They met in 1948 in the eighth grade at Humes High School. George, the mover and shaker, became president of their senior class; Elvis, the outsider in flashy clothes and styled hair, played guitar and sang at school events. Klein found his musical passion when he spun his radio dial from the pop sounds of WHBQ 560 up to 1070, where WDIA’s black DJs played very different music for black listeners (and adventurous white kids like George). “This stuff sounded wild and a little dangerous,” he wrote in his autobiography, “and I couldn’t get enough of it.”
While in college, George was hired on at WHBQ as an assistant to DJ Dewey Phillips, whose color-blind idea of “good music for good people” influenced Klein for the rest of his life. One Sunday night, broadcasting live from all-black East Trigg Baptist Church, George looked back at the handful of white faces in the rear pews and there was Elvis, reveling in the powerful gospel music.
Klein’s career quickly grew from small Arkansas stations to powerful WMC in Memphis, where the music and his jive-talking style made Rock & Roll Ballroom a big hit. George was proud to play his friend’s new Sun records and Elvis would drop by the studio. They were kindred spirits on their way up, and their friendship grew. By 1957, Elvis was the hottest artist in the music business, and George was a prominent radio personality.
But WMC decided that rock-and-roll was just a passing fad, changed its format, and fired Klein. Elvis immediately hired him as a “traveling companion,” a charter member of his Memphis Mafia. After a year of the rock-and-roll road and movie glamor, George was back on the air at a small Millington station. Elvis returned to the road, but Klein stayed in Memphis to rebuild his radio career. He landed back at WHBQ in the early 1960s, becoming a top-rated disc jockey, later program director, and the influential host of Talent Party every Saturday on WHBQ-TV.
It was a savvy combo of music and interviews, with go-go dancing from the WHBQties, pretty high school girls who were regulars. He booked major stars by adjusting to their schedules. George drove the artists to WHBQ after their shows; the 10 o’clock news crew stayed late and recorded performances and interviews for later broadcast. Fats Domino’s appearance made Talent Party the first Mid-South TV show to feature a black artist. A galaxy of stars followed — James Brown, Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, and many more.
TV Radio Mirror April 1957
AN EVENING WITH ELVIS
Crowds at WMC when Elvis visited me (below) showed how far he'd come since we both went to Humes High School.
I'd known Elvis Presley ever since we were in high school together. How much had fame and fortune changed him? Those hours at his home in Memphis gave me the answer ─ and some new questions!
By GEORGE KLEIN
Prominent Deejay, Station WMC, Memphis, Tenn.
GEE, AS I REMEMBER IT, it was about eight years ago when I first heard Elvis Presley sing. It wasn't for big enormous screaming crowds, nor for television, radio, or even on records, but merely at a little eighth-grade music classroom get-together during the Christmas season at Humes High School here in Memphis. After the class had finished singing carols. Elvis got up in front of the room and started to sing "Cold, Cold, Icy Fingers," which was popular in the Country and Western field at that time. I never will forget Elvis singing that song, there just seemed to be something about the way he sang that stayed with me.
Elvis came to Humes in the eighth grade and stayed on to graduate in 1953. As Humes is a pretty large school, no one really noticed Elvis too much until he began to sing at school parties and functions. I can remember lots of times seeing Elvis walk down the hall with his guitar in his hand. It was noticeable because no one else brought a guitar to school except Elvis. And I just sort of marveled at the way he sang, because I really hadn't ever seen one of the students get up and sing and play a guitar at the same time. Elvis seemed to have talent, I thought, and anyway, no one else ever volunteered to sing. But, boy, Elvis was always ready.
In the twelfth grade I was elected president of the class and also editor of the school paper, and I had a couple of classes with Elvis in the senior year. I remember in particular a class called American Problems, a discussion class dealing with the general problems facing us then, such as the election, taxes, various laws, and so on. It was a performance class in which the students had to make oral reports. You can take my word Elvis certainly held his own.
