Elvis: In the Twilight of Memoryby June Juanico
In Biloxi Miss., 1955, 17-year-old June Juanico went to a concert by a popular young singer: Elvis Presley. When his eye caught hers, they began the most significant of his early relationships a summer of romance & fun that was to be a last stop of innocence on the path to self-destruction. June describes her closeness to Elviss mother, Gladys, & her rivalry with Col Parker, Elviss handler. In the end June knew that however much Elvis loved her, he was on a track no one could stop & would never be in control of his life; she made up her mind to move on. Features 23 previously unpublished photos of Elvis & an intro. by Elvis biographer Peter Guralnick.
Juanico recalls her relationship with Elvis, from 1955 to '57, with bittersweet humor and good nature. She offers further detail on his fascination with fast cars, describes her tour of Florida with him, and includes her recollections of his infamous first appearance on the Ed Sullivan show. All of this is told with an eye toward detail, apparently derived from Juanico's habit of keeping journals. However, certain aspects of her tale don't jibe with those of other biographers (one of whom, Peter Guralnick, offers an introduction to this volume). For instance, in three separate incidents Juanico seems to suggest that Elvis was deeply aware of (and uncomfortable about) the nature of life for blacks in the Jim Crow South. The incidents include a bowling match in Memphis against a black team from Detroit, where Juanico states that she was "determined to show the Northern team what true Southern hospitality was all about." What's strange about these references to racial turmoil is not only that they seem completely out of context, but that most other books on Presley have noted his casual use of the "n-word." Juanico either conveniently forgets this or just plain omits it in her account, in the interest of a more desirable portrait. In fact, Presley is depicted as downright prudish in many situations, despite all the indications that he was at heart a wild-eyed southern boy. Finally, after tolerating countless implications of affairsnot the least of which concerned the young Natalie WoodJuanico abruptly broke off her unconsummated relationship with Elvis, having come to realize that his life left little room for a wife and family.
Elvis is undoubtedly a must-read for die-hard devotees of the King, but it doesn't rival previous portraits of the man in depth or originality.
Read an Excerpt
As a young girl, I remember my handsome father leaving for work, always wearing a starched and meticulously ironed shirt and smelling of Old Spice. His jet-black hair and bronze skin came from his Spanish and Native American heritage. A natural athlete, he not only excelled at basketball, baseball, and track, but was named All-American High School Quarterback, leading the Biloxi High Indians to three undefeated seasons in a row.
He had his choice of cheerleaders, but gave them all up when he first saw my mother at a junior high track meet, as she crossed the finish line to win the fifty-yard dash.
My beautiful mother dropped out of high school to marry my father after her freshman year. She was sweet sixteen. Although she'd been afraid she was going to be childless, my mother finally conceived my brother after five years of marriage. I was born two years later. We were thought to be the ideal American family. However, we rarely spent time all together; it was usually just my brother Jerry, Mama, and me at suppertime. Daddy always came home late, and most of the time was either drunk or had been drinking. A few beers made him jolly, but whiskey brought out this angry side and he was often verbally abusive. He made all the family decisions. Mama was afraid to disagree.
While most families considered Christmas a time for family togetherness, my parents left Jerry and me with grandparents while they went out to party. Every year of our young lives, we woke up on Christmas morning to open gifts with our grandparents, and never saw our parents untilsometime Christmas evening. I didn't realize how odd this was until I had children of my own. The thought of never feeling the excitement of seeing the expressions on your childrens' faces as they tore open their gifts from Santa, nor hearing their screams of delight, made my heart ache for all my mother had missed.
Mama started acting strange. She was spending most of her days alone in her room. I could tell she was crying a lot, but she said it was only a head cold. One evening she borrowed a car to follow my father when he got off from work. Thinking I was too young to be left alone, she insisted I ride with her. My father's first stop was a drugstore. He came out carrying a huge red heart-shaped box of candy, too large to be put in a paper bag. It was Valentine's Day. His next stop was a liquor store, where he bought what my mother thought to be a bottle of champagne. We followed at a safe distance; I thought we were playing some kind of game. His dark-green truck then pulled off the main road and turned in to a trailer park. We waited at the entrance for a few moments before driving in through the narrow rows of trailers. We saw Daddy's truck parked on the last row. As we drove slowly past, my mother and I were both shocked to see him embracing a strange woman. I can still picture her bright-red hair. They were standing in front of an open window, locked in each other's arms. My mother was devastated. Her hands were shaking on the steering wheel, and her face so streaked with tears she couldn't see where she was driving.
