Elvis Collectors Brasil is proud to once more give you a exclusive interview, this time with Sandi Miller. Sandi was a fan of Elvis just like every one of us, but over the years she became a personal friend of his, a privilege that very, very few fans can say they had. Sandi not only became his friend but was also a guest at his various homes and was present at some important moments in his career. She also took some of the most beloved candid pictures we have of him. Many of his pictures appeared in the great Behind The Image book, together with her fascinating stories of Elvis, that could be relived as it just happened yesterday, thanks to the entries on her journals. In this conversation Sandi shared some more stories about her times with Elvis Presley. We hope you enjoy read it as much as we did.
ECB: Elvis Collectors Brasil
SM: Sandi MillerECB:Sandi, to start this interview, please tell us about yourself. Where did you grew up and how did you became an Elvis fan?
SM:I grew up in Holland and Minnesota. I think becoming an Elvis fan was almost subconscious. My mother owned a restaurant in Minnesota and she always had Elvis music going - add to that the fact that she would take me and my sisters to work with her and often we spent a lot of time in the movie theater next door to the restaurant while she worked so after hearing "the voice" I finally got to see what this Elvis guy looked like on screen! I think that pretty much did it for me - I was hooked!
ECB:When did you met him for the first time? And what were your first impressions about him?
SM:That's a long story but I'll try try to restrain myself. First,living in Minnesota there wasn't much chance of meeting Elvis although I entertained the thought of going to Graceland but didn't really know where to begin. Meanwhile, as an English project my teacher wanted everyone in class to get a pen-pal out of state and start writing to them. I picked a gal that lived in California (I picked her out of a pen pal section in Teen Beat magazine) because she listed that she was an Elvis fan. After writing to her for almost a year she invited me to come out and visit her and her family in Orange County, California when school was out for the summer.. She had mentioned that "maybe" her mom could drive us up to Elvis' home in Bel Air and "maybe" we would see him. Not sure I even believed her frankly, because this was the first I'd heard about Elvis living in California but that aside, I was anxious to see California. I had told my pen-pal that I would die happy if I could just "see" Elvis for a second and I'd never want anything else! Well as it turned out, just "seeing him" was anything but enough - it was instant addiction. Anyway, that's the first time I "saw" him. . My first impression of actually meeting him for the first time was that he was absolutely GORGEOUS, soft spoken and absolutely charming and the fact that he felt the need to introduce himself blew me away! Over the years I'd formed this picture of Elvis in my head that he was absolutely perfect. He loved his Mom, his family, didn't smoke, didn't drink, didn't cuss, was religious, etc. etc. etc. I had him so high on a pedestal that he might as well have had wings to fly around with. It didn't take long for that impression of him to gradually start to change...ok, he smokes, he cusses, alright - OMG - he's human! He loses his temper, he's funny, he's irreverent....I like this guy even better!
ECB:Elvis was know to be very friendly with the fans. But is also know that he was a very private person. Very few were allowed to be part of his circle of friends. How did you went from a fan to a personal friend?
SM:I think it was a matter of being in the right place at the right time more than anything. Back in the 60's it was not unusual at all for fans to be invited inside the houses in California (and maybe Graceland too for all I know) I think if you pretty much behaved yourself, you would be invited back time after time and that's what often happened with the fans. It started out as an occasional invite and then progressed from there. By the early 70's there really was no need for me to go and stand around the gates any longer even though if I had friends visiting, we would take a run up there so they could see the house and hopefully meet Elvis etc. But, for the most part, we would be invited down to the Palm Springs home for the weekends and that is where we would spend the most time around him. We also were invited to RCA on Sunset Blvd on many occasions to watch him rehearse over the years.
Sandi and Elvis circa
ECB:How was your first visit to Graceland?
SM:Surreal! For one thing we got an invitation to attend the New Year's Eve Party (again, not a uncommon thing for fans to receive at the time) We decided to go and arrived at the Graceland gates (after numerous adventures along the way) only to have one of the uncles say "you must be the girls from California. Apparently someone must have warned him we were coming! We promptly got an invitation to go to the Memphian that evening for the movies.
ECB: When he was at his home, what was the things he liked to do?
