The Girl Who Almost Married Elvis

From the time she awoke to find Elvis Presley slumped over in his private bathroom at Graceland much has changed for former beauty queen Ginger Alden, who must now figure out what's next

 

 

By Ron Russell

 

In 1976, the year she met Elvis Presley, Ginger Alden, at 19, was a teenage beauty queen in a family of suburban beauty queens.

 

By her own admission, she had never been much of anywhere. Her father was an Army recruiter and her mother worked for the Internal Revenue Service. The Aldens

had just moved into a new house in Ridgeway Estates, the east Shelby County bedroom community at the outskirts of Memphis.

 

Her sister, Terry, two years her senior and a student at Memphis State University, was Miss Tennessee, and Ginger was a step behind her as an aspiring pageant queen.

 

After being Valentine Queen her senior year at Sheffield High School, she had also claimed several other titles: Miss Mid-South Fair; Cotton Carnival Duchess; Miss Traffic Safety, and first runnerup in the Miss Tennessee Universe pageant.

 

She had chopped onions at a hamburger restaurant on Highland Avenue and decorated windows at an East Memphis dress shop. She had even put in a local TV appearance as an enchilada-loving senorita in a 30-second spot for a Mexican restaurant.

 

And then Elvis called.

 

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It was November 19, a Friday night, about 9 o'clock. It must have been some odd quirk of fate, she says, for neither she nor Terry nor her other sister, Rosemary, had dates that night.

 

"We were sitting around watching televison when the phone rang," says Ginger, now 22. It was Elvis confidant and longtime local radio personality George Klein wanting to talk to Terry. He said that Elvis was dating around again--(as if he had ever stopped)--and wanted to know if maybe Miss Tennessee would like to come over to Graceland.

 

Terry was excited by the prospect, but didn't want to go alone. So the three sisters cleared it with Klein and went together.

 

They arrived at Graceland's hallowed gates about midnight, she recalls, "scared to death," and waited downstairs for nearly two hours while being told the King of Rock & Roll was up in his bedroom practicing karate.

 

When Klein finally took the sisters upstairs, they were directed to Lisa Marie Presley's vacant bedroom as a secondary holding tank, like patients being moved from waiting room to operatory at the dentist's office. Ginger recounts the giddiness of the moment and points out the obvious: "It must have looked really funny. Three sisters sitting on a sofa."

 

Ginger was sandwiched between Terry and Rosemary. "It was like I was in a fantasy world. I couldn't believe I was there. I was just trying to take it all in."

 

And then Elvis entered.

 

She professes not to recall much about the banter that ensued, but says Elvis chatted for a half hour or so before giving the girls a 2 a.m. tour of the mansion. After pausing at his grand piano to perform a mini-concert ("He sang some spirituals"), Elvis excused himself to go to his bedroom.

 

Afterward, Klein, the Presley concierge, appeared and said, "Ginger, Elvis would like to see you." They "talked" until past 4 in the morning, she says. When she emerged from the bedroom, her sisters had gone home.

 

"Sounds like an unlikely story, doesn't it?"

 

Well, since you asked . . .

 

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When it comes to Elvis Presley, it's as if someone took the name, affixed it to a branding iron and forged it on Ginger Alden's forehead. The letters haven't stopped coming since the week Presley died. They're all over her house. In cardboard boxes in the attic. In paper sacks in her bedroom closet. Even in the garage.

 

People who've mostly seen her picture in gossipy tabloids and Hollywood tattle sheets won't let her get through the checkout line at Kroger. She has a deal in the works for a poster, a la Farrah Fawcett-Majors. A New York agency wants to sign her as a fashion model. And she's about to appear in her first movie.

 

So you would think everything would be back on track for Elvis' supposed former fiancee. It would appear that she has only swapped one dream for another.

 

But not quite.

 

"I don't think people realize this but I'm still trying to sort things out . . . I mean people will ask me , 'Wow, Ginger, how would you feel starring in the big movie about Elvis' life? But I couldn't do that. It would still hurt too much. I don't think I'll ever completely get over the trauma Elvis' death caused."

 

Since Presley's death, she's also had to contend with rumors about her role in the late singer's life; a lawsuit brought by her mother, Jo Alden, against the Presley estate, and bitterness from some members of the late singer's entourage. ("Some of them were leeches who took advantage of Elvis' generosity," she says. "I think they know that had Elvis and I married, they would no longer be around.")

 

First, there was the rumor that she had accepted $5,000 from the National Enquirer a few days after the funeral to write an article which, among other things, graphically described the condition of Elvis' body when she found him slumped on his bathroom floor. The article carried her byline.

