Arts and Humanities
10:51 am
Tue February 12, 2013

Million Dollar Quartet, Plus One

The photo ran in the Memphis Press-Scimitar the day after Sam Phillips brought then-unknown Jerry Lee Lewis and his mad piano chops into his Sun Studios to fatten up Carl Perkins'  follow-up to his hit "Blue Suede Shoes." Johnny Cash, already a star with "Folsom Prison Blues" and "I Walk the Line," was a buddy of Perkins', hanging around the studio during the session. When former Sun artist Elvis Presley dropped in, an iconic moment was born. 

The impromptu jam session that followed was dubbed "The Million Dollar Quartet," thanks to the caption the newspaper ran. Plus one guest -- the caption continued:

"That lovely creature sitting on top of the piano is Marilyn Evans, who dances at the New Frontier in Las Vegas. She is Elvis' house guest thru Friday."

Evans, a dancer who accompanied Presley that evening, frequently ended up cropped out of the photos of the session. She wasn't one of Presley's well-known girlfriends, so as the photo proliferated, the composition shifted to focus on the musicians, and details about Evans faded, even though you can hear her voice on the recording, requesting a song.

Evans remained a mystery for decades until the Chicago Tribune, curious about the female character Dyanne, a fictional Elvis girlfriend added to the Broadway jukebox musical "Million Dollar Quartet," ran a story on the mystery woman, and Marilyn Knowles-Riehl (nee Evans) contacted the paper to tell her story.

 From "Elvis Mystery Solved!" (November 11, 2008), Trib writer Jason George reports: 

She came to a Las Vegas in its infancy, a relatively innocent place, where the dancers enjoyed good pay -- $135 a week -- sports cars and soirees with such headliners as Mickey Rooney and George Chakiris. "It was just very exciting: two shows a night, seven days a week," she said. "I was loving it."
Between shows, the dancers would gather in an employees-only coffee shop within the casino. It was there that Elvis walked in one night and sat at their table.

"Wow," Evans thought. "He's beautiful -- really, truly."

Within an hour, Elvis had slipped Evans a scrawled note on the back of a napkin. It read: "Can I have a date with you tomorrow night or before I leave?"

Marilyn became Dyanne for the musical "Million Dollar Quartet," based on the December 4, 1956 recording session, but it's nice to know the real Marilyn is out there, with fond memories of her time with Elvis. 

The touring production of "Million Dollar Quartet" opens tonight at the Kentucky Center's Whitney Hall and runs through Sunday. Ben Goddard, who plays Jerry Lee Lewis, will be in the WFPL studio on Thursday afternoon during Here and Now for a live interview.