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George Golden is not now and never was a fan of rock n' roll music. And, at the age of 79, it's a virtual certainty that he will not soon convert.
But in early March 1957, the 40ish Golden was singing a considerably different tune. A phenomenon named Elvis Presley had just purchased a slightly run-down mansion called Graceland on the outskirts of Memphis and, like every other interior decorator in town (all three of em), Golden was determined to grab the contract to furnish it.
Sitting on the porch of the comfortable north Phoenix mobile home he shares with his second wife, Ann, retired interior decorator George Golden smiles as he recalls how he landed the job decorating what would ultimately become the most famous private residence in the country.
"At that time, Elvis had been famous for about two or three years," says Golden, looking remarkably fit for a man who suffered a major heart attack less than six months ago. "So when we heard that Elvis had bought Graceland, well, you can just imagine. It was like a circus out there with everyone trying to jump on the bandwagon. Every decorator in town wanted that job so bad they could taste it."
Reminiscing about the morning that Vernon and Gladys Presley, Elvis' parents, invited Golden and his two female competitors to make bids on restoring the run-down, 18-room, two-story manor, the retiree chuckles. "Those two gals were all over poor Gladys, waving sketches in her face and gabbing away like you wouldn't believe."
Realizing he'd get nowhere fast were he to enter that melee, Golden stood back and chewed the fat with Vernon Presley while his locustlike competitors descended upon Elvis' rapidly rattled mom. A smart move, as it turned out.
"Miz Presley was a shy woman and had a real fear of being in closed-up spaces," says Golden. "Finally, she had had enough. She waved her hands in those women's faces and hollered, 'Get away and leave me alone! Mr. Golden's gonna do our work!'
"When she said that, the room suddenly got very quiet," recalls Golden. "My competitors turned around and gave me the hardest looks you've ever seen. They just knew that one of them was going to land that job and when they found out they hadn't, well, let's just say I had two very unhappy ladies glaring at me."
George Golden, understandably, was as happy as a pig in, well, you get the idea. The country-bred Presleys certainly did.
"Having been an entrepreneur of one kind or another all my life, I knew that you're never going to make a sale until both people start to think along the same lines," reveals Golden. "Now, the Presleys' language was quite simple, exactly what you'd expect from country folk, so I tried to talk as plainly as possible," he continues. "Ain't' was a word they used very commonly, so if they said 'ain't,' I said 'ain't,' too. And I sure didn't use any fancy words that they'd be unaccustomed with."
When there was no way around that problem (just try talking about interior design without using the word "decor"), Golden simply reverted to Presleyese.
"Instead of 'day-core,' I'd say 'deck-core,'" he explains. "It wasn't 'tomahtoes,' it was 'tomaytoes.' I just started talking like them, and after that, we got along just fine."
@body:In 1957, at least, the 22-year-old Presley's penchant for visual flamboyance did not extend to interior decoration, says Golden, who claims he was pretty much given free rein to decorate Graceland any way he saw fit.
Not that any member of the immediate Presley family could have contributed much to the project, anyway. Elvis was far too busy cutting records, touring and preparing to shoot Jailhouse Rock to spend much time fretting over color schemes and fabric swatches.
"Of course, Elvis wasn't around nearly as much as Mr. and Miz Presley, but when he was, you knew it," says Golden. "Once he borrowed one of my delivery trucks and pulled a hat down real low over his face so he could drive through the gates without getting mobbed. Then, when he got back, he got out of the truck, took off the hat, bowed to the girls lined up against the fence and said, 'Thank you, ladies!' Well, they liked to die. But that was the kind of person he was--a born showman."
His parents, meanwhile, who'd both spent most of their lives in shanties and government housing projects, probably knew as much about decorating as they did about nuclear fission. Says Golden, "Elvis' daddy said to me, 'Mr. Golden, you survey the situation and you see what needs to be done.'"
Somewhat stunned at receiving virtual carte blanche, one of Golden's first decisions was to erect a temporary fence around the house and staff the perimeter of the property with guards. And even though the Presley clan didn't take up residence in the house for another six months, news of Presley's Graceland purchase almost immediately triggered pandemonium bordering on mass hysteria.
"In Memphis, at least, it was front-page news," says Golden, who compares the town's coverage of Presley's acquisition of the minimansion to the recent media blitz surrounding the Phoenix Suns' bid for the NBA championship. "There were big headlines everywhere," he continues. "Elvis Presley Buys Graceland.' Then, once word spread around the country that he had bought this house, it became national news and people from all over started driving by to see the place.