When I discovered the website www.humeshighclassof53.com, I knew there was enough material there for several ElvisBlog articles. It had been created for the Humes High class of ’53 prior to their 50th reunion in 2003. Classmates were contacted to send in memories of their high school years. These were posted on the site, and about half of these memories included some mention of Elvis.
As I went through all the memories to extract the Elvis comments, I was surprised to see that George Klein made no real mention of Elvis, just a reference to him in describing a TV project Klein had recently worked on. I was not absolutely clear on all the details of Klein’s connection with Elvis, but I was sure it went from their high school years to Elvis’ death. So why no memories of Elvis in his piece on the class website?
Here is what Klein did say:
“My years at Humes were the golden years of my life. Being elected president of the senior class was a great honor I still cherish. Mrs. Louchrie, the speech teacher, put me on the road to my dream. My experience as editor of the Humes newspaper and yearbook helped me immensely. Working in the radio booth at WHHM at Humes football games got my foot in the door for my radio career. I could almost write a short book about my life at Humes.
“Whenever I see Coach Boyce’s wife, I think of coach Boyce and all those glory days in football. I often see Tommy Young and L.D. Ledbetter and we flashback to the good old days at Humes. I return to my old neighborhood from time to time when I am filming some footage on Elvis – last time was two summers ago for Belium TV. It’s so sad to see the area run down, but the old school is still standing, and we need to keep it there for history’s sake. Rock on Humes Hi.”
I found Klein’s memories rather strange. While most folks told interesting little stories of their time in high school, Klein used the occasion to review his many accomplishments — class president, newspaper and yearbook editor, football broadcasting team. To his credit, he did it in a skillful way that didn’t seem like bragging.
Although it bothered me that Klein did not tell of any Elvis memories, I knew there was a way to find out what connection they had in high school – get a copy of Klein’s book “Elvis: My Best Man.”
Within the first few pages of the book, it was obvious that George Klein and Elvis Presley had very little contact in high school. When it really started for them was July 1954 when Elvis recorded his first record and Klein was an up-and-coming disc jockey.
However, Klein’s book did shed some insight on Elvis the teenager, starting with the only Klein memory where he talked about Elvis and him being together.
“When the Mid-South Fair came to the Memphis Fairgrounds in 1950, a few buddies and I figured out that there was a spot behind some carnival tents where you could climb a cyclone fence to sneak in and save yourself the fifty-cent admission charge. One night, I was halfway up the fence when I felt something give it a shake. I looked to my left and there was Elvis, halfway up his section of fence and just as happy to be saving his fifty cents.”
That Fairgrounds experience occurred in ninth or tenth grade and wasn’t the beginning of a tight friendship between the two.
“I scarcely got to know him until the tenth or eleventh grade. I think he felt more at ease with teachers than with kids.”
Klein also had three general observations about Elvis that could have been made without any interaction between the two.
“Elvis wasn’t quite as handsome in those years as he would become – he hadn’t quite grown into his looks yet. So, most Humes girls weren’t sure what to make of this very different classmate.”
“In his senior year at Humes, Elvis had worked as an usher at the Loews State movie theater in downtown Memphis. In that position he had the chance to watch the movies that played there over and over, and he became a real student of film. He watched James Dean, Montgomery Clift and Marlon Brando and saw how they moved and spoke and got the greatest impact with the littlest gestures. He paid enough attention to pick up an intuitive knowledge of the medium that would later surprise the Hollywood folks when Elvis started making his own movies.”
“But, when Elvis wasn’t watching the big screen, he apparently spent a lot of time watching a very pretty girl who worked behind the candy counter – a girl who responded to Elvis’ attention by giving him free candy. When another, jealous usher reported the candy giveaways to the theater manager, Elvis and that usher ended up in a fist fight, and Elvis was promptly fired by the manager.”
And finally, Klein recounted a great story about Elvis and another classmate who would someday become part of Elvis’ inner circle.
“Elvis had let his hair grow out and had it combed back high. And he had those sideburns… Some of the guys at Humes felt that someone so different deserved to be given a hard time. One day he was cornered in a Humes bathroom by a tough group who brandished a pair of scissors and said they were going to cut off his hair. He tried to fight them off, but his pompadour was only saved when one of the strongest, most fearless guys at Humes, Red West, happened to walk into that bathroom and saw what was going on. Red told the would-be barbers that if they wanted to cut Elvis’ hair they’d have to cut his first, and that was the end of that.”
One more thing about George Klein’s book, “Elvis: My Best Man.” After reading the few pages about the Humes High School days, I found I couldn’t put the book down. Klein and Elvis became very close friends and had many adventures together over the years. It gave me a greater insight into some events I knew about generally, and it introduced me to many others I had no idea about.
I notice that Amazon gives “Elvis: My Best Man” four-and-one-half stars. I give it five. If you have limited money to spend on books about Elvis and don’t know which of the zillions of Elvis books to buy, let me recommend this one. It is not a tell-all, not an effort to cash in on Elvis. George Klein was true friend, and he wrote a terrific book, even if it doesn’t contain many high school memories.
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