About this time Elvis' sideburns began to show up pretty good, since he was maturing, as all seventeen-year-old boys do. Elvis took quite a bit of kidding about the now-famous sideburns. Elvis didn't seem to mind and went right along with the kidding. Elvis wasn't one of the best-dressed kids in school, as his parents were having a pretty tough time. But he always seemed to dress real "catty" and looked pretty sharp. Well, anyway, one fellow in particular used to kid Elvis a lot about the way he dressed. This guy wore some pretty nice clothes and was sharp himself. However, Elvis, although he couldn't afford expensive clothing, managed to get by.
Elvis took the kidding from this fellow without saying anything. It was as though he was thinking, okay, wise guy, someday you'll eat those words. And so, because of Elvis' good nature, the other classmates seemed to lay off Elvis and give this other guy the eye. Elvis was okay in our book.
The last time I heard and saw Elvis sing in high school was at a variety show in the spring of our senior year. It's real funny that, once again, I can't tell you anything about anybody else on the show except Elvis. Elvis sang a couple of Country and Western songs that night (as that was his style then). And, believe me, he got the biggest applause of the night. You could sort of tell he was really happy and pleased. In fact, he showed more professionalism than anybody else on the show. As he stepped back before he sang the second song, he dedicated it to a couple of my friends in the audience. He did this in a kidding manner, and our fellow students got a real kick out of it.
After graduation I didn't see a whole lot of Elvis, as I went to college (Memphis State here in Memphis) and Elvis went to work. However, I didn't live too far from Elvis, so I frequently ran into him. In the meantime I had landed a part-time job at night at Radio Station WHBQ.
One night, I remember, I was walking down Main Street to the station and I ran into Elvis. We shot the bull for a while. He said that he had heard Dewey Phillips (who later played a big part in starting Elvis on the road to success) mention my name on his show. Dewey and I both worked the night shift at WHBQ and I was frequently around when he was on the air. Sometimes I sort of helped Dewey do little things to prepare for his show, and thus he talked about me on the air. Elvis and I chatted a while and then we talked about college. Elvis said he wished he had been able to go to college. He said that he was then working in a machine shop and it was kind of tough but he liked it and was getting a fair salary.
The next time I saw Elvis was a couple of months later, and he said that he was now driving a truck and working for Crown Electric Company here in Memphis. Shortly after that, Memphis State College was recessed for the summer. I had been offered a summer disk-jockey job in a town about fifty miles from Memphis. I used to come home for a couple of days a week. And usually I would stop by and chat with Dewey Phillips at WHBQ. Well, one night, just as I walked into the station, Dewey grabbed me by the arm. He said, "Come here, I want you to listen to a new record." He seemed very excited. Along we went to his studio and he put a record on the turntable. The first thing I heard was "Blue moon, Blue moon" (the name of the record was "Blue Moon of Kentucky"). I was puzzled as to who was singing. Dewey said, "You ought to know him, since you and he went to school together ─" "Elvis?" I shouted. Dewey began to tell me the whole story about how Sam Phillips of Sun Record Company in Memphis had recorded Elvis and developed this new style of singing. The record hadn't even been released yet. Dewey was telling me how Sam brought the record up to him, the night before. Dewey played it on his show. The reaction was tremendous as telegrams and phone calls galore came in requesting to hear the record again. "Well," Dewey said, "before the night was up, I had played the record seven times." Dewey told me that, after the telegrams and phone calls began to come in, he got Elvis up to the station and Dewey interviewed him over the air. Dewey told me that Elvis called him "Mr." Phillips (which made Dewey feel real good). He reminded Elvis just to call him Dewey during the interview. But not Elvis. He called him "Mr." Phillips all during the interview.
That night Dewey gave me an extra copy of the record. I took it with me back to the station I was then working at, just outside of Memphis. I began to play it on my show. I told the other disk jockeys on the station to spin the record, too. I thought maybe if we all played the record it would help Elvis and sort of "push" the record. Boy, did I tell my listeners that I had gone to school with Elvis and how great I thought he was! I was really serious about it. First, I knew the guy singing and had gone to school with him. Second, the record sounded different and had a good "big beat." I checked with Dewey and Sam Phillips in Memphis for the next couple of weeks. They said that Elvis' record was the "hottest" thing in Memphis.
Elvis with Dewey Phillips, Memphis deejay who gave me that first Presley disc, Hollywood actor Nick Adams and actress Natalie Wood.
