By Ralph Novak
August 17, 1987 12:00 PM

True, the reverential tone of this tour of Presley’s Memphis estate (marking the 10th anniversary of the King’s death) might have been more appropriate to a visit to Albert Schweitzer’s digs in Gabon. Really, though, the hostess is Presley’s ex-wife, Priscilla Beaulieu Presley, and the hour-long tape turns out to be revealing in spite of itself. Neither Priscilla nor any of the assorted Elvis entourage members who appear have any discouraging words to say about him. Priscilla at one point describes him as “the most legendary star in the history of entertainment” and also calls him, peculiarly, a “living legend.” In showing off his lavish-to-garish mansion, however, and chatting about what they seem to think were his adorable peccadilloes, his relatives and friends unwittingly sketch an image of a relentlessly unsatisfied man obsessed with extravagance in everything—generosity, material possessions, self-importance. Priscilla reports that Elvis had 14 television sets in his house and notes he had hundreds of cars (many of which he gave away) during his lifetime. The pilot of Elvis’ four-engine jet tells of being awakened in the middle of the night to fly from Memphis to Denver so Presley could pick up some of his favorite peanut-butter sandwiches. Road manager Joe Esposito remembers how Elvis rented local movie theaters and invited friends over to watch new films; if he didn’t like one, he would stop it and start showing something else. Originally a cable TV program, this tape was shot by cinematographer Laszlo (Mask) Kovacs and directed by TV veteran Steve Binder. There is little footage of Elvis performing, but that’s available elsewhere. This tape, along with his records, belongs in the library of any student of Presley’s life. (Congress, $19.95)



These two original video programs are combined on a 55-minute tape. While they are much less polished than Graceland, they too are telling in an indirect way. Much of the tape is devoted to recent footage of Elvis’ fans of various description. One is a woman who moved to Memphis after he died so she could be near him. Another is a Dutch-born truck driver who tells how he had planned to move to the United States to be closer to Elvis, “then he died on me.” A number of people mention that Elvis’ death affected them as much as that of a family member would. There is a ceremony at Graceland involving the installation of a plaque with Presley’s middle name misspelled as “Aron.” Among the tributes at the estate’s Meditation Gardens is a three-foot portrait featuring, in one corner, a small Elvis wearing one of his white outfits while he serenades a larger image of Jesus. TV game show host Wink Martindale delivers a long, rambling remembrance, during which he says, “We made him a god but he was only a man. That was Elvis to me.” Various men dressed, coiffed and mannered to resemble Elvis show up; some are imitators who perform as Elvis, others just try to look like him. Rock writers Greil Marcus and Dave Marsh are interviewed briefly. Marcus proposes the notion that Elvis had such rabid fans not because he made them forget their troubles, but because he dramatized those troubles so effectively in his music. While this theory raises more questions than it answers—what, for instance, did Hound Dog have to do with anything?—it provides a starting point in trying to fathom the strange magnetism Presley possessed as a singer and a celebrity. (Monticello, 800-453-7000, $19.95)