By Tom Graves
The distinguished gentleman you see in the photograph is Malcolm Fraser, the late former Prime Minister of Australia. He had a curious relationship with Memphis.
On Oct. 14, 1986, former P.M. Fraser awakened in a darkened room of the Admiral Benbow Inn on Union Ave., at that time a warren of prostitutes, thieves, pimps, and especially drug dealers. Lots of drug dealers.
Mr. Fraser did not know where he was, who he was, or why he was wearing no clothes.
Frantically trying to locate some clothing, he discovered there was none in his motel room, which looked a lot different from the much more posh suite he had reserved at the Peabody Hotel. So he grabbed the only thing he could find, a tiny Admiral Benbow towel. He raced to the lobby wearing nothing but the barely-covering towel screaming, completely out of his head, which was nothing exactly new at the Admiral Benbow.
So, the management picked up the phone, called the police, and P.M. Fraser had some explaining to do once he came down from the roofie that, obvious to anyone, had been slipped in his drink. He had been the featured guest speaker at the Memphis Economic Club the night before and decided he wanted to investigate this matter called The Blues down at that Beale Street place he had heard much about.
And so he did.
His curiosity satisfied, he walked back to the Peabody Hotel and was seduced by the lobby bar, which as everyone hereabouts knows is where the Mississippi Delta begins. He ordered a drink – I’m thinking a scotch on the rocks — and he was met by a very nice blonde lady who was easy on the eyes even if she did dress in the slightly vulgar Memphis fashion. He didn’t let on that he was the former Prime Minister and she didn’t let on that she was attracted to the $10,000 Rolex that he — for an Australian anyway — ostentatiously wore.
But hey, to the victor belongs the spoils. And the victor got the spoils. His Rolex, his money, his passport and I.D., and a tailored men’s suit. The whole kaboodle. And the P.M. had the hangover of his life.
In more ways than one. Once he got home, the Australian press and especially the tabloids had a feeding frenzy. “Malcolm Fraser picks up prostitute who steals his trousers” is the way it played out. He insisted he did NOT pick up the prostitute. The only thing he would say about our wonderful city is “I bloody well wish I’d never heard of Memphis.” His wife believed him, or so she told the press.
And I believe him. The “blonde” was in fact suspected to be the same Texas gal who rolled into Memphis with her eye on every Rolex that glistened in the Peabody Bar. And there was a rash of roofies and Rolexes that went down in Memphis town, if anyone remembers, for months after this main event.
Ever a dutiful reporter, I went up to the 10th floor of the infamous 201 Poplar Ave. to investigate the original police report for this historic interlude. The very nice young lady behind the bulletproof glass took an interest in my official request, but warned me that they “didn’t keep many records that old.” A few weeks later she called me back. “Mr. Graves, I’m sorry but we looked and we couldn’t find that record of the Prime Minister,” she said.
But here I am to tell you the story. And, surely, this is one to remember.
Tom Graves, a lifelong Memphian, is the author of eight books and is the owner and publisher of Devault Graves Books.