When we moved from Roosevelt Island in July, 1977, a new chapter entered our lives. We loved New York City, but it drained our savings and we thought the best thing was to move to Montrose, Colorado, where Tracy was running our mail order and Personality® Dollar Bill business.
Georgianna and Heather were in good spirits and ready for a new challenge, and we decided it would be fun to go to Washington, D.C., on the train, show Heather the sights, and then continue on the train to Cincinnati, where Earl and Sue would meet us. I had dreams of an elegant dining car with tablecloth and linens, but that wasn’t meant to be. The glory days of railroading had long since ended, and our food was sandwiches they sold! We enjoyed a few days in D.C., and the ride west. I had memories of the Cincinnati Train Station, one of the great train stations in the country. Well, that wasn’t meant to be either. We arrived late at night, and when “All out for Cincinnati” was called, we stepped out into darkness – a railroad yard!
My first thought was, “Where are we? How will Earl and Sue know where we are?” But it wasn’t long before they came walking up the track laughing, and Earl said, “Another fine mess you got us into!” I was so thankful for being blessed with the best friends in the world. We stayed with them a few days at their home in Hebron, Kentucky, and then headed west.
We enjoyed our time in Montrose. The now famous Telluride Film Festival had just been operating for a few years. It drew famous stars, directors, etc. Steve Wasserman, Los Angeles Times, said, “The films at Telluride, like the fresh mountain air, provide a kind of oxygen, reviewing one’s faith in the idea that movies, like all great art, still turn us inside out and make us see the world with fresh eyes.”
Georgianna wanted to attend the festival, and knowing how busy I was, she decided to go alone. Telluride, altitude 8,750 feet, is about 3,000 feet higher than Montrose. On Georgianna’s first day, she had an anxiety attack, which led to hyperventilating.
She was taken to a clinic, and the doctor called me. I left right away, but that drive of about 75 miles to Telluride and up the mountain took several hours. When I got there, she was happy to see me. She was in good spirits, but she was sorry that they had to call me. We spent the rest of the festival together and thoroughly enjoyed it.
At that time, our business in Montrose was successful. Our 12-page catalog of Country Music products featured about 500 items, as well as 175 Personality® Dollar Bills. In the list of personalities, Elvis was the only one listed with more than one pose; we offered three Elvis Presley Dollar Bills.
I had known Col. Tom Parker, Elvis’ manager, back in the days when he was working with country stars like Minnie pearl, Eddy Arnold and Hank Snow. I think he looked on me as a “promoter,” like he was, so he was pleased that I marketed Elvis products – anything to keep him popular.
Col. Tom Parker and Elvis Presley.
On August 16, 1977, I was in the office when the phone rang. I answered it, and it was Beasie Miller, one of our workers. She was crying, trying to tell me she just heard on the radio that Elvis Presley was dead! I stood there dumbfounded, muttering, “Are you sure?” I told Tracy and the girls, and we turned on the radio and got the sad confirmation.
I was in a daze. I remembered in 1953 what the death of Hank Williams meant to my business, and I said, “This means that we have to get ready for a tidal wave of orders, especially for the Elvis Dollars.”
There were gift shops around Graceland, Elvis’ home in Memphis, that sold various Elvis products, and they soon learned that we had the Elvis Dollar Bills. Orders started coming in by wire, by the thousands. Eventually the Montrose Bank had problems getting the new ones we needed from Denver, so they made it possible for us to order directly from the Federal Reserve in Kansas City, something that had never been done before. Tracy had an old classic 1955 Chevy, and many times she was driving with 10,000 new dollar bills in the seat beside her in a green homemade cloth bag.
A year later, business with currency came to the attention of the IRS, and they descended on Tracy for an entire week, going over our records and books. Tracy kept everything in order, and we had a good accountant. The IRS ended up owing us money!
