A close, long-time aide of ELVIS remarked about CHRISTOPHER "Oh God, yes, he was ELVIS'S favorite. That kid was the best dancer in the pictures."
CHRISTOPHER appeared with ELVIS in the films Viva Las Vegas, Roustabout, Tickle Me, Spinout, Double Trouble and Clambake, on television in The '68 Comeback Special and in multiple ELVIS documentaries.
ELVIS had an address book where he kept the names and contact information of those he had worked with in the past that he would look up whenever a new project came along. It was rumored that CHRISTOPHER was included in that address book along with many of the other male and female dancers who worked on the Elvis film.
In actuality, CHRISTOPHER was the ONLY male dancer in the book! See below.
Scroll down for CHRISTOPHER'S work with Elvis in Film, TV, the ELVIS Festivals and CHRISTOPHER'S personal recollections of working with ELVIS.
Scroll down for CHRISTOPHER'S work with ELVIS on TV and the ELVIS festivals.
This is the look I got from him when he asked me to stay past my performance in the "Jailhouse Rock" number, and sit below him as he did this routine.
Around the same time I was making preparations for "The Gay Deceivers," I kept getting word that ELVIS would be calling. I was surprised, as I hadn't heard that a film was coming up. And, I was right; the next movie was quite a ways away. Besides, I thought I'd made myself clear on "Clambake"....."No more dance jobs."
Not that I wouldn't dance; but if I did, I really wanted to DANCE. A real routine. Something to show off what I was capable of doing. Not just shaking my backside. Among the dance population, I was known for being able to keep up with the best of them. FRED ASTAIRE had comfirmed that, back in '62. When they wanted someone that could do fast spins, ala ANN MILLER, or kick high over my head, or (better yet,) someone who could SING 'and' dance......they could call on me. Butt (pun intended) I was tired of swirling my hips to a fast beat, and sailing by the camera from one side to the other.
To say I was excited about what I had planned for "The Gay Deceivers" would definitely be an understatement. And, I'm happy to say, that later, our director, BRUCE KESSLER, told my agent that I had put MUCH more on the screen than had been put on the paper.
I must also give credit to MR. KESSLER, as he really let me 'go,' and do whatever I felt was right. He did the same thing with most of the other actors, as well. Especially when it came to MICHAEL GREER'S role of 'the landlord.' (I ultimately did three pictures with MICHAEL. "What Am I Bid?," "The Gay Deceivers," and "The Curious Female.")
There were several meetings held before shooting the film. All, held at the 9000 Building on Sunset Blvd, where Fanfare Films had their offices. At all of these gatherings, BRUCE kept saying, "We're going to let CHRISTOPHER go with his instincts." He then turned to me and announced, "However, I may have an idea or two of my own." I smiled in accordance, and sat quietly. Very demure. Quite unlike the performance I put on film. And, the end result was: BRUCE was thrilled with what I did. He didn't change a thing. Except to pad the part a bit. In other words, he expanded my secondary role.
And, one day, the call from ELVIS came in. I don't know how he found me, but he did. At the time, I was teaching dance class in a large school in Studio City. The receptionist called me over and said, "Some clown, trying to sound like ELVIS PRESLEY wants to talk to you. Do you want to take the call?" Were she still alive, she'd probably STILL be fluttering from that brief little talk with THE KING.
E opened the conversation as he always did; by asking about my son. I knew what he was doing, and immediately told him about my upcoming film. We fenced in our conversation. He knew that this time, I meant business. Still, the usual words were exchanged. And even over the phone; he gave me 'That Look.' He explained to me that they were preparing a TV Special. It was unnamed at this point, but he wanted, no, needed, to include me in the "Jailhouse Rock" number. "I NEED you for that," he said. And the word, 'need,' dripped with pleading, and almost, dare I say (?) tears.
Of course, I closed the conversation by saying, "Let me see what my schedule looks like." He said he'd get back to me, and I knew he would. Either in person, or by having one of his guys call with the day, place, and time. As it turned out, it was the latter. I never had ELVIS' phone number. But he ALWAYS knew how to find me.
