Friday, 5 July 2013

The Elvis In Demand Mystery - Solved!

In my blog post about the Elvis In Demand mystery last week, I concluded my piece by saying what an interesting exercise it would be to try and find out if Elvis did actually sign any copies of the albums, and if any fans did indeed have one. You can probably imagine how thrilled I was to hear from several fans who had won a copy of the album in the  infamous competition that was run in the Daily Express, and still owned the letter from the newspaper verifying the authenticity of the autographed LPs, which proves, once and for all, that Elvis did indeed sign 15 copies of the album in July 1977, just one month ahead of his sudden death, which were then offered as second runner-up prizes in the Express contest. Both the signed album and the authentication letter with the original newspaper clipping detailing the competition results and winners are included in this post for which I have to thank Bernard Roughton for sharing with me, and for allowing me to reproduce them here. 

Bernard confirmed the info about Elvis signing the albums was definitely true, and assured me it was not just hype for the fan club, the album or the newspaper. Bernard also alluded me to what British fan club boss Todd Slaughter had recently told him, that the albums were mailed over to Elvis's father in Memphis for Elvis to autograph, and not what had become a sort of urban legend that Todd was with Elvis, handing him the LPs as they were signed. As Bernard correctly pointed out in his email to me, unlike so many other Elvis autographs, this one, as you can see from the image, is quite a stunning, clean and clear signature, that appears to be a hundred percent genuine, and as I mentioned in my original post would have been one of the last things that Elvis would have signed for fans.  

The competition in the Express asked fans to answer ten questions to test their knowledge about Elvis, and as a tie-breaker to determine the winners, entrants were also asked to come up with a title for an album spanning Elvis’s career to date. There were three prizes in all: a 16-day trip for two to Las Vegas with the fan club to see Elvis in concert, 15 autographed Elvis In Demand albums, and 100 copies of  The Elvis Tapes, an album of Elvis's 1957 press conference in Vancouver. The best album title, chosen by the judges, was Elvis - The Years That Rocked The World that had been submitted by Trevor Haw, who accepted a cash prize in place of the original prize, due to Elvis’s death and subsequent cancelled trip by the fan club. The 15 Elvis In Demand winners were notified by letter on 24 August 1977 in which the winners were told that the album had been donated by the fan club and personally signed by Elvis in July, which would tie-in with what Todd recently told Bernard, and not as previously thought, that Elvis must have signed them in June, when Todd had met him just before his last concert in Indianapolis to present him with a silver disc for the album, another award to recognise two and half million sales of Arcade's 40 Greatest, and to receive his own award from Elvis, a trophy to mark his first ten years of running the British fan club. Asking Elvis to sign the albums at that time, says Todd today, would not have coincided with the trip.

In an Elvis Monthly article, not long after In Demand had been released, Todd explained how proud the fan club was to be associated with the album, and how the tracks had been selected in early 1976 by fan club members, and how at one time, the album had been slated for release that summer on the RCA Starcall label, a mid-price outlet that would have retailed the album at £1.99. In the end, it went out as a regular full price RCA album at £3.99 during the first month of the following year. Talking about the album in EM, Todd confirmed that it was an attempt at compiling an album of fans favourites, which at that time, had been ignored by the compilation people. Todd thought it worked well, and certainly, he was right. As I mentioned in my first blog about it, it was huge selling album, and probably one of the few albums from Elvis’s output in the last year of his life that he had autographed.  

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

The Elvis In Demand Mystery

Back in 1976, in the days when I was a graphic designer, I went up to RCA's Curzon Street offices in London, not far from the famous Playboy Club, to pitch an idea for a five track EP of then unavailable movie songs, including the studio version of Johnny B Goode from Elvis On Tour. I did a full proposal and a full colour sleeve visual with Letraset and a letterbox still of Elvis in Charro, which I had picked up at the fan club convention in Leicester, that same year, where I had seen the Aloha From Hawaii TV special for the first time on a big screen. Seems incredible to think about now, but none of the British television companies had at that time scheduled it for broadcast. There was a whole campaign in Elvis Monthly to persuade the BBC to show it, and I seem to remember that RCA had offered to front half the asking price of £50,000, but it was still not enough to persuade the BBC to buy the special, and so it went unseen until a much edited version was eventually broadcast on BBC in 1978.

