Tuesday, July 14, 2009



Over the years I’ve been asked hundreds of questions about Elvis: about our friendship, his hair, his spiritual pursuits, all aspects of his life and career. In this space I look forward to answering your questions, no matter what the subject may be. To get this started and to help lay a foundation I’ve answered a few that have come up frequently. I encourage you to ask whatever is on your mind and to visit here often to see what other questions are being asked and answered.

Elvis had such great hair. Was that you, or Mother Nature?

I guess you could say it was a joint venture. Elvis was blessed with beautiful, although fine, hair; and I used all my knowledge and skill to keep it healthy and looking good. From the very beginning I explained my philosophy, the concept of bringing internal health and vitality to the external beauty of the hair, as well as my ideas about style. Elvis said emphatically, “Larry, you’re in charge of my hair; do whatever you think is necessary, only one thing...just make sure I keep it.” Being responsible for the health and style of Elvis’ hair, and the image that was to be seen on film, personal appearances, album covers and photos, was something I didn’t take lightly. His picture perfect smile and stunning good looks have become a powerful symbol, universally and instantly recognizable. Charisma never had it so good. The perfect image Elvis presented to his audiences was exactly what the millions of Elvis fans came to expect of their idol. Maintaining that perfection required constant attention. As an example, when Elvis was shooting movies, I sometimes “shpritzed” his hair as many as a dozen times in one day. Elvis always did his own fight scenes and was very active; and under the hot lights and with perspiration his fine, flyaway hair needed to be controlled. It was also essential that I make sure his hair matched in every scene.With all that in mind, I created the most beneficial, superior shampoos, conditioners, hair sprays and thickening agents to meet Elvis’ specific hair needs. Because I dyed his hair black, I had to take extra precautions to ensure optimum health and longevity. I probably looked like a mad scientist, or at the very least an alchemist, pouring and mixing various bottles of organic ingredients in Elvis’ bathroom, creating special formulas…potions that worked wonders. I remember one afternoon at Graceland, Elvis was watching me pour some Aloe Vera gel into one of my homemade shampoo concoctions. I caught a curious expression on his face, and then Elvis smiled humorously, “Larry, I don’t know exactly what you’re mixing there, but, if you’re goin’ to put that stuff on me it better not do anything weird to my hair.” Of course he was kidding, as he already knew my eccentric brews always did the trick.

When and where can we purchase your new line of hair products?
I’m pleased to say that we are currently working on the development of my line of organic hair care products for men and women. Of course it takes time to create the very best formulas, using certified organic and fair trade ingredients wherever possible, as well as biodegradable packaging. Because my own name will be on every bottle, I want to be sure the products meet my professional standards and are compatible with my holistic philosophy. We hope to have our products available by the end of the year; we’ll keep you posted on our progress.
Why did you wait so long to write this book?

