by Sid Shaw
How one man could bring so much happiness, joy and love to the world is a topic that will keep historians philosophizing for years. How that man's Estate has brought so much unhappiness, grief and hate is the subject of this thesis.
Elvis Presley was truly a gift from God, a sentiment eulogized by his father on Elvis'
gravestone. The fact that 26 years after his death he can still top the pop charts in many
countries is a sign of his enduring talent. Elvis Presley is known as the greatest entertainer
of all time and I am sure he would have wanted his legacy to continue his life's work of
giving and simply making people happy. Sadly, the people who run Elvis Presley
Enterprises Inc are all about taking and are so far removed from the character and
aspirations of Elvis that he must be 'turning' in his grave or more appropriately 'rocking
and rolling'. Graceland should be renamed DisGraceland.
We need to examine the history of Elvis Presley Enterprises Inc (EPE) post 1977. Then, we
should try to evaluate how they have become such megalomaniacs, hell bent on
destroying all that is good in the Elvis World and creating a grey, plastic, totally controlled
environment equal to the world created by the 'Blue Meanies' in Yellow Submarine. EPE
are the Blue Meanies of the Elvis World. They are a prime example of the maxim that "all
power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely". The history behind EPE's
monopoly and its megalomania is very much entwined with my dealings with them as I
became their guinea pig in their relentless pursuit of power, control and greed.
When Elvis Presley died and before his body was laid to rest Colonel Parker had done a
deal with Vernon Presley that gave him rights to continue to manage Elvis Presley in
death, as if nothing had changed. The Colonel, in turn, gave rights to a company called
"Factors, Inc" for a worldwide license to market Elvis Presley memorabilia. According to
Beecher Smith (Elvis' and Vernon's attorney) the annual renewal fee for these worldwide
rights was $15,000.00 per year. Also, Elvis Presley Enterprises Inc could not market Elvis
Presley products for five years until after Elvis' death.
Factors Inc was very poor at policing the Elvis market and Elvis products were sold
everywhere in the USA. In 1978, with orders received for the Elvis busts I was selling in the
UK I had applications sent to me to join the Elvis fan club. I sent a list of fans wanting to join
the fan club to the President of the UK Elvis Presley Fan Club. Instead of a thank you, I
received a letter from a law firm representing Factors threatening to sue me unless I
immediately stopped selling my busts of Elvis. I ignored them and soon after Factors went
bankrupt in Britain. I had applied for 'Elvis' as a trademark and was told by the UK
Trademark Registry that 'Elvis' could not be trademarked so, instead, I applied for and
registered 'Elvisly Yours' as a trademark in 1979.
After Elvisly Yours started to expand and increase its product range in 1979/80 I went to
Memphis in search of good quality, inexpensive memorabilia to offer to the fans in Britain
and around the world. I was shocked at the lack of quality, lack of choice and extremely
poor designs whereas all the independent traders opposite Graceland liked my Elvis
products and trade prices and started shipping my Elvis memorabilia to the Graceland
stores. I approached the lawyers for EPE and became friendly with Beecher Smith who was
the lead attorney in those days. He would tell me how he used to pull his hair out because
Priscilla Presley would take months to sign important legal documents for EPE. Our
friendship continued throughout 1981 and 1982 and I had meetings with new Graceland
executives - Ken Brixey (marketing manager) and Twyla Dixon (curator). I acted as an
unpaid consultant to EPE advising them on the Elvis World and important people to
contact. They had never heard of Billy Smith or Charlie Hodge who could help them find all
of Elvis' artefact's at Graceland. I still have my Graceland staff badge given to me the day
they had their first 'dummy run' with Tour Industry Executives visiting Graceland in April
1982. I remember a speech given to visitors by one of the tour guides stating Elvis bought
all the furniture in the 'Jungle Room' when he was in Africa!!
In July 1982 I shipped four tonne of Elvis souvenirs to Memphis and opened my first
warehouse, with help of Les Tubbs of Souvenirs of Elvis who rented me space. I was
supplying all the independent gift shops opposite Graceland but more importantly I was the
exclusive supplier of Elvis Presley memorabilia to Graceland Enterprises that first 'Elvis
Week', with Graceland opened to the public. They bought over $11,000.00 of wholesale
stock and sold my memorabilia from only one tiny kiosk. I even helped their one member of
staff to sell my Elvis goods as she was overwhelmed. It seems everyone was delighted with
the success of my Elvis products except Jack Soden, CEO of Graceland Enterprises and
Beecher Smith. I opened the eyes of Soden to the marketing of Elvis product and he
decided he did not need 'Sid Shaw' and could set up his own deals. Soden started to buy
in Elvis product from other companies, such as Southern Postcard, but there was no
inscription 'Elvis or Elvis Presley is a registered trademark of EPE' on their products.
