Gospel Elvis #1: “I Believe”

Today, I am beginning Gospel Elvis, a new, occasional series on The Mystery Train Blog. Gospel Elvis will examine songs of faith and inspiration that Elvis released during his lifetime. To be clear, each song won’t necessarily be “strictly” Gospel, but “Gospel Elvis” has a better ring to it than “Songs of Faith and Inspiration Elvis.” While I decided to start in 1957 for this first post, we won’t necessarily go in chronological order, either.


Elvis Presley in LOVING YOU (1957, Paramount)

Kicking off his first session of the new year, Elvis Presley recorded “I Believe” on January 12, 1957, at Radio Recorders in Hollywood. It was his first formal recording of a song of faith. The same session also produced the smash hit “All Shook Up,” which ruled atop the Billboard Top 100 chart for eight weeks to become the number one single of 1957.

RCA first released “I Believe” on the Peace In The Valley Extended Play (EP) album in April 1957. The song made its Long Play (LP) album debut on Elvis’ Christmas Album six months later. In October 1970, RCA released a reconfigured version of Elvis’ Christmas Album on its budget Camden label, leaving out “I Believe.” Instead, a reissue of “I Believe” appeared on the March 1971 Camden LP You’ll Never Walk Alone – one of the best of the Elvis budget releases.

Take a listen to Elvis’ recording of “I Believe” below or over on Youtube.

Credit: Vevo’s Elvis Presley channel (YouTube)

Ervin Drake, Irvin Graham, Jimmy Shirl, and Al Stillman wrote “I Believe” in 1952 for singer/actress Jane Froman. The most popular version, however, belongs to Frankie Laine‘s 1953 recording.

Elvis’ interpretation of the song did not seem to draw from Laine, however. Elvis named Roy Hamilton among his influences, and he no doubt had Hamilton’s 1955 version of “I Believe” in mind when he recorded it. Check it out on Youtube or below.

Credit: Roy Hamilton – Topic channel (YouTube)

What strikes me when listening to Hamilton’s sublime recording is that I can hear not only the influence on Elvis’ “I Believe” in particular, but also on Elvis’ vocals in general. Elvis had many influences, but most of them I do not hear as directly as that of Hamilton.

Now that we have heard two versions of “I Believe,” I want to attempt personally to interpret a couple lines of the lyrics within a Biblical context.

“I believe for everyone who goes astray, Someone will come to show the way.”

The truth is, as humans, all of us go astray. Jesus died so that our sins would be forgiven, however, and Heaven would still be available to us. He already paid for all of our sins, but our contribution to the admission ticket to Paradise is belief in Him (see John 3:16), for Jesus is literally the “way” to Heaven.

“Jesus told him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.'”
John 14:6 NLT

Early Christians were even called “followers of the Way,” including in Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament.

“I believe above the storm the smallest prayer can still be heard.”

I was surprised to discover in the course of research for this post that there is actually some debate among Biblical scholars about whether God truly hears every prayer. To be clear, I do not claim to be a Bible expert. Though I have read it cover-to-cover four times, and currently working on two more read-throughs, the Bible is a dense work. However, in my humble opinion, there is no debate here. Of course God hears every prayer. He’s God! He’s omniscient. Does he grant every request? Of course not, but that’s a whole other discussion.

[Side Note: An interesting oddity about the Elvis version of “I Believe” is that he sings “the smallest prayer can still be heard” whereas the other half dozen or so versions I listened to by various singers for this post, including Hamilton, sing, “the smallest prayer will still be heard.” As this is The Mystery Train, I naturally used the Elvis version of the lyrics.]

One of the wonderful aspects of prayer is that you need not shout for God to hear you. He does, indeed, hear the quietest voice. In fact, you need not speak your prayer at all. You can think to God at any time, and He hears you. For believers, this is taken even a step further. If we can’t pray or don’t know what to pray, the Holy Spirit even steps in and prays for us (Romans 8:26-27).

In life, all of us encounter many storms. As a follower of Jesus, I now find comfort in Him through any such disturbances. I went through multiple life-changing events last year, for instance, many of which could have turned into tumultuous storms, but I approached each of them with much prayer, and Jesus brought me peace (John 14:27) and calm.

