The fascinating premise of the upcoming comedy Elvis and Nixon, starring Michael Shannon as The King of Rock n’ Roll and House of Cards’s Kevin Spacey as Tricky Dick, tells the story behind a famous photograph of the two shaking hands in the Oval Office. Perhaps no less fascinating is the fact that the photograph in question is the single most requested image — trumping Neil Armstrong’s first step on the moon and that bent-over-backwards V-J Day kiss in Times Square — from the entirety of the National Archives. What is it about incongruous celebrity encounters that thrills Americans? And what could Nixon and Elvis possibly have in common?
Actually, more than you might expect: humble origins, a mutual fondness for M&Ms (yay), a mutual dislike of The Beatles (boo), and a firm belief in law and order. Elvis also had a thing for badges. His decision to roll up to the White House gates one morning in December 1970, without any kind of prior notice, was partly fueled by his desire for a badge from the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (BNDD). In the Elvis and Nixon film trailer, Elvis drawls that “I would like to go undercover as a federal agent.” His reasoning: “I been in 31 major motion pictures - that makes me an expert in costume and disguise … I can supply my own firearms.” Though it’s inconceivable today, Elvis did enter the White House packing heat.
Even though it’s a bit ironic once you consider the cause of Elvis’ premature death, at the time of his White House visit, he expressed a heartfelt desire to help America fight against “the drug culture and the hippie element.” As for Nixon, he considered meeting Elvis a good PR move that would speak to the youth of America - with whom he was dismally unpopular -about just saying no to drugs.
Here are seven other weird celebrity encounters, many of which did not turn out all that well:
THE BEATLES & ELVIS PRESLEY
It’s not entirely clear what happened when The Fab Four visited the King’s Bel-Air mansion during their summer tour of 1965. But it did include a conversation on the merits of Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove and an informal jam session, though what songs they played are up for contention - there are of reports “You’re My World” and “I Feel Fine.” When interviewed many years later, Ringo didn’t remember much more from that evening except his attempt to hunt down some weed. Although The Beatles ended up leaving with a gift bag - including a complete set of Elvis records, a gun holster with a gold leather belt, and a wagon-shaped lamp - five years later, they didn’t appreciate Elvis’ finger-pointing, which accused the British rock group of “promoting an anti-American spirit.” Besides finding Elvis a bit of a hypocrite - especially if he really did trip on LSD with The Beatles - John Lennon was also disappointed by his hero’s lack of hipness in real life: “It was like meeting Engelbert Humperdinck,” he later said. Ouch.
STEVE JOBS & ANDY WARHOL
When Sean Lennon turned nine in October 1984, he enjoyed one hell of a birthday bash thrown by his mother, Yoko Ono. Not only did Steve Jobs show up with a Mac computer as a gift, he even demonstrated how to use it, as other party guests, including Andy Warhol, gawked at the high-tech wonder. Of course, the grandfather of Pop Art wasn’t going to be left out of a first-hand lesson, though he didn’t learn much: Warhol kept lifting and waving the mouse around like it was a magic wand. Jobs actually had to guide Warhol’s hand with his own for a while - using the floor as a mousepad - before Warhol could draw on his own, entranced by the synced “pencil” moving on the computer screen.
At the time, Jobs wasn’t the iconic cultural figure that he is today, and so Warhol, the king of the zeitgeist, didn’t know who he was. In his memoir, he wrote, “I said that once some man had been calling me a lot wanting to give me one [a Macintosh], but I’d never called him back or something, and then the kid looked up and said, ‘Yeah, that was me. I’m Steve Jobs.’”
SAMUEL BECKETT & ANDRÉ THE GIANT
This stranger-than-fiction encounter was only pieced together in retrospect, and further attests to the total randomness of life. Hot on the heels of his success for Waiting for Godot in 1953, Beckett decided to build himself a cottage forty miles north of Paris. To help out with the cottage’s construction, Beckett ended up enlisting, and ultimately befriending, a farmer named Boris Rousimoff, who was originally from Bulgaria. While there was nothing particularly astounding about Rousimoff, he did have a 250-pound son named André, who was already over six feet tall, even at the age of 12. Since neither the family car or local school bus could contain Andre the Giant as a kid, Beckett offered him a lift in his pick-up truck. The two had a rather innocuous chat about cricket.
FEDERICO FELLINI & STAN LEE
One unusual day in 1965, Stan Lee was notified by his receptionist that there was a fellow named Fred Felony there to see him. “Fred Felony” entered Lee’s Marvel Comics office with a translator and somewhat sinister entourage of four men, all dressed in black raincoats, and asked how comic books were made. Felony turned out to be the famous Italian film director, who, while becoming ill during his visit to New York, had become engrossed in the exploits of Spider-Man and The Incredible Hulk. The two creative geniuses ended up staying in touch, with Lee later enjoying a real-life taste of la dolce vita in Fellini’s villa in Rome.
BOB DYLAN & WOODY GUTHRIE
Just as Elvis rolled up one day to the White House gates, so a 19-year-old Bob Dylan ended up visiting Woody Guthrie at New Jerseys Greystone Psychiatric Hospital in 1961. Later diagnosed with Huntington’s Chorea, Woody was undergoing treatment for his involuntary writhing. As Bob Dylan claimed that he wanted to be “Guthrie’s greatest disciple” as soon as he first heard Guthrie’s songs, it’s no surprise that the two folk singers ended up developing a deep friendship. “Song to Woody,” an original tune that Dylan played to the hospitalized Guthrie, even ended up on Dylan’s debut album in 1962.
JOAN RIVERS & JAMES BROWN & ALFRED HITCHCOCK
It’s only host Mike Douglas’ visibly twitchy foot that gives away James Brown’s faux pas on a 1969 national television show panel, when Brown confuses Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho with Homicidal, a film knock-off directed by William Castle. In contrast, Joan Rivers remains all smiles, cool as a cucumber, when the founding father of funk suddenly leans toward Hitch, and asks: “In the picture Homicidal, at the very end, this fella takes his wig off, as though he had played the part all the way through. Did you actually use a girl or did you use a fella?”
Without missing a beat, Hitchcock replies, “I wouldn’t dare tell you. It’s a professional secret. That’s worth money.” Then he adds, in a deadpan tone: “Do you want to ruin me? What about my starving wife and child?… I’ll tell you afterwards when we go off.” Who knew the master of suspense was also such a brilliant ad-lib comedian?
ORSON WELLES & ADOLF HITLER
So this encounter must have been, simultaneously, one of the most surreal and chilling in all of human history. During his 1970 interview on The Dick Cavett Show, Orson Welles revealed that he was lucky enough to meet many world leaders, including The Fuhrer. Once, while a teenager studying abroad in Germany and Austria, Welles accompanied a teacher on a Tyrol hike, who turned out to be, in Welles’ words, “sort of a budding Nazi.” Apparently, this was during the early days of the Nazi party, when they were still considered a “comical” minority that “no one took seriously at all.” As his teacher managed to gatecrash a Nazi rally near Innsbruck, Welles soon found himself at a dinner table seated next to Hitler himself.
Even more bizarrely, Welles barely remembers the event, as it “made so little impression” on him. But perhaps this is the most apropos legacy for someone like Hitler, as Welles added in the interview: “ He had no personality whatsoever. He was invisible…that was the whole point of the story - that there was nothing to remember.”