March 29, 2014
By Joe Holleman
Elvis Presley — described in a Post-Dispatch headline as a "Writhing, Side-burned, Guitar Strummer" — made Pat Vardell (left) and Kathy Orio's night, and maybe their year, on March 29, 1957. The two St. Louis teens were among the 11,000 screaming fans who packed Kiel Auditorium that night for Presley's concert. Elvis sang, but the squeals often drowned him out. Post-Dispatch file photo
It wasn’t even her idea to go.
But when Kathy Orio’s friend came up with tickets to Elvis Presley’s concert at Kiel Auditorium on March 29, 1957, Orio decided to go see the singer who was taking the nation by a storm it had never seen before.
And that’s how Orio and Pat Vardell, two freshmen at Roosevelt High School, ended up in a photo with the King of Rock ’n’ Roll — a photo that ran in the Post-Dispatch.
“I think Pat got the tickets. Her mom’s boyfriend was a captain or something with the St. Louis Police Department,” Orio said. “After the show, he asked if we wanted to go backstage and meet Elvis.”
Orio said Presley’s most appealing attribute was his good manners.
“Everyone was trying to get his attention, wanting him to sign things and take his picture, and he would say ‘yes, ma’am’ and ‘yes, sir’ to everyone,” Orio said. “No matter how crazy it got, he was unfailingly polite. I like that he didn’t at all act like a big shot.”
The photo, obviously, was a big hit at Roosevelt.
“People would bring it up to me all the time,” Orio said. “When the picture was taken, I happened to have my eyes closed, so all my friends would tease me. They’d say, ‘You’re in love with Elvis, your eyes are closed.’”
Now 72, she lives in Whittier, Calif.
Orio said Vardell, who got married and moved to Switzerland, died about five or six years ago.