maybe she isn't alive anymore?
By Jason George | Tribune reporter
October 29, 2008
"Million Dollar Quartet," at the Apollo Theatre, tells the story of the impromptu 1956 jam session of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash.
What it doesn't divulge is an Elvis-related mystery that continues to confound historians as well as the show's playwrights.
Only five of the six "Quartet" cast members existed in real life: the singers plus Sun Studios founder Sam Phillips, who preserved the magical '56 meeting in Memphis by flipping on his tape recorders. It's that sixth character, Dyanne, Elvis' girlfriend, who was created because no one knows what happened to the young woman who actually did appear on Elvis' arm that day.
"I think she's one of the few Elvis girlfriends to completely vanish into the ozone," said Colin Escott, who co-wrote the play with Floyd Mutrux and who is the author of "Good Rockin' Tonight: Sun Records & the Birth of Rock & Roll."
In fact, unlike other women who told (and sometimes sold) their story of time with Presley, the woman that day—believed to be named Marilyn Evans—has never appeared in any article, fanzine or made-for-TV movie, said Peter Guralnick, author of an authoritative two-volume Elvis biography ("Last Train to Memphis" and "Careless Love"). Only those there that day have provided the scant information about her: Evans was 19, performed as a showgirl at Las Vegas' New Frontier Hotel and Casino and dated Elvis only for a few weeks.
"After that, it's a mystery," said Guralnick, who added that Perkins, before his death, insisted that the woman had a different name.
Lewis, the only living member of the quartet, is touring Europe this week and could not be reached for comment.
Either way, a woman surely was there at Sun: a female voice, believed to be hers, can be heard on the recordings from that day as she suggests a song title to the singers. And while there is an iconic photo from that session, which shows the quartet clustered around a piano, another version—believed to be the uncropped original of the famous photo—features a woman, believed to be Evans.
And because of that photo, "Dyanne" was born.
Escott said he included her because she helps move the story along, but he changed the name for legal reasons, just in case Evans is alive, a fact that would prevent producers from telling her story without her permission.
"Given that lawyers govern everything these days, they said, if you don't know where she is, [then] we had to create a fictitious character."
Not that he's opposed to her being found—Escott said he'd love to know what happened to her. (If alive, Evans would be 70 or 71.) Given that Evans has kept quiet this long, it seems doubtful she will raise her voice any time soon.
Finding her is nearly impossible as well, given her common name, the fact that most entertainers did not stay in Las Vegas and the lack of employment records from that period. (Last year, developers demolished the New Frontier.)
Several Las Vegas historians, including a retired showgirl who performed in Vegas in 1956, told the Tribune they haven't a clue where Evans went.
"The name just doesn't ring a bell," said Betty Bunch, who danced at The Sahara, just down the Strip from the New Frontier, and who lectured on that era of Vegas' past.
"That was the year before it got really big out here, so I should remember her, but I don't."
Someone must, of course, know something, so if you're out there and reading this, give us a shout.
The Million Dollar Quartet needs your two cents.
maybe she isn't alive anymore?
I believe that the girl,that was with Elvis at that time was a Marilyn Evans and not a "Dyanne?" Here's a picture of Marilyn sitting on the piano used during the Million Dollar Quartet.
Last edited by shelley.m.; 11-19-2008 at 10:19 PM.
The One and Only King of Rock'n'Roll.
Thank you Shelley...great picture.
Thanks shelly. I saw that earlier today on the elvis news.
I haven't listened to this for quite a while, but I remember thinking a second female voice could be heard. It seemed like two girls were chatting in the background.
'Taking Care of Beaulieu'.
I thought the Million Dollar Quartet was at Sun Studios.
well, i've learned two things,
1) Elvis had a lot of girlfriends - many that we knew nothing about and
2) the Chicago Tribune still finds Elvis a VIP and very newsworthy even today.
of course, we elvisfans knew that!
All I wanted was a white knight with a good heart, soft touch, fast horse
Ride me off into the sunset Baby, I'm forever yours
Source: Chicago Tribune/ Jason George, Nov 11, 2008
The whereabouts of Presley's girlfriend who was at the world's first superstar jam session went unknown for decades. Until now.
Marilyn Knowles-Riehl (left picture) is the mystery woman seated on the piano (right picture) in the Million Dollar Quartet photo from 1956. She was Elvis' girlfriend at the time and was there in Sun Studios at the legendary 1956 jam session of Jerry Lee Lewis (from left), Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash. In fact, her voice is heard on the historic recording. (Tribune photo by Jason George/Photo from Michael Ochs Archives)
On December 4, 1956, Marilyn Evans entered--and exited--rock 'n' roll history. That was the day Elvis Presley stopped by Memphis' Sun Studio and recorded an impromptu session with Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis. Historians have long believed Evans was there too because she was dating Presley then and a voice assumed to be hers appears on the recording. Also, a local newspaper photographer captured an image of the brunet alongside the famous foursome, which the paper dubbed the Million Dollar Quartet.
"That lovely creature sitting on top of the piano," the caption for the photo read in the next day's newspaper, is "Marilyn Evans, who dances at the New Frontier in Las Vegas. She is Elvis' house guest thru Friday."
Unlike some other Elvis exes, Evans didn't make a career out of her companionship with The King, and Elvis enthusiasts have long wondered what happened to her after her week in Memphis. Colin Escott, a music historian and co-author of the play "Million Dollar Quartet," now playing at Chicago's Apollo Theater, has called her the "the least known of Elvis' girlfriends," which was true.
