Clockwise from top right, Elvis Presley, Bobby Darin, and Flip Wilson. (Google Images)
According to Kevin Cook’s “Flip: The Inside Story of TV’s First Black Superstar”, a biography of comedian Flip Wilson, Flip once found himself holding hands with singers Bobby Darin and Elvis Presley, backstage at the Las Vegas casino, the Sahara. With hands clasped, and heads bowed, Elvis led the men in prayer. It was definitely an interesting moment. But let’s backtrack for a moment to set the scene. From the book:
Flip had never played any of the Strip showrooms when he agreed to open for Bobby Darin at the Sahara in 1966. The showroom manager balked at the last minute, as much for Flip’s inexperience as for his skin tone. Then Darin, a finger-snapping hepcat from the Bronx who’d topped the singles charts with “Dream Lover” and “Mack the Knife,” made like Frank [Sinatra] by threatening to tear up his contract unless Flip got the job. He and Flip had gigged together in East Coast nightclubs. They shared a taste for cool jazz and potent pot. After the Sahara caved in to Darin’s demand, Flip would stick around after his own performance, waiting for Bobby to close their sold-out show with “Mack the Knife.” Then they’d go out for postmidnight meals or long, bleary bull sessions in Bobby’s penthouse suite…
One night he dragged Flip outside to watch a man on a double-length ladder change letters on the Sahara’s blazing marque. The sign featured Darin’s name in giant letters on top, with Flip’s name smaller below. “Watch this,” Darin said. The workman reached up and removed the F in Flip’s name. For a moment the Sahara offered a bill of BOBBY DARIN and LIP WILSON. Then the man replaced Flip’s F with a larger F. He switched letters one by one, each new letter larger than the one it replaced, until Flip’s name was nearly as big as Darin’s, the way Bobby wanted it. Flip was moving up in the world, making friends who could help him rise higher.
Flip and Bobby on an episode of “The Flip Wilson Show” in the early 1970’s.
So it’s pretty clear Bobby and Flip became good friends. They would hang out not just with each other, but also with other performers like Frank Sinatra and the whole Rat Pack. On one particular occasion, the celeb guest du jour was Elvis Presley.
On another night Flip and Darin were splitting a joint backstage when the Sahara’s night manager tapped at the door. He whispered to Bobby, who suppressed a laugh. “Sure, send him in!” The next thing Flip knew he was hugging Elvis Presley. Presley, a strapping six-footer with jet-black hair and muttonchop sideburns, smiled down at Flip and said, “You’re right about the devil.” Apparently, he took Reverend Leroy’s (the Rev was one of Flip’s many created characters for his performances) shopping-spree temptation as a moral lesson. Falling to his knees, he clasped hands with Flip and Darin and led them in prayer. “Get thee away, Satan.” Presley intoned as they tried not to laugh. After the prayer, they all hugged. Elvis thanked them and invited them to his show.
And a little post-script to the story:
That was the year Elvis married Priscilla Beaulieu at the Aladdin. Later that year Priscilla discovered that Elvis was having an affair with Ann-Margaret, his Swedish-American costar in Viva Las Vegas. As Priscilla recalled in her memoir Elvis and Me, she confronted him. “I picked up a flower vase and hurled it across the room, shattering it against the wall. ‘I hate her!’ I shouted. ‘Why doesn’t she keep her ass in Sweden where she belongs?'” Presley swore he was sorry. “The silence between the two of us continued until Elvis said, ‘Forgive me, please.’ Then, with that little-boy look that always seemed to capture my heart, he said, using Flip Wilson’s favorite line, ‘I guess the devil made me do it!”
Check out Flip as Rev. Leroy in “The Church of What’s Happening Now”:
Flip Wilson in “The Devil made me buy this dress”:
Find out about the short, talent-filled life of Bobby Darin:
And lastly, Elvis singinging “How Great Thou Art”: