Bernard Lansky Interview
the following is a phone interview with Mr.. Lansky March 22 2006
Joe Krein .Can you tell me a little about your self? where were you born sir?
Mr. Lansky .Born and raised in Memphis.
when did you open your store sir?
we opened in 1946. on Beale street . As soon as i got out of the Army. My father bought the place. it was a ladies shop. it sold all 2nd hand clothing. We new that was not our deal . we don't sell things like that. my dad threw everything out . we only paid 350 dollars for the whole store. we turned around and opened a Army surplus store. The army store went out after there was a void in the market. i said to myself. we need a high fashion clothing store. Beale street was full of ethnic people. they wanted nice cloths. so we opened the store. there were lots of bands on Beale street and they wanted to look sharp. there was no body selling anything like that. so that's when we got into it.
Elvis was working at Lowes Theater. He was a usher there and he used to come down and stare in my windows at all the sharp clothing we had there on Beale street. I mean the windows were real sharp, way out windows. you know you would normally have to go to New York to see windows like that. Elvis would walk down while he was taking a break and put his nose up against my windows and look at the cloths. then he would go down to the church. he would listen to the Gospel singers that had down there. later he would be walking back up to go back to work. and always stop and look at my cloths again. he just loved the sharp cloths. i said to myself who is this white guy? i mean it was mostly ethnic people on Beale street then. So he walked back up to Lowes . then a little later here he comes again. so he kept on doing that. I wondered this guy is hot for something. so anyway i introduced my self. he told me he was Elvis Presley . I said that's fine. why don't you come on in and i will show you what i got! he looked around and said this stuff is fantastic. really far out stuff! Yes it is ! its right down your alley. so he left but came back the next day on a Friday.
he purchased a shirt for $3.95. Then the next Friday he came back in again and he bought another one. Then the next week he came in yelling Mr. Lansky . Mr. Lansky i got me a recording contract. I'm going to New York to be on the Tommy Dorsey show. I need my self some sharp duds. I sad that's no problem, so he looked at all my merchandise . He brought a bunch of cloths up to the counter. He said to me . Mr. Lansky i have a problem. I said what's the matter Elvis? He said i don't have any money on me right now. I said you do have a problem? he said if you let me have some cloths now , when i get rich i will buy you out. I said you don't have to buy me out Elvis . just buy from me. he said ok. so we took care of him with no problem. So he was appearing on the Hay ride. so i made sure he had all the cloths he needed. he came in a few weeks down the road and paid me up. so from then on Elvis was always my best customer. every time he needed cloths he needed Lanskys .
so I started just picking out cloths for Elvis. cloths i new he would like. sharp far out things.
Sir did you make your own cloths ? or did you buy from someone else?
No we made our own cloths. we went into cut make and trim work. we went into piece goods, you know different styles. different things that no body else had. Elvis wanted something different. we carried ethnic clothing and we carried special things for elvis. Elvis would be walking down the street after he got famous. people would ask? where do you get your cloths Elvis? He would say Lanskys!
all of a sudden all the white kids were coming in, they all wanted to look like Elvis!
i put Elvis in pink and black. i put him in front of a 3 way mirror. i then turned his collar up. i sad now that cool Elvis! I then made a duck tail on him. He sad don't touch my hair! don't mess my hair up. I said don't worry Elvis its going to look great on you. then everyone wanted to look just like that.
Did you ever design cloths with Elvis in mind?
Yeah . we made bolero coats and no pocket pants. short jackets with wild colors. they wanted something that was wild and different.
Did he stay with you right up through the 1970s? did he keep coming to you to purchase cloths?
oh yeah. he new that i knew what he wanted. we always tried to keep something special for him in the back when he was in Memphis.
Did you do anything special for him so he could come in and not be bothered by fans? Did you have to make special hours for him?
Elvis would come in 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning. we would be sure we were there for him so he could shop. Sometimes if they were driving around Memphis and had nothing to do, they would sometimes just show up in the daytime hours. But it would not take long , before the word got around that Elvis was there.
but many times i would have things picked out for him. some wild item that i new he would like. he would be the bell of the ball. MR. Lansky that sure is sharp. a few weeks later the kids would be in to buy the same thing.
did you ever go to Graceland?
oh yeah. Many times i would bring his cloths to Graceland. i would take it up stairs and lay it on his bed. We had a good relationship. The Presley's would ask me to stay for lunch , or if it was a hot day . They would offer me some ice tea or just something cold.
they were good people . They would ask me how my family was. we would shoot the breeze.
How was MRS. Presley?
She was a lady! if i all my son was dropping off his cloths she would offer me breakfast. mind you it was four o'clock in the afternoon. You see they were on Elvis time!( laughing)
I would say i am on my way home! My wife is making dinner for me. If i eat breakfast here and then go home! man i would get chewed out! she would say i can understand. But anytime you want to drop in with your family. We would love to see you!
she was a nice lady. The father. he was a dynamite guy. When ever Elvis was going out to do a gig. He would stop by. Elvis needs 3 suits . he got to have 3 suits. after a while he had allot of suits. i am sure he forgot what he even had.
Was there ever a time that while Elvis was in your shop, did he ever open up to you? Talk about things that were going on in his life?
i mean we would talk and i would jive with him. .i mean he was a good looking guy!
you couldn't ask for a better poster boy for your shop.
Don't i know it! kids would be out side waiting for Elvis to come. Many times they would buy something. Would Elvis wear this? Oh Yeah Elvis got one last week! (laughing)
In the beginning was he given a hard time by others because of the way he dressed?
oh sure. he dressed black. The white kids would give him a hard time. But those same boys would be back buying cloths to look like him when he was in the money.
When he picked his cloths he was in his own world. he loved to pick out new cloths. the more flashy the better.
Did he ever have an idea for a cloths item , that you then made for him?
Oh yeah . what ever he wanted. i mean you pop the whip , and i will make the trip! what ever he wanted . but money talk and bull shit walks!
Sir when did you find out that Elvis had passed a way?
My son and i were at the market in Dallas. This waitress came up and said. have you heard . have you heard? i said have i heard what? Elvis Presley died. I said oh your bull shitting. don't go saying something like that. that's not funny. no no he died. i said ok. I left but we did not believe it. I said we need to get home. Just then a highway patrolman walked in. So i asked him and he said that Elvis had passed. so we went straight back to the motel and packed, we flew home and went t Graceland. When i got there. wow i couldn't believe it.
Did you go to the funeral?
oh definitely. I helped take care of the people at the house. Made sure things got done. Made sure there was food there. i would go out to the store to get ice or Cokes. but because of the crowds. nothing was easy. it took forever to get to a store down the block. It was a terrible day for Memphis.
Did you ever get to see Elvis perform live?
oh sure . many times.
Did any of the other Sun Artists come in?
Oh sure they all did. and that was because of Elvis. Roy Orbison and Jerry Lee and many of the others got there threads from me. If they saw it on him. they wanted it too. Sam would stop in and shoot the breeze.
Well thank you very much Mr. Lansky
Your welcome Joe