On January 27, 1972, Washington Post columnist Jack Anderson was leaked information about President Richard Nixon's appointment of Elvis Presley as a special assistant on the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. In this video clip from The History Channel's TV series History Rocks: The 70's, the friendship between President Nixon and Elvis Presley is discussed, along with the letters that they exchanged.
‘Elvis & Nixon’ Is Based on a Strange, Real-Life Meeting
The photograph, one of the most requested from the National Archives, has left generations of viewers scratching their heads: President Richard M. Nixon — wearing a gray suit with an American flag pin in his lapel — and Elvis Presley — in velvet bell-bottoms and cape, an enormous gold belt buckle at his waist — shaking hands in the White House.
The product of a warped mind and some Photoshop tomfoolery? No, just another moment when truth is stranger than fiction.
But what, exactly, is that truth? The encounter — which is the subject of the comedy “Elvis & Nixon,” due April 22 — took place on Dec. 21, 1970, when the two men, each teetering on the precipice, met in the Oval Office.
Sometime the night before, Presley — incensed by what he considered the moral decline of America — wrote to Nixon requesting a meeting. Flying a commercial red-eye to Washington from Los Angeles and using American Airlines stationery, Presley said he’d been inspired to save the country from the scourge of the Black Panthers, hippies and Students for a Democratic Society (he would later include the Beatles on that list). Now he wanted to be made a federal agent at large with the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, the better to go undercover.
“I have done an in-depth study of drug abuse and communist brainwashing techniques and I am right in the middle of the whole thing where I can and will do the most good,” he wrote. “I am glad to help just so long as it is kept very private.” He delivered the letter to the northwest gate of the White House and went to the Washington Hotel to await an answer.
Presley as an all-American antidrug activist — what better disguise? (Not incidentally, the entertainer, who had received death threats, believed that the credentials, which he longed to add to his collection of law-enforcement memorabilia, would also allow him to carry firearms — and prescription drugs — at home and abroad.)
The president wouldn’t install his infamous taping system until the following February, leaving a blank space where the men’s words — let alone their emotions — were concerned.
The creators of “Elvis & Nixon” — with Michael Shannon as Presley and Kevin Spacey as the president — tried to fill it in.
About four years ago, Joey Sagal, an actor and occasional Elvis impersonator, was visiting the producer Cassian Elwes, who had a mug shot of Elvis on his wall.
That was no mug shot, Mr. Sagal told him, but rather a photo for a badge.
“It’s the craziest story ever,” Mr. Elwes recalled, “and then about three days later I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is totally a movie.’”
He initially conceived of a short film as a wedding gift for Mr. Sagal and his wife then, Hanala. Soon, Mr. Elwes’s brother Cary, the actor, had written an opening scene in which an irate Elvis blows away his television with a .45 — yes, it happened — and kept going until he had a feature-length screenplay. (Both Sagals and Cary Elwes are credited as screenwriters.)
“The humorous edge was obvious to anyone who knew the story,” which they steered into “Dr. Strangelove” territory, Cassian Elwes said.
The official documents surrounding the meeting were deliciously surreal, starring Watergate figures who armed the president with narcotics-related talking points and proposed a rock-star led antidrug campaign called “Get High on Life.”
Join Times theater reporter Michael Paulson in conversation with Lin-Manuel Miranda, catch a performance from Shakespeare in the Park and more as we explore signs of hope in a changed city. For a year, the “Offstage” series has followed theater through a shutdown. Now we’re looking at its rebound.
“If the President wants to meet with some bright young people outside of the Government, Elvis might be a perfect one to start with,” Dwight Chapin, Nixon’s appointments secretary, wrote in a memo to H.R. Haldeman, the chief of staff, who scrawled in the margins, “You must be kidding.” (Those memos, along with Presley’s letter and photographs from the occasion, are housed at the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, and can be seen online in the National Archives exhibition “When Nixon Met Elvis.”)
There were also memoirs by those who were in the room, at least part of the time, including “The Day Elvis Met Nixon” by the White House aide Egil Krogh Jr. and “Me and a Guy Named Elvis” by Jerry Schilling, a longtime friend who accompanied the singer on that trip to Washington.
“Actually, that’s part of what was fascinating — that there’s more realness to the script than I presumed when I first read it,” said the director, Liza Johnson.
Eventually the filmmakers consulted Mr. Schilling, who was loath to make an onscreen fool of his friend. But as revisions continued, he softened.
“There were things in that script that said a lot about who Elvis was as a human being,” Mr. Schilling said. Before shooting began, he took Mr. Shannon to Memphis, where they visited the government project housing where Elvis lived as a child, and privately toured Graceland, “things I’d never shared with anyone else before.”
The resulting portrayal is more essence than impression, enlivened by quirks like Presley’s peculiar laugh, conjured by an actor who only faintly resembles him. (Both Mr. Shannon and Mr. Spacey channeled their characters without the help of prosthetics.)
The meeting between Presley and Nixon — made public a year later by the columnist Jack Anderson — may not be significant as political history, nor did it benefit the president. “But it’s certainly interesting as cultural history in the sense that it captures a moment of early 1970s America, as the country was so taken with the changes being wrought by the counterculture,” said David Greenberg, the author of “Nixon’s Shadow: The History of an Image.”
“Here was Elvis, who used to be such a hero to young people, having aligned himself with the Nixon White House on the side of the squares,” Mr. Greenberg added.
In a 1990 interview, Nixon recalled Presley’s flamboyance and shyness and took issue with those who criticized his use of drugs, adding without apparent irony that they were prescription and not illegal.
“I think that he was a very sincere and decent man,” the former president concluded.
Presley got what he wanted — a special assistant’s badge, now in Graceland’s archives. “It was an important moment in his life,” Mr. Schilling said. “I’m not sure how much humor he would find in that or not.”