When my summer job ended, I came back to Memphis. A new shopping center was opening, and I landed a free-lance sort of emcee-deejay stint at the grand opening. Guess who the entertainment was for the night? Yep, it was Elvis. As far as I can remember, this was Elvis' first appearance in public before a fairly large crowd. Elvis got there a little early that night, and I went over and talked with him. While we were talking, young teen-age girls gathered around him and were asking him for his autograph. He very happily consented. Right then and there, it looked as though Elvis was really on his way. The teenagers that night were serious about Elvis and really liked him. This pleased me, because I had been plugging Elvis all day on the public address system. Elvis went over real big with the crowd that night and the town began to buzz. Everyone was talking about Elvis.
A couple of weeks later, Elvis started singing, in a local night spot, and then from there he went on tour around the mid-South. But the news that really got Memphis stirred up about Elvis was when they found out he was to appear on a national television show (the Dorsey Brothers' Stage Show). I'll bet every TV set in Memphis was tuned to that show.
A couple of weeks later, Elvis came home. To show his appreciation to Dewey for helping him get started, he did a free show for him. Dewey asked me to help him out. Boy, did we go to work! The show only featured Elvis. It was held in a local hotel (Hotel Chisca). The show didn't start till eight P.M., but the people started lining up at six. By eight we were sold out completely: We had to turn away about five hundred people that night, and some of them had come two hundred or three hundred miles to hear Elvis Presley. You talk about a wild show, that was it.
Elvis then went back to New York, as he had about four or five more appearances on the Stage Show. From there on in, the rest of the story concerning Elvis nationally is well known. But the best performance I ever saw Elvis do was this past spring, during the Cotton Carnival here in Memphis. The show was held in the auditorium down-town and both halls were packed to the rooftops (a major feat in Memphis). Elvis usually stays out on stage about twenty minutes, but that night he was on stage performing for forty-five minutes. The only thing that made him stop was that he was completely exhausted and could hardly breathe. This was, without a doubt, the greatest show I have ever seen Elvis do. It was as if lightning had struck.
The next thing we knew about Elvis was that he had signed a movie contract. We didn't see much of him for a couple of months, since he was in Hollywood making "Love Me Tender." But, as soon as the major part of the picture had been made, Elvis came home. He dropped by to visit me at the station (by this time I had switched to Station WMC and had my own three-hour-long rock 'n' roll show). With him were Nick Adams, the actor, and Barbara Hearn, Elvis' girl here in Memphis. I interviewed Elvis on the air. As we let teenagers come down to the studio and dance, there was a crowd there. They nearly busted the studio windows trying to get a peek at Elvis.
I asked Elvis how he liked Hollywood. He said, "I like it okay, because everyone out there was real nice to me." I asked him how he managed to memorize his lines, as he wasn't even in a school play over at Humes High School. Elvis replied that it was easy, and that the rest of the cast were surprised at how easily he remembered his lines. Elvis said he believed this came from having to memorize so many songs. While we were chatting on the air, I said, "Did anything unusual happen while you were making the picture?" Elvis said, "There was one scene where I was riding a horse under some trees. Well, the horse ran into a limb and I got knocked off. The funny part about it was that I didn't get hurt at all, but the director Robert Webb almost swallowed the cigarette he was smoking."
On that day it wasn't more than five minutes after Elvis arrived at Station WMC to appear on my show before two photographers and three newspaper reporters turned up to catch him for a picture and a word or two. Boy, did the word travel fast to the town that he was there!
Elvis headed back to Hollywood to finish up the picture and then came back to Memphis. I told him that I had his new RCA record album and asked him about a couple of the songs. Elvis said that he didn't even know the album was out and asked if I'd bring it out to his house so he could play it.
When I got there, about two-hundred people were standing out front of the house hoping Elvis would come and talk to them. There was a policeman and a plain-clothes guard at the gate keeping the crowd away from the house. I went in. Elvis noticed that I had the album, so he put it on the record player and we talked about several of the songs. I told Elvis a couple of fellows who were in Humes High with us were out front. The guard wouldn't let them in. Elvis went out himself and brought them in. So we all gathered in Elvis' room and started asking him questions about Hollywood and the movies.
