Gary James' Interview With Elvis' Secretary
Jeanne Le May Dumas
Millions of women the world over can only dream about what it would be like to meet Elvis. Jeanne Le May Dumas not only met Elvis, she worked for him!
As Miss Rhode Island, Jeanne met another contestant at the 1972 Miss USA Pageant, Linda Thompson, who was Miss Tennessee. Jeanne and Linda became fast friends and Jeanne made the move to Memphis to live with Linda. It wasn't long before the two caught the eye of Elvis and Linda became Elvis' girlfriend. Not to be left out, Jeanne came to know and work for Elvis.
Jeanne's story is told in her book Elvis, Linda And Me. (Rooftop Publishing) What's really unusual about this book is the many never before seen pictures of Elvis, including his upstairs quarters at Graceland. Jeanne talked with us about life with Elvis.
Q - Jeanne, didn't I see you on Larry King?
A - No. I wasn't on Larry King. That must have been Geraldo. I would remember if I was interviewed by Larry King. I would've killed to have been on that show. I mean, Linda was on and she mentioned me, back in 2002. I think she was interviewed again. I know she mentioned about the book, but no, I wasn't interviewed by him. I wish. I wish. That would've been great. They were trying to get me on Oprah too. It's almost impossible to get on Oprah.
Q - Why would that be?
A - You'd have to have some connections. I think it would have to be a real best-seller book to get on there. They tried. They tried. If they had sent her a book, they have people that review the books, but most of the time they say it gets thrown into the trash, which I had heard that before. It's just like trying to get a publisher. It's pretty tough. I was only picked up by Rooftop (Publishing) because they were a division of Author House, which was the original self-publishing company that I went through.
Q - You were down at Graceland for the 30th Anniversary of Elvis' death.
A - It was thrilling. I met the fans. I did an event in Orlando and that was actually the first time I did a book signing and that was interesting. Oh, my goodness. It blew me away. It's nerve-wracking. It really is, but it's exciting. I love to hear their stories. They're so devoted and go back year after year after year to Graceland in that heat. It's mind-boggling. From all over the world. They can barely speak English. They have people that interpret for them. It's unbelievable. A lot of the grandchildren come with the grandparents. I've had fans at five years old, eight years old. Isn't that unbelievable? So, what intrigued you about the book?
Q - The photos that we've never seen before. I never realized red was Elvis' favorite color.
A - Oh, yeah. For sure. He liked purple too, but that's one of my favorite colors. I love orange. I think he loved orange too. I actually had the opportunity, and you're gonna laugh, when he built the racquetball court in back, he was out of town and there was one afternoon; Linda (Thompson) love to play racquetball of course. I had never played before. So, she said "Let's play racquetball." I said "I don't know if I'm into all that." She said "No big deal." I said "What will we wear?" She said "There's suits. Why don't you wear Elvis'? He's not here." He had this orange jogging outfit, workout outfit and I actually wore his outfit. I'll tell you, when I put that thing on, I felt strange. (laughs) But it was thrilling. I'm like "I'm actually wearing Elvis' stuff."
Q - Didn't he also have a blue jogging suit?
A - He had a lot of different color suits. Oh, yeah. Absolutely. But this one was orange. I don't know why. Maybe he picked it. Linda had a yellow one. I took a picture of her playing with one of the other kids that was playing with us, because I didn't last long. It just wasn't for me. I don't really like tennis and all that. I'm a swimmer. I'm into the pool. I used to swim in the pool on my lunch hours. I'm sure you read that in the book. It was such a thrill to actually be able to stay upstairs. I can't tell you what a thrill that was, and how fortunate I think I was. So many people have said to me, the people that were actually up there, some of the bodyguards, I don't want to mention names, "I wish I had taken the pictures." Obviously they're valuable. They are intriguing. That's the only thing left that the fans cannot see. They cannot actually witness that upstairs... and possibly never will. The only way they're going to let people upstairs is if they did some serious renovations and they would deface Graceland. Lisa wants that off-limits because he did pass away there. I think to have people tramp upstairs is totally different from actually seeing a photo. I'm not doing anything to violate anything sacred, believe me.
Q - I was wondering if Graceland has tried to stop you from publishing those pictures.
A - They can't. It's my copyright. They know it. They're aware of it and Elvis knew about me taking these pictures. No one can say anything. Of course, you're going to have people who don't approve, I'm sure. Let's fact it, Elvis wasn't approved of, even when he was just in high school. People tried to beat him up because he was different. He had long hair and he dressed very flamboyantly. That's where all that comes from. God bless him that he did try, I think, to be unique. He did have an unbelievably phenomenal talent. I don't know if he knew how phenomenal he was or what he would achieve. I know that he didn't think he would ever, ever, achieve probably what he had done. He didn't even know he'd be remembered. People have said this. When he went into the service, he said "Do you think I'll be remembered?" to various people. Look at what happened! Thirty years after his death, this man is more popular now than ever, really.