“The ropes of death entangled me; floods of destruction swept over me. The grave wrapped its ropes around me; death laid a trap in my path. But in my distress I cried out to the LORD; yes, I prayed to my God for help. He heard me from his sanctuary; my cry to him reached his ears.”
Psalm 18:4-6 NLT

My first exposure to “I Believe” was probably Elvis’ You’ll Never Walk Alone album. When I was a teenager in the 1980s, my family and I were on vacation somewhere or other. Anytime we went to a different place, I would always scour any store we happened to visit for Elvis items not available at home. At a Kmart or similar store, I found a cassette tape version of You’ll Never Walk Alone.

By this time, I had my first Walkman. This was about the third pre-recorded Elvis tape I ever owned. I would go on to acquire less than a dozen total, as my focus was on records and, later, CDs. Tapes were usually either releases I couldn’t find on record or gifts from others. Of course, I probably made well over a hundred Elvis mix tapes for my own use, which was the real appeal of cassette decks.

Anyway, I knew nothing about You’ll Never Walk Alone when I bought it. I just saw it had a lot of song titles I didn’t recognize. It was actually the first Elvis gospel album I ever owned. I can remember playing it on my Walkman in the car ride home from that vacation. Headphones allow for such an intimate listening experience, and they were perfect for You’ll Never Walk Alone.

I didn’t have any Elvis reference books at the time, so I thought the songs were all recorded around the same time. It sounded like a coherent album. In reality, the compilation included songs from throughout the range of 1957-1969. Elvis’ gospel and Christmas songs from various decades mix together better than his other music.

“I Believe” kicked off Side 2 of the cassette. As with many other songs on that release, it became a favorite. What I love about Elvis’ version of the song is how his voice eases back and forth effortlessly between gentle innocence and assertive conviction. I should note that I believed in God for as long as I could remember, but I was more skeptical about the Jesus aspect. However, I would explore and encounter Him in different ways over the years, including through Elvis’ many gospel recordings. It wasn’t until 2018 that all the puzzle pieces came together for me, and I was led to Jesus.

At that point, as a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), I began to experience the world in fresh ways. For instance, I was never an “outdoors” person. Now, I am often drawn to it. Walking in parks has become a favorite activity.

Music I had heard for decades began to take on new meanings. Suddenly, Elvis’ catalog of gospel was not just a collection of beautifully performed songs, but the most compelling and personal statements of his entire career.

My best friend taught me something she calls, “finding signs of Him.” What she means by that is taking a few minutes to stop, breathe, listen, look, and find God. There are signs of Him everywhere. “I Believe” understands this as well with the lyrics, “Every time I hear a newborn baby cry or touch a leaf or see the sky, then I know why I believe.” Evidence of God literally surrounds us.

To conclude our look at “I Believe” today, I want to sign off with my favorite version. This is Mahalia Jackson, 1953. Listen to her voice, surely evidence of God.

Credit: Mahalia Jackson – Topic channel (YouTube)


“And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.”
Hebrews 11:6 NLT

That’s All Right: July 5, 1954

Above is a SUN 209 reproduction from my collection. I hope someday to own the real thing!

Above is a SUN 209 reproduction from my collection. I hope someday to own the real thing!

Sixty years ago today, on July 5, 1954, the whole world changed for 19-year-old Elvis Presley as he recorded his first record for Sam Phillips at SUN Records, “That’s All Right.” Soon thereafter, Elvis would change the whole world.

What I love about the SUN version of this song is that you can hear the joy in Elvis’s voice as he sings the blues number. Backed only by Scotty Moore on electric guitar, Bill Black on the upright bass, and his own strumming on acoustic guitar, Elvis poured his all into the song and produced something that transcended its individual parts.

Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup wrote and recorded “That’s All Right” in 1946 for the RCA Bluebird label. Both recordings are essential in the history of American music.

Though “That’s All Right” essentially became a regional hit for Elvis, in less than two years he would become an international superstar.

