An encounter with the King of Rock 'n' Roll

KENNEWICK -- Lynne Hartz was a reluctant guest of honor at a birthday party for The King on Thursday.

As her name was announced to the group of retirees, Hartz rose from her chair with a sigh. "I don't like bragging," the 65-year-old said. "This feels like -- I met Elvis, aren't I special?"

That's right -- she met the King of Rock 'n' Roll and has the photo to prove it. She just doesn't like to talk about it that much.

But the assembled crowd at The Manor at Canyon Lakes, a retirement community in Kennewick, clearly loved her story of how Elvis put his arm around her and let her dad snap a picture 50 years ago in Hawaii.

Judging by the shouts of approval, many of the octogenarians would have loved to have been in her place.

The crowd had gathered to celebrate what would have been Elvis Presley's 76th birthday this Saturday. The room was decorated with old Elvis records, memorabilia and pictures.

One showed a 15-year-old girl standing next to the handsome pop star, then 26.

Elvis was in the Aloha State to film Blue Hawaii, a musical movie made in 1961 about a young man returning to the islands whose father wants him to go to work for a fruit company.

The fruit company scenes were shot in Dole pineapple fields in Wahiawa, on Oahu's north shore. And the Dole employee assigned to the film shoot as a company liaison was Mike Ashman, Hartz's father.

Ashman decided his young daughter just had to meet the big star. He smuggled her onto the set after he had coached her to tell everyone she was the plantation owner's daughter. Ashman thought he would get in trouble for bringing his own child onto the set.

He asked Elvis' manager, the legendary "Colonel" Tom Parker, if the girl could pose for a quick picture with the star. "He told my father, 'Absolutely not,' " Hartz said.

That wasn't good enough for the proud dad.

It had been sprinkling rain, and the film crew had thrown a tarp over a car that was being used in the shoot. Elvis sat in the car under the tarp.

Then the rain clouds broke and shooting started back up. With Parker distracted by the commotion of the crew, Ashman asked Elvis if he would mind posing for a picture with Lynne.

Elvis didn't see why not.

"They took the cover off the car, and he's right there," Hartz said. "And I'm just standing there in awe."

Elvis got out of the car humming Hawaiian Wedding Song, one the tunes featured in the movie, Hartz said. He kept right on humming as he posed with the smitten girl.

"Yeah, it was amazing to have him put his arm around me," Hartz said. "I couldn't say a word."

Her friends thought it was amazing too. "My friends were so jealous," she said.

Ironically, Hartz wasn't a fan. She didn't really care for Elvis' records and her parents hadn't let the young girl watch his movies, which were full of sexual innuendo.

But they let her watch Blue Hawaii, and Hartz came to love Elvis movies. She still prefers the movie soundtracks over his numerous hit records.

Hartz eventually went to college in Hawaii, where a professor recommended she attend Washington State University in Pullman for her graduate studies.

She got her master's degree in environmental engineering at WSU, taught high school on Vashon Island and then became a research technician for WSU's Agricultural Weather Network in Prosser.

She retired from a successful career in November and looks forward to spending time with her husband.

"But my real claim to fame is that I met Elvis," she said, laughing.

* Jacques Von Lunen: 509-582-1402; jvonlunen@tricityherald.com