I can’t remember exactly the date that I went to RCA, but it was probably in the latter part of 76 as I remember being shown the artwork for the Elvis In Demand album, and getting given a poster for the Presley Gold singles campaign, which was a reissue collection of Elvis’s 16 Number One singles in their original U.S picture bags. The album and poster featured the same illustration of Elvis. It was during this meeting that I first heard about the then planned CBS TV Special which according to what I was told, was going to be a mix of concert footage, a tour around Graceland with Elvis and a gospel recording session.

The guy at RCA liked my proposal for the movie EP very much, and said that he wanted to make it happen, and told me he would have to get approval from the Colonel before proceeding any further, and would send it over to the Colonel. And that was the last I heard of it! The guy left RCA and cleared out his office, so I never did see my visual or proposal again. And no one at RCA could find it or trace a letter being sent to the Colonel's office!

Elvis In Demand though, was quite a unique album for its time. It came about when RCA UK invited British fans of the official fan club to select 16 songs from Elvis's extensive recorded repertoire to represent studio work, Hollywood film soundtracks and live shows. Most songs picked were an assortment of singles, B-sides, album tracks and some obscure movie songs. The idea was to have on one album, as many songs that were not available at that time. When news of the project first appeared in Elvis Monthly, to celebrate the 21st birthday of the fan club, it was suggested that this would be a good opportunity to fill in a few gaps for songs that were not currently available in the UK. The article in the Monthly gave a list of suggested tracks that could be included and if memory serves me right it was most of these tracks that ended up on the final album. Although looking back on it now, the list of selected tracks may seem strange, at the time, there was a sensible logic behind it, and it proved to be a most successful idea. It sold over 100,000 copies, peaked at No. 12 in the UK album chart and earned itself a silver disc award. It was released a month after Suspicion had become a Top Ten single and many still associate the song with the album, even though it had first appeared, 15 years before, on Pot Luck, Elvis’s No.1 album from 1962.

Even more strange is the story that Elvis personally autographed 15 copies of the sleeve in June 1977, with "Best Wishes Elvis Presley", which according to those who have claimed to have seen it, was clearly visible in black ink. If true, that would mean the album sleeves would have probably been among some of the last things Elvis would have signed for fans, but one also has to wonder what he must have thought about being asked to sign a record album with such a "ghostly" looking illustration. The 15 copies he is said to have signed, were then said to have been given away as prizes by the Daily Express, even though no cuttings from the newspaper have yet surfaced to support the story. Some say they remember it well, while others don’t, and most are sceptical about the whole thing. I don’t remember seeing any such competition in the Express, but that’s not to say it didn’t happen. It probably did when you consider that Todd Slaughter, the boss of the British Fan Club, had met Elvis to present him with some British awards, during the filming of the CBS In Concert TV Special in the same month that Elvis is said to have signed the copies of In Demand. Although the Fan Club did a lot of shouting about its contribution to the LP, and rightfully so, there are those sceptics who have suggested the whole signed copies affair was just a marketing ploy between the Fan Club and Express newspapers. It would be an interesting exercise to try and find out if Elvis did actually sign the albums, and if any fans do indeed, have a signed copy of it.

Friday, 17 May 2013

The Lost Article

I wrote this article for the 25th anniversary of Winona Ryder’s first film, Lucas, a couple of years ago, for a magazine that never ran with it due to re-scheduling of features at the time, and rather than leave it unseen and unread, thought I would post it here for all to read. The images are the original publicity and casting pictures for the film, taken from my own personal collection.


The stylist for one of Winona’s first photo shoots just over twenty years ago knew that Winona would someday be famous. ‘She was just really focused,’ Abby Minot told me in 2002. ‘She had this vision. You could just tell she was going places.’

And of course, Abby was right. Looking back twenty-five years to the opening of Lucas and to the first time the cinema-going public first cast their eyes on Winona Ryder, most agreed that, even though she would only appear in eight scenes and her role as Rina almost seemed like an afterthought, it was enough to get Winona noticed and confirm the kind of character she would play for the next five years of her career: the alienated teenager.

