Pubdate: Thu, 7 Jan 2010
Source: Knoxville News-Sentinel (TN)
Copyright: 2010 The Knoxville News-Sentinel Co.
Author: Bartholomew Sullivan, The (Memphis) Commercial Appeal


Story Revealed of How Meeting Happened

WASHINGTON - Every Elvis fan
has seen the picture: Elvis in a dark cape and gold necklace, shaking
hands with a puffy-eyed Richard Nixon at the White House. It's one of
the biggest sellers at The National Archives gift shop - in snow
globes, on coffee mugs and postcards.

On Wednesday night, two days before Presley's 75th birthday, the full
story of how that iconic moment came to be was laid out by two men who
were there and helped make it happen. Jerry Schilling, an Elvis
friend, and Egil "Bud" Krogh, a Nixon aide, hadn't met since that
magical moment in the Oval Office 39 years ago, and they had tales to

It doesn't have any "scholarly, literary, historical or philosophical
importance," Krogh acknowledged. "But it's pure Americana." It was so
important to get the word out, to document the Dec. 21, 1970,
occurrence, that C-Span ran "We Were There When Nixon Met Elvis" -
live. Schilling, who met Elvis at 12 and had a 23-year friendship with
The King, told the overflow crowd Wednesday at the archives' William
G. McGowan Theater about Elvis asking a stewardess for airline
stationery on a Los Angeles-to-Washington red-eye, then proofing the
five-page letter Elvis delivered the next morning to guards at the
White House gate. Krogh, a presidential staff assistant tasked with
drug control policy, received the letter upon arriving at work that
Monday morning and thought the whole thing was a practical joke by
appointments secretary Dwight Chapin. But he made some calls, and
Elvis, Schilling and another Elvis retainer, Sonny West, arrived at
his office.

Memos among White House staffers were exchanged (handwriting in the
margin of one reads, "Are you kidding?") but, by 12:30 p.m., the
meeting was under way, as recorded in National Archives documents.

Perhaps the best moments in Wednesday's hourlong presentation came
when Krogh, who would later go to prison for his role in Watergate era
"plumbers" activity, asked if anyone in the audience had ever seen the
movie "Forrest Gump." Everyone had.

"Remember that line in 'Forrest Gump' where he's sitting at a park
bench and says, 'My mama told me that life is like a box of chocolates
- - you never know what you're going to get'? Well, this was my
box-of-chocolates moment." The archives then displayed the White House
photographer's shot of Nixon, leaning over to peer at Elvis'
cufflinks, with Krogh at a distance, looking on. Schilling told of
Elvis talking to a soldier on leave from Vietnam, then tapping
Schilling for their envelope containing $500 - their only cash - as a
Christmas gift for the man. And he said Elvis always traveled with
guns, and got permission from a pilot to carry one aboard an earlier
flight from Memphis to Washington.

The archives also showed a piece of tape in which Nixon talked about
the meeting in the Oval Office, then defended his friend: "He never
used illegal drugs," Nixon told the interviewer. The crowd guffawed.
Elvis' chief reason for seeing Nixon was to go over the head of the
director of the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, who had
denied Elvis' request for one of the bureau's official badges.

Elvis collected police badges and came to the White House to offer his
assistance in the drug fight but also to get that badge.

Nixon immediately agreed. The story of the Nixon-Elvis meeting was
supposed to remain a secret, but finally leaked 13 months later when
the drug czar's memoir became known to Jack Anderson and his must-read
Washington Merry-Go-Round column.

The headline: "Presley gets Narcotics Bureau badge."

"What he was really proud about," said Schilling, "was that he got
that badge." 
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