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5.19.11: It Happened at the World's Fair

Space Needle History: Thursday at the Needle

Knute Berger, Writer-in-Residence

I was joined by a surprise visitor at the Space Needle's Sky City Restaurant today. I had a quick visit from retired Seattle Assistant Police Chief Roy Skagen who happened to be up the Needle for lunch. Skagen was part of the security crew when Elvis came to the Needle to film It Happened at the World's Fair in September, 1962.

Skagen, a Washington native, was then a rookie with about six months on the job when the word went out that MGM was hiring local cops to manage crowds during filming at the fair, and there were thousands of folks who crowded in to see the King. Skagen was one of about two dozen SPD officers who heeded the call, working day and night for 11 days of filming, and according to press accounts dealing with all manner of things, including rabid fans and fainting girls.

Skagen said most of the officers were older and expected Elvis to be "a Hollywood snob." But he was such a gentleman, calling everyone "sir" and being so appreciative of their service, that in a couple of days the boys in blue thought he was "absolutely fantastic, a wonderful guy." Skagen said, "Everybody adored Elvis." Elvis had an admiring eye too: he would often invite a pretty girl from the fair crowds to a party at his hotel that evening.

Skagen tossed the football back and forth with Elvis and a friend during downtimes on the set. He remembered being on the set when Elvis filmed the famous scene with his date (played by actress Joan O'Brien) in the Eye of the Needle restaurant. They had to time the filming to catch the view they wanted of the skyline and sunset outside the rotating restaurant, he said.

The Needle itself was used by Seattle Police during the fair for another reason. A "Space Patrolman" was assigned to the Needle top to be the "eyes and ears of World's Fair traffic control," according to the Seattle Times of June 12, 1962. The patrolman could report on traffic conditions and parking availability by two-way radio to enforcement officers down below. And fair visitors had to beware: they could even spot and report jaywalkers from that lofty perch. More mundane duty than hanging out with Elvis, but important work nonetheless.

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