Monthly Archives: October 2005

JIMMY VELVET: ELVIS FAN, FRIEND, AND COLLECTOR

At one time, it was said Jimmy Velvet had the largest Elvis memorabilia collection in the world.  He’s had plenty of highs and lows in his life, and his twenty-year friendship with Elvis has been the catalyst for some of both. 

 

Jimmy Velvet was a fifteen-year old high school student in Jacksonville, Florida when he met Elvis in 1955.  His substitute English teacher was Mae Axton (who went on to write “Heartbreak Hotel”), and she was also a show promoter.  One of the shows she booked was the Hank Snow Country Jamboree, and at the bottom of the bill was a little known singer named Elvis Presley.  Velvet was a rising local entertainer, so Axton brought the young man back stage to meet Elvis.

 

Jimmy Velvet and Elvis became friends.  Over the years, Velvet made numerous visits to Graceland, movie locations, and even recording sessions in Nashville.  He had a moderately successful singing career with regional hits like “We Belong Together” and “It’s Almost Tomorrow.”  He also became a diligent collector of Elvis memorabilia, one highlight being a 1965 Mercedes 600 limo that Elvis gave him.

 

After Elvis’ death in 1977, Vernon Presley gave Velvet the OK to create The Elvis Museum across the street from Graceland.  Later, he opened another museum in Kissimmee, Florida, near Walt Disney World.  For years, Velvet toured the country and a lot of the world with his traveling Legends Hall of Fame.

 

The most memorable purchase for his museums was the 85-foot long Elvis-A-Rama mural.  It had been created in 1979 by songwriter Mitchell Torok (remember his 1959 hit “Caribbean”?), and it was on display in Nashville, TN and Branson, MO for 18 years.  The name had been trademarked well before EPE embarked on its famous quest to combat the use of their Elvis and Elvis Presley trademarks in anyone else’s profit making ventures.

 

Jimmy Velvet had other business interests, and one of them went sour in the mid- 90’s.  He was forced to put up much of his Elvis memorabilia at auction.  Chris Davidson bought his first Elvis goodies at a Velvet auction in 1994, and in 1998 he purchased the Elvis-A-Rama mural and its trademarked name from Velvet.

 

One year later, Davidson opened his Las Vegas Elvis museum, using the trademark Elvis-A-Rama as its name.  If EPE didn’t like that, there wasn’t much they could do about it.  As it turned out, there was one thing.  They bought the Elvis-A-Rama Museum two months ago and announced it would close next year.

 

Jimmy Velvet still owns a small portion of his Elvis collection.  I won’t be surprised if we hear from him again.

© 2005   Philip R Arnold

TWO ELVIS COLLECTOR SUPERSTARS

If there were an Elvis Collectors Hall Of Fame, Chris Davidson and Jimmy Velvet would be charter members.  Davidson was mentioned prominently in the recent news reports about his sale of the Elvis-A-Rama Museum to Robert Sillerman’s SKX Inc.  We can be sure he pocketed a nice chunk of change when he sold his six-year old Las Vegas museum to the new powers behind Elvis Presley Enterprises.  Jimmy Velvet also figures prominently in the history of Elvis-A Rama and its namesake exhibit.

 

Extensive internet searches have not produced as much history on Chris Davidson as I would have expected.  The best source was a 35-minute audio interview at www.ladyluckmusic.com/radio/interviews/elvisarama.  If you already have Real Player on your computer, you might want to check out the interview.  However, I had to down load Real Player before I could listen, and now I’m getting pop-ups coaxing me to upgrade to their premium service.  I hate pop-ups.

 

Chris Davidson became an Elvis fan at an early age.  He was only seven when he bought his first Elvis album, and he was only ten when he talked his father into taking him to a 1975 Elvis concert at the Las Vegas Hilton.  Collecting Elvis started much later, after Davidson’s business career put him in a position to afford it.

 

His success in an auto body/detailing business he started at 19 must have paid off well and facilitated an interest in powerboats.  At least that would explain his move to the publishing business, where he is now the Editor of Hot Boat Magazine.  Davison’s interest in collecting started with baseball cards, and it was at a baseball card show in 1993 when he purchased his first Elvis autograph. 

 

The next year he attended an auction of Elvis memorabilia presented by Jimmy Velvet at the Las Vegas Hilton and was amazed at how many Elvis things you could buy.  Davidson left with two checks signed by Elvis and a 1955 letter from Elvis’ manager at the time, Bob Neal, regarding Colonel Parker taking over Elvis’ career.  Those purchases launched a new hobby that turned into an obsession, and finally evolved into a quest to create a spectacular Elvis experience.

 

The last big step toward this occurred in 1998 when Davidson purchased the huge Elvis-A-Rama interactive mural.  We’ll cover the history of the mural and the significance of its name in a later article.  And, of course, we’ll talk about Jimmy Velvet, the man who sold it to Davidson.  He has an interesting story, too, but I hope I don’t have to download anything else to dig up all the facts on him.

© 2005  Philip R Arnold

EXCLUSIVE… ELVIS — THE UNTOLD STORY

I recently had the good fortune to acquire the modest collection of a deceased Elvis fan.  In addition to a few books, old magazines, and snapshots of Elvis in concert in Ashville, NC, there were 19 supermarket tabloids from 1977 and 1978, all with delightful cover stories about Elvis.  I’m going to have such a ball reading them.

 

There was one big prize: the famous September 6, 1977 issue of the National Enquirer, with its cover photo of Elvis in his open casket – and the headline you see above. There has been lots of speculation about the National Enquirer coffin issue, but here are some facts.

