GETTING IN TOUCH WITH MY INNER ...
By Corey Levitan
(photos by Ken Gamble)
Las Vegas is the town legendarily linked to Elvis. Yet he spent more time in Palm Springs. He lived there for months at a stretch, rehearsing for tours in the Mediterranean Room of the Riviera Hotel.
When the Riviera invited me to cover its grand reopening, I had another story in mind.
The search for my inner Elvis began at the King's Palm Springs houses. A local civic leader drove me to a 15-room estate he had built in 1965, then to a smaller house on a cul-de-sac, where he spent his wedding night with Priscilla. No one answered either front door, so Jay Nailor helped me break into the backyards.
"Don't worry," he said. "Everybody knows me here. They'll recognize me before they get the first gunshot off."
I stood on the same terra cotta where Elvis showed off his rifle collection by the pool. I posed for photos with my "Taking Care of Business" shades and poke-chop sideburns sprouted just for this assignment.
Still, I wanted to get closer to Elvis than his former backyards. I wanted spiritual communion. At the Riviera, I changed into my '68 comeback special black leather, blackened my hair (and, unfortunately, my nails) with dye, strapped on my acoustic and headed for Mecca.
The Mediterranean Room was set up to screen "Palm Springs Weekend," filmed at the Riviera in 1963. Many of the movie's stars were attending a 40th anniversary bash in a nearby ballroom.
I bee-lined past security to the bare stage, where my hips instinctively swiveled and my lip twitched along to "That's All Right Mama." I'm not a bad Elvis impersonator -- especially when there are no others around. (A convention of faux Elvi once gathered in Palm Springs, but switched to Vegas several years back.)
Click here to hear Corey sing Elvis
A local CBS news crew interrupted my performance.
"Can you start again?" the reporter asked. It was Pattie Daly Caruso, Carson Daly's mom. She was taping a piece on the party.
Not only did I honor the King on the very stage where he once held court, I did it on TV. Full Elvisness was attained.
Or so I thought. One of the party guests was "Palm Springs Weekend" star Connie Stevens, who was Biblically acquainted with take-a-guess who.
"We were like two bombastic meteorites," she said on the Larry King Show.
It was as if Elvis was revealing a direct channel to him. My mission was now to pick up with Connie where he left off. Sure, she's older than my mom. But she's still pretty hot.
I begged the party promoter to let me serenade Connie Stevens on stage before the movie. For some reason, he did.
I practiced my song, "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" on a pretty lady at the pool bar. It worked. Elvis' magnetism is such that even 5'6" replicas get phone numbers.
"Connie, can you come up here?" the emcee asked as 500 guests watched. "An old friend of yours wants to say hi." She was clueless.
I strutted onstage with Elvis confidence, lowered the microphone to sub-Elvis height and began crooning. My victim seemed hypnotized by my loving stare. It was either that or acid reflux.
Nope, it was hypnosis. Connie even began cooing replies to my verses.
"Are you sorry we drifted apart?" got the following reaction: "Yes I am."
Dang, it was on! But first, I needed to change. The 110-degree desert is no place for black leather, and Connie was not about to get busy with Smellvis.
After thanguverymuch-ing the crowd, I slipped back into my room and my more comfortable white Elvis jumpsuit. I waited in the corridor for the movie to end, as party guests stared en route to the rest rooms.
"Are you a real Elvis impersonator?" one asked.
"No," I told the truth. "I'm a journalist impersonator."
After the credits rolled, I pounced.
"I believe we had a moment, Miss Connie," I said in my best gentlemanly Tupelo baritone. "Please come to my room tonight."
She laughed, grabbing my hand.
"We'll eat peanut butter and banana sandwiches and do some karate take-down moves," I said, "just like old times."
She held her smile awkwardly, patting my hand.
"I'm not joking," I insisted.
"Not tonight," Connie said.
She didn't say no. So the rest of the weekend, I stalked a 65-year-old woman around a hotel -- propositioning her by the pool, the snack bar and in the lobby. She showed both impressive restraint and walking-away speed.
"Sorry, I don't accept substitutes," she said.
An even more inconceivable Elvis connection came to my attention at my stay's end, when I discovered that Joe Esposito had seen my performance. Esposito was Elvis' tour manager from 1960-1977. I asked him whether I nailed the part.
"Not quite," Esposito said over the phone. (He declined my offer for an in-person interview, perhaps because Connie warned him about me.)
"But you weren't the worst I've seen."
That's about as full as my Elvisness will ever get.
Rooms at the Riviera are $109-$159 through December 30. Call 760-327-8311. Elvis' Honeymoon Hideaway house is actually available for honeymoons and weddings. Call 760-322-1192 or check out www.elvishoneymoon.com.
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