“The Rebel & the King” is a sweetly naive account by the late actor Nick Adams about his friendship with a young Elvis Presley.
Adams wrote the manuscript in the late 1950s when he was a rising star in Hollywood. It was recently found in a box of the actor’s memorabilia by his daughter, playwright Allyson Adams.
She was just 7 when her father was found dead at 36 under mysterious circumstances at his home on Feb. 7, 1968, of a drug overdose. No weapons or pills were found around his body. But several personal items were missing including his journals, the typewriter James Dean had given him, tape recordings and a bronze replica of the hat he wore in his hit TV series “The Rebel.” Adams’ death certificate was changed three times from homicide to suicide to undetermined.
For four decades, Adams kept a large box of his memorabilia including a scrapbook James Dean had given him, photographs and movie magazine articles he had written in the 1950s about his friends like Dean and Natalie Wood, with whom he had appeared in 1955’s “Rebel Without a Cause.”
“I carried it around for years,” she said. “I would start to go through it and then said, ‘I can’t.”’ After moving back to Los Angeles recently after living for several years in Montana, she gathered her strength and looked at the contents.
She found the manuscript for “The Rebel & the King” under photos and articles. Allyson self-published the book last September and just last week the e-book version became available on Kindle that includes extra photographs, an introduction by historian Roy Turner and an essay by author Elaine Dundy.
“The Rebel & the King” chronicles Adams and Presley’s adventures in Hollywood as well as the eight days the actor spent with Presley in Memphis, which culminated with him accompanying the singer for his famous Tupelo, Miss., homecoming concert in September 1956.
Adams’ career was taking off when he met Presley in 1956. The year before, Adams appeared in two films that were nominated for best picture — “Mister Roberts” and “Picnic” — as well as “Rebel Without a Cause.” At 21, Presley was the hottest rock ‘n’ roll sensation in the country with such hits as “Hound Dog” and “That’s All Right” and whose gyrating hips got him in trouble on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
Presley had come from Memphis to 20th Century Fox to make his first film, the Civil War drama “Love Me Tender.” Adams had gone to Fox to talk about a role in the film, when he met the rock ‘n’ roll superstar on the set. They remained close friends until Adams’ death.
Adams isn’t a gifted stylist, but he makes up for his literary shortcomings with a youthful exuberance and innocence.
“He was real down to earth and sincere and very humble,” Adams writes of Presley.
The two are bombarded by fans, buy a puppy at a pet store for Presley’s mother, Gladys, and visit his old school. Allyson Adams loves the fact that her father seemed compelled to give detailed accounts of their meals.
“We ordered dinner from room service,” writes Nick Adams, “and Elvis had four slices of Crenshaw melon, a grilled cheese sandwich with butter, six slices of bacon burned to a crisp, mashed potatoes, gravy and four milks.”
“They are really young and star struck,” said Allyson Adams. “They had no idea what was coming down the pike. It’s a rag to riches to fame as a bad habit. Elvis had too much fame and my father didn’t have enough.”
After his initial success, Adams appeared in such films as the 1959 Doris Day-Rock Hudson comedy “Pillow Talk” and starred as former Confederate Army Private Johnny Yuma in the 1959-61 western series “The Rebel.” He even earned a supporting actor Oscar nomination — after launching his own campaign — for the 1963 film “Twilight of Honor.”
But the Oscar nomination didn’t lead to bigger roles and soon he was making such low-budget duds as 1965’s “Frankenstein Conquers the World.” As his career was tanking, so was his marriage to actress Carol Nugent Adams.
Adams believes her father didn’t commit suicide. “He always bounced back. I know my dad could go low and he was having a terrible time in his life personally and career wise, but he was a fighter. Everybody who knew my dad said that nobody was tougher than Nick.”