Whenever Tink and I visit Graceland, Elvis Presley’s home, we enjoy traipsing through every gift shop on the premises. There are many.
On our last trip, we bought an “Elvis Live in Las Vegas” double album. It is a Graceland exclusive with colored vinyl – I love playing vinyl on a record player – that has one hot pink record and one bright yellow.
Later, we wandered through the biggest store, searching for You Ain’t Nothin’ But A Hound Dog collars for our two hounds (there is no such thing but it’s a good idea). My attention was captured by a large, coffee table book about three inches thick and featuring a vivid 1968 black and white image of a mod-looking Elvis with sideburns and longish hair.
It was an extensive pictorial and story-laden account of Elvis’ last movie, Change of Habit. Elvis’ co-star in that movie – the final in a long line of beautiful love interests in his films – was Mary Tyler Moore, Tink’s stepmother. It was an odd Elvis movie that didn’t capture the fancy of audiences because, in an extreme stretch of fantasy, he played a doctor and Mary played a nun.
However, it resulted in two excellent turns of fate: Elvis would forsake movies after a decade of film-making and triumphantly return to thrilling live performances while Mary would return to television, giving the world the ultra-successful Mary Tyler Moore Show.
“Tink, look at this,” I said softly, taken aback. “It’s an entire book of Elvis’ movie with Mary.”
There are a few hundred photos in the book. It appears that every second of filming was captured by a still camera. For us, it was an astounding historical find.
“This is amazing that someone thought to document his last movie like this,” I said. “We should get it.”
Tink nodded. “How much is it?” This is a question that Tink would never have asked before he met me and became somewhat embroiled in my frugality.
I turned the book over then nearly dropped it when I saw the price. “Ninety dollars!!!” I exclaimed.
“No,” he said firmly. “We’re not paying that.” This, too, is something he would never have said or even thought for that matter before he met me.
Biting my lip thoughtfully, I continued to look through the pages. “You know, this is part of your family’s history. It’s important.” I pondered it a little longer. “We should get it.” This is something I would never have said because $90 is a lot of money to pay for anything, particularly a book. Even if it does weigh three or four pounds.
We bought a plastic shrink-wrapped copy and got a bonus Elvis lapel pin at check-out. Several days after we returned home, we opened the book and discovered a CD enclosed. It was the soundtrack of the movie.
“Bonus press interview with Mary Tyler Moore,” I read out loud after looking over the song titles. Speechless, we looked at each other, stunned by the discovery.
In our small kitchen is an enormous round, wood table with a lazy susan in the center and captain’s chairs that have red and white gingham cushions. It belonged to Tink’s father and was his favorite place to sit. When he died, Tink hauled it across country in a U-Haul. Most days will find us both, sitting at that table, working. Tink sits in his father’s chair.
We popped in the CD and listened as we worked at the table. Mary talked about what a lovely gentleman Elvis was and about the experience.
Then she began a story with, “My husband, Grant Tinker, and I talk about when we retire and live in Malibu…”
I looked at Tink and saw an unexpected emotion of love melt over his face. It was the look of a son remembering his father.
In that single moment, the book became worth its price many times over.
(This is the third in a five part series on Elvis Presley.)
•Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of Let Me Tell You Something. Visit www.rondarich.com to sign up for her free weekly newsletter.