Q - Elvis was, I'm guessing, at least a decade removed from the Pop idols you grew up listening to. So why did you have an interest in him?
A - I always admired Elvis from the sixties. Remember, I'm sixteen years younger than him. I don't remember him in the fifties. I remember him in the sixties with the movies. I used to go to the movies and drool. I remember and it's in the book, I'm at the drive-in, double dating 'cause that what everybody did back then. It was the innocent days. I'm thinking I was fifteen. It was probably '66 ad it was Spin Out. In it, he was kissing Shelley Fabares, Debra Walley and Diane McBain. I remember saying to my date, 'cause he was trying to kiss me at the same time. I'm like trying to dissuade this guy. (laughs) I just said "See that guy up there? Someday, I'm gonna get to meet him and I'm gonna kiss him too!" And it's so funny 'cause it actually did happen! When we were taking pictures in front of Graceland, the night after we met him we were invited to Graceland, and I took pictures of him and Linda. I said "I want a picture." So, Red (West, Elvis' bodyguard) grabbed a camera and Elvis was standing there and kissed me. I almost passed out because it was such a thrill. It wasn't just a little smack, it was a real live kiss. I really and truly thought I was gonna die. He was a great kisser and of course it was Elvis Presley and it was a dream come true! I used to just dream about that and watch all these movies and think how lucky are these girls.
Q - Jeanne, I go back to what I originally asked, why Elvis? Why not The Beatles? In '66, The Beatles were hot, not Elvis.
A - He was gorgeous. I thought he was this nice guy. We didn't know him. I think the attitude he had in all the movies, he was very confident. He was just beyond talented, to me. I asked him when we were going through the trophy room, I was with Linda and Red West, I said "What was your favorite movie?" He said "King Creole". He said "because they really let me act in that one." I think that's true. If you really look at that, he acted really really well. He didn't have a chance. Sonny West always says this whenever he's interviewed and any of the other guys, he could have had a shot. He would've done a great job in A Star Is Born. Everyone agrees too. But, this wasn't in the cards. For whatever reason, God only knows, he was taken from us and I really think he's on a cloud up there and he's just laughing hysterically at all the adoration because he didn't know this gonna happen. He's got this contagious laugh. That's what I picture and that's what I miss most. Everyone says that. His sense of humor. Nobody had a sense of humor like him and he loved to play jokes. He did this on the sets. He told us that in Clambake, they had a water fight with the mayor. That must've been a lot of fun! (laughs)
Q - What did Elvis have in common with Linda? I know she was good looking, but I'm talking about beyond that.
A - Sense of humor. She was an absolute, positive wit. She could come out with things like nobody else and that appealed to him...in her confidence. Confidence is very appealing to men. I know when I got there and I actually saw him come crashing through the door, I thought I was gonna die. I couldn't believe this. I'm not as confident as Linda. I'm much more shy. Even though you win a pageant, it doesn't mean we're all headed for stardom, we all want to be actresses and models. I did all the modeling stuff. She started to talk to him like he was an ordinary person. She said "Oh, by the way, my aunt told me to tell you that she didn't blame you for leaving Lauderdale Courts." I guess the aunt lived there also. He just went, "What?" He was looking and saying "Who is this confident lady that is talking to me like this?" And he was sitting with some girls. So, that's why when George Klein, who was sitting with us in The Memphian, he got up, Elvis got up to go in the back. George just flew out of the chair in the middle of a conversation with Linda. Instead of George coming back, he sat down next to Linda and without hesitation she said "To what do we owe this honor?" He started to stutter. He really couldn't believe she came out with something like that. He said "Well, I, I, I, I just thought I'd sit down. It was great and from then it was it. He kept trying to put his arm around her and kiss her. We thought he was still married to Priscilla. I just thought "wow! She kept trying to break off. He said "I bet you think I'm still married." She said "Well, aren't you?" He said "No. I've been separated for months." She relaxed a little. But remember, Linda was a good girl. Linda was a virgin. I mean, this was her first real relationship. You know as well as I do, that Elvis was very intrigued by that. Priscilla was a virgin also. She was fourteen when they met.
Q - Linda hasn't written a book, has she?
A - Not yet. I don't know if she'll do it. We talked to her brother, Sam. He said "Well, I don't know if that's ever gonna come to be because Linda is a very busy woman." She could get a ghost writer. Jim Cox is my co-writer, from North Carolina. I found him because he was co-writing Nancy Rook's book called Inside Graceland. I'm not really a writer. Linda is. Linda can write. She's very talented. She can write songs for God's sake. If you don't totally enjoy writing, you get a ghost-writer like I did with Jim Cox. He did a great job. I think he really captured my personality and Linda's personality. It sounds like a fairy tale. It reads like a fairy tale. It's not negative at all.
Q - You are the envy of millions of women around the world.
