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Busting the ‘Elvis Presley in Home Alone’ Movie Myth

Special Report

Kenny Biddle

July 11, 2018


On November 16, 1990, Home Alone was released in theaters and quickly became the highest-grossing live action comedy film of all time in the United States, until The Hangover Part II took the title in 2011. Home Alone spent twelve weeks at the box office and remains the highest grossing Christmas movie of all time (Thompson 2016). It tells the story of eight-year old Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin) who is accidently left behind when his family heads to Paris for a Christmas vacation. At first, Kevin is having a blast being home alone, watching old movies while having an entire pizza all to himself. But then two burglars show up in the neighborhood, played by Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern. Much mayhem and shenanigans follow as Kevin constructs ingenious booby traps all over the house.

The film spawned several sequels as well as dozens of conspiracy theories. A few of the fan theories include Kevin’s dad was actually trying to kill him by throwing Kevin’s plane ticket in the trash, Kevin growing up to become John "Jigsaw" Kramer in the Saw movie franchise, and even old man Marley—the neighbor with the shovel—is a time traveler and is actually future Kevin who came back to fix the past mistakes (u/spookycookies 2013). However, there’s one particular conspiracy theory that caught my attention: Elvis Presley secretly played an extra in the film.

The “Elvis” scene takes place when Kate McCallister (Kevin’s mother played by Catherine O'Hara) is desperately trying to haggle with a ticket agent to get a seat on the next possible flight home to her abandoned son. The film places the airport in Scranton, Pennsylvania, but was actually filmed at Meigs Field Airport terminal in Chicago, Illinois (1). Two people can be seen in line behind Kate, the second being a man wearing a black turtleneck and either a tan or grey jacket. He’s got jet black hair, a matching thick beard and looks a bit annoyed at being held up. This man, many believe, is Elvis Presley—despite that fact that Elvis passed away thirteen years earlier, in 1977.

Screen capture from Home Alone showing the airport scene. The man to the right of Catherine O'Hara in the back of the line is believed by conspiracy theorists to be Elvis Presley, alive and well.

I heard of the “Elvis in Home Alone” theory before, but I never gave it much thought. That changed when it was brought up on an episode of the podcast Squaring the Strange (STS) (Ep. 62 2018); a friend had contacted me and said I needed to listen to the latest episode because I had apparently been challenged to solve a mystery. The podcast, cohosted by Ben Radford, Pascual Romero, and Celestia Ward, focuses on applying science and critical thinking to various claims. The topic of this particular episode was movie myths.

Radford had been asked by a gentleman about the Elvis theory a while back and related many details that would refute the idea, offering nuggets of information such as “How is it that Elvis Presley could have been on set and no one noticed?” A major point the commenter focused on, all other issues aside, was “Who was the actor if not Elvis?”—a detail that (understandably) wasn’t known by Radford. “Elvis” was, after all, an extra with no speaking lines, so he wouldn’t be listed in the credits of the film. A detailed account of Radford’s exchange can be found in the January/February issue of Skeptical Inquirer magazine (Radford 2018).

At the end of the segment the STS cohosts, Romero in particular, discussed the possibility of looking into the identity of the actor. However, Radford says “maybe Kenny Biddle will jump on it and get it done before this episode is out!” Oh, challenge accepted, my friend.

While still listening to the episode, I began my hunt. A Google search on “Elvis in Home Alone” returned about seventeen million results—a bit more than I wanted to explore, but I had to start somewhere. The myth was even brought up on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, when Macaulay Culkin appeared as a guest (Fallon 2018). Although the “Elvis” myth was mentioned, it wasn’t actually addressed by the actor. I eventually came across a YouTube video entitled “Elvis Presley in Home Alone DEBUNKED” (Stiller 2017), that claimed to have done just that … debunked the myth. John Stiller, who created the video, points to a comment made on the website Behind the Curtain, a weekly blog by conspiracy fiction author C.R. Berry. The comment, posted by Kathryn Rydz, states “Sorry I knew this extra and still friends with his ex. We laughed about this. This is Gary Grott. Unfortunately he passed away recently” (Rydz 2016).

I followed the work Stiller referenced and found the Facebook page of Gary Grott. I searched through his public photos and although there were none that dated to 1990, it seemed to be the same man that appeared in Home Alone. I compared several images side-by-side with a screenshot of “Home Alone Elvis.” Although several years older, the facial features, hair style, and thick beard matched up. I had little doubt I was looking at the same man.

Comparing “Elvis” to a later photograph of Gary Grott.

I went back through some of the comments on Stiller’s debunking video, and found one from a user that claimed to be Gary Grott’s wife. It stated “Yes, sorry, guys, this is my deceased husband Gary Grott. I didn’t want to ruin your hope.” Many of the comments in response to this and the other post were downright nasty. One such comment, directed at Rydz, said “You are wrong, stop spreading this stupid propaganda. You are a disgusting excuse for a person” (Lachlan 2016). I have never understood this type of uncalled for, hateful response.

I decided to track down Gary’s family and attempt to confirm whether or not he was the mysteriously famous actor believed to be Elvis. I found his son, Roman, through social media and reached out to him. I explained what I was doing and that my research had led to his father most likely being the actor. I expressed my hope they could give me some confirmation either way. I was delighted when Roman responded to me the next day and was enthusiastic to talk about his father. After a short text conversation, we made arrangements to speak later that night.

