For Every Fan, A Souvenir

Posted: August 15, 1987

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Elvis is everywhere, even in your bathroom.

Consider "Toity Tunes" - a little music box that you attach to your toilet-paper roll.

"It plays 'Love Me Tender' each time you pull it," said Sue McCasland, a collector here from Texas.

"That was gross, gross!" she said. "That was the worst thing I've seen out this year."

In case you haven't made it to Graceland during Elvis International Tribute Week for the 10th anniversary of the passing of the King, you deserve to know what you're missing.

Most of all, what you're missing is memorabilia. We are not talking mere T- shirts and key chains and record albums. That stuff is Elvis 101. We are talking hard core:

* Elvis Presley lipstick in six colors. Heartbreak Pink is selling in its original $1 package for $850.

* Elvis Presley "Teddy Bear" eau de parfum, with the King's picture and signature on the label. $175.

* Paintings of Elvis and his favorite horse, Rising Sun, inscribed with the following: "At last they found peace; Forever free, the Golden Palomino and Elvis Presley." $3,000.

* Six-foot-long, multicolored Elvis beach towels imported from El Salvador. $20.

* Original gold-flecked wallpaper from Graceland, home and final resting place of Elvis. $3 per piece.

* Music boxes shaped like a guitar that rotate on a pedestal and play ''Love Me Tender." $15.

* Elvis Frisbees. $3.

* Copies of Elvis' 14-page last will and testament. $2.

"There's Elvis dirt, Elvis sweat. It's unbelievable," said Walt Schickel, a collector here from Chicago. "They sell everything imaginable - hats, hankies, lamps. Everything and anything. The market is just never-ending. Elvis has been dead 10 years, and there's more stuff on him now than ever before."

No doubt. Memphis is awash in it this week. And some of the best baubles were sold yesterday at an auction to raise money for Le Bonheur Children's Medical Center here - one of Elvis' favorite charities.

Among the better lots were a king-size sheet and pillow case that Elvis slept on in Room 320 of the Inn of the Golden Crest in Odessa, Texas, on May 29, 1977. It sold for $210. A Sergeant Elvis whiskey decanter sold for $310, and - in the bargain of the day - an Elvis indoor-outdoor thermometer inscribed "Some like it cool" went for $5.

The faithful have both peddled and purchased thousands of Elvis artifacts all week. You can buy them in souvenir shops across from Graceland, in hotel gift shops, at collectors' shows all over town, even in parking lots from the back of vans with Elvis vanity plates.

Elvis lives - on plastic and paper, reproduced from Hong Kong to Asbury Park, N.J.

"Souvenirs are America, aren't they?" said Michael Stern, author with his wife, Jane, of the new book Elvis World. (The Sterns says they are "Ph.D.'s in Elvis.")

"That's why Elvis is the great American icon," Stern added. "The only person about whom there are more souvenirs is the Pope."

But can the Pope compete with pink Cadillac cookie jars? Is his image emblazoned on wall paneling? Would he ever show up as a plaster figurine dressed in a karate outfit? Or on heart-shaped soap ($3, with a guarantee that Elvis' face won't wash off)?

How about Elvis commemorative sunglasses from the '50s, '60s, '70s and '80s? Five-foot cardboard Elvis cutouts; Elvis cookbooks in three editions; Elvis bubble-gum cards, hot pink Elvis pajamas? (Come on - Pope pajamas?)

Elvis pincushions, toothpick holders, dog-tag ankle bracelets bearing his name, serial number and blood type. Elvis candleholders, needlepoint jewelry boxes (with song titles inscribed on each drawer), thimbles, address books, scrapbooks, vanity plates, even playing cards.

Todd Slaughter, president of the British Elvis fan club, said the 1,200 European fans who arrived at Graceland this week would spend $100 to $500 per person on paraphernalia.

Slaughter tried to say that Elvis fans were not unusual.

"We're no different than football fans," he said.

What about a pink Cadillac clock?

"You could have a football clock," he said.

What about Love Me Tender Moisturizing Milk Bath?

"You got me there," he said.

Of course, Elvis memorabilia includes all the predictable stuff: wall pennants, postcards, ashtrays, cigarette lighters, earrings, pendants, posters, bumper stickers, decals, music boxes, rings and other trinkets.

