TALKING ELVIS WITH NANCY CZAR
In honor of the start of Elvis Week in Memphis, below is my interview with former ’60s starlet Nancy Czar who both dated and acted with Elvis.
Pretty blonde Nancy Czar went from champion figure skater to Elvis’ girlfriend to actress all by the time she was twenty. However, unlike many of Presley’s former lovers and co-stars who give interviews and attend Elvis conventions, Nancy Czar (who co-starred in the cult exploitation favorite Wild Guitar and the beach-party-in-the-snow Winter a-Go-Go), has been tight lipped about her relationship with the King until now.
As a member of the U.S. figure skating team the talented Czar was set to compete in the 1961 world championship in Prague, but a fall from a horse not only broke her ankle—it saved her life. The team flew on without her and all tragically perished in a plane crash atBrusselsairport.
While dating Elvis Presley after meeting him in a park, Nancy Czar made her film debut in the cult exploitation movie Wild Guitar (1962) directed by Ray Dennis Steckler a.k.a. Cash Flagg and produced and written Arch Hall, Sr. Czar played Vicki, a dancer working at a café while trying to make it big inHollywood, who meets Bud (Arch Hall, Jr.) described as “a guitar-playing, motorcycle-riding hipster” who comes to town to become a rock ‘n’ roll star. He discovers the pitfalls of show business when he becomes involved with a sleazy record promoter.
After working for Arch Hall, Sr. again in the no-budget comedy What’s Up Front? (1964) about a door-to-door bra salesman, which plays like a nudie film without the nudies, Czar then had small roles in the Elvis Presley musicals Girl Happy (1965) as a girl in a leopard bikini who distracts Gary Crosby from his spying on coed Shelley Fabares and Spinout (1966) as one of singer Elvis Presley’s many groupies. In between, she had a co-starring role in Winter a-Go-Go (1965) giving an amusing performance as a sexy addlebrained blonde nicknamed Jonesy who along with brunette Dee Dee (Julie Parrish) and titan-haired Penny (Linda Rogers) are hired by staid Jeff (William Wellman, Jr.) and playboy Danny (James Stacy) to work at Jeff’s newly inherited ski lodge.
Czar’s last movie role, and her proudest performance, was playing one of psychiatrist Alberta Nelson’s patients in the obscure exploitation film, The Wild Scene (1970). She played Clarette, a rich girl who hated her parents so she married a much older man (Barry Kroeger) who owns a trucking company. Her analyst helps her come to terms with her Lesbianism.
Nancy Czar never followed up The Wild Scene with another movie role because a business offer orchestrated by her father diverted all her attention away from acting andHollywood. She relocated to Seoul,South Korea to start a fashion garment business, which became very successful. And she found time to coach a little girl to become the Korean Figure Skating Champion for four years running. It was at the 1976 Olympics in Innsbruck,Austria where her protégé finished fourth that Nancy met her future husband Sam Bretzfield, founder and owner of International Set, one of the nation’s largest sweater manufacturers.
Today, living in Bangladesh, Nancy Czar Bretzfield is CEO and President of BECO, manufacturer of an array of fashion and household friendly organic, natural fabrics and products from clothing to tote bags.
When did you meet Elvis Presley?
I met Elvis on January 8, 1961 at a touch football game at a park on Beverly Glen opposite Sunset Blvd. The date is ingrained because my seventeenth birthday was four days prior to this. I went to Hollywood High and would hang out with French movie star Michelle Morgan’s son Michael and Gwen Verdon’s son Jim. I always wanted to meet Ricky Nelson so they invited me down to watch. Not only was Ricky playing on their team but so was his brother David Nelson, Clint Eastwood, Troy Donahue, Robert Conrad and Gary Lockwood—all of the upcoming stars of the day. Their opponents were Elvis and his entourage. I was never a fan of Elvis Presley and a bit of a snob towards his music, which I didn’t like. I listened to Ricky Nelson.
How ere you introduced?
I was standing there watching and I guess Elvis noticed me as I wasn’t the typical Hollywood starlet that would hang around. This fat guy came over and said, ‘Elvis would like to meet you.’ I said OK and when I got up close to Elvis he was probably the best looking man I ever saw. Ricky Nelson and those other actors just didn’t exist anymore. That’s the kind of dynamic charisma he had. Elvis then invited me to a party at his house. It turned out to be his birthday party. At that time he was dating a girl named Nancy Sharp who was a wardrobe mistress on his movie Wild in the Country at 20th Century-Fox. Even still, he was quite intrigued with me and invited me for lunch the next day at the studio. That was a bit difficult for me because I was in school but I didn’t want to tell him that. I was able to get away. This is how our relationship started.
How long did your romance with him last?
I had a whole different relationship with Elvis, who was about eight or nine years older than me, than probably nine tenths of the people who walked into this man’s life. We dated for about a year off and on. I was fascinated with Elvis and his lifestyle was interesting to me as I think it would have been for any teenage girl.