Recommended reading to learn more at some of my favorite sites:

iTunes Speedway: Race for the Elvis Cup

Elvis Presley is Steve Grayson in SPEEDWAY (1968)

Elvis Presley is Steve Grayson in SPEEDWAY (1968, MGM)

On the iTunes Speedway

Ever since I finished backing up all of my Elvis music to iTunes, I have been wanting to do some number-crunching. I usually rate a song when I first place it on iTunes, using the built-in star ratings of 1-5 (I reserve 0 stars to mean “not yet rated”). I then update the rating, if necessary, whenever the track plays.

For updates, I only allow myself to move the song one star rating in either direction per play. That way, if I am in an extremely bad or good mood, it will not overly influence the rating of a given song.

I now have nearly five years worth of data about how I really feel about the songs within my Elvis collection. This will allow me to determine which individual years and multi-year spans are truly my favorites, at least according to the numbers.

My Picks

Before crunching those numbers, though, I used my heart to answer some basic questions. I thought this would make for an interesting comparison against the iTunes race results.

Favorite Elvis Year: 1970
Top Five Elvis Years: 1970, 1968, 1969, 1957, 1955
Favorite 5-year Elvis Span: 1968-1972
Elvis Decade Ranking: 1970s, 1950s, 1960s

Race for the Elvis Cup: The Rules

For this analysis, I eliminated any years for which I had less than 40 Elvis tracks. This resulted in the removal of 1953 (2 tracks) and 1959 (19 tracks). I also eliminated all non-musical tracks (e.g., “Introductions By Elvis,” “Elvis Talks”).

For each of the remaining 23 years, I determined the average star rating for all applicable tracks. I also determined the percentage of tracks from that year that earned a perfect 5-star rating. For instance, the results for 1956 were:

1956
Total Tracks: 164
Average Rating: 3.91 (out of 5)
Perfect 5-star Tracks: 40.24%

The year with the highest average rating received 23 points on down to the year with the lowest average rating, which received 1 point. I then applied this same logic down the line by year for the percentage rankings for perfect 5-star tracks.

This gave each year a score ranging from a low of 2 to a high of 46. However, there were several ties down the line. The tie-breakers were:

1.) Average Rating (i.e., the tied year with the highest average rating wins the position)
2.) (If necessary) Perfect 5-Star Tracks (i.e., the year with the highest 5-star tracks percentage wins the position)

Victory Lane

The results were interesting. Leading the pack was the year 1968, with a perfect score of 46 points.

Nearly 85% of the Elvis tracks I had from 1968 were connected to the ELVIS television special project in some way, so that definitely helped stack the deck. Among them were “If I Can Dream,” one of my all-time favorite songs, and other tracks from Memories: The ’68 Comeback Special, a stellar album that includes the full June 27, 6 PM “Sit Down” show.

Top Five Elvis Years
#1 1968 (46 points)
#2 1970 (43 points, wins 2nd position over 1969 on Average Rating tie-breaker)
#3 1969 (43 points)
#4 1967 (38 points)
#5 1955 (37 points, wins 5th position over 1957 on Average Rating tie-breaker)

The real surprise for me was 1967 making the Top Five. Highlights for 1967 included the September sessions in Nashville that produced standouts like “Guitar Man,” “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” and “You Don’t Know Me.” In fact, alternate takes from that session, many of which are collected on FTD’s Elvis Sings Guitar Man, helped propel 1967 ahead due to the number of five-star ratings.

1965 came in last place, with a minimal score of 2 points (no surprise there). I was surprised that 1977 (5 points) was not able to overtake 1964 (8 points) and wound up as Elvis’ second-worst year.

5-Year Mission

I was also interested in determining my favorite 5-year span. As noted above, I usually say my favorite Elvis time period is 1968-1972, with 1954-1958 running a close second. How did the numbers match against my picks?

To my surprise, it turned out that my favorite 5-year Elvis span was actually 1966-1970, which came in at a whopping 198 points. 1968-1972 earned a collective 183 points, while 1954-1958 came in at 146 points. In other words, this race was not even close.

I often state that the opening salvos of Elvis’ comeback were actually fired in 1966 during the How Great Thou Art sessions, so perhaps I should have seen this coming. 1969 included the Memphis sessions that produced “Suspicious Minds,” “Kentucky Rain,” and “In The Ghetto,” his return to live performances, and even a strong soundtrack on the Change of Habit film. 1970 featured the That’s The Way It Is project, including the Nashville sessions, the summer rehearsals, and the August live performances.