Elvis Presley Requests Federal Agent Credentials
In his letter to Nixon that the guard passed on, Elvis Presley gave a bit more detail on his true intent. He said that he wanted to give Nixon a gift. In addition, he wanted to receive credentials as a federal agent in the war on drugs as well.
The “Heartbreak Hotel” singer was determined to get his own badge from the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. His wife at the time, Priscilla, said her husband thought the federal badge “represented some kind of ultimate power to him.”
Presley did have genuine concerns about the current state of America in 1970. He feared “drug abuse and Communist brainwashing techniques” were becoming a real issue across the nation. The famous entertainer thought he could use his worldwide popularity and influence to reach people of all ages and help combat the growing issue.
After receiving Presley’s letter, Nixon and his aide Egil Krogh believed in the sincerity of his message. They also thought he could be helpful and had potential value in the fight against drugs, especially when it came to young people. Krogh asked Presley and his bodyguards to return to their hotel and wait for their phone call.
When Elvis Met Nixon: Fighting Crimes and Sniffing Lines.
Before the likes of Starsky and Hutch, Batman and Robin, or even Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson , there was an exceptionally iconic crime-fighting duo in the form of President Richard Nixon, and the King of Rock n Roll, Elvis Aaron Presley. On the 21st December 1970, the two stood together to take a picture together that turned out to be one of the most iconic photos in history. The image looks like a photoshopped joke or something out of a parallel universe where historic icons of the 20th century hang out together, but the picture is very much real.
The story began in Memphis a few days earlier, when Elvis’ father, Vernon, and wife Priscilla, complained that the King had spent too much on Christmas presents. Elvis had spent over $300,000 for 32 handguns and ten Mercedes-Benzes. In pure Rock n Roll style, Elvis drove off that evening to the airport and caught the next available flight, which just so happened to be bound for Washington. Elvis (as he often did) was travelling with a vast amount of handguns and his collection of police badges, which he seemed to have a growing obsession for. However, there was one badge that Elvis really, really wanted … The King wanted a badge from the federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs from Washington DC. “The narc badge represented some kind of ultimate power to him,” Priscilla Presley wrote in her memoir. She continued: “With the federal narcotics badge, he believed he could legally enter any country wearing guns and carrying any drugs he wished.”
Whilst en route to Washington, Elvis scribbled a letter to President Nixon: “Sir, I can and will be of any service that I can to help the country out. I would love to meet you just to say hello if you’re not too busy.” At this point, both Elvis and Nixon were in the prime of their careers, Presley was in the middle of a successful comeback, selling out shows in Las Vegas, meanwhile, Nixon, who had not yet been tainted by Watergate, was experiencing a wave of popularity for vowing to get America out of Vietnam and to desegregate schools.
After Elvis landed in Washington, he delivered his letter to the White House, checked into his hotel, and swiftly left for the offices of the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. Presley was approved for a meeting with the deputy director, but much to his disappointment, no approval for a bureau badge. However, whilst Elvis was busy attending his meeting, his letter was delivered to Nixon’s aide Egil ‘Bud’ Krogh, who just so happened to be a die-hard Elvis Presley fan. Krogh loved the idea of a Nixon-Presley summit and persuaded his bosses, including White House Chief of Staff Bob Haldemann, to make it happen.
Around noon later that day, Elvis arrived at the White House. In classic Elvis style, the King came dressed in a purple velvet suit, accompanied by a huge gold belt buckle and amber sunglasses. Presley came bearing a gift, a Colt .45 pistol mounted in a display case that Elvis had plucked off the wall of his Los Angeles mansion, which (obviously) the Secret Service confiscated before Krogh escorted Elvis to meet Nixon.
The two met, awkwardly introduced each other, and sat down to discuss the matters that Elvis was furiously passionate about. “I’m on your side,” Elvis told Nixon, adding “I have done an in-depth study of drug abuse and Communist brainwashing techniques and I am right in the middle of the whole thing where I can and will do the most good.” The President mentioned that he thought Presley could reach young people and that it was important for Presley to retain his credibility.
Presley suggested that he believed the Beatles had been a real force for the anti-American spirit. He said to Nixon that the Beatles had come to America, made their money, and returned to England where they promoted an anti-American theme. Throughout Presley’s anti-Beatles and pro-America rant, Nixon was nodding his head furiously. The President then indicated that those who use drugs are those in the vanguard of anti-American protest. Violence, drug usage, dissent, protest all seem to merge in generally the same group of young people.
Nixon finished his response by saying to Krogh: “Can we get this man a badge?” Krogh said he could, and Nixon ordered it done. Elvis was ecstatic, and in a surprising, spontaneous gesture, put his left arm around the President and hugged him. Before leaving, Elvis asked Nixon to say hello to Schilling and West, the entourage that had accompanied Presley to Washington. Nixon playfully punched Schilling on the shoulder and gave all three of them White House cufflinks, along with Elvis’ badge from the federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs.
A few months passed by, and the crime-fighting duo had certainly passed their expiration date. Elvis had died from a heart attack whilst sitting on the toilet, and as for Nixon, he had disgraced himself to the point where he had to resign as President, or face being impeached. The Elvis/Nixon alliance was short-lived, very strange, and achieved nothing. But it’s quite a funny story.
Whatever happened to Elvis Presley's Federal badge?
Whatever happened to Elvis's Federal badge? Did he ever use it? Did Elvis, probable one of the most recognizable icons of the 50's, 60's and 70's ever use that federal badge and represent himself as a federal agent?
Elvis Presley collected police badges and liked to cary them around. Even liked to occasionally use them. In Dec 1970 he coveted a Federal Narcotics Badge which he believed would convey special privledges.
When Elvis met Nixon
"The narc badge represented some kind of ultimate power to him," Priscilla Presley wrote in "Elvis and Me," her memoir of life with the King. "With the federal narcotics badge, he [believed he] could legally enter any country both wearing guns and carrying any drugs he wished."
