Rick Husky (right) from the TKE fraternity at Arkansas State College came up with the idea of presenting Elvis with a "Man Of The Year" Award for his considerable contributions to charity.
The Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity at Arkansas State College was riding high on a wave of publicity in the fall of 1960. The fraternity had grabbed some positive headlines when chapter president Rick Husky, a journalism student from Wynne, succeeded in getting Ronald Reagan to drop by the fraternity house during his visit to Jonesboro. Emboldened by the publicity Reagan's visit got, Husky dreamed up an idea to initiate someone famous as an honorary member. Elvis Presley was the unanimous choice, but no one believed Husky could pull it off. 'In fact, I remember several members pretty much laughing in my face', Husky said.
Rising to the challenge, Husky came up with the idea of presenting Elvis with a Man of the Year Award for his considerable contributions to charity.
Presley had recently been discharged from the Army and had just arrived back at Graceland from Germany. Husky got the name of Elvis' secretary from a fan magazine and sent a letter to Elvis at Graceland in care of the secretary notifying him that TKE wished to present him with his award.
But even he wasn't prepared for what followed when the world's biggest entertainer actually accepted their invitation to become an honorary TKE brother. 'Several days after mailing the letter to Graceland, I was shocked to receive a telegram at my dorm room', Husky said. 'It was from Elvis' secretary stating he was happy to learn of his Man of the Year Award. I was invited to Graceland to present the award and to initiate Elvis at a night and time the following week'.
There was just one problem though. While the idea of recognizing Elvis for his charity work was sincere, Husky had nothing to actually present to the entertainer because he had completely concocted the award as a publicity stunt. In a panic, Husky hurriedly dashed off some words to be engraved on a plaque for Elvis and through some arm twisting, was able to get a Jonesboro sporting goods store to prepare an impressive polished brass plaque. Husky and TKE members Don DeArmen of Corning and Jeff Sheraer of Patterson, Mo., along with faculty member and fraternity advisor Robert Howe and photographer Charles Crowe, set out for Graceland on Oct. 24, 1960 in Husky's 1956 pink and white Ford for their meeting with Elvis.
Rick Husky pins a TKE pledge pin on his newest fraternity brother Elvis Presley
'I don't remember the exact conversation other than our being in total disbelief that we'd ever be allowed through the gates of Graceland, let alone really get to meet Elvis', Husky said. 'No one at the fraternity other than these people knew the event was going to take place, otherwise we would have had a truckload of folks wanting to tag along'. Husky said Elvis was very gracious and humble and told them that it was one of the nicest awards he had ever received. 'I always wanted to go to college but never had the chance because I couldn't afford it', Husky quoted Elvis as saying in his news account for the campus newspaper The State Herald. 'I'll always remember the fine manner in which Arkansas State students treated me back when I was starting out'. 'He was totally excited about it', said Peter Guralnick, author of 'Last Train to Memphis' and 'Careless Love' a two volume biography of Elvis Presley. 'It led to a long term friendship'.
Elvis talked to his new fraternity brothers about everything from Hollywood to how the A-State football team was doing. 'My great love is football', Elvis said. 'I always wanted to play in high school, but was unable to because I had to work'. Husky said Elvis' right hand was bandaged because he had broken his finger playing flag football the day before.
After they explained the flag football system at A-State, Elvis flashed his famous grin and asked if they could set up a game for he and his friends if he came up to the school when his hand got better.
'We'll get a game up for you all right, but it will probably be the first intramural game in history played before 50,000 people', one of the Tekes laughingly said. 'Of course, that never happened', Husky said. 'But we assured Elvis we'd be ready whenever he wanted to visit'.
Elvis also talked about his early days when he played dances in Jonesboro and Bono and other one-nighters and how he hadn't forgotten those audiences who made him famous.
'Sure I remember Bono', Husky recalled Presley saying. 'And I remember playing in Jonesboro for many Arkansas State students back in the old days'.
'Elvis had played clubs all around Arkansas and Mississippi and let us know how he appreciated the support he got in the small towns and small clubs where he got started', Husky said.
Husky said Elvis then showed them his shiny new Rolls Royce which he had recently purchased in Hollywood during the filming of his latest movie 'G.I. Blues', and told them a funny story about what his maid said the day he first brought it to Graceland.
'You know, when I first got home with the car I was pretty proud of it', Presley said. 'The first day I arrived, I left it parked outside alongside my Cadillac limousine. The maid came in and the first thing she said was, 'Mr. Elvis, I heard you got yourself a new car. I'd sure like to see it'.
'I told her that it was parked right outside and she said, 'Well, I just came from outside , and all I saw out there was that big long white Cadillac and some old black car'.
'I just shook my head and laughed and told her that 'old black car' had just cost me $20,000'.
Elvis even let him sit behind the wheel of the car.
Husky remembered Graceland as 'like being in another world'.
Elvis even had his own jukebox next to the swimming pool.
'Not everybody had their own swimming pool in those days', Husky said. 'But their own jukebox? And a jukebox standing by his swimming pool? I thought that was the coolest thing in the world'.
Husky had no idea at the time that meeting Elvis would change his life forever.
He wrote a story about the initiation of Elvis and their visit to Graceland and sent it along with several photographs to one of the fan magazines. Several weeks after mailing in the story he received an unexpected check from the magazine paying him for the submission.