SM:Pretty darn normal things actually! He watched TV but had the very annoying habit of changing the channel in the middle of something and often times it was something that was interesting and even worse - he had the nasty habit of telling you the ending to the movies that were being watched! He liked to"narrate"and comment on everything that was on TV which sometimes made it hard to actually hear the TV itself. He also liked to sit at the piano and sing and most times wanted everyone to join in with the singing -- I'd mouth the words because no way did anyone need to hear my voice! He probably would have thrown me out of the room if he had heard me trying to sing! He liked to play games - board games, cards, etc.
In Palm Springs he'd take the dune buggies out and ride around like a crazy man. Target practice (he'd line up cans around the pool and shoot them). He liked to read but I think he liked reading TO someone even more. A fan had sent him a book on autopsies which he had brought down for the weekend. It had very graphic photos in it and he was all but drooling over it all. He made sure to pass it around and everyone had to look at it. He probably read that thing from front to back a dozen times!
ECB: We know that one of his favorite pass times was to go into movie nights at the local theater. Did you ever attended those movie nights?
SM:Yes, on every trip to Memphis we attended the Memphian movie parties - however I only took 3 trips to Memphis while he was alive. On the first trip to Memphis, after the movies, Charlie offered to take us back to our hotel if we didn't mind going with him to drop off that evening's movie reels. It sounded better than a taxi and we already knew Charlie from California so we agreed. Next thing we know, he's pulling up to the gates of Graceland...then the gates opened and we were all driving up to the house and around to the back. I don't think our brains were even functioning at that point - especially when he said to come on inside. I really remember very little about that evening because it was all such a shock but what I do remember is that there were many Christmas trees (not just one, but many) and they still had gifts under them; some opened, some not yet opened. It was so amazing! Everyone mainly sat around and talked and listened to records until morning. I remember Red being there, Elvis, Charlie and some other people I didn't know so they were probably the Memphis gang that didn't come to California often..
As for the movie nights themselves...they went on all night long. Sometimes he had food brought in (the little square hamburgers). Sometimes he actually made it thru an entire movie and other times, they'd start up several movies, only to have Elvis stop them 10-20 minutes into the footage and he'd start up another one. sigh! Some nights he'd come armed with water guns and start a in-house fight; or a popcorn fight. The movies were anything but boring. One night he ran up and down the isles at breakneck speed--just for the heck of it. Drove the guys nuts because there seemed to always be one that followed him when he got up to go anywhere - whether it be the restroom or the lobby.
ECB:Did he ever expressed his concern regarding the quality of his movies and the way his career was heading?
SM:He'd make fun of them and himself...he made the comment once that it was so stupid to be driving down a highway in the middle of a scene and out of nowhere a full orchestra starts up for him to sing to. Another time, when he returned from the studio we asked how his day was and he said "oh the usual - sing to a dog, sing to a tree, punch someone out. " You could tell he wasn't happy about it.
ECB:There are many legendary stories about the craziness, especially practical jokes, during the shooting of his movies. Did you went with him at his movie locations, and if so, do you recall any particular funny stories about those times?
SM:Got to go a few location shoots and it's amazing how the fans would find out exactly where he was filming on any given day. There was always a crowd to watch him film and for the most part the locations shoots weren't even roped off most of the time. Elvis would joke with the crowd between takes or sometimes, when he wasn't on camera he'd go over to the crowd and visit with everyone. I can't think of any practical jokes he did per se but he always acknowledge the fans that came out to watch him work...and some days the crowds were quite large!
ECB: A pivotal moment in his career was his NBC special in 1968. What are your recollections of those times? What were his thoughts, concerns and expectations regarding his upcoming project?
SM:Long before rehearsals or taping started for the 68 Special, Elvis would talk about how nervous he was that he would be in front of a live audience. He brought up that he flopped in Vegas in the 50's and he was just really, really nervous about having a live audience once again. He was afraid no one would show up for any of the tapings . He kept asking "you're coming aren't you?? "Now you're sure you're going to come?" Then one day he had a handful of tickets and he handed them out to everyone ! Guess he was going to make sure someone showed up! We had already sent for our tickets (they were free-you just needed to enclose a SASE and the tickets would be mailed back to you) so we gave the ones we had sent away for to some friends, and kept the ones he gave us.
The majority of the people sitting around the stage are fans that he knew--they went thru the audience and actually pulled certain people out. After all the shows were done but before they aired on TV – he almost grilled the fans as to what they thought. Did everyone REALLY like it?? What didn't they like, what did they like the most. As confident and as proud as he was of that show - those insecurities still seemed to be there on some level.