A - Tell me about it. They all say that. You got that right. I'm so lucky. I feel bad that the fans never got to know him. And they still come year after year after year. It's like, wow! If they knew him, it would be worse. I am honored and flattered. To me, timing is everything and it was a fateful experience. I could've done the pageant another year and had a different room mate and none of this would've happened. Why did I have Miss Tennessee and it was Linda Thompson. People tell me it had to be a whirlwind all the time and I say "no, it wasn't a whirlwind all the time." I say "Granted, I got to go on the tour and I traveled with Linda when Elvis went out of town, but Elvis slept during the day." I worked with his dad. It was actually mundane in some regards. I'm a people person. I love to work with the public. I also don't like to sit still. So, for me to actually sit in an office all day is kind of like, dull. I'd rather be doing something else. I like to do sales because of this. Just like with the guys; I'm sure there were times they wanted to pull their hair out because it was the same old same old, but then again it's exciting as hell other times, obviously because being around him all the time. He did make you laugh and the shows were mind boggling. When he first hit that stage and those flashes from the cameras. It was like people say all the time, it was like the Second Coming. It scared me. I never felt...a heart stopping experience. I felt like my heart was going to stop.
Q - What a great job Colonel Parker did in promoting Elvis, didn't he?
A - He certainly did.
Q - Colonel Parker is in large part responsible for this mystique that surrounds Elvis.
A - Absolutely.
Q - After being crowned Miss Rhode Island, you found a job, but you never did say what it was. Did you pursue acting or modeling at that point?
A - Oh, no, no, no. I did a little modeling. I don't like everybody to know what I did. I got into cosmetic sales. I was in cosmetic sales for years. I've sold jewelry and all that. A lot of people say "what did you do after that? How could you travel?" I said "I was more or less paid to travel." When Elvis went out of town, I was paid to travel. I still got my salary. We didn't get a ton of money. The bodyguards got a lot more than the girls did because that was Mr. Presley's attitude...if you want to make money, get married. (laughs)
Q - Which Presley believed that?
A - Vernon. (Elvis' father) Everybody knew how he was. He was very frugal. He had that kind of chauvinistic attitude where the men make more than the women. So, marry a man and let him take care of you. That's just the way he was brought up. It's funny, that's the way I was brought up, where the man was kind of the bread winner type thing. It's just the old fashioned stuff that went on there.
Q - So, your job for Elvis was answering his fan mail?
A - Right.
Q - Was there any room for advancement in the Presley organization?
A - No. See, what happened was, I would never have wanted to. There was nothing. The only other job in that office was the actual, I guess you would call it the executive secretary. Becky Young was the secretary for twenty years. She quit. I heard it was a money issue. And Mr. Presley again didn't pay a lot of money. That's what I heard. She wrote a book also. She wrote a book before any of us. She started writing the book before she quit. I guess she finished it up before he died. Patsy Presley Gamble was Elvis' double cousin. She actually did the fan mail, so when Becky quit, she took over. She would work under her uncle, Vernon. So, I took over the fan mail secretary. There was no way for me to take over her job. I wouldn't have wanted to, personally. I was fine with the fan mail. It was another girl and I that did it. It was hard, because when he went into the hospital in '75, a couple of times, then Mr. Presley got sick and he was out of the office awhile. It was tough. You had to see the cards and letters we had to go through. Boxes and boxes. It was amazing. If you go to Graceland, in the office, if you're facing it, my desk, if you go inside, there's a desk directly on the side of Vernon's desk. That was my desk. They still have the same curtains!
Q - The office was in back of Graceland?
A - Right. When you walk from the kitchen and you walk in the back there, that's the office. It used to be a barn, from what they told me. They made it into an office.
Q - You have a photo in the book with some kind of law enforcement badge. Did Elvis ever talk about wanting to be a cop?
A - Not to me. I know from Linda that he had collected these badges. I didn't know which badge that was. He probably had just gotten it from Atlanta. He was proud. Actually, the first picture I took, they were sitting there and he went to reach for the badge, so I snapped the picture. Back then, we didn't have digital cameras where we could delete it and take another one. So, when he held up the badge, I just took another shot. Of course, it's a pretty famous shot. Everybody loves that picture. He talked about the Bible one time he went on the tours. Different books. The Prophet. He loved to get spiritual with you. Larry Geller can attest to that. People got intimidated by that. but I'm into all that spiritual stuff. I probably would've been intrigued by Larry. I would've enjoyed talking to him.
Q - You talked to Mr. Tom Miller about Elvis' health problems. He told you Elvis had "glaucoma, an enlarged colon, hypertension, along with a host of other ills. Would the enlarged colon have caused Elvis' bloating?
A - Oh, yeah. What that means is basically had had a twisted colon that can back you up something awful...and the pain! He took I guess, quite a few laxatives.
Q - Did he ever tell you what the other "ills" were?
A - No. He never did. He did say he didn't know if he'd live to be 55. He said "he's got a lot of problems." I said "Wow!" And of course, he didn't even make that.