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Published: Friday, 3/14/2003

Celebrating the King

BY RHONDA SEWELL
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Julie Parrish performs in a club in Santa Monica, Calif. Julie Parrish performs in a club in Santa Monica, Calif.
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It was during Julie Parrish's stint as a typist for a title company in Toledo that she got the call to go to Hollywood.

The former Elvis Presley co-star, reared in Tecumseh, Mich., from age 11, hasn't looked back since.

Parrish, who starred in Presley's 1966 film Paradise, Hawaiian Style, is scheduled to appear at a Toledo Elvis Festival this weekend with another Elvis co-star, Cynthia Pepper (Kissin' Cousins, 1964), and former Elvis drummer DJ Fontana.

The festival runs tonight and tomorrow in the Zenobia Shrine in downtown Toledo. The two-day event is sponsored by a local Elvis Presley fan club. Proceeds will be donated to charity.

Parrish's opportunity to co-star with the King came during her one-year stay in Toledo. While working as a typist, Parrish, then 21, also modeled for the former local Patricia Stevens Modeling Agency. It was that agency's participation in a publicity contest involving Paramount Studios that won Parrish a chance to fly to Hollywood and land a small role in a movie. Before that, she was crowned Miss Cinerama in Toledo and worked as a model while holding down her day job.

“[Film executives] wrote in a small role for me as a saleslady at Saks [Fifth Avenue] in the Jerry Lewis movie It's Only Money,” Parrish recalled during a visit with relatives in Tecumseh. The actress is the eldest of six siblings. She spent her early life in Salt Lake, Tenn., and now lives in Santa Monica, Calif.

That role led Parrish to take acting classes at MGM, which helped her land a lead part in the stage production of Memo, appear in various TV spots, and finally get the chance to audition for a co-starring role in an Elvis Presley movie.

“I tested for the role and got it right away. I was so excited. I mean, he was part of the dawn of rock and roll. I was a huge fan already in every way,” Parrish said.

Once on the set of Paradise, Hawaiian Style, Parrish, then 25, said she and Elvis barely got to know each other before engaging in intimate film scenes.

“We were introduced and then he had to hold me in his arms. My heart was beating so fast,” Parrish recalled.

The actress has worked on many television series and stage sets, including the 1960s show Good Morning, World with Goldie Hawn; the soap opera Capitol; Beverly Hills 90210, and a recent college tour of The Vagina Monologues.

Toledoans Robert and Michelle Rosencrantz, of the Sweet Sweet Spirit Elvis Presley Fan Club, are hosts for this weekend's festival. Rosencrantz, who is an Elvis impersonator, said festival proceeds will benefit the local Family and Child Abuse Prevention Center.

The festival's theme is “It's Carnival Time!” Activities will include a tribute contest, games, Elvis trivia, impersonators, Graceland package giveaways, dancing, and autograph sessions with Parrish, Pepper, and Fontana.

Fontana, who plans to play a few numbers on the drums for festival-goers, said the most common question Elvis fans ask him is, “What was he like?”

“I tell them that he had charisma, and he always liked to crack a joke on you,” Fontana said from his home in Nashville. “He was easygoing and treated everybody the same. He never hollered or screamed, and he knew what he liked and what he didn't.”

Fontana said he worked with Presley for about 14 years, recording major hits such as “Jailhouse Rock,” “Don't Be Cruel,” and “All Shook Up.” He said he first played with Elvis during a Louisiana Hayride show in Fontana's native Shreveport, La.

After sitting in with Elvis and his band for a few gigs, Presley asked Fontana, born Dominic Joseph and nicknamed “DJ,” to travel with the band.

Fontana released a book last fall, The Beat Behind The King (Elvis International Publishing), which chronicles his years with Elvis and his band.

Of all of Elvis' songs, those Fontana loved most were gospel songs such as “How Great Thou Art” and “Guide Me, Lead Me,” because Presley sang them so passionately. Fontana added that he is not surprised that Elvis lives on in the hearts of fans around the world.

“They really follow him,” Fontana said. “He just keeps going with the young and the old. Sure, he was a good-looking guy who used to stand up there and shake and swing on stage, but if you really listen to the music and the songs, boy, they were good.”

The Toledo Elvis Festival takes place 7 to 1 a.m. tonight and noon to 1 a.m. tomorrow in the Zenobia Shrine, 1511 Madison Ave. Tickets are available at the door tonight for $10 and $15, and tomorrow for $20 and $25. Information: 419-727-LVIS or elvis-presley@buckeye-express.com.



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