When Ginger Alden walked into Graceland for the first time on November 19, 1976, she knew what Alice must have felt like when she stepped through the looking glass.
Having grown up in Memphis, Alden had been by Graceland many times and had seen Elvis in the movies and even in concert. But nothing could have prepared her for what was to come next.
“It was amazing,” Alden said. “Going through those gates for the first time was mind blowing. I couldn’t believe this.”
Alden’s life changed forever that night. She would spend the next nine months at Elvis’s side, accompanying him on tour and spending private evenings together inside Graceland in his upstairs bedroom reading, watching television, and listening to him sing while he played the organ in his office.
Alden shared stories about her relationship with Elvis during a rare public appearance as part of “An Evening with Ginger Alden,” which was held at the Sheraton Memphis Downtown Hotel on August 12.
The two sold-out shows were organized by Alden’s friend Sara Matteson, and drew nearly 400 fans who were eager to meet her and hear her side of the story, which has been mischaracterized over the years due to rumors and untruths.
Alden, who wore her TLC necklace given to her by Elvis, answered questions by Jaime Kay, host of “The Jungle Room: An Elvis Inspired Podcast,” and touched on a wide range of topics including the first time she met Elvis, what it was like to go on tour, the time Elvis proposed to her, and their vacation to Hawaii.
The DeSoto Times-Tribune was given exclusive access to cover Alden’s appearance in Memphis.
Ginger Alden had just turned 20 years-old on Nov. 13, 1976. Six days later she would meet Elvis Presley at his home at Graceland. Elvis’s friend, George Klein, called her home to ask if her sister Terry would like to come to Graceland to meet Elvis. Terry was the reigning Miss Tennessee at the time and was engaged. Wanting to meet Elvis and see the inside of Graceland, Terry told Klein that she would feel awkward meeting Elvis alone and asked it it would be okay to bring her sisters.
“Elvis said yes,” Alden recalled. “We were all excited. We were all brushing our hair and bumping into each other getting ready. We got in the car and drove over. We pulled up and my sister Rosemary rang the doorbell. George Klein opened the door and we went inside. It was just magical.”
Elvis was busy practicing karate upstairs, so Klein took them on a tour of Graceland. Elvis later called downstairs to say he was ready to meet them, and Klein escorted them upstairs to Lisa Marie’s bedroom.
Alden said she expected to hear trumpets blare when he walked in.
“His hair was messed up,” Alden said. “It wasn’t his famous pompadour. I was very shy. And I blurted out ‘Hi Elvis!’ You would think I’d known him for years. He said hi back. He shook all three of our hands. I think he knew our names. Somebody must have told him.”
Alden said they sat in Lisa’s bedroom for a long time and talked.
“He was so cordial and so nice,” Alden said.
After a while, Alden said Elvis showed them his bedroom and his office, where he sang a few songs to them. As the night wore on, they ended up in Elvis’s dressing room and closet outside of his bathroom, which was his private sanctuary.
Alden said Elvis suddenly got up and left and asked Klein to follow him into his bedroom. Klein came out and much to Ginger’s surprise told her that Elvis would like to see her in the bedroom.
“I looked at my sisters and was like, ‘who, me?’” Alden recalled. “So I walked into his bedroom and he pats the side of the bed. So I sat down. I was petrified.”
Alden said she need not have worried though. Elvis put her at ease right away and told her that he wasn’t in to one night stands.
“That was good for me,” Alden said. “I remember he said ‘I’m not that street out there. If you cut me, I bleed.’ That meant so much. I thought he was trying to connect. He was trying to say he was human.”
Alden said Elvis was a perfect gentleman. The spent the night reading books. At one point, Alden said Elvis handed her the book and asked her to read to him.
As night became morning, Alden began to worry about her sisters. Elvis told her that they had gone home hours ago. He asked her for her phone number and had someone give her a ride home.
“I went home in disbelief,” Alden said. “My sisters were still up and they were all asking ‘what happened?’ That was the beginning of our relationship.”
A surprise flight to Las Vegas
Their second date was even more surreal than the first night she met him. Alden said Elvis called her the next night and she went back up to Graceland. Elvis played the electric organ again for her and talked about his Ferrari, which he called the “Black Mamba,” after the world’s fastest snake, and about his Stutz Blackhawk.
“I said something like, ‘oh, can we ride in the Ferrari?’ because he had been talking about it,” Alden said. “He said, ’No, I will say when we can take a ride in the Ferrari. That car is too fast for you.’ It was to let me know that he was in control.”
Elvis then decided to show her his airplane. They rode over to the airport in Elvis’s Stutz Blackhawk. When they got there, the airplane lights were on and the stairs were down.
Alden said she remembers getting inside the plane and being blown away by how impressive it was. Elvis sat down but got up a few minutes later, telling her that he had forgotten something. Alden said Elvis came back, they shut the airplane doors, and all of a sudden he announced that he had bought them all pajamas, and that they were all going to Las Vegas.
