The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll Meets the King of the Quickies

Elvis Presley would have been 75 years old on this Friday, January 8. During his lifetime, Elvis conquered many arenas of entertainment, from the recording industry to television to the movies; after his death, he became an icon of both the best and worst of 20th-century pop culture, from rock ‘n’ roll innovator to victim of show-biz excess.  Of the thousands of photos and clips of Elvis as the notorious 1950s rock ‘n’ roller, the clean-cut leading man, or the Vegas superstar, none show him past the age of 42—the age at which he died in 1977. As with Monroe, Garland, or Dean, it is downright eerie to contemplate Presley as a senior citizen; I prefer to remember all of these icons in their prime.

LOGO FOR KATZMAN'S VICTORY PICTURES

To celebrate Elvis’s 75th birthday, TCM has programmed an entire day of Presley movies, which encompass all phases of his career. Jailhouse Rock represents the notorious Elvis the Pelvis era, while Elvis on Tour and Elvis: That’s the Way It Is chronicles the King during the Vegas years. The rest of the films are those much-derided vehicles from the 1960s in which Presley most often played a handsome race-car driver, airplane pilot, or boat captain passing through some vacation spot or exotic locale. Elvis’s flicks have gotten a bum rap over the years, but I appreciate them as light and breezy representations of 1960s fads, crazes, and trends. For example, the colorful location work in Blue Hawaii, the prototypical Presley vehicle, shows off the beauty of America’s newly adopted 50th state, while Girl Happy celebrates the 1960s teen ritual of vacationing in Florida over Easter break.

Still, there is no denying that the Presley filmography includes several misfires and clunkers, and I couldn’t help but notice that two of his most scorned musicals, Harum Scarum and Kissin’ Cousins, are scheduled for the less-than-prime-time slots of 6:15am and 7:45am on January 8. These two movies share in common the same producer—Sam Katzman, who was dubbed the King of the Quickies because of the extremely short production schedules he preferred.  Actually, “King of the Quickies” was only one of many nicknames given to Katzman. He was also known as the Schlockmeister (because of the low-budget, low-brow nature of his movies), Jungle Sam (because he produced the Jungle Jim series as well as titles like Jungle Moon Men), and the Bossman (because no matter who directed or starred in his films, Katzman was definitely in charge financially and creatively).  Despite his reputation for producing schlock, I like and appreciate many of Katzman’s quickies for reasons only movie lovers can understand.

KATZMAN SURROUNDED BY HIS STARS

Katzman began his movie career as a teenager, working as a lab messenger, mail carrier, and prop boy for Fox Film Corp. in Fort Lee, New Jersey.  At their Fort Lee studio, Fox produced low-budget shorts, so that Katzman learned cost-effective film production from the bottom up, eventually becoming an assistant director. He was let go from Fox just before their merger with 20th Century Pictures and after working as a production manager for National, Cosmopolitan, and other small companies, he opted to become an independent producer. He ground out his first independent feature film in six days for $13,000. Titled His Private Secretary, this 1933 romantic comedy costarred a young John Wayne.  Katzman worked as an independent with his own companies, Victory Pictures and Puritan Pictures, before signing with Monogram just before World War II. In 1945, he contracted with Columbia to make adventure serials and then moved to Columbia permanently in 1947. In the 1960s, he returned to independent filmmaking with his company Four-Leaf Productions, distributing his cost-effective movies through MGM. Katzman’s career trajectory from Monogram to Columbia to MGM, bookended by independent status, is impressive.