 

Iain Calder, veteran Editorial Director of the magazine, wrote a book, The Untold Story: My 20 Years Running the National Enquirer.  In it, Calder admits they got the photo from a cousin of Elvis for $18,000.  Basically, they bribed him to sneak a camera into Graceland and snap the picture of Elvis’ corpse.  It became the most famous cover picture in their history, and the return from this investment has reaped National Enquire over 1000% profit so far.

 

According to an article by Lea Frydman on www.elvispresleynews.com, “The National Enquire’s Elvis in his Coffin issue is the most sought after copy of any in the history of magazine publishing… to the tune of 35,000 requests per month.  So, when NE went color in 1989, it meant they did not have to leave the black/white printing press idle. “  To this day, they use it to print all these Elvis back copies the fans want.  How’s that for a nice side business?

 

The same source says the Elvis in his casket photo also appeared on the  cover of the magazine’s August 16, 1978 issue, the one year anniversary of Elvis’ death.  I don’t have a copy to confirm this, but if I ever get the chance to buy one, I will.

 

So, what is the National Enquirer’s untold story?  They say Elvis predicted his own death, that he would die at the same age his mother, Gladys, did.  I’m inclined to consider everything in National Enquirer as fiction, but Gladys died on August 14 at age 42, and Elvis died on August 16 at age 42.  Maybe the National Enquirer was on to something.

© 2005  Philip R Arnold

HOW DID I EVER MISS ELVIS-A-RAMA?

My credentials as an Elvis fan have taken a severe blow.  I’ve been to Las Vegas four times since the Elvis-A-Rama museum opened in 1999, and I’ve never been to see it.  Now it’s going to close, maybe before I can correct my mistake.

 

In fairness, these trips to Vegas were all on business.  My employer puts on a huge annual trade show at the Paris Hotel, and the schedule of mandatory events and meetings each year is killer.  But, if I had really wanted to see Elvis-A-Rama badly enough, I could have skipped dinner with a vendor or spent a little less time at the slots in the hotel.

 

To be honest, I believe the reason I didn’t visit Elvis-A-Rama was because the name made me think it was just some tacky little tourist trap.  However, the research for last week’s Elvisblog article produced a startling revelation – this is a large, high-quality exhibit not to be missed by Elvis fans.  Here’s what I found on the internet about Elvis-A-Rama.

 

It was named one of the “Top 3 Attractions” in Las Vegas by The Travel Channel and was voted “The Best Museum” in the city by the Las Vegas Review Journal.  Elvis-A-Rama has been on the cover of USA Today, People, and Forbes magazines.

 

It contains over 2000 artifacts valued at over $6 million.  Some of the key exhibits are:

            Elvis’ 8-passenger 1955 Cadillac Fleetwood limo

            The “Peacock” and “Cisco Kid” jumpsuits

            A pair of blue suede shoes autographed by Elvis and

                   valued at $1 million

            The famous gold lame’ suit

            Elvis’ 1962 Glastron powerboat

            A 1975 purple Lincoln Mark IV

            Every commercially released 45, EP and LP ever recorded

                    by Elvis

 

In addition there are guitars, a piano, handwritten lyrics, personal clothes, outfits from the movies, furniture, army stuff, various papers, and lots more.

 

Here is some history about Elvis-A-Rama, that name I didn’t like.  It comes from the largest display, a magnificent 10-foot tall, 85-foot long mural that celebrates Elvis’ life and career.  It incorporates Elvis’ music, synchronized to clips of his television appearances, scenes from his movies, and concert footage.  It also contains a signature board with thousands of personal notes to Elvis, many of them by famous celebrities.

 

Now I get it.  Elvis-A-Rama is a perfect name for this spectacular mural.  The reason why this name was used for the museum itself is an interesting story.  Also intriguing are Chris Davidson, who sold the museum, and Jimmy Velvet, the man who sold him the mural and many other goodies.  More on all this in future articles.

 

© 2005  Philip R Arnold

SAY GOOD BYE TO ELVIS-A-RAMA

If you plan to go to Las Vegas during the next few months, be sure to take in ELVIS-A-RAMA.  It will be the last opportunity to see this substantial collection of Elvis goodies.

 

A news release this week announced the sale of ELVIS-A-RAMA to CKX Inc., who plan to close it and retire the name.  In case CKX doesn’t ring a bell, it is the company run by media genius Robert F X Sillerman, who purchased 85% of Elvis Presley Enterprises from Lisa Marie earlier this year.

 

Mr. Sillerman also announced his intention to place a world-class Elvis-themed attraction on the Las Vegas strip within a few years.  This is very exciting news.  When all the memorabilia from ELVIS-A-RAMA is added to the huge collection at Graceland, this combined inventory could be sufficient to stock the Las Vegas facility on a rotating basis.  Think about it.  Maybe someday we’ll be able take yearly trips to Vegas and see a new Elvis exhibit every time.  My wife would gladly sit alone at the slots for four hours while I do my annual “Elvis thing”.

 

Mr. Sillerman has previously expressed his interest in establishing Elvis as a worldwide marketing brand.  So, it’s pretty obvious what might follow if the operation in Las Vegas is successful: Graceland-Lite attractions in Tokyo, Toronto, and the great capitals of Europe.  And all getting their chance to exhibit the marvelous rotating Elvis memorabilia shows.  Sort of like how Hard-Rock Café has done it, except hopefully all the Elvis displays will be mounted down low enough you can actually see them.

 

So, as we say good-bye to ELVIS-A-RAMA, we can look forward to saying hello to some exciting new Elvis attractions.

 

Elvisblog contained another article on Robert Sillerman and CKX Inc. back in March.  At that time, the company’s stock (ticker symbol CKXE) was selling at $26.73.  It is now $12.57.  My record at picking stocks is pretty bad, but it sure seems like now would be a good time to buy CKX Inc.  Elvis and CKX are going to be big winners.

 

© 2005  Philip R Arnold