Naturally, I buckled. And, in truth, I did have the time to fit the show into my work schedule. The film had been an easy shoot for me. Even with the expansion of my scenes. Also, everyone on the film was most professional. Even the non-union extras, and the office workers that they hired to 'fill in.' Fanfare Films was not a big organization, so they were cutting corners at every turn.
But I must say this; Fanfare was always good to me, and I ended up doing three films for them. BRUCE KESSLER was, and still is, one of my all-time favourite directors. I put him right up there with GEORGE CUKOR. That's how wonderfully he treated me.
However, from going to being treated like a STAR, and feeling totally appreciated........I then showed up at NBC to start rehearsals for "ELVIS, The '68 Comeback Special."
I had no idea who the Choreographer would be this time, and when I found out, I was NOT happy. Nor, was he, when he found out that I was on this project. In a way, I can't blame him for being overridden. I was in there because of ELVIS. I had not auditioned. And, if I may say, by this time, when it came to dancing.... I no longer auditioned for anybody. I was either called, or I wasn't.
Now, this was a choreographer that had been extremely lucky. He was not a great dancer, nor even great looking. But, he had one major talent in his back pocket. He had married a girl who was not only a good dancer; she could also come up with some pretty terrific ideas. And, in fact, it came to be known very quickly in the business that it was SHE, not HIM, who was the actual Choreographer.
I have to admit, at this time, I was feeling a bit 'full of myself.' I kept thinking about doing the film, and the fact that I was even going to get billing. And since it annoyed this so-called choreographer that I had gotten 'in' through E, I spent as much time around ELVIS as I could.
Word got back that the Choreographer and his wife were wondering why I was even on the set. I wasn't involved with the number they were preparing, so why was I hanging around? Because that's the way ELVIS did it. If possible, I would be called in from the beginning of production. Thus, receiving a paycheck for the duration. Not just for the time it took to work out a single number.
Of course, all this time, I kept wondering what it was going to be like when we actually got to the "Jailhouse" number. I needn't have worried. I don't think two weeks went by, when all of a sudden, it was announced that JAIME ROGERS and CLAUDE THOMPSON were taking over the Choreographing chores. And, I never did find out why. Nor, did I care. I never questioned anything coming from ELVIS' corner.
And when the time came.....MSSRS ROGERS and THOMPSON left me alone. In actuality, ELVIS placed me where he wanted me, informed me of what moves he wanted, and from there.......we 'went for it.' And ELVIS smiled all the way. Which was something I sensed was not happening so easily when we weren't shooting. But, that's another story.
Next: How and why I stayed on the show. And the great gift from BRUCE KESSLER
Rehearsals on the 'Comeback Special' were, I think, the oddest rehearsal experience I ever had in all my years of being in show business. ELVIS seemed detached; and his mind was definitely elsewhere.
For the most part, I stayed to myself; even though I knew, or had worked with many of the dancers that were brought in for this version of the 'Jailhouse Rock' number. Something told me to play it cool. Just, lay low, so to speak. I spoke when spoken to, and never at any other time. There were a lot of new people brought in for this show. The only familiar face that I felt comfortable with, was E's pal, LANCE Le GAULT.
LANCE was always a gentleman. He did his job, and he did it professionally. I wasn't at all surprised when he went on to bigger and better things in the business. Especially when you consider that wonderful voice he had. LANCE was also one who showed me a great deal of respect. The other, was JOE ESPOSITO.
I was the wrong sex to have the other guys pay much attention to me. Most of them were into doing their stunts, or making headway with the young girls. Whether they be dancers, extras, or the long line of secondary actresses that were usually disposed of after one, or two at the most, appearances.
When it finally came time to go through the 'Jailhouse' number, ELVIS himself, told me to go up and stand in one particular box. I did, and I immediately felt a wave of resentment go through the set. I stood quietly, taking deep breaths. Then, just as ELVIS was to take his position, one of the choreographers (I can't recall which one,) asked me to step away, and he began searching for a new space with his eyes. I started to move, and ELVIS put his hand on my forearm to block me. I don't know who he looked at, but he got his message to someone. He remained out of his key-light, blocking my body, until I was then instructed to, 'stay where you are.' E looked at me, gave me a slight smile, and then we both hit our positions.