I called Roman, introduced myself, and explained I was investigating this conspiracy theory and, if my conclusion proved true, wanted to give credit to the man who was at the center of this famous movie myth. Roman told me, “Since he is no longer with us and since you’ve somehow deduced that it was he who appeared in the scene, after consulting with my mom, I feel comfortable confirming your theory for you. My dad, Gary Richard Grott, was indeed the extra in the airport scene of Home Alone. He knew [director] Chris Columbus personally and Columbus used him in a number of his movies as an extra, most notably in Home Alone.”

I asked about how the two first met. Roman said “He was literally walking along the street one day and all of a sudden this car pulled over and this guy jumped out of the car. He was kinda haggard-looking, wearing dirty clothes. [Grott] was almost threatened by him ... this haggard, dirty man. He came up to him [Grott] and said ‘I’m the director, Christopher Columbus. You have this look; I want to use you as an extra one of these days.’ My dad didn’t literally believe him at first, and responded ‘Yeah, right.’ However, later on he saw an advertisement in the paper for extras in a movie by Columbus. Grott was intrigued and showed up at Meigs Field for filming. Columbus called him a few times over the years for various ‘extra’ roles, very small roles. Home Alone was the one that he made it in.”

Roman said that his father didn’t even mention being in the film to anyone, and he even expected the scene to be cut from the film. When the movie came out, the family was all gathered together at Christmas time watching the film. His sister suddenly cries out “Hey, that’s Gary! That’s him!” After a closer look, sure enough, it was Roman’s dad. Grott didn’t even know he was in the film until the family called him to inform him he was in the movie! In talking about doing the scene, Roman told me his father said “Chris told me to act frustrated with the wait caused by Kevin’s mom in the scene. By the eighth take, though, I was no longer acting.”

Roman was familiar with the Elvis conspiracy theory that accompanied his father’s appearance. He told me that “a few years back someone had sent one of the sensationalist YouTube videos about the theory to my dad. He was extremely amused and my mom thought it was hysterical. My dad was perplexed, but intrigued that he'd become a bit of an online phenomenon and it often came up at family gatherings.” Roman and his mother asked him if he was going to comment on the videos and the conspiracy blogs and reveal his identity, but he refused. He said “Let people have their hope that Elvis survived; I’m not gonna take that from them, everyone needs something to believe in.”

In support of Grott being the man behind the (unintended) Elvis impersonation, Roman offered a piece of evidence: a poster from Home Alone featuring a photograph of his father inserted next to Macaulay Culkin. The image of Grott shows him fully facing the camera, looking straight into the lens, and is lit by flash from the front. He’s also wearing the same jacket and black turtleneck from the film. The image is most likely what is referred to as a “wardrobe continuity photo,” which at the time would have been taken with a Polaroid camera. They are used by the film crew and often given to cast members to keep as a memento of the shoot. The image of Grott certainly matches what would be expected of this type of shot. I sent the image of the poster to Pascual Romero, who has experience in the film industry. After checking with a colleague, he agreed it looked like a continuity photo, with a neutral expression and flash lighting (Romero 2018).

A Home Alone poster featuring Gary Grott and Macaulay Culkin that has been on the wall of Grott’s home for years.

Sadly, Gary passed away from a heart attack in February 2016.I asked Roman to tell me about his father, about what kind of man he was. “My dad was the greatest and most selfless man I’ve even known. He was an amazing husband and father. He worked probably eighty hours a week at a job he hated, so he could support me.” Roman went on to explain that Grott adopted him when he married his mother. Roman was eight years old at the time. “To take someone into their family and under their wing like that, so fully and selflessly … he was really an amazing man.” In an online post Roman stated “He taught me everything I know, and helped me become the man I am today.”

Roman spoke with great admiration and love about his father, which was also reflected in the many comments from Grott’s friends. I read all of the comments on Grott’s Facebook page after it was announced he had passed. They spoke of a loyal friend, a devoted husband, and loving father. He was a fan of the White Sox, loved playing golf, and reading the work of Ian Fleming. He was described as a friend that was only a phone call away, no matter what you needed. And to add to his wonderful legacy, he was also the little known extra at the center of one of the most famous movie myths of all time.

To bring this investigation full circle I sent my findings to Ben Radford, who reached out to Dan, the person who originally started us looking into this conspiracy theory. We were unsure of what Dan’s reaction would be; conspiracy theorists in my experience usually resist any evidence that debunks their deeply-held beliefs about what “really” happened. However, I am pleased to report the response was quite positive! He wrote back: “Ben. Thank you and Kenny Biddle for getting to the bottom of this. I am now convinced.”

Thanks to teamwork, good investigation methodology, and a loving family, the challenge to solve a mystery was not only completed, but the conclusion also satisfied all parties involved. That’s a win for all of us!

Research assistance from Benjamin Radford and Pascual Romero. Special thanks to the family of Gary Grott for speaking with me and sharing Gary’s story with all of us.

Note: All of the filming locations sites, as well as the conspiracy theory sites, claimed the airport scene was filmed in Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, including IMDb. However, I was informed by Gary Grott's wife that this particular scene was shot at Meigs Field Airport terminal. When I looked into this, I did find photographs of the terminal that exactly match the location in the film.

References

Kenny Biddle

Kenny Biddle's photo

Kenny Biddle is a science enthusiast who investigates claims of paranormal experiences, equipment, photos, and video. He promotes science, critical thinking, and skepticism through his blog I Am Kenny Biddle. He frequently hosts workshops on how to deconstruct and explain paranormal photography. Email – parainvestigator@comcast.net