Elvis Presley and Judy Spreckles
Elvis plays the piano for fan Judy Spreckles - The Frontier Hotel, Las Vegas 1956
Elvis: 'I want to tell you a story, if you don't mind, before I do this. See this young lady right here? Her name is Judy Spreckles. And let me tell you a story about her. When I came to Hollywood, I was Twenty years old, to do 'Love Me Tender', her family was the Spreckles Sugar family - you've heard of those, haven't you? Yeah, well I guess everybody has 'cause it's a big company - she gave me a four black star sapphire ring that I kept up until Priscilla and I were married. And Priscilla used it as an engagement ring.
This lady right here did, twenty years ago ... Judy Spreckles. I don't know where she's been. She's been married, off in the hills, flying in the jets, climbing trees and all that kind of stuff, riding' horses. She's a wild woman, but she did that and she comes around here once in a while to check on me...'.
(Elvis about Judy Spreckles at the Las Vegas Hilton on September 2, 1974)
Judy Spreckels & Elvis Presley
'He told me secrets that I never told and will never tell', says Spreckels. 'I had nothing to do with being a yes man for him and obviously he trusted me. 'Anything he told me was not going to go to any publication. I am the only person who was around Elvis who was a writer and didn't write a book. I felt secrets were secrets'.
They met when Spreckels, an heiress who had a ranch in Las Vegas, was living at a hotel where Elvis was staying. 'I was sitting at a writing desk in the lobby writing a letter and he just came up to me and started talking'. It was 1956 and Elvis was a newborn star. 'How could you not know who he was even then?' she says. 'I was friendly and told him I loved his record, Heartbreak Hotel'.
Then he took her to the gift shop to show her a magazine.
'He said, 'This says I'm a hillbilly. I'm not, am I?' I said, 'No, you're a singer'. And after that I was with him and the guys all the time. There wasn't a crowd then, just a few guys'.
Back then, she says, Elvis was surrounded by the first wave of what would become known as the Memphis Mafia. Spreckels was the only woman in the group.
She once described herself as having been like a sister to Elvis but never a girlfriend.
'Girls come and go', she explained. 'But sisters stay forever'. Reminded of the comment now, she says it is true. 'This sister lasted forever. We were friends till the day he died'.
Spreckels glows when remembering the idyllic early days.
'We were like kids', she says of that time when Elvis was about
21 and she was two years older. In the afternoons in Las Vegas they would ride bumper cars at an amusement park. And they went out for adventures where they could escape the fans.
'He loved the fact that I had a light blue Cadillac and he bought the same car for his mother in pink', she remembers. 'One day we drove my car out into the desert and his cousin came with us. Elvis drove that car as fast as it could go and I was in the front seat whooping and screaming and laughing. His cousin was on the floor in the back he was so scared. But I'd been a stunt player in the movies and Elvis couldn't go fast enough to scare me'. When they visited Graceland, she said, 'We stayed up all night listening to Elvis singing and playing the piano. He liked to sing hymns. I didn't know any hymns but I do now. He introduced me to Amazing Grace'. In Los Angeles, where Elvis made movies, Judy remembers going out on a Sunday with him and his friend, actor Nick Adams. 'Elvis decided to stop in a sports store and buy us bows and arrows. It was just whimsy. We went up to Mulholland Drive and were shooting bows and arrows and nobody saw us'.
Another time, the trio went horseback riding and were captured in a snapshot by a teenager at the ranch. It shows Judy smiling up adoringly at Elvis, the wind blowing her hair. 'I'm the only one in that picture who's still alive', she notes sadly. She has many unpublished photographs, she says, and 'He was looking at me all the time and he was laughing. It was just such a fun time'.
Often, she travelled to Elvis' singing engagements around the country. And once, Spreckels, an artist, got him to sit for a portrait she drew. He inscribed it, 'To Judy Spreckels, I love you, baby. Elvis Presley'.
'We loved each other, as it says on my picture. But it was just a really terrific friendship'.
When Elvis' mother Gladys died in 1958, Judy went to the funeral. 'I've never seen anyone as sad as Elvis was', she says. 'He grieved. He cried continuously. We were in the front hall at Graceland and he stood there hugging me for a half hour. He was crying and crying and crying. It was the saddest thing I'd ever seen'.
In later years, she attended his Las Vegas concerts and he would stop the show to introduce her to the audience. She had married by then and so had he. By the time drugs invaded his life, she was less involved.
'I never think of him as he was the last year or year and a half', she says. 'I think of him as so vibrant and beautiful and funny. When he died, a whole part of my life changed and I died a little'.
Spreckels now lives quietly in the San Fernando Valley. For a while she worked as a ghost writer of books and had a small publishing company. For years she was a trial watcher, attending famous court trials. Now, she describes herself as a recluse preferring to watch trials on TV.
She would like to sell her memorabilia, but is searching for a serious Elvis admirer dedicated to preserving the legend. Asked if she ever ponders the tragedy of Elvis dying at 42, she pauses for a moment and says, 'I think he got as old as he wanted to get'.