Jon de Vos: The king takes the castle
Fraser, CO Colorado
One of the zaniest moments in presidential history has to be the meeting between Elvis Presley and then-president, Richard M. Nixon. The meeting occurred on Dec. 21, 1970, at 12:30 p.m. as Nixon ushered Elvis into the Oval Office.
Elvis was dressed casually, as seen in the National Archive photos, looking like a British Admiral wearing Batman’s cape. He wore velvet pants accessorized with a gold belt buckle that could double as an airline snack tray. Both men look relaxed; in fact, Elvis is clearly pharmaceutically relaxed in these photos, taken three years before he died.
It’s not unusual for top politicos to tapdance with celebs for photo ops. Nonetheless, the substance of this 30-minute meeting was so bizarre as to spawn an urban legend, a 1997 movie cleverly named “Elvis Meets Nixon,” as well as a 1994 book by Nixon’s doubly fowl co-conspirator, Egil Krough, titled, “The Day Elvis Met Nixon.”
Now back to the White House (I’ve always wanted to say that): The King, along with several of his Memphis Mafia sidekicks, pulled up to the White House gate in a stretch limo. A bodyguard (Elvis’ people) jumped out and handed one of the Secret Service agents (Nixon’s people) a six-page letter that The King had jotted from bed while en route from the back of his private jet. The letter is a bit disjointed. Actually it doesn’t make a lot of sense, no disrespect intended for the Undeniable King of Rock and Roll, but I’ve noticed that drugs can make your grammar funny.
In his royal note, The King explains that he is comfortable hanging out with hippies, Black Panthers and druggies. Therefore, it followed that he offer his entire range of enthusiastic, yet unspecified services to the Nixon administration. Elvis wrote, “I can, and will, do more good if I were made a Federal Agent at Large and I will help out by doing it my way.”
If you have a hunka, hunka, burning curiosity to read the letter, it’s readily available through the National Archives and most easily found by asking Google.
It was Egil Krogh who hastily set up the meeting. Krogh was Nixon’s deputy and the White House liaison to the FBI and the DEA, as well as the one who later rocketed into fame by approving an operation led by H. L. Hunt, a former CIA agent, to break into a psychiatrist’s office in the Watergate Hotel.
CIA training, or no, Hunt got caught by Watergate security with his slim-jim in a door. It wasn’t the breaking and entering but rather the messy attempt at cover-up following the burglary that upended Nixon’s fruitcart, spilling his apples all over Pennsylvania Avenue.
When Haldeman showed the President Elvis’ semi-literate note, coupled with the news The King was at the gate, I’m sure it was greeted with hilarity before they shrugged and decided, “What could it hurt?” Or perhaps not, Nixon’s tenure wasn’t a very funny administration, only a year-and-a-half away from the Watergate break-in.
Elvis collected law enforcement badges and I guess he just thought it would be amusing to swing by and pick up another notch in his collection, not to mention one bestowed upon him personally by the president. In the half-hour meeting, Haldeman took notes that have been preserved, also in the National Archives, in which Haldeman clearly restrains himself from using the word, “detox” in describing the meeting.
By the end of the meeting Nixon had given Elvis an Honorary Federal Agent’s badge and Elvis reciprocated with a souvenir antique Colt .45. One can only surmise the Colt .45 mentioned was a pistol and not a malt liquor.
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