Just then, June Juanico, a model from Biloxi, and her sister arrived. Elvis' mother and father had just picked them up at the airport. They had invited the girls to be Elvis' house guest for a couple of days. I had previously met June when she was in Memphis about a month or two ago. Elvis gave her a hello kiss right in front of all of us. Elvis picked up his conversation about Hollywood. He said the only bad part about movie-making is that you have to get up at five in the morning to report on set. He hates the way they pack the makeup on you, too. He told one anecdote to illustrate how green he is about movie techniques. There was a scene in "Love Me Tender" where Elvis shoots his brother (played by Richard Egan). When Elvis shot the gun, he thought it contained a blank cartridge. Richard Egan grabbed his shoulder where the bullet had ripped into his shirt. Blood seemed to be gushing out. Elvis said he really got scared. He had heard about those "empty" guns that turned out to be loaded. He started to run toward Egan. He thought he'd really shot him. Everybody on the set started to laugh. It seems it's an old Hollywood trick. An electric wire fires off some powder on the "victim" and breaks a sack of red fluid to give a realistic effect of bloodshed. Elvis said he was really embarrassed. Elvis told us that Debra Paget was even prettier off the screen than on. She'd been real nice and friendly toward him. On Elvis' dresser was a big picture of Debra on which she had written a complimentary message to Elvis.
That night Elvis was wearing a blue velvet shirt, black denim pants and white desert boots. I asked him about the shirt. He said that Natalie Wood had it made for him and she also gave him a red one. He jumped up and went to his closet, which looked like a rack in a clothing store, he had so many, many shirts, pants, and sports coats. He got the red velvet shirt and showed it to us. He said that each one cost seventy-five dollars. I asked him about Natalie Wood. He told us that she was just a friend ─ very down-to-earth and not stuck-up at all.
I started to ask Elvis questions about how he felt about his sudden success. I said, "What would you have said if someone had told you four years ago that someday you'd be the top show-business attraction in the country?" He snapped back, "Why, I would have told them they were crazy. "I never thought I'd be as well off as I am now," he said. "But somehow I'd always had a feeling down deep that someday I'd have something. I owe it all to the good God above." "How does it feel, Elvis," I asked, "when you are on stage and the fans start screaming and hollering and carrying on?" "Well, when it first started real big," he said, "I'd look around on stage for the star. I just couldn't believe they were screaming for me. It's a real funny feeling. When I drive up at night to this house, I just sit there for a while and meditate. I ask myself, 'Is this really me?' I still can't realize that I'm a big star and that all this was really destined. I'm afraid all the time that I'll get big-headed. That's one thing I don't want to do. I've met many people who were just half-way up the road and thought themselves big stars and acted kind of stuck-up."
I asked Elvis if the fans in any certain city were more wild for him? "No," he said. "They're just alike all over. I was mobbed in Kansas City, just like I was in California."
"What about New York?" I said.
"Well, once when I was going shopping in New York, some fans spotted me. They started running toward me. The shopkeeper had to slip me out through the back basement door. I jumped in a cab and shot back to the hotel. And when I was in New York for The Ed Sullivan Show, I tried to see the movie 'Giant' twice. Both times I was mobbed before I could get into the show. I had to go back to the hotel to keep from being ripped apart."
I asked Elvis if he knew how so many false rumors got started about him.
"I know about some," he said. "For instance, once in Kansas City, I was mobbed on stage. The rumor got out that the drummer, D. J. Fontana, had been thrown into the orchestra pit. The funny part about it was that there wasn't even an orchestra pit in the place. Another story had me shooting my mother when I was young. Isn't that just crazy?"
"How about the capped teeth you were supposed to have had made in Hollywood?" I said. Real quick, Elvis put his hand up to his mouth and slipped off a small round object, a cap for one of his teeth. He said that he had worn two of them originally, but he dropped one on the floor in a cafe in downtown Memphis. When he went to pick it up someone had stepped on it and broken it to pieces. He said that they were very expensive and he would have to have another one made.
It was about 10:15 now and we were sort of getting restless. Elvis told us to follow him, as he had something to show us. So off we went to his patio. A cute little puppy was running around and June Juanico picked it up and started patting it. Off to one side was a huge cage with a little monkey in it. Elvis played with the monkey. Then Elvis said, "Come on out in the back yard. I have something real unusual I want you to see."