The five-year span that earned the least points was 1961-1965, with a combined total of only 50, barely more than the single year of 1968.

Elvis Decades

Now, to answer that age-old question, what is your favorite Elvis decade? Though 1964 and 1965 are hard to love, I otherwise enjoy Elvis’ entire career. When pressed, however, I state that my favorite decade is the 1970s. What did the numbers say?

Again, they proved me wrong. The 1950s won out, with an average of 29.2 points. Second place was the 1970s, well behind at an average of 22.88 points. This barely edged out the 1960s, which had an average of 22.3 points.

Elvis professionally recorded during only five years in the 1950s, and the quality of his output was much more consistent in that time than in the 1960s and 1970s. The 1970s were brought way down by outliers like 1977 (5 points) and 1974 (10 points), while the same occurred for the 1960s with 1965 (2 points), 1962 (8 points), and 1964 (8 points). However, even the 1950s had its own outlier of 1958 (10 points).

Awarding the Elvis Cup

The analytical side of my personality loved reviewing these numbers. The emotional side of me, though, still believes that 1970 is my favorite Elvis year, no matter what iTunes says.

For me, feelings always rule out in the end, so the Elvis Cup is hereby awarded to 1970, the reigning champion.

King Creole: Alec falls just short of record in Elvis Trivialities #15 victory

Danny Fisher’s fake name did not fool Alec, who answered Elvis Trivialities #15 correctly before anyone else. Alec came just a minute short of tying Steve’s record time, which has stood for nearly two years.

And the answer is…

“George” is the name that Elvis Presley’s character first introduces himself as to Nellie (Dolores Hart) in the movie King Creole.

Though Danny meets her earlier in the film, he does not introduce himself to Nellie until he has her right outside of Room 205. Rather than give his real name, he tells her it is George. Within moments, however, he feels so guilty for propositioning her that he reveals his true identity. For a detailed breakdown of this scene, I refer you to the always fantastic work of Sheila O’Malley at the Sheila Variations blog.

Nellie (Dolores Hart) and "George" (Elvis Presley) outside of Room 205 in KING CREOLE

Nellie (Dolores Hart) and “George” (Elvis Presley) outside of Room 205 in KING CREOLE

First-time winner Alec not only gets a big batch of Southern Creole Bragging Rights, but also a spot among The Mystery Train’s Night Riders. An honorable mention also goes out to Gary Wells (AKA Wellsy) for giving the correct answer while Alec’s earlier comment was invisible due to being held for moderation.

* * *

Will you use your real name or a fake one if you win Elvis Trivialities next time? Subscribe to The Mystery Train Blog using the feature in the menu bar to the right. Then, you will be notified whenever there is a new post – because the next trivia challenge could come along at any moment. For all you know, I am typing it out right now.


The Mystery Train’s Night Riders

  • June 14, 2013: Alec (0:18) | Honorable Mention: Wellsy (3:01)
  • February 22, 2013: Thomas (13:36)
  • January 11, 2013: George Millar (4:19)
  • December 23, 2012: Thomas (0:36)
  • October 9, 2012: David (14:38) | Honorable Mention: John (22:06)
  • February 4, 2012: Thomas (13:52)
  • February 3, 2012: Thomas (2:18)
  • December 21, 2011: Wellsy (2:37)
  • October 31, 2011: Thomas (17:32)
  • October 1, 2011: Jimmy Cool (1:01)
  • September 9, 2011: Steve Brogdon (0:17) <— Record time
  • August 6, 2011: Thomas (2:26)
  • July 9, 2011: Thomas (5:26)
  • June 23, 2011: Fred Wolfe (0:18)
  • June 22, 2011: Ty stumps the train (no winner)

My grandmother worked in the ticket booth of a theater for decades. I dedicate this series of movie posts to her, who would have turned 103 this year. I often remember her when I watch movies.

King Creole: Elvis Trivialities #15

Welcome to another exciting edition of Elvis Trivialities!

Elvis Trivialities On TheMysteryTrainBlog.com

Your question is…

What name does Elvis Presley’s character first introduce himself as to Nellie (Dolores Hart) in the movie King Creole?

