Paul Kopsick was trying to slip the Elvis Presley record back into its cardboard sleeve, but the LP just wouldn’t go. Paul had bought the record — Elvis’s first album, released in March 1956 — at an estate sale in Falls Church, Va., in 2015. He peered into the sleeve and saw that something was getting in the way. He reached in and pulled out a letter, neatly folded in half but torn and fraying at the edges.
The first mention of Elvis Presley in The Washington Post was on Dec. 23, 1955. Syndicated entertainment columnist Dorothy Kilgallen had a brief blurb about “a 19-year-old country and Western warbler from Nashville, Tenn. (so help us), named Elvis Presley.”
Kilgallen marveled that RCA Victor had given Presley $40,000 in cash and a brand-new convertible to sign a recording contract. So help us.
Over the next year, the singer’s name appeared more frequently. “Like him or not,” wrote Post music columnist Eddie Gallaher in June 1956, Presley “is the major new record fad to come along this year.”
Many people didn’t like Presley. “He mangles songs; his voice is flat; and his face is the epitome of pouting imbecility,” wrote a Post reader.
A teenager shot back that adults weren’t supposed to like teenage music anyway. “Is it just that you have not found another way to criticize young people?” wrote the teenager.
Paul unfolded the letter. Typed on Washington Post and Times Herald letterhead, and dated Jan. 25, 1957, it read:
“I, B. Arline Oakley, the undersigned, being of nearly sound mind and very sound body, do hereby agree not to play the record known as ‘Elvis Presley’ in the presence of George E. Minot Jr. without his express approval. If I violate this agreement, the aforementioned Minot has my permission to break said record over my head.”
Written in pencil at the bottom were the initials “BAO.” And underneath that, also in pencil: “To Pat & Shirley — What have I done!! —GM.”
In 1957, Billie Arline Oakley was working at The Washington Post and Times Herald, as The Post was called then after absorbing a failing paper. She’d lived lots of places as a girl — Puerto Rico, Guam, Hawaii, New Jersey — and had studied journalism at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth.
Arline wanted to be like Brenda Starr, the reporter in the comics, but she suspected she didn’t have what it took — the “strength,” she called it. She did some cub reporting, but her job was answering phones on the city desk.
Sometimes Arline would be sent on what were called “picture runs,” picking up photos from the news agencies around town and dropping them off at The Post’s picture desk. That’s where she met George Minot Jr., who wrote captions and who dreamed of being a great journalist, like his father, who was managing editor of the Boston Herald.
Before too long, George asked Arline out. On their very first date, they joked that they should go to Ellicott City, Md., and elope. They didn’t, but George would often hang out at the Foggy Bottom apartment Arline shared with her roommates, Pat and Shirley.
George was always joking, so he decided to tease Arline with the Elvis Presley record he’d bought for her, typing up a silly release and making her sign it. But look at the wording: “and very sound body.” You could see where this was going.
B. Arline Oakley and George E. Minot Jr. were married on May 25, 1957, at Little Falls United Presbyterian Church. They moved into a house in Falls Church. Arline stayed home to raise a family: a boy and a girl. George became a sportswriter. For years he covered the Washington Senators for The Post. When that team moved away — twice! — he covered the Baltimore Orioles.
George retired from The Post in 1984, after 34 years at the paper. He and Arline doted on their grandchildren. When George’s health got poor, the couple moved to Iowa to be near their son. George died there on March 16, 2015. He was 87.
What they didn’t take with them to Iowa was sold at an estate sale. Paul Kopsick bought the Elvis Presley album and, intrigued by the note inside, wrote to a Washington Post columnist about it.
“Oh, I haven’t thought about that in a long time,” Arline Minot, 83, said over the phone.
“He’d always tease me about everything,” she said of George, her husband of 57 years. “I’d tease him back. He passed away a year and half ago. I guess I’ll never get over it.”
Arline remembered the Elvis Presley album. “That had ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ on it,” she said.
“Time really goes by fast,” she said. “I’m supposed to be an old lady now but I don’t feel like one.”
Sometimes she feels like a 23-year-old young woman with a new record from her boyfriend.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.