News createt: 23-06-2011 01:00:00
Schilling about the beginning & the end
"Just before he became an overnight sensation in Memphis, a young truck driver named Elvis Presley quarterbacked a regular Sunday football game with a few buddies. Short of players, one day they asked an athletic grade-school kid named Jerry Schilling to join them.
In January 1956, Schilling watched his new friend make his first national television appearance on the Dorsey Brothers' variety show.
"Him walking to the microphone, it was like watching James Dean and Marlon Brando all rolled up in one," Schilling recalls to Spinner. "It was wild, before he ever sang a note."
Schilling, who went on to become one of the King's closest confidants and employees, has just overseen the revamped 'Elvis: The Great Performances,' a new DVD packaging of Elvis Presley's finest moments on TV and film, featuring remastered footage and previously unseen interviews (the DVD is due out Aug. 2). It was on Schilling's 13th birthday that he first saw Elvis perform.
"It was like being in the first underground, if you will," says Schilling of the Memphis show. "It was dangerous. It was both sexual and racial."
When he went to work for Elvis about a decade later, the singer's career was being dragged down by Hollywood obligations. Schilling, who became one of Elvis's most trusted advisors as a key member of the so-called Memphis Mafia, was still "a huge fan," though he says Elvis "would probably laugh if he heard that today."
The classic television performance called the ''68 Comeback Special,' for which Elvis "went into training like Muhammad Ali," kicked off an exhilarating period for his friend, says Schilling. He felt privileged to experience Presley's Vegas debut and the release of major hits such as 'In the Ghetto' and 'Suspicious Minds.'
"I wished I'd been able to work for him in the wilder years," Schilling recalls. "I thought I kind of missed it. Then, when he finished those contracts and got to go back onstage, he got to the next level. He still had the rawness, but it was certainly polished, and it worked. And his voice was absolutely better, if you want to talk about technically."
Presley, who thought of himself as a film star still waiting to break out, was especially inspired with the offer he received to take the lead role in 'A Star Is Born.'
"I sat inside a walk-in dressing room closet with him, Barbra Streisand and [producer] Jon Peters when they offered 'A Star Is Born,'" recalls Schilling. The deal eventually fell through. "That was the last time I saw the twinkle in my friend's eye," he says.
On the phone, Schilling is sitting in the same house in the West Hollywood Hills that Elvis bought for him decades ago. "It's my little piece of Graceland West, if you will," he says.
"He was a very sensitive man. I think he knew that I lost my mom at an early age, and he said, 'You never had a home, Jerry. I want to be the one to give it to you.'"
Schilling -- who delivered John Lennon's message of admiration to Presley, brought Eric Clapton to meet the King and befriended members of Led Zeppelin -- was Elvis' closest connection to the generation that succeeded him.
"He kicked the door in. He started the whole damn thing," says Schilling, who became a creative affairs director for Elvis Presley Enterprises after Elvis' death. "I don't care if it's John Lennon or Bono, who I was just talking with -- all these guys were influenced in some way by Elvis."
When Presley died at age 42 in 1977, much was made of the toxicology report. "There was a drug problem," acknowledges Schilling, who couldn't talk about Elvis for years. "But that was a Band-Aid. I really feel deeply that I lost my friend because of creative disappointment."
'The Great Performances' reaffirms the rare talent of an entertainer too often remembered for his cartoon image.
"I have friends with young teenage kids," says Schilling, "and they know who Elvis is. It's a nice feeling."