Friday, May 24, 2024

Exclusive: Confidant and BFF Jerry Schilling Talks ‘Elvis & Nixon’ and Race

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Jerry Schilling at the Conrad Hotel in New York. {MMoore photo)

*One of the funniest films to come out of the Tribeca Film Festival is “Elvis & Nixon,” starring Michael Shannon as Elvis and Kevin Spacey as Nixon. In December of 1970, Presley showed up on the lawn of the White House, with pal Jerry Schilling. Presley had a letter requesting a meeting with President Nixon.

White House staffers Egil “Bud” Krough (Colin Hanks) and Dwight Chapin (Evan Peters) tell the president that a sit-down with Elvis during an election year could generate good publicity but Nixon is not having it. Although Elvis wanted to discuss helping with the war on drugs, Nixon was in no mood to humor the legendary rocker. Thus begins some of the most hilarious scenes to hit the screen.

In an exclusive interview with Elvis’ best friend, confidant and an executive producer “Elvis & Nixon,” Jerry Schilling, talks about Elvis, the movie and Elvis’ relationship with blacks.

Was Elvis a funny man?

He had a great sense of humor. He was the first guy that I ever knew that was into English humor as well as American humor.

Was there any trepidation on your part when he told you he wanted to meet with the president to discuss a war on drugs and getting credentials to do so?

I first turned him down. I don’t even think he was thinking the White House at that point. I think he had another meeting with the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, which is currently the DEA. I wasn’t working for him at that time, but we still remained friends. I was working in film editing at Paramount. I was the only person in the world that knew where Elvin was for two days. [Laughs]

How was it that the two of you remained such good friend until his death, especially in an industry where some stars don’t even talk to their parents?

God, that’s a great question. I would have to say, one word that’s in the back of my mind and it’s honesty. We were truly friends. We got very upset at each other from time to time, but not that often, you know. I really loved the guy. I was pretty much an orphan. My mother died when I was a year old. I was this sickly kid and I became his friend at 12 and he was 19. He just kind of looked after me as I grew up.

Did that incident in the black restaurant in Washington really happen?

It really did. I wasn’t there but was told the story.

Guns and all?

Yeah, yeah. That’s a true story.

Jerry Schilling (left) and Alex Pettyfer, who plays Schilling (righ), on the set of Evis & Nixon.
Jerry Schilling (left) and Alex Pettyfer, who plays Schilling (righ), on the set of Evis & Nixon.

It’s known that Elvis loved R&B, gospel music; that Cissy Houston was one of his backup singers, and people such as James Brown, Muhammad Ali, B.B. King and Ike Turner spoke very highly of him. But there were rumors he was a racist?

Well, ask any black person that knew him or worked with him. He didn’t think in those terms. When my ex-wife Myrna Smith of The Sweet Inspirations, Elvis’ backup singers, were getting a divorce, he said, ‘Why? She’s my friend, too.’ That’s the most unbelievable injustice my friend Elvis ever had. He was not prejudiced at all! He just wasn’t that guy. Anybody who says he was didn’t know Elvis Presley.

When Whitney Houston was a teenager, she used to come and watch the rehearsals. At one point she dated the drummer with The Sweet Inspirations.

There were many in the “establishment” that didn’t take to Elvis, is that right?

Before Elvis came along our music was our parents’ music. When Elvis came along recording R&B, black music, it kind of upset the establishment because, guess what? If these black kids and white kids went to concerts, they might like each other.

Syndicated Entertainment journalist Marie Moore reports on film and TV from her New York City base. Contact her at [email protected]       Twitter: @thefilmstrip

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