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Tales about Elvis flirt with truth

Lisa Marie Presley and I shared a baby sitter. Yes, my godmother, Alice Mafeo, was also the nanny for Lisa Marie when Elvis Presley would perform at the Las Vegas Hilton. But four years before Lisa Marie would be born, Elvis Presley was here in Boulder City filming “Viva Las Vegas.” This was his second notable trip through Boulder City and to Hoover Dam.

It was 1956, a key year for Elvis. He had 17 songs on Billboard’s Top 100 singles chart, including three singles that reached No. 1: “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Don’t Be Cruel” and “Love Me Tender.” He appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show” twice that year and his first-ever movie, “Love Me Tender,” also debuted.

The 21-year-old Elvis faced harsh criticism during his two-week contract at the then-New Frontier Hotel during that year. The Las Vegas Sun newspaper and Hollywood’s Variety noted Presley’s unhappiness with the “grown-up” world that was Las Vegas.

During his two-week tenure in Las Vegas during 1956, Elvis was spotted hanging out with teenage girls around the city’s outskirts, including a few trips through Boulder City and to Lake Mead. There is even a photo of Elvis partying at Hoover Dam in 1956. The photo is circling the internet, most notably on ElvisPresleyMusic.com.au.

It was more business that brought Elvis back through Boulder City in 1964. “Viva Las Vegas” was scheduled to film not only in Las Vegas but also at Hoover Dam and around the Lake Mead marina. The film co-starred Ann-Margret (“Pocketful of Miracles,” “Bye Bye Birdie,” “Carnal Knowledge”) and William Demarest (“Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”). It’s no secret that Presley and Ann-Margret’s scripted onscreen romance quickly turned into an off-screen love affair while Elvis was dating his yet-to-be wife, Priscilla Beaulieu.

Elvis and Priscilla met in Germany, where she was living with her family at the Helene Hotel in 1959. Priscilla was 14 years old when Elvis fell head over heels for her. Elvis and Priscilla had a crazy relationship. The age difference, his concert touring schedule, and a three-year gap when Elvis and Priscilla simply didn’t see one another were all factors of added stress in the couple’s already rocky relationship. Elvis eventually moved Priscilla to Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee, to finish high school and with the promise of marriage.

While shooting “Viva Las Vegas” around Hoover Dam, Elvis and Ann-Margret sent the tabloids into a tizzy with their flirting. In fact, the romance is rumored to have escalated while the actors were hanging around Lake Mead during production down time.

The theme of the movie romance between the two didn’t help, either. Newspapers started to report that a scene where Ann-Margret and Elvis get married in the movie was actually the co-stars’ real-life marriage! Could you imagine Priscilla’s surprise when she opened up the morning paper to read the news that her fiancé was already married to another woman?

It could seem all the marriage gossip and leaked movie footage was nothing more than carefully crafted buzz by the production company’s public relations team to generate interest in the flick; but in her autobiography, “Ann-Margret: My Story,” the actress brags about Presley sending her guitar-shaped floral arrangements each time she played in Las Vegas, even after they both were married to different people.

Ann-Margret also backed up all the tabloid claims the couples’ movie romance was indeed a real-life romance and that her fling with Elvis went on for years after filming the movie.

Having friends in Hollywood today, I can tell you that nothing has really changed when it comes to the personal lives of actors or how movie production companies employ their publicity departments to spin co-star chemistry as an advantage to selling movie tickets.

While I can write a book about Elvis and his female conquests, the most intriguing part of his time around Boulder City is the tremendous box office gain from “Viva Las Vegas.” The film grossed over $10 million, which was substantial money in 1964. And I am sure the buzz surrounding the Elvis, Ann-Margret and Priscilla love triangle had everything to do with the film’s financial success.

Tanya Vece is an entertainment and music writer who resides and volunteers in Boulder City. You can follow her adventures on Instagram @hollywoodwriter.

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