A young and on-the-rise Elvis Presley came into June Juanico’s life when she was just 17, leaving an indelible mark on the impressionable teenager that continues to resonate a half-century later.
This summer, 35 years after his death, Juanico will travel from her Biloxi home to Graceland as an invited speaker for Elvis Week. There, she'll recall those heady days when they were in love and the brash young singer was beginning his rocket ride to stardom.
Juanico's time with Elvis began in the summer of 1955, while Elvis was on break during a performance at the Airman’s Club at Biloxi's Keesler Air Force Base. The young singer, who had spotted Juanico walking by, reached out and took hold of her arm and asked,“You aren’t leaving, are you?”
She wasn’t. She was headed back to her seat to catch the singer’s next set. He asked her to stay around and show him some Biloxi sights. She did and that first “date” didn’t end until six the next morning, she said. They had spent the night riding the Biloxi strip (U.S. Highway 90), sipping Cokes and hugging and kissing at the end of a moonlit pier.
Thus began Juanico's romance with a 20-year-old Elvis Presley, the man who would one day hold the record for having the most Top 40 hits and an artist who would be inducted into the Hall of Fame for rock, country and gospel music. Five decades later, she easily recalls those memories.
From their first meeting in 1955 to their last in 1957, Elvis would return to the Mississippi Gulf Coast between concert tours, spending time with Juanico both there and at his Memphis home.
On a vacation to Memphis with friends, Juanico went by the Presley home so her friends could see where he lived. They had been told that he was out of town, but when June peered over a fence to see the swimming pool under construction in the backyard, she felt someone’s hands around her waist pulling her away from the fence, she said.
Turning around, she saw it was Elvis. She said he seemed startled to see her, and he asked, “June, what are you doing in Memphis?”
After explaining her presence there, he said, “I’m not going to let you out of my sight.” He meant it.
That week with Elvis was filled with trips to the movies, to the Memphis Fairgrounds midway and on thrilling motorcycle rides on the Mississippi River's Mud Island.
Juanico said she got to know his parents, Gladys and Vernon Presley. Since Elvis' mother objected to being called Mrs. Presley and asked Juanico to find another name, she settled on Lovie for Gladys Presley’s middle name, Love. Juanico said Elvis’ mother seemed to like her and they got along well.
Life around Elvis was exciting, unpredictable and busy, she said.
On one visit to Memphis, Elvis received a call that the Cadillac Eldorado he had ordered had arrived at a dealership in Texas. He took Juanico to the airport, and for her first plane ride they flew to Houston to pick up the 1956 white convertible. They drove back to Memphis with the top down, she said.
In the fall of 1956, Juanico said Elvis asked her to accompany him to New York, where he was scheduled to appear on Ed Sullivan’s TV variety show. But she declined the offer, saying she was tired from weeks of visiting and needed to get some rest at home in Biloxi.
Juanico said she arrived at home to a new television set – the family's first – purchased by her mother to watch Elvis' performance. That memory became iconic for Juanico, she said.
As his fame grew, Elvis had a harder time getting away from his growing multitude of fans. To give him privacy, Juanico said her family found a secluded home for him in Ocean Springs.
Jaunico said of all the questions asked about her relationship with Elvis, she's most often asked if Elvis was a good kisser.
“Elvis had the softest lips,” Juanico said. “He asked me, ‘Who taught you to kiss,?’ and I told him, ‘I think I’m learning right now from you.’”
Elvis was also incredibly kind, she said.
“Dating Elvis totally changed my life,” she said. “I was Elvis’ Biloxi girlfriend. He was my first love and everyone has a story about their first love – a love you never forget – and when your first love is Elvis Presley, well …”
Juanico said she doesn’t doubt that Elvis loved her, too. He once told her that he could not get married right away because he had promised his manager, Col. Tom Parker, that he would not marry for at least three years. She said Parker knew Elvis was smitten with her and she believes he secretly plotted to keep them apart by insisting that Elvis date flashy women for publicity.
Elvis warned his girlfriend to not believe what she heard and saw in the media because he had no control over the press and what it reported, she said. The performances on the Sullivan show (he made three in four months) launched Elvis to national stardom. He had already received his first gold record for “Heartbreak Hotel” and things had vastly changed since the couple's first meeting two years earlier.
After the Sullivan appearances, Juanico didn't talk to Elvis, she said. After missing his calls, she eventually grew tired of waiting and began dating others.
Then Juanico received a telegram out of the blue asking her to meet Elvis at Union Station in New Orleans. The telegram said, “Meet me. Love, E.P.”
“I went to New Orleans to meet his train, where he had a layover,” she said. “He had a Pullman car all to himself, and I thought we would have some time together.” But she had missed the layover and his train was about to leave.
“He said, ‘A lot of things are happening, baby. Come go back to Memphis with me,'” she said. Juanico turned him down, telling Elvis she had become engaged. “I was upset. My pride was hurt.”
She felt the jolt of the train and the wail of the horn as it began to move and ran to get off the train with Elvis on her heels.
“I was standing on the platform and he was on the steps of that train car,” she said. “He was just staring at me in disbelief. I could not believe what was happening either. He looked at me with a stunned expression and said, ‘You’re kidding.’ I wasn’t. I last saw him standing on the steps of that train car as it pulled away. If I had had 15 minutes more with him, my life might have been a lot different.”
The next day, Juanico picked up a newspaper to see a photograph of Elvis signing papers purchase Graceland.
“I looked at the picture in the paper and just started crying because he looked so sad,” she said. “I regret never telling him how badly he had hurt me. He had put me on hold too long while I was seeing pictures of him in the papers with showgirls. That did it for me.”
After that, Juanico said she never went to see Elvis’ movies and would change the station if one of his songs came on the radio.
She didn’t see him again until a chance meeting in Memphis in 1963. He invited her to come to Graceland the next day. When she arrived, the guard at the gate told her Elvis wasn’t feeling well and wasn’t accepting guests.
She returned to Biloxi and did not see him again until 1969, when he was performing at the International Hotel in Las Vegas. There, after the show, they talked for a half hour, reminiscing “about the good old times.”