elvis belches and throws his gum -- 10/19/17

Today's encore selection -- from Channeling Elvis by Allen J. Wiener. In 1956, a 21-year-old Elvis Presley made his first appearance on national television -- not on the Ed Sullivan Show, but on the Dorsey brothers' more poorly rated Stage Show. His schedule was frantic, with as many as three live shows a day, seven days a week. He was on the cusp of superstardom, but the television producers needed him to tone down his outrageous behavior:

"[In the period before his first television appearance on the poorly rated Stage Show, his manager Colonel Tom] Parker became increasingly concerned about some of Presley's unruly stage antics. Although impressed with Elvis, RCA representative Chick Crumpacker also noticed that Elvis 'did some things that were rather outrageous, which had to be curbed later, like belching into the microphone and tossing his chewing gum out to the crowd. He was crude, but it was calculated. He wanted to appeal in that way as well as vocally.' [Talent agent Harry] Kalcheim expressed similar concerns and also fretted that Elvis spent too much stage time clowning, cracking corny jokes, and talking to the audience instead of singing. Parker knew that such antics were unlikely to go down well with a mainstream television audience, and he cautioned Presley not to ad lib or make 'gestures' on television unless instructed to. This was a type of control that Elvis had not experienced before, and it would escalate in the coming months.

Elvis Presley: The Dorsey Brothers' Stage Show, March 17, 1956

"Elvis remained busy as he sandwiched TV appearances around a grueling schedule of live concerts, which found him in a different city every day, typically performing three forty-five-minute sets at each location. ...

"Elvis threw everything he had into his live performances and left the stage exhausted and soaked in sweat. A Winston-Salem, North Carolina, review observed that 'he slouches; he scratches; he mugs; he bumps; he grinds . . . The frenzy, the hysteria, the wild and wonderful shrieks of sheer joy, these were reserved for the remarkable young man with the long hair, the pearly teeth, the stylish slouch, the incredible conceit: Elvis Presley.' ...

"Then, in an eerie flash of what was to come much later, Elvis collapsed following a performance in Jacksonville, Florida. He was taken to a hospital where he was diagnosed with exhaustion and told to slow down -- an impossible task for him at the time. ...

"His stage attire was carefully selected to draw attention. 'On the street, out in public,' he said, 'I wear real conservative clothes -- something that's not too flashy, but on stage I like 'em as flashy as you can get 'em. On stage your clothes play a very important part.' ...

"Ironically, Elvis never warmed to television. 'None of us liked television,' Scotty Moore recalls. 'Elvis took to the movie cameras later on like a duck to water, but he didn't like television. It restricted him.' Drummer D.J. Fontana, agrees. 'You had to play a little quieter. They