Author: Letters offer insight into Elvis’ troubled years
Minnesota author Gary Lindberg’s new book, “Letters From Elvis,” provides a glimpse into five emotional years of Elvis Presley’s life that few, if any, people knew about.
After decades of research, corroboration and sequencing of 265 letters, Lindberg said he has handwritten accounts sent by Presley, Marlon Brando, Harry Belafonte and Tom Jones to their spiritual guide, Carmen Montez.
Lindberg said the letters provide a background for many of the traumatic and personal events that led to the death of “The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll” in 1977. It took verification by a handwriting analyst, thousands of dollars spent on literary attorneys, and 30 years of waiting, but the letters can now be read. The book was released by the publishing company Lindberg co-founded, Calumet Editions.
Lindberg was at Barnes and Noble in the Apache Mall for a signing Saturday, and he discussed everything from Elvis’ legacy to the legality of the letters.
How did you first get started with this book?
I started working on this book in 1988. A good friend of mine collects celebrity memorabilia, and he was called by the woman who ended up owning the letters. When she discovered the letters, she said, ‘This should be a book.’ I literally fell out of my chair. I couldn’t sit anymore, and I had tears in my eyes because the letters were so dramatic.
The owner already had all 265 letters examined by handwriting analyst Charles W. Sachs, who said there’s absolutely no doubt these were written by the people who signed the letters. The letters of authentication are published in the book.
What is the actual genre of “Letters From Elvis”?
It’s completely non-fiction. We consider it a biography of five years of the life of Elvis — the five years during which these letters were all written. It was going to be simple. We were going to publish the letters, and I was going to write some contextual filler. It was fun with the research and reading the letters, until the lawyers told us we couldn’t publish the letters because of copyright infringement. If someone writes and sends a letter, the receiver owns the letter, but the sender owns the words on the page. So everything is copyrighted, and everyone knows the Elvis estate is highly litigious. We tried to find every conceivable way of publishing the book without publishing the letters.
One by one, everyone involved in the project backed away, and over the next 30 years, I kept thinking, ‘I have to do this.’ This really became a passion project, because I didn’t give up for 30 years. My partner in my business said he’d take the risk with me. The content in the book is so extraordinary that it’s been out for two weeks and I’m literally already getting hate mail. But everything has been corroborated. Most people read the book and are totally shocked.
Were you a big Elvis fan prior to starting this project?
I was a “lukewarm” fan. When he went a little nuts in the end, everyone kind of gave up on him. What the book really does is explain for the first time some of the things that led to that eventual decline that no one has known before. It was sort of the lynchpin that pulled together meaning for his life, and why he went down that road.”
What kind of reader do you think would enjoy “Letters From Elvis” the most?
This illuminates his life in a way that has never had light shed on it before. Certainly fans will appreciate this — once they get over the shock. Everyone who reads this book will have more compassion for what Elvis was forced to go through.
With all the potential legal trouble, why did you ultimately decide to still publish the book?
I’m 75 years old, and this is the only project I ever committed to deeply, emotionally and financially, that had not been completed. It was a touch of OCD I have … but the other thing was I really became a deep fan of Elvis after studying these letters and talking to people about him. I became more than an admirer – I became a real fan. I wanted his story to be out there. I wanted to give him a platform to speak for himself, because these are his letters.
Without being able to publish the letters, how did you decide to construct and format the book?
The book is two things, it ended up being a personal memoir of my 30 years of battling through this. We cover the frustrations of copyright, because people wonder, ‘Why release it now?’ Well I couldn’t do it earlier. I wanted people to understand that, because I went through a lot of tribulations, too. And it’s the story of Carmen Montez (which will be its own second book), the woman who bought the letters in a suitcase at the auction. But then it’s also about, ‘What do we learn from Elvis, himself?’ Elvis never talked about himself, so this was the only time in his life when he opened up and talked about what he was feeling emotionally, what he was enduring, and asked for help. There’s so much information that goes so deeply into his life, that I think fans will be enthralled.
Did you ever question if you should actually publish such personal stories from the letters?
I did, that was the biggest struggle I had. I honestly believe that if Elvis were hiding out some place – like some people think he is – he would say, ‘Go for it. I want people to know that I wasn’t just a cartoon character, I wasn’t just looney. There were reasons for all of it, and I want people to understand.’ I had no idea his life was filled with so much pain and personal trauma.
What’re your emotions and final thoughts now that it’s out?
Relief. I’m just proud to see it through completion, and I feel good for Elvis’ sake. I can’t promise that everything Elvis or Marlin Brando (or anyone) said in the letters was absolutely, clinically true. It was contemporaneous notes. But everything in the book that comes from the letters is faithful to the facts.