Tracy had a dozen or more women in the town of Montrose who were affixing the Elvis photos to the bills in their homes. Thinking of possible robberies with all this money going back and forth, we tried to keep the business quiet, but that was useless. At that time, the population was around 10,000, and everyone was talking about Thurston Moore Country and the Elvis Presley business. Fortunately, we were in the right city at the right time; we never had any problems. In one week, we sold 10,000 Elvis Dollar Bills.
The Rotary Club in Montrose invited me to give a talk at their luncheon, and Tracy taped it. I was told it was one of the largest turnouts they have ever had. Everyone wanted to hear the story about the little town of Montrose shipping products around the world.
The Elvis explosion made national press and told about Col. Parker giving an exclusive license to Factors, Inc. for merchandising products. I wondered what this would mean to my business. I knew Parker and had been marketing Elvis products long before he died, so I thought the precedent was set for my involvement. But then I realized I had the opportunity to produce some exclusive prestigious products with the Elvis Dollars, like lucite pen sets, paper weights, laminated wall plaques, and more, all featuring the Elvis Dollars. I thought perhaps it would be to my advantage to enter into a license agreement.
Fortunately, Aubrey Harwell, attorney with Neal and Harwell in Nashville, was a friend and had handled some Country Music contracts for me. I called him, and after we discussed the matter, he agreed that I should secure a license.
When I contacted Factors, I was told to visit their attorneys in Los Angeles. They sent a chauffeured limousine to the airport, and when I saw that limousine I wondered what this visit was going to cost me. I soon found out. When I met with an attorney, the first thing he said was, “We have to have a $10,000 deposit against royalties before we can commence the paperwork.” I had to call the Montrose bank and have them wire the money to their account.
Thurston Moore Country became one of the major suppliers of Elvis Presley memorabilia. Soon after he died, we printed a flier showing nine Elvis items plus the three Elvis dollars. On that flier, Beasie Miller, a beautiful lady who could have stepped on stage in Vegas as a showgirl, was shown in an Elvis T-shirt with the caption “Wear Elvis to Bed!” We offered a T-shirt and a nightie.
We were soon printing beautiful catalogs featuring hundreds of Elvis items, including many new products we developed. One very unique item I developed was the Elvis Presley FACT-FINDER, a full-color book with a revolving disc on the cover that revealed interesting facts and trivia related to the 30 photographs and artwork the disc was turned to.
We had some very good reps – including Ron Henson, J. B. Dye, and John Davidson, who still sends us orders – selling to gift shops, etc. Arthur Swartz was our rep in Hawaii, and in 1978, when Georgianna and I took a trip to Hawaii, Arthur treated us like royalty. We visited dealers, including the Ala Moana Stamp and Coin who sold about 100 bills a week.
An Australian newspaper had an article showing our Elvis Dollar, with the heading: “Fast Buck’s the thing to cash in on Elvis.” The article stated, “The director of Eyes and Hands Games in Sydney’s Double Bay said the first 100 imported Elvis Dollars sold out in one week at $4.50.” He just received another 200 … For the $3.64 above the 86-cent Australian value of the dollar note, Australian fans receive the Elvis Dollar in the acetate currency holder.
In the January 30, 1978, edition of Newsweek’s full-page article headlined “The Spoils of Elvis,” our Elvis Dollar was one of five items shown. GRIT newspaper’s March 12, 1978, issue featured a major story with a large photograph of me at my desk in Montrose, headlined “New Faces on the Dollar – Promoter Trades on Novel Ideas.”
A letter dated October 16, 1979, from Les Threadgill, Director of Operations, General Merchandising, Dobbs, stated, “Certainly was good to see you again ... Since 1977, your Elvis Presley Dollar Bill has been the largest selling single item we have had in our Memphis Airport Gift Shops. Through July of this year, we have sold 4,114 – an amazing average of 200 per month.”
We also published beautiful full-color Elvis calendars, and for the 1981 edition, my brother, Edwin, painted a picture of Elvis’ birthplace in Tupelo, Mississippi. On a visit there, I presented the original artwork to the director of the Birthplace Museum.
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