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A picture with Elvis is worth more than a thousand words

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
December 5th, 2011
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

There's no mistaking the young Elvis, giving his trademark whiplash smile to the camera. A beautiful brunette, who just so happened to be Elvis' Tennessee sweetheart, likewise gives a radiant smile. The woman is Barbara Hearn Smith, who has thoughtfully inscribed the photo that is now framed in the men's room of a Naples, Florida restaurant called BrickTop's. There's quite a story behind the photo.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Bob Greene, a bestselling author whose books include "Late Edition: A Love Story" and "When We Get to Surf City: A Journey Through America in Pursuit of Rock and Roll, Friendship, and Dreams," tells the tale.

"For Presley aficionados, the name Barbara Hearn is as historic as that of Martha Washington or Betsy Ross or Mary Todd Lincoln. She was Elvis's hometown girlfriend in Memphis at the beginning of 1956, just before his career hit the stratosphere."

What did the autograph say? "A closer inspection of the handwriting revealed that she was saying she had dined at another BrickTop's, in Nashville, Tennessee."

Greene tracked Smith down "at the Holly Tree Manor Bed and Breakfast in Trenton, Tennessee, which she and her husband of 50 years, Jim Smith, own and run. She's 74, and she laughed out loud when I told her where I had found her photo.

"'Well, I suppose it's all right if my name is on a restroom wall,' she said. 'It's better than if my phone number was up there.'

Smith and her husband had been having lunch at the BrickTop's in Nashville when a waiter had overheard them talking about Elvis. The waiter said that the owner of the restaurant was a huge Presley fan. "Jim Smith went out to their car, where he knew there was a photo of Elvis and Barbara; he brought it into the restaurant, and she signed it so the waiter could give it to the boss when he came in."

The owner, who runs all six BrickTop's locations, had copies made of the photo, and ordered that they be put in frames and hung in the men's and women's restrooms of all his restaurants.

"Why not play Elvis's music in the restaurants themselves -- why just in the bathrooms? 'It would drive some customer's nuts to hear it for so long. In the restrooms, you're just there for a few minutes.'"

Hearn says she first met Elvis when she was working at Goldsmith's Department Store in Memphis with a friend named Dixie Locke, who was dating Presley. When Dixie and Elvis went their separate ways, he asked Barbara if he could take her out.

"People sometimes say that Elvis and I went steady for a year," she told me. "I always correct them. I went steady with Elvis for a year. Elvis? Well, he didn't go steady with anyone."

There is a famed photograph, taken by Alfred Wertheimer inside the home on Audubon Drive in Memphis that Presley shared with his parents. In the photo, Barbara is prim in a white dress with dark polka-dots; Elvis is slouched and shirtless.

Soon Elvis went to Hollywood; by the end of that year, he would be bringing Natalie Wood to Memphis to meet his parents.

"I didn't hold it against him at all," Barbara told me. "If the roles had been reversed, and I had been the one to go to Hollywood and I'd met Gregory Peck, I would have brought Gregory Peck back to Memphis with me."

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