ECB:What was like to be in Burbank 1968 watching his first appearance in front of a live audience after so many years?
SM:This was the first time I'd ever seen Elvis actually perform (other than old Ed Sullivan clips, etc) or watching him sing in the movies. I really had no idea what to expect since all I'd seen in person is Elvis standing around talking, signing autographs, posing for photos, and the general joking around. To see him actually perform in person was amazing, especially since it was a fairly small room. They'd start a song, stop it so they could wipe his face or reset where he was suppose to be standing, there were many start-ups and stops. Actually it was great when they stopped and had to restart again- it just meant we'd be there longer!
ECB: After the smashing success of his TV special, the desire to return to live appearances led him to open his first season in Vegas in 1969. History tells that he was tremendously apprehensive regarding the reception he would get from the audience. Did he talked to you regarding those fears?
SM:It was pretty much the same as how he was before the 68 tapings...he still wasn't sure he could fill a huge venue, wasn't sure if the tough Vegas audience would like him, didn't know if the fans would travel that far to see him. Those were his concerns. I vaguely remember him discussing the musicians he wanted - he worked hard on which songs he wanted to sing and in what order to do them so he'd having breathing space after doing a high energy song. Don't remember specifics though.
ECB:Did you attended any of his rehearsals for his Vegas seasons?
SM:Yes, several. Some at RCA in Los Angeles, , in his home in California or rehearsals in Vegas before shows. Some where done it this small room away from the Showroom and others were done in the showroom itself. He'd goof around a lot- I think it was his nerves sometimes. A LOT of discussion on what he would wear. Later on, in Palm Springs one weekend, several jumpsuits were delivered to the house and Elvis put each one of them on and basically modeled, not only the jumpsuit themselves but various moves and poses he was going to incorporate into his show. Like getting down on one knee and spreading out the cape. There have been alot of photos taken of Elvis doing the same thing in the hotel room in Vegas but before that - he did it in Palm Springs. It was amazing to listen to him map out how he wanted his show to be; like almost being part of the whole event. He did a fairy dance up on his tippy toes that was hysterical, flapping his cape like a bird. He could get quite goofy sometimes!
Rehearsals could be anything from "intense" where he arrived and was ready to really work and he'd sing a song over and over and over until it was absolutely perfect to him --- to -- a total goof off session where he just goofed around, sang goofy songs (that were not his) in goofy voices, had joke sessions, wanted to play the other instruments, just sit around and gossip (oh yes, he did that!!) and there was one time where he arrived...the other musicians arrived, everyone was in place and he stood up at the mike and announced. "Thank you all for coming - let's go home!!" You just never knew what was going to happen with him!
ECB:It has been told by many Elvis associates that he liked to talk for hours about the most diverse subjects. What kind of conversations you had with him?
SM:I don't think I've ever met a man that could talk as much as Elvis did about so many different subjects. Once he started...he could go on for hours, literally! There was one evening he talked about religion and I think he covered them all. One by one the boys left until all that was left in the living room was a handful of women and the conversation started around 8 PM and was still going on when the sun came up the next morning. He wanted to know everyone's belief's and had questions and comments for all. As much as he liked to talk, I have to say he was also an excellent listener and one of the few people who could actually talk about things such as religion and politics and not get into a squabble during the discussion. He could (and would) talk politics in his own home, he loved talking about the old Chicago Mob, The Irish Mafia, you name it and he seemed to know all there was to know about every crime figure that ever lived. He talked medicine, history of music... But funniest is when he would make up stories and he was very good at it. He'd make up "tales" to see how many of us would buy it. Sometimes we did, sometimes not but you could never be quite sure! He talked about all the dead bodies that "probably" were out in the desert and one day he was going to go out there and find them (don't know what he expected to be left of said bodies, but that was one of his little tales). He liked to pull your leg, so to speak.
ECB: Did he talked about the womans in his life, Priscilla, Linda, Ginger, his daughter and his mother?
SM:Not really - he might make a passing comment but no real discussion. He probably figured it wasn't any of my business anyway. He spoke about his mother once to me - never mentioned his twin either. There were twin girls at the Palm Springs house one weekend and he did say he was a twin also but that is the only comment I ever heard him make.
ECB: After he split up with Priscilla and Lisa´s custody was held to his mother, did he ever talked about it?