 

"I didn't write that, and they didn't pay me anything," she says. "The only reason I agreed to talk with them is because they said if I didn't they were going to use another story by one of Elvis' former girlfriends that placed the blame for his death on me. I was upset and they kept pestering me, so I finally consented to talk to them over the phone for a few minutes."

 

Now that it has been 2 1/2 years and her name and photos of her have become grist for the glitter mill, Alden says she's learned how to handle it: "It's simple. I just don't pay attention."

 

At one point, representatives from two entertainment tabloids showed up at the house at the same time and got in a doorstep fistfight over who was there first. She sent them both packing.

 

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The new man in Alden's life isn't a love interest. Former traveling salesman Earl Owensby, who gambled his personal savings six years ago to set up a movie studio in, of all places, Shelby, North Carolina, is maybe, she hopes, the person to help her with her first foray into show business.

 

Owensby says he became "enchanted" with Ginger the first time he met her, five months after Elvis' death. That's when she decided, at the urging of former Presley associate Ed Parker, to test for a part in an Owensby movie called, "Living Legend." As of this writing, his E.O. Studios is said to be talking with several film companies about distribution rights. Owensby says the goal is for a summer release.

 

Despite the title, Owensby insists the movie isn't an attempt to cash in on Alden's Presley connection.

 

The movie was in the works before Elvis died, he insists. "Believe it or not, Ginger's being Elvis' former fiancee was more a detriment to her getting the part (as a superstar singer's girlfriend) than anything else. And you know why? Because I knew as soon as people associated her with it, some people would cry, 'rip-off.'"

 

Alden says she looked over the script and was convinced it wasn't an attempt to exploit Elvis' memory before reading for the part two years ago. She pronounces it to be "tastefully done," adding, "It's all about what goes on behind the scenes in a superstar's life."

 

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That's something in her wheelhouse, having been with Presley the last nine months of his life. Even so, she remains uncomfortable talking about much of it and steers clear of discussing the details surrounding Elvis' death.

 

"I haven't been to Graceland for several months now to visit the grave," she says. "I don't even like to drive past it. It makes me feel uncomfortable. It's as if a very meaningful part of my life has been ripped away. When Elvis and I were engaged, I thought of Graceland as my home, too."

 

[The estate, along the with the potential future revenues it generates, passed to Lisa Marie Presley, which, owing to her status as a minor, means that Graceland and other Presley assets have largely wound up under the control, for now at least, of Priscilla Presley, the singer's former wife.]

 

Elvis, Alden says, asked her to move into Graceland shortly after they met but she refused. "It wasn't my lifestyle. He respected me for that."

 

"I never pushed him to marry me. Others had done so. He told me so. I remember on one occasion him saying, 'I always thought that it was the man's place to do the asking.'"

 

His constantly showering her with gifts was something she says she had trouble getting used to.

Since Presley's death, she's also had to contend with rumors about her role in the late singer's life; a lawsuit brought by her mother, Jo Alden, against the Presley estate, and bitterness from some members of the late singer's entourage.

Elvis and Ginger during a beach vacation to Hawaii (above), and at one of Presley's final concert appearances (below)

 

This article was first published in Mid-South magazine, the Sunday magazine of the Memphis Commercial Appeal, May 6, 1979, with the title, "Ginger Alden--On Her Own." It has been slightly re-edited.

"The first time he gave me a ring, he handed me four at one time. I had never had a real diamond. I didn't know how to take them. He said, 'You've got to have backups.' I told him, 'That's too much.' But he wouldn't listen. If you turned him down it hurt his feelings.

 

At one point, she says, Presley finally told her, "Ginger, you've got to learn you can have anything you want."

 

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The wedding was to have taken place Christmas Day, 1977, she says.

 

According to Alden, they'd talked about the wedding the night Elvis died, after coming home from the dentist together and before playing raquetball with Presley entourage member Billy Smith and his wife Jo.

 

Elvis had given her the choice of having the wedding at Christmas; on November 13, her birthdate, or January 8, his birthdate. She chose Christmas.

 

"He was fascinated with pyramids. [Elvis' close friend] Charlie Hodge was, too. Charlie had told Elvis about a church that was shaped like a pyramid . . . I knew that's what Elvis had in mind. He even told me he had been in one of these churches. I still don't know where it was.

 

"He said he wanted to have the President there. He wanted to have a Supreme Court justice perform the ceremony. He was really worried about photographers. He didn't want a three-ring circus. I said, 'Fine, whatever you want, Elvis,' and then we went to the [raquetball] court."

 

As for her career?

 

"I don't have any doubt he would want me to go ahead with it,  whether it's acting or singing or what. He would want me to do something useful with my life. I wouldn't want to go back to decorating windows."