KATZMAN CLOWNS WITH DIRECTORS WILLIAM CASTLE (LEFT) AND SPENCER GORDON BENNET (RIGHT)

Katzman’s cost-cutting measures included shooting outdoors on location or on existing outdoor sets, limiting the number of main settings, using pre-existing costumes and props, limiting rehearsal time to a few days, using stock footage or existing footage, shooting scenes in one take, cutting in the camera, and implementing the shortest schedules in Hollywood.  The serials Blackhawk (1952), Lost Planet (1953), Riding With Buffalo Bill (1954), and Adventures of Captain Africa (1955) were all made on a typical Katzman schedule.  Each serial featured 15 episodes, which were shot in 17 days. Katzman used to walk around carrying a riding crop or a cane, and when the scenes were not being shot fast enough, he would bang on the floor, the wall, or the set with the crop or cane to stir up the cast and crew. Herman Brix (aka Bruce Bennett) recalled sleeping on a cot on the set during the making of the serial Shadow of Chinatown (1936) because they shot from morning till night, and he was in every scene.  There was just no point in going home.  Joan Woodbury was cast as the lead in the serial Brenda Starr (1945) because during the auditions, she could memorize dialogue quicker than the other actresses and then recite it line-perfect in one take. My favorite story involving Katzman’s determination to stay on budget and on schedule involves the production of The Houston Story (1956) in which Lee J. Cobb was hired as the lead actor and William Castle as director. After three days of shooting in Texas, Cobb suffered a heart attack. Katzman informed Castle that the film’s schedule would not change, so Castle himself stepped in to take Cobb’s place. To hide the switch in actors, Castle either filmed the scenes in long shot, or he filmed with his back to the camera. When the location work was finished, the production moved back to the studio in Hollywood, but Cobb was not well enough to return.  Rather than hold up production, Katzman hired actor Gene Barry to finish Cobb’s scenes. Katzman then handed all the footage over to veteran editor Edwin H. Bryant and told him to do the best he could. In the 79-minute film, Lee J. Cobb, William Castle, and Gene Barry all play Frank Duncan, though only Barry is credited.

During his career, Katzman produced every popular genre known to movie-goers, from westerns to serials with comic-book action heroes to thrillers to jungle pictures to comedies to musicals. I discovered that Jungle Sam seemed to have an innate talent for latching onto a genre, fad, or trend and then riding the crest of its popularity. He started by making western serials during the Depression (as many other studios did), branched out into crime series and thrillers during WWII, and then moved into comic-book heroes after the war, peaking with the Superman serial in 1948, which earned a $1 million at the box office. At Columbia, he developed jungle adventure stories, most notably Jungle Jim starring Johnny Weissmuller. When major studios began to make more films in color in the early 1950s, Katzman launched a series of low-budget westerns in color based on historical figures. To keep the costs low, the films starred unknown actors. Instead of using name actors to bring audiences to the theaters, he used “name” characters such as Jesse James, the Daltons, Billy the Kid, and Buffalo Bill. In 1953, Katzman jumped into science fiction craze with Lost Planet before peaking in that genre with Earth Vs. the Flying Saucers (1956). After the Kefauver Committee revealed the existence of organized crime to the average American, the wily producer made The Miami Story (1954), Inside Detroit (1956), Miami Expose (1956), and The Houston Story to capitalize on the organized-crime-related headlines in the newspapers. The 1950s proved to be Katzman’s career high point; not only was he prolific but he managed to make some fascinating, albeit low-budget, contributions to key genres.

Perhaps his savviest move was to take advantage of the burgeoning teenage audience in the 1950s by making musicals based on pop-music genres beginning with Rock Around the Clock and Don’t Knock the Rock in 1956. Those films were followed by Calypso Heat Wave (1957), Twist Around the Clock (1961), and Don’t Knock the Twist (1962). Two years later, he capitalized on the popularity of folk music with Hootenanny Hoot. I saw all of these movies when I was a kid, and I responded to the way they unfolded from the perspective of the young characters who were forced to defend their music from disapproving adults. The films created sympathy for the misunderstood music and its fans. Because Katzman worked so quickly, these movies were written, produced, and in the theaters while each film’s corresponding musical craze was still red-hot. This series of films by Katzman actually launched the teen musical, which, by the 1960s, had evolved to include the Frankie and Annette beach movies as well as Elvis’s musical vehicles. It seems inevitable that the two Kings should get together and make a couple of movies.

Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis’s manager, and Katzman shared similar views on cutting costs to the bone to maximize profits. In that way, they were a match made in heaven. Parker made the two-picture deal with Katzman in the mid-1960s after Elvis had appeared in Viva Las Vegas. Viva’s glossy production values, high-profile costar Ann-Margret, and location shooting had driven up the costs of that movie, and though it made a handsome profit, Parker felt too much money had been wasted on “frills.” The deal with Katzman marks a shift in the Presley pictures in which the Colonel was determined to keep the budgets low and profits high, though he didn’t seem to care that production values suffered.

Kissin’ Cousins was given a 15-day shooting schedule by Katzman. When director Gene Nelson ran two days over schedule, tensions escalated on the set between him and the producer. Elvis found it difficult to work under the stress, and he offered to call in sick to give both him and Nelson a break. The experience was nerve-wracking for Nelson and Elvis, and needless to say, the resulting film is not very good. However, Kissin’ Cousins is interesting to ponder in relation to its ultra-famous star and his image.  The story features Presley in a dual role—two Elvises for the price of one, which delighted the Colonel. Elvis stars as Air Force officer Josh Morgan who tries to persuade the Tatums, a Tennessee mountain family, to allow a missile base to be built on their land, and he plays Jody Tatum, the handsome son of the backwoods clan. As Josh, Elvis wears his hair jet-black, which was typical for him in the 1960s; as Jody, he wears a dark-blonde wig, which was closer to his natural hair color. The other characters are exaggerated Southern stereotypes still found in Hollywood movies, including barefoot hillbillies, moonshiners, lazy hound dogs, man-chasing mountain girls, and pipe-smoking mountain mamas.  The film features some horrific songs that Katzman and Parker thought should be recorded in RCA’s Studio One in Nashville to give them a country-music flavor. But the songs are nothing like country music; instead they are a pop songwriter’s pastiche of country music.

THE TWO ELVISES ARE IN THE CENTER, SURROUNDED BY AN ARRAY OF BACKWOODS STEREOTYPES.

Elvis was born in Tupelo, Mississippi, and reared in Memphis, and his rockabilly music from the 1950s was an integration of regional Southern sounds. During the 1950s, his Southern background became a source of bad publicity as the mainstream press worked overtime to find reasons to criticize his regionally based music, dangerous image, and sensual performing style, which threatened to overshadow the Tin Pan Alley or Hollywood entertainers they were accustomed to. After Elvis was released from the army in 1960 and set on the path to movie stardom, much care was taken to extract the “Southerness” from his star image.  Little reference was made to his background in the publicity generated for his movies, his musical style had shifted to a pop idiom, and the characters he played rarely hailed from below the Mason-Dixon Line. Were Katzman and Colonel ever concerned that the plot, characters, and setting of Kissin’ Cousins might remind the press of his Southern heritage? Not likely, since these elements are painted in such broad strokes, they don’t recall the real South in the least. Instead, Tennessee is rendered as some storybook land filled with scantily clad girls and child-like characters who are not the least bit threatening. And, oddly enough, one of the characters Elvis plays, Josh Morgan, is part of the “normal” world who views the Tatums and their ways as something “other,” along with the rest of the movie’s characters.

A HINT OF VALENTINO

In Harum Scarum, Elvis stars as a Valentino-like movie star named Johnny Tyrone, who is kidnapped while making a public appearance in the Middle East. He escapes and joins a troupe of pickpockets and rogues, which gives amble opportunity for Elvis to sing. Released in 1965, Harum Scarum had an 18-day shooting schedule, but the extra day in comparison to Kissin’ Cousins did little to improve it. Like most of Katzman’s movies, few–if any—sets, costumes, or props were made especially for the film. The temple set was first used on the 1927 Cecil B. DeMille epic King of Kings; many of the Middle Eastern costumes were used in the 1944 and 1955 versions of Kismet; and the dagger that Johnny Tyrone carries was first used by Hedy Lamarr in Lady of the Tropics. Hastily plotted, Harum Scarum is a confusing hodge-podge of stereotypes—sheiks, menacing Arabs, vaudeville performers, and dwarfs—who all seemed to be performing in a different movie. Even the Colonel had his doubts about the final version and advised MGM to release it quickly and quietly. In his attempt to “fix” it, he suggested to Katzman and MGM that they record a voice-over from the perspective of a talking camel.

