In the ElvisBlog article two weeks ago, I stated “spring 1967 may well have been the happiest period of his (Elvis’) life.” Last week, I ended the article by saying it could be argued that his three straight weeks at the Circle G Ranch that April was the happiest time of his life.
To see how a true Elvis historian might judge the happiest times in Elvis’ life, I contacted Alan Hanson, the man behind the Elvis-History-Blog. He agreed that Elvis’ early Circle G experience was right up there, but he offered one other very happy time as well.
“As for an equally happy time in Elvis’ life, my first thought was the summer of 1969, when he returned to live shows in Las Vegas. The challenge of rehearsals, followed by his triumphant shows, which were acclaimed by his fans, his fellow celebrities, and critics, by all accounts made him extremely happy.”
Alan makes some good points. Now, it’s time to present the argument for the Circle G Ranch.
Elvis’ two long interrupted periods at the ranch were in February (including the first four days of March) and April, 1967. He probably also spent two other short periods at Circle G in March, interrupted by time in Hollywood for the filming of Clambake. February was fun for Elvis because he bought horses for himself, Priscilla, Vernon, and most of the Memphis Mafia. He also bought pick-up trucks for everybody, tractors and other farm equipment, those nine house trailers, and made repairs to the stables and had a bridge built over the lake.
It has been estimated that all this, plus the cost of the ranch, came to almost a million dollars. Elvis’ father Vernon, who looked over his son’s finances, was afraid Elvis’ spending on the ranch would bankrupt him. Vernon went to Col. Parker for advice, and he received a very prophetic answer that Elvis would soon tire of his new plaything.
As George Klein said in his book Elvis – My Best Man, “In becoming a ranch owner and turning the Memphis Mafia into a bunch of ranch hands, Elvis had given himself a tremendous challenge, which he threw himself into fully. Making plans for the ranch, Elvis seemed more energetic and in charge than he had in a long time.”
And Joe Esposito said on his TCB Joe website, “So Elvis cast himself in the role of ranch foreman. He no longer looked like a famous singer and movie star. Wearing a cowboy hat and sheepskin jacket and sitting tall in the saddle, he was a dead ringer for the Marlboro man. Every morning he saddled Rising Sun and rode out to issue instructions to the contractor on how to do things and where everything should go.”
Elvis planned and oversaw the placement of the house trailers down by the lake, as well as the work to bring electricity, water and sewage to the site. So, February 1967 was a time of buying and giving and planning and building. Of course, Elvis combined that with riding horses, so he was certainly a happy man.
When Elvis arrived back from Hollywood in early April, the Circle G ranch was now set up and operating the way he wanted. So, April 1967 was when Elvis got to live his dream and share it with his buddies, especially those who received house trailers from him. Let’s take a look at some quotations by people who were there during this special time.
“What seemed like a new life had begun. I look back at those weeks as a remarkable lull in the middle of a storm. Elvis was between pictures. I’ve never seen him so ‘free’. He was having fun… He liked it when everyone was together, and he got upset when they wanted to leave… It wasn’t unusual to see him walking around the property, knocking on doors, waking everyone up, or checking on the horses in the early morning hours. He was having a ball, and there were days he didn’t even want to take time out to eat… On Sundays we had picnics, and all the girls chipped in on potluck. We rode horses, held skeet shooting contests, and combed the lake for turtles and snakes. There was fun, laughter, and a lot of camaraderie… It was almost like a commune effect.”
“Elvis may have been having trouble steering his career the way he wanted it to go, but now he had a place where he could live the way he wanted to, surrounded by the people he wanted around him, far from the call of Hollywood or the influence of the Colonel, or even the needs of the fans at the Graceland gates.”
“One of the fun times on the ranch was when it snowed, and they took the tractors and sleds and drove around and tore them up. One night one of the cows had a calf, and they were so excited and everyone had to go see the calf. When one of the horses had a colt, you would have thought [it was] royalty.”
“That was where we had an awful lot of fun. And Elvis loved to get out. He’d wear a big old jacket, a western jacket and his cowboy hat, you know. They would ride horses all over the property. Picnics were frequent. The girls all got along pretty good.
“It was really beautiful at first. Sandy and I had a little trailer in front of the lake… You’d wake up in the morning, the horses would be drinking out of the lake; Elvis and Priscilla would ride over, and we’d go for a ride, then have breakfast.
“It was like we were all just friends. They spent a lot of time by themselves, and when they came over it was just like neighbors dropping by. We’d go out riding and maybe have a little picnic, and it was as if things had kind of calmed down for a little while.”
“On weekends, we threw giant barbecues. The wives prepared all the food, except for the meat, which I cooked on an open grill. We had great times. Elvis felt very comfortable in his own little ranch world and usually hated being torn from it.”
Obviously, views like this helped Elvis feel comfortable in his own little ranch world. The land beyond the edge of the lake is where Elvis had the house trailers installed. In the bottom left of the picture is a small part of the bridge Elvis had built over the lake. You can see the bridge on this aerial view.
Another arrow marks a seventy-five foot lighted cross erected by the previous owner of the ranch, Jack Adams. He was one of the biggest used-aircraft salesmen in the world, and he installed the cross to be a highly visible landmark when he flew over the ranch at night. (An alternate story says the cross was honor his daughter who drowned in the lake.) Elvis noticed the cross from the main road while on a horse buying trip, and within twenty-four hours he had purchased the ranch, including a herd of Gertrudis cattle and all the furnishings in the ranch house. That house is barely visible at the top left, the second structure in from the corner. Much more visible are the red roofs of the stables and storage building.
There is some confusion about which Elvis buddies had trailers along the lake. They were primarily for married couples. There is no doubt this included Jerry Schilling and his wife Sandy, and Elvis’ cousin Billy Smith and his wife Jo. Both wives were nearly the same age as Priscilla, and they all spent a lot of time together. Richard Davis, Red West, Joe Esposito, and Mike McGregor were probably beneficiaries of Elvis’ trailer generosity. Some reports even say that one trailer was for Elvis’ grandmother Minnie Mae, but no references about her actually staying in it have surfaced. No matter who occupied the trailers, here are three photos showing what the views out their front windows looked like.
Let’s close with another quote from Priscilla. “I loved cooking his eggs and frying his bacon. I even loved doing laundry. We shared a new intimacy. After breakfast we’d saddle up our horses and ride them through the hills. Sometimes he’d ride alone. I remember one day I happened to look out of the window. It was twilight. The sky was aglow in misty blue and radiant pink. There was Elvis walking Rising Sun, his Golden Palomino.”
“I saw them as silhouettes against the darkening sky. Elvis was walking slowly; I could practically hear him breathe. His breath was easy, his body relaxed. At that moment I was convinced my husband had actually found peace.”
Well, are you convinced that spring 1967, and especially that three week period in April, was the happiest time of Elvis’ life? I am.
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