Allyson Adams, the daughter of Oscar-nominated actor Nick Adams, is a writer, educator, and activist, who fondly remembers her father. Best known for writing, directing, and starring in the docu-drama Peace Is a Woman’s Job (based on the life of Montana Congresswoman Jeannette Rankin), Ms. Adams released a book about her father’s friendship with Elvis Presley in 2012. In November 2009, three years before the book’s release, Ms. Adams spoke with Brett Homenick about her father and her book The Rebel and the King in the following interview.
Brett Homenick: As I understand it, you are working on a projecting involving your father, Nick Adams. Would you like to say a few words about what this project entails?
Allyson Adams: There are several, but most recently I uncovered a manuscript that my father wrote about his eight days in Memphis with Elvis Presley. In 1956, Elvis Presley returned home to Tupelo for his homecoming concert, and my father accompanied him. What I never knew is that my father actually opened Elvis’ concerts, doing impersonations of Humphrey Bogart, Jimmy Cagney, and all the great actors of that era. My father was a great impersonator and very funny.
Elvis was a rebel when he came on the scene. He was called a juvenile delinquent, and parents forbade their children to listen to his records. There was a lot of controversy around Elvis’ music. So my father, who had been friends with James Dean and had weathered a lot of criticism, wanted people to know the real Elvis, who in the beginning was literally the nicest guy in show business. And that’s how my father became friends with Elvis. He actually sought my father out because he had been friends with James Dean, who had just died. This was the heyday when they were all starting out and trying to make it, just like any other kid that comes to Hollywood with big dreams. The fact that they were both from small beginnings was their bond.
So what was interesting about finding this manuscript that I call “Eight Days in Memphis” is that I didn’t even know it existed.
BH: Just out of curiosity, how did you discover this manuscript?
AA: I have a box that I have been carting around with me of my father’s memorabilia: pictures, scrapbooks, everything that’s ever been written about him, and I call it The Daddy Box. And somehow, I don’t know where it came from, this manuscript surfaced! I’ve been carrying this stuff around for a long time, so it was as if somehow my father’s ghost placed it in my hands. I started reading it, and I was very inspired by it because Elvis was very spiritual and had a positive influence on my father. I found it very uplifting.
BH: Nick Adams, of course, is well-known to Godzilla fans for his work in the Toho monster films Monster Zero and Frankenstein Conquers the World. What do you think about these films? Have you seen them?
AA: Sure, of course. Monster Zero is one of my favorite movies. I love it every time I see my dad save the world. I just do. Frankenstein Conquers the World, too, that movie cracks me up. That Japanese Frankenstein is hilarious, so campy, but they’re classic and fun. They’re really fun.
BH: Do you have any other memories of Japan when your father was filming Monster Zero and Frankenstein Conquers the World?
AA: I loved Japan. I remember Mount Fuji. I remember going to Toho Studios and seeing the miniature town and Mount Fuji out the window in the background. All those miniatures fascinated me and how they made sci-fi movies back then. Everybody was always so nice and polite. I thought that was really cool.
We stayed at the Hilton Hotel in Tokyo, and the owner was a sumo wrestler, and I remember the koi and the carp in the ponds in the hotel, the women with the obis and the kimonos — I loved that — the housekeepers were so dear and so sweet and used to show my brother and I how to make origami. When we left, the maids presented us with this beautiful box full of what must have been a thousand little origami of every color. It was one of the saddest things that we couldn’t take it with us on the plane. I hated that we had to leave it behind.
I also remember the Buddhist temples and how people wore masks around their face if they had a cold. I also remember that the women carried their babies on their backs. So when in Rome… I tied my little baby Tiny Tears doll to my back and started carrying my baby on my back. So I got right into the culture at five years old. Also, the song “Sakura,” which is the cherry blossom song from Japan, has stayed with me. I have these beautiful Japanese postcards that my father wrote and never sent to me. They were with my grandmother’s things when she died, so I received them much later in life. They are very special to me.
