This is a post from back in 2009. It mentions the research I used to do in creating every new post. That was very time consuming, so these repeats are a nice break for me. Also, I didn’t get any angry comments before about the language in one of Elvis’ quotes. But you can skip this post if hearing him swearing will upset you.
Do you folks know about the South African self-described doctor who threatened to blackmail Elvis, and who had his plans thwarted by the FBI. I hadn’t heard about it until I was doing research for a story idea and came across a very bizarre tale.
My research was prompted by a realization that next year we will experience 50th anniversary celebrations of many of major events in Elvis’ life. 1960 was full of them: Elvis’ homecoming from the Army; his first recording session after returning; appearing on the Frank Sinatra TV show; his first movie role since coming back; etc. I read more about them in the wonderful book Elvis: Day By Day, by Peter Guralnick and Ernst Jorgensen, which chronicles everything of importance in Elvis’ life. Then I realized we did not celebrate the 50th anniversary of any Elvis event during 2009, because Elvis spent all of 1959 in the Army.
Certainly, he put his career on hold that year, but life was never dull for Elvis. Something must have happened. I decided to go back exactly fifty years and find out what went on in Elvis’ life in November 1959. If it was interesting, I’d write about it. Boy, was it interesting.
The story began in October when Elvis saw a magazine advertisement for weekly herbal skin treatments available in Germany, where he was stationed. The treatments were offered by a South African, Dr. Laurenz Griessel-Landau, and he hyped them as his miraculous method for reducing enlarged pores and acne.
Even at age twenty-four, Elvis still experienced the lingering effects of his well-known teenage pimple problems. Famous photographer Al Wertheimer once noted that a German magazine licensed some of his 1956 Elvis photos, but chose to air-brush out the pimples on Elvis’ back.
Photo showing pimple on Elvis’ chest
Elvis liked the sound of the skin treatments and had his secretary contact Dr. Griessel-Landau. Elvis received an immediate reply, a ten-page letter from the doctor who said he would be delighted to treat Elvis. In fact, it would cost nothing except the doctor’s expenses, unless it worked to Elvis’ satisfaction.
For the next few weeks Elvis went on maneuvers, so the herbal skin treatments didn’t begin until November. They lasted for two hours each, several times a week, and they took place in Elvis’ bedroom in his off-base home. The applications were applied to Elvis’ face and back. Elvis was positive he could see results, which he displayed to family and friends. However, no one else could recognize any change.
Elvis in front of his home in Bad Nauheim, Germany with fans
Inside the house with his father and grandmother
After about a month, the skin therapy sessions abruptly ended. It seems the good doctor got kind of carried away while he applied the treatments to Elvis’ body. Elvis accused him of making sexual advances. Think about it. We don’t know if Dr. Griessel-Landau was gay or not, but he certainly had maneuvered himself into an enviable position if he was. He was rubbing lotion on the body of the most handsome guy in the world (Carl Perkins’ words, not mine).
According to Guralnick’s other excellent book, Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley, “Elvis emerged from a session with Dr. Landau in his bedroom with a look of horror on his face. The sonofabitch was queer he told Lamar and Rex, and he was going to kill the fucking sonofabitch. Landau was hustled out of the house right away, if only to keep Elvis from actually following through.”
Elvis’ reaction must have enraged the doctor, because he reappeared that night with a letter threatening to blackmail Elvis because of “a sixteen-year-old underage girl” he knew Elvis had been seeing. Uh, oh. It wasn’t very smart to challenge Elvis, especially about his special friend Priscilla, who was actually only fourteen at that time. This was practically a declaration of war, and Elvis came out with his guns blazing.
First, he went to the Army’s Provost Marshal Division. Good move. Get the Army’s legal boys involved. They probably jumped at the chance to go after a foreign slimeball trying to blackmail Elvis Presley. In fact, they even brought in more reinforcements: the FBI. The real heavy guns. It was time to teach this creep it doesn’t pay to mess with “the King.”
Well, the FBI quickly determined Dr. Griessel-Landau wasn’t a real doctor. He must have seen that things weren’t going too well, so he wrote another letter to Elvis saying he had decided not to take action against the singer. We can assume Elvis’ attitude was, “Too little, too late. You’re not getting off that easy.”
The FBI continued to put big-time pressure on Dr. Griessel-Landau, and soon the phony doctor flew to London and was never heard from again.
So, things worked out well for Elvis… except he still had pimples.