HOW ELVIS GOT TRICKED BY THE AU SIGS
The mastermind spills the beans on how it worked
In a chapter leadership meeting in the winter of 1966, some of the brothers lamented to Social Chairman John Romain (AU 1968) that they couldn’t find anyone to come to Monday’s speakers’ dinner. That’s when John said, “how about Elvis?”
They all laughed. They figured they could never get Elvis to come to Alpha Upsilon.
“Why not us?” replied Romain. He had an idea up his sleeve.
Romain was a Trojan football player and one of his coaches arranged for him and other players to become a member of the Extras Guild where Hollywood filmmakers could gather up extras for movies.
On the set of “Easy Come, Easy Go” at Paramount Studios in October 1966, Romain was chatting it about USC football with some other members of Elvis’ “Memphis Mafia” – his buddies from home. They’d come to call him “SC.” When Elvis walked by, the guys said “Hey SC, come over here. Meet Elvis.” So, he did. And John remembers Elvis couldn’t have been nicer.
After the Sigma Chi dinner idea came up, Romain went to work. The Sigs conjured up a sort-of-fake new award called the Alpha Upsilon Youth Leadership Award and Elvis would be the first recipient. When he called the business office and was told he’d have to submit a formal letter of request, Romain figured his letter would get lost with mountains of fan mail. To his surprise, he got a call back from none other than Col. Tom Parker, Elvis’ infamous manager. Parker said he’d love to have Elvis meet the Sigs and receive the award. John says Parker told him “but we never do personal appearances, so you’ll have to come here.”
Romain thought it was worth throwing out the dinner idea and, instead asking a few other brothers to come with him to the studio to present the award to Elvis. Pat Larkin (AU 1969) and Bill Brown (AU 1969) told Romain they were in.
When they arrived at the studio, they were ushered into a cordoned off area where a long line of others were also waiting to meet with and have their photo taken with Elvis.
Elvis appeared looking like the superstar he was, dressed in short turtleneck sweater, dark double-breasted blazer and gray slacks. He greeted the Sigs kindly, held the two Sigma Chi Leadership plaques – one to keep and the other to mount at the chapter house – that read “the public figure who has set the highest standard for the nation’s youth to follow.” John was proud of conjuring an irresistible award.
Photos done, Elvis was on to the next visitor and the Sigs went home with one helluva story to tell. The photo session made the celebrity news across America.
John went on to a successful career as a leader in bringing advertising and sponsorships to rock and roll – something that had been resisted for decades. He even wrote a book about it. John moved from Malibu to Hawaii and is now semi-retired and running a bed and breakfast “Bamboo Inn on Hana Bay” that has earned news media coverage from the largest news outlets in America.
Half a century later, John and his wife were in Memphis and decided to take a tour of Graceland, Elvis’ famous home. To John’s surprise, there on the wall in Graceland amid gold and platinum records, and photos of famous people with Elvis, was the photo of Elvis standing with the AU Sigs presenting their leadership award.
The annual leadership award on the left presented to Elvis say "Alpha Upsilon of Sigma Chi Youth Leadership Award, to the public figure who has set the highest standard for the nation's youth to follow." Elvis' keepsake plaque on the right says "Alpha Upsilon of Sigma Chi, Youth Leadership Award, Elvis Presley, 1966."
Elvis Presley proudly holds his "Leadership Award" bestowed upon him by the Alpha Upsilon Sigma Chis in 1966. The mastermind behind this extraordinary feat was John Romain (AU 1968). John went on to revolutionize sponsorships and advertising in rock and roll.