Mississippi Writers and Musicians
MISSISSIPPI WRITERS: Ellis Nassour


Ellis NassourEllis Nassour, Studio portrait by Martha Swope

Major Works

 Books:

    • Honky Tonk Angel, The Intimate Story Of Patsy Cline
    • Marvelous Gals from Movie- musicals
    • The Scent of Magnolia (to be published)
    • Patsy Cline
    • Rock Opera: The Creation Of Jesus Christ Superstar

Theatrical:

    • Honky Tonk Angel: The Patsy Cline Musical
    • Always, Patsy Cline 

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Ellis Nassour: A Biography
By Kimberly Buckley (SHS)

Ellis Nassour was born in 1941, in Vicksburg, Mississippi,  and graduated  from Ole Miss in Oxford, Mississippi. Ellis saw nothing unusual about growing up in Mississippi and decided at age ten that he wanted to be a writer for the Times and write and direct DeMille- studio epics. However,  being raised in a small town such as Vicksburg, in a close-knit Lebanese community, wasn't exactly the ideal start. It was considered weird for someone to go to the movies four times a week, work after school, and not play football, but Ellis did just that. He wanted to be a writer instead of a doctor or lawyer,  which made it that much harder for him. His father was a butcher and a grocer, and he even agreed that there was nothing to keep Ellis at home, and the world outside of Vicksburg fascinated Ellis.

In 1959,  there was that inevitable trip to New York. He had begun working summers on the Gulf Coast as a resort hotel waiter and assistant bookkeeper for an automobile dealership.    Ellis Nassour’s family could not afford to send him to Ole Miss, so he lived on his own savings with a budget of $1.52 a day for food. . After Ole Miss, and his move to New York, Ellis enrolled at Columbia University to work on his master’s in journalism. One of his professors was an editor at the New York Times.  That connection helped himl and his “dream” job at the Times. Ellis worked himself up from copyboy to news assistant to editorial assistant to cub reporter,  mostly covering  Sunday sermons and rewriting wedding announcements and covering charity balls,  but eventually he began to cover the United Nations.

Ellis Nassour’s first book was Rock Opera: the Creation of Jesus Christ, Superstar. Even though it didn't turn out to be a best-seller, teachers still use it in their theater classes. It was well- received and opened doors for Ellis. It was “Jesus Christ, Superstar” that turned out to be his lucky break.    Ellis Nassour’s next stop was MCA (Music corporation of America/ Universal Pictures) where he was East Coast director of artist relations  for a year and a half.  After years of interviewing living celebrities, he wrote his first biography, Patsy Cline: An Intimate Biography, about the controversial life  of the country and popular music star who died in a 1963 plane crash at the peak of her career.

Of course there has been some frustration along the way, but Ellis refutes that old cliche of how tough it is to be a writer.

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A Review of Honky Tonk Angel: The Intimate Story of Patsy Cline
by Kimberly Buckley (SHS)

Ellis NassourHonky Tonk Angel: The Intimate Story of Patsy Cline by Ellis Nassour introduces a Pasty Cline that very few people knew. She almost by herself opened the doors for women singers to become solo acts. He makes clear how as an artist, she was a groundbreaking hit maker who broke many country taboos. She recorded in an exclusive style exactly twenty years ahead of the competition. As a woman, she was loud, loving, and had more than her share of heartbreak.

Honky Tonk Angel: The Intimate Story of Patsy Cline has been written with respect by  Ellis Nassour, but it also hits some raw nerves. It is the most thorough outlook of Patsy’s life that I have ever read. It is such an honest book that reminds us of the memories of that amazing period, when Pasty was singing her heart out. By Ellis Nassour writing the truth about Patsy’s life, he shows that Patsy Cline was a normal human being just like the rest of us. The book captures Patsy’s life so mournfully that I sense the emotion behind each word, which reminds all of us of a star who died before her time.

Honky Tonk Angel: The Intimate Story of Patsy Cline shows how Patsy’s brief life was filled with enough excitement, music, and laughter to fill several books. Patsy Cline is without doubt not wearing a halo around her head, but the reader clearly sees her dream to be a star, feels her determination,  and, most of all, her heart and character. Honky Tonk Angel was the first and is still considered the best biography of this famous singer and show business superstar. The exclusive interviews that Ellis Nassour has with Patsy’s mother, two husbands, and friends that she loved and worked with show that Patsy was much more than a superstar.

This biography is one of the most convincing biographies.  It has been  written with great skill and the help of Pasty Cline’s family and friends.  This book will give you insight on the woman behind the big voice and chart topping hits that we all love. This book shows us how Patsy was one of a kind and will always be loved and remembered by millions. By reading this intimate book you will want to get to know Patsy more closely and re-discover her music. Honky Tonk Angel is the unique fact-filled book that you will love. This book will make you want to cry at all the unhappiness and heartbreak in Patsy’s life, especially in the ups and downs in her life, the car crash, and ultimately her death.

Honky Tonk Angel: The Intimate Story of Patsy Cline  will touch and enlighten you. This book reveals the real Patsy Cline, good and bad. It is the story of Patsy’s roller coaster ride to fame and of the motivation behind the woman who has become a country and pop music star around the world. Honky Tonk Angel is jam-packed with fascinating details, touching excitement, and great humor that reveal Patsy’s inner beauty, emotions, bravery and one of a kind talent.