Since Elvis died, I have spoken before thousands of fans around the world; I’ve been interviewed on television, in print, and in documentaries; and I’ve responded to the e-mails sent to me every day from people all over the world. While most express an interest in the work I did for Elvis as his hair stylist and what it was like to be part of his world, they always come to the same place. What did Elvis believe? Was he a Christian? What were his favorite books and philosophers? What did you and Elvis talk about during all those hours you spent together? Did he pray? Did he meditate? Did he believe in reincarnation and karma? Some of the e-mails tell me about spiritual connections that the writer has to Elvis, or how Elvis changed or even saved the person’s life.In addition to answering these questions, I have always done my best to counter the barrage of untrue and unflattering stories about Elvis, whether in the media or in books written by some others. As part of this effort I participated in the writing of several books in the early 1980s and made small contributions to others over the years. In 1989 I had significantly more input and control writing If I Can Dream (Simon & Schuster, 1989), which came closer to expressing what I wanted to say.These collaborative experiences with talented and creative writers were rewarding in many ways, and I learned a lot from them. This time, writing Leaves of Elvis’ Garden, is different – this is my book.In the years after Elvis’ death, I compiled volumes of notes, meticulously reconstructing actual conversations, always relying upon my ability to recall tone, texture, and context. I can honestly and comfortably say that this book hits the mark. You will see this reflected in the passages and ideas found in pages of Elvis’ own books, notes he wrote in the margins, and phrases and thoughts he underlined.This book had to be written. How could I allow what is contained within these pages to be lost forever? That would have been a gross injustice. The planning and actual writing have been years in the making, since I realized early on that previously I had only touched upon the most essential portal into Elvis’ story.Elvis charged me with this responsibility, empowering me and inspiring me to write this book. “The world knows Elvis Presley all right,” he said emotionally, “but they don’t know me,” poking his chest. “I want them to know me, the real person. There’s more to me than that guy up there on the stage: You know, Elvis the image.”And now the time is right to go into the depths of that essential, all-important aspect of this man, to fully honor the promise I made to Elvis so long ago.What was the name of the book
Elvis was reading before he passed?
Over the years I brought hundreds of books to Elvis. The very last one, which he was reading when he passed away, was a book about the holy Shroud of Turin. It’s called A Scientific Search For The Face Of Jesus, by Frank O. Adams.
When and how did you first meet Elvis Presley?
In Southern California, one of the exciting perks for a teenager growing up in the Hollywood area where I lived and went to school (Fairfax High) was the occasional celebrity sighting. I remember seeing Elizabeth Taylor walking into the Egyptian theater on Hollywood Boulevard one night. Another time I saw Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward eating with friends at a local restaurant, and once I almost bumped into John Wayne shopping at a Beverly Hills department store. There were many others over the years.In the autumn of 1957 I had more than a celebrity sighting; I had the ultimate celebrity encounter. The big buzz at school was that Elvis was coming to Los Angeles, appearing right in our neighborhood at the Pan Pacific auditorium. The Pan Pacific was a huge arena used for large trade and auto shows, the Ice Capades and political rallies. We were more than ready when we arrived that day. With our white tee shirts, tight peg-legged jeans and our pomaded hair swept into ducktails, we were a group of “Fonzie” clones.We thought we were so cool that the lack of tickets wouldn’t be a barrier to our getting in to see Elvis. To our amazement, thousands and thousands of energized teenagers streamed in from all directions for this, the first major rock concert to hit town and the first live taste of Elvis’ magic.Suddenly the crowd was gone, happily ensconced inside the auditorium, waiting for Elvis to appear in person and dazzle them with his performance. Deflated, we were left outside with a few other forlorn stragglers. We stood there looking at one another, as the others slowly walked away. We were determined to find a way in, to pry open an unguarded door or window, whatever it might take, as the frenzy of screams and feet stomping inside egged us on.We soon realized that security was much tighter than we expected. We were all ready to give up when we wandered into a small parking area near a side door and stopped dead in our tracks. Like a visitor from another planet, there was Elvis, the sunlight bouncing off his gold lame’ suit making him appear larger than life.“Come on, you guys,” I yelled excitedly to them. They just stood there dumbfounded.“Well, I’m going.” Before I lost my nerve I raced towards Elvis.He stood with one leg propped against the front fender of a car, talking to several of his bodyguards. I approached slowly, expecting to be stopped by one of them, but nothing happened. When I was unbelievably close to him I smiled and said, “Hi.”Elvis, who was several inches taller than I was then, looked down at me, reached out his hand and clasped mine. “Hi, I’m Elvis Presley”, as if we were old friends.“Hi, I’m Larry Geller. Nice to meet you”The pictures I had seen of Elvis hadn’t prepared me for the impact of the vision before me. I’m not sure I even blinked, as I stared at that perfect face framed by his unique long sideburns. He radiated vitality and magnetism; the air around him was charged with electricity.Then someone yelled, “Elvis, you’re up man, time to go.”“Well,” he said politely in his southern drawl, as he nodded toward the door, “Well, they want me in there, now.” It would have been easy for a star like Elvis to make up some excuse to escape a pesky kid, but I honestly didn’t think that was what he was doingI just stood there and watched him go, and then I heard an explosion of sound as he walked on the stage.Meeting Elvis like that rocked my world, and in my wildest imagination I never dreamt what was to take place eight years later.
What were you doing before you worked for Elvis?
