Deception and lies, whatever the intent, are destructive and cruel. I’ve emphasized to my children, ad nauseam, character, character, character. You may have money, possessions, knowledge, and prestige, all the trappings the world defines as success, but without honesty and integrity, you have nothing. Character is who you are when no one is looking. The person who looks back at you in the mirror each morning is the one you spend your life with. When that reflection’s reputation is eroded, regaining trust and respect is a lifelong uphill battle.
This is the story of James Caughley “Hamburger James”, a man who worked for Elvis in a lesser Memphis Mafia role. He was a designated go-fer, sort of a fringe member. Nonetheless, he had a job to do and like the rest of the entourage, Elvis trusted him.
He is forever known for his deceit. The tale is, while in Las Vegas, 1974, James took some things from Elvis, money, photos, jewelry. When Elvis realized these things were missing, he and the guys also noticed Hamburger James was missing. The story goes, Elvis and his men found James at the airport on a plane about to depart for Memphis. They literally dragged him off the aircraft and transported him back to the hotel where a very enraged Elvis confronted him, striking him and exploding because he had been betrayed.
James confessed and offered to return the items, weeping because of his intense shame and guilt, knowing he had hurt Elvis deeply. He’d caused an undeserved open wound because of a misplaced trust gone awry, a purposeful hurt that couldn’t be forgiven. As James sobbed, the guys were certain Elvis was ready to murder him, that’s how angry he was.
The story is told, “suddenly Elvis’ demeanor changed. Elvis looked at him for a minute and then he broke down and started crying too. He just sobbed and sobbed. He went down on his knees in front of Hamburger James and said he was sorry. He kept saying to him, “Why didn’t you let me know if you needed money? Why didn’t you let me know if you wanted to go back to Memphis? I would have given you money. You didn’t have to steal from me.” They cried and cried like that for a long time, and Elvis kept telling Hamburger James that he didn’t have to leave, that he could keep his job and everything. But Hamburger James wanted to go, so Elvis gave him a few weeks’ salary and somebody took him back to the airport.” Caughley died in 2016 and this is his legacy.
Elvis wanted to be a tough guy, but it wasn’t in him. He was soft hearted and always seemed to care. His hurt was far deeper than his anger. I see it as a tragic and sad story, for Elvis of course, but also for James Caughley. He is forever known for his thievery and poor moral character. His reputation was gone, never to be restored.
Elvis was generous to a fault, that’s well known. He expected those around him to be worthy of the confidence he placed in them. It seems like such a simple and easy request, a two way street where everyone would benefit.
Thievery doesn’t always have to involve physical possessions. When someone lies, deceives and knowingly hurts another with their actions, they take a portion of the offended’s trust and faith that they are not entitled to. They rob them of confidence in their fellow man, something often difficult to ever fully recapture. The injured becomes a little more jaded and wary, more cautious and hyper attentive, and rightly so. Once bitten twice shy.
While “Steadfast, Loyal and True” is a Leiber and Stoller song from 1958’s King Creole, it is more than a soundtrack tune. It’s an expected way of behavior, of decent moral character, and an ability to trust that Presley expected from those in his employ. Sadly, he was let down – repeatedly.
Numerous trusted friends disappointed him. Multiple women in his life failed to fulfill his expectations. It seems it was a scenario repeated many times over. Much of it boils down to a simple term – character – who you are when no one is looking.
While our man had his own flaws and faults, I can’t think of a single situation of disloyalty being involved. Perhaps that was part of the issue. Those around him knew his character was such that he valued others appropriately, fairly and honestly. There is nothing worse than a liar and a thief. Presley knew what it was like to be unfairly hurt.
While some point to various MM members as the Judas Iscariots of the group, those having to live with themselves, especially after the death of Elvis, seeing the ugly reflection of betrayal staring back at them every single day must have been an awful cross to bear. Knowing they contributed to the heartache of a man who didn’t deserve such ill treatment was an untreatable condition, no matter what other worldly successes they achieved. Their reputation is forever tarnished, the same as Hamburger James.
Sadly, there are far too many Hamburger James’ in this world and just as tragic, no one is immune to being critically hurt. Man or woman, young or old, near or far, commoner or King, we all bleed when we’re cut.