In pursuit of the badge, Elvis spontaneiously travelled to Washington DC in late Dec of 1970. Wrote a note to President Nixon and personally dropped it off at the Whitehouse guard station. The letter went to Nixon deputy assistant Dwight Chapin, who got a meeting approved with Nixon's incredulous chief of staff (H.R. Halderman).
After an initial security issue was handled, the two men met. The issue was, Elvis tried to enter the White house oval office carrying a weapon, a 1911 Colt 45 pistol. A present which he had brought from his home (on a commercial flight??) to give Nixon as a gift. President Nixon eventually did take the meeting.
In the meeting Elvis explained to Nixon that he was accepted by the Hippie crowd and Black Panther Party. Elvis offered to go "undercover", using his fame, reputation and acceptance with America's youth and counter culture to assist the Government in handling the drug problem. All Elvis wished for in return was a Federal Narcotics Badge **("Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs" badge).
When Elvis met Nixon
Keogh (Nixon advisor Egil "Bud" Krogh) said, "And then the real reason for the trip finally came out as Elvis said, 'Mr. President, can you get me a badge from the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs?' And the president looked and he said, 'Bud, can we get him a badge?' And I said, 'Well, Mr. President, if you want to get him a badge, we can do that.' He said, 'Well, get him a badge.' "
Elvis was ecstatic. “In a surprising, spontaneous gesture,” Keogh wrote, Elvis “put his left arm around the President and hugged him.”
After Keogh took him(Elvis) to lunch at the White House mess, Elvis received his gift—the narc badge.
At Elvis’ request, the meeting was kept secret. A year later, columnist Jack Anderson broke the story—“Presley Gets Narcotics Bureau Badge”—but few people seemed to care.
Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Jack Anderson says Elvis also approached Deputy Narcotics Director John Finlator in pursuit of the badge but was declined prior to Nixon granting him the badge.
Elvis also attempted to approach the FBI's J. Edgar Hoover. .
When Elvis met Nixon
Associates say Elvis carried the badge in its leather case always.
The meeting of the two became public years after Nixon left office and Elvis had died. The National Archives started receiving requests for the iconic photograph after a Chicago paper published an article about the event in the 1980's.
Whatever happened to Elvis's Federal badge? Did he ever use it? Did Elvis, probable one of the most recognizable icons of the 50's, 60's and 70's ever use that federal badge and represent himself as a federal agent?
I found these pictures of "some" of Elvis's Badge Collection which are still on display at Graceland. They make a special note of Elvis's Federal Badge and give the below picture, but it is not included with the collection on display at Graceland.
Elvis Presley and the Police
But Elvis had some fun too, in the 1970s, he was known to actually pull over speeding drivers and flash one of his various badges and lecture them. Then, give an autograph and speed away, leaving behind a stunned person with an awesome story. To achieve this Elvis actually had a flashing blue light that he would put on the roof when required. Elvis also obtained a police radio and a revolving blue light to put on top of his Lincoln Mark IV. He began to patrol the streets of Memphis. Sometimes, listening to the scanner, he would jump on his motorcycle and make it to an accident or the scene of a crime before the police did. He would help out or direct traffic until they arrived.
In 1976, Elvis lost another friend when Officer Eugene Kennedy died. Kennedy was an officer for the Denver, Colorado Police Department and brother of Captain Jerry Kennedy. Elvis postponed a recording session to pay his respects. He attended his funeral in a specially tailored Denver police captain's uniform and arranged for J.D. Sumner and The Stamps Quartet to perform at the services.
Did he ever do that with his Federal Badge?
I found this YouTube clip of Elvis during a performance where the video and soundtrack don't seem to match up.. where Elvis tells the crowd that he's a federal agent.
"in this Video Elvis tells his Fans he is a Government Agent and they Laugh because they think he is Joking, But elvis says " Im an eighth degree black belt in Karate I'm a Narcotics Government agent" then the audience laugh thinking it's a Joke then Elvis say's " I am Swear to God"..
I'm looking for an example of where he actually flashes his federal badge, identifies himself as a Federal Agent, and maybe confiscates or demands something. Something that is undeniable Elvis impersonating a federal agent. It's reportedly why Elvis wanted the badge, did he ever use it?
The Story Behind the Photo of Elvis Presley and Richard Nixon
The photo almost looks fake&mdasha glitzy, puffy-eyed rock star shaking hands with a severely self-conscious President of the United States. But the unforgettable pairing of Elvis Presley and Richard Nixon happened 45 years ago today when they met in secret at the White House and posed for what went on to become one of the most republished images in presidential history.
The photo is believed to be the most requested one in the National Archives (as a public-domain image, its actual metrics aren&rsquot known), and the Archives itself milks the photo&rsquos infamy, stamping it on T-shirts, mugs, snow globes and puzzles in the gift shop.
&ldquoWe have it on everything you can think of, and it all sells,&rdquo says Babs Pinette, the National Archives Foundation&rsquos marketing director. But perhaps the only thing stranger than the picture and all the merchandise it has inspired is the story on how Presley and Nixon came to meet.
Presley and Nixon both had big years in 1970. The King of Rock was coming off a run of hugely successful Las Vegas shows that broke attendance records and reinstated him as a major, if hammier act. The Vegas residency featured the introductions of Presley&rsquos fringed jumpsuits and on-stage karate moves. Earning a reported $1 million annual salary, Presley was also settling into the Vegas lifestyle. He kept a large gun collection at home and known to even carry a revolver on stage . Always a target for death threats and blackmail, he also grew more and more paranoid. In addition, according to his wife Priscilla, he regularly took a cocktail of prescription drugs that affected his mood.
Meanwhile, Nixon was two years into his presidency. In April, he had announced the invasion of Cambodia , while also continuing withdrawing troops from Vietnam. Later that year he started working aggressively to re-establish diplomatic relations with China. Nixon was also riding high domestially after signing the Clean Air Act .
