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Elvis Presley in ‘Change of Habit’: on location at Glassman’s Market

Elvis and Ed Asner in Glassmans

CHANGE OF HABIT: Elvis Presley, Ed Asner, and cast extras at Glassman’s Market in Hollywood during Spring of 1969.

In the Spring of 1969, Universal Studios chose Glassman’s Market, an open-front establishment on Western Ave in Hollywood, as one of the sites for a new film starring Elvis Presley. Glassman’s, owned and managed by Merrill and Sandra Bonar, was a well-known venue frequented by studio personnel who lived in Hollywood and appreciated Merrill’s fine selection of deli and produce. Merrill reports that he personally signed the contract with Universal, and spent a good part of the morning of the shoot making preparations for the film crew to set up for what was to be Elvis’ last film, Change of Habit. Merrill reports that Universal paid him $500.00 dollars for the day.

Walt Gilmore, the assistant trainee-director explained why Glassman’s was chosen:  “Well it is a big deal to stock a set. It is much cheaper to go down and rent a place like that. We only had it for half a day, they didn’t loose a lot of business”. In fact, due to the dwindling movie audience, Universal was downsizing, putting all of its efforts into TV.

In the movie, Glassman’s Market was cast as the Ajax Market, a store in a ghetto neighborhood managed by a rascal who comes into conflict with his store’s patrons. The film included not only Elvis, but four additional actors who went on to build substantial careers: the co-star Mary Tyler Moore (Dick Van Dyke Show; Mary Tyler Moore Show), plus Barbara McNair (The Barbara McNair Show), Ed Asner (Mary Tyler Moore Show; Lou Grant), and Jane Elliot (General Hospital, Knots Landing, Guiding Light).

Their roles in Change of Habit:

Elvis Presley: Dr. John Carpenter

Mary Tyler Moore: Sister Michelle

Barbara McNair: Sister Irene

Edward Asner: Lt. Moretti

Jane Elliot: Sister Barbara

Timothy Carey: Manager of the Ajax Market

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Tim Carey as the manager of the Ajax Market, overcharges Sister Barbara played by Jane Elliott in Change of Habit. The Ajax Market was actually Glassman’s Market.

Change of Habit, an MCA/Universal production, was shot in the Los Angeles area and at the Universal Studios during March and April, and completed on May 2, 1969. Following a New York City premiere on 10 November, 10 1969, it was released nationwide in the United States on 21 January, 21 1970 and spent four weeks on the Variety Box Office Survey, peaking at #17.

William A. Graham, the director of the film, reported the following: “Jane Elliott was having a little romance with Elvis, and sometimes she’d go off in the trailer with Elvis between setups and come out with her wimple askew and her habit looking a little messed up”, which led Mary Tyler Moore to later claim the distinction of being the only one of Elvis’ co-stars who did not become romantically involved with him as follows:

May 2, 2003 Mary Tyler Moore’s CNN interview with Larry King; MARY TYLER MOORE: “The title of the movie was Change of Habit. Elvis was later to say, ‘I slept with every one of my leading ladies except one.’ I know who the one is. Sorry to break anyone’s cover out there, but…”

At the end of filming, Joe Guss, the deli man at Glassman’s who was Merrill’s long-time employee, took the opportunity to show Elvis how to cut lox. (In fact, Elvis was already a fan of deli. According to Lisa Brenner and Hayley Fox: “The King couldn’t help falling in love with Canter’s bagels and lox, as he frequented this Fairfax deli on his L.A. visits.”)

It was then that Merrill asked Elvis if he could take ‘some photographs’, and so he took a single Polaroid of Elvis standing behind the deli counter with Joe Guss, and Elvis autographed the back. Earlier, Merrill had taken photos of other cast members during breaks in the filming. Asked how he remembered Elvis, Merrill remarked: “He was a nice boy”.

Elvis and Ed Asner2 in Glassmans

Ed ‘Lou Grant’ Asner and Elvis get into it at Glassman’s Market

Glassman's Market

An interior shot of Glassman’s Market, looking towards the front of the store, taken by Nancy Bonar Lehrer during the 1970s

The three photos (Polaroids) taken on site by Merrill Bonar at Glassman’s Market during the filming of the Ajax Market scenes in Change of Habit:

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1) Elvis with Glassman’s deli man, Joe Guss. They are standing directly behind the deli counter on the raised platform which is integral to that area of the store. Elvis signed the back of this Polaroid.

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1a) Elvis’ autograph on the photo above

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2) Timothy Carey standing behind Glassman’s forward checkout counter.

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3) Jane Elliot, standing in front of the forward checkout counter and holding a mop handle. Timothy Carey is behind the counter munching on a pickle.

