Saturday, March 10, 2012

Elvis Presley's odd request ... see for yourself

Just a few days before Christmas in 1971, a good-looking, 30-something man, known throughout the country for his music and showmanship, walked up to a White House guard and gave him a six-page note addressed to President Nixon. Scrawled by hand on American Airlines stationery, it said in part:

“Dear Mr. President … First, I would like to introduce myself. I am Elvis Presley and admire you and have great respect for your office.  … The drug culture, the hippie elements, the SDS, Black Panthers, etc. do not consider me as their enemy or as they call it the establishment. I call it America and I love it. Sir, I can and will be of any service that I can to help the country out. I have no concern or motives other than helping the country out. So I wish not to be given a title or an appointed position. I can and will do more good if I were made a Federal Agent at Large and I will help out by doing it my way through my communications with people of all ages. First and foremost, I am an entertainer, but all I need is the Federal credentials. …”

Presley’s letter went on to request a meeting with Nixon “just to say hello,” and noted that he was staying at the Washington Hotel under the name Jon Burrows.  He also provided a list of telephone numbers through which he could be contacted.

Inside the White House, the message first went to presidential aide Dwight Chapin. In a memo to presidential chief of staff H.R. “Bob” Haldeman, Chapin concluded that “if the President wants to meet with some bright young people outside of Government, Presley might be a perfect one to start with.” Haldeman scrawled “You must be kidding” on that part of the Chapin memo, but approved its recommendation for Presley to meet first with another presidential aide, Egil “Bud” Krough, before being brought in to meet with Nixon the next day.

And so it happened, as summarized by Krough in a memo. Presley, dressed flamboyantly, began by showing his collection of law enforcement badges to the president. In what must have been a fascinating exchange, he also told Nixon that the Beatles were spreading anti-American messages, that he wanted to help the country and repay it for all that it had given him, that he could effectively reach out to “young people” and “hippies” with an anti-drug message, and that he studied “Communist brainwashing and the drug culture” for a decade. Nixon generally nodded his head in agreement, and repeated – more than once – the need for Presley to maintain his credibility to ensure his effectiveness as a pro-American, anti-drug messenger.

As a gift, Presley presented Nixon with a commemorative pistol. The White House met Presley’s request for federal recognition by giving him a specially prepared badge from the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (predecessor of today’s U.S.  Drug Enforcement Administration).

Krough wrote of the Nixon-Presley meeting in a 1994 book, now available as an inexpensive used volume, titled The Day Elvis Met Nixon. But perhaps even more captivating is a U. S. National Archives and Records Administration website – titled When Nixon met Elvis – that offers online views of the original Presley letter to Nixon, related memos (one including Haldeman’s handwritten “you’ve got to be kidding” comment) exchanged among White House staffers, photos taken at the meeting, and even downloads of these items (some formatted for use as personal computer background images, or computer wallpaper).  It’s good stuff that offers behind-the-scenes insights into this odd meeting!

1 comment:

The Horse Dad said...

The material on the National Archives site is fascinating. Thank ya, thank ya very much.