SM:No - but he was always real excited when Lisa was due to come to the house to spend time with him . He liked talking about Lisa and he liked showing off photos of her. Of course she was the smartest, cutest thing on earth...the typical dad comments! He'd make up stories about her too..."Lisa should be here any minute- she's out test driving her Ferrari" Never mind she was 6 years old!
ECB:As the years went by, he became more reclusive. Its seems that he didn't went anymore to the gates to talk with the fans after 1971. What you think happened that made him more reclusive?
SM:He ceased to spend time at the gates when he moved into the Monovale house-( the last home he had in Los Angeles). I'm not really sure why, and I'd hate to speculate, although I have my suspicions. I think part of it was he had lost some zest for life . Elvis was at his best when he had a challenge to meet - a mountain to conquer and at that point in his life - everything was mundane and there was nothing to excite him any longer and that affected his private life. Also his health problems seemed to escalate. I continued to go to the Monovale Home and it was weird not seeing a bunch of fans at the gate (partly because the way the house was situated, there really was no place to fans to park and stay, much like the Palm Springs homes). Cars would literally block the very narrow street if fans tried to park outside the house.. Also you could not see anything from the road - the house wasn't visible from the street unlike his other homes.
ECB: During an interview for the behind the image DVD, you said that Elvis once told you that he wanted peace at heart. What do you think he meant by that? What do you think that troubled him so much?
SM:Again, I have to speculate since only he knew what exactly he was talking about. I think he wasn't feeling real trustful about alot of people around him; there had been alot of things going on within the inner circle and his professional life that bothered him and that I think he felt he had little or no control over things. I guess it was just a combination of that and feeling lonely. Again, not just one thing but a culmination of things that had been going on for quite awhile. I really didn't prod him to find out what he meant- he didn't need comments at the time - he just needed someone to listen I think.
ECB:During the many years you spent with Elvis you took many pictures. Do you still have pictures that nobody ever saw?
SM:I do have some...not many- maybe a dozen or so...they are the photos I took of Elvis inside his homes or out back at the pool and I have never given out copies of those. Also have many stage shots that have not been seen- they will be in the next volume of Behind The Image which should be out this year.
One of the great pictures Sandi took of Elvis. July 1969.
ECB:In 1973 he made one of the most talked about TV special of the time, the Aloha From Hawaii show. After the show, what were his thoughts after about it? Was he satisfied?
SM:He didn't talk to me about it, and although I don't usually like to relay second hand stories I will make an exception. My friend Carol, who used to live in Palm Springs and was a guest at the house from time to time, was at the house when the show aired and watched Aloha with Elvis. If I remember right she said he critiqued everything. She thought the show was perfect but he commented on the instruments being "off" by a beat or the drummer getting ahead of himself or him starting too late or too early on a song. She said he was very critical of the show and she never could figure it out because even though he was critical of it, he was also happy with it. Go figure!
ECB:The fans were so much a part of his life as music itself. There are many fantastic stories regarding his relationship with the fans. Do you have a particular one, or more than one, that you could tell us?
SM:Oh wow- that could be a book in itself! I have several favorites but I'll try to narrow it down.. There was an older couple that would occasionally drive from the Valley to Elvis' Hillcrest home. They came often enough that Elvis got to know them and they were such a sweet pair but the husband wasn't in the best of health. Elvis always focused on them when they were there. After several months of not seeing them he asked all the regular fans if they knew if anything was wrong or if any of us had a way to contact them because he was starting to get a little concerned. We didn't know their last names and only knew they lived in Van Nuys. Fast forward another 6 months or so and we run into the woman in the lobby of the Hilton hotel along with her neighbor. We told her Elvis had been asking about her over the summer and she said "oh, you didn't hear?" She went on to tell us that Elvis showed up at her door one day (she lived in a trailer park). I know we kind of looked at each other like.....yeah, sure he did....but apparently Elvis, getting more and more concerned because he knew her husband was in poor health, tracked their address down because he had memorized the licence plate on their car and he used that to start his search. Her husband had died ... she said they had photos of the visit and darn if she didn't haul them out and show us. Sure enough...that was Elvis alright and that was definitely what looked to be the living room of a trailer home that was filled with flowers, from the funeral I presume. They each had a photo taken with him. He'd never said a word!! She said Elvis had come alone....no entourage!!
