Linda + Elvis 4ever

When Lisa Marie Presley played at the Belly Up Tavern in November, I saw Linda Love Saenz, whom I had met at a party a month earlier. Years ago, I had seen her collection of Elvis memorabilia at the Del Mar Fair. She wanted to tell me about every Elvis collectible she owned. Some of the stuff was fascinating. For example, she has some of the leather from the same roll that was used to make Elvis's outfit for his 1968 "comeback special" on TV. That was interesting, but I wanted Mrs. Saenz to tell me about the time she partied with Elvis....

"I was maybe eight years old, living in Nashville, Tennessee. My mom and dad bought our first TV when we heard that Elvis was going to be on the The Ed Sullivan Show. My entire family gathered around to watch him that night. And from that day on, Elvis has been the love of my heart. There was never anyone I wanted to meet, except for Elvis. I never thought I would."

When Linda met her husband Del at the Tennessee State Fair over 40 years ago, he was a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne Division. He got out of the Army and was heading home to California. On their way out West, they stopped by Graceland.

"Nashville isn't that far from Memphis," says Linda, "and in 1964, it wasn't opened to the public. We went to the gates, and there was Elvis's Uncle Vester at the security gate. We asked if we could drive up the road to the mansion, and he said, 'Yes, as long as you don't touch anything.' He opened the gates, and we drove up. We got out of the car and took some photos. I couldn't resist ringing the doorbell. Elvis's housemaid came to the door and was very kind and said, 'Elvis is in Las Vegas making a movie.' About that time Uncle Vester was right there. He yelled, 'I thought I told you not to touch anything!'...

"When we made our home in Venice, California, we would tour his different homes in Bel Air. Charlie Hodge, his right-hand man, would come out and talk to the fans, but never did we see Elvis at the homes. One time, Lisa Marie, who must have been around seven, was on the back of a motorcycle with a security guard. They stopped their ride, and Lisa Marie came over and said, 'People, people, please, please go away. If you stay, I will not get to stay out and play. My daddy is in Las Vegas.' We did what she asked; we left. The guard never had to say a word....

"In 1970, we went to Vegas to see him at the International Hotel. We also stayed there. I sat third person from the stage, with Del next to me. Ladies were going to the stage for a kiss from Elvis, but I could not move from my chair. I was in awe. I was mesmerized. The show, with dinner and two drinks, cost $15 a person....

"The next year we went to see Elvis at the same place. I couldn't keep myself away from the stage, and I got three kisses. It was his first of two shows of the evening on February 13, 1971. When the curtains came down and it ended, we had to leave so the crew could get ready for the second show. As we were in the lobby I spoke to one of the [members of the] Stamps Quartet, his backup singers. He told me that after Elvis's second show, [Elvis] would be having a wind-down party at his hotel suite and if I wanted to go I'd have to talk with the security guard up there. I asked if I could bring Del, and he told me only ladies were invited to go to Elvis's party, except for his bodyguards, family, and special guests. My friend, also named Linda, and I went up to the suite, and it turned out the guard was from Kentucky, where my friend was from. We talked to him while Elvis performed his second show. Then his entourage and others started to come up to the suite. The guard asked one of Elvis's stepbrothers if we could go to the party, and we got to go in. This was around 2:30 a.m. on February 14, Valentine's morning. There was no way that our husbands would have told us we couldn't go to Elvis's party. They were actually happy for us....

"We had all gathered in the suite, in the living room, and dining area. There were drinks and hors d'oeuvres being served. I was sitting on a sofa which faced the front door, where Elvis would enter. We were told by one of the guards, 'No screaming, no photos.' We were to be perfect ladies, or we would be asked to leave the party. Elvis came in, wearing a red shirt with elastic around the sleeves. He was drinking Gatorade, and when he'd finish one his stepbrother would have another ready for him, every time. Elvis was like a kid in a candy shop, talking, showing off his honorary sheriff's badge and other badges he received. He played albums on a record player, but not his music; it was Mac Davis, Joe South, and others....

"At one point, I went to the restroom. It was large. It had a barber chair and was decorated in all black and white. I had my camera with me, but in fear that I would be seen from a hidden camera, I didn't take a photo. All the ladies were very nice and talked. Elvis did most of the talking, though.

"It seemed 5:00 a.m. came really fast, and all the ladies lined up to leave. My friend and I were at the end of the line. All received a kiss from Elvis as they left his suite. My friend and I -- and I don't remember for what reason -- got to stay. It was just Elvis and us left in the party room. I remember my friend standing behind the bar, and Elvis and I were standing in front of it. I could not keep from touching him on the left side of his face. I took one finger, smoothly over his cheek. He turned to me in a surprised look. I said, 'Elvis, I would never hurt you.' He was just so beautiful; I couldn't resist.

"He showed my friend and I pictures from his wallet of Lisa Marie and Priscilla. He showed us his rings. One of them Priscilla had designed for him. He even let us try them on.... He was a perfect gentleman the entire morning. He didn't even drink alcohol. Just Gatorade."

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