Presley abruptly stormed out of Graceland on December 19 after an argument with his family over spending thousands of dollars on guns and cars as Christmas gifts . His first move was a seemingly random flight to DC, where he promptly turned around and flew to Los Angeles. After a day in his Beverly Hills mansion, Presley hopped a red-eye flight back to Washington, but with an actual itinerary. He used the flight to write a five-page letter to Nixon&mdashon American Airlines stationery &mdashto express his respect for the office of the President, his desire to help the country, and that he&rsquos already done an &ldquoin-depth study of drug abuse and Communist brainwashing techniques.&rdquo And, not unlike a kid who asks the local sheriff for an honorary deputy&rsquos badge, he also asked Nixon to make him a &ldquoFederal Agent At-Large,&rdquo writing that he would stay in DC &ldquoas long as it takes to get the credentials of a federal agent.&rdquo He also told Nixon where he&rsquod be staying (the Hotel Washington), his phone number, his alias (Jon Burrows), and that he would be bringing a gift for the president. The rest of the letter is barely legible.
&ldquoI mean, my eyes got tired trying to read the letter,&rdquo says Michael Ellzey, the director of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda, California.
Presley approached the White House gate at dawn to hand deliver his letter. The guards recognized him and placed a call to Nixon aide Egil &ldquoBud&rdquo Krogh, saying that the &ldquoKing&rdquo was at the front gate. Korgh thought it was a joke, but he summoned Presley, along with his two bodyguards, to his office. As Krogh explained to Frontline in 2000 , Presley arrived at his office &ldquo dressed in a purple jumpsuit and a white shirt open to the navel with a big gold chain and thick-rimmed sunglasses.&rdquo
Being a big fan and thinking that the President would appreciate singer&rsquos deep desire to help his country, Krogh arranged the meeting for later that day. &ldquoIt does appear there was a legitimate respect from Presley for Nixon and the presidency,&rdquo Ellzey says.
Presley went back to his hotel for a bit and returned to the White House about noon for his meeting with Nixon. In his hands was his gift&mdasha World War II-era Colt .45 pistol that was promptly confiscated by the Secret Service. Krogh then escorted the awe-struck Presley into the Oval Office.
Unfortunately, Nixon&rsquos infamous taping system had not been installed yet , so there&rsquos no exact record of the meeting, but Krogh did take notes. Years later, he admitted it got pretty weird.
The historic photo actually came first. Presley then showed Nixon his collection of his honorary police badges. Next, the conversation moved to performing in Las Vegas, reaching young people, and Presley&rsquos declaration that the Beatles were a &ldquoreal force for anti-American spirit.&rdquo
Presley&rsquos culture-war comments caught the socially awkward Nixon off-guard, Krogh noted.
&ldquoMy understanding is that [Nixon] moved the subject to drugs as being anti-American,&rdquo says Ellzey. &ldquoI do think this kindred spirit between them was much about drugs&rsquo impact on the youth in our society. I think they found common ground there, but I think the Beatles comment went right past the president.&rdquo
The meeting lasted about 15 minutes. Near the end, according to Krogh&rsquos notes, Presley got rather emotional and &ldquoin a surprising, spontaneous gesture, put his left arm around the President and hugged him.&rdquo
After the meeting, Elvis got a badge from the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (the predecessor to the Drug Enforcement Administration), thus&mdashat least in his eyes&mdashgiving him the title of &ldquoFederal Agent At-Large.&rdquo But the meeting was kept secret from both the public and media for more than year until the Washington Post broke the story in January 1972. Presley&rsquos airline-stationery letter, Krogh&rsquos notes, and the gun he tried to give the president are all housed today at the Nixon Library.
When Elvis met Nixon
With his superb two-volume biography of Elvis — Last Train to Memphis and Careless Love — Peter Guralnick has made himself the essential chronicler of Elvis’s story. Guralnick of course tells the true story of the day in December 1970 when Elvis met Nixon in the White House. The story of the visit provides insight into Elvis’s patriotism as well as comic relief in the denouement of Elvis’s life.
The film Elvis & Nixon is playing in theaters now. It is “based on a true story,” as they say.
The film, however, plays it strictly for laughs even if elements of it capture something true. This is my short account of the true story drawn from Peter Guralnick’s invaluable account.
Elvis admired law enforcement officers and collected the badges of police departments he visited. In Los Angeles on a secret getaway from tensions at home in Memphis, Elvis became inflamed with the desire to be deputized by the federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangersous Drugs (BNDD). He inveigled his friend Jerry Schilling to join him on a quick trip to Washington. Bodyguard Sonny West would fly in from Memphis to meet them. Elvis asked Schilling to take out some cash for the trip Elvis ended up giving it away to soldiers returning from service in Vietnam.
California Senator George Murphy was coincidentally on the flight from Los Angeles to Washington. Elvis sought out Murphy back in tourist to enlist his assistance. On the flight Elvis wrote out a letter to President Nixon (I’ve added paragraphing in the interest of readability):
Dear Mr. President
First I would like to introduce myself. I am Elvis Presley and admire you and Have Great Respect for your office. I talked to Vice President Agnew in Palm Springs a week ago and expressed my concern for our country. The Drug Culture, The Hippie Elements, the SDS, Black Panthers, etc do not consider me as their enemy or as they call it The Establishment. I call it America and I Love it.
Sir I can and will be of any Service that I can to help the country out. I have no concerns or motives other than helping the country out. So I wish not to be given a title or an appointed position, I can and will do more good if I were made a Federal Agent at Large, and I will help out by doing it my way through my communications with people of all ages. First and Foremost I am an entertainer but all I need is the Federal credentials.
I am on the Plane with Sen. George Murphy and We have been discussing the problems that our country is faced with. Sir I am Staying at the Washington hotel Room 505-506-507. I have 2 men who work with me by the name of Jerry Schilling and Sonny West. I am registered under the name of Jon Burrows. I will be here for as long as it takes to get the credentials of a Federal Agent.