In 1983 and six years after Elvis' death EPE's initial application for trademarks on Elvis,
Elvis Presley and his signature were advertised for opposition in the USPTO. Since then
EPE have applied for practically anything related to Elvis Presley as a trademark including
"Jailhouse Rock", other films and even "Thankyouverymuch".
Check out http://www.uspto.gov/main/trademarks.htm
for some interesting reading. There was a
hiatus for six years in the US when Elvis Presley was public domain. It seems that no one
challenged these applications for 'Elvis Presley trade marks' and so began EPE's total
monopoly of 'Elvis Presley' in the USA. This monopoly was in 1984 reinforced by the
passing secretly, without public debate, in the State of Tennessee, the Law for the "Right
of Publicity". The Law was written by Roger Richmond, an attorney for EPE and back-
dated (?) to Elvis' death . Roger's forte was phoning up stores opposite Graceland and
threatening to have the owners arrested by the Sheriff if they did not remove unlicensed
Elvis goods from their shelves; but they ignored him.
After EPE stopped buying from me I was told to contact the licensing manager for EPE, a
Joseph Rascoff, in New York. I went to meet Joe in his penthouse office suite at no.666
Fifth Avenue on January 3rd 1983. I was told he was tough, but in reality his personality
was akin to someone in a sketch from Monty Python. I had expected to see a range of Elvis
memorabilia I could buy and when I asked to see samples, as his office was bereft of
anything Elvis, he disappeared for ten minutes only to return to tell my partner Maureen
and I that he had left Elvis samples at home. He then began to talk 'terms' and was so
nervous that the propeller pencil he was tapping broke and he fell off his chair trying to
retrieve it, whilst demanding $50,000.00 per year on any Elvis products I sold…300
products and four years retrospective and bingo we were up to $60 million. No Monty
Python scriptwriter could have concocted such a farce. We left 'no.666' after telling him he
was raving mad. Joe was earning $144,000.00 a year for his services to EPE in 1983. I
have a copy of his contract from Probate Court.
For the next two years I was wined and dined by agents for EPE who came to visit me in
England. After the last visit by a licensing company, represented by Mark Roesler of CMG
and at his request I shipped an extensive range of my Elvis samples to their office in
Poland. I never got paid for these samples and I got fed up with their vague overtures so I
decided to advertise my Elvis First Day Covers of January 8th 1985 in the New York Times,
hoping that Rascoff would see the ad, choke on his cornflakes and force EPE to either do
a mutually beneficial deal or they could try and sue me. How could they possibly sue me
when they had been buying my Elvis memorabilia?
Soon after I had a telephone conversation with Roesler who was panicking over my ad in
the New York Times, following the reaction from the Trustees. He suggested I meet EPE's
lawyer, Barry Ward, when I was in Memphis. I went to this meeting expecting to talk about a
deal, instead I was confronted by three lawyers and it was like the Spanish Inquisition for
twenty minutes until another lawyer entered the room and presented me with a writ. I was
set up and sued at a meeting that I thought was just going to be a friendly chat about
working together in the Elvis business. They needed a guinea pig to sue to scare off all
competition and chose me, a small trader and Elvis fan club from Britain. I would not dare
stand up to their might and money.
They all shook my hand, called me "Sid" and said I should call them the next day.
Prior to this event all my files were stolen from my warehouse in Memphis, every letter,
invoice, bill, shipping document, in fact, everything except my chequebook had
disappeared. Also, my Memphis accountant vanished and his son went to work for EPE's
new accountants, Bean and Ison without telling me and taking my account records with
him. Joseph Hanks, EPE's accountant and Trustee sold his business practice to Bean and
Ison after $8,000,000.00 cash was transferred to the Trustees when Judge Evans retired
from being Probate Judge for the Elvis Presley Estate. Hanks became vice-president of
Elvis Presley Enterprises Inc; Priscilla was president.