She pulled the car over to the side of the road, opened the door, and started to vomit. I got out of the car and went around to her side. I wanted to help her but didn't know what to do. I patted her on the back of her head and kept telling her over and over, "It'll be all right, Mama, it'll be all right." I was ten years old.
Daddy didn't come home that night. The next morning, very early, I helped Mama throw all of his belongings out on our front porch. We were crying and throwing clothes in a pile. We went back inside, she locked both doors, and we watched through a crack in the venetian blinds for Daddy to come home. Several hours later he finally drove up and parked in his usual spot. He was clean-shaven; his hair was still wet from a recent shower. He came straight to the door, trying to ignore the big pile of clothes. Finding the screen door locked, he knocked gently. "Honey, let me in. The screen is locked. Honey, please let me in. What's the matter?"
After a few moments of his pleading, my mother opened the door. She looked at him through the screen.
"Go live with your valentine whore," she said softly, then slammed the heavy wooden door in his face. It took him several trips back and forth to load his things into his truck. She held me close as we watched him drive away.
"Don't ever let this happen to you, my baby. Promise me you'll never let this happen to you."
"I won't, Mama, I promise."
After a few weeks of crying, I believe Mama would have taken him back, but he never made any attempt to save their marriage.
Night after night I would wake to hear Mama sobbing as if every breath would be her last. Often, I'd get out of my twin bed and crawl in next to her. It seemed to give her comfort, so I soon stopped sleeping in my bed altogether. I considered Mama's room my room too. At least it was better than sharing a room with a brother who was always bossing me around. Jerry, busy with his after-school paper route, had disassociated himself from our family crisis. He was just pleased to have a bedroom all to himself.
Mama got a job to support Jerry and me after my father disappeared from our lives. Soon after their divorce was final, he married the valentine whore. Mama got the house. Thank God it was paid forchild support wasn't even mentioned and my father never volunteered one cent.
My happy-go-lucky childhood was suddenly turned upside down. I was in charge of the cooking and the cleaning, while Mama was making a living. I didn't mind; to me it was like playing house. I taught myself how to cook and how to sew. I attempted to do the laundry, but was soon told to leave it alone after all the white clothes, including Jerry's underwear, turned a bright shade of pink. Having that much responsibility turned me into an adult way before my time.
My mother, a devoted wife, mother, and home-maker, finally got over the pain and started dating again. She was thirty-six years old, and for the first time in her life she was laughing and having fun.
We all have our special memories. The memory that stands out most in my mind is the first time I saw that face, the face that was soon to be the most recognized face in the world: the deep-set eyes that would make girls scream and cry; the full, pouting lips that would make them swoon. I'll never forget the first time I saw that face: the flawless face of Elvis Presley.
It was June 1955. I had just gotten home from work when the phone rang. Glenda Manduffy, a close friend, was calling to ask me to go with her to see a singer named Elvis Presley.
"I saw him last night at the Slavonian Lodge, and June, he's the most gorgeous man I've ever seen in my life. You've got to go with me, June. Okay?"
"Slow down, Glenda! Now, where, when, and how are we going?"
"It's tonight at the Airman's Club. My brother will take us there and pick us up when it's over."
"I'm so tired, Glenda, I just want to take a hot bath and relax before Norbie gets here." Six feet four inches tall, Norbie Ronsonet was the most gorgeous man I had ever seen in my life. We'd been dating regularly for the past six months.
"The show doesn't start until 7:30, June. You've got time to take a bath and relax. Call Norbie and tell him you have to go to Keesler Field with me. You can call him when we get home, at around 9:30. Better yet, I'll call Norbie, you go get ready. We'll pick you up at seven sharp!"
Reluctantly, I agreed, and went to take a bath. Afterward I had to decide what to wear. Ladies wearing slacks were not allowed on the air force base. I had a new figure-flattering white dress, the one I'd worn under my cap and gown for graduation. It would be perfect. I even had a new pair of white high-heel sandals to match. I was dressed and ready to go by 6:45.
With a few minutes to relax, I sat on the couch and turned on my favorite radio station. The DJ announced a hot new song by a hot new singerElvis Presley. I sat up straight, as if that would make me hear better, and paid close attention. The song, "Blue Moon of Kentucky," was recorded with so much reverberation that it sounded to me like an old mana nervous old man.
"Elvis Presley," I said to myself. I wonder how old you are. And where did you get that name?
About that time, my mother came home from work. She looked me up and down.
"Well, don't you look pretty. Where are you going?" I told her where I was going and promised to be home by 9:30. Glenda's brother, Chester, came to the door and walked me to the car. Glenda's mouth was still going at 90 mph when I got in.