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E-mail Interview with Ellis Nassour
by Kimberly Buckley

You were born in Vicksburg, Mississippi. What year were you born?

1941

What high school and college did you attend?

St. Aloysius High School; University of Mississippi

Who is your favorite author/authors and what author has influenced you the most?

One of my favorite authors was Mildred Spurrier Topp, a virtual unknown today, but a Mississippian with a wonderful and black sense of humor.

She was my creative writing teacher at Ole Miss (and also a friend of Eudora Welty, who visited with us from time to time). Miss Topp wrote at least two novels, In the Pink, which was purchased to be made into a film [but that never made it to the screen] and Smile, Please, a book about her mother, one of the earliest female photographers in Mississippi.

She was this tiny dynamo, who didn't think I was too hot a writer. But toward the end of our three years together, I guess she begrudgingly changed her mind because one day, after I read one of my stories, she said, "Mr. Nassour may NOT be the best writer in this class, but I predict he'll be the only one who ends up being a writer." To my knowledge, she was right. And, thanks to her, I became a better writer.

I am a big fan of Tennessee Williams, whom a lot of people who knew him say I look like. I feel his work has influenced the way I write, the way I attempt to dig for the very personal.  I also think my background with The New York Times and being a reporter has given me an innate sense of curiosity and the ability to ask hard questions, but in a nice way.

What person has influenced you the most in your life?

I don't know if I can name just one.  I was always drawn to very kind people, most much older than my parents.  Although she didn't "influence" me, my paternal grandmother made a bit impact on my life; as did the black woman who worked for my family from the time I was two until her death while I was in college. Many people influenced me in that they believed in me even when, as a child, I had big dreams of becoming a "famous writer," of "one day working for The New York Times."  They thought I was a nut case, ready for Whitfield!  To the degree that, as humble Mississippians and my father's status as a hard-working immigrant from Lebanon, my parents never attempted to talk me out of my dreams. I don't know if they encouraged them, but they allowed me the freedom to go to Ole Miss, when they certainly couldn't afford to send me (I took a Federal loan in addition to working all four years in the cafeteria and doing all sorts of odd jobs) and also to go to New York.  I'm sure, secretly, they thought I was nuts!

Why did you decide to write about Patsy Cline as the subject of your book Honk Tonk Angel: The Intimate Story of Patsy Cline?

Patsy was quite a character when I briefly worked with her early in 1963, but it was the stories that Loretta Lynn told me when I was working with her that convinced me THE REAL story about Patsy had never been told. Then I met her second husband, who introduced me to Patsy's mother, who began to help me tell Patsy's story. And that led me to another 125 people who knew and loved and worked with Patsy.

 When did you become interested in writing? Was there something in particular that got you interested in writing?

Kimberly Buckley (SHS)By the time I was in the fifth grade I was telling everyone I would be a writer. Coming from a humble background [my father was a butcher and ran a neighborhood grocery until he worked various part-time jobs; my mother was a sales clerk and later a manager of a department store], I really have no idea what sparked me to want to write. But that's all I can ever remember wanting to do.

 My love of movies may have influenced me. I enjoyed the recognition I received as a writer on the daily campus paper at Ole Miss, and also writing for the Vicksburg paper (my first news stories) on the integration of the university by James Meredith.

If you were not a writer, what would you want to be?

Two early part-time jobs I held was selling clothes, in Vicksburg and in New York; and being a bus boy and later a waiter in a famous New York City nightclub. But, according to my college aptitude tests, I should have become a funeral director!

What kind of student were you in high school?

Average.

 How long did it take you to write Honk Tonk Angel: The Intimate Story of Patsy Cline?  Where did you get the idea for this book?

It took about six months to write the first book and another three months to write the second book on Patsy. The idea began as a series of four articles in newspapers and magazines after it dawned on me that nothing extensive had been written about this woman,  who not only changed the way women in music were perceived but who was a music trailblazer.

 Are you working on a new book right now? Do you have a title for it yet? What is it about?

In addition to the musical for the stage based on Honky Tonk Angel, there are two books, one is a novel about Vicksburg that traces the life of a 100-year-old woman from ashes to riches. Another, non-fiction, is about the great women who starred in those M-G-M musicals. [ I prefer not to give the titles, as they may change. ]

Do you have any advice for future writers?

No one can teach you to write. You can be taught the elements of good writing, but NOT how to write. You either have the ability or don't. Everyone can write, but not everyone can tell a story in such a way to form the narrative in an entertaining and exciting way.

Do you have any advice for students today?

Anyone who wants to write is drawn to writing, and the more they write the better. Start early and in local markets, using every opportunity there is. The most important advice I would give anyone in any profession is never to be afraid of rejection and failure. They are  a great education.

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Related Websites

This site contains information on the Ellis Nassour's books and Ellis Nassour himself

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Bibliography

Gagnard, Frank."On The Square Biographer." July 30, 1973.

Hains, Frank. "Chutzpah Works For Ellis Nassour Author Of New Book On Superstar'."

Hughes, Elaine. "Vicksburg's Star-Struck Kid's Own Star Is Rising." Delta Scene.

Nassour, Ellis. Honky Tonk Angel: The Intimate Story of Patsy Cline. Great Britain: Virginia Books.1994.

Nassour, Ellis. Interview by Kim Buckley. 12 December 2002. 

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Last updated in January 2003
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