ELVIS IN HIS "MIDEASTERN" COSTUME IN HARUM SCARUM

Actually, the Colonel may not have been too far off the mark, because as with much of Katzman’s low-budget fare, these two films create sealed-off, hermetic worlds in which no character is too exaggerated and no event too implausible.  Both Harum Scarum and Kissin’ Cousins are so amplified that they actually work as parodies of Hollywood genres, stereotypes, and storytelling conventions. In other words, filmmaking cliches are made noticeable as clichés through their exaggeration, which serves as a kind of commentary on their use in popular culture—a bit of self-reflexivity beyond the intent of Katzman and his scriptwriters and directors.

After Harum Scarum, Elvis and the Colonel parted ways with Katzman. Presley’s movies did not improve, though he did veer from his usual musical vehicles during his last months in Hollywood.  Katzman continued to make films throughout the 1960s, earning a new nickname, Psychedelic Sam, for his foray into counterculture storylines like Riot on Sunset Strip (1967) and The Love-In (1967).  Always able to capitalize on the latest industry trend, Katzman ended his long career by taking advantage of the demise of the Production Code and the loosening of censorship to produce a handful of sexploitation movies, including the bluntly titled How to Succeed with Sex (1972). Well, there was never anything subtle about the King of the Quickies.

24 Responses The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll Meets the King of the Quickies
Posted By debbe : January 4, 2010 2:19 pm

so interesting suzidoll. always happy to learn something new about elvis and knew virtually nothing about katzman. worth waiting for that is for sure…

Posted By debbe : January 4, 2010 2:19 pm

so interesting suzidoll. always happy to learn something new about elvis and knew virtually nothing about katzman. worth waiting for that is for sure…

Posted By Al Lowe : January 4, 2010 4:22 pm

Besides Katzman, Elvis worked with two of the most respected producers in Hollywood: Joe Pasternak and Hal Wallis.

Wallis, the man who produced CASABLANCA, produced Elvis movies. He was a Warners producer involved with the making of YANKEE DOODLE DANDY and KINGS ROW. He left and formed his own company and made movies with Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas and Lizabeth Scott. He latched onto the Martin-Lewis phenomenon and made many of their vehicles; the team hated the films they made for him. He was still producing “quality movies” like COME HOME LITTLE SHEBA, ANNE OF THE THOUSAND DAYS and SONS OF KATIE ELDER.

Pasternak made movies starring Deanna Durbin, Kathryn Grayson, Mario Lanza, Jane Powell and Judy Garland.

Which leads to the question: Why aren’t the Elvis movies better under those men?

You can give us an answer, Suzie. Maybe a response or another blog. (I suspect that the answer is going to be: The Colonel.)

Posted By Al Lowe : January 4, 2010 4:22 pm

Besides Katzman, Elvis worked with two of the most respected producers in Hollywood: Joe Pasternak and Hal Wallis.

Wallis, the man who produced CASABLANCA, produced Elvis movies. He was a Warners producer involved with the making of YANKEE DOODLE DANDY and KINGS ROW. He left and formed his own company and made movies with Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas and Lizabeth Scott. He latched onto the Martin-Lewis phenomenon and made many of their vehicles; the team hated the films they made for him. He was still producing “quality movies” like COME HOME LITTLE SHEBA, ANNE OF THE THOUSAND DAYS and SONS OF KATIE ELDER.

Pasternak made movies starring Deanna Durbin, Kathryn Grayson, Mario Lanza, Jane Powell and Judy Garland.

Which leads to the question: Why aren’t the Elvis movies better under those men?

You can give us an answer, Suzie. Maybe a response or another blog. (I suspect that the answer is going to be: The Colonel.)

Posted By Suzi : January 4, 2010 5:26 pm

Al: As usual, you raise some good questions. But, your guess about the Colonel is wrong. Parker’s involvement in the creative side of Elvis’s movies was minimal. He made the iron-clad deals with the various producers and studios, which were often convoluted with side deals too complicated to explain here, but he was not that interested in interfering creatively. He sometimes made suggestions, which were often really ridiculous; but it is likely his intent was to get a rise out of the producers and keep them off balance. Everyone likes to blame the Colonel for what they don’t like about Elvis’s career, but the truth is much more complicated.