Unfortunately, this sort of thing did NOT endear me to other members of the cast or crew. Even though, I NEVER played it up as though I were special. I just did what I was told.
When I see the number now, I understand what ELVIS was telling me. It's shot in such a light, that no one can really tell who is who. This was not going to ruin my career. However, it did keep a smile on ELVIS' face while he performed. One thing was a MUST..... ELVIS always wanted to have fun. I think, when he couldn't enjoy it, it literally pained him.
In any case, after weeks of so-called rehearsal, we finally shot the number in just one day. When it was finished, I naturally thought I'd be dismissed. So, I went over to say my good-bye's and my thank-you's.
But ELVIS wasn't going to have any farewells as yet. I was asked to stay for one more number. And when it was explained to me, I actually got a bit angry. Now I was asked to sit in an audience while he performed in his leather outfit. The whole concept made me uncomfortable. On top of that, they had brought in a bunch of non-union people to be in this group of 'spectators.' I hated it. It was all I could do to make it look like I was enjoying myself.
I wish I'd known exactly what was going on at that time. I think I could have been kinder. Finally, and I think it was LANCE, came up to me and said, "He just wants your usual reactions. You're not going to be seen just sitting here." Well, that made all the difference in the world; and from then on, I began having fun with it all. Sometimes, I even looked at E and crossed my eyes. And in his eyes, I saw a 'thank you.'
At last, my work on the Special was over. I said my good-byes, et al. But this time, ELVIS didn't say, "See 'ya on the next one." And, of course, I had no idea that that would be the last time I worked with ELVIS PRESLEY.
And, I'm kind of sorry, too. As his leading lady in his next film, "The Trouble With Girls," turned out to be one of my best friends, MARLYN MASON. That could have been GREAT fun.
But now I was off making preparations for the premiere of "The Gay Deceivers." My agent called, and wanted to make sure I was attending. I told her I was, and she informed me, "Good. Because BRUCE KESSLER has a gift for you." And I pondered, 'Why is he bringing a gift to the premiere?'
Anyway, the evening arrived; and so did I, along with three or four friends. I walked into the theatre, a relative unknown. When we left the theatre, I was mobbed by the crowd; and I needed everyone of my friends to help me get to the car.
For the time (1969,) the film was very avant garde. One other picture came out about the same time that dealt with the subject; and that was my friend, DOMINICK DUNNE'S, "The Boys in the Band." But we were first, and I think we set the tone for the hilarity that ensued. The story was cute, had a little twist at the end, and was filled with some wonderful character parts. 'They say,' two people stole the movie. MICHAEL GREER...... and 'YOURS TRULY.'
Indeed, my entrance caused such a stir..... so many hoots and foot stomping..... the projectionist had to rewind a bit so that the subsequents lines weren't lost on the audience.
From that night forward......for several years to come.....my life was never the same. It was both, good, and bad. Either way, it was quite a ride. And, I'll tell you all about it.
Oh, and the gift from the Director? MR. KESSLER 'gave' me Single-Card Billing in the credits. That's something some actors NEVER receive. And here it is (scroll down).....
Scroll down for the Elvis festivals.
After Choreographing two films for AIP ("Fireball 500" and "Thunder Alley"), I had this long period of waiting for the next assignment. That assignment eventually.....never came. The musicals at American International Pictures were over. There'd be no more Beach Parties, no more Haunted Houses, and not even any Race Car films. We were now into 'the hippie era.' Kids smoking pot, taking LSD, and rioting on The Sunset Strip. You didn't need dance movements to lie around smoking pot, or break store windows.