BH: Do you have any memories of the cast and crew of these films?
AA: I remember how much my father liked everybody and how nice everyone was. He got along with everyone, and he always seemed happy when he was working.
BH: Is there anything else that sticks out in your mind about those experiences?
AA: After my father lost the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1964 for the movie Twilight of Honor, he couldn’t get arrested in Hollywood. Nobody would hire him; he couldn’t get a job. He was forced to take these jobs in Japan, something he said he would never do. Basically, while he was making these Japanese Godzilla movies, he was having a nervous breakdown. The irony is that these science fiction B-movies ended up becoming cult classics, and he has this great fan base of science fiction buffs that he never knew about. So when I see him saving the world on screen, I think of a man that was internally crumbling. But he always put on a good show because he was a good actor and very professional.
One of my fondest memories was at the Hilton in Tokyo, and we were in the elevator about to go up, and the elevator door started to close before some people could get in. So my father took the elevator doors between his bare hands and did this Incredible Hulk maneuver and forced the doors open! He was even trying to play the action hero in real life.
BH: Personality-wise, what can you recall about your father? For instance, do you remember his favorite foods, favorite movies, that sort of a thing?
AA: We went to the movie Born Free together when I was a little girl, and afterward he would play the soundtrack all the time. That movie had a tremendous influence on me because my current script is about saving the wolves in Montana. He used to play movie soundtracks all the time, very, very loud. While I was writing the screenplay, I would play Born Free just like he did.
Also, when my father had temporary custody of us, my brother and I went to the black Baptist church in Watts with our housekeeper. We were the only two little white kids in the whole place, and I loved the gospel music. My father had loved gospel music since Elvis introduced him to Mahalia Jackson’s music in 1956. So my father was into gospel music, movie soundtracks, and Aaron Copland.
BH: What is your favorite Nick Adams film out of them all?
AA: He did this movie called The Interns where he plays a young surgeon — before ER! Before Grey’s Anatomy! His part was very moving and different from his other roles. No Time for Sergeants is definitely one of my favorites! He was great in that, almost unrecognizable. Someone told me that even Steven Spielberg loves that movie. My dad was ahead of his time, even in the Saints and Sinners series where he plays the reporter in the long trench coat, before Columbo. And if you watch those shows, they were really good. I love The Rebel, of course. That was his claim to fame and masterpiece of his career. Few songs have lived on like Johnny Cash’s “Johnny Yuma.” A total classic. And I really do love Monster Zero. And then he did an Outer Limits that is creepy, really scary. He was in over thirty movies, not to mention all the television episodes. Not bad for a short 15-year career.
BH: Do you think that anybody has any misconceptions about your father?
AA: Yeah, I definitely do. I don’t think my father has gotten a fair shake. He has been maligned in the press, and there’s a lot of jealousy around his friendships with James Dean and Elvis Presley. I think that there’s a misconception that he exploited or used his friendships with them. It was no secret that he wrote for magazines or that he wanted to be a movie star. Everybody needed and wanted publicity in those days. Nothing’s changed. They were all hungry and playing the Hollywood game. My dad wasn’t any different.
I’m proud of his work. He was a great self-promoter. My mom said he must have been P.T. Barnum in another life. My dad wanted to be famous, and he worked like an ox on bennies. He would travel anywhere and everywhere to meet and talk to his fans. That was his life and love, to the point that he lost himself.
Essentially that’s what killed him, along with his drug problem. It was a rollercoaster ride with an unhappy ending. It’s a very tragic tale, really. Yet so many people still remember and love him.
He had big dreams, he came from nothing, and he did more in Hollywood than most people ever will. Not everybody is meant to reach the top and stay there. Some people are shooting stars. He had his brief moment like a comet, and then he was gone.
We’re still talking about him and, most importantly, spelling his name right.
Allyson Adams’ book The Rebel and the King is now available and can be purchased at amazon.com by following this link.