I looked up one day and saw this young man looking at the displays in the window of our store on Beale Street in Memphis.
I had seen him before. I knew enough about him to know he worked as an usher at Loews State theater on Main Street, just around the corner. I didn't know his name.
But, I get ahead of the story of how Lansky's became known as Clothier to the King.
Actually, as my brother and I started out just after coming home from the Army in World War Two, we sold military surplus goods. The war was over. People were looking for inexpensive clothes. They would come into our shop and drop down fifty cents and walk out of there with a cap or something. For a dollar ninety-fuve, they could get a fatigue shirt or fatigue pants. All of this is a far cry from the reputation we were to build within the next decade on Beale.
When the surplus era began phasing out, we switched to high-fashion menswear and all the merchants up and down Beale , and around the corner on Main Street, were looking at us with raised eyebrows.
High fashion? On Beale? Are you crazy or something?
But we had seen a void in the Memphis market Practically everyone was selling the same plain old things everyone else was selling. No one was selling really high fashion clothes. I mean, we carried nothing but the finest. That's what the kids of the late forties, early fifties wanted. And we gave it to them.
Now, back to that young man eyeballing the haberdashery in our window.
I walked outside to greet him and told him,"Come on in and let me show you around."
He said, "I don't have any money. But when I get rich, I'm going to buy you out."
I had no idea what his name was, but I told him, "Do me a favor, will you? Just buy from me. I don't want you buying me out."
And that's how Elvis Presley began shopping at Lansky's and via our connection with Elvis and a flood of other well-known artists, that's how we earned the reputation of Clothier to the King.
Elvis started out buying things in a pink and black combination. After his early records on the Sun label began making him a local hero, all the kids were swarming down to Lansky's on Beale because they wanted pink and black, just like Elvis wore.
We had everything they wanted. Black pants with pink shirts with big high collars; the row collars with big sleeve;with three button sleeves; and with big sleeve cuffs. Something different. They were looking for something different, and we gave it to them.
We knew what this young man should be wearing when he went on stage, on television, things like that. We knew he should be wearing something different from what other entertainers were wearing. So we started him out with big shirts, peg pants, half-boots of patent leather. He would also come into the store and buy fly clothes. This was with rolled up collars.
He would watch TV and see those gangsters wearing those big hats - we called them Dobbs hats. I think I sold them for twenty-five, thirty dollars. They would cost a hundred and a half today. Elvis would call and say, "Mr Lansky send me over a half-dozen of them hats. And send some over for the other guys, too." So everybody in the group - they later became known as the Memphis Mafia - got a hat.
Elvis was a dynamite young man. What he did for us ...well, he was a great public relations man for us. Anybody asking him where he got his clothes, he would answer, "I got them from Lansky's on Beale."
Once he hit it really big, he came in more often and, no, he never bought me out. Every time he dropped by he wanted something different. We outfitted him for his appearances on the Louisiana Hayride. We outfitted him for the Ed Sullivan and Dorsey Brothers shows on TV. Knowing he was going on the Sullivan show, I sold him a coat with a velour collar. That was a real shock, that and his pegged pants and patent leather half-boots.
And despite how tremendously big he became - you know RCA/BMG has named him Artist of the Century - he was the nicest guy you would ever want to meet.
It was always "Yes, sir, Mister Lansky."
And I would tell him, "Mister Lansky is my father. I'm Bernard."
And he would reply, "Yes, sir, Mister Lansky"
And that never changed.
And when he came in on a shopping spree, if you happened to be in the store when he was there and you wanted something you liked, he'd buy it. He didn't care who it was or what it was . He bought it for them.
We sold to quite a few well-known entertainers: B.B.King, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Rufus Thomas, Bobby Blue Bland, Charlie Rich.
For years Rufus would go on stage and show off his clothes and say "Ain't I clean? Lansky's." Rufus introduced Walking the Dog and Do the Funky Chicken to the world.
When we went to markets, we were always on the lookout for something different for Elvis, because Elvis would put them on and walk out on the streets and he was going to be our advertising, our billboard.
People would ask, "Elvis, where are you buying your clothes?" And he would say"Lansky's." We did a lot of mail order sales because of him. He was a real sharp dresser. Real neat. His clothes looked great on him. He was clean as Ajax. I mean, really nice. We would get new merchandise in and we would load it into a truck and I would have my son drive it out to Graceland for Elvis to look at. When the truck came back, it was empty. Elvis had taken all of it.
I still remember his size. At that time it was a 42 coat with 32 waist, a size 10 1/2 boot. He wore a medium shirt - 15 1/2 by 34 shirt.
We knew what Elvis concerts were like , filled with screaming women. When he first started throwing scarves into the audience, those were scarves we got for Elvis.
When Elvis came into the shop, I would treat him like a baby. Put clothes on him. Stand him in front of a mirror. Marked his clothes (for alterations). And I would say "Elvis, this is what you want, right here. This is what I've got for you." And he would start laughing, and then buy it.
He walked into the store one day and said,"Come look what I've got." Outside, he showed me a German Messerschmidt car, saying it had been given to him by RCA Victor, his record label then.
I said, "Elvis that's a nice one. When you get tired of it, I want it. That's mine."
He laughed. And thirty days later he gave me the car. I still have it.
And I still have all those wonderful memories of when Elvis was a Number One customer and a Number One walking billboard for Lansky's, which soon became known as the Clothier to the King.