I defended their lawsuit and the first Hearing was in Memphis in June 1985 when EPE's
lawyer called me as a hostile witness. There followed a blazing row in the Court as my
lawyers refused to put me on the witness stand and I insisted they did and eventually took
the stand…another sketch from Monty Python ensued with their lawyer completely
unprepared expecting an adjournment and me being grilled about Elvis panties which were
being waved in Court and standing in a UK Election for the Houses of Parliament and
wanting to rename Parliament Graceland. EPE lost the case but appealed to the 6th Circuit
Court of Appeals in Cincinnati and two years later managed, on Appeal, to reverse the
Judgement. One of the most powerful temporary injunctions in US history was issued
against me just before the 10th Anniversary in 1987. I could not even sell Elvis
memorabilia on the moon! The Federal Injunction was illegally issued by Judge Horton in
Memphis because all papers still remained in Cincinnati, but I was put out of the Elvis
business in America.
EPE then threatened my trading partners in the UK. I had a deal with Thomas Cook (travel
agency) from August 1977 to promote Elvis Tours to Memphis through their 400 branches.
Thomas Cook were threatened by EPE so they cancelled the promotion except for one
branch and Memphis and Graceland lost tens of $millions in business. They threatened
one of my major mail order company customers and my magazine distributor, as if
Tennessee Law would have any bearing on UK law. The temporary injunction lasted 4.5
years and now EPE had the ammunition to attack everyone in the Elvis Presley business in
the USA. Sadly, no Elvis dealer, no Elvis fan, no Elvis fan club, no friend of Elvis or family
member would give evidence on my behalf and when I lost so did everyone in the Elvis
World in the States. With Trademark and the 'Right of Publicity' Laws supporting them and
deep pockets EPE began their zealous quest for control of any use of 'Elvis
Presley'…monopoly power gone mad.
EPE sued "Legends in Concert" in New York even though the show had a license to use
an Elvis act. Their Elvis impersonator could NOT look like, dress like or move like Elvis and
the Show's producer was told that if it went to trial he would probably win but would be
bankrupted by the case in the meantime. A New York State Judge issued an Injunction
against the use of 'Elvis' in the show. The State of Mississippi was not allowed to have an
Elvis float in their annual parade, Elvis impersonators were banned from using the name
Elvis to promote their shows, Elvis fan clubs had to sign long agreements removing their
rights, Elvis' jeweler could not Elvis in his ads.
Several books could be written on all the threats by EPE to businesses and traders in the
USA. I have often said if you replaced the Management of EPE with baboons they would do
even more business. The magic name 'Elvis' brings in the business and EPE's
mismanagement has cost the City of Memphis dearly. The world has lost the benefit of so
much more Elvis music because BMG and Elvis related businesses have been intimidated
by threats from EPE, either actual or imagined. EPE have destroyed hundreds if not
thousands of Elvis projects around the world. They could have shared in the profits from
all those projects.
Coincidental to my legal battle with EPE they had also sued RCA/BMG. In fact, I was told by
BMG in London that ever since Colonel Parker was bought out EPE had always refused
them permission to use Elvis' image or film clips of Elvis singing. How could BMG promote
Elvis without his image or clips? Finally, in 2002 there was so much pressure from NIKE
and Disney that they had to do a deal with BMG. As a result God knows how many
$millions EPE made in 2002 from working with people instead of threatening and suing.
Elvis' music had been in the wilderness for 25 years and he had not been marketed to a
new generation of fans because of EPE's stupidity and intransigence. Meanwhile, BMG
London will now have nothing to do with me because they said working with Elvisly Yours
would upset EPE.
The greatest musical tribute to Elvis ever produced is a ballet called "The King" by the
Peter Schauffuss Ballet Company of Denmark. Peter Schauffuss has been knighted in
Denmark and his Ballet is world famous. "The King" tells the life story of Elvis Presley
through dance, from his birth until his death. It is truly magnificent and a work of art that
would have made Elvis so, so proud. Elvis' music was elevated to a higher plane and put to
Ballet, but an ex-used car salesman called Gary Hovey now controls music licensing deals
for EPE. Hovey is married to Priscilla's sister and is Lisa's uncle and could have been Elvis'
brother-in-law. Peter Schauffuss flew to Los Angeles to meet Hovey to beg him for Elvis
music rights for the Ballet and was told by Hovey that he had stopped 104 Elvis Shows and
was proud of the fact. Peter had offered EPE 15% of the box office just for use of Elvis'
songs but Hovey would not even look at the Ballet video. Peter was heart-broken and had
to cancel a show at the Edinburgh Festival then had just two weeks to rewrite the London
production at Saddler's Wells with new songs. What an insult, what a disgrace, what
In 1988 a famous British TV presenter Jonathan Ross was in Memphis filming the Elvis
impersonators Contest at Bad Bob's and had very cleverly edited " into one clip all the
Elvis impersonators singing "Suspicious Minds only to be told by EPE he could not use the
song and so wasted one week's filming. For practically any other artist TV companies pay
the standard fee for use of songs and there are few problems. As soon as you mention
music rights for Elvis' songs you come against Gary Hovey, 'Mr. Blue Meanie' himself. EPE
have an awful reputation in the music industry.
In 1991 when the final Appeal for my case was heard in Cincinnati (with the same lead
Judge Kennedy as on the first Appeal) and I lost and decided not to Appeal to the US
Supreme Court miraculously within one week an announcement was made that an Elvis
Presley stamp would be released in the USA. Fans had waited years for this honour but
EPE wanted to control merchandising associated with the stamp and until they got the final
Judgement against me they could have problems. With the release of the Elvis stamp EPE
finally became a major league player for licensing in the USA with probably hundreds of
Elvis stamp related products being marketed.
I know of no business anywhere in the world that so alienates nearly all people associated
with that business. Elvis' extended family and friends have been neglected, threatened or
insulted by EPE's management. Billy Smith who was closer to Elvis than anyone begged for
a job at Graceland and was started at minimum wage as a tour guide but eventually was
promoted because it was felt he could be useful. When Billy pointed out all the mistakes
being made to Soden he was fired. He called Priscilla that night, spoke to Lisa but never
got a return call so I employed Billy to run my office in Memphis for a while. Uncle Vester
was continually told to keep his mouth shut or be fired while cousin Harold Loyd was left to
tear ticket stubs at the entrance to the Trophy Room at Graceland. Elvis' cook Mary
Jenkins, having given her whole working life to Graceland, had heart trouble and got no
compensation from EPE and was forced to sell her home that Elvis gave her. The
Thompson family lost homes that Elvis had given them. I have yet to find anyone in Elvis'
extended family say anything nice about EPE. They loathe and despise them and for years
have been treated disgracefully. EPE are the complete antithesis to Elvis.
I had asked Twyla Dixon to give evidence on my behalf in the lawsuit but she refused
because she was fearful that her handicapped daughter who worked at Graceland would
lose her job and that she would find it difficult to find employment again in Memphis. I could
of subpoenaed Twyla to give evidence, crucial to my defense, but I did not want to ruin her
and her daughter's employment prospects in Memphis. Sadly, fear permeates the lives of
most people associated with Graceland. I was even assaulted by a security guard at
Graceland in 1988 when a famous British TV Show called "Surprise, Surprise" was filming
a visit of two handicapped fans that went on our fan club tour to Memphis. We raised
money in the UK to pay for the two boys and their relatives. When I appeared with the boys
in the line of filming on the grounds of Graceland I was pushed out of the way by a 6ft 6in
tall security guard on the instructions of Todd Morgan, witnessed by dozens of visitors to
Graceland. I was told the guard lost his job a week later. The TV crew were shocked by
The 'Memphis Mafia' and people who were around Elvis for years hate EPE and some four
letter words they choose to describe Graceland executives cannot be repeated in this
thesis. It seems the EPE philosophy is ALL or NOTHING. If you own film footage of Elvis
they claim it is theirs, if you come to them with a great idea even their website states it
becomes their idea and anything that has Elvis or Elvis Presley in its title has to be
controlled by EPE.
In Britain, I finally achieved justice and defeated EPE in the High Court and Court of
The Appeal Court Judges all agreed that a monopoly of "Elvis Presley" was against the
public good. The way that EPE has abused its monopoly power is a disgrace. I do not know
if Lisa Marie Presley is aware what her company is doing to the Elvis World but she should
know. There is an _expression "those whom the gods are about to destroy, they first make
mad" and I have been watching year after year as EPE have got crazier in their actions
and with their demands waiting for a revolt by fans, fan clubs and traders saying "we ain't
going to take it anymore".
EPE have now demanded fan clubs turn over the names and addresses of their members
to EPE and fans around the world are in uproar. It is a criminal offence in the UK to
disclose private addresses and details from a database. The Elvis Presley Fan Club of
Great Britain has been EPE's greatest ally with Todd Slaughter, its self-proclaimed
president, helping them in their lawsuits against me and he has also taken thousands of
fans to Graceland, making EPE $millions. Apparently, he has been told by EPE that he can
no longer use the name 'Elvis' or 'Graceland' to promote his trips to Memphis. Perhaps he
should start using DISGRACELAND.
Note: This article was first published through the 2003-04 Online Symposium on Elvis Aron Presley