If you’re the first person to answer this question correctly in the comments below, you will take home a big batch of Southern Creole Bragging Rights.

Good luck!


My grandmother worked in the ticket booth of a theater for decades. I dedicate this series of movie posts to her, who would have turned 103 this year. I often remember her when I watch movies.

Cinematic Justice: NOBODY short film to focus on 18-year-old Elvis Presley

“He said he was a singer. I said, ‘What kind of a singer are you?’ He said, ‘I sing all kinds.’ I said, ‘Who do you sound like?’ He said, ‘I don’t sound like nobody.'” –Memphis Recording Service office manager Marion Keisker recalling her Summer 1953 meeting with Elvis (1)

Elvis, circa. 1953

Elvis, circa. 1953

“My ultimate goal with Nobody is to give Elvis Presley the cinematic justice he deserves, even if only through an independent short film,” said William Bryan, writer/director/producer of Nobody. The film, currently seeking funding on Kickstarter, will portray Elvis in the waning days of his senior year in high school. A key event will be his performance at the April 1953 Humes High School talent show, which gave the shy singer enough confidence to walk into Memphis Recording Service just weeks later to record a demo.

Bryan, an Elvis fan since he was 11-years-old, has made an annual visit to Memphis for the last ten years. While studying at Columbia College Chicago, he made numerous short films. His goal for Nobody, which is also produced by 2011 Columbia College graduate Tom Radovich, is that it inspire today’s dreamers.

“Sure, this might sound a bit romanticized,” Bryan explained, “but think about who Elvis Presley was at the time of our story. He was a senior in high school who wasn’t the sports hero, didn’t have a girlfriend…he really was a nobody.”

While Nobody focuses on early Elvis, Bryan does not limit his fandom to that era. “I’ve been listening to a lot of ballad numbers that Elvis recorded between 1969 and 1971. ‘I’ll Never Know’ and ‘I’ve Lost You’ have been two of my favorites this week,” he said.

Nobody‘s Kickstarter campaign ends on June 1. If it can secure enough funding to proceed, the independent production promises a new look at Elvis compared to previous dramatizations of his life. “With all due respect to the filmmakers who have come before me and already told an Elvis story, many of the ‘Hollywood’ productions have unfortunately been less-than-tasteful, historically inaccurate, or worse, both,” said Bryan.

Reference

(1) ELVIS: The Biography by Jerry Hopkins, Plexus, London, 2007, p. 41.


Considering that as recent as four days ago, I noted that I no longer care to watch dramatizations of Elvis’ life, you may wonder why I chose to cover this particular story. I believe Nobody has a chance to distance itself from many of the other films made about Elvis over the years due to the most important ingredient in any creative endeavor: Passion. Bryan seems to have a strong passion for the subject, which will hopefully translate into a special film.

As with all Elvis dramatizations, though, another important aspect will be casting. This is even more important for a short film, I would say, because there is less time for the audience to connect with the character. For a movie such as Nobody to be taken seriously, a strong actor needs to be cast – not someone doing an Elvis caricature.

This should be a fun story to keep an eye on in the coming months. My thanks to William Bryan for taking part in an email interview for this article.

King Creole: The Making Of The Movie

Elvis Presley, 1958

Elvis Presley in King Creole, 1958

King Creole was based on the 1952 novel A Stone For Danny Fisher by Harold Robbins. The novel’s protagonist is a boxer in New York, which the movie adapted into a singer in New Orleans to better suit audience expectations of its star, Elvis Presley. Elvis read the novel as part of his preparations for the role of Danny Fisher.

Producer Hal Wallis had been trying to get the film version of A Stone For Danny Fisher off the ground since 1955, long before Elvis was attached to the project. At that time, A Stone For Danny Fisher was also playing as an off-Broadway production.

James Dean was even rumored to have been in the running for the movie’s lead at one point. This was Wallis’ second Elvis movie. He would go on to produce nine Elvis movies in all.

Hal Wallis: “Michael Curtiz directed the film and he has a very sharp but romantic instinct. Walter Matthau made an excellent heavy and we had marvelous locations in New Orleans” (1).