And so I had been right to keep my 'dance card open,' so to speak. With each little bit that I got, I thought... "Well, this could be it." And each time I danced in something, I was featured. Placed up front, or opened the scene before the star began their dialogue. I've had many a fan tell me that they knew it was me, IMMEDIATELY... just by the movement, the hair, or, in many cases... the sight of my backside, as it whirled faster than a blender in a malt shop.
I can't even begin to tell you how sick of all this I was. Shaking your fanny has nothing to do with acting. Even more humiliating, for me anyway, was the fact that I was quite a bit older than most of 'the kids' that surrounded me. I had also been married, divorced, and had a small son at home. Which, of course, is the very reason I didn't, or couldn't, hold out for bigger and better things.
I did manage to do some stage work. But in those days, the theatre was strictly for honing your craft. The money was not in LA theatre. Still, I carried my reviews, and my photos, in the trunk of my car... just in case. And at this time, I was receiving some terrific reviews for playing the social worker in "A Thousand Clowns." Albert was one of those rare parts that was definitely a character, but could also be played by someone younger than you might normally cast him. My kind of stuff. I took that part and ran with it, as they say. My Albert was prim and proper. Did everything by the book. Dressed very neatly, and had every hair in place. And, wore somewhat large glasses (something that the producers did to me again when I played 'The Collector' on "Ugly Betty," some 40 years later). I received a nomination for Best Supporting Actor that year.
Yet, the next offer that came to me, was a call from ELVIS' people. Of course, I asked what it was. They were very noncommittal. "You'll have to talk to E," I was told. And that led to a conversation that encompassed just about every emotion possible.
I kept saying that I felt things were about to break. I couldn't just keep bouncing around in these silly fluff films. ELVIS listened, and I think I saw the start of a tear in his eye. And he then told me how HE felt about doing these ------ films. Well, at least I now knew that he was aware of the fact that these pictures were getting worse and worse. Always, more or less, the same formula. The only thing different was usually a change of leading lady.
I said something about, 'Maybe they'd be better if he just played the same character in each picture. Use the same cast all the time. Sort of a musical version of 'The Thin Man' series.' And I got a look from him that I'd never seen before. It was more than evident to me that The King was terribly unhappy with what was happening to his film career.
It was no secret that ELVIS was not happy with his manager, Tom Parker. We all wondered why that arrangement continued. Legally, ELVIS could have broken that contract ages ago. No agent or manager should EVER take more than 10% of any clients earnings. Parker was getting much more. An awful lull used to come over the set whenever Parker came to visit. ELVIS was polite, but hardly warm with the man. I've been told that ELVIS fired The Colonel a million times. But always through someone else. To which, Parker would reply, "Tell him to come and tell me that to my face." ELVIS never did.
Anyway, I could tell that E was hurting. And I'm a sucker for being needed. It was hard for ELVIS to keep up that happy attitude all the time. He needed, always, for familiar faces to be around him. Aside from giving his buddies jobs, he needed to see those people surrounding him. I guess the same was true with me. As I said, I was always called. If I was working elsewhere, I was told, "Well, we'll see you on the next one." If I was available, they'd tell me where and when to report. Once I was on the set, I was pulled close. I'm told that no other young man that was half-way good looking, tall, dark, etc. EVER got as close to ELVIS as I did... on film. I do know that The Colonel objected to it more than once. I did hear ELVIS say once, "He gives me good energy." So I guess that explains it.
At the end of the day, we had talked about how much we hated doing this dreck. "Just this one more," he said. And then he gave me that famous wink (like the one pictured).
I guess it was a Monday morning... and I showed up, this time at Universal Studios. This one was called, "Clambake." It was great to see SHELLEY FABARES, and WILL HUTCHINS again. HAROLD PEARY was in this one, too. We had worked together in "Get Yourself a College Girl" at Metro, about three years prior. I had worked with BILL BIXBY before, as well. And, among the cast was a girl that I had seen many times on the local stage; doing much the same thing as I did, getting as much stage experience as possible.....SUZIE KAYE.