If there was any doubt, one only had to take a look at the press kit for the movie, which described Winona as ‘fragile with a certain poetic justice.’ And the critics agreed. The New York Daily News credited ‘Winona for turning a small part into a memorable one’, and Variety’s Todd McCarthy remarked that Winona ‘constantly but quietly stole all Kerri Green’s scenes.’ Roger Ebert writing in the Chicago Sun Times said it was easily ‘one of the year’s best films’ and doubted if anyone of any age could give a more sensitive and effective performance.’ In fact, there weren’t many critics that didn’t rave about her performance. According to the general consensus, it was ‘deft, remarkable, and fetching.’ So perhaps it is no wonder that Winona had the critics on her side even before the film was released twenty-five years ago.

Certainly her performance in her first moments on screen would compound the cinema-going public with general critical opinion that Winona Ryder, the girl with the alert expressive eyes that telegraphed a startling combination of intelligence, gravity and self-possession was indeed someone to watch. ‘There is something strangely magical and wistful about her, that is ultimately reflected in her performance,’ said director David Seltzer at the time, and later observed how ‘she was sympathetic playing a child who thought she would never be beautiful.’ It was, he continues ‘very poignant because she was clearly about to blossom into a beautiful young woman herself.’

I am not sure though, that Winona would agree. The first time she watched the film at a screening with the rest of the cast, she says, ‘I was just really scared to see my face that big. It was such a shock that people had just seen me act.’ In the end though, she went to see it another two times. Once in San Francisco when it opened there at the Galaxy Theater, and once in Santa Rosa, where, recalls Winona, ‘a lady sitting in front of me said to the guy she was with that I looked sad on the screen. I guess she meant the part about being hopelessly in love. I wanted to ask her what she meant, but instead I started really looking at myself on the screen. It’s hard to be objective about your own performance.’

Lucas opened on 628 screens in the United States on 28 March 1986 and during its opening weekend had taken $1,250,101 at the box office, ultimately its gross topped eight million and earned itself three Young Artist Award nominations.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Inspiration

I often get asked who or what was my inspiration to become a writer. And I always say that Winona Ryder was my biggest inspiration. She certainly inspired me to write biography, simply because I was desperate to write about her, which is always the best reason to write. It came about, because I had at that time, watched more of her films than any other actress, and like anyone who had seen her films, I thought she was a brilliant actress. There is something very silent movie about her acting, a quality I really adore. It’s not a style in the sense of a pose or put-on, but something very organic and completely unique to her. I was also fascinated by the fragile energy that follows her through all her films, regardless of genre, so I was really excited to be able to get to write about her, and share my name on a book cover with hers.

I first came up with the idea to write a book about her on National Cinema Day in June 1996, when cinemas across the UK showed selected films all day long, which resulted in over one million people attending cinemas. Organised by the film industry to celebrate a century of cinema, every cinema charged only £1 all day. And there were over 150 films to choose from. As well as the current releases there were 27 previewing films and classics ranging from Casablanca to the Sound of Music and one of the previewing films was Winona's latest, How To Make An American Quilt, so with my daughter, we went to see it, and when we left the cinema, I said: "I have to write a book about her!"    

And once I started, I loved every minute of it. Being able to get up each morning and write about her was the best part about it, I literally couldn’t wait to get started each day. What was strange is how I totally immersed myself in her life, and so when I finally finished it, and delivered the manuscript to the publisher, it was like the ending of a relationship. I do remember feeling quite lost about it and having what I call post-book depression. For me, it is still my favourite book of all the ones I have written, and that was largely down to who Winona Ryder was and me feeling passionate about her and her films, and that is what all writing should be, about following your passion, and for me that was Winona. 

