Why Carolyn Jones did not want to kiss Elvis Presley

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By Ray Bennett

LONDON – When I interviewed Carolyn Jones, who would have turned 85 today, she told me she had been sick but she did not tell me she was dying. Famous as Morticia in the 1960s TV series “The Addams Family”, Jones also was the only woman who, when she had the chance to, did not want to kiss Elvis Presley.

I interviewed her in late 1982 and she described a terrifying incident on a recent plane trip. She said, “It was like something from a horror movie where you see the knife go in and bright red blood spurts out.” It was on a night flight from Dallas to Los Angeles one year earlier and Jones told her then fiancé, Canadian actor Peter Bailey-Britton, “Honey, I don’t feel too well. I think I’m gonna go to the bathroom.”

She made it just inside the door: “Suddenly, the whole wall in back of that little john was bright red. I spent the rest of the flight throwing up blood. I was so scared, I didn’t know what the hell was going on. They rolled me out of the airport and into the hospital and took out most of my stomach.”

Jones told me the cause had been bleeding ulcers but the truth was that she had been diagnosed with colon cancer. She had more surgery when she was working on her last TV series, “Capitol”, in the week she married Bailey-Britton.

Actress Carolyn JonesNicholas Walker, who played her congressman stepson in the saga of feuding political families, told me: “The pluck and courage that lady has is amazing. That week was hell for her. They cut her open on the Monday and she was back on set on Friday and Saturday. On Sunday, she was standing at the altar.”

Jones first caught my eye as a young existentialist in Delbert Mann’s 1957 drama “The Bachelor Party”. The great Paddy Chayefsky wrote the screenplay but Jones told me at first she could not relate to the role. Jones said: ‘In the original script, my character said things like ‘My martini has no olive; my scotch no rocks’. I told Paddy I didn’t know what that meant.” Chayefsky said that surely she knew young women like that in Greenwich Village but Jones explained that she was from Amarillo, Texas, and she’d never been to New York. She didn’t know how to play the role and he’d better replace her.

Instead, the writer changed her dialogue and gave her one of the movie’s great lines. Jones said, “It was wonderful. When I got to that line, ‘Just say you love me, you don’t have to mean it’, I said, ‘Ah. That girl I understand. That girl I can play.” She was intense, offbeat and funny and she won an Academy Award nomination.

Plagued with asthma as she grew up, Jones was prone to sickness and lost a star-making role in “From Here to Eternity” in 1953 when she was diagnosed with pneumonia and was forced to pull out. Daniel Taradash had written the role of Alma “Lorene” Burke for her and Donna Reed, who replaced her, went on to win the Oscar as best supporting actress.

carolyn jones elvis 1 x325Jones had gone into movies after she studied at the Pasadena Playhouse and had small roles in Fritz Lang’s “The Big Heat” (1953), Billy Wilder’s “The Seven Year Itch” (1955”, Don Siegel’s “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (1956) and Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Man Who Knew Too Much” (1956).

In 1958, she starred with Elvis Presley in “King Creole”, the last film the king of rock ’n’ roll made before he joined the army. It was set in New Orleans and the last few scenes were shot at Lake Pontchartrain. Jones was running a temperature of 103 and she told me: “It was good that I was supposed to be dying in the film because I felt like I was and I think I looked like it, too.” She asked Elvis, “Isn’t there some way you can get around kissing me because I’m so germy that I’m gonna kill you. He said, ‘That’s all right; maybe it’ll get me out of the army’, and he necked away like crazy. He went off to the army and I took to my bed for two weeks.”

Jones played opposite Frank Sinatra in Frank Capra’s “A Hole in the Head” (1959), Kirk Douglas and Anthony Quinn in John Sturges’s “Last Train from Gun Hill” (1959), Dean Martin in Joseph Anthony’s “Career” (1959), Richard Burton in Vincent Sherman’s “Ice Palace” (1960), and Robert Wagner in Irving Brecher’s “Sail a Crooked Ship” (1961), and she had a prominent role as George Peppard’s wife in the epic 1962 western, “How the West Was Won”.

She did a lot of TV but her most enduring role was as Morticia opposite John Astin as Gomez in “The Addams Family” (1964-66). Based on the Charles Addams cartoon strip, it combined outrageous comedy with some penetrating comment on the times. It also was remarkable for the time in that it demonstrated explicit sexual attraction between a husband and wife. Whenever Morticia spoke French, Gomez would lose control and kiss her arm from wrist to shoulder.

