(WRITER’S NOTE: Last year, I started writing “Never Been to Graceland.” First as a script, then as a short novel, now again as a script. I wanted to share with everyone the first, completely unedited chapter, of Never Been to Graceland, the story, to show the direction this new film project of mine is going.
“Never Been to Graceland” is a story about five characters – Larry, Amy, Bryan, Michael and AJ, people of different generations whose their lives become unexpectedly intertwined when a long-lost Elvis Presley movie is supposedly found. “Never Been to Graceland” is a story that will hopefully be unique among King-of-Rock-related tales in the way it treats not only its audience, who have had more than enough winks, nods, “hunka hunkas” and “uh huh huh’s”, but its characters, who are just people who happen to like Elvis.
These are characters that represent those who were around when Elvis was in his prime, those who were just children when he passed, those who were born in the midst of the post-death craze, those who grew up during the “it’s cool to hate Elvis” phase of American culture, and the current and future generations of potential fans who struggle to even “get” Elvis in the midst of so many differing opinions and points of view.)
Larry Belasco had stage fright.
Not a common feeling for a man who spent the best years of his life working both behind and in front of the camera. Then again, in those situations, some 40-odd years ago, he had a bit more control. A bit more say-so in the placement of the lights, angle of the camera, what was said. What was said.
Larry shivered a bit just thinking about what might be said. This was big news. Becky had been up with him almost all night trying to talk him out of it one last time, but once he’d made up his mind, he knew he had to follow through. Not just for his sake, but he also wondered if she had ulterior motives. Selling the reels after inheriting them would probably bring her a hell of a lot more cash than what he had planned. He loved his daughter dearly, but she was too much like her mother
He ran a shaky hand over his hair, which was still as long as it had been in his youth, but more silvery now than chestnut. The balding news producer was in the corner chatting with one of the suited-up, hair-tightly-coiffed anchors while his fairly attractive assistant flitted around, checking on the rest of the crew.
Larry eyed her with fascination. She had to be what? 21? 22? Just a kid, he realized. But damned if he wouldn’t have taken her for a spin if it were still the summer of ’67 – the summer of love, when he was her age. But alas, it wasn’t ’67 and now HE was 67. Didn’t seem right.
The assistant made her rounds and finally made it back to him.
“Need anything? Cup of coffee?” she asked. Larry shook his head.
“Maybe just a bottle of water?”
“Sure thing!” she replied happily, then before leaving leaned in a bit closer and in a hushed voice said, “This is so cool. Really it is, Mr. Belasco. Jim won’t say it, but thanks for this exclusive! It means a lot to us.”
Larry just smiled and nodded. She trotted off back into the control room while the news producer and the anchor started to make their way toward the table by which Larry sat. Larry sat up in his chair as they approached. The anchor extended his hand and Larry shook it.
“Mr. Belasco!” the producer – Jim, was it? – exclaimed, “This is Jeff Olson, our lead anchor. He’ll be interviewing you. You’ve gotten a chance to read over the questions and start thinking about some answers already, right?”
“Yes, I have, thanks,” Larry answered politely.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Belasco,” Jeff greeted, “I did a little research before coming in today. I’ve gotta say, you’re a brave fellow. There’s going to be some strange responses to this story coming to you.”
“Yes, I know. But it helps that it’s real,” Larry replied. The anchor and the producer laughed and Larry give a little chuckle to satisfy them, but it wasn’t a joke. He did know.
Every time someone came out with a story like this, they usually got great media attention for a few days, then a rebuttal from the estate, and then the creeps started coming out of the woodwork. Another reason why Becky had tried to talk him out of it, and he had to admit it was the main reason he’d avoided the situation for decades.
You had the wackos, who claimed their supposed illegitimacy was valid and that they deserved what wasn’t theirs to begin with, the attention-seeking phonies wanting to ride the story for their 15 minutes of fame, the fanatical, almost delusional followers who would treat it like a Holy Grail, the actually delusional conspiracy theorists would probably threaten Larry’s life for holding it for so long, and the worst ones of all, the collectors. Nothing worse than someone who would make an offer so big Larry couldn’t refuse, only for them to keep it for themselves, as Larry had all these years.
Larry didn’t want the fame. He didn’t want the notoriety. He didn’t even want the money. He just wanted to do right by a guy who’d sat on the trunk of his car and talked about life and legacies till four in the morning.
“You’re lucky, kid,” he had told Larry at the time, “you still have a chance to be a nobody.”
Larry laughed a little inside as he glanced up one last time. The whole world seemed to move in slow motion as the camera crew got in place, the teleprompter came to life, the makeup lady touched up Jeff’s face and the whole television studio, buzzing just moments before, became almost deathly silent except the hum of the equipment. A bottle of water appeared before Larry’s face and he glanced up at the pretty assistant.
“Here you go, Mr. Belasco!” She said happily. “Break a leg!”
Larry took the bottle of water, glugged a swig down and cleared his throat for what was, unfortunately, probably going to be the most significant moment of his life, at least in the eyes of the general public. More than Becky being born, more than all his other works, more than all his accomplishments… there was no escaping it, even after 45 years of trying to.
Nobody who ever knew Elvis Presley ever stayed a nobody.