"Do you think I can pass for eighteen? I'm glad you're wearing a dress! You have to be eighteen to get into the club, and you have to wear a dress!" Chester assured us we would both pass, whistling his approval of my dress.
We got to the Airman's Club early. All visitors had to sign in at the door. We were worried that someone would ask for ID, but they didn't. Luck was with us; we made it in and found a table right up front. The club seated about three hundred people, and was filling up fast, mostly with young airmen who gave us loud wolf-whistles as we made our way through the tables. Glenda was pleased to see so few womenno more than thirty-five or so.
"Good," she said. "Now maybe we can get a chance to talk to him. Last night at the Slavonian Lodge it was wall-to-wall screaming girls. You couldn't get near him."
"Maybe tonight you'll have your chance, Glenda." She was squirming in her seat; I couldn't imagine why she was so excited.
The houselights dimmed, the music started, and Elvis made his entrance. I don't remember what he was wearing; I couldn't get past that face. "That's All Right" was his first song. He was dancing all over the stage. Now I knew why my friend was on the edge of her seat. This young man was absolutely beautiful!
Several couples got up to dance, and it wasn't long before Glenda and I joined them. His live rendition of "Blue Moon of Kentucky" sounded much better than the recorded version. After eight or nine songshis repertoire was very limited back thenthe band took a break. Elvis was standing by the side entrance to the stage, talking to a small group of people. Glenda was dying to go talk to him, but I was being a little cool. He had looked my way a few times when he was singing, so I didn't want to appear anxious. Glenda noticed an arrow on the wall, just above Elvis's head, pointing to the ladies' room.
"Come on, June, let's go."
As we slowly passed by, Elvis looked in our direction and smiled. I took Glenda by the arm and we kept on walking.
"June, let's stop and talk to him on the way back. Please?"
"You can if you want to, Glenda, but I'm not."
Elvis, standing a head taller than anyone in the crowd, was looking our way when we came out of the ladies' room. As we were passing him again, he reached through the crowd and took me by the arm. I was trembling when I heard this low sexy voice speaking to me.
"Where're you going? You're not leaving, are you?" He was still holding my arm. I turned and looked up; his face was inches away. Somehow I managed a nervous little smile. For the first time in my life, I was at a loss for words.
"No, I'm just going back to the table." My heart was racing, I could feel the blood rush to my face. I'd figured that before the night was over, I'd get up enough nerve to go and say hello, but I was totally unprepared for this.
"I'd like to see you after I finish here. Are you staying for the rest of the show? I'd like you to show me the town."
"There's not much to see. Biloxi is a very small town." I was babbling like an idiot, playing hard to get, and I didn't even know why.
"Just show me what you can. I'm not hard to please. I'll be through in about an hour. Wait for me. I won't be long. I have to load up a few instruments. Okay?"
I nodded yes, and Glenda and I went back to our table. She was slapping me on my hand and kept saying over and over, "I don't believe it! You lucky dog! You lucky dog!"
Elvis came back on stage and sang for another forty minutes. Our table was surrounded by young airmen, wanting to dance. They were blocking our view of Elvis, so if we wanted to see him, we had to get up and dance whether we liked it or not.
After the show Glenda waited with me at the front of the club. Elvis drove up in a light-pink-and-black 1955 Ford Crown Victoria. An upright bass was strapped to the top of the car. It was the funniest-looking thinglike some kind of war machine. He jumped out, came around and opened the door for me. We said goodbye to Glenda and Chester, who had been patiently waiting for us, and drove away.
"Would you mind if we went back to the motel?" he asked. I swallowed hard, wondering what he had in mind. Before I could answer, though, he put my mind at ease.
"Just long enough for me to take a quick shower." He had worked hard on stage; his shirt was soaking wet.
"Sure," I said, laughing.
"I don't even know your name, pretty girl."
"It's June. What's yours?"
"My name is Elvis."
"No, I mean your real name.
"My real name is Elvis."
"Oh, I thought Elvis was just a stage name."
"Nope, I've had it all my life. Would you mind waiting in the car, June? The boys are real messy, and there's no place to sit. I won't be long, I promise."
"Sure, go ahead. I don't mind."
Two men came out of Elvis's motel room. One went to the left side of the car, the other to the right. They opened both doors, then stood on the edge of the doorways to take the big bass down. At first I didn't know what they were doing and slid to the middle of the seat.
"Hi, I'm Scotty, and the one over there is Bill. Hope we didn't scare you, little lady!" Scotty played guitar and Bill was the bass man. I was happy to see the big bass come down. I could just imagine everyone in town staring at this thingthe car looked like a tank with a cannon top. Elvis came out just as the boys were going in with the big bass. He told them not to worry; he'd be back before it was time for them to leave. They were leaving in the morning, heading for Alabama to do some more shows.
