King Size

Elvis from A to Z.



Question: Who were Jean and Julian Aderbach? See under "A" for the answer. They're the Austrian brothers who founded the music-publishing company that represented Elvis Presley for 22 years.

Another question: Who was David Zenoff?

See under "Z." He's the Nevada Supreme Court judge who presided over the marriage of Elvis and Priscilla in Las Vegas in 1968 – "the best-known eight minutes of [Zenoff's] eighty-nine years on this planet."

That's according to Adam Victor, who should know. His The Elvis Encyclopedia (Overlook) is the most comprehensive, fully illustrated look ever at the career of the King, and that includes more than 500 color and black-and-white photos, some of them never-before-seen: from publicity shots to film stills to informal shots to magazine covers (including one from Memphis on the occasion of Elvis' death in 1977).

Think you too know Elvis Presley? Think again. See under Victor's entries "Ambition" and "Anger," "Fears" and "Faulkner," "Loneliness" and "Love," "UFOs and "Weight." Under "Clinton," you'll learn that the 42nd president's Secret Service code name was "Elvis." Under "Hart": that Elvis' co-star, Dolores Hart, in Loving You and King Creole, is now prioress at a Benedictine abbey in Connecticut. And under "Bush": that as a boy our 43rd president disrupted his music class doing Elvis impersonations.

What's more, under "Monroe," Victor writes that "Marilyn and Elvis are the world's most famous couple who never met," and, again, Victor should know. He's already the author of The Marilyn Encyclopedia, which gave him the template for writing about this second of the twentieth century's two major icons: Elvis Aron Presley.

As the London-born Victor said in an e-mail from his home in Italy:

"These two people – Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley: Let's not forget that they were flesh and blood, with virtues and defects as well as their matchless talents. But they have somehow transcended their mortality to live on in popular culture, as well as in the hearts and minds of their fans. Fascinating lives, fascinating stories, fascinating people to spend a length of time with."

In the case of Victor's latest project, the length of time was a half-dozen years, and that meant the author immersing himself in everything Elvis – the color of the pajamas he was wearing when he died; the number of Elvis fan clubs worldwide (a list that runs for six dense pages of type); background information on individual song titles and albums; equally full listings of film casts and crews; the books Elvis bought in 1963; the sales of "It's Now or Never," Elvis' biggest single.

That's an awful lot of ground to cover in one volume. Victor has met the challenge – make that two challenges. As he said:

"With both my 'icon' encyclopedias, I followed the same basic game plan: to read as widely as possible, listen to and watch as much as possible, distill it all, and then make a (frankly misguided) attempt to shoehorn all of that information between a single set of book covers.

"But on the Elvis book my game plan ran into trouble pretty quickly: One, he sang and did so much. And two, the bar is so high regarding what fans know about him that I had to do my best to use the best available sources to avoid making mistakes. The problem wasn't obtaining information. It was information overload: everything Elvis did in life, his incredible afterlife, all of the memoirs written by people who knew him, fan impressions, interviews . . . the list is endless."

Victor's list, however, isn't endless. It stops at 598 coffee-table-size pages.

But listen up. Victor did.

"Before going into this project, my view of Elvis was that of any lover of contemporary music. But he didn't just have a great voice. He had one of the greatest voices of all time – quite an achievement for an untutored musician. Perhaps even more importantly, he had – and continues to have – an incredible effect on millions of people around the globe. It may sound corny to some, but the fact is, he touched the hearts and souls of an incalculable number of people."

Victor is one of them. Proof is that he remembers exactly where he was when, at the age of 13, he heard that Elvis had died. He continued hearing him, often, while preparing this book.

"I listened to everything Elvis recorded. I listened to the music he loved and grew up with. My opinion of him after all these years of research could not be higher."

That goes for Victor's views of Memphis as well. During his research, he spent what he called a "very enjoyable" week in the city. (This despite the fact he was here during a heat wave.) Graceland, he said, was "fascinating, not the least for being on such a human scale." And the city itself?

"I found Memphis to be one of the friendliest cities I've ever visited. So many people I met were say-it-loud proud of their town, of its place in music history, its culinary traditions. Man, those ribs . . ."

And as for Elvis' culinary tastes? There's one entry in The Elvis Encyclopedia that the author knows is missing. But it's not missing. "It's in the book, all right," Victor said. "Under 'Food.' It seems to be the first thing people want to look up."

The subject, in a book self-described as "Elvis Central," is peanut butter.

Summing up the life of Elvis Presley, however, Victor couldn't help but sound a serious note.

"I share the sadness of many fans that Elvis was not happier in life. Apart from a few years in the mid-1960s, his opportunities for personal development and self-understanding were limited. He lived his entire adult life through the twin filters of Colonel Parker's management and his entourage, the group of guys who provided him with friendship and security but effectively minimized his contact with the outside world. Elvis' acute awareness of the heavy responsibilities he had toward his family, friends, and fans took its toll."

no doubt about it, from gold suits to jumpsuits, Elvis Presley knew that more than music made the man. Just see under "Clothes" and "Costumes and Designers" in The Elvis Encyclopedia, which lists 61 – yes, 61 – jumpsuit motifs the King was known to wear in concert, which makes Elvis, sartorially speaking, a tough act to follow.

Make it easy on yourself with Elvis: Your Personal Fashion Consultant, from Abrams Image. All you have to do, as the book advertises, is "Punch out and play!" – as in, paper dolls.

The authors are Michael Feder (a regular lecturer at Emory University's business school) and Karan Feder (a Hollywood costume designer), and together they run a marketing firm that specializes in iconic celebrity representation. Together they also authored a similar paper-doll book on Liberace, so they know their way around a sequin or two.

But in Elvis: Your Personal Fashion Consultant, they know to extend the "Elvis style spectrum" from "rockabilly cat to glam-rock caped crusader" and from a double-breasted suit (in purple) to the last word in gunslinger chic. Each doll (12 in all) comes with its own stand – standing proof that the King retains his "regal reign on the throne of fashion." 

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