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Interview: The Memphis Mafia’s Jerry Schilling Talks About His Relationship With Elvis Presley

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In 1972, Elvis Presley packed up the Memphis Mafia and set out on a groundbreaking mission. With the help of innovative producers Robert Abel and Pierre Adidge, and young film pioneers like Martin Scorcese, he was going to finally make the first real Elvis Presley movie. The plan? To perform in 15 cities in 15 days, not small concerts but giant, sold-out arena shows, and with multi-cam film crews in tow.
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Elvis Presley, The King, planned to introduce the world to a man they had never met before: himself. He asked Jerry Schilling to join him on the production. The two had met when Schilling was 12 and Elvis was 19. Their friendship had grown over the years with Schilling becoming a member of the Memphis Mafia, and well known in his own right as a producer, personal manager, actor and tour manager. He was a man whom Elvis respected, and whose advice he trusted implicitly.

Jerry Schilling worked on the production, and post-production editing, of Elvis on Tour, due for remastered release from Warner Bros on August 3rd, 2010. He helped to create, with the implementation of multi-screen, multi-cam and montage technology, a film that would reveal Elvis as never before. Elvis on Tour would go on to win the Golden Globe. Unbeknownst to both men at the time, it would also be Elvis Presley’s final film.

I talked to Jerry Schilling about the film, his life as a member of the Memphis Mafia, and his relationship with Elvis. The news of Elvis’s death had a devastating impact on him. “I just felt a tremendous loss. Felt insecure. He had been there, in my life, since I was 12 years old.”

jerry_schilling_interview_elvis Jerry Schilling’s work with Presley on the film Elvis on Tour allowed their friendship to branch into new areas. “It started a really good, creative relationship. I mean, I’d known Elvis for many years by that time, and then to be on a level of working on a film of his, and actually cutting sequences, and talking to him about that, it led to me—when he wanted to start his own production company, honoring me as executive producer. So the film is very special to me.”

Jerry Schilling was part of the crew who created this amazing film, and he always stayed true to Elvis’s desire to be seen, not as a legend or an icon, but as a man. He wrote the book Me and a Guy Named Elvis in this way as well. Here’s what Jerry Schilling had to say about his favorite Elvis music, movies, and memorabilia.

What are your favorite Elvis songs? You were there when he was creating them, so I imagine your choices would be different than most people’s.

Well, there’s different songs at different times, but I met Elvis the week he recorded his first record. Within a year he recorded a great ballad that really kind of hit me, because my girlfriend had broken up with me, it was called “I Was the One” I loved that song at that time. Not only could he play rock and roll, but he had a great voice. A great emotional ballad voice.

“If I Could Dream” is certainly one of the greatest songs he ever did. Picking a couple from the beginning and the end—I have a lot of favorites. Those two and “How Great Thou Art.” It just stands out in my mind because I was in the studio when he recorded “How Great Thou Art.” Something special happened, I can’t explain it. There was some emotional, spiritual thing that happened when he recorded that song.

What is your favorite Elvis movie?

I would have to say King Creole, mainly because it had great actors to play off of, [like] Walter Matthau. But he had a great director, Michael Curtiz, who had directed Bogart in Casablanca. So he got a chance to work with real actors, a real director. The music was great in that movie. I don’t know if it was his favorite, I think it was certainly one of his favorites. That and Jailhouse Rock. Two great early films that he did.

If you could pick “one thing” out of anything in Elvis’s estate right now, what would it be?

Well, you know, I’m not that materialistic minded. If there was “one thing” I could pick, it would be to spend another evening, staying up all night, talking with Elvis.

Do you have anything that he gave you that reminds you of him when you see it?

Yeah. Everyday when I walk into this home I’m reminded. He gave it to me. And I really do mean that, it’s really quite special. It has a special feel about it. The way he gave it to me.

Elvis on Tour is due for release from Warner Bros on August 3rd, 2010, along with the amazing box set Elvis 75th Anniversary DVD Collection which features 17 of Elvis’s most beloved movies including Viva Las Vegas, Girl Happy, This Is Elvis, and one of Jerry Schilling’s personal favorites, Jailhouse Rock.

Photos courtesy of Warner Bros Studios.

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  • http://royalflamingoworks.com/index.htm?music=1 fcetier

    I saw Elvis in concert in Alexandria, LA several months before he died. His cover of “How Great Thou Art” really stood out — a real show stopper! I can identify with what Schilling said about that song.

  • Angela K.

    We need all Elvis’s DVD songs & movies over here. We hardly can buy over here (Malaysia) we all love Elvis also – Please do something.

  • pauline robles

    i saw elvis in concert in abilene, tx and he was fantastik. when he died, i came out of work and heard it on the radio. i pulled into a parking lot and broke down and cried.
    i would have loved to have met him. i have the old “elvis on tour” in vhs.i love him and no one else has ever haken his place.
    pauline robles
    texas