In the summer of 1959, I graduated from the Hollywood School of Beauty, planning to become a hairstylist for women like most of my fellow graduates. At that time men only went to barbershops, which didn’t seem like the best outlet for my creativity. Almost immediately my plans changed: I had the opportunity to join forces with famed hairstylist Jay Sebring, and to help pioneer the new and exciting industry of men’s hairstyling.We were witnessing a renaissance in the hair and beauty industry: the birth of men’s hairstyling as we know it today. Overnight the “Sebring style” was viewed by millions in motion pictures and on the most popular television shows in America. We were extremely proud and excited; as the growing consensus was that we were making a significant contribution to the Cultural Revolution in style and fashion of the sixties. We provided what was dubbed “the look” and inspired a new awareness for health, beauty and personal power.Our pioneering philosophy of hair care was based upon one simple theme: nature knows best. We understood that using the purest natural ingredients we could find worked so much better than synthetic harsh chemicals. In addition to our effective hair treatments and therapeutic scalp massages, we introduced our clients to an innovative new device that’s now in every home: the handheld hairdryer.More than anything else it was the innovative and distinct styles we offered which were sought after by the entertainment world. Our success story became the talk of both coasts, a dream come true, and over the next several years our clientele read like a show business Who’s Who. We styled the locks of such luminaries as Frank Sinatra, Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, Peter Sellers, Henry Fonda, Rock Hudson, Jackie Gleason, Bobby Darin, Marlon Brando, George Hamilton, James Garner, Warren Beatty, Roy Orbison, Sam Cooke, George Hamilton, Robert Wagner and many other famous stars, as well as the industry’s most prominent directors, producers and agents.On the afternoon of Tuesday, April 30, 1964, I was cutting hair at the salon when one phone call changed my life forever. The Southern drawl on the other end of the line belonged to Alan Fortas, one of Elvis Presley’s aides, asking if I would like to come over to Elvis’ Bel-Air home and style his hair.I was certainly no star struck kid at the time, having worked for several years with the biggest names in the entertainment industry. I had a comfortable, first-name relationship with most of them. They weren’t simply clients; some of them were also friends. But Elvis! This was different; he was the celebrity of celebrities, a luminary like no other.
What was it like doing Elvis’ hair for the first time?
One of Elvis’ entourage met me at the entrance of the Bel-Air gates, signaling me to follow him up the road past the golf course toward Elvis’ home. Once Perugia Way came into view, I got my first flash of excited fans and tourists holding their continuous vigil outside Elvis’ gates.When I entered Elvis’ home that first time, he walked up to me, extending his hand with a friendly “Hi, I’m Elvis Presley.” Déjà vu for me, as I was struck again by the powerful presence of the man I had met so many years before. I’d grown several inches taller, yet he remained unchanged: still larger than life, his physical beauty and magnetism defining the word “charisma.”After we shook hands, Elvis said, “Tell you what; why don’t we go into my bathroom? You can fix my hair and we’ll talk.”I soon realized then just how down-to-earth Elvis was, a quality I was to see again and again over the coming years. He had the innate ability to make people feel comfortable around him, no matter their station in life. Studio head or gardener, he had the same casual, unpretentious air about him.Elvis sat in front of the mirror, silent as I trimmed and styled his hair. I caught an occasional glimpse of his reflection as he watched me work, his eyes intently studying me. I felt that he needed the silence and the space, and I didn’t want to intrude.About forty-five minutes later, I was finished. “So what do you think?”Elvis patted his hair and smiled. “Beautiful. That’s perfect.” Then he spun around, leaned forward in his chair, and looked at me intently. “Larry, let me ask you something. I mean, you’re a great hair stylist and all, but what are you really all about? What are you really into? Who are you?”His straightforward question caught me off-guard. More importantly, it hinted at an Elvis quite different from my expectations. I hesitated; what could he care or understand about the esoteric subjects that were the core of my life?My first thought was that if I opened up to him I might come off as some kind of stereotypical “California nut.” But I hadn’t come there with any agenda; I didn’t want anything from Elvis, and maybe he needed to hear what I had to say. I really didn’t have a choice or anything to lose; I knew I had to speak the truth.“Well,” I said tentatively, “outside of my profession, my main interest, which is really the most important part of my life, is my search for truth, for God, and for a greater understanding of myself. I’ve read and studied a lot of spiritual and metaphysical books. I pray, meditate and practice yoga. I’m also a vegetarian. To put it simply, Elvis, I’m seeking to learn my purpose in living.”Elvis gave me a penetrating look.Perhaps I’d said too much. “Look, I know you’re Elvis Presley. You’re the biggest star in the world, and this probably sounds corny…”“No, man, no!” Elvis interrupted, his face lighting up. “That’s not corny at all. Larry, please, just go on talking; I really need to hear this. You have no idea what this means to me.”We went on to spend several hours together that afternoon; Elvis and I made a profound connection that would change both of our lives.From the very beginning our conversation became surprisingly intimate and very emotional. Elvis didn’t know me from Adam, but he was compelled somehow to open up and bare his innermost thoughts and feelings in a free-flowing stream. I can still remember the long pauses as he lamented growing up in dire poverty back in Tupelo Mississippi. Tears welled up in his eyes as he spoke lovingly about his stillborn twin brother Jesse Garon, and about the desperate struggles his mom and dad had to endure. He tried to articulate his confusing experiences attending church as a youngster, and how it deeply affected his life and his career.Profoundly stirred from within, Elvis abounded with questions. “What do you think the soul really is, Larry? Is there really some kind of life after death? Why was I chosen to become Elvis Presley?” “Do you really think I can find out what my real purpose in this life is?”I was amazed; not in my wildest imagination would I have guessed that Elvis Presley and I would connect and bond like we did that afternoon. This remarkable conversation would set the tone and be the basis for thousands like it for many years to come, until just a matter of a few short hours before Elvis passed away at Graceland in 1977.Close to three hours passed before I thought to look at my watch. I explained to Elvis that my next client was waiting for me back at the salon, and I had to leave.He had a better idea: I should leave my position, give up my clientele and work for him full time. I should meet him at Paramount Studios the next morning – and bring some of the books I had told him about.How long do you think it took me to say yes?