Friends Of Elvis
To enlighten and share with us the experience of having Elvis as part of your life, The Penticton Elvis Society is proud to include as part of every festival – “Friends Of Elvis” – VIP personalities that knew, worked, or shared a significant part of their life with the “King Of Rock & Roll”. Our past VIPs have included:
The ’68 Comeback Special
Steve Binder is an Emmy and ACE award winning director, producer and writer, Golden Globes nominee and recipient of the 2008 Caucus award for directing. His list of accomplishments goes on and on. Born and raised in Los Angeles and after attending the University of Southern California as a pre-med student.
He was also asked to be keynote speaker to a standing room only audience at the Hall Of Fame Museum of Rock ‘n Roll in Cleveland, Ohio. His subject was his highly acclaimed “Elvis” NBC television special now referred to as “The Comeback Special”. Steve directed and produced the special and will go down in television history if for nothing else for his contribution to what TV Guide called “the second greatest musical moment in television history next to the Beatles debut on Ed Sullivan.”Steve’s book on the making of the special, “68@40 a retrospective,” was released by JAT publishing in 2008 and sold out the first edition of 2000 copies in the first week of the books release.
He is currently managing the career of Italian singing star, NIKO(www.iamniko.com), who made his American singing debut at Carnegie Hall in 2008 with the New York Pops Orchestra and completed a 19-city national tour with Chicago and the Doobie Bros. Niko has performed with Celine Dion, Jewel and Tony Bennett.
“Whatever you do in life, do it with passion!”
Long-Time Elvis Fan
I have been an Elvis fan for as long as I can remember. I was living in Minnesota during my school years but had a pen pal (who was also a Elvis fan) who lived in California, who invited me to come out and visit her during summer break of my junior year. Her mother drove us up to Elvis’ house and that is the first time I met him – it lasted less than a minute. The following year after I graduated, I moved out to California because I just loved the State and the fact that Elvis lived approx. 9 months out of the year there didn’t hurt either. You might say that’s when it all began – I was a fan in the right place at the right time because back in the 60’s it was not unusual for Elvis to invite fans into his home and that is exactly what happened to me. As the years went on, they continued to invite me to the house… especially to his home in Palm Springs where he would spend so many weekends. I was lucky enough to have attended the 68 Special as well as going to countless rehearsals at RCA Studios in LA.
I only made 3 trips to Memphis while Elvis was alive – again it was not unusual for fans to get invitations to the New Year’s eve parties he would have and that is why my roommate and I went. We not only got to go to the parties but the movies at the Memphian also. I think the biggest thrill was getting to go inside Graceland at the time!
Publisher Of Elvis International Magazine
Darwin Lamm is known today as publisher of “Elvis…The Magazine”, but this is just one of his varied careers. Darwin grew up as an Elvis fan in the 50’s, but entered the Elvis World on August 16, 1977 when he was asked by radio stations across America to produce a Radio tribute show following Elvis’ death. The result was a 3-hour special titled “Elvis Remembered”, and it led to over 200 hours of Elvis radio tributes. Radio production and syndication was something Darwin knew well having teamed up with Dick Clark in 1971 to launch the first radio talk show in syndication: The Bill Ballance Feminine Forum. Shortly thereafter, Darwin formed his own syndication company called Creative Radio Shows and ventured into the area of music programming.
His first radio special was a 4-hour “The Beach Boys Story.” In 1976, Lamm followed up with a second 4-hour radio special titled “The Beatles”. Next, “The Buddy Holly Story” and others followed before moving into the country music field with weekly radio specials dedicated to country’s most successful super stars. He had built a network of several hundred radio stations, and when Elvis died in 1977, the station managers were clamoring for a radio special to commemorate the King, and they sought out Lamm to produce it. The overwhelming response Lamm received from “Elvis Remembered” made him realize the impact Elvis had on so many people around the world. He followed up with “Elvis: The Country Side” in 1980, then a 6-hour show, “The 10th Anniversary Radio Tribute” in 1987. In 1988 he produced a highly successful weekly program, The Elvis Hour.
Darwin Lamm entered the publishing world in 1988 with the magazine Elvis International Forum, and it quickly became recognized as THE Elvis magazine for the fans as the articles and stories invovled many of Elvis’ closest friends. As the magazine evolved, the name changed to Elvis…The Magazine, now in its 21st year of publication. In addition to his new role as publisher, Darwin continued to produce radio specials through the 1990’s including “Memories of Elvis” in 1990, “The Elvis 15th Anniversary Radio Tribute” in 1992 and “The Elvis 20th Anniversary Radio Tribute” in 1997. Lamm’s vast library is perhaps the most comprehensive collection of wonderful “nuggets” about Elvis from interviews with various celebrities who were touched by Elvis. On radio you only heard short clips, but in the book ELVIS…He Touched Me, you get the full interviews in Darwin’s new book.