Elvis in Glassmans

A soulful Elvis and Jane Elliot at Glassman’s Market. William A. Graham, the director of Change of Habit, reported that during the shooting of the film, Elvis was having a love affair with Jane, which led Mary Tyler Moore to later claim the distinction of being the only one of Elvis’ co-stars who did not become romantically involved with him!

In addition to Merrill Bonar’s unparallelled experience with Universal Studios’ production of Elvis final movie, Change of Habit, there are two additional situations where family members were connected with the movie studios in Los Angeles.

1) Elvis had been originally contracted to Paramount with permission to be loaned out to additional studios. One of these was MGM whose contracts were handled by Merrill’s cousin, Gene Wyman. In addition, Paramount was part of a corporation which included the Acapulco Towers in Mexico among its holdings. It was at the ‘Towers’ where many a film contract was worked out; and it so happens that Gene was one of the 12 investors in that enterprise. To be sure, one might suspect a connection here. When asked what part Gene played, if any, in bringing Glassman’s Market to the attention of Universal when it was scouting for such a location rather than building a special set for the Ajax Market, Merrill Bonar replied with a solid negative.

2) Merrill reported to Chick Lehrer that, on behalf of several of the ‘higher-ups’ at CBS Studios, he prepared ‘deli’ once a week for delivery to the special executive commissary there. Was it this connection which alerted scouts at Universal in their search for a small market needed for the upcoming film, Change of Habit? Once again, the motion-picture attorney, Gene Wyman, who was Merrill’s cousin, might have been part of this scenario since William Paley, who headed CBS, was a close acquaintance of Gene. And again, Merrill firmly said that neither his nor Gene Wyman’s connection with CBS played any part in Glassman’s Market being the choice of venue for the Ajax Market.

ONE HOT SUMMER’S AFTERNOON AT GLASSMAN’S

as photographed by Nancy Bonar Lehrer c. 1977

Merrill at Glassmans Market.jpg

In 1963 Merrill bought Glassman’s Market. He had been the owner of Glassman’s Market for 14 years when his daughter, Nancy, took this photo of her dad late in the afternoon on a hot summers day c. 1977. The photo says it all.

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Glassman’s Market: Façade

Lox at Glassmans

Deli at Glassman’s

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Joe Guss, the Deli Guy at Glassman’s who appears in the photo of Elvis taken in Glassman’s Market by Merrill Bonar in 1969.

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Inside a deli case at Glassman’s Market

Joe Guss at Glassmans

Joe Guss serving a customer at Glassman’s

Lennie at Glassmans

Lennie, the Butcher at Glassman’s

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Produce Displays at Glassman’s

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Fresh produce at Glassman’s Market

Glassman's Market

Merrill Bonar at the Deli Counter in Glassman’s Market. This is where Elvis stood for his photograph with Joe Guss in 1969

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The Deli Section at Glassman’s Market

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The checkout counter against the front wall at Glassman’s Market

Glassmans Market

1978: Glassman’s Market on Western Avenue in Los Angeles

2012 Glassman's

A Changing Demographic: Glassman’s Market, now Catalina’s Market, in 2012

MCA/UNIVERSAL IN 1968-9: HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE

The long-awaited takeover of Universal Pictures by MCA, Inc. finally took place in mid-1962 as part of MCA -Decca Records merger. The company reverted in name back to Universal Pictures. As a last gesture before getting out of the talent agency business, virtually every MCA client was signed to a Universal contract. In 1964 MCA formed Universal City Studios, Inc., merging the motion pictures and television arms of Universal Pictures Company and Revue Productions (officially renamed as Universal Television in 1966). And so, with MCA in charge, for a few years in the 1960s Universal became what it had never been: a full-blown, first-class movie studio, with leading actors and directors under contract; offering slick, commercial films; and a studio tour subsidiary (launched in 1964). But it was too late, since the audience was no longer there, and by 1968, the film-production unit began to downsize. Television carried the load, as Universal dominated the American networks, particularly NBC (which later merged with Universal to form NBC Universal), where for several seasons it provided up to half of all prime time shows.

Elvis Presley: Contract #14: NBC-Universal | January 1968

On January 12, 1968, NBC Vice President Tom Sarnoff announced that a deal with Colonel Parker and Elvis had been reached for Presley to make a television special. Given little note in the anticipation of Elvis’s return to TV, was his commitment under the contract to make a feature film for NBC’s subsidiary company, Universal Studios. Elvis received $850,000 for the movie, Change of Habit (1969), and another $25,000 for the music in the film.


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  1. Hello,
    Who owns that signed Polaroid? I am very interested in buying.
    Please let me know…my e-mail address is
    786_peace@hotmail.se

    • The signed Polaroid of Elvis is owned by Merrill Bonar who took it in 1969 during the filming of Change of Habit at Merrill’s store, Glassman’s Market. At present, it is an integral part of the Bonar Family Heritage and not up for sale.

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