I have done in depth study of Drug Abuse and Communist Brainwashing Techniques and I am right in the middle of the whole thing, where I can and will do the most good. I am Glad to help just so long as it is kept very Private. You can have your staff or whomever call me anytime today tonight or Tomorrow.
I was nominated the coming year one of America’s Ten Most outstanding young men. That will be in January 18 in my Home Town of Memphis Tenn. I am sending you the short autobiography about myself so you can better understand this approach. I would love to meet you just to say hello if you’re not to[o] busy.
Upon his arrival in Washington on the morning of December 21, Elvis dropped the letter off at the White House and went off to a meeting (arranged by Murphy) with the director of the BNDD to seek a badge. He instead met with BNDD deputy director John Finlator, who refused Elvis’s request for a badge. Back in the hotel room, however, Schilling received a call inviting Elvis to the White House for a meeting with the president.
Elvis’s letter had prompted internal deliberations over the wisdom of a presidential meeting. Dwight Chapin’s memo to Bob Haldeman summarizing Elvis’s request is a bit clueless. The second page of the memo has Chapin’s earnest advice and Haldeman’s somewhat more astute response. Chapin writes: “[I]f the President wants to meet some bright young people outside of the Government, Presley might be a perfect one to start with.” Haldeman responds: “You must be kidding.” The meeting was nevertheless promptly approved and arranged. Elvis, Schilling, and West met up with White House aide Bud Krogh for Elvis’s 12:30 meeting with the president in the Oval Office.
Presley indicated to the President in a very emotionial manner that he was “on your side.” Presley kept repeating that he wanted to be helpful, that he wanted to restore some respect for the flag, which was being lost. He mentioned he was just a poor boy from Tennessee who had gotten a lot from his country, which in some way he wanted to repay.
Elvis thought he could be helpful to Nixon “in his drug drive” and Nixon expressed “his concern that Presley retain his credibility.” It was at this point that Elvis made his pitch for the BNDD badge. Nixon told Krogh that he would like Elvis to receive a badge. Krogh wrote in a subsequent account of the meeting:
Elvis was smiling triumphantly. “Thank you very much, sir. This means a lot to me.”…Elvis then moved up close to the President and, in a spontanous gesture, put his left arm around him and hugged him.
Not done yet, Elvis asked the president if he would see his friends Schilling and West: “It would mean a lot to them and to me.” Schilling and West were ushered into the Oval Office. Nixon gave them the same tie clasps and cuff links with presidential seals that he had already given Elvis.
Elvis prompted Nixon: “You know, they’ve got wives too.” Elvis and Nixon then rummaged through Nixon’s desk for suitable presents for the wives.
The White House photographer took several photos to document the occasion. In the photo below West and Schilling have joined Elvis in the Oval Office with Nixon.
The storied photo below is the one with which we are all familiar. It is “one of the most popular photos at the National Archives.”
After lunch in the White House mess and a tour of the White House, Elvis was presented with the BNDD badge by Finlator at Krogh’s office. Finlator promised to send along additional credentials.
“Leaving the White House,” Guralnick writes, “Sonny and Jerry never stopped to ponder the many strange things that had occurred on this day. As far as they were concerned, there was one thing, and one thing only, responsible for whatever had happened to them, good or bad: they were with Elvis Presley.”
Elvis Presley: What really happened at Richard Nixon meeting ‘President found it AWKWARD’Link copied
Elvis Presley: Upstairs of Graceland ‘like he just left’ says expert
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It was coming up to Christmas 1970 and Elvis Presley was well and truly back focused on his singing career following the success of his 1968 comeback special. Aside from his Las Vegas residency, The King had political concerns of the late sixties drugs culture and hippie movement in the USA. Using his celebrity, Elvis managed to orchestrate a meeting with President Richard Nixon in the White House&rsquos Oval Office on December 21, where he offered his assistance in combating the social issues.
The meeting was adapted into a 2016 movie called Elvis & Nixon in which Michael Shannon played The King and Kevin Spacey portrayed The President.
The comedy film features fun moments of fantasy like Elvis demonstrating karate moves to Nixon and drinking his Dr Pepper.
But also portrayed Elvis&rsquo real-life request for a Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs badge.
This might sound eccentric, but the King often collected honorary badges of law enforcement groups, many of which are on display at Graceland.
Elvis Presley: What really happened at Richard Nixon meeting &lsquoPresident found it AWKWARD&rsquo (Image: GETTY)
Richard Nixon's thank you letter to Elvis for a commemorative gun (Image: GETTY)
Nixon aides Dwight Chapin and Egil Krogh helped set up the meeting between the two.
And according to Peter Guralnick&rsquos Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley, Nixon found the meeting quite awkward.
After all, the two were quite different personalities, which certainly is seen in their contrasting dress senses in their famous photo together.
However, The President went ahead with the meeting believing Elvis could be positive influence on the young and Nixon felt that he needed to &ldquoretain his credibility&rdquo.
Elvis' meeting with Nixon was made into a 2016 movie (Image: GETTY)
Elvis & Nixon: historic meeting hits silver screen
During the meeting, Elvis referred to The Beatles as &ldquoanti-American&rdquo and felt they were being a negative influence on young people.
The King said this even though he regularly covered the Fab Four&rsquos songs and had met them in his Bel Air home just five years previously.
After his death in 1977, Paul McCartney &ndash who was profoundly influenced by Elvis alongside the rest of The Beatles &ndash &ldquofelt a bit betrayed&rdquo by his comments.
Of course, Nixon wasn&rsquot the only President Elvis had correspondence with.
In the first year of his presidency, and the last year of Elvis&rsquo life, Jimmy Carter took a phone call from The King.
According to The New York Times, Carter said: &ldquoWhen I was first elected President, I got a call from Elvis Presley.
&ldquoHe was totally stoned and didn&rsquot know what he was saying. His sentences were almost incoherent.&rdquo
The phone call took place in the summer of 1977, shortly before the King died on August 16.