There was another girl in this one, that I thought was outrageous. And I was to work with her again, just two years later, in a film that was even worse than this one. The film was originally titled, "Love, Computer Style." Later, they changed it to, "The Curious Female." Everything in this film was about sex. Something ANGELIQUE PETTYJOHN seemed to practice as frequently as she could. On "Clambake," she made ELVIS as uncomfortable as I'd ever seen him. Much too blatant for him. He'd walk away from her, look at me, and shake his head.
While shooting "The Curious Female," she allowed her sex scene to go 'all the way.' The crew said she actually instigated it all. I know it's true, because I have an 8 X 10 of it happening.
I think I worked two or three weeks on "Clambake." Each day, I suffered. I wasn't doing anything worth while. At least my old dance buddy, TERI GARR, was also on this; and probably feeling the same way I did. In this, TERI was not being featured as one of the dancers, at all. Instead, that so-called glory went to a girl by the name of, ANITA MANN. ANITA was blond and bubbly. She had so much energy, one looked for the 'off button,' to calm her down. And, she spoke rather rapidly. Now, first... say her name, three times, quickly. Then, picture me going up to her to ask her name. "ANITA MANN," she blurted out. I looked at her and replied, "I've found that most of you do." Once more, I nearly brought ELVIS to the floor with laughter. As he walked away as fast as he could, I said to him, "THIS is really why you want me, isn't it?"
He got to his dressing room, then turned to look at me... and once again... gave me... 'THAT WINK.'
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Sometime in December of 1963, I had a couple of weeks off of "My Fair Lady," and someone from Metro had called and told me they needed a dancer for a film that GEORGE SIDNEY was doing. The idea of working for MR. SIDNEY excited me. The idea of just being a dancer, did NOT. However, in just a few more weeks my son was to be born; and frankly, I needed all the money I could get my hands on. So, I said, 'yes,' without even asking who was in the movie, or who would be choreographing.
I then found out it was an ELVIS film (which didn't please me), and the choreographer was DAVID WINTERS (which did please me).
I guess I have to say... I was being a bit of a snob. After all, I'd worked with PAUL NEWMAN, and ELIZABETH TAYLOR and MONTGOMERY CLIFT in a BIG M-G-M epic. And now, I was just coming off of working with AUDREY HEPBURN in a film that would soon win the Academy Award for Best Film.
ELVIS PRESLEY was not my idea of taking a step UP.
However, I'd been impressed with some of the choreography that DAVID WINTERS had shown earlier in his career, and I figured it could lead to some better things in the future.
Monday morning, bright and early, I reported to Metro. Naturally, this gave me an eerie feeling. I hadn't stepped foot on this lot since MONTGOMERY CLIFT'S accident. I literally walked away from doing films, period. Only HERMES PAN and the thought of working with AUDREY HEPBURN could draw me back. AND... the wonderful experience at Warner's, working on "Fair Lady" had erased (almost) every ill feeling I had about making movies.
In truth, it gave me chills to walk through those old hallways, winding my way through to the different departments, and then reporting to the stage. I came upon the sign that was placed on the sound stage wall. "Viva Las Vegas," it read. And when I looked for the door handle, I saw a lovely delicate hand reaching out at the same time. It was ANN-MARGRET. She smiled and said, "Good morning." Before I could respond, several people rushed up and formed a barrier over this beautiful young girl. "Here's your script." "This is the dress you wear the first time, I've marked it on the label." A truck drove up, and one of ANN'S entourage exclaimed, "Oh lord, the flowers are starting this early?" I hadn't even gotten onto the stage, and it was already a circus atmosphere.
Naturally, I let everyone in before me. I needed to catch my breath. Once onstage, I reported to the man whose name I had been given. I looked around, thinking I might see someone I knew. I didn't. I quickly learned that THESE 'dancers' were quite different from the DANCERS I had been working with. This group were what I call, 'movers.' They were not trained (in most cases), and they specialized in whatever craze was happening at the moment. In time, I learned to do The Watusi, The Frug, The Mashed Potato, The Swim, and of course, The Twist... just as well, if not better, than most of them. Certainly, when they wanted a guy who could move fast, and shake their behind... the call went out for ME. But, that was later.