'Back in the day before everyone got their entertainment news instantly from TV, monthly fan magazines were extremely popular for movie and TV fans who wanted the scoop on their favorite actors and recording artists', Husky said. 'They liked the story, printed it in the next issue, and let me know that they would be interested in any other stories about Elvis that I could come up with'.
That next summer, Husky attended a pool party one night at Graceland and went with a group of Elvis' friends to join him at a Memphis amusement park. Elvis often rented the park after hours so he could party and ride the rides with his friends away from the crush of his fans.
'He was like the Pied Piper and would go from ride to ride, followed by 60 or more of his invited guests', Husky said. 'It was a memorable night. I recall that Elvis had just begun his interest in karate and did a demonstration for us. I also recall riding bumper cars with Elvis driving like a wild man and crashing in to my car with a big grin. He was in his 20s at that time and still a fun-loving, big kid'. His notes from that night became another fan magazine story under the headline 'My Amazing Weekend with Elvis'.
When Elvis went to Hollywood to make his next film, Husky drove from Jonesboro to New York to try and get a job at the fan magazine. There were no jobs, but the magazine was still hungry for more stories about Elvis.
Husky turned around and drove from New York to Los Angeles in search of one more Elvis story. He wasn't able to get another story on Elvis, but did get a job at MGM as an office boy.
He later worked his way up to being a publicist in the MGM publicity department and later became a TV writer and producer. His screen credits include episodes of 'Streets of San Francisco' and 'Charlie's Angels', and producer of such hit TV shows as 'T.J. Hooker', 'Tour of Duty' and more recently, 'Walker, Texas Ranger' with Chuck Norris. Elvis also kidded him through the years about writing a part for him in on whatever TV series he was working on at the time.
Along the way, he reconnected with Elvis. Though not a close friend of Elvis, Husky said he was lucky enough to get to spend time with him through the years at his home in Los Angeles and backstage in Las Vegas and in his penthouse at the Hilton Hotel where he attended a number of parties after his shows.
'He was always a gentleman', Husky said. 'I got to know members of his entourage quite well. In fact, I was awakened at 3 a.m. one morning by a phone call from Elvis asking if I wanted to sell my home in Hollywood Hills. Elvis wanted to buy it for one of his men. I agreed to a price and Elvis said he'd send over some of his guys to help me move. I laughed and said it would take me a few days to get over the shock, but that I would let him know when I was ready'.
'I was working on 'The Mod Squad' early on and he thought he might like to do a guest shot on that show', Husky said. 'He was also dating its star, Peggy Lipton at the time. Of course, he was kidding and it never happened. But it was nice to know that he was watching a TV show I had written. At that point, I knew I had come a long way from the wet-behind-the-ears kid who came to Graceland on behalf of my fraternity'.
Husky would later go on to produce a 1990 tv series 'Elvis' for ABC in cooperation with the Presley Estate, Priscilla Presley and former Elvis friend Jerry Schilling as co-producer.
'After his death, I had a contract with Universal Pictures to write a feature film based upon Elvis' life', Husky said. 'The movie never went forward, however, I never forgot the stories Elvis told me, including one about his first new Cadillac catching fire and burning up on the side of the road when he and Scotty Moore and Bill Black were on their way from one Arkansas town to the next for their next show. He told me they hurriedly got their instruments out of the burning Cadillac and that he sat by the side of the road and cried as the Cadillac went up in flames. That first Cadillac had been such a symbol to him that he'd finally made it and it was an emotional moment for him. Clearly, he had no idea that he'd go beyond playing one-nighters and having his first hit record, to being the biggest super-star in the world'.
The show was filmed in and around Memphis and told the story of Elvis' early days recording and performing.
'The series was well-reviewed but we had a bad time slot and only ran 13 episodes', Husky said. 'The idea of the series was to pay tribute to Elvis when he was young and starting out, and I think we succeeded in dramatizing how the legend began'.
Husky said he still thinks about Elvis and often wonders what his life would have been like had he never met the King of Rock n' Roll on that day back in 1960.
'It's difficult not to remember the moments I spent with him -- all very good times ,when the world was a better place', Husky said. 'All of this was a fluke which occurred because of meeting Elvis. Had I not come up with the idea of initiating him for publicity for my fraternity, and had not he so graciously accepted, I would never have met him, and it certainly would never had entered my mind to travel to Hollywood in search of a career. I probably would have ended up working for a newspaper somewhere in Arkansas and lived happily ever after. I would not have met my wife, had my four kids, nor had the career I had. I owe it all to Elvis'.
Husky said he later learned that the plaque they presented Elvis that day was still at Graceland, stored with Elvis' many more important awards after he died, along with his own fraternity pin.
The tradition was for the Big Brother of the incoming member to let the new member wear his pin until the new member's own pin arrived. They ordered a new pin for Elvis and sent it to him, but Husky never did get his own pin back.
'Elvis accepted the Man of the Year Award like it was something really special', Husky said. 'He was very sincere and appreciative - absolutely a real gentleman. He treated us like we were somebody and, of course, we were just a bunch of kids from college who couldn't believe we were there at Graceland with Elvis Presley'.
'It's hard to believe Elvis has been gone all these years, and it was a tragedy he died so young, with so much talent and so much ahead of him'.