Hall Of Fame Rock & Roll Drummer
DJ Fontana was Elvis’ drummer for 14 years. He began his incredible career as a staff drummer in 1953 on the famous LOUISIANA HAYRIDE. While working the Hayride in 1954, DJ met Elvis. They formed a common bond of friendship and admiration for each other’s immense talents. DJ, Scotty Moore, and Bill Black formed Elvis’ original band. DJ was the man behind the beat for the first 15 years of Elvis’ career.
DJ has appeared in the following:
The Dorsey Brothers Stage Show, The Steve Allen Show, The Frank Sinatra Show, Conan O’Brien, Milton Berle Show, The Ed Sullivan Show, Elvis ’68 Comeback Special, Elvis Tribute Show 1994, Nashville Now.
Loving You, Jailhouse rock, GI Blues, King Creole, Nashville.
DJ and Scotty Moore received the Nashville Music Award for the Best Independent Album of the Year in 1998 for All the Kings Men. DJ and Scotty also were nominated for a Grammy in 1998 for Going Back to Memphis, from that CD. DJ has also written a book The Beat Behind the King and he was inducted into The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame on April 4th, 2009.
Cynthia Pepper was born and raised in Hollywood, Ca. into a show business family. Her mother was a dancer with the Zigfeld Follies and her dad was in Vaudeville. He was a singer and went overseas with Bob Hope to entertain the troops during World War II. At an early age, for both, her dad was married to Ginger Rogers. The marriage lasted a few years. I guess, you can say she does have show business in her blood.
At age four, Cynthia played Julie Harris’s young sister on Broadway in a play called “It’s A Gift”.
Moving back to Hollywood and graduating from Hollywood High, she was very fortunate to be cast in 11 episodes of the TV series, “My 3 Sons”, as the eldest son’s girlfriend.
Cynthia left the show to play the part of “Margie”, a TV series on ABC. After “Margie”, she guest starred on such shows as “Lassie”, “Addams Family”, “Perry Mason”, “The Flying Nun”, “Wagon Train”, etc. She also played Sandra Dees roommate in the movie “Take Her She’s Mine”, starring Jimmy Stewart.
She certainly has to say, though, that the high light of her career and one that changed her life forever was getting the part of “Midge Riley” and co-starring with Elvis in “Kissin’ Cousins”. He was wonderful and more. Cynthia considers herself very very lucky to have worked and to have become a friend of Elvis Presley.
Cynthia has a wonderful son who is the light of her life. She lives in Las Vegas and loves it. Besides her family and pets, her greatest pleasure, at this stage of her life is to travel to different Elvis Conventions and festivals. She’s always said that the Elvis fans are the best and, of course, that reflects on Elvis himself. She is so grateful that she gets to meet and share her stories and LOVE of Elvis with them.
Elvis’ Road Manager & Best Friend
Joe Esposito is universally recognized as the most credible source on Elvis Presley`s life and career. Born in Chicago, Joe met Elvis while serving in the Army in 1959. The two became fast friends and, after their discharge in 1960, Joe became Elvis’ right hand man and then became his road manager when Elvis started touring again. He was co-best man at Elvis and Priscilla’s wedding in 1967. You can see Joe all through the MGM Documentary “Elvis, That’s the Way It Is”. For the next 17 years – until Elvis’ death in 1977 – Joe saw to every detail of Elvis’ life, both professionally and personally.
Joe was present the day Elvis passed away. He tried to perform CPR until the paramedics arrived. In the days following, Joe served as the chief spokesman for the entourage and stayed on with the estate for a year, cataloguing the massive inventory.
Joe worked as a consultant along with Jerry Schilling for the docudrama, “This is Elvis” for Warner Bros., and on a multimedia project entitled, “Always Elvis” for Jerry Weintraub and Colonel Parker, which proved to be too expensive to produce.
Joe wrote a book in 1994, “Good Rockin Tonight”, for Simon and Schuster, appeared on numerous television shows, radio programs and public appearances including, “Entertainment Tonight”, “Larry King Live”, Nightline with Ted Koppel”, and “Good Morning America”, just to name a few.
He released a new book in August 1998, “Elvis, Intimate and Rare”. It’s a collection of Joe’s personal photos that he took during the 17½ years he spent with Elvis, and also some that were given to him by his friends. It shows Elvis just being himself on movie locations and on vacations with his family and friends.
Whatever Joe does he is inextricably linked to the memory of Elvis, and is constantly in demand as a public speaker and authenticator of Elvis Memorabilia.
Legendary Rock & Roll DJ
Red Robinson’s roots go back to the beginning of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Red was spinning the hits on Vancouver’s CJOR while still in high school in 1954. He was the first DJ to play rock ‘n’ roll music on a regular basis in Canada. In 1957, Red jumped to Vancouver’s Top 40 giant CKWX, where he met Buddy Holly and Elvis, and was MC for Elvis’ appearance.