Evans' father had died when she was in high school, but to head off any trouble she wrote her mother a letter that began, "Don't flip, mama, but I've become acquainted with Elvis Presley."
Momma did flip, a little; that is, until Evans put the young star on the phone.
"He seems like a very nice person," her mom, L.E. Evans, informed The Fresno Bee in December 1956, after word of the relationship leaked. "Elvis told Marilyn he likes her because she doesn't act like a show girl, because she's real."
Like Evans, Elvis too was performing at the New Frontier--his first Vegas engagement--but when he left, the couple kept in touch by telephone. Then one day, he called Evans and asked her to come visit and stay at his Memphis home.
She said yes.
And so, 52 years later, what does she remember most about the house? "I remember that phone just rang and nobody answered, which was odd." In Memphis, Elvis and Evans spent their days riding motorcycles, going out to eat and watching rented movies at Elvis' house, a luxury the girl from Fresno could hardly believe.
"He was relaxed. He was comfortable there," Knowles-Riehl recalled. And at night she slept ...
"... not with him."
"He was extremely honorable. He was young; I was young."
On Dec. 4, 1956, the couple, along with some of Elvis' friends, cruised around Memphis, as usual. But on this day Elvis stopped at Sun, where he had made his first record only three years prior. It was there, over the next few hours, that fate (and a tape recorder) would allow a rare glimpse of the musical passions of these four future legends, as they jammed on gospel, country and blues. It was a seminal session of rock 'n' roll's origins ... and one that Knowles-Riehl barely recalls.
"I remember that outfit I was wearing was all wool," she said with a shrug of apology. "A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then."
The fact that the session meant so little to her might help explain why she said she felt fine when the relationship faded a few weeks later.
"I always preferred classical music," she explained. "We were just into different things, not that one's better than the other."
"It was great, I loved it, it was terrifically exciting and wonderful, but I had other things I wanted to do," said Knowles-Riehl who, the next year, began attending the University of Utah.
Asked why she never broadcast her brush with stardom, Knowles-Riehl said she never thought it among her life's highlights. Instead she prefers to gush about her two husbands--her first died--her son and a dancing career that includes 13 years as the director of the Fresno Ballet.
"It's like people whose high point of their life is their senior prom," she explained. "My senior prom was good, but a lot of stuff has happened that's been great since then." Such as ...
"When it's not driving me crazy, I enjoy genealogy," said Knowles-Riehl, who divides her time between Carmel, Calif., and Salt Lake City.
She also continues to dance--thanks to the fitness of a 40-year-old-- and she runs her own belly dancing troupe.
"It's pretty much the opposite of all my training, but I love it," she said. Until last week, Knowles-Riehl had never listened to the recording session from that day in Memphis. But when she did, she quickly nixed the popular theory that she's the one who requested the song "Farther Along."
"That's not me," she said, as the female voice on the recording speaks with an obvious drawl.
"I wouldn't pick up a Southern accent that fast," she said, chuckling.
And yet, in listening to the rest of the album from that day's session Knowles-Riehl stumbled upon another female voice, this one requesting "End of the Road." "That's me," she said, as her wide brown eyes grew wider.
"It's like otherworldly," she said of hearing herself, "out of body."
With the headphones still on, Knowles-Riehl appeared in that moment as she does in the '56 photograph: Her face bright and blushing, wondering how could it possibly get any better than this.
How We Tracked Her Down
It didn't take Tribune readers long to begin guessing the identity of the woman pictured alongside the Million Dollar Quartet.
"The woman in the photo sure looks like Patsy Cline," one man e-mailed, just an hour after the story first appeared on the Tribune's Web site two weeks ago.
Cline, in fact, proved the most popular guess about the woman photographed at the one-time singalong of the Quartet, a.k.a. Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis. Other errant ideas included several '50s starlets, different Elvis girlfriends and "my mom's aunt."
Until today's article, all that Elvis enthusiasts knew about the mystery woman was that she was 19 when she and Elvis briefly dated in 1956; she was probably named Marilyn Evans--though Perkins remembered something else--and that she was a dancer at a Las Vegas casino.
Those scant facts had long stymied historians, who, over the decades, searched fruitlessly for the whereabouts of a woman who seemingly vanished off the face of the Earth.
Mary Green knew different, though.
Green of Barrington said she nearly passed out when she opened her Tribune and saw the Live! section cover the day the story ran.
"I looked at the page and said, 'Oh my gosh, that's Marilyn!'."
Green has been friends with Evans, now Marilyn Knowles-Riehl, since the early 1960s, when both studied dance and had been sorority sisters at the University of Utah. While Green knew Evans had once visited Elvis in Memphis, Green didn't know about the recording session with the Quartet.
Within minutes of reading the story, Green called Knowles-Riehl, whose husband, Jeff Riehl, later wrote the Tribune a note that declared,: "That is Marilyn Evans in the photo. "She is alive and well, and still looking good.
"She has a son and two granddaughters, and she is my wife."
After so many false leads, I skeptically e-mailed a reply with a phone number where Evans could contact me directly. Two days later I received, and missed, a phone call, but the voice mail message sounded promising: "Hello. This is Marilyn Evans ..."
With that, mystery had left the building.
Elvis with Marilyn Evans (right next to Elvis) on November 19, 1956.
Last edited by celine; 11-12-2008 at 01:25 AM.