WISH I WAS GOING TO GRACELAND

This weekend, Graceland will premiere 3 major new Elvis Presley exhibitions including one called Elvis in Hollywood that salutes his career as a film star. It will include Elvis’ personal scripts with hand-written notes, as well as his own copies of his films. For more information, click here.

For this weekend only March 6-8, Sixties starlet Darlene Tompkins will be at Graceland sharing her stories about co-starring with the King in one of his biggest hits, Blue Hawaii (1961). Below are excerpts from my interview with her in my book Drive-in Dream Girls:

While on the Paramount lot, Tompkins tested for a new Elvis Presley musical to be shot on location in Hawaii. Appropriately titled Blue Hawaii (1961), producer Hal Wallis was looking for four actresses to play students on vacation with their attractive chaperone who hire Elvis as a tour guide to show them the islands. “I went on a number of interviews for this,” recalls Darlene. “There were so many girls trying out. It was probably the biggest audition I ever went on. I really hadn’t heard that much rock and roll because I was really into Johnny Mathis so I didn’t know much about Elvis as the other girls had. I treated this interview like any other interview. As I was auditioning everybody was telling me about what Elvis Presley was like. I started to listen to his records and found them to be very exciting. I just got lucky and was cast in a part.”

Darlene Tompkins did not get to meet Elvis until shooting began in Hawaii. Recalling their relationship, Darlene says, “My first reaction was that I thought he was just so handsome. Elvis was also extraordinarily polite with me because I think I was the only girl there that he didn’t date. I felt so sad about that actually. But we just hit it off as friends. We just liked to sit and talk—to my forever regrets!” One of their conversations revolved around potatoes as Elvis confessed that though they were his favorites he didn’t eat them anymore because per Darlene “he didn’t want to gain weight.”

Recalling some of her other co-stars, Tompkins states, “Joan Blackman and Elvis were very close. She was one of his girlfriends and Pamela Austin was the other one. Joan was very quiet and the only one I really didn’t talk to. But she did one thing that interested me. She didn’t want to blink into the camera so she would look—she has the most beautiful pale eyes you ever saw—into the sunlight so she could practice not blinking when looking at the production lights. I tried to copy her but my eyes just watered. Joan was very dedicated and worked hard.

“I didn’t realize how fascinating and wonderful Angela Lansbury was until about two years after finishing this movie,” continues Darlene. “If I had known that then, I would have been sitting there watching her every move because she became my favorite actress. Nancy Walters was great fun to work with and Jenny Maxwell was very flamboyant. She was gunned down on the streets of Los Angeles years later. We all got along greatly. All the actresses were there to do our jobs and that is what we did. We’d have one day off a week and some of us would just go out and tour Hawaii.”

 

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