I was still growing up when I met Elvis. It matured me very fast. We clashed on a lot of areas because even at my young age I could see the stupidity surrounding him. You are a grown man—are you going to let an eighteen year old girl tell you what to do? I don’t think so—definitely not Elvis.
It must have been quite exciting for a teenage girl to be friendly with Elvis Presley.
It was like hanging out with your high school crew but they were all famous. There wasn’t a person inHollywoodwho didn’t want to be with this man.
But eventually you began a career of your own.
For me it was a natural procession to go from figure skating to dancing and acting. I had already done a few television commercials. My friend Linda Rogers [best remembered as one of Harvey Lembeck’s biker girls in Beach Party, Bikini Beach, and Pajama Party], who is a real trip, and I were the Queens of the Twist. She was absolutely gorgeous and had a face you couldn’t believe. They used to call us to do shows. One of the events that we did was the Jockey’s Ball at the Hollywood Palladium. We wound up on the cover of Confidential magazine with Willie Shoemaker doing the Twist.
I met Linda Rogers when I was dating Elvis. I told how beautiful she was. I introduced Linda to Elvis when she accompanied me to visit him on location when his was filming Kid Galahad. They had a little go-around before she appeared with him in Tickle Me a few years later. We later worked together in Winter a-Go-Go.
Do you agree that Ann-Margret was Elvis’s favorite co-star?
Yes, and I predicted the pairing a few years prior. I went to a screening of the movie State Fair in 1962. The big stars of it were Pat Boone and Bobby Darin, but this unknown redhead blew me away in this wild dance scene. She was totally unbelievable. I was at Elvis’ house for dinner and all the boys were sitting around the table. I said, ‘You know E I got a girl that I saw the other night at a screening who could be the female Elvis. Her name is Ann-Margret. She should be your next leading lady.’ And sure enough a few films later it happened. Up to that point I had never seen anyone like her.
Why did Elvis surround himself with his entourage on all his movie sets?
The reason was to keep Elvis from getting bored. He needed to do something between takes because he could not sit still. He had to constantly move but looking back that is probably from the uppers and downers he was prescribed. When I did Girl Happy he was into playing football with the crew. By the time I did the next movie Spinout with him a year later, he was into karate.
What is one surprising thing you can reveal about Elvis?
Elvis was so terribly polite all the time but he had a temper that you could not believe. I was with him a few times when he would throw something at the TV and walk out of the room in a huff. On the flip side, Elvis was a generous human being. It is well known that he would buy cars for people but if there was a friend who really needed something Elvis would send the money to help him out no questions asked.
What did you think of Col. Parker?
I never liked Col. Parker who to me just used Elvis as his meal ticket. A lot of people would say that Elvis did exactly what he wanted to do. Yes, he did probably later on in his life, but when I was around him if Col. Parker said, ‘Jump’ Elvis would say, ‘How high?’ Elvis would defy the Colonel on certain issues, but when it came to bigger decisions he deferred to the Colonel. Elvis hated doing those movies because they were the same old travelogues with different pretty girls. As long as Elvis got $1 million and his 10% of the box office receipts that is all the Colonel gave a damn about. He never read a script.
You only have minor roles in the two movies (Girl Happy and Spinout) you did with Elvis. Why were you not cast in bigger parts? Do you think if you asked Elvis for a bigger role in one of his movies he would have pushed for you?
Those were the parts I was up for and those are the ones I got. I never asked him for larger roles because I wasn’t using my friendship with Elvis to push my movie career—not my MO. Although, I’m sure if I asked, he would have helped.
Do you think Elvis performing in Las Vegas was a good thing for him?
No, it was a death sentence. Early on when you see pictures or film of him there he looked incredible and he was incredible. Even though I knew this man for years and worked with him on two movies, the first time I saw him perform live in concert was at the International Hotel in Las Vegas. My socks were blown off. He was phenomenal. For Elvis to get up to put on a show like that once but sometimes twice a night must have been exhausting. Keeping up that pace coupled with his horrible eating habits took at toll on him. Nobody really monitored him. The Colonel was raking in the money so all he cared about was getting that check every week and a cut of the house to pay his gambling debts.
Is Elvis still in your life today?
One of the great things about Elvis was that he would always say, ‘When I die I wonder if people will remember me?’ That is a direct quote from him and has to be the understatement of the century. I just sat there and looked at him and said, ‘You have got to be kidding.’ I have been living inBangladeshand despite of all my accomplishments here I am known more for dating and working with Elvis Presley. Even in this poor rural country, Elvis lives. You don’t know how many people want to meet me just because I knew him. I still can’t get that through my head. When I am introduced to ambassadors of other countries, they say, ‘She was not only our Consult-General, but she was Elvis’ girlfriend.’ It amazes me is the interest Elvis is still generating. He is still bigger than life and probably the most famous person who ever lived.
©Tom Lisanti, 2012