“We got a phone call. We thought it was a practical joke... It's Vegas... Happens all the time. A week later, we got an email. Thought it was a joke. Didn't think anything of it. And then two days later, we get the certified mail. And that's when we were like, "Oh, boy, this is serious.", explains Kayla Collins who owns popular Elvis wedding spot, Little Chapel of Hearts, with her Elvis-impersonator and wedding officiant husband, Chad.
“I was unable to sleep. This is everything. This is my job. This is our family business, our livelihood. So without Elvis, we don't have a business” he adds.
The chapel took legal advice and showed the letter it received to the County Clerk before embarking on a publicity blitz with local media. It says ABG then reached out to apologize for causing alarm. Collins has since entered into a contractual agreement, which involves paying an annual “affordable” fee to be able to continue.
Authentic Brands Group tells Reuters in a statement:
“ABG is proud to be the guardian of the Elvis Presley legacy and is committed to protecting it for generations to come. We are sorry that recent communication with a small number of Las Vegas-based chapels caused confusion and concern. That was never our intention. We are working with the chapels to ensure that the usage of Elvis’ name, image and likeness are in keeping with his legacy.
Elvis is embedded into the fabric of Las Vegas, and we embrace and celebrate Elvis fandom. From tribute artists and impersonators to chapels and fan clubs, each and every one of these groups help to keep Elvis relevant for new generations of fans.”
“It's a love-hate kind of thing with it because I'm grateful that we're still able to. But at the same time, it's like, why do I have to pay to do what I do? Like, it's dumb”, Collins tells Reuters.
It’s a huge relief for the many freelance Elvis impersonators who make their living travelling around dressed as The King, visiting local chapels to offer their services to the thousands of couples who visit Vegas each year to get hitched.
“I'm not qualified for anything else, you know what I'm saying... This is all I do. So I’d have been out of a job and on the unemployment line if they'd followed through. But thank God they didn’t, man. They came to their senses” says Jesse Garon, who’s been officiating weddings armed with a jumpsuit, Cadillac and quiff for 36 years.
Like so many professions, Elvis impersonators, including Garon, have been struggling over the last few years. “2020 - the year before COVID- I did 650 weddings and then the year of COVID, I did eight. So you wanna talk about hurt, man.. Things are just starting to pick up now. But now we're facing the economy. It's like one punch after another man, between Graceland doing their little thing. We didn't need it. And then you got the economy that just tanked. God bless you if you own Bitcoin... And yeah, then COVID was before that. And then another COVID”, Garon tells Reuters as he applies makeup ahead of his first blessing of the day.
Las Vegas is known as the wedding capital of the world, seeing more than 150 marriages a day, according to figures provided by the city. It touts itself as having some of the most unique venues around which include drive-thru chapels in addition to those playing homage to Elvis.
The King’s links to Sin City are what attracts the fans say Nicolas Avila and Daniela Gonzalez who travelled from Santiago, Chile two years after their official wedding was dampened by the pandemic. They’ve decided to get theirs blessed with friends in Las Vegas:
“The King is the most famous singer in the world. Elvis IS Las Vegas” they told Reuters after their service.
It’s a sentiment echoed by a groom, Robert Taylor, who’s also at the chapel to get hitched:
“A lot of people want a cheesy experience and they think that a lot of times Elvis is a cheesy experience. But ever since he passed, Vegas has been doing Elvis weddings, you know? I think that's why they are the wedding capital of the world.”
The question of whether any lawsuit would be successful is much tougher to answer, says lawyer Jonathan Fountain, who specializes in intellectual property cases:
“The performance of an Elvis wedding, with an impersonator dressed up like Elvis performing a wedding.. there's probably a First Amendment fair use or parody defence to that. Also under the Nevada rights of publicity statute, it exempts impersonators from liability. So I believe that there's a pretty strong defence to simply the performance of an Elvis wedding. But that's different than, say, using the name ‘Elvis’ or ‘Elvis Presley’ on a website to advertise wedding services. There you're talking about using a trademark and I think ABGs got stronger claims there”, he tells Reuters, adding:
“The wedding chapels could argue something called ‘lashes’. They could argue that there has been no enforcement over several years. And at the same time, we've been making big investments in our businesses. It would be unfair to stop us now. That would be their argument.”
Some are expressing scepticism about the timing of the ban: all happening just weeks before a new Elvis biopic, directed by Baz Luhrmann and starring Austin Butler and Tom Hanks, hits movie theatres:
”I thought the whole timing of everything was because they wanted the publicity for the movie. And, you know, I called them out on it and they said, “No, that's not it”. And I go, "Well, your timing is kind of suck-ish", muses Collins who also reveals that she’s since been invited to the movie’s premiere in Las Vegas by ABG: “It’s kinda interesting because I was going to boycott the movie”, she laughs.
As for the impersonators, they’re just happy they can stay in the job they love:
“I could have been anything: a lawyer or aeroplane pilot, whatever. I chose Elvis. You deal with people on the happiest day of their lives. How could it go wrong? You know, they'll never forget you”, adds Garon.
“It's great. I got the best job in the world. I just don't wanna lose it.“
Published : June 22, 2022
By : Reuters