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A Kiss From the King : But things soured after her movie role with Elvis

December 04, 1987|DAVID WHARTON | Times Staff Writer

Elvis Presley wanted Jennifer Holden. He told her so, but she just acted cool.

"Oh brother," she said.

They went on a date, to a drag race and a tour of the Hollywood stars' homes. Holden wore a low-cut, tight-fitting number. Still, she wouldn't give Elvis the time of day. When they got back to her place, she wouldn't even let him walk her to the door.

"I asked for nothing, I expected nothing and I got nothing," she told him.

Finally he went ahead and kissed her and that was it. They went swimming. He sang to her, a nifty tune out by the cabana. She fell for the King--the blonde always does.

"I'm coming all unglued," she said.

This all happened during the last half hour of "Jailhouse Rock." It was just a movie and the only reason Elvis kissed her was because that's what it said in the script. But, for half an hour, Jennifer Holden was Elvis' girl. And in 1957, being Elvis' girl was pretty much the pinnacle. It made you something of a pop classic.

Holden was 18 at the time. "Jailhouse Rock" was her big break, but after that she somehow drifted from pop stardom into the masses. There were a couple other movies--"Buchanan Rides Alone" and "Gang War." She was a rock 'n' roll singer for awhile. She had four babies and spent 10 years making velvet tapestries in Oregon.

Lately, Holden has settled with her two youngest children in Topanga Canyon, studying acupuncture. She doesn't seem to mind much.

"All these things are part of wonderfully living life. Who knows? Maybe in the 21st century I'll be an astronaut taken to Pleiades. I'm ready."

She laughs loudly, which she does often. She smokes a cigarette and constantly flips away strands of permed, blond hair.

"We need to be overcoming primate attitudes," she said. "How do we relate to each other so they we can all survive until the 21st century? That's really our work right now. Life is a learning process."

She doesn't want to give her age, although the math is simple.

"It's incidental," she said. "I think people would rather see you the way they dream about you."

A year or so before "Jailhouse Rock," Holden had seen Elvis in Las Vegas and followed him through a casino. She was just a teen-ager, a child vaudeville player from Chicago. She was transfixed.

"He had this black leather jacket and he was totally out there, you know?"

But on the movie set, Holden and the King didn't hit it off at first. Elvis said "Hey, honey," and Holden made a face at him. One of the first scenes the two of them had to film was a passionate embrace: He comes home, she's on the couch with a headache. He bends over her and they kiss.

That's when Holden came up with the "unglued" line. It wasn't in the script. It was the first thing that came to mind.

"Somehow all the facades broke down. He didn't even know that I was really crazy about him," she said. "At that point, we became friends. He wanted to show me all his Cadillacs."

Later, the King saved her life. Holden laughed through most of this story: They had just finished filming the cabana scene--a finger-snapping sequence with Elvis' collar turned up and Holden in ruffles--and she went back to her dressing-room trailer. Next thing, the trailer went up in flames. Just then, Elvis walked by.

"Fire was blocking the door. So I screamed," Holden said. "Elvis yelled, 'Wait a minute! Wait a minute! I'll get somebody.' "

Several crew members rushed to the scene to save Holden, and she was grateful to the King for summoning help.

They went to dinner, but nothing came of it. Soon, Elvis would be inducted into the U.S. Army and Holden's career would be over.

"He went to Germany and got his head shaved," she said. "I got a few bad breaks. It felt like everything went 'clunk.' "

In some ways, Holden has chosen to live anonymously. She pretty much ended her own career by refusing a role on "Rin Tin Tin." "I said 'Barf,' " Holden recalled. The studio to which she was contracted said "goodby."

But in other ways, Holden has tried to step back into the limelight.

"I have a secret . . . wanting to sing like Tina Turner. It never did work out."

About halfway through coffee at a Topanga restaurant, Holden lets down. She has come dressed in a turquoise jump suit, unbuttoned down low, and black boots. She now sits forward as she speaks.

"I'm a great character actress and I should be doing great things. Is there anyway you can say that?"

The only acting Holden has done lately have been a few plays at the Theatricum Botanicum in Topanga Canyon, and a music special for German television that never panned out. She sees herself as a survivor of a dying breed. Elvis is dead. So is Judy Tyler, who played Elvis' manager and true love in "Jailhouse Rock."

"We were the rebels without a cause," she said.

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