“It’s hard to describe how I was feeling at the moment,” Alden said. “I had never been out west before, let alone been on an airplane. I remember looking out the window and I could tell he was looking at me.”
At one point during the flight, Elvis asked her to walk up to the front of the plane with him. Alden said she was mesmerized seeing the lights of Las Vegas.
“It was magnificent,” Alden said about the trip. “Once again, Elvis was a gentleman. I think we just spent one night. But he pulled out pajamas for me to wear. We read again, watched a little television, and went to sleep. That was the trip.”
Elvis left to go on tour, but called her the following Saturday to come to his Nov. 30 show in Anaheim.
Alden dispelled the myth that she didn’t like going on tour with Elvis. She went on every one of his tours after that, missing only four dates.
“Unfortunately for me, some biographers picked up on a lot of lies and speculation,” Alden said. “I loved being on tour with Elvis. I thought he was a magnificent performer. It was exciting to watch him perform.”
A generous heart
Alden lovingly recalled how Elvis asked if he could accompany her to her grandfather’s funeral. Despite bad weather, Elvis flew her family to Harrison, Arkansas on January 3, 1976.
“It holds an extremely special place in my heart because it was a huge undertaking for him to do,” Alden said. “The weather was really bad. Elvis, by God, when he is determined to do something, he decided to fly us all there on his small airplane.”
They then had to drive another 20 miles on icy, slippery roads to the church her grandfather had helped build, Mt. Sherman Assembly of God church in Jasper.
Alden said the minister was nervous singing knowing that Elvis was sitting in the pews.
“All of a sudden, Elvis started singing along with him,” Alden said. “Elvis had Charlie Hodge with him. Then Charlie started harmonizing. You could see a calmness come over him. That he did that was just such a huge showing of what a generous heart he had to do that for men and to do things like that for others.”
‘It looks like a headlight’
Alden also recounted the night Elvis proposed to her on January 26, 1977. She said they were sitting in Lisa’s room watching television, when all of a sudden Elvis got up and went to his bedroom. He came back in after being gone for awhile, took her hand, and led her back to his dressing area of his bathroom and asked her to sit down.
Alden said the next thing she knew, Elvis got down on bended knee and started saying some beautiful words to her. He then pulled out a green velvet box that he had behind his back and handed it to her.
“And inside was this magnificent engagement ring,” Alden said. “I was just blown away. And he asked me to marry him. I said yes.”
Alden said she didn’t know until later that the stone had been taken from Elvis’s TCB ring that he wore on stage.
Alden said they were congratulated by Elvis’s step-brothers, housekeepers, his cousin, Billy Smith, his Aunt Delta, and Charlie Hodge, who gave her a backgammon board as a gift.
“We came out and Elvis kept looking at the ring, and he’s going ‘hold up your hand. It looks like a headlight,’” Alden said. “He was calling up the housekeepers. Then we cut across the backyard to his father’s house. His father congratulated us. I have a feeling he must have talked about it to his father because his father kind of acted like he knew. And then he wanted to go show my family. We went to my parent’s house and needless to say, they were blown away. We walked inside. ‘Show her the ring.’ It was a fantastic, fantastic time.”
Alden also set the record straight that, contrary to some of what has been written about their relationship, her mother did not push her to get involved with Elvis. While there was a 21 year age difference, Alden said she was immediately attracted to Elvis the first time she met him.
“She said as long as I was happy, she was happy,” Alden said. “Elvis was such a nice person. There was nothing she was worried about at the time. She certainly didn’t push me into anything. I wasn’t 14 or 16. I was 20.”
Elvis shared another favorite memory of the time Elvis surprised her with a trip to Hawaii in March 1977.
“We were sitting upstairs in his bedroom and he said, ‘Have you ever been to Hawaii?’’ Alden said. “I said, no. He said, ‘I’d really like to take you there.’”
Alden said she and her sisters stayed in the back of the Lisa Marie with Elvis during the flight joking and laughing the whole time.
“I remember this one time we were talking about rats,” Alden said. “He was joking saying ‘rats! They’re crawling all over me!’ My sister Rosemary would get him going.”
As they landed, Elvis started singing “Blue Hawaii.”
Alden said Elvis was in a good mood on that trip and it was nice to see him be able to relax.
“My sister Rosemary always cut up with him,” Alden said. “She had him talking about karate. She said, ‘well, what if you only had one arm?’ Ands he puts his arm behind his back. ‘Well, what if you kick sad in your face?’ It was hysterical because the two of them were on the floor at one point. She had his head and her body was like a pretzel and he was wrestling with her.”
Another time, Alden said she smeared shaving cream on his face and Elvis took off chasing her. Her one regret is that she went into town to buy Elvis a shirt and missed seeing him play touch football with his entourage.
“I think he really had a good time,” Alden said. “He really needed that.”