I am also often bombarded with questions like when did I last interview her, what's she like, how was it to interview her, and is she cool? Truth is I have never interviewed her, met with her or even spoken to her, although I have come close three times. The first missed opportunity was when I had just started writing my biography of her and was due to do a telephone interview with her about American Quilt, but then at the last minute, she pulled out from all her scheduled interviews. The second time that I came close, was some years later, in 2004, while I was in West Hollywood and missed Winona at Book Soup by literally five minutes. I had gone up to the store after I had finished filming an interview on Demi Moore for The E! True Hollywood Story, and all the guys at the store knew me, knew who I was, and as soon as I got there, they told me, I had just missed her. She had been in the store five minutes before buying some magazines and books! And the most recent was at last year's London premiere of Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie. Although she was scheduled to attend the premiere at the Odeon Leicester Square, she had to cancel out at the last minute, due to a filming schedule conflict. I was on the red carpet for about an hour waiting for her to arrive, before the film started, and towards the end of that hour, I realised she wasn’t going to show, but if she had, it would have been pretty easy to have spoken with her, but maybe it's not meant to be. They do say, don’t they, that it’s never a good idea to meet our heroes!

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

For Vampire Book Lovers Only

Welcome to my first blog post of 2013!! Can’t believe I have left it so long to write something, so today I am going to do something that I don’t usually do, and that is shout about a book I recently came across by an indie author named Jez Strider who has written and published a series of Vamp Life novels. The first one is the one I am shouting about. It’s called Vampire’s Eve, and I was attracted to download it onto my Kindle when it was on a one day promotion to download for free. The thing that attracted me to it first and foremost was the brilliant cover. I read the synopsis, read the reviews and downloaded it, and am so pleased I did. It is quite different to the usual vampire stories doing the current rounds, and what I particularly liked about it is how Jez takes a modern look into the history of vampires, and even throws in some eroticism that is completely different. Instead of what you would expect, Jez very cleverly conveys emotions without slipping into the erotica category, and yet it remains very erotic.

I decided to catch up with Jez, and ask her about her writing and her book. She told me her love of writing came from her love of reading. ╩╗My mom had bought me books at the grocery store for as long as I can remember and my dad was active in taking me to the library. I didn't start writing much until high school when I worked on the newspaper staff. And the first entertainment with vampires I saw was The Lost Boys. I watched it about a million times! After that I read books by Michael Romkey and Anne Rice. And it's just grown from there to me reading all sorts of vampire books and watching vampire movies and television. The lure of eternal life is very appealing, so I decided to write about it.’

In Jez’s own words, Vampire’s Eve is the story of a woman that despite many years as a vampire, thrives among humans. She's been reluctant to open her heart to love, but the right man is changing that. Things are going well until an encounter with her first love turns her world upside down. As if deciding between the two men isn't enough, her sadistic maker is determined to possess her once again.

To wet your appetite, Jez has given me a teaser excerpt to share, which she tells me is one of her favourite moments from the book...

I leaned up to start painting my toenails when my mind finally returned to the present. Before I could begin, a gloved hand covered my mouth. A normal intruder I could have easily bested. There had been more than one time when I’d been cornered in an alleyway. Oh no, but this was no normal deviant. He was stronger… far stronger than I was. My fangs extended and dug into his hand. Blood began to trickle from the wounds. Unfortunately, the attacker didn’t seem fazed by the bite. I knew it was another vampire. My maker, I just knew, had finally found me and was meeting out punishment for my rebellion.

The attacker had me pinned on my back and straddled me as I fought with every ounce of strength I had. The smell of expensive leather assaulted me. I kept my eyes closed at first, beating my fists against the man. My last thought before I opened my eyes and saw the other vampire face to face was of thanks. I was so thankful that I had sent Marcus home when I did. When our eyes met, we both froze.

The look was one frozen in time across vast centuries. This vampire was not my maker. I knew him immediately, as if I had kissed him only yesterday. I knew every inch of this man. I knew that perpetual tan and short brown hair that curled up slightly on the ends when he went too long without a haircut. His expression contorted into one of confusion as his amber eyes took in the woman before him.

If you enjoyed that teaser, then you will certainly enjoy the rest of the book. You can get your hands on the rest of the story from Amazon UK and Amazon US. And if you have a Kindle Fire, the book comes with the new X-ray feature which allows you to explore the bones of the book on any page to find chapters and locations that mention ideas, characters, and important places, as well as background info and biographies!