Controversy swirled around King Creole before shooting even began. In late 1957, Elvis received his draft notice ordering him into the US Army as of January 1958.

With production slated to begin in Hollywood that same month, Paramount requested a deferment from the Memphis draft board, citing $300,000 it had already pumped into the movie during pre-production. Milton Bowers of the draft board replied that a deferment might be possible under the circumstances, but that Elvis would have to be the one to request it.

On Christmas Eve, 1957, Elvis wrote a letter requesting extra time before reporting to the Army in order to make King Creole. He completed the letter by wishing a “Merry Christmas” to the draft board members. Bowers and the draft board indeed granted his extension request, but soon received heat from other organizations – including the national chapter of the American Legion – calling for the immediate induction of Elvis.

Milton Bowers: “You know what made me angry about the entire thing is that he would have automatically gotten the extension if he hadn’t been Elvis Presley the superstar” (2).

Elvis Presley: “I’m glad they were nice enough to let me make this picture because I think it will be the best one I’ve made” (3).

On January 10, 1958, just two days after celebrating his 23rd birthday, Elvis departed Memphis on a train for Los Angeles. He brought along several friends, including Alan Fortas.

Alan Fortas: “Every town we passed through, no matter what time of morning or night, the whole station was jam-packed. These people knew as soon as Elvis finished this movie, he was going in the Army, so most of them considered it the last time to see him. […] People knew and they were lined up along the tracks all the way across America” (4).

Elvis arrived in Hollywood on January 13 and reported for pre-production. During the week, he also began work on the soundtrack at Radio Recorders.

During pre-production, the movie was titled Sing, You Sinners. This title was changed to Danny, and finally King Creole, based on the strength of the rock ‘n’ roll tune Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller wrote for the soundtrack.

Filming began on January 20. Many of Elvis’ early scenes were with Jan Shepard, who played his sister, Mimi.

Jan Shepard: “[W]e worked together alone for about a week, because we did the opening of the show. He was […] just a lot of fun and buoyant, not guarded at all. There was a five-and-dime store on our set, and in the morning I would find earrings and little bracelets, little five-and-dime stuff on my dressing room table. I used to call him the last of the big-time spenders!” (5)

Because of his character’s name, Elvis often sang “Danny Boy” on set. He would return to the folk song many times over the years, including a 1959 home recording captured while he was stationed in Germany (available on the posthumous release A Golden Celebration). He formally recorded the song in 1976 at Graceland for the album From Elvis Presley Boulevard, Memphis, Tennessee. An organist played the song at the beginning of Elvis’ funeral in 1977.

Dolores Hart appeared as Nellie, one of Danny’s love interests. She had previously appeared with Elvis in 1957’s Loving You, also a Hal Wallis production.

Elvis Presley: “[King Creole] was quite a challenge for me because it was written for a more experienced actor” (6).

Dolores Hart: “Elvis, no matter what anyone says, deserves credit as a person of talent. There is no reason he shouldn’t soar to the heights the kings [of the screen] occupy now” (7).

Jan Shepard: “[Elvis] was very concentrated, very focused on playing Danny. For a kid coming in and just beginning his career he had a great sense of timing; there was great honesty in his acting. He was a very good listener, and he just became the young boy […]. Just like in his music, he really got involved in his acting” (5).

Walter Matthau played Fisher’s antagonist, Maxie Fields. It was his sixth film.

Walter Matthau, 1958

Walter Matthau in King Creole

Walter Matthau: “I almost hesitate, I creep up to the sentence, [Elvis] was an instinctive actor. Because that is almost a derogation of his talents. That’s saying, ‘Well, you know, he’s just a dumb animal who does it well by instinct.’ No, he was quite bright, too. He was very intelligent. Also, he was intelligent enough to understand what a character was and how to play the character simply by being himself through the means of the story” (8).

Michael Curtiz’s directing credits extended back to 1912. In addition to 1942’s Casablanca, for which he won an Oscar, his other work, from among nearly 200 films, included the 1937 original version of Kid Galahad, Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), and White Christmas (1954). Curtiz was attached to King Creole before it was transformed into an Elvis movie.

