Miss Marie makes her grand entrance on Broadway (Astoria’s not Manhattan’s).
When she’s a block from the subway corner, she stops, adjusts her eyeglasses and starts crooning her anthem, “Where the Boys Are.”
The sweetheart song, from the award-winning 1960 teen rom-com of the same name, was sung in the film by the then-23-year-old Connie Francis.
In the six decades since, Miss Marie, who is 90, has made it her own.
Her son, Elvis impersonator Gregg Peters, is her greatest fan and most ardent promoter.
“She looks younger than I do,” he says as he listens, enthralled. “And her voice … Some of the greatest stars in the world, including Sinatra, have heard her sing.”
Miss Marie acknowledges his compliments with a slight nod, adding that “all my life, I’ve been singing constantly. I always wanted to be a singer.”
This prompts Elvis to remind her to mention that her repertoire also includes “At Last,” which was on Etta James’ 1960 debut album, and “When I Fall in Love,” which was a hit for Doris Day in 1952.
Miss Marie, who has long black hair, nails painted with purple-sparkle polish and a black and white checked suit jacket that is defined by flamboyant cherry-red buttons, and Elvis have been performing together for nearly a half century, racking up an astounding 7,000 shows.
“Before Gregg was born, I prayed that he would a singer,” says Miss Marie.
Elvis flashes her a grin.
Miss Marie, who was born in Manhattan, spent a brief stint in Brooklyn before moving to Astoria when she was 20.
She has lived in the same apartment building for the last 55 years.
She married Col. Gregory Lecakes, who was two years her junior; it was he who set out to make her a superstar.
“I worked in office jobs and made demo records for major labels until I had Gregg,” she says.
Gregg, she says, started his Elvis imitations before he was enrolled in kindergarten.
Elvis adds that he made his first record when he was 15.
She always knew, even long before he did, she tells him, that he was destined for fame.
When the colonel, who died in 1990, wasn’t promoting Miss Marie, he was making his living designing costumes and sets for major Hollywood films.
“He worked on all of Mel Brooks’ movies,” Elvis says. “All in all, it was over 40 films.”
He mentions The Yellow Rolls-Royce (1964), The Producers (1967) and Don’t Drink the Water (1969).
But Miss Marie, he adds, is far more than a singer. She’s also a songwriter.
She got so good at it that in the late 1970s, early in Gregg’s career as “The King,” she was asked to collaborate with none other than songwriter Otis Blackwell, whose string of Elvis hits included “Don’t’ Be Cruel,” “Return to Sender” and “Great Balls of Fire.”
Blackwell had written a series of songs that he hoped would crown Gregg as “The New Elvis.”
Gregg recorded the RCA album – eight of Miss Marie’s songs were on it – but, at the last minute, it was shelved so as not to anger Elvis.
Miss Marie, demure and dainty, wrote her first song, “Mirror, Mirror on the Wall,” when she was 40.
“It was inspired by my father,” she says, adding that she completed the lyrics in a couple of hours. “He was a very handsome man, and one day he remarked that he was looking in the mirror and saw that he was aging.”
As he has for the other 59 songs Miss Marie has written, Elvis composed the music.
“But I knew how I wanted it to go,” Miss Marie interjects. “He was the instrument for me.”
Together, they recite the lyrics:
“Mirror, mirror on the wall
Don’t you know it’s getting late for me
Mirror, mirror on the wall
Please have a little sympathy
Use your magic, make me dream.”
It was this song that Elvis offered to Engelbert Humperdinck.
“We were on the same bill in Westchester,” he says. “He listened to it but said it wasn’t for him. I had sung it on a worldwide TV show where I was introduced by Milton Berle.”
The song was, Miss Marie adds, her greatest success.
But, she’s quick to note, it’s won’t be her last.
Up until the pandemic, she was performing with Elvis three to five nights a week, and things are finally starting to swing for them again.
“I don’t feel like 90,” she says. “It’s just a number in my head.”
Elvis reminds her to talk about their latest project: a documentary about them.
It’s in post-production; Netflix, he says, is interested.
“I just love to sing and be with Gregg all my life,” Miss Marie says, gazing adoringly at her son.
Copyright 2021 by Nancy A. Ruhling