote about them.

EN: How do you think That Elvis would have lived his life, if his mother didn't die at such an early age.

ED: Could’ve, would’ve, should’ve. But she didn’t! So why go down that road?

EN: In your opinion, what factor from Elvis' childhood most influenced his adult life?

ED: There were quite a few influences. First Assembly of God Church, where he was able to sing. The singer and the congregation all shared a common belief in god and an unspoiled relationship with his audience – no booing or catcalling when he sang.

EN: Considering the total of Elvis' life experiences, what do you think made him such a complex man?

ED: He was a genius and being genius is always complicated and lets you do some things more easily than others; in Elvis’ case, overcoming his shyness.

EN: Why do you think those around Elvis let him hurt himself?

ED: Courtiers tend to end up being jealous of their masters. Basically I believe, they all became pill addicts.

EN: What was your first impression of Tupelo when you arrived there to do research for Elvis & Gladys?

ED: What sounds! The sound of a band’s music, all singing and playing, black soul, off beat and on key.

EN: Would you consider writing a book "Elvis and Vernon", following his paternal ancestry back to biblical times?

ED: No. For me, his mother was far more interesting than his father.

Questions we always ask:

EN: Probably you have told the story a lot of times before, but how do you remember Elvis' passing?

ED: Interestingly enough there have been several other famous men who have passed while on lavatories. The writer Evelyn Waugh, Jim Morrison of The Doors. I most remember his daughter Lisa Marie, was staying with him and watched him being carried out dead.

EN: Which question did we forget? What made Elvis the person he was?

ED: Corene Smith (Rev. Frank Smith’s wife and long time friend of Elvis & Gladys) opened up the world of Presley code of manners for me.

I believe that Elvis was formed by growing up in the Depression in the small town of Tupelo on the wrong side of the tracks, on in fact, even the wronger little 5-street section above Highway 78 whose inhabitants were always referred to disparagingly as “Tyhem folks from ‘Above-the-Highway’”. And everyone knew what that meant. Yet this tiny impoverished community somehow survived by mutually sharing good fortune.

The one existing home-owned Kodak became the communal camera as did the few radios on the streets. By practicing the art of good manners with an almost ritualized politeness and having an attitude of optimism-in-spite-of-everything.

Had Elvis spent his childhood and early adolescence in an urban setting, the Presley poverty would have been experienced as far more hopeless and humiliating.

We like to thank Joan Gansky for making this EmailInterview possible and Elaine for answering the questions from our readers.

The re-issue of Elaine's book "Elvis and Gladys" book now available (University Press).

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