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Gurnee filmmaker interviews Elvis Presley's best man

Published: Friday, June 28, 2013 6:10 p.m. CDT
Caption
Joe Esposito, Elvis Presley's best friend and manager, is being interviewed in Gurnee for a local filmmaker's documentary. (Photo provided)

If you could meet Elvis Presley, it would happen like this, according to Joe Esposito, Elvis' best man, best friend and road manager of 17 years.

"He'd walk right up to you, shake your hand and say, 'Hi, I'm Elvis Presley,' like you'd never heard of him. That's just how he was,'" said Joe, sitting on his brother Frank Esposito's back deck in Mundelein.

Joe, who lives in Las Vegas, stayed with his brother while shooting interviews for a documentary, One Day, Two Legends, in Gurnee.

Producer Tom Jikomes of Gurnee is filming the documentary, which tells the story of the day the Beatles met Elvis. He's been working on it for three years, and it is transforming into a story about the kinship Elvis and Joe shared. Jikomes hopes the film will be released to cable television by Aug. 27, the day the Beatles and Elvis met nearly 50 years ago.

The Elvis Joe knew – not the legend who even The Beatles were nervous to meet, but his best friend – was a kind-hearted person who wanted to be good to everyone, and didn't want anyone to think he was somehow special.

Joe was scheduled to be at HeatherRidge Golf Course July 1 in Gurnee to continue production with Louise Harrison, Beatle George Harrison's sister.

Tom Jikomes was born on the exact day the two legends met. As a huge Elvis fan, it was a dream come true for him to meet Joe when working on another project 10 years ago.

When Jikomes discovered that Joe had not only planned the meeting, but drove The Beatles to meet Elvis at his Los Angeles home, he was amazed that no one had thought to explore the subject before. No photos, videos or audio exists of the meeting, so Joe is one of the few people who can tell the story.

"It's really about more than that day," Jikomes said. "It's about the love [Joe and Elvis] shared." That day when The Beatles met Elvis, it was a little awkward.

Joe said, "The Beatles were very excited to meet Elvis. I was nervous about meeting The Beatles, myself. I picked them up at their house with two limos and they followed me to Elvis' house [in Bel Air]. There were 2,000 people outside the house – the rumor had got out over the radio that they were meeting. I said, 'Well, I'm surprised' but they said they were just nervous to meet Elvis.

He was at the front door waiting for them. He shook their hands and introduced himself like they didn't know who he was. They sat on a big couch around the room for chit-chat. I could tell [The Beatles] were nervous. They chatted about music but after a while it was very quiet.

Elvis said, 'If you guys are gonna sit here and stare at me all night I'm gonna go to bed.' They said, 'We're just nervous to meet you,' and he said, 'Don't be nervous to meet me, I'm just like you guys. I love music too.' He was such a normal human being. He didn't want anyone to think he was special or you couldn't talk to him."

It broke the ice a little when Elvis suggested they play some music together. "They all loved rock and roll," Joe said. "It really was a once in a lifetime deal."

Stephanie Rabiola, executive producer and director of One Day, Two Legends, said that although the documentary began as a project about The Beatles and Elvis, the heart of the film is the friendship between Joe and Elvis. "It's become a tribute to their friendship," she said.

Joe grew up in the heart of Chicago, went to Marshall High School and was drafted to the U.S. Army in 1958, stationed at Fort Hood, Tex., where Elvis Presley happened to be. He didn't meet Elvis until they were both transferred to Germany.

"I was very nervous when I met him. I was a big fan," said Joe.

"He introduced himself to me like I didn't know who he was. He shook my hand and said, 'Hi, I'm Elvis Presley.' The moment I met him, I fell in love with the man," Joe said. "He had such amazing charisma."

From the first conversation, they instantly hit it off, he said. Elvis invited him over to a house he was renting in Germany, and they played football, which was the chief interest they shared.

"We hung out, talking, and just hit it off. He asked me about myself and Chicago. After the game, he said I should come play football on the weekends."

Later, he and Elvis went to a hotel in Paris together on leave and saw some shows. "We hung out for a week there around the base. He had a classic race car there, and said, 'Let's go take a ride.' He asked me what I was doing when I got out. Then he asked me, 'What do you think about coming to work for me? Call me when you get out of the army.'"

Joe called his brother Frank to ask if he should do it, work for Elvis Presley as his personal manager. Frank Esposito, who is also interviewed in the film, said, "I told him, do it for the thrill of it."

After getting out of the army, Joe drove from Chicago to Memphis to visit Graceland. After that, he was with Elvis all the time, everywhere, he said. His job as Elvis' road manager and personal manager was to take care of everything, from finances to travel arrangements.

He became part of the Memphis Mafia, Elvis' inner circle of friends and organizers, with his brother Frank along for the ride.

"When you're with Elvis, you're with him 24 hours a day," Joe said. "They worked together, vacationed together, did everything together."

Joe is known for walking Elvis to the stage at every one of his shows.

Rabiola said, "In the film, one of the things Joe talks about is how much Elvis loved to be onstage." Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith, friends of Joe's, were also interviewed for the film.

Jikomes said, "Steven asked Joe to walk him onstage for a concert. In the interview, he told us the reason he wanted Joe to do it was because he used to walk Elvis out every concert. He said it was like going to Jerusalem and walking where Jesus walked."

While Joe took care of business, or TCB as he likes to say, he and Elvis were fundamentally friends.  "We used to play jokes on each other all the time. We'd pull over on the road and hit each other just for exercise. I have photos after we'd beat each other up, my arms were black and red.

"He always said, 'Anything you need, just let me know and you'll get it,' and I'd say, 'Anything you need from me, you'll get it too,'" Joe said.

Joe was the best man at Elvis' wedding to Priscilla Presley, and was there in 1959 when they met in Germany. "Elvis loved women and beautiful girls. When he saw Priscilla, he walked straight over to her and said, 'Hi, I'm Elvis Presley.' She was so gorgeous, and only 14 at the time." Joe still talks to Priscilla once a month.

Joe isn't bothered by Elvis impersonators. "They're impersonating him because they love him and want to be like him. But nobody's like Elvis," he said.

In the documentary, Joe tried to get on the inside of what it was like with Elvis, he said. "I learned by being with Elvis that he's just like you and I and everyone else. A lot of celebrities are stars and want you to know it. But Elvis wasn't like that, and that's what I loved about him."

If he could speak to Elvis today, Joe said, "I would tell him I love him and that would be it. He'd tell me that too – that's the kind of guy he was."

With celebrity interviews from Louise Harrison, Priscilla Presley, Aerosmith, Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees and more, the producers are expecting the documentary to become an episodic tribute. For more information, visit onedaytwolegends.com.

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