Is 'Elvis & Nixon' A True Story? Crazy Things Happen When Rock Stars Meet Presidents
Two of the 20th century's biggest personalities make for an odd duo in the new film Elvis & Nixon, which tells the story of a meeting between rock and roll legend Elvis Presley and the 37th President of the United States, Richard Nixon. The film features Michael Shannon as Elvis and Kevin Spacey as Nixon, and if you've seen the trailer, then you know this movie looks absolutely bonkers. But the question is, did this wacky meeting really happen? Is Elvis & Nixon based on a true story?
The short answer is yes, but the longer answer is a bit more complicated. You may have seen a photograph before of Elvis and Nixon shaking hands. It's a pretty weird picture, and is one of the most requested at the National Archives, but it turns out that the story behind that photo is even stranger than the photo itself. According to Kathryn Shattuck at the New York Times, it was December 20, 1970, when Elvis found himself very concerned with what he saw as the moral degradation of American society. He detested hippies, communists, the Black Panthers, and any other anti-establishment group that went against his more conservative beliefs. So he wrote a letter to President Nixon, flew overnight to D.C., and delivered it personally to the White House the next day. The contents of the letter can be found here, via the National Archives, and an excerpt is below:
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 three weeks 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 concern 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..... 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.
Later that day, on December 21, 1970, is when the meeting took place. Elvis told the president that he wanted to be made an undercover Federal Agent-at-Large, and he would use his influence within the entertainment industry and youth culture to root out the drugs and philosophies that he thought were destroying the country. But what actually happened during the meeting between the two men remains a mystery. Nixon had not yet installed his infamous tape recording system, so no one really knows what exactly the two men said to each other, though there are accounts of those who were present. But filling in those fun details is where the movie comes in.
The film takes some creative liberties with the actual meeting between Elvis and Nixon, and with some of the events leading up to their meeting, but the bulk of the film is basically true. Elvis's letter, his plane ride, his showing up to the White House unannounced, and the meeting itself, are all depicted more or less as they are believed to have happened, albeit with some embellishment. In fact, the script was approved by Elvis's friend Jerry Schilling, who considered it to be pretty accurate after turning down seven previous scripts for the project, according to Michael Donahue of Memphis newspaper The Commercial Appeal.
Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, and that's definitely the case with Elvis & Nixon. Oh, and that gift that Elvis had for Nixon? It was a gun. He gave him a gun.
Images: Bleecker Street/Amazon Studios