Unfortunately, the trip had to be cut short because Elvis irritated one of his eyes. Alden stayed with him all night administering the cream in his eye.
Elvis had a surprise waiting for her when they got back. Unbeknownst to her, Elvis had the bathroom redecorated to make her feel more at home at Graceland.
“Before we had left, Elvis was talking about redecorating his home,” Alden said. “I remember he said ‘I want it to be something that you like too.’ I mentioned turquoise and white before we left for Hawaii. And when we returned from Hawaii, that bathroom was redecorated in turquoise and white.”
Alden also clarified another rumor about why she didn’t move in to Graceland when Elvis asked her to. Certain members of his inner circle who were there at the time have used that as proof that Alden never really cared about Elvis.
Alden said she told Elvis it was against her values and that she didn’t think it was proper for her to move in because they weren’t yet married, which she said he respected.
“It was early 1977 and at the time I just didn’t feel comfortable with it,” Alden said. “It did nothing to take my love away from him. Some people speculated about that and I got hit hard by some people around him because I didn’t move in. I think they thought I didn’t care about him. And that was far from the truth. But I remember when I said that he said ‘I respect you for that.’”
Alden did not discuss the day Elvis died, but did say that contrary to what has been written about his final days, Elvis was not depressed and lonely or living like a recluse upstairs at Graceland.
Elvis was in a good mood 98 percent of the time, she said.
“I don’t think that is a fair portrayal,” Alden said. “It is hard for me to hear some of those things because that is not the person that I loved and saw on a daily basis. For anyone to say that he should not have gone out that classy year, that he shouldn’t have performed, I completely disagree.”
She also dismissed accounts that said Elvis’s ex-wife Priscilla came to see him at Graceland and that he begged her to take him back because he did not want to marry her.
“That’s just not true,” Alden said. “I was never in the house with Elvis and Priscilla at the same time. I was never sent downstairs for four hours. I would have been mad about that. He never sent me to wait downstairs to just twiddle my thumbs or whatever while he was up talking to his ex. That is a false story that somebody told (Elvis’s road manager) Joe (Esposito) for his book.”
Alden said the only time she met Priscilla was at the end of March. Elvis was sick with a stomach flu and had cancelled his tour and was in the hospital. She said Elvis wanted to show her engagement ring to some people at the hospital and asked her to go back to Graceland to get it.
“Elvis asked me to pick up my ring,” Alden said. “Elvis gave me this beautiful jewelry box and I kept the ring in that just for safekeeping. I stopped by Graceland. My sister was with me and my sister-in-law. Charlie Hodge came and opened the door and we went inside. Charlie said ‘Priscilla is here. Would you like to meet Priscilla?’ I was a little nervous, but I said okay.”
Alden said she followed Hodge into Elvis’s grandmother Dodger’s room where Priscilla was sitting. She said Priscilla was very cordial and they talked about Great Dane dogs. Both she and Priscilla had Great Danes.
“I remember Priscilla saying ‘they don’t live long,’” Alden said, “Everything was going fine. Lisa came in and sat on the floor. At one point Lisa started playing with my hair and I remember Priscilla saying, ‘Lisa, Ginger may not want you doing that.’ I didn’t bother me. So Lisa stopped and went and sat back down. At that point it got awkward and I just said, ‘have to go get something. It was nice meeting you.’ I went upstairs, got my ring, and went to the hospital.”
I’d do it all over again
Alden said she was unaware for years after Elvis died that she was being portrayed unflatteringly in a number of tell-all books written by members of Elvis’s inner circle, specifically a former bodyguard whose name she did not use.
Although she has given a few interviews over the years, Alden said many of the things written about her are speculation and outright lies told by people who still have a connection with Elvis’s estate and want to erase her from Elvis’s legacy.
After Elvis, Alden went on to have a successful acting and modeling career and a long lasting, happy marriage. She said while she considered suing over some of the things that have been written about her, she decided instead to focus on her raising her son.
“Some people began to tell untruths,” Alden said. “It wasn’t even speculation. It was outright lies. In my opinion, there is a strong connection. There is no other reason for the lies being told and the diminishment that has happened between Elvis and myself.”
When asked if she could go back in time and whether she would still go see Elvis that night at Graceland with her sisters, Alden was unequivocal in her response.
“Absolutely,” Alden said. “That changed my life forever. To share what we shared, to share the love we had, and for me and my family to share a part of his life with us, it may not have been that long, but it was action packed and there was a lot. I wouldn’t trade that for the world. I’d do it all over again.”
After the session, Alden greeted fans, posed for pictures and signed autographs.
“Thank you for coming out,” Alden said. “I hope you understand me a little better. For me to be back in my hometown means a great deal.”
Matteson said she was thrilled with the turnout and hopes Alden will agree to do it again in the near future.
“Everything I planned was to change people’s opinions surrounding her,” Matteson said. “We're working on a future event.”