Jan Shepard: “Curtiz said he thought Elvis was going to be a very conceited boy, but when he started working with him, he said, ‘No, this is a lovely boy, and he’s going to be a wonderful actor'” (5).

Walter Matthau: “Michael Curtiz used to call him Elvy and he’d call me Valty. He’d say, ‘Now Elvy and Valty, come here, now Valty, this is not Academy Award scene. Don’t act so much. You are high-price actor. Make believe you are low-price actor. Let Elvy act.’ But Elvy didn’t overact. He was not a punk. He was very elegant, sedate . . . refined and sophisticated” (8).

Jan Shepard: “You just didn’t have a lot of fooling around with Curtiz […]. But no matter what Curtiz would ask of Elvis, he would say, ‘Okay, you’re the boss'” (5).

Elvis at a party in 1958

Elvis performing at Jan Shepard’s birthday party on February 22, 1958. Also pictured is Dolores Hart on clarinet.

Hart threw a birthday party for Shepard on February 22. Elvis showed up with a stuffed tiger that he named “Danny Boy.” His birthday gift for Shepard was a movie camera, definitely not from the five-and-dime store. He also played guitar and sang at the party.

King Creole was the first Elvis movie to include location shooting. On March 1, the film’s cast and crew headed for New Orleans by train. At this point, Red West, Elvis’ friend since his high school days, and actor Nick Adams, who Elvis had befriended in 1956, joined up with the rest of his entourage for the trip.

Carolyn Jones played Ronnie, Danny’s other love interest. She brought her husband, actor Aaron Spelling, along for the train ride to New Orleans. The couple would divorce in 1964. Spelling later went on to produce dozens of television series, including Charlie’s Angels and Beverly Hills 90210.

Tom Parker, Elvis’ manager, expressed concerns about security on the location shoot to Wallis. Wallis assured Parker that they could handle it. After all, he had worked with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis at the peak of the duo’s popularity.

Alan Fortas: “There were thousands of people. Hal Wallis couldn’t believe it. […] I never saw so many people in my life. They declared it Elvis Presley Day and let the kids out of school and it took us two hours to get back to the hotel no matter where we were, even from across the street” (9).

In the French Quarter, the car carrying Elvis was almost overturned by the massive crowd.

Carolyn Jones: “[Elvis] had to ride in an old sedan, lying on the floor in the back, so his fans couldn’t mob him” (10).

Elvis took over the tenth floor of the Roosevelt Hotel, one block from where they were filming in the French Quarter. Hotel security was so tight that no one was admitted to the tenth floor. As a joke, Hart, Jones, and Adams armed themselves with toy guns and held up the elevator operator to force their way to Elvis’ floor. The elevator operator was not in on the joke and was apparently still shaken the next day.

Alan Fortas: “[W]e got on the elevator and we said, ‘Tenth floor, please.’ The elevator operator said, ‘No, sir, I can’t stop on the tenth floor. Mr. Presley is up there and we just can’t stop.’ Elvis was on the elevator with us and he said, ‘Yeah, I know. I’m Elvis.’ The elevator operator looked straight at him and said, ‘I’m sorry, sir, I can’t stop on that floor for anybody.’ We had to go to the eleventh floor and walk down” (9).

The film’s climax was shot at a house on stilts at Lake Pontchartrain. Elvis and Jones shared scenes there.

Carolyn Jones: “[Elvis] was always asking a lot of questions. God, he was young! I didn’t think anyone could be that young. He was always talking about his folks and about the house [Graceland] he’d just bought them” (8).

When onlookers at Lake Pontchartrain became unmanageable, Elvis had to escape through the back of the house to a motorboat that whisked him away.

Though Memphis was tantalizingly close, the group had to return by train to Hollywood to be released from King Creole. Elvis attended a wrap party on March 12, and then he and his friends were on yet another train. Destination: Memphis.

Alan Fortas: “We’d just sit and talk [on the train], try to write songs, try to sing. You know, just typical ol’ boys. But it got to us by the time we got to Dallas. We couldn’t take it any longer. So we got off that train and rented some Cadillacs and drove the rest of the way home” (11).

Elvis arrived home on March 14 and was inducted into the Army on March 24.

Paramount released King Creole throughout the United States on July 2. It peaked at #5 on the Variety charts. At this time, Private Presley was still stationed at Fort Hood in Texas.