Now, I was being introduced to DAVID WINTERS, and his assistant, TONI BASIL. Not much of a warm welcome. Just a sneer; and along with it, MS BASIL said, "THIS is the guy FRED ASTAIRE discovered????" It couldn't have been said in a more derogatory tone. MR. WINTERS then took on an air of dismissal, and told me that 'TONI will place you, and tell you what to do.'
'Fine,' I thought... and she came over and placed me way in the back, behind a post. My first thought was to 'walk.' And then I reminded myself that 'I' was about to have a baby. I stuck it out, and kept thinking of the day when I would return to Warner's, and the joy of seeing AUDREY, and being directed by CUKOR again.
When the first shot was ready, MR. PRESLEY came out of his dressing room and joined us all on this big circular stage that we were to dance on. He certainly was warm and friendly. Though, I noticed a little iciness coming through between he, and MR. SIDNEY. Then, ANNIE came onto the set, and it all made sense. It looked to me as though both of these gentlemen were in love with ANN-MARGRET.
However, there was competition. The earlier remark about 'flowers' was now falling into place, as well. Seems ROGER SMITH was also enamored of ANNIE; and HE was sending two dozen roses, every hour, on the hour.
I have to say, the flowers, ANNIE'S reaction, and ELVIS' teasing, made the shoot more enjoyable than it otherwise would have been.
When the final days came, I couldn't help but ask myself, "What the Hell was THIS all about?" I kept reminding myself that it was about making enough money to pay the doctor, and the hospital bills, and all those things needed for a new baby.
On the last day, ELVIS went around and thanked us all personally. It had been an intricate number; what with dancers weaving in and out of the shot, and around E and ANNIE, without hitting them. I didn't see much dance choreography, but certainly a lot of 'choreography' when it came to the camera. When ELVIS came to me, he said something about working together again. 'Next time, with more to do,' or something like that. I didn't pay much attention. But I did come away having a better 'like' for ELVIS. But, if DAVID WINTERS and TONI BASIL were involved... I did NOT want to work in another ELVIS PRESLEY picture. It seemed they had adopted that same 'jealous' attitude that some dancers get, and were displaying it, every chance they got. Once, MS BASIL even said to me, "Well, I guess it's not something HERMES PAN would have you do." 'No, it certainly WASN'T,' I thought to myself.
As I left the gates on that last day, one of the girls I had gotten close with, said to me, "See you on the next one." I had no idea what she meant. Then, one evening, while back on "Fair Lady," I got a call from Metro again. I had been asked to come to work on "Kissin' Cousins." Another ELVIS picture; and again, at M-G-M. This time, I HAD to turn it down. I still had more to do at Warner's. And, I foolishly thought, 'I'm never going to do another ELVIS movie!'
Sometime later, however, I got a call from Paramount. They were doing a carnival film, and needed someone who could act as a barker, AND dance. Plus, the leading lady was, BARBARA STANWYCK. I jumped at the chance for that one. Even when I found out... it was an ELVIS PRESLEY picture.
As it turned out, I ended up doing SIX films with ELVIS. AND, his first TV Special. There's a story about each and every film, I assure you.
The main thing is... ELVIS appreciated my talent. But more than that, he respected the fact that I ended up caring for my infant son, by myself. I later found out that I was on 'his list.' Seems ELVIS made a list of people that were ALWAYS to be asked on board. And so, I was asked each and every time. If I was already working... fine; the guy who called would say, "Maybe we'll see you on the next one." If I needed the job, and took it, I was told when to report, and what time.
I did these films because I really loved ELVIS. He was a wonderful person to be around. Also, each time around, I was given something bigger and better to do. He really looked out for me; in more ways than one.
And, many, many years later, I was discussing all of this with one of the girls that ELVIS had on that list. A gorgeous creature, who looked very much like ELVIS' wife. She said to me, "You knew about the list, of course." "Yes, I was finally told that my name was on that list," I answered. She, knowing ELVIS much better than I did, then said to me... "Did you know, you were the ONLY male on that list?"