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Baby Let's Play House: Elvis Presley and the Women Who Loved Him

By Alanna Nash

Itbooks (Harper Collins) 684 pages, $27.99

Reviewed by Ken Burke, September 2010

Find it on Amazon
Equal parts bravura investigative history and he-said she-said gossip, Alanna Nash's tome on the women in Elvis Presley's life provides the final word on the late rock king's romantic escapades. The first music journalist to see Presley in his casket - as she proudly proclaims on the book jacket - the author has diligently collected stories from the singer's early puppy love phase, Hollywood days, spiritual era and his sad premature decline. The portrait she paints is that of a man looking to be mothered and babied until his peculiar mix of infidelity and inability to truly commit drive them all away.

Many of Presley's best known love interests - Ann-Margret, ex-wife Priscilla, June Juanico, Linda Thompson, etc. - have written their own books and it is to Nash's credit that she redefines those subjects employing careful reporting from outside sources and testimony of the singer's friends. Several other respondents have gone public for the first time and their respective stories alternately fill interesting biographical gaps and illuminate some rather intriguing personal quirks. Along the way, she uses the stories of the respective love interests to establish a worthwhile historical context.

Of utmost importance to Presley fans is the story of the singer's mother. Characterized as a sex-crazed dirt-poor teen who ran off and married an older man (only to discover he was already married), she built up a lifetime of hunger and frustration that later surfaced in the music of her son. Controversially, the author quotes a psychiatrist who proclaims that because toddler Elvis slept in the same bed as his mother, he is a victim of incest - a diagnosis that basically tars and feathers every poor family whoever had to share cramped quarters or huddle for warmth.

Although Nash often makes the case that women were most important to Presley's career development, very few of the women covered - aside from his mother - had any practical impact on Presley's music, acting, or career choices. (Marion Keisker and Mae Axton being the notable exceptions. Keisker more or less discovered Elvis at Sun, recommending him to Sam Phillips when the label owner was looking for someone to record an r&b ballad Without You. Besides offering valuable career advice, Axton co-wrote Heartbreak Hotel.) Indeed, the single most interesting aspect of many of these ladies is that they once knew Elvis.

Rabid fans who still view Presley as something of a god, will find him flawed and unsympathetic hero in this occasionally unflattering biography. Yet, this unique project may have crossed the final threshold of Elvis literature. Simply put, after Nash's oh-so commercial archaeological dig into the sex life of a man who loved neither wisely nor well, what else is left to say about the man?