Hal Wallis: “Now, although I don’t have all the figures, I believe that one of the least successful of Elvis’s films was King Creole. But that was my favorite!” (1)

Dolores Hart and Elvis Presley in King Creole

Dolores Hart and Elvis in King Creole

Dolores Hart: “Elvis is a young man with an enormous capacity of love . . . but I don’t think he has found his happiness. I think he is terribly lonely” (12).

According to longtime friend Sonny West, if Elvis had his way, he would have reunited with director Michael Curtiz when Elvis was cast in a remake of Kid Galahad, which filmed in late 1961 (13). This time, Elvis actually played a boxer, albeit a singing one. Despite Elvis’ campaign, Phil Karlson received the directing nod instead. Curtiz passed away in April 1962 at the age of 74.

Elvis later reunited with Jan Shepard in 1966’s Paradise, Hawaiian Style, in which she played Betty Kohana. Shepard had maintained a friendship with Hart after King Creole. By this time, the quality of Elvis’ movies had declined. While King Creole is a contender for Elvis’ best movie, Paradise, Hawaiian Style is a contender for his worst.

Jan Shepard: “One time [Elvis] asked about Dolores Hart, and we had a little bit of a conversation. In the quiet moments, he was still very sweet. When we reminisced about Creole, he said, ‘Honey, that was my favorite picture'” (14).


Bibliography

  • Careless Love: The Unmaking Of Elvis Presley by Peter Guralnick, Little, Brown And Company, Boston, 1999.
  • Down At The End Of Lonely Street: The Life And Death Of Elvis Presley by Peter Harry Brown and Pat H. Broeske, Dutton, New York, 1997.
  • ELVIS: The Biography by Jerry Hopkins, Plexus, London, 2007.
  • Elvis Commemorative Edition, compiled by Bill DeNight, Sharon Fox, and Ger Rijff, Publications International, Lincolnwood, IL, 2002.
  • Elvis Day By Day: The Definitive Record Of His Life And Music by Peter Guralnick and Ernst Jorgensen, Ballantine Books, New York, 1999.
  • The Elvis Encyclopedia by Adam Victor, Overlook Duckworth, New York, 2008.
  • Elvis: The Great Performances, dir. Andrew Solt, perf. Elvis Presley, 1989, DVD, SOFA, 2011.
  • Elvis: His Life From A To Z by Fred L. Worth and Steve D. Tamerius, Wings Books, New York, 1990.
  • Elvis In Private, edited by Peter Haining, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1987.
  • Elvis: Still Taking Care Of Business by Sonny West with Marshall Terrill, Triumph Books, Chicago, 2007.
  • Good Rockin’ Tonight: Twenty Years On The Road And On The Town With Elvis by Joe Esposito and Elena Oumano, Avon Books, New York, 1994.
  • Internet Movie Database, accessed March 23, 2013.
  • King Creole, dir. Michael Curtiz, perf. Elvis Presley, Carolyn Jones, and Walter Matthau, 1958, DVD, Paramount, 2000.
  • Last Train To Memphis: The Rise Of Elvis Presley by Peter Guralnick, Little, Brown And Company, Boston, 1994.
  • Viva Las Elvis: Celebrating The King, compiled by Peggy Thompson, Arsenal Pulp Press, Vancouver, 1994.

References

(1) Elvis In Private, p. 92
(2) Down At The End Of Lonely Street, p. 137
(3) Last Train To Memphis, p. 446
(4) ELVIS: The Biography, p. 129
(5) Last Train To Memphis, p. 450
(6) Last Train To Memphis, p. 456
(7) Elvis Commemorative Edition, p. 112
(8) Last Train To Memphis, p. 451
(9) ELVIS: The Biography, p. 130
(10) Down At The End Of Lonely Street, p. 139
(11) ELVIS: The Biography, p. 131
(12) Elvis: His Life From A To Z, p. 85
(13) Elvis: Still Taking Care Of Business, p. 120
(14) Careless Love, p. 209


My grandmother worked in the ticket booth of a theater for decades. I dedicate this series of movie posts to her, who would have turned 103 this month. I often remember her when I watch movies.