Of all the requests made each year to the National Archives for reproductions of photographs and documents, one item has been requested more than any other. It was neither the Bill of Rights or the Constitution of the United States, but the above photograph of Elvis Presley and Richard M. Nixon shaking hands on the occasion of Presley’s visit to the White House.
Although Richard Nixon abhorred modern art, and even forbade its presence in the White House, his advisors told him that publicly supporting the arts would boost his image. As a result, Nixon oversaw a six-fold increase in funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and the Public Broadcasting System (PBS). [To Nixon’s horror, these funds went to Erica Jong’s novel of sexual liberation, Fear of Flying.] Nixon was also known for his star-filled parties at his “Western White House” in San Clemente, California, and for his association with glamorous personalities like the Reagans and Frank Sinatra. However, it was not Nixon who initiated this meeting. On the morning of December 21, 1970, Elvis Presley paid a visit to the White House, with a six-page letter of introduction written by himself.
In the letter, he requested a meeting with the President and asked that he be made a “Federal Agent-at-Large” in the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. Presley also brought some gifts–a Colt 45 pistol and family photos. He was received at 12:30 pm, and received a thank-you note from the president, but the fictitious position of ‘Federal Agent-at-Large’ was not created for Presley, who himself would succumb to the influence of drugs less than seven years later.
You can see all memoranda and less famous pictures from the meeting here. Photos by White House photographer Oliver F. Atkins.