A remarkable new book, The Rebel & the King, will go to publication in August. It was written in 1956 by Hollywood actor Nick Adams to document his friendship with rock and roll phenomenon Elvis Presley.
Adams, you might remember, played Johnny Yuma in The Rebel television series in 1959-60. Presley, “The King,” met Adams on a movie lot in Hollywood. They became fast friends.
My friend and colleague Allyson Adams, Nick’s daughter, discovered the typewritten manuscript in a trunk of her dad’s belongings. Nick died in 1968, when Allyson was 7 years old, and she hadn’t opened the box until a few years ago.
When Allyson asked me to read the manuscript, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Nick had written a homespun tale of the “other Elvis,” an acutely polite young superstar who doted on his parents and tried never to offend his fans. Nick devoted much of his book to eight days he spent with Elvis in Memphis and Tupelo, Mississippi. Nick’s charming tale recalls those days of comparative innocence for two ambitious celebrities destined to die young. It’s a diary of encounters. Nick talks about introducing Elvis to actress Natalie Wood. He covers in some detail how Elvis bought new furniture for his parents. It’s also a walk through the emotion of life. To Elvis, Nick revealed his fear that he wouldn’t make it big in movies. To Nick, Elvis shared his regret that fame was pushing him much too hard.
Allyson hurts even today over her dad’s untimely and mysterious death at age 36. She and I became acquainted several years ago after discovering a common connection. I’m a Montana native who had written a biography of Jeannette Rankin, the nation’s first congresswoman. Allyson, who had lived in Montana for many years, had read my book. It became an inspiration for her stage career in single-woman productions of Jeannette Rankin’s life. Allyson also produced a movie, Peace Is a Woman’s Job, in which she played Rankin. It’s a whimsical portrayal of Rankin as an icon for pacifism.
I know it was tough for Allyson to pull her father’s memories out of the trunk. In doing so, she’s given voice to what he couldn’t, or least didn’t.
I admit to being a bit star struck when I read Nick’s original manuscript. Johnny Yuma was one of my favorite TV heroes when I was a young boy watching The Rebel weekly on television with my own dad. It’s all the more exciting that 50-some years after the last episode of that series, Allyson has brought her father’s unfiltered portrayal of the legendary Elvis to life.
Nick wrote the story on a typewriter borrowed from actor friend James Dean. Yes, Nick ran in a fast celebrity crowd and savored the big time, but his book makes clear that he valued respect, honesty and compassion. Much like the gentler Elvis he reveals, Nick comes across as a regular guy, just telling it like it was.
— Kevin S. Giles, author of Jerry’s Riot