Parker had no creative input or say on the Wallis-produced Elvis films at all, though he got credit as technical advisor. Wallis was the auteur on those films, and he had no interest in changing the Elvis formula, because it made money. He could actually predict how much money the films would make, and he used that as collateral to borrow money to make his more prestigious films, like BECKET. As a matter of fact the projected profits for ROUSTABOUT (shown this Friday) helped him get the financing for BECKET (which frankly bores me to distraction). As with Martin and Lewis, Wallis constructed a formula for a series of vehicles for Elvis and was not interested in changing the formula. When he could no longer predict a certain amount of profit, he let his contract with Presley run out (EASY COME, EASY GO was the last). I think the Wallis-produced films from the 1950s and early 1960s are highly enjoyable, though the last couple are pretty tired and derivative.

As for other producers, some strayed from the Presley formula (FLAMING STAR, FOLLOW THAT DREAM), with varying b.o. results. Others, like Pasternak, opted to stay with the formula that Wallis had constructed because it did well at the box office. Plus, Pasternak’s two films with Elvis were made at the height of the 1960s teen musical, which Elvis’s films were associated with. Producers thought Elvis’s movies were the high end of that genre. Just compare GET YOURSELF A COLLEGE GIRL to GIRL HAPPY.

The big difference between Wallis and Pasternak’s approaches to producing films in the Golden Age vs. the 1960s has to do with the audience. During the Golden Age, the mainstream audience consisted of diverse ages, backgrounds, and classes. Most films were aimed at adults; there were kids films but they were considered marginal fare. During the 1950s, the average movie-going audience had changed and was no longer one diverse group. It was younger and consisted of various subgroups–teens, college-educated urbanites, young couples. Certain films were made for and targeted to certain groups, a phenomenon that defines the producers’ approach to marketing Elvis. They made movies that the target group (teens in the 1950s and young women in the 1960s)wanted to see; not movies that audiences 50 years later believe Elvis should have made.

Hope this helps some.

Posted By Suzi : January 4, 2010 5:26 pm

Al: As usual, you raise some good questions. But, your guess about the Colonel is wrong. Parker’s involvement in the creative side of Elvis’s movies was minimal. He made the iron-clad deals with the various producers and studios, which were often convoluted with side deals too complicated to explain here, but he was not that interested in interfering creatively. He sometimes made suggestions, which were often really ridiculous; but it is likely his intent was to get a rise out of the producers and keep them off balance. Everyone likes to blame the Colonel for what they don’t like about Elvis’s career, but the truth is much more complicated.

Parker had no creative input or say on the Wallis-produced Elvis films at all, though he got credit as technical advisor. Wallis was the auteur on those films, and he had no interest in changing the Elvis formula, because it made money. He could actually predict how much money the films would make, and he used that as collateral to borrow money to make his more prestigious films, like BECKET. As a matter of fact the projected profits for ROUSTABOUT (shown this Friday) helped him get the financing for BECKET (which frankly bores me to distraction). As with Martin and Lewis, Wallis constructed a formula for a series of vehicles for Elvis and was not interested in changing the formula. When he could no longer predict a certain amount of profit, he let his contract with Presley run out (EASY COME, EASY GO was the last). I think the Wallis-produced films from the 1950s and early 1960s are highly enjoyable, though the last couple are pretty tired and derivative.

As for other producers, some strayed from the Presley formula (FLAMING STAR, FOLLOW THAT DREAM), with varying b.o. results. Others, like Pasternak, opted to stay with the formula that Wallis had constructed because it did well at the box office. Plus, Pasternak’s two films with Elvis were made at the height of the 1960s teen musical, which Elvis’s films were associated with. Producers thought Elvis’s movies were the high end of that genre. Just compare GET YOURSELF A COLLEGE GIRL to GIRL HAPPY.

