Patsy Cline In Her Own Words is an important contribution to mid-century American culture, and the life of an icon. This is a beautifully presented collection of letters Patsy Cline wrote to Treva Miller, her very first fan club president. Patsy and Treva were allies in forwarding the singer’s career, but they were confidantes as well. It is a book awash in hope, dreams, enthusiasm, romance and tragedy.
They met in 1955, young women from modest backgrounds. Seventeen year old Treva lived with her widowed mother and aunt in tiny Telford, Tennessee. Patsy’s father had deserted their family, and she had been raised by her mother in Winchester, Virginia. Twenty-three in 1955, Patsy had married young, but she had been performing seriously since she was fifteen.
She believed in Patsy from the beginning
That summer of 1955 Treva went to county fair to hear the Louvin Brothers, well known gospel singers. Patsy Cline was also performing. After the performance Treva sought Patsy out and asked for an autograph and to join her fan club. Patsy didn’t have one. Treva volunteered on the spot to start one, to be the president. These four years of letters testify to their growing friendship.
Decades later Patsy Cline’s letters to Treva were found in a jewelry box. Cindy Hazen and Mike Freeman bought them at auction and put them into a book originally published in 1999, and now, happily reprinted by Sartoris Literary. In addition to the printed letters (and many photographs) the editors have included copies of the actual artifacts, giving the book a much more intimate feel.
“I’m just as happy as if I had sense.”
Seeing Patsy’s rounded handwriting, on these often hurried notes, her occasional misspellings, we can imagine her long hours on the road between gigs, toiling in the studio and the demands of radio and early television, performances on Town and Country Jamboree and The Arthur Godfrey Show. We get the flavor of her habitual expressions, my favorite being, “I’m just as happy as if I had sense.” We see the breakup of her brief marriage to Gerald Cline in her own succinct, emphatic words: “He told me if I was gonna sing, I wasn’t going to live with him. So I’m back home.” We see Patsy falling in love again, re-marrying and becoming a mother.
Treva’s efforts on Patsy’s behalf drew her into a world beyond Telford, Tennessee. As the Patsy Cline Fan Club president Treva reached out to a young DJ and country music enthusiast, Bruce Steinbicker; he was happy to help promote Patsy’s music. Bruce and Treva fell in love and married. So these four years were youthful, active, energetic times for both Patsy and Treva. Their lives were enhanced by, and engaged with one another.
Treva Miller vanished into oblivion.
Though we do not have Treva’s letters to Patsy, it’s possible to imagine the contours of her life. While Patsy was continually on the road, performing and recording, television, and radio and county fairs, Treva was typing up the fan club newsletter at the kitchen table. (And one wonders if she had to teach herself to type, if she had to buy a second hand typewriter.) She maintained and constantly added to long sheets of names, addressing each newsletter by hand. Patsy and Treva both worried over the costs of postage and supplies. Patsy sent money whenever she could to support these efforts; when she couldn’t, she felt badly and Treva paid for these things. One wonders if Treva’s work met with resistance from her mother and her aunt. Even if they opposed her efforts, Treva persisted as fan club president and good friend to Patsy. And then, in September 1960, riding with her young husband, their car was struck by a drunk driver and twenty-two year old Treva was killed instantly. We have no record of what Patsy felt when she heard this news, but these letters testify that she would have been heartbroken.
Reading this reissue, I find my reactions are very different from 1999
Patsy Cline went on to establish herself as one of the sterling voices of American music. Treva Miller vanished into oblivion. Reading this reissue of Patsy’s letters, I find my reactions are quite different from my responses to the original book. Then, I was mostly struck by the emotional connection between these two young women, and that intimacy still bubbles up off the pages.
But now, twenty-plus years later, I am also struck with how Treva and Patsy worked together on what was basically social media. And what a lot of work it was! Done not by glossy high-priced PR people but two small town women dedicated to one cause.
Treva put out an almost monthly newsletter, painstakingly keeping fans up on Patsy’s various appearances so they would know where and when they could see her perform. Neither of them had any kind of background in publicity, and yet that’s exactly what they were doing. When producers wanted to put Patsy in evening gowns (she had always worn the cowgirl outfits handmade by her mother) she consults with Treva about what such a change might mean to her image, her career.
Fan club newsletters created necessary bonds.
Amid the incessant welter of information in the 2020’s (and unless you are going to unplug from the universe and sit on a rock in Scotland) it’s hard to imagine the crucial function of these many fan clubs for performers in the past. The newsletters created necessary links, not simply for the performer and the fans, but for the fans to connect with one another, to share their stories and enthusiasms. To bond. Not perhaps Taylor Swift mania, but basically the same work.
Patsy Cline absorbed all these disappointments and still pressed on.
Re-reading the book now, I also responded more vividly to the many hopes, possibilities, plans that Patsy wrote of so eagerly and with such enthusiasm….that never came to pass. Died, or dried up, or simply never came to fruition. The editors have provided informative, well-placed sidebar contexts, quick descriptions of people and events that Patsy mentions, and so the reader is struck with the immediate contrast: Patsy looking forward to a possible tour in Asia, for instance, and the sidebar info that this prospect not only didn’t materialize, but was never heard of again. Or how working with a well known producer had not brought the recognition Patsy had hoped for. Patsy Cline absorbed all these many disappointments and yet, pressed relentlessly on professionally.
Patsy Cline died in a plane crash in 1963, thirty years old, leaving a grieving mother, a heartbroken husband and two small children, leaving as well an indelible body of work. Treva Miller did not live to see Patsy become the icon whose voice remains vivid and immediately recognizable sixty years after her death, but she would not have been surprised. From the time she stood amid the audience at the dusty county fair, Treva knew she had heard something unique. She believed in Patsy from the beginning.
Patsy Cline in Her Own Words is available in paperback December 1, 2023