Tag Archives: Humes High

Memories of Elvis — By His High School Classmates, Part 5

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.”

Humes Class of ’53 Officers — George Klein — Top Center

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.”

Red West and Elvis in 1958

 

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.

 

©  2012    Philip R Arnold, Original Elvis Blogmeister    All Rights Reserved    www.ElvisBlog.net

 

 

Elvis, Elvis Presley, and Graceland are registered trademarks of Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc.

 

Memories of Elvis — By His High School Classmates, Part 4

When I did the third installment of high school memories of Elvis, I thought it was finished.  However, I recently discovered an article in a 1989 issue of Elvis International magazine titled “Memories of Elvis.”   It was written by a former Humes High School student named Earl Green.  Research indicates he was not in Elvis’ 1953 graduating class, perhaps a year ahead, but he did live in Lauderdale Courts and seems to have known Elvis pretty well.  Here is what he remembered.

As a student at L.C. Humes High school in Memphis, Elvis Presley was very nervous and shy at first.  When he first reported to school he admitted, “The hair on my head felt like it was standing straight up.”

He was a tall handsome boy with long sideburns (which he said he grew to make himself look older).  He also suffered from acne, the skin inflammation that is so often a difficulty for teenagers.  He had a healthy appetite for girls and enjoyed dating, and girls liked being his date.

Rosemary Barracco at Class Swim Party the Day Before Graduation

 

He was a member of R.O.T.C., a required course in Memphis city schools.  It was one of his favorite subjects and he wore his uniform proudly, unaware at the time that in a few years he would be wearing a very similar uniform… that of the U.S. Army.

 

Elvis tried out for and made the football team, the Humes High Tigers.  He played end for one season but didn’t play in many games and he never scored a touchdown.  It was said that the coach told him to cut his long hair, so he dropped football.

 

 

While other guys at Humes wore plain colored or plaid shirts, Elvis often wore loud shirts.  He came to school one day wearing a purple, satin shirt.  “They’re snickering at me,” he said.  “They don’t like it.”

“You like it, don’t you?” I said.  “That’s all that counts.”

Elvis was very shy in school at first, and when it came to music, he was even more shy.  Occasionally, he would bring his guitar to school and sit in home room strumming it before classes started.  Students would gather around him and ask him to sing, but he usually refused because he had a severe case of stage fright.  He seemed to want to run away and yet he wanted to stay and see it through.  On one occasion, after much coaxing from the students, Elvis finally sang a few bars of a country and western song interspersed with a few shy chuckles.  You could feel the magnetism of the singer’s personality as students gathered around him to listen.

At one time during his Humes High days, Elvis lived in a federally funded housing project, Lauderdale Courts, in a ground-floor apartment at 185 Winchester Street.  My family lived at the same address on the third floor.  Elvis’ mother, Gladys, walked Elvis to school … until he was in the ninth grade.

Lauderdale Courts

 

As the school days and years went by, Elvis slowly developed confidence.  When one of his teachers was chosen to be the producer of the senior variety show, she put Elvis in it.  This was his first performance on stage.  This act alone was instrumental in helping Elvis cast off much of his shyness and stage fright.  Years later, he said, “I wasn’t nervous.  I was petrified.”

Elvis wore a loud shirt in the variety show.  His long sideburns and loud clothes helped him establish an identity and thereby added to his confidence.  There was not enough time for all the acts to have an encore, so it was decided that the act that drew the most applause would get the encore.  The audience really liked him.

Humes Talent Show Program

 

While attending Humes High, I was an usher at the old Malco Theater at the corner of Main and Beale.  At the same time, Elvis was an usher at Loew’s State Theater in downtown Memphis.  His salary was $12.75 per week.

 

Elvis had a penchant for loud apparel.  When he could afford it, he would buy clothes at Lansky Brothers, a clothing store on Beale Street, the street made famous by W.C. Handy, the black composer of blues songs.

 

This young, mad, Elvis Aaron Presley, who lived only a few miles from legendary Beale Street, would soon explode on the music world with unequaled success.  Thank God he left us all a legacy of records and films we can treasure and enjoy for years to come.

 

©  2012    Philip R Arnold, Original Elvis Blogmeister    All Rights Reserved    www.ElvisBlog.net

 

Elvis, Elvis Presley, and Graceland are registered trademarks of Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc.