A movie about a secret meeting between Elvis, the King of Rock 'n' Roll, and President Nixon sounds too crazy to be real. And yet, on Dec. 21, 1970, the infamous musician did, in fact, visit the former Commander-in-Chief at the White House for an impromptu meeting. After first inspiring a mockumentary TV movie, Elvis Meets Nixon, in 1997, the strange meeting of the minds is now making its way onto the big screen in Elvis & Nixon. The film, starring Kevin Spacey as Nixon and Michael Shannon as Elvis, promises to tell "the untold story" behind the meeting, but just how accurate is Elvis & Nixon in retelling this real event?
The bones of the story depicted in the film are so ridiculous that they read like a piece of historical fan-fiction. Elvis, in his purple velvet suit, personally hand-delivers a note to President Nixon asking for a meeting one morning mid December, and to offer himself as a sort of cultural spy for the federal government in the hopes of getting a badge from the Bureau of Narcotics. Sounds crazy — that last bit about being a government spy must have been embellished for the movie, right? Actually, wrong. Though the only accounts we have of the meeting come from a handful of witnesses, Elvis' letter, which can be found in the National Archives, clearly states the star's intentions. "I can and will do more good if I were made a Federal Agent at Large, and I will help but by doing it in my way through my communications with peoples of all ages," Elvis wrote in his letter.
Only a few people were present for the meeting other than Nixon and Elvis — Elvis' friend Jerry Schilling and bodyguard Sonny West, as well as President Nixon's advisor Egil Krogh. Both Krogh and Schilling have publicized the details of the meeting, and Schilling even acted as an executive producer on the film. In Krogh's original notes on the meeting, he wrote that, in addition to talking about what he feared was an anti-American movement, Elvis had been "studying Communist brainwashing and the drug culture." (Again, this is all real and did, indeed, occur.) In the trailer for Elvis & Nixon, Elvis is seen offering to go undercover to bust Communists, and even shows off his super spy skills to the President. It's here that the film takes some creative liberties with the story.
According to Schilling, where the movie veers off course from the truth of the story is in Elvis' character, which he believes was amped up for comedic effect. In fact, the more comedic portrayal is what kept Schilling from signing off on the film for years. After many scripts and conversations with filmmakers, the final result, Schilling told Memphis' The Commercial Appeal , is "more of a docu-comedy" than a strict retelling of true events.
With a truth this strange, who needs fiction?
Images: Bleecker Street Media