The big difference between Wallis and Pasternak’s approaches to producing films in the Golden Age vs. the 1960s has to do with the audience. During the Golden Age, the mainstream audience consisted of diverse ages, backgrounds, and classes. Most films were aimed at adults; there were kids films but they were considered marginal fare. During the 1950s, the average movie-going audience had changed and was no longer one diverse group. It was younger and consisted of various subgroups–teens, college-educated urbanites, young couples. Certain films were made for and targeted to certain groups, a phenomenon that defines the producers’ approach to marketing Elvis. They made movies that the target group (teens in the 1950s and young women in the 1960s)wanted to see; not movies that audiences 50 years later believe Elvis should have made.

Hope this helps some.

Posted By Medusa : January 5, 2010 7:40 am

You’ve got to admire Katzman’s inventiveness and the way he kept his finger on the pulse of Americans’ entertainment impulses, lowbrow or otherwise. What a character! Movies like “Kissin’ Cousins” or “Harum Scarum” seem like goofy episodes from some 1960′s TV series, and when taken as part of Elvis’ body of work they settle into a spot that seems maybe like a waste of Elvis but as you say is an interesting take on moviemaking tropes.

Great article! Fun and fascinating, Suzi!

Posted By Medusa : January 5, 2010 7:40 am

You’ve got to admire Katzman’s inventiveness and the way he kept his finger on the pulse of Americans’ entertainment impulses, lowbrow or otherwise. What a character! Movies like “Kissin’ Cousins” or “Harum Scarum” seem like goofy episodes from some 1960′s TV series, and when taken as part of Elvis’ body of work they settle into a spot that seems maybe like a waste of Elvis but as you say is an interesting take on moviemaking tropes.

Great article! Fun and fascinating, Suzi!

Posted By Al Lowe : January 7, 2010 8:50 pm

Thanks for your response. That clears things up. During a phone conversation with my brother a year or two ago I mentioned that the man who made CASABLANCA also produced Elvis movies. He couldn’t believe it.

I also dislike BECKET. Like everyone else, I like Burton and O’Toole but BECKET is a bore.

I wish Wallis would have stayed at Warners or had gone to MGM. He would have improved the output of either studio. I also wish Martin and Lewis and Elvis would have hooked up with a producer who wanted to be more creative. Oh well.

Posted By Al Lowe : January 7, 2010 8:50 pm

Thanks for your response. That clears things up. During a phone conversation with my brother a year or two ago I mentioned that the man who made CASABLANCA also produced Elvis movies. He couldn’t believe it.

I also dislike BECKET. Like everyone else, I like Burton and O’Toole but BECKET is a bore.

I wish Wallis would have stayed at Warners or had gone to MGM. He would have improved the output of either studio. I also wish Martin and Lewis and Elvis would have hooked up with a producer who wanted to be more creative. Oh well.

Posted By suzidoll : January 7, 2010 10:41 pm

Al: I know what you mean about Wallis. I admire him and his peer producers a great deal, but there is something sad about how Wallis handled his new stars of the 1950s and 1960s in old ways. I would like to learn more about him. I have his autobio called STARMAKER, but it conceals as much as it reveals if you know what I mean.

Posted By suzidoll : January 7, 2010 10:41 pm

Al: I know what you mean about Wallis. I admire him and his peer producers a great deal, but there is something sad about how Wallis handled his new stars of the 1950s and 1960s in old ways. I would like to learn more about him. I have his autobio called STARMAKER, but it conceals as much as it reveals if you know what I mean.

Posted By cage free brown : January 8, 2010 2:29 pm

I love “Kissing Cousins”!
all acting is improved by wearing a blonde wig.

I love “Beckett” too but it certainly would have been improved by replacing O’Toole with another Burton in a blond wig.

Posted By cage free brown : January 8, 2010 2:29 pm

I love “Kissing Cousins”!
all acting is improved by wearing a blonde wig.

I love “Beckett” too but it certainly would have been improved by replacing O’Toole with another Burton in a blond wig.

