Memphis Mafioso Richard Davis was struck by love at Elvis Week
Memphis Mafia alum Richard “Broom” Davis [1939–2004] started working officially for Elvis Presley on the Seattle location shoot of It Happened at the World’s Fair on September 5, 1962, and remained on the payroll until the rock icon’s father Vernon coldly dismissed him in a cost-cutting move on November 15, 1970 [Elvis was playing the San Diego Sports Arena and had two subsequent shows to fulfill on his brief eight-city West Coast tour]. Davis juggled multiple job responsibilities — wardrobe manager, gofer, bodyguard, stuntman, stand-in — and remained on good terms with Elvis, even receiving a brand new 1975 white Cadillac convertible. Landing promotion gigs with Stax and Warner Bros. Records, Davis was managing rockin’ 50s deejay and fellow Mafia pal George Klein when his unlucky love streak permanently vanished. In spite of their age difference, Kim Hughes “made him a better man than he ever thought that he could be” and exclusively chronicles their serendipitous meeting for the first time.
The Kim Davis Ward Interview
When did you become an Elvis Presley fan?
I was six years old when Elvis passed away in 1977. I was playing with Play-Doh, and my mom came in and told me that he had died. I really didn’t know who Elvis was. I remember that my parents, Danny and Linda Hughes, had gone to his concert in 1975 at the Mid-South Coliseum [Elvis Recorded Live on Stage in Memphis chronicled Elvis’s debut 1974 stint at the venue; he played there a final time in July 1976], and I wanted to go with them. Not because of Elvis — I just liked being with them.
They had one album — On Stage [mostly recorded in February 1970 at the International Hotel in Las Vegas] — and I played it a lot when I was growing up. I loved Elvis’ voice. My mom walked us up to the Meditation Garden when my brother and I were young [the site of Elvis’ final resting place]. We went a few times because her chiropractor was right down the street.
For my 16th birthday, I wanted to go through Graceland and the planes. My mom took me. None of my friends wanted to go, so I went by myself. I had lived in Memphis my whole life and had never gone inside. I have pictures from that day. This was before the Car Museum existed. His cars were just parked behind the house in the carport.
What’s a compelling facet of Richard’s career that is virtually unknown?
During his down time on Elvis’ movies, Richard did stunt work and served as an extra. His Screen Actors Guild card was listed under Phil Davis because there was already another Richard Davis. It makes it difficult to obtain accurate info from IMDB and elsewhere online. He did several Star Trek episodes including “The Tholian Web” [season three, aired November 15, 1968].
Richard was an ape alongside Alan Fortas [a Memphis Mafia compadre who joined Elvis in the epochal ’68 Comeback Special, supplying guitar case percussion during the unplugged boxing ring segments] in several scenes from the first sequel to Planet of the Apes — 1970’s Beneath the Planet of the Apes. He did most of James Franciscus’ stunt work — e.g. anytime he was riding a horse. Near the finale when the mutants are praising the rocket, Richard and another bit player are guards dressed in gray uniforms who bring in the good-looking astronaut prisoner [Franciscus]. When Charlton Heston shoots the lead ape, that’s Richard falling off the cliff. You can also barely see Richard as a loin clothed-human lying down in jail.
George “G.K.” Klein used to tell the story on his SiriusXM radio show [2004 to 2018] about how Richard illegally kept a mask from the Apes set. G.K. would borrow it, turn his coat backwards, and scare the daylight out of Lisa [Elvis’ only child]. When he interviewed Lisa she had not forgotten her own personal monster.
How did you meet Richard?
I had lived in Memphis my whole life. I was the only one amongst my friends that was a fan, probably because my parents had one album that I used to play over and over. Anyway, I was 19 and had just gotten back from a girls’ trip to Florida. I asked them to come to Elvis Week with me. No one would. They flat out refused.
So I went by myself on August 14, 1990. I wandered around the plaza and eventually bought two VHS tapes of Elvis: The Great Performances that G.K. had recently narrated. I went to the ticket pavilion where G.K. was and got him to sign both copies. Richard was there next to G.K., but I didn’t pay much attention to him because I didn’t know who he was.
