They were two of the most popular stars in the world in 1956. Elvis was already a major recording artist and was about to launch a film career with his debut in Love Me Tender. Natalie had already received her first Oscar nomination the previous year for Rebel Without a Cause, opposite James Dean. Although El Rey was already building a reputation as a murderer of women, it was the teenager who went after him and set up his first date.
Natalie asked her Rebel Without a Cause co-star Dennis Hopper to introduce her to the 21-year-old rock and roll star.
She told the San Francisco News: “I saw his picture in the paper before he got really popular and I liked his eyes. So I thought I had to go out with him. He’s really cool and the most real guy I’ve ever met.” I have known. He is a true pixie and has a wonderful little boy quality. He is very courteous, polite and so sweet! He is the nicest guy I know. A wonderful dancer, and he sings to me all the time. All the girls in the country have a crush on him, so why should it be any different?”
Elvis dazzled the teenager by buying an entire movie theater on a date, something he would continue to do for the rest of his life.
Love Me Tender was filmed in the late summer of 1956 and an enamored Natalie sent two handmade shirts to Elvis on set. They were a matching pair, one in red velvet, the other in dark blue velvet. The King can be seen wearing the latter in iconic footage of his historic concert at the Mississippi-Alabama Dairy Show and Fair on September 26, 1956.
Ten years after leaving his hometown as a child, Elvis had returned as a huge star and gave two concerts, wearing the blue shirt for the afternoon show and the red one for the evening. Natalie had Hollywood costume seamstresses make them and both shirts had tags marked with the Warner Brothers Studio costume department label, Natalie’s name, and the date they were made, September 1, 1956.
On November 1, Elvis flew home to Memphis after filming the Ed Sullivan TV show in New York.
Natalie traveled to meet him there. Aside from her apparent singing and her dancing for her, El Rey shared one of her other great loves and took her riding on her new Harley-Davidson motorcycle.
At night they were photographed together at a glamorous party at the Chisca Hotel. One publication posted a picture of the smiling couple saying it. “is almost certain to fracture the hearts of countless American teenagers.”
Natalie planned to spend a few days with Elvis and his family as the start of a new and potentially serious relationship.
Unfortunately, a woman got in his way.
Natalie’s sister, Lana, recalled in her book Natalie: A Memoir by Her Sister: “They met and Elvis brought Natalie to his family in Memphis. They were going to be away for almost a week, but only two days after the big adventure. Natalie called. “Gladys has ruined everything,” Natalie said, referring to Elvis’s overbearing and jealous mother. “I don’t have a chance. Get me out of this, and fast.”
“It was agreed that mom would call Natalie back and ask her to come home due to a family emergency. Natalie’s romance with the king of rock fizzled out.
“‘God, it was horrible,’ she told me later. “He can sing, but he can’t do much else.”
Ray Connolly, author of Being Elvis: A Lonely Life, painted a different side of the picture: “Natalie wore a very thin nightgown around the house. Gladys was like, ‘Not at my house!'”
Lana also recalled Natalie describing how Elvis, who was notoriously close to Gladys, would sit on her mother’s lap: “They were very affectionate and it bothered Natalie. She called and asked our mom to make up a story about why what was there to come home.”
Gladys was also pressuring Elvis to leave Natalie, believing her to be a “gold digger”.
It was all over, and the next time the press asked Natalie if things were serious with Elvis, she said, “Not now.”
Their paths nearly crossed a few years later when Elvis was offered the lead role of Tony in West Side Story. Apparently his manager, Colonel Parker, was not happy with a story based on street gangs, so the star politely declined.
Years later, Natalie’s co-star Rita Moreno revealed her own affair with Elvis in Rita Moreno: A Memoir: “My joy at dating Elvis hinged entirely on one fact: I knew no one could make Marlon Brando more jealous.” .
The actress had discovered women’s underwear at her then-boyfriend’s house and planned public dates with Elvis to get revenge. Brando apparently “threw three chairs.”
Moreno said in 2011: “I wanted to get even, so I went from one type of king to another. I dated Elvis, who was absolutely beautiful and had a perfect face, but he wasn’t interesting. It lasted three days.”
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