Most categories can be subdivided ad nauseam. Take pins, for instance. You have the pins that look like records, pins that portray jukeboxes, pink Cadillacs, Elvis by name or by face, Lisa Marie jet planes, Graceland, the gates of Graceland, the acronym TCB (for Elvis' motto: "Taking care of business"), Elvis' motorcycle, Elvis' initials, Elvis' lightning-bolt logo, Elvis' gold pianos and blue suede shoes, to name a few.

And when Elvis hunters come to town, you know it.

"They hit like the Titanic sinking," said Lloyd Fayard, 66, the gift-shop manager at Days Inn on Brooks Road (a.k.a. the Elvis Hotel). And they're sensitive. "Don't say anything to them about a flea market," said Fayard. ''Oh, no, they'll crucify you."

The Elvis Hotel sells such priceless novelties as silver Christmas wrapping paper with Elvis dressed in a red Santa suit.

"Now, the Elvis fans - they would die before they would wrap a gift with it," said Fayard, who has worked the gift shop for the last eight years. ''They'll even cry over a fingerprint."

Elvis clothing, of course, is abundant: Elvis silk scarves, Elvis sweatshirts, Elvis sneakers, Elvis hats, Elvis belts and watchbands, Elvis watches, Elvis red-and-black nylon baseball jackets.

Elvis skirts, Elvis blouses, even scraps left from making Elvis' clothes - $5 for a little envelope.

"I've even seen Elvis underwear," said John Morrison, 16, an Elvis fan here from Wisconsin. "I'm sure you could build a home and everything in it could be Elvis."

"Let's face it," added Jeff Graff, a 20-year-old Ohioan, "you place the likeness or image of Elvis on anything and it will sell."

Well, almost. While purists decry the mass marketing of Elvis, some say there are limits - that not everything Elvis will sell.

"There was a line of Elvis panty shields in England," said Jane Stern. ''Fans were outraged, and they didn't sell. His pills were on display somewhere, and people screamed. Same with his underwear. You can't classify his fans as vulgar. They do have a sense of propriety. There is a sense of limits and taste."

"Yes, I think Elvis has been commercialized, but he has always been commercialized. To say it's a commercialization in a negative sense is a very cynical view. Elvis loved commercialization."

Some fans hate it.

"We came in 1976, and you couldn't find anything Elvisy," said Carol Downey, president of the Mile High on Elvis fan club in Colorado. "Not a shirt, not a trinket, nothing. Now there's so much garbage. They're getting so greedy."

Not so, says Jack Soden, the man hired by Elvis Presley Enterprises to operate Graceland as a tourist haven and to license and market all Elvis memorabilia.

"It is entirely appropriate, there's no question about it, that the name image and likeness of Elvis be developed," Soden said. He would not disclose how much money Graceland made by doing so. "Elvis Presley is a major industry."

And getting more major all the time:

* Elvis business-card holders; Elvis blankets; Elvis dashboard sun- protector shields; waving hands that stick to a windshield and say, "I'm an Elvis fan."

* Silk-screened Elvis pillow cases; Elvis holograms; Elvis calendars, pocket knives, nail clippers; Elvis lighters, place mats and pens.

* Elvis conditioner, shampoo and rinse; guitar-shaped hair brushes with Elvis superimposed over the strings on the back; Elvis salt and pepper shakers, Elvis creamers, Elvis Styrofoam beer-can holders.

* Elvis' driver's license, report card, birth certificate. Elvis $1 bills, with the King's mug in place of George Washington's.

* Elvis crossword puzzles. Guitar-shaped Elvis board games. Elvis bedroom slippers, Elvis street signs, snatches of wallpaper from one of Elvis' old homes - even Always Elvis wine, imported from Italy with his picture on the label. That sells for $19 the bottle.

Of course, there is Elvis china galore, as well as an infinite number of records, videotapes, movie posters and pictures.

"In 1956, there were plans to cut up his Audubon Street home and give away little pieces of the home in bubble-gum packs," said Michael Stern. "That almost happened."

"That is part of the uniqueness of Elvis, the gold, the glitter, souvenirs of every description," he added. "You take that away, you don't have Elvis."

|
|
|
|
|