"Okay, pretty girl, show me the town."
"Have you already forgotten my name?"
"No, June, I haven't forgotten. It's just that you're so pretty."
"Thanks. I'll bet you say that to all the girls."
"Nope, only the pretty ones. Where to, pretty girl?"
"What are you in the mood for?" I asked, innocently. He raised his brows, looked at me, and laughed.
"I can't answer that, June. You'd slap my face." We both laughed. Not only did he have that great face, he had a sense of humor to match.
"Okay," I said. "What else are you in the mood for?"
"How about a nice place where we can get something to drink and get better acquainted."
We drove a few blocks down the beach to Gus Steven's restaurant and went into the lounge. We found a little table for two in the corner, away from the crowd. The band was to start playing at ten, and a comedian named Dave Gardner was coming on at eleven. When the waitress came to take our drink order, I was afraid she was going to ask me for an ID. I had a driver's license clearly indicating that I was only seventeen.
"What would you like, baby?" Elvis asked, giving me a wink.
"I'll have a VO and Seven-Up," I answered, smiling at the waitress.
"Make mine a Coke, please." He winked at me again.
"Never mind, I'll have a Coke too." The waitress walked away, smiling. She was so busy looking at Elvis that for all she knew I could have been a hundred.
"It's okay if you want a cocktail, June."
"No, I really don't. I was just trying to make the waitress think I was older."
"How old are you, June?"
"Not old enough to be in here," I whispered.
"You mean you're not eighteen yet?"
"Not yet. I'll be eighteen in November."
"I just turned twenty in January. Let's finish our drinks and get out of here." But the band was good, so we ordered more Cokes, enjoyed the music, and each other. We decided not to stay for the comedian, so we went for a ride on the front beach. The night was perfect. A slight breeze was coming off the water. The edge was dotted with gas lanterns: it was that time of the year when people in Biloxi, usually two to a lantern, go looking for soft-shell crabs and flounder. I explained to Elvis what they were doing and he got all excited.
"Can we go find some the next time I come to Biloxi?"
"Sure, my brother has a light and some gigs."
"What in the world is a gig?"
"It's like a spear. You stick it in the flounder. It's lots of fun. I think you'll like it."
"What about crabs? How do you catch them?" He realized what he'd said right after he said it, and we both started laughing. After I'd finally pulled myself together, I told him.
"You just reach down and pick them up. If they're soft they can't run very fast. If they're hard they'll bite you."
"In other words, June, you're telling me you can't catch them from a toilet seat, right?"
We were laughing so hard Elvis had to pull the car over. We found ourselves parked right in front of the White House Hotel, which had one of the longest piers in the city, jutting far out over the water. We talked for a while and then decided to go for a walk on the pier. The full moon lit our way. It was a long walk, especially in high-heel shoes. He held my hand until we got to the end, then he turned me to face the rising moon and stood behind me with his arms around my waist.
"Have you ever seen the moon on the water before?" I asked.
"Not this much water! If you think this is pretty, you should see the moon on the snow. It's the most beautiful sight you'll ever see. Everything sparkles, and you can see for miles." I leaned my head back on his shoulder and he kissed my neck. I'd been kissed on the neck before, but never like that. It gave me chills! He said my name and kissed my neck, again and again. I was trembling; I felt like I was going to melt.
"Right now I can't think of any other place I'd rather be."
"I can't either." My voice was weak, and cracked slightly when I spoke. "I'm glad I live here."
"I'm not talking about living here, June, I'm talking about being here with you."
"Well, thank you, Elvis Presley. I'm glad you're happy to be here with me."
He turned me around, held me at arm's length, and looked in my eyes.
"June, you don't have to be afraid of me. I'm not going to hurt you, I promise."
"I'm not afraid of you, Elvis."
"Why are you trembling then?"
"I guess I'm a little nervous, that's all."
He pulled me close, and took my face in his hands. He kissed my forehead, each eye, my nose, and finally my mouth. It was the most gentle and yet the most passionate kiss I had ever experienced in all my seventeen years. We spent the next few hours kissing and talking, talking and kissing, watching the moon move slowly across the sky. Elvis thought it was funny when I told him I never kissed on a first date.
"It's the truth, I promise. This is the first time."
"I believe you, baby. I'm glad it was me."
"My mother always told me, if I ever got carried away and found myself in a compromising position, to stop and ask myself, `What would my mother think, if she could see me right now?' It works! Speaking of mother, what time is it?" He tried to see his watch by the light of the moon.