Out behind the garage Elvis had two big burros in a fenced-off area. He said his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, had sent them from Texas as gifts. Elvis grabbed June and put her on one of the burros. She started to ride him, but he began to buck. Elvis ran up and caught her just before she slid off.
We asked Elvis about the cars. So he opened his garage. There was a 1956 Eldorado Cadillac convertible and a 1955 Fleetwood Cadillac. Also Elvis pointed out his little German Messerschmitt, which he said he hadn't driven too much lately. (When Elvis first got the little foreign car he took me riding in it down Main Street. Boy, did we cause a commotion!) Parked out in the yard was his Cadillac limousine, in which the band sometimes travels. And in the drive was parked a 1956 Lincoln Continental. I asked Elvis if it was okay if I sat in it. He said, "Sure." So I hopped in and started looking around, feeling like a king. Elvis sort of laughed and said, "Yeah, it looks a mile long in the front, doesn't it?"
We then all walked over and inspected Elvis' swimming pool. Elvis took us back into the house then, into his den. He has just installed a new organ in there. He likes organ music very much. Elvis sat down at the organ and played while everybody else sat around. We started playing a little quiz game of 'guess the melody.' Elvis would play a song on the organ and taking turns (I acted as emcee) I would quiz someone as to the name of it. If they answered correctly, they supposedly won twenty-five dollars. We had a lot of fun doing this. I asked Elvis which of all the songs he had recorded was his favorite. He quickly answered, "Don't Be Cruel."
We continued to play the game for a while, until about 11:15, and then Elvis suggested that we break it up. I agreed, as we had been there for over three hours. As we were leaving, there were still about forty or fifty people standing outside of Elvis' house hoping to get a look at him.
Elvis likes gospel singing a lot. The other night, I ran into him down at a gospel sing at the auditorium here in Memphis. The Blackwood Brothers were sponsoring the sing (they are featured on my station, WMC) and Elvis was glued to the side of the stage watching every performance. He said that he would like to have sung a couple of numbers with them, but his contract wouldn't permit it. Of course, about girls, everybody's fascinated about who it might be that Elvis likes best. June Juanico, the girl from Biloxi, is a good friend. She's spent a lot of time with Elvis. And there's another girl named Dotty Harmony, who's a dancer Elvis met. She works at the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas, and Elvis met her when he was on the West Coast, and liked her. He asked his mother to invite her to Memphis during the holidays at the end of last year, and she spent a few days here. And there's Barbara Hearn, his girl in Memphis.
About Barbara, it just so happens that I was the one who introduced Elvis to her. She had dropped by Dewey Phillips' show one night when I was there chatting with Dewey. She does modeling for WMCT.
One night I had a date with Barbara and we drove down to see Dewey. While we were sitting there, Elvis walked in and joined the party. She was just a regular friend to me, and I was glad that she and Elvis met. After that, they started dating. A couple of weeks ago, I had a salute to Elvis on my radio show and I interviewed Barbara. We taped the interview in advance, so she got to hear herself on the air and she got a big kick out of it. She is a real sweet girl.
With dancer Dorothy Harmony ─ just after he passed his Army physical.
The sharp velvet shirts are new, but he has the same old love for his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Vernon Presley.
Scene with Debra Paget in "Love Me Tender," Elvis admires Debra a lot.
Memphis girl ─ a real sweet one, too ─ is Barbara Hearn. I Introduced 'em! 21-year-old Elvis Presley is seen playing an organ while girlfriend Barbara Hearn looking on. October 18, 1956. Hearn is holding Sweet Pea, a toy poodle dog given by Elvis to his mother Gladys Presley, on her lap.
And so that brings me up to date on Elvis Presley, the fellow with whom I went to school. He is now the most popular thing in show business. It seems now as if Elvis will be going into the Army not too long from now. But we're all sure that he'll continue successfully on his career after his service is over. The way we all feel here is that, in spite of all the publicity about him, Elvis ─ when he’s with people he's always known ─ is just about the way he always was. And all his friends here in Memphis respect and like him and wish him a great future.