I instantly became friends with so many fans that I hung around the plaza for awhile. I had heard that the Memphis Mafia was going to be playing versus some employees of the Elvis Presley Trauma Center in a game of softball. I love sports so I drove north on Elvis Presley Boulevard by myself and headed towards the game. It was a bit scary because that isn’t a very safe part of town.
As I was approaching where to pay to get in a photographer named Skipper Gerstel stopped me and waved me on through. Perhaps he liked the fact that I had a nice camera around my neck. He gave me a souvenir shirt commemorating the game, and I sat and watched the game and took pictures. There was a flatbed truck, a band, and G.K. was up there emceeing. Richard was almost always by his side. Neither one of them played softball that day.
After the game was over, Skipper introduced me to everyone. I remember meeting several of the guys, including Alan. Skipper walked me over to Richard. He took my hand, kissed it, and was so very kind. Definitely a Southern gentleman. He had such a sweet spirit about him, and his laugh and smile were contagious.
Skipper invited me to the Peabody Hotel for Marian Cocke’s Elvis Presley Memorial Dinner [a registered nurse at Baptist Memorial Hospital who treated Elvis starting in 1975]. I certainly wasn’t prepared. I was hot and sweaty and wearing shorts and a T-shirt. Growing up in Memphis, I always thought the Peabody was such a fancy place.
I agreed to go, but I wanted to drive myself. After all, I had just met this photographer and didn’t know anything about him. He had shown me an honorary sheriff’s badge and was carrying a gun, but I still had just met him.
We went into the ballroom on the second floor of the Peabody. We were sitting in the very back of this vast ballroom. After just a little while, Marian came over and introduced herself. She wasn’t pleased with me sitting in the back. I’ll never know why, but she wanted me to sit closer to the front.
The next thing I knew, I was sitting at the same table with people like G.K., Sam Phillips [Elvis’ Sun Records producer], D.J. Fontana [Elvis’ drummer from 1954 to 1968], some of the Jordanaires and of course, the guy that I had seen a couple of times earlier, Richard Davis. I had heard of most of the Memphis Mafia guys, but never Richard.
I sat there in awe as the only person I really knew in the room was Skipper, and he was up running around taking pictures. I didn’t say very much at all. After the Memorial Dinner was over, I obtained autographs. Skipper brought me over to Richard, and there were women seated and standing all around him trying to get a photo or signature.
Skipper had to keep telling me to ask him. I shyly went up to Richard with my torn piece of paper and asked him for an autograph. He immoderately told me that I would have to sit in his lap to get his autograph. I naively looked at Skipper and all he said was, “He means it. If you want Richard’s autograph, you will have to sit in his lap.” I reluctantly did, and I kind of hovered over his lap while he wrote a sweet note and signed his name. We then had our picture taken together.
The rest of the week I followed Skipper around with my camera, and he got me in all kinds of places including a press conference where Sam Phillips unveiled Elvis’ first acetate record that had just been rediscovered [“My Happiness” b/w “That’s When Your Heartaches Begin,” tracked in July 1953 at Phillips’ Memphis Recording Service aka Sun Studio].
I continued to show up wherever I knew G.K. would be because I knew Richard would be there with him. I later found out that Richard thought I was dating Skipper, and that’s why he was acting like he wasn’t interested in me. He also wasn’t sure if I was old enough for him to even consider. We saw each other pretty much every Sunday night at Alfred’s on Beale Street and any other place where G.K. was spinning records.
Was it love at first sight?
It definitely was for me. I couldn’t stop thinking about Richard.
Did G.K. reveal what made him lifelong pals with Richard?
G.K. and Richard were like brothers. Richard was a Memphis boy who danced on G.K.’s local television show Talent Party. And Richard was so funny. He was always making everyone laugh, especially G.K. They had a mutual love for their friend Elvis and had been through so much together.
Who was the first Elvis insider that you bumped into?
I met G.K. the same day that I met Richard. They were basically standing together in the ticket pavilion. So G.K. must have been the first.