"It's either 1:15 or 3:05. I can't tell."
"I've got to go home! I've never been out this late!" We ran back to the car. Dear God, I hoped it was 1:15, but the clock in the car said 3:15and I knew I was in big trouble.
Thank goodness my house was only five minutes away. When we pulled up in front, the house was in darkness and everything was quiet.
"Maybe she's sleeping," Elvis whispered.
"I hope so. Why are we whispering?" We giggled as if we were little kids getting away with something.
"Don't go yet, June. Stay with me for a little while longer. Better yet, let's go wake her and tell her you're going with me."
"Are you crazy? She'll kill us both! I'll stay, but if I see a light come on, I'll have to run."
We were parked under a streetlight and I could see his perfect features clearly. It was hard not to stare.
"What's your last name, June?"
"Juanico." I had to spell it and say it over and over.
"It's pronounced like the name `Juanita' but it has `co' on the end. Think you can remember that?"
"I'll never forget itJune Juanico." He repeated it again and again.
"Do you have any brothers or sisters, Elvis?"
"I had a twin brother, but he died at birth." When he said twin brother, my first thought was, "Gee, there's another one just like you." My second thought was to wonder about the twin's name, because in the South it's a very common practice to give twins rhyming names. I could only think of one word to rhyme with Elvis.
"What would your mother have named your twin, if he had lived?"
"His name was Jesse Garon. Mine is Elvis Aron." His mother chose to rhyme their middle names. I had a smile on my face, thinking that at least he had a name. I remember visiting my grandfather's grave and seeing several grave markers inscribed with just "Baby Boy Smith" or "Baby Boy Jones." These babies had died at birth, and no one had bothered to give them a name. It always made me sad. Elvis misinterpreted my smile.
"I know what you're thinking, June. The only name you can think of that rhymes with Elvis is `Pelvis.' Can't you just see me introducing myself and my brother to strangers? `Uh, hello, my name is Elvis, and this here feller is my brother Pelvis."' He said it with such a redneck Southern drawl we both laughed.
"It's really no laughing matter, June. Believe it or not there's people out there who call me Elvis the Pelvis."
"Why would anyone call you such a tacky name?"
"I guess when you start making a little noise in this business, you're gonna run into a few assholes along the way. Pardon my language. I try not to let it bother me. How about you? Any brothers or sisters?"
"One brother. His name is Jerry. He's two years older, but everyone thought we were twins when we were younger."
"June, can I call you sometime?"
`Sure, my number's in the book. It's listed in my mother's nameher name is May. I was named after her: June comes after May. Do you think you'll get down this way again?"
"I'll make sure I do. I'll call you."
"I promise. I hate to leave you, baby, but I've got a long road ahead. I've been looking for you for a long time, June. But I've got to go. The boys will be worried about me. I've never been this late before."
"Neither have I!"
"Take good care of yourself, baby."
We got out of the car. He hugged me real close and kissed me all over my face again. He didn't want to leave, and I didn't want him to leave either.
"I'll walk you to the door, June."
"No! Mama's sleeping right there." I pointed to the window.
"I hope you don't get in trouble, baby."
"Me too." I kissed him real quick and ran up to the house. He blew me a kiss before he got in the car. I watched him pull away, his arm out the window waving goodbye.
I tiptoed into the house to find Mama sitting on the side of the bed. I was sure she could hear my heart still pounding in my chest. Her voice was stern.
"Where have you been?"
"I've been sitting out in front of the house, talking. I'm okay. I haven't done anything wrong, I promise."
"Well, come to bed, we'll talk about it in the morning." She glanced over at the clock. "June, do you know what time it is?"
"Yes, ma'am, it's 6:00 A.M. It won't ever happen again, Mama, I promise. It won't ever happen again."
I crawled in next to her and shut my eyes. I had a hard time going to sleep; I couldn't stop thinking about this Elvis Presley. I wondered when I would see him again. Would he call me?
Oscar Wilde's Last Stand
Decadence, Conspiracy, and the Most Outrageous Trial of the Century
By Philip Hoare
Copyright © 1997 Philip Hoare. All rights reserved.
Meet the Author
June Juanico was born and raised in Biloxi, Mississippi, where she still lives today. She is the mother of two children and has two grandchildren. She spent three years writing Elvis: In the Twilight of Memory, her first book.
Peter Guralnick is widely regarded as the nation’s preeminent writer on twentieth-century American popular music. His books include Feel Like Going Home, Lost Highway, Sweet Soul Music, Searching for Robert Johnson, the novel Nighthawk Blues, and a highly acclaimed two-volume biography of Elvis Presley. He lives in Westbury, Massachusetts.
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