They made 66 episodes of “The Addams Family” and it had a successful 33% share when it was cancelled by a house-cleaning new ABC president. Jones told me she owned a bit of the series and it continued to bring in revenue: “I loved that show. I was sorry to see it go. Morticia was the perfect role for me because my sense of humour is just slightly off-centre.”

She died young but she said she had always loved her work and it was her child, her baby: “I didn’t have kids and I need this. I need to work. When I work, I feel better. When I work, I can do anything. When I’m not workiing, I’m facrumpsing around like an old biddy, snarling at everything. This, I like. I understand it. It’s my life. As they say on those T-shirts: showbiz is my life.”

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8 Responses to Why Carolyn Jones did not want to kiss Elvis Presley

  1. Tony Mattiaccio says:

    I have a booklet of photographs and script, “Elvis and Carolyn,” where they are together in candid scenes during the filming of the dramatic film, “King Creole.” In the booklet Carolyn is interviewed and asked the question “what was it like working with Elvis Presley”? She replied, “Oh, he was so young and innocent, and a dream to work with. He really placed himself into the role of Danny Fisher and was sensitive enough to convey the drama and nuances of his character.
    We spent lots of time together inbetween scenes and off-camera too, and I so enjoyed being with him and how respectful and inquisitive he was about becoming a fine actor. You couldn’t help but feel his honesty and great talent. In fact we’d sit at the piano and sing ballads from the old days, and of course we sang “As Long As I Have You,” which in the movie was my theme song [“Ronnie’s Theme”]. He’d sing harmony with that beautiful baritone of his. He also played the piano quite well.
    Years later I met Elvis, accidently, in Hollywood where I was living. He was riding in a limousine and I was out walking my dog. He spotted me and pulled over. We went over to my home and sat out front talking about old times and his love for “King Creole.” After a while he grew meloncholy and confided in me, “Carolyn, I’ve lost my way home.” It was heartbreaking as he had grown weary and disillusioned with what movies they legally forced him to make over the years.
    We spoke awhile longer as his fondness for director Michael Curtiz [“Casablanca,” and “King Creole’] became more apparent. Curtiz believed Elvis was destined to become a great actor, but the Hollywood moguls had other plans in mind after he made “Flaming Star,” another excellent film of his. I’ll always remember Elvis with fondness and sentiment.” – Carolyn Jones (who played the prostitute, Ronnie, in their film together.

  2. Annah Laux says:

    Thank you Ray Bennett and Tony Mattiaccio for sharing this with us. I couldn’t help but cry as I read what Carolyn said about Elvis Presley and their intimate conversation. She was truly a remarkable lady, courageous, honest, talented and rare…we are blessed to have the ability to see her performances in film and television to this day!

  3. Jerry Mezerow says:

    This article is confusing. In the Elvis book by David Stanley, Elvis listed his least favorite actress’s to work with were Carolyn Jones and Mary Tyler Moore. I guess that many different articles are written on these subjects.

  4. Bryan Wallin says:

    Miss Carolyn,
    I grew up loving you as Morticia and always wanted to meet you. You are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. You ice blue eyes and heart shaped face are forever in my memory. You left us way too soon. Cancer is a horrid beast and has taken my family members too. Thank you for all your unforgettable roles and for sharing your phenomenal acting talents. So long for now. I know you are where I will follow.

  5. Denny Penny says:

    Sorry Mr Jones passed away at such an early age,but the body is only ours for a certain time out here after is for ever.god bless

  6. P L says:

    Elvis was a very smart man. How in the world would he ever turn down the opportunity to make out with such a gorgeous woman? It was surely worth the risk of getting sick.

  7. Bill Baker says:

    Yes..

    You know, I have seen that lady is so many westerns, I did not even realize she was Morticia of the Addams Family, a show which I loved as a kid. I mean that lady was even in Dick Powell’s “Zane Grey Theater”, an episode where she fell in love with a bad man who was killed, even though she was married to the sheriff. He KILLED her husband the sheriff!

    I remember that lady from a LOT of film and movies. I did not know she had be deceased for such a long time. I think as I got older, I just quit paying attention to the old stars of the 50’s and 60’s. I kind of laid off television when I was in my work careers. That spanned over 40 years. Now I am retired and I am seeing all these movies and films I saw as a kid………God..I wish I could go back to those days and be a kid again.

  8. Alan Mackay says:

    lovely article about a lovely real strong lady. thank you.

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