Daily Quote About Elvis: Millie Perkins

Millie Perkins, Elvis Presley, in “Wild in the Country”

Millie Perkins was 22 years old when she made “Wild in the Country”, playing Elvis’ character’s sweet long-time girlfriend. She had catapulted to fame as Anne Frank in the movie “Diary of Anne Frank”, but she had originally been a model, and had other goals. She took fame in stride, and never seemed to take it too seriously. At the time she was making “Wild in the Country” she was married to Dean Stockwell. Those of you who have been reading me for a while will remember the Dean Stockwell Obsession of 2007, and so this is an Obsession Dovetail if ever there was one.

Millie Perkins and Dean Stockwell

Perhaps because she wasn’t overly ambitious, or one of those hungry empty actors looking to climb up the ladder (ie: Nick Adams) – her words about Elvis in an interview with Peter Guralnick are fascinating to me. She kind of hones in on the lack of respect with which Elvis was treated – and it was subtle but there. There’s the story of Christina Crawford (Joan’s ingrate of an adopted child) who was in the movie (she’s awful), and she was teasing Elvis trying to get a rise out of him. The versions of what happened differ but he blew up and threw a glass of water in her face. She’s lucky he didn’t haul off and slap her. Slap her for me, Elvis. Slap her for the book she will eventually write about her mother, won’t you? Millie Perkins sensed that feeling on the set, that people were so proud of themselves for being better than Elvis. I am glad Guralnick did not edit her words, because you can actually feel her struggling to say what she means. She keeps working at it. She keeps trying to find the right words. She has a very very interesting take on Elvis Presley, as she met him at that time. An aside: I completely disagree with Guralnick’s take that Presley seems “lost in the role”. Stick to music criticism, Pete, you have no idea what you are talking about.

And one last aside which just goes to show you how memory works. Philip Dunne thought Elvis Presley was a genius actor. He used that word. But everyone’s experiences of an event are different, and here is Millie Perkins’ memory.

Millie Perkins:

I think that everybody making the movie thought, ‘We’re classier than all those other Elvis Presley movies. We’re so much better.’ Everyone was going around patting themselves on the back for being artists; they were going to do something with Elvis that other people couldn’t, or didn’t want to, do – and I think they didn’t come up with the goods at all.

Elvis turned out to be someone I liked very much. I felt there was a man with a heart and soul there who truly cared about people. Certainly he treated me as if he cared about me; there was a mutual respect between us. But his life was on a level that my life was not on. I was married to Dean Stockwell at the time, and he was – I felt like he was drifting. The guys were on the set every day, you know, wrestling on the floor. I didn’t even know what girls he was dating at the time, because it didn’t interest me, his personal life seemed so silly. And yet I knew he was a victim of it. I felt like Philip Dunne fawned all over Elvis. Elvis’ attitude was – I saw Elvis looking around that set and summing up people faster than anyone else could have, and I felt that after a short period of time he was disappointed in Philip Dunne, but he was too polite and well behaved to say anything.

He tried very hard to make this film better than his other movies, and you saw him trying and asking questions. And I just believe the sad thing is that [the director] did not have the ability to help Elvis through it. I remember doing this one scene; we were sitting in the truck, and we were supposed to be driving home from a dance or going to a dance, and in the script he was supposed to break into song, turn on the radio and start singing. And to me it was like, “Yuck.” I was very young, and I thought, “My sisters are going to tease me, this is so embarrassing and tasteless.” You see, I was a snob, too. But – and this was the nicest thing – while we were rehearsing, finally the director walked away, and Elvis looks at me and says, “God, this is so embarrassing. Nobody would ever do this in real life. Why are they making me do this?” So there we were, both of us having to do something and we just wanted to vomit.

He never used his star power – never. Maybe he should have. Maybe he did it on some other level, but he sure didn’t do it on the set. I felt like he was younger than me, this very humble person who would make statements about what he believed in. And I would think, “He’s saying that to show me he’s a fine human being.” All I know is that there was a person there with a refined heart and soul, and I say refined on any level you want to look at it. When you meet someone like that, you know they’re there, even if they’re sitting there eating fifteen lollipops – that’s beside the point. That’s just what they’re doing at that time, but that’s not the essence of the person. The essence of Elvis was as fine a person as I’ve ever met; he treated me as well as anyone has ever treated me in this business.

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15 Responses to Daily Quote About Elvis: Millie Perkins

  1. Brendan O'Malley says:

    Love reading the background of the clip and then seeing it. And, in spite of his reservations and opinion of the material, it’s actually quite sweet and mesmerizing. He pulls it off. And you can’t sniff an ounce of condescension from him about what he is doing. Amazing.

    • sheila says:

      Bren – I know, I think it’s mesmerizing too. When he might have been expected to overplay and “sell it”, he underplays. I almost imagine I can see the two of them bonding over “wow this is embarrassing” IN the playing of it. Like the second they catch each other’s eyes they start grinning.