Elvis was on barbiturates and had called the White House from his Graceland home to seek a Presidential pardon for a sheriff he knew having legal problems.
Carter recalled: &ldquoI talked to him for a long time, and I finally extracted that from him.&rdquo
The President found himself trying &ldquoto ease Presley out of his paranoid delusions.
&ldquoCalming his fears that he was being &lsquoshadowed&rsquo by sinister forces and that his friend was being framed.&rdquo
Elvis & Nixon — the true story of how the King met the President
President Nixon shakes hands with Elvis Presley in 1970, the most requested photograph in the US National Archive's history Credit: Getty Images
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A t dawn, a few days before Christmas in 1970, Elvis Presley arrived at the north-west gate of the White House with a letter to President Nixon in his hand.
He had written it overnight, while on a red-eye flight from Los Angeles, six pages of American Airlines notepaper covered in his spidery hand, full of blots and crossings out.
“Dear Mr President,” it began, “I am Elvis Presley and admire you [sic] and Have Great Respect for your office… I would love to meet you just to say hello if you’re not to [sic] Busy.”
Presley was 35 at the time, rolling in royalties, and, even if addled from prescription barbiturates, at the top of his musical game. His 1968 TV comeback special and a sell-out Vegas gig the following year (at which he had “groaned and swivelled, and proved himself worthy of his nickname The Pelvis”, one critic wrote) had confirmed – jubilantly – the end of a nine-year absence from performing. He had just been nominated one of America’s Ten Most Outstanding Young Men, he reminded the president, who, on the recommendation of close advisers, accepted the King’s bizarre invitation.
T heir meeting, which took place later that day, is now the subject of a comic drama starring Kevin Spacey as Nixon and Michael Shannon as Elvis. Billed as “the true story you won’t quite believe”, the film is based on an account of the meeting written by Nixon’s aide Egil “Bud” Krogh (later imprisoned for his role in the Watergate scandal, now a senior fellow in ethics at a policy organisation in Washington), and a series of pictures taken by Nixon’s official photographer, Ollie Atkins.
T here is one photo from Atkins’s set in particular which has become an icon, in the truest sense of the word. It pictures Nixon and Elvis shaking hands in the Oval Office – the President in a smart grey suit (“he always dressed like the office manager,” Atkins once said), Elvis in a purple velvet one, complete with medallion and gold belt, his quiff surprisingly buoyant after a night spent at 30,000 feet. Both are smiling, Presley happily, the president geekily, at the camera.
When it was announced, in 1988, that the US National Archives was selling the photo, more than 8,000 people ordered a copy, making it the most requested document in the archives’ history. Even today, it is still more popular than the 1776 Declaration of Independence and photos of the moon landings. The gift shop sells it in magnet, mug, coaster, puzzle, T-shirt and snowglobe form.
N ixon’s aides were attracted to the idea of the meeting, a preserved memo reveals, because they thought Presley a “perfect start” to the president engaging with “some bright young people”. It was quite a forward-thinking strategy. Although, today, celebrity and politics are intertwined, in Nixon’s era such a strategy was rare, and might even have been considered brash. In fact, the White House didn’t admit the existence of the photo for another year.
I ronically, the other reason the aides were on board was the concern Presley expressed in his letter about drug culture. “I can and will be of any service that I can to help the country out,” he scrawled, adding: “I have done an in-depth study of drug abuse and Communist brainwashing techniques.” At a time when drugs had become powerful symbols of youthful rebellion and political dissent, Presley’s offer of assistance must have seemed manna from heaven.
In his preparatory notes for the president, Krogh (who later admitted he had pushed the meeting through because he had been star-struck) posited the encounter as an opportunity “to ask [Presley] to work with us in bringing a more positive attitude to young people”. Krogh even suggested some “activities” Nixon might consider for Presley, including “encouraging fellow rock musicians to develop a new theme” – he helpfully suggested Get High on Life as a contender – and recording an album at a rehab facility in Kentucky.
B ut the rock star’s motives were not quite as altruistic as they seemed. Though he insisted in his letter that he wasn’t seeking “any title or appointed position” to play his part, he went on to hint that some “federal credentials” would be nice.
W hat he really wanted – and asked for, once cosily ensconced in the Oval Office – was a badge from the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. “The narc badge represented some kind of ultimate power to him,” wrote Priscilla in Elvis and Me. “With the badge, he [believed he] could legally enter any country both wearing guns and carrying any drugs he wished.”
I mmediately the half-hour meeting opened, Presley showed Nixon the extensive collection of police badges he already owned and had stashed conveniently about his person (he had also brought with him a gift of a Second World War Colt .45 pistol, but it had been confiscated at the door), before asking the president to ordain him “a federal agent-at-large”.
In his memoir, Krogh writes: “The president looked and he said, 'Bud, can we get him a badge?’ And I said, 'Well, Mr. President, if you want to get him a badge, we can do that.’ He said, 'Well, get him a badge.’ ”
W hile Nixon and Presley waited, they discussed what it was like to perform in Las Vegas and talked about the Beatles, whom Presley denounced as “anti-American”, before indicating to the president, “in a very emotional manner,” writes Krogh, “that he was 'on [the president’s] side’ ”.
W hen the badge appeared, apparently Elvis was so happy, he stepped around the desk and hugged Nixon, before asking if he could bring his bodyguards in to enjoy the moment, too. “So [his bodyguards] came in,” writes Krogh, “and the president went behind his desk, and opened up the bottom drawer to give them each a gift. Well, Elvis just sensed that there was a lot of stuff in that drawer.
"So he went behind the desk and, as the president is taking out the cufflinks and the paperweights and the golf balls, Elvis is reaching in towards the back of the drawer and taking out the real gold stuff, the valuable presents – because they were sort of lined up in order of expense, or cost… And they walked out of there – of course, this was four days before Christmas – with their hands filled with all of these presidential goodies.”