Posted By Al Lowe : January 8, 2010 7:05 pm

There’s a book that tells you a little more about Hal Wallis although it wasn’t written about him. Instead the subject is Jerry Lewis and the title is “King of Comedy.” It is well researched and well written, although I have a couple of quibbles.

Anyway, it shows Wallis more interested in purchasing European art than in making quality Martin-Lewis films. It says he generally made low budget films for his company and loaned out Charlton Heston, Lizabeth Scott and others like Selznick did with his players.

The Wallis portrayal compromises only a small part of the book but you learn more about him than you do from his autobiography, which I read a long time ago.

Posted By Al Lowe : January 8, 2010 7:05 pm

There’s a book that tells you a little more about Hal Wallis although it wasn’t written about him. Instead the subject is Jerry Lewis and the title is “King of Comedy.” It is well researched and well written, although I have a couple of quibbles.

Anyway, it shows Wallis more interested in purchasing European art than in making quality Martin-Lewis films. It says he generally made low budget films for his company and loaned out Charlton Heston, Lizabeth Scott and others like Selznick did with his players.

The Wallis portrayal compromises only a small part of the book but you learn more about him than you do from his autobiography, which I read a long time ago.

Posted By fraught : January 9, 2010 3:00 pm

Very interesting post. I was just at the age in the 50′s that Elvis hit like a tsunami. I saw him on the Dorsey Brother’s TV show which was his first national appearance. Through Facebook I recently reconnected with my girlfriend with whom I was watching and she remembers that night as well, how this person whom we had never heard of sat us straight up in our seats and became a life long memory. I was 14, she was 13. We were in Connecticut and I suppose the whole southern thing about Elvis was over our heads, but the visual of him and the sound of his voice was a far cry from the Patti Pages and Kitty Kallens whom we being given as a steady diet on the radio and TV. “Your Hit Parade” was lethally boring to us; seeing “Doggie in the Window” re-imagined every week by Dorothy Collins and Snookie Lansen was making us crazy. Naturally, we waited for Elvis’ movies and we went to see “Love Me Tender” but then as the fifties went on and we got further along in high school we somehow outgrew Elvis. Even as teenagers Elvis’ movies were unwatchable. We had seen James Dean movies which were psychologically more complex and some of the theaters in our area were showing foreign films which were more sophisticated. (Brigette Bardot)
I don’t remember any of the kids in my high school talking about going to see an Elvis movie except “Love Me Tender” and after that we were all too soingne to think about going to see low budget musicals with one star. I really thing we were aware that these movies were being aimed at a demographic that was southern or mid-western, rural, working class and that they were dumbed down purposely to appeal to drive in viewers and people in towns where there was one theater. It was probably because we were in Connecticut and there was a veneer of intellectual snobbery in the communities where we were living. It was suburban rather than rural. More Revolutionary Road than Dogpatch. I always wanted Elvis to do the movies that James Dean might have done. There was a place for him in the world of serious movies closer to where Rock Hudson was and where Montgomery Clift had been before his accident.

Yeah, Elvis’ movies always made money but we always knew that the Colonel was stiffing some of us original, early fans as we grew into adults.

Posted By fraught : January 9, 2010 3:00 pm

Very interesting post. I was just at the age in the 50′s that Elvis hit like a tsunami. I saw him on the Dorsey Brother’s TV show which was his first national appearance. Through Facebook I recently reconnected with my girlfriend with whom I was watching and she remembers that night as well, how this person whom we had never heard of sat us straight up in our seats and became a life long memory. I was 14, she was 13. We were in Connecticut and I suppose the whole southern thing about Elvis was over our heads, but the visual of him and the sound of his voice was a far cry from the Patti Pages and Kitty Kallens whom we being given as a steady diet on the radio and TV. “Your Hit Parade” was lethally boring to us; seeing “Doggie in the Window” re-imagined every week by Dorothy Collins and Snookie Lansen was making us crazy. Naturally, we waited for Elvis’ movies and we went to see “Love Me Tender” but then as the fifties went on and we got further along in high school we somehow outgrew Elvis. Even as teenagers Elvis’ movies were unwatchable. We had seen James Dean movies which were psychologically more complex and some of the theaters in our area were showing foreign films which were more sophisticated. (Brigette Bardot)
I don’t remember any of the kids in my high school talking about going to see an Elvis movie except “Love Me Tender” and after that we were all too soingne to think about going to see low budget musicals with one star. I really thing we were aware that these movies were being aimed at a demographic that was southern or mid-western, rural, working class and that they were dumbed down purposely to appeal to drive in viewers and people in towns where there was one theater. It was probably because we were in Connecticut and there was a veneer of intellectual snobbery in the communities where we were living. It was suburban rather than rural. More Revolutionary Road than Dogpatch. I always wanted Elvis to do the movies that James Dean might have done. There was a place for him in the world of serious movies closer to where Rock Hudson was and where Montgomery Clift had been before his accident.