      And exactly: no condescension whatsoever, despite his feelings about the scene.

      He’s magic onscreen. He just knew how to work that camera. Knew exactly what it needed. No fakery, no pushing, no phoniness.

  2. Jennchez says:

    What a beautiful story. In my very humble opinon I feel that part of Elvis’s downfall was that he never he felt like a “star” in the interviews I’ve seen of him it always seems like he is embarrased of being treated like one. He seemed like “Hey I’m just a humble country boy that got lucky”. On a side note I never get tired of that clip of him meeting Cary Grant, I swear its imprinted in my brain :)

  3. Kent says:

    Since our chats about WIC and Millie Perkins, I really want to know more about her, and see more of her work. She’s terrific with Elvis, almost the watcher character in the movie she describes herself as being on the set.

    It is strange to read the conflicting opinions of Dunne. As Brendan says above, the doubts don’t appear in the scene. If anything it is a weakness of the script – a way to get Big E to sing in a drama – but it is very well handled.
    Also, Dunne as director gave Elvis his most sensitive, and almost wordless love scene in any of the movies. The moments with Hope Lange in the motel are a stunning balance of direction, mood, Lange and Elvis and none of it slavish.
    Dunne also handled the garden hose scene beautifully. All the sexual tension between Weld and Lange and Elvis is brought to a point of confrontation without a histrionic argument. It is a showdown without gunfire, and everyone still dies. I love it. I think Dunne’s direction is remarkably good, and on a par with what I feel is Kazan’s best in “Wild River”.

  4. sheila says:

    Kent – more to come, but for now: she’s still working, if I’m not mistaken. She showed up on Thirtysomething back in the 90s on a couple of episodes as a … divorce lawyer, maybe? Ugh, I’m not remembering – but I recognized her beautiful classic face immediately from Anne Frank decades before. She seemed to have a good attitude about her work, take it all in stride. I love that she’s still working. She and Dean Stockwell didn’t last, they were only married a couple of years, but the pictures taken of them as a couple are quite sweet. They almost look like twins, actually.

    I also love that she admits that she was a “snob” too. I just find her struggling to speak her truth in this excerpt to be really honest.

    I think the movie is quite good, and Dunne finds the right tone throughout – and he was very complimentary towards Elvis (especially the scene where he talks about the dead mother) – he was blown away by what Elvis did in that scene.

    However, he did make some obnoxious comment much later like, “I am very proud that I am the only director to force Elvis to listen to Bach.” I am paraphrasing. Like, that comment shows he might have thought Elvis was a bit of a rube – when, forgive me, but Elvis knew music. You think he didn’t know who Bach was, Mr. Dunne? You think he needed to be schooled by you in music?

    But I agree: there’s a lot of balls to keep in the air in Wild in the Country and I love all of the different storylines: Elvis and the girlfriend (Millie), Elvis and Tuesday Weld and yes, Elvis and Hope Lange. That tormented love scene in the motel is one of the quietest most sensual scenes Elvis ever did – it reminded me of the agonized “blue balls”-inspired performance Warren Beatty gave in Splendor in the Grass – it had that same kind of heat and containment. All of 1950s male sexuality pulsing against the repression of the society, yearning, trying to be gentle, wanting to rip her clothes off, blah blah, all with almost NO dialogue in that scene. They speak very little.

    Hope Lange was great, too. All the women were great in the movie, allowing Elvis to show all of these different sides.

    • Kent says:

      Fascinating, that bit of info about Dunne’s snobby Bachism. The Beverly Hills Elites of the day did have Bachist pretensions, which also translated to fine art collections and wine cellars.

      The ones I encountered who were still going in the ’70s were very much like Harvard Professors with family money. They had to show that they were of a higher station than the mere work they were currently doing.

      What a set! So many layers of Los Angeles/Hollywood society at that time… all riding on a truck driver from Memphis.

    • Troy Y. says:

      Another great quote selection. It must’ve felt strange for Millie to play Elvis’ mother in ABC’s 1990 Elvis TV series. No surprise, she was wonderful in the role. That show came on a couple of years too early (and against The Simpsons in its heyday), but featured the best casting of any of the Elvis docu-dramas.

  5. Kate says:

    Elvis is looking down from heaven at one of the best things that’s happened to him. Sheila O’Malley GETS me!” I’m so grateful to you for giving me this deep appreciation which I did not have. I liked him. I thought he was special. But I ADORE him thanks to you.

  6. Tom says:

    Thanks for sharing this. I met Ms Perkins in October at a memorabilia convention and she was such a warm and lovely person with many stories to share. I asked her if she had ever been to Graceland and she said she did.

  7. Stacia says:

    When you meet someone like that, you know they’re there, even if they’re sitting there eating fifteen lollipops

    I love that, it’s absolutely delightful.

  8. sheila says:

    Stacia – that’s one of my favorite quotes too.

    She saw beneath the surface.

  9. Brendan says:

    if you turn the sound down he looks like he’s just talking.

  10. JC GONÇALVES says:


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