Both my family and Sam Thompson’s go way back. Sam [Elvis’s bodyguard and tour advance man from 1972 to 1977 who eventually emerged as a Shelby County judge] used to sack groceries for my dad. His little sister Linda [Elvis’s girlfriend from 1972–1976 who married Olympic decathlete Bruce Jenner and Warner Bros. record impresario David Foster] graduated a year after my mom from Kingsbury High School, but that was before I was born.
That’s a great question which I’ve never really thought about. I guess I had never met any of them until I went to Elvis Week and in that very first day met so many.
What was your official first date?
On October 26th, a little over two months since we first met during Elvis Week, we went to the Summer Twin Drive-In. The two movies were Young Guns II [Emilio Estevez, Kiefer Sutherland, and Lou Diamond Phillips] and Steven Seagal’s Marked for Death.
You actually remember both movies from your first date.
I can’t believe I still recall them, either. I kept a journal from the time I was about 17 on up until Richard passed away. They are all upstairs in my attic somewhere. My 17-year-old son Brandon and I both love to write [the couple had triplets on July 11, 2002 — Dylan and Madison are Brandon’s siblings].
There was even a George Strait song, “Drinking Champagne” [Livin’ It Up, 1990, originally composed by Bill Mack], that came on the speaker during intermission. Part of the lyrics were, “I’m having a fling with a pretty young thing till early morning.” We laughed about that one for a long time and didn’t even know who was singing it until many years later when we looked it up.
Did Richard contemplate penning a memoir?
He didn’t write anything down — maybe just a list of movies that he was in — and never considered writing a book. Richard always said that he didn’t want to make money off of Elvis.
Had Richard been in prior relationships?
He had three failed marriages. I think the last one was in 1975. None of them lasted more than a year. Some of the guys told me that the one preceding me was a gold digger and just wanted to be around Elvis.
How did Richard propose to you in 1998?
Because Richard was a great deal older than me and even older than my dad, my parents didn’t approve. From 1990–1997, only my brother and a cousin had met him. He came to my college graduation, and he and a mutual friend of ours were sitting two sections over from my family. I kept looking up and seeing them in the same building. That was special to me.
Richard always told me that he would never propose to me until he had my family’s blessing. I guess that’s why we waited so long.
What broke the ice was that I was over at my parents’ house. I sent an email to a friend from my mom’s computer, talking about how eventually we would like to start looking at engagement rings. My mom got the reply back from my friend and read it. I doubt I had an email of my own then, and I was probably using my mom’s without considering the consequences.
So my mom confronted me, and she invited Richard to our big family Christmas. He had to meet everyone at once. About halfway through the night, Richard told me to call everyone into the living room because he wanted to tell everyone something.
Richard went from being scared about meeting everyone to giving a speech. He stood there and told everyone how he never really had a family and how grateful he was to be around all of them and how much he loved me. By the end of the night, even my father was hugging him. We had struggled for seven years of not being able to share moments with my family and what a blessing it was now that he would always be a part of all of our family events.
Not too long after that, he proposed to me, I believe during the first part of February. Later we determined he asked me on the anniversary date of his dad passing many years earlier. We went to pick out the ring together, and Richard got it from Harry Levitch — the same jeweler where Elvis bought Priscilla’s ring.
I was sitting on the couch in our home, and he put our little blonde Cocker Spaniel named Savannah in my lap and got down on one knee and proposed to me. The puppy licked the ring immediately after he placed it on my finger. I’m sure one of my journals has almost exactly what he said to me. I know part of it was that I made him a better man than he ever thought that he could be.
As you grow older, have any of your high school friends discovered Elvis’s appeal?
All my high school friends are still not Elvis fans, but I have friends from all over the world because of Elvis. I met Richard because of Elvis. Steven Ward, my husband since 2012, is from England and I met him because of Elvis. We have a mutual friend from England named Andrew Hearn who runs the Essential Elvis magazine and that’s how we met. Elvis has had such an impact on my life.
August is always hard for us. I prefer to see it come and go quickly [besides Elvis’s death on August 16, 1977, Davis succumbed to a cardiac fibrillation in his sleep at age 64 on August 26, 2004]. Richard is buried just behind the Memorial Park Cemetery mausoleum where Sam Phillips rests. It’s been cathartic remembering all these beautiful memories, many that I haven’t thought about in years.
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