California woman honors The King with 'house of Elvis'
Robin Rosaaen stands in front of her apartment in suburban San Jose, Calif. "Prepare to enter the house of Elvis,” she says as she ushers her visitors through the front door.
The hallway, like every other room in her home, is stacked from floor to ceiling with Elvis collectibles of every kind—an estimated 40,000 records, books, playing cards, posters, figurines, license plates, key chains, magazines and other items, plus some 80,000 rare photos.
"I know it's out of hand,” says Rosaaen with a smile, moving sideways through a narrow corridor between neatly arranged piles into the living room. "But when I see something I need to fill in the collection, I go for it.”
Rosaaen's collection of Presley memorabilia boasts unique treasures from every era of The King's life from 1956 until his death in 1977.
Elvis authority Cory Cooper, a frequent source for books and radio shows about Presley and his music, says Rosaaen has "probably one of the top five private Elvis collections” in the world.
Rosaaen, 59, is happy to show off unlikely treasures like her 4-foot-high fiberglass Elvis Mardi Gras head; Presley's complete dental records; the neatly framed divorce decree ending his marriage to Priscilla; the sweatshirt his co-star Joan Blackman wore in the movie Kid Galahad; and dozens of objects from 1956, the pivotal year Presley broke through from obscurity to fan-frenzy, no-going-back stardom.
"1956 wasn't just a banner year for Elvis, it was the year,” says San Francisco Chronicle pop music critic Joel Selvin. "Eight network TV appearances, his first No.1 record, something like 3 million records sold. In January, he was a complete unknown; by December, he was the best-known name in show business.”
Many of Rosaaen's Elvis treasures were acquired when she worked at the online auction site eBay.com in the 1990s and directed her Elvis passion into managing the website's special section of Presley collectibles.
"I'd already written a book called All The King's Things: The Ultimate Elvis Memorabilia Book,” she says. "It's a guide for collectors arranged according to theme—movies, the '50s, the '60s. I went on talk shows like Geraldo, Oprah and Joan Rivers' Can We Shop? to promote it, so I had the expertise to deal with all things Elvis.”
Rosaaen grew eBay's "King's Things” site to a staggering 5,000 online pages, but got laid off in 2001 when the company restructured. She's since made her living buying and selling Elvis memorabilia among the worldwide network of collectors she developed during her years at eBay.
Her journey to Elvis collector extraordinaire began as a young woman when she saw Presley on his famous 1968 televised "comeback” special. Electrified, she drove to Las Vegas to see him in person. "I saw him 72 more times before he died,” she says, "usually in Las Vegas from seats down in front.”
Presley became accustomed to seeing Rosaaen just beyond the stage footlights. In 1974, during a performance, he leaned over and put one of his scarves around Rosaaen's neck. "He kissed me and called me Rockin' Robin,” she says. "It's been my nickname ever since.”
She had reservations to see Elvis in 1977 in Las Vegas, but the concert never happened due to Presley's death on Aug. 16 of that year.
Some day Rosaaen would like to open a gallery to display her items. Meanwhile, she's busy adding to her collection, brokering sales of Elvis memorabilia for other collectors, and licensing photos to publishers, documentary filmmakers and programs such as the E! Channel's Last Days Of Elvis.
"I've been making a living off of my collection for years now,” she says. "I feel like Elvis is looking after me.”