In 1964, Red introduced the Beatles on the same stage where Elvis appeared seven years earlier. He entered the advertising business in 1969, when he founded Trend Advertising (later Palmer Jarvis Advertising). Trend’s first client was McDonald’s Restaurants of Canada. Red was the first agent and first to appear in a McDonald’s television commercial.
Red hosted mornings on CKWX until 1983, and went “network” with Reunion, a cross-Canada oldies show that ran from 1985-1993. As part of EXPO 86, Red presented the Legends of Rock ‘n’ Roll, featuring 40 acts including Ray Charles, Roy Orbison, Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, and the Righteous Brothers. He was elected into the “Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame” in 1994, the “Canadian Broadcast Hall of Fame” in 1997, and the “Rockabilly Hall of Fame” in 2000.
In 2007, Red moved to the FM dial and 104.9 FunFM – Vancouver’s Greatest Hits.
Co-Star in “Blue Hawaii”
Darlene was born in Chicago, Illinois into a “show biz family”. Her family performed in plays and vaudeville, and she had an early goal to be a Hollywood actress. At the age of twelve she was mauled by a dog which left her very self-conscious. To help overcome her shyness, she was entered into a beauty contest by her mother. Her subsequent beauty pageant victories attracted some attention and she appeared in commercials.
Her first acting role was in Beyond the Time Barrier (1960). She then co-starred opposite Elvis Presley in Blue Hawaii (1961). She had a role in My Six Loves (1963) and played parts in several television shows.
Her career was interrupted by a marriage and the birth of two sons. She tried to resume acting again when the marriage ended in the mid-1970s, but by then she was in her thirties and had difficulty landing roles. She has since worked as a stand-in and stunt woman.
Today, Darlene is retired and enjoys playing Bridge; one of her hobbies. When recently spoken with Darlene, her memory of Elvis was: “He was kind, funny, thoughtful and very much a gentleman”. When asked if she enjoyed making the film “Blue Hawaii”, she answered: “Yes, the Islands were beautiful and everyone was so nice”.
As the tour producer for Elvis Presley throughout the 1970’s, Charles Stone had the rare opportunity to be closely associated with both Elvis Presley and his manager Colonel Tom Parker. Charles flew with Elvis and his associates on Elvis’ personal plane, The Lisa Marie, from city to city each time Elvis went on tour. Being in the unique position of traveling with Elvis and also managing the personal details of each tour, Charles experienced daily life in Elvis’ world and also developed a close working relationship and close friendship with Colonel Parker and the entire TCB gang.
Charles began his career in entertainment in the mid 1960′ as a booking agent and worked with popular acts such as Little Richard, Fats Domino, Louis Armstrong, and the Coasters. In the late 1960’s Concerts West recruited Charles to promote artists such as Led Zeppelin, Chicago, Grand Funk, Three Dog Night, Frank Sinatra and eventually Elvis Presley. Although Charles has worked with many amazing talents throughout his career, and has years of memories and personal stories to share, nothing compares to his time spent on tour and in Vegas with Elvis, the Colonel, and all the enthusiastic, supportive fans. There is nothing he enjoys more than having the opportunity to relive his Elvis years as he shares his memories and experiences during frequent speaking engagements around the world. Charles’ book,” My Years with Elvis and the Colonel” is both informative and entertaining and gives an inside peek into the Elvis we all knew and loved.
Charles lives in Dallas, Texas and is currently involved in entertainment and artists management where he continues to promote the Elvis legacy.
Greg is a highly experienced television, film, music executive, personal manager and marketing strategist. His early career featured a long stint with Elvis Presley’s personal manager – Col. Tom Parker. In later years, Greg’s career expanded to include professional associations with music icons Sonny Bono, Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino , The Temptations, The Four Tops and for seventeen years was a personal manager and friend of legendary artist Ricky Nelson. Greg was a joint venture partner of Silver Eagle Records and TIME-LIFE Music, Two of the most successful direct response marketing companies in music history.
Greg was also the founder of Field of Dreams, the nationwide sports memorabilia stores. He partnered with Morton Downey, Jr. and was the executive producer of The Morton Downey, Jr. Show, a nationally syndicated television talk show. In the motion picture industry, Greg’s executive producer credits include the 20th Century Fox feature films “Deal”, starring Burt Reynolds, Charles Durning, & Shannon Elizabeth, and “SuperCross”, Starring Channing Tatum. As a record company executive, Greg was president of the record label responsible for the surge of the “Boy Band” era groups of the 2000’s (Backstreet Boys, N-SYNC, LFO, O-Town) and the Hit MTV/ABC series “Making The Band”. Greg is also a Chickasaw Indian and has relationships with prominent Native American leaders.
*Greg will be serving as a VIP Judge for this years competition.
Security guard at Graceland and one of Elvis’, body guards in the 1970s. Thompson was a former police officer and the brother of Linda Thompson.
Sam Thompson has had many jobs in his life, he’s been a police officer, lawyer, judge and music producer but the job he remembers most fondly is the time he spent as Elvis Presley’s ‘baby-faced’ personal bodyguard.