By Joan Williams

(now Joan Gansky) – written in late August 1969, published by EIN in 2009.
(Attended the midnight shows on August 22 and 23)

August 22nd 1969 – An enormous stage, a magnificent 2,000 capacity audience, elegant ladies (all seemed fresh from the Beauty Parlor!) glamorously dressed in their finest gowns – pure excitement apparent in their sparkling eyes, many accompanied by their smartly suited escorts!

Certainly a few teenagers were present among the sophisticated crowd, but somehow the 25-40 year age group seemed to predominate.

The atmosphere throughout the entire hotel was nail-bitingly electric! It is difficult for me to describe and paint a true portrait of attending in person this unique occasion – but I’ll try my best.  I want, and hope, you will understand the excitement of what has to be the pinnacle of Elvis’ career to date!

For our very first show, we were a party of six (three couples) having reservations for the midnight cocktail show. My fiancé, Paul, was almost “first in line” at 7:40 p.m. – the first show was still in progress! While waiting in line, maybe to ease their own tension, people happily chatted to the strangers around them like they were old friends. What a variety of people had journeyed hundreds, even thousands of miles to see Elvis in person at last!  As these precious minutes ticked slowly by, the line of people grew, snaking alongside gambling tables and slot machines, around the Hotel’s restaurants, longer and longer it stretched, eventually reaching way back to the foyer entrance! An amazing sight to behold!

At last the doors opened – it was a little after 10 p.m. How fascinating to observe the expressions on the bright faces of the first-house (dinner show) audience exiting the showroom. As one by one they slowly walked passed us, the incredible joy and excitement of what they had just experienced flowed among everyone! If there was a pensive, sad look on someone’s face, then it could only mean that that person was simply reluctant to leave the showroom magic behind! They would gaze enviously at us – we became those lucky ones, who had yet to experience ELVIS – LIVE – in action!!

To our great joy and total surprise, after a small tip to the Maitre D, we were seated at a table at the foot of the stage! Then there was an arduous hour and a half wait for the show to commence! Each minute seemed an eternity.

My heart was thumping wildly in anticipation… I perched myself on the edge of my chair, nervously sipping my drink, yet unaware of the taste of it! I tried to absorb each and every split second, every moment in this room . . . my long held dreams had come to reality! Being an Elvis fan, living in England  through the late 1950’s and early ’60’s, it seemed unbelievably far fetched to even consider the possibility of ever seeing Elvis perform live on stage in the USA or anywhere!

I vaguely recall the Sweet Inspirations perform – followed by a seemingly lengthy act by comedian Sammy Shore. The audience grew impatient. At last! The curtains closed. A pause.

A white shoe, a hand “peeked” round the curtain – now open – the thrill of a lifetime as Elvis simply stood there. He smiled happily, looking far more dynamic than any photo I had ever seen of him! – attired in white, with a long sash (belt) and a splash of color in the red kerchief (scarf). His long, black hair was neatly combed in inimitable “Elvis Style” . . . but not for long! – a wild rendition of Hound Dog and Jailhouse Rock soon took care of that!

He seemed to explode with life and energy with each and every song! What a truly magnificent performer! His humor seemed to bubble over as he chatted and joked back and forth, with his ever attentive audience clinging to his every word and move!

At one point he sat on a stool and told us about “his side of the story” – mentioning that much had been said, but he wanted to clarify it all for us personally. He confirmed that his first record was for his personal use. He joked that people in his own town were even talking about him, saying “Who is he? . . . WHAT is he?! He laughingly told us how he found himself in Hollywood “before I was ready for IT, or IT for ME!”

He talked of his few early TV appearances with the restriction on his movements, the necessary tuxedo outfit on Steve Allen, and the hound dog he was forced to sing to! He briefly told of being drafted and laughingly said he was always finding himself in trouble, as he couldn’t stop treating his rifle like a guitar and would “shoot up” the barracks at night and (possibly tongue in cheek) “they called me a squirrel, just out of the woods!!!”

The Las Vegas crowd is a mighty critical audience to win over, but any tension that may have existed in the cool and somewhat impatient atmosphere during the comedian’s set quickly melted away. Elvis held his audience enthralled – he had a complete connection with them, even from the stage.

He became so engrossed in talking about his past experiences that he had to be reminded by old friend Charlie Hodge (guitar player) to finish what he had begun to say! Elvis briefly listed a few movies he had made, and explained how these had become like a habit, but now he was back. He assured us he had missed performing for a LIVE audience so much, and couldn’t wait to get out of his movie contracts, and get back on stage.

Elvis advised us that this actual show was being recorded that evening, to be released on an album shortly! Among some of the songs he performed were a selection of his early hits including Heartbreak Hotel, Love Me Tender, Mystery Train, and Are You Lonesome Tonight (complete with spoken dialog). He paused to tell us how a particular favorite song of his was “one Del Shannon recorded back around 1927” – and performed Runaway – a completely new rendition, with Elvis’ own special magical touch.

He also sang “a song from my TV Special, that didn’t do too well” – the beautiful Memories. A surprise song was the poignant Yesterday – followed by Hey Jude where he had some lucky females in ecstasy as he bent over the stage to their tables and kissed them!

One little boy received special attention, and Elvis gave him his kerchief (scarf). A young teenage girl from the back of the room cried that she wanted Elvis’ water glass. He gave her one and also a kiss – she scurried back to her seat – crying tears of joy!

Elvis then introduced some celebrities in the audience, Diane Ross, Pat Wayne and Michael Ansara. Elvis mentioned that he had made a movie with Michael’s lovely wife (Barbara Eden in Flaming Star) and of course, Michael himself appeared in the (maybe best forgotten) Harem Holiday/Harem Scarum movie.

Just one of the many highlights for me, was Funny How Time Slips Away. There was a hushed silence and then the following avalanche of applause at the end of this beautiful number.

It was only to be surpassed by a masterful rendition of In the Ghetto – and the new spellbinding Suspicious Minds. The emotion Elvis poured into this is incomparable to anything I have ever experienced. He became completely involved . . . he not only threw himself body and soul into the song, but actually across the stage using his dynamic karate movements in intense emotion. The beat grew stronger and that unmistakable powerful voice built up and totally enveloped the huge room. Then it was quiet, slowly he crouched, softly he whispered.

This time his velvet notes echoed around the huge showroom, caressing each of us, his awed audience. He received tumultuous applause and a deserving standing ovation.

Elvis closed his show with Can’t Help Falling in Love with You – opening his arms and heart to the semi-dazed audience, knowing the show was over – yet they responded  in such a way that you could feel their tremendous love for this unique entertainer.

I know I am one of a small percentage of Elvis fans who found it possible to made the pilgrimage to Las Vegas for this epic Elvis event – his return to live performances after almost a decade. I hope that I have managed to paint a picture and convey –  even to a small degree – how truly exciting it was for all who were lucky enough to be there and share this incredible experience of a lifetime.

This was only a very brief but memorable visit to the fascinating ever alive Las Vegas, just 48 hours. We were lucky to see both midnight shows of August 22nd and August 23rd the following night. Elvis completed his 4-week engagement there on Thursday last week. I had heard that Elvis was to stay longer and attend Nancy Sinatra’s show opening there.