Another time that really stands out is in Palm Springs. One of the regular girls decided to bring a friend of hers that was visiting her, to the house one evening. She wasn't the most attractive gal--quite large, looking much older than she probably was. Some of the boys started making rather unkind remarks to her which I won't repeat. After a few minutes of this, Elvis got up out of his chair, walked over to the girl, who by this time was sitting on the couch looking miserable and out of place, and he asked her if she'd like something to drink and she nodded. He went into the kitchen and came back with a glass of lemonade for her. When she finished it, he took her hand, and asked "would you like me to show you around? " He proceeded to walk out of the living room, thru the dining room to head into the back yard, but he looked over his shoulders and shot daggers at those who were unkind to her . Needless to say, by the time he came back into the living room with her - no one said another nasty word to her. He handled alot of situations in that same manner...didn't say much-just acted. He could say more with a look than words at times.
And Elvis at the gates of his house in LA, circa 1969
ECB:Among the people that became associated with Elvis, very few received a TCB or TLC necklace. You´re one of those lucky people. Please, tell us how and when did you get such amazing gift.
SM:I received my TLC in Palm Springs and it was very much unexpected because I always figured it was for special people- not fans. Elvis sent everyone out of the room - then left himself and came back with a box which I recognized immediately - my brain freezes at this point and I couldn't even tell you what he said as he put it on - something about "for being you" or something along those lines. I truly don't remember. I know on the ride back home I screamed about it for a good long time! I used to always hide it under my clothing in Vegas because I found out if it showed, people follow you around! (Laughing)
ECB:Did he gave you any more gifts that you treasure?
SM:I have a diamond watch and a turquoise ring. The ring isn't anything he picked out himself, rather a big case of jewelry was brought up to the suite at the Hilton and everyone in the room was told to pick out something for themselves (boy was that jeweler a happy man!!). My friend and I both picked the smallest thing we could find because it felt very awkward to just "pick something" that was obviously going to be pricey. Elvis tried to talk us into getting something larger but we used the excuse that we had small hands and fingers and anything else would look silly on us. He seemed to accept that ! We'd learned by this time to not even bother to say "no we don't want anything". That never worked with him!
ECB:Some great recollections of your times with Elvis were published with great detail, thanks to the entries on your journals, in the book Behind The Image 2. Do you want to share with us any particular stories that was not included in that book?
SM:I'd have to go back and read which stories I used in there - there will be more excerpts in BTI #3 I think some of the ones I just told you here might not have been printed yet. So many of the stories just can't be put into print. Not because there's anything wrong with them but because what made them funny is the way Elvis would say something, or the faces he'd make and that doesn't translate into the written word but to this day, I can still see some of those expressions and hear his voice when I tell the stories.
ECB:Do you have plans to ever write a book about you and Elvis? I'm sure it would be something that the fans would love to read.
SM:I have my journals which I'd like to pass to my kids - if you read them in order they ARE a book. However some things I feel just need to be kept private so the closest I've gotten to sharing anything is the entries in BTI. I don't think I'd ever want all that is written to be put into a book. So, definitely no plans at this point.
ECB:When was the last time you saw him
SM:Last time was in Palm Springs in June of l977. He looked pretty good considering, but what I remember most was he seemed to have a sparkle in his eyes again- he was talking about taking some time off, getting back in shape, making some changes, and starting on something new. Had no clue what he was talking about and again, didn't think to ask him because "there would always be the next time" when we could pick his brain. Unfortunately- that next time never came.
ECB:This is a question that we always like to ask. What you miss most about him and How you think we should remember him?
SM:What do I miss most about him? I guess I'd say his insight into things...He had the most amazing way and attitude to look at things and he helped me sort thru some things when I was young...I'd hit him up for advice from time to time and his advice was always so different than anyone else's and he was usually spot on!
I wish he would be remembered as the unique person he was, not only physically beautiful but he had a kind soul and heart and he was brilliant! I know that sounds sappy but I think a lot of people cannot look past the caricature that has been painted of him over the years.The overweight, drugged out Rock Star. I hate that because that was such a small part of his life and yet that seems to be what is always focused on...it drives me NUTS!
Of course he will always be remembered for the mark he left on music history so I won't even mention that because it's a given. His fans, of course, know what he has left us and what he meant to us, but I do wish the public - the media - those that are not diehard fans, I wish they knew how much more there was to this man and how everyone he met, he touched in some way. He was a life changer! Still is!
Sandi Miller Interviewed In Februrary, 2009, by Sergio Biston
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