Former beauty queen Mobley treasures friendship with King
By John Beifuss (Contact), Memphis Commercial Appeal
Thursday, August 16, 2007
Mary Ann Mobley -- the former Ole Miss majorette, Miss Mississippi and Miss America who was the co-star of two 1965 Elvis movies -- made her first visit to Graceland this week.
Fellow Mississippian Mary Ann Mobley appeared with Elvis Presley in two 1965 movies, including “Girl Happy.”
Elvis wasn't the only thing on her mind. "Our dog got hit by a delivery truck," she said, speaking by phone from her home in Beverly Hills, Calif., prior to coming to Memphis for her official Elvis Week duties.
"I was up with him all night because I was afraid he was going to need me," she said of the dog, a Jack Russell terrier/Chihuahua mix named "Jack, just plain Jack." Fortunately, "He seems to be a little toughie. He seems to be a little Southern dog."
Mary Ann Mobley apparently is something of a Southern toughie herself. The 5-foot-5 Miss Mississippi of 1958 was the first flower of the Magnolia State to blossom into a Miss America, in 1959. (Intriguingly, she was succeeded as Miss America by her Chi Omega sorority sister at Ole Miss, longtime Memphian Lynda Mead Shea. Mississippians also won the crown in 1980 and 1986.)
Mobley, 68, said it was "funny" to be interviewed by The Commercial Appeal again because "The Commercial Appeal has been in my life so long. When I was a student at Ole Miss, it was like we annexed Memphis."
She said she and the other Ole Miss majorettes "used to stand on the lip of The Peabody fountain and have our pep rallies in the lobby." The rallies included a raucous song, which Mobley sang over the phone without hesitation: "From The Peabody's lobby to Whitey's saloon/ We're doing the town tonight/ The faculty will not interfere/ Because they know we're in the right..."
Mobley -- who also owns a home in Jackson, Miss., and a farm in Madison County, Miss. -- moved to New York to study at the famous Actors Studio after her stint as Miss America. Soon, she relocated to Los Angeles, marrying actor Gary Collins in 1967 (their 40-year marriage is a true Hollywood success story). She was active in film and television through the 1990s, with recurring roles in such series as "Falcon Crest" and "Diff'rent Strokes."
Miss America 1959 Mary Ann Mobley gets congratulatory kisses from mother, Mrs. David Williams, and her sister, Sandra, 12.
Mobley's most popular movies remain her Elvis musicals, MGM's colorful "Girl Happy," directed by Boris Sagal ("The Omega Man"), and the cut-rate "Harum Scarum," directed by actor Gene Nelson and produced by legendary penny-pincher Sam Katzman, remembered for his "Jungle Jim" and "East Side Kids" programmers. On Aug. 7, Warner Home Video released "Girl Happy" on DVD for the first time, and reissued "Harum Scarum."
Mobley is seventh-billed in the opening credits of "Girl Happy," but she steals the show (and almost steals Elvis) from headlining actress Shelly Fabares. Mobley plays tight-skirted and often bikini-clad Deena, who inspires three of Presley's most seductive one-on-one songs, including "Do Not Disturb" ("Let's take the phone off the hook/ Turn the lights way down low/ Baby, put down that book/ Tell the maid to go ..."). Eventually, Deena exits the picture, writing "Drop Dead!" in lipstick on Elvis' bathroom mirror.
In "Harum Scarum," Mobley was promoted to Elvis Girl No. 1. She plays naive Princess Shalimar, who wears diaphanous veils, pearls and other "I Dream of Jeannie" accouterments -- or, "about 17 million yards of orange chiffon and I don't know how many pounds of fake hair," Mobley says today.
The Middle Eastern look worked for Elvis, who plays movie star and "infidel pig" Johnny Tyronne. "If you're the result of resisting the encroachment of our civilized world, I'm all for it," leers Johnny, who enjoys serenading the princess at the Pool of Omar when he's not karate-chopping leopards or sneaking into the Palace of Jackals for "an Arabian rumble."
In "Harum Scarum," the Elvis-smitten Mobley moons over "the touch of his gentle lips," but offscreen there was no lip-touching with Presley, Mobley said.
"People are very disappointed about that, and they don't understand why, and I'm not sure I understand why," she said. Instead, she and Presley shared "a wonderful friendship" that lasted throughout the "kind and gracious" singer's life.
"I'll forever be indebted to Elvis," Mobley said. "We'd sit around and talk, and we really did have a unique friendship. Somebody said a cuss word in front of me one time, and he said 'Don't ever cuss in front of that lady.' He said, 'Ma'am, some day I'm gonna have a party that I can invite you to.'
"Whenever he had to change his phone number, somebody would call and say, 'Ma'am, we got a new number at the house, and Elvis wanted you to have it in case you ever need him.' "
On "Girl Happy," Mobley said, Elvis helped her get over her insecurity as an actress.
"The first day I came onto the set I was nervous because it was my first movie. ... Elvis said, 'Where's Mary Ann's chair?' and in the twinkling of an eye, so to speak, a chair with my name on it miraculously appeared. And I felt accepted."
In one scene in the film, an angry Mobley hurls a vase at Elvis. "It was one of those sugar vases that doesn't hurt you, but I'm supposed to miss him." Instead, Elvis was beaned. "He said, 'Mary Ann, you're supposed to miss me,' and I said, 'Yeah, but you forget I played softball in Brandon, Mississippi.'"
She said Elvis the Pelvis also was Elvis the Pensive.
"He said, 'Mary Ann, do you ever wonder how you're gonna be remembered?' And I said, 'Yes,' and he said, 'So do I.' And I think if he could just know -- and I hope he does somewhere -- that all these people are coming to Memphis, that he has made such an impact. ... I think of Marilyn Monroe and I think of any name that had a life of its own, and yes, they had a cult following, but no one has had the following Elvis has. I'm so glad I knew him and I'm so glad I got to work with him and I'm so glad we're both from Mississippi."
Mobley's main duty in Memphis this week is over: She appeared at Monday's sold-out Elvis Insiders Conference at the Cannon Center for the Performing Arts. Before returning to California, however, she said she might make a visit to The Peabody.
"I'll watch the ducks and I may stand on the lip of the fountain and do an Ole Miss yell. They may think I'm crazy, but it will help me bring back my youth."