When Caroline Kennedy Met Elvis! And Her Days in Journalism

Since Kennedy's name resurfaced this month in the sweepstakes to replace Hillary, reviews of her life often contain one brief line about her being a former "journalist." Let's dig a little deeper.
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According to the latest reports today, Caroline Kennedy, indeed, does want Hillary Clinton's seat as (my) junior U.S. senator from New York, and she may well get it. Well, it's nice to see that a former journalist has come to some good.

Since Kennedy's name resurfaced this month in the sweepstakes to replace Hillary, reviews of her life often contain one brief line about her being a former "journalist" with some also referring to her once writing a story for Rolling Stone about visiting Graceland following Elvis Presley's death -- and somehow getting a rare private viewing of the King lying in state.

Since I am a former Rolling Stone writer myself, let's dig a little deeper.

Kennedy is best known, at least in the journalism field, for her Sept. 22, 2007 article in Rolling Stone, a kind of "scoop." Reading it today, one may be surprised to find that it does not seem to match some of the press accounts which suggested that Caroline had sneaked into Graceland or carried out some other kind of dering-do.

Yes, the estate had been sealed off by cops and private guards as 75,000 gathered following Presley's death on August 17, 1977. But Kennedy, a Radcliffe coed, was simply outside mingling with others in line when Winslow "Buddy" Chapman, the director of police, "invited me into the house where a scarlet carpeted hall led into a large room filled with gold and white folding chairs," she wrote. "At the far end of the room was the gleaming copper coffin that contained the body of Elvis Presley. His face seemed swollen and his sideburns reached his chin.

"A couple in their late twenties stand beside the casket. The woman was sobbing. The man had his arm around her. Behind the coffin, an arch led to another room where a clear glass statue of a nude woman stood high off the floor, twirling slowly, adorned by glass beads that leaked like water. Potted plastic palms surrounded the coffin and on the wall was a painting of a skyline on black velveteen."

Priscilla Presley entered. "Would you like a Coke or 7-Up?" she offered. Kennedy described the living room as mahogany-paneled and decorated with fur-covered African shields and spears.

Then Priscilla introduced Caroline to Elvis's father, Vernon Presley, who was watching the 10 o'clock news in a nearby bedroom. Nobody in the group around him spoke.

Later, at the front door, Caroline interviewed Charlie Hodge, Elvis' rhythm guitarist. "It's really hard to believe," he said. "I went to the dentist with him on Monday night around 9:30. We were getting ready for the tour and we talked about the songs we'd use. But we never did rehearse. We just used to make it up right on the stage....I've been with Elvis all day. Just this afternoon I shaved his sideburns. It was the least I could do."

Kennedy closed with this description: "Outside the front door were hundreds of wreaths; some spelled 'Elvis' in flowers, others were shaped like crowns, broken hearts, hound dogs and blue suede shoes."

See below for Elvis singing "Sweet Caroline" -- which reportedly Neil Diamond named for Ms. Kennedy.

But Caroline had some daily journalism experience as well.

A People magazine online bio observes that young Caroline "considered becoming a photojournalist (her mother's original career) but soon realized she could never make her living observing other people because they were too busy watching her."

However, she did, during college, intern at the New York Daily News in 1977 -- her Elvis year -- where according to People "she sat on a bench alone for two hours the first day before other employees even said hello to her." Explained former News reporter Richard Licata, "Everyone was too scared."

She was apparently doing "copy girl" tasks but the newspaper "had to post guards at every entrance to keep camera crews out. Once a photograph of Caroline fetching coffee for the editors from a local Bagel Nosh came over the wire in the newsroom even before she returned from her errand.

"Another time Caroline and Licata, who gossip columnists wrongly assumed was her boyfriend, snuck out the back door to avoid network reporters coming up to interview them." Caroline supposedly said, as the pair waited, "Now you have an idea what my life is like." Later she worked as a photographer's assistant at the Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria.

Greg Mitchell is editor of Editor & Publisher. His latest book, on Iraq and the media, is "So Wrong for So Long." He was executive editor of the legendary Crawdaddy magazine for most of the 1970s.

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