E lvis kept his narcotics badge on him until he died, in 1977. It’s now on display at Graceland. “This was just an honorary badge, but he took it like he’d been given a real agent’s badge,” Krogh said. “There were no federal agents-at-large.”
P ost-Watergate, Presley’s gushing admiration for the president makes for uncomfortable reading, but it’s important to remember that, in 1970, Nixon was a superstar. Inaugurated the preceding year, his name had only been associated with the most positive kind of headline: vowing to end American involvement in the Vietnam war ending segregation by colour for schools in the South legislation to protect dolphins and polar bears and a televised phone call to Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon.
T he photo remains fascinating today because of all that came after. That and its implausibility: the sheer weirdness of the pill-popping, rhinestone-clad Elvis clasping hands with a neatly oiled, staid politician who was nearing retirement age. Best of all, though, is that Nixon, the arch manipulator, was out-manipulated. “[Elvis] said all the right words about trying to do the right thing,” Krogh said in an interview, many years later. “But I think he clearly wanted to get a badge and he knew the only way he was going to get it… Oh man, we were set up! But it was fun.”
The inside story of the most improbable meeting in White House history — told by the man who put it all together.
President Nixon shakes hands with Elvis Presley in the Oval Office. | National Archives Records Administration
Dwight Chapin served as appointments secretary to President Richard M. Nixon from 1969 to 1973. He is at work on a memoir of his service with Nixon, scheduled to be published by William Morrow in 2021.
“Mr. Chapin, you’re not going to believe this.”
Judging from the tone of her voice, I doubted this was something I wanted to hear. It was about 7:15 on a cold winter morning, four days before Christmas. I had just arrived at work, to my desk in the West Wing where I was serving as appointments secretary to President Richard Nixon. My job was to keep the president’s schedule flowing smoothly. I prided myself on the efficiency of my office—as did my boss and mentor, H.R. Haldeman, and, of course, the president.
So when Nell Yates, my secretary, said, “You’re not going to believe this,” I could only guess that the scheduling equivalent of a meteor had decided to crash out of thin air and royally screw up the day’s calendar. As it turned out, I was right—but boy, was it worth it.
Henry Cashen, a friend and colleague who worked nearby, had stopped by my office for a cup of coffee. Both of us looked at Nell.
“There’s a note at the gate,” she said. “It’s from Elvis Presley.”
The letter Elvis Presley wrote to President Richard Nixon on American Airlines stationary. | National Archives Records Administration
It was Henry who spoke first. “So, the King’s in town?” he said, chuckling. We both looked at Nell, incredulously. Elvis Presley, the most famous entertainer in the world, had arrived unannounced at the White House and left a note? Unlikely. To me, the far more likely explanation was that this was some kind of practical joke. I could tell Henry was thinking the same thing. The two of us were charter members of what we called “The Brotherhood,” a group of eight young White House aides who worked hard and played hard, including playing good-natured pranks on one another. Things had started to loosen up a little before Christmas. We were in prime pranking season.
Still, it wasn’t unheard of for people to show up at the White House gate expecting to see the president. Unlike your average Americans dropping by an in-law’s or a neighbor’s house carrying a cake, these were people who felt they were important enough to get an unannounced meeting with the president, or they were a little on the nutty side. Sometimes both. Most of the time they were politely sent away. But sometimes, as in this case, the guards at the gate would take down the relevant information and route the request through my office.
This had happened before. One crisp fall Sunday, after the NFL team then known as the Washington Redskins mounted an incredible comeback win against that week’s opponent, the president, an avid football fan, called Coach George Allen to congratulate him. Apparently he ended the call with a polite “We’ve got to get together,” casually inviting Allen to “drop by and we’ll talk some football.” Three hours later, Coach Allen arrived at the White House. The request was routed to my home, and I immediately called the president. When I told him Allen was at the South Gate, there was silence on his end for a moment. He finally asked, “Why?” I explained that according to Allen he’d been invited to come talk football. After another brief pause while that reality sunk in, Nixon said, “Oh, good God. OK, tell him to come in.” Allen was invited in and spent that Sunday evening upstairs in the Residence talking football with the president.
So, I was going to play this Elvis thing out. If it turned out to be a Brotherhood prank, at least we’d all have a good laugh about it. If Elvis had in fact left a note with the Secret Service officers at the gate, I needed to see it. It made its way to my office via White House messenger, and the first thing I noticed was that it was on American Airlines stationery. I unfolded it and began to read.
“Dear Mr. President,” it began. “First, I would like to introduce myself. I am Elvis Presley and admire you and have great respect for your office.” The letter went on to express the writer’s “concern for our country,” especially elements like “the drug culture, the hippie elements, the SDS [Students for a Democratic Society, a leftist campus group] [and] Black Panthers.” Elvis explained that he could help the president and the country because he was popular with Americans of all age groups and backgrounds, especially young people, and that he wanted to make a positive difference with an anti-drug message. To do this, he explained, he wanted the credentials of a “Federal Agent at Large.” I wasn’t entirely sure what that was.
But the letter seemed genuine, and what’s more, it seemed heartfelt. “Sir, I can and will be of any service that I can to help the country out,” Elvis wrote. “I have no concern or motives other than helping the country out.” He included his room number and phone number at the Hotel Washington, where he was staying under the name “Jon Burrows,” and ended with a polite request: “I would love to meet you just to say hello if you're not too busy.”
Nixon checks out Elvis' cuff links, as White House staffer Egil Krogh looks on. | National Archives Records Administration
The story of how this letter made it into my hands is, by the way, a wild ride in itself. About two days before, Elvis had apparently fled his Graceland mansion in Memphis after a dispute with his father, wife and others over his finances, driven himself to the airport and flown to Washington on his own. After checking into his hotel, he went back to the airport and flew to Los Angeles to pick up his longtime friend Jerry Schilling. Elvis and Schilling took the red-eye back to Washington on the same plane as Sen. George Murphy of California, who had acted in movie musicals before entering politics. The two entertainers apparently hit it off on the plane, and that may have inspired Elvis to write this note in midair. They landed in Washington at dawn, got into a limousine and drove straight to the White House, where Elvis himself handed the note to flabbergasted officers at the Northwest Gate.