Yeah, Elvis’ movies always made money but we always knew that the Colonel was stiffing some of us original, early fans as we grew into adults.

Posted By Jeff L. Shannon : February 14, 2010 6:54 pm

IMPORTANT TO SUZIE! This isa terrific pc asusual, however I had to makerecontact with several-(yourself included) So, whenyou see this please drop me a line

& you should do something-(agree or disagree of course) on the 82nd Annual ACADEMY AWARDS

PLEASE JUST REPLY & AS USUAL I THANK YOU

(P.S. I like elvis’ howeverama bona fide *Sinatra-devotee!)

Posted By Jeff L. Shannon : February 14, 2010 6:54 pm

IMPORTANT TO SUZIE! This isa terrific pc asusual, however I had to makerecontact with several-(yourself included) So, whenyou see this please drop me a line

& you should do something-(agree or disagree of course) on the 82nd Annual ACADEMY AWARDS

PLEASE JUST REPLY & AS USUAL I THANK YOU

(P.S. I like elvis’ howeverama bona fide *Sinatra-devotee!)

Posted By Jeff L. Shannon : February 14, 2010 6:55 pm

& please excuse screwups on above page. I’m not doing well, to put it mildy

Posted By Jeff L. Shannon : February 14, 2010 6:55 pm

& please excuse screwups on above page. I’m not doing well, to put it mildy

Posted By bOb O. : February 18, 2010 11:42 am

Suzidoll:
Good golly miss Molly! That sure is a great article you wrote. I grew up loving those serials and B movies made by the likes of Sam Katzman. In my mid-teens, in the mid 1950s, I discovered Elvis. As a life-long fan, I bristled at friends and acquaintances who unfairly criticized and unfavorably compared him to other actors and singers. But at the same time, I found myself criticizing him at various times throughout my life. I always felt that he could have had better control over his career. After all, he was Elvis Presley. He was the artist. If they wanted him in a movie, it should have been on his terms. In the recording studio, he had his own standards and they were pretty high, as evidenced by most of his musical output.

As to the Colonel not having creative control over Elvis’ scripts or music, I read somewhere that he took money from songwriters who submitted all that inferior music to him to be used in his movies. Then he would insist that Elvis sing and perform that material. That, to my mind, would be exercising some creative control.
Anyway, I really enjoyed your article.

Posted By bOb O. : February 18, 2010 11:42 am

Suzidoll:
Good golly miss Molly! That sure is a great article you wrote. I grew up loving those serials and B movies made by the likes of Sam Katzman. In my mid-teens, in the mid 1950s, I discovered Elvis. As a life-long fan, I bristled at friends and acquaintances who unfairly criticized and unfavorably compared him to other actors and singers. But at the same time, I found myself criticizing him at various times throughout my life. I always felt that he could have had better control over his career. After all, he was Elvis Presley. He was the artist. If they wanted him in a movie, it should have been on his terms. In the recording studio, he had his own standards and they were pretty high, as evidenced by most of his musical output.

As to the Colonel not having creative control over Elvis’ scripts or music, I read somewhere that he took money from songwriters who submitted all that inferior music to him to be used in his movies. Then he would insist that Elvis sing and perform that material. That, to my mind, would be exercising some creative control.
Anyway, I really enjoyed your article.

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