I had no way of knowing any of this at the time. At the moment, all I knew was that my day had been upended by what, it had begun to dawn on me, was a genuine once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get two of the best-known living Americans into the same room. I had to think it through, of course. Everything could have political ramifications. But since Elvis had specifically asked to help out with our anti-drug program, I called the White House staffer in charge of that initiative: domestic policy aide Egil “Bud” Krogh. I placed a call to him at about 8:45 a.m.
“Bud,” I said when he picked up the phone. “Elvis Presley wants to see Nixon. What do you think?”
I should mention that Bud, too, was a charter member of “The Brotherhood.” Naturally he immediately thought I was putting him on. It didn’t help that Henry Cashen—who obviously decided this was way more fun than whatever was waiting back at his desk—was still in my office and was chiming in on the call. Bud figured we were both in on it. Eventually, I was able to convince him that this was for real. He thought about it for a moment and said: “I think he ought to come in.”
At this point, it officially became my problem. Part of my job was to write a short memo providing the rationale for each requested meeting with Nixon to be approved by the president’s chief of staff and “gatekeeper,” Bob Haldeman. I recommended to him that we put this meeting together, as it could benefit our anti-drug efforts. If the president wants to meet with some bright young people outside of the government, I suggested, then who would be better than Elvis Presley?
It was far from assured that Haldeman would approve this request, or even if he did, that Nixon would ultimately agree to it. Nixon was a very buttoned-down, serious man. His favorite activity, if he found himself with any free time (which was rare), was to sit down with a legal pad and write, composing long memos about his current thoughts on pressing issues foreign and domestic. He certainly knew who Elvis was, but you probably couldn’t call him a “fan.” I loved the president, and believed in him, but I was 30 years old myself and was well aware of his reputation among my generation as a “square.”
At the same time, Nixon never stopped making political calculations. He was always thinking of ways to improve his base of support. He genuinely wanted to be able to connect with younger people and felt frustrated that he couldn’t. He had even appeared—very briefly—on the comedy show Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In in 1968 in a bid to show an inkling of humor. Perhaps meeting with Elvis would help his image.
Another counterpoint, though, was the lingering suspicion of Elvis held by many, not by folks my age, but in Nixon’s older, more conservative base. This made it a political concern. His early television appearances in the mid-1950s had led to outrage over what was thought to be the frenzied pace of his rock-and-roll and the perceived lasciviousness of his gyrating hips. Though much had changed between his television debut in 1956 and 1970, many older Americans still saw Elvis as a lothario or even as a hippie—despite the fact that he denounced hippies in his letter. Or, what if this was all some sort of stunt calculated by this bad-boy rocker to make Nixon look foolish?
Ultimately, though, I suspected the two men might have more in common than anyone thought. They had both served their country, after all. Nixon had been a young Naval officer in the Pacific during World War II. Elvis had been eligible for the draft and was stationed in Germany where, instead of getting a cushy job playing music to entertain his fellow troops, he worked hard and did his job like every other soldier. And I had a feeling that what Elvis wrote about his love for his country would connect with the president.
At first glance, Haldeman’s reply was not encouraging. Where I had mentioned Presley as an example of the bright young people Nixon should be meeting with, Bob had added the notation: “You must be kidding.” Still, at the very bottom, he signed off on the “approval” line with his characteristic “H” initial. Then he took the memo in to Nixon himself, and to everyone’s surprise Nixon thought it was a great idea.
“Arrange for him to come in,” Haldeman told me. Then the ever vigilant chief of staff added, “Have Bud check him out first.”
This had all happened over the course of a couple of hours after my first call to Bud Krogh at 8:45. Elvis and his two friends and assistants—he and Schilling had been joined by bodyguard Sonny West, who flew from Memphis to meet them—had gone back to the Hotel Washington. Bud called them first and invited them to meet with him in his office in the Old Executive Office Building, as a final check to make sure this wasn’t all some sort of elaborate set-up. If all went well, Bud would take Elvis over to the West Wing to meet with Nixon.
Bud was cautious about having a meeting with the King of Rock-and-Roll plopped into his lap without warning. He became even more cautious when he got a call from the Secret Service saying Elvis had arrived to meet with him—and was carrying a gun.
They meant this literally. Elvis had under his arm a beautiful boxed commemorative .45 automatic pistol, complete with seven bullets lined up next to the gun in the frame, which he wanted to present as a gift to the president. Elvis liked guns. He collected them. He had traveled from Los Angeles to Washington with three concealed handguns of his own (for which he had the necessary permits), but, as Schilling remembered later, had wisely elected to leave those in his limousine for his White House visit. The boxed .45 had, according to Schilling, been plucked by Elvis off the desk of his Los Angeles home without a word as they were heading out the door.
A few words between Bud and the Secret Service officers defused the situation, and Elvis could bring in his gun. Bud reported that the initial meeting went well, that Presley was completely genuine and echoed the themes from his letter about wanting to help his country and do something about the drug problem. We scheduled the Oval Office meeting for 11:45 a.m.
When Elvis showed up, he was wearing a purple velvet suit, a belt with a boxing championship-style buckle, a jacket draped over his shoulders and amber-tinted sunglasses. Nobody had ever seen anyone arrive at the White House dressed quite like that. Usually when visitors arrived to see the president, Steve Bull, Nixon’s personal aide, would have them wait in the Roosevelt Room or Cabinet Room until the president was ready for them. But this time Steve escorted Elvis and Bud straight into the Oval Office while his friends Jerry and Sonny stayed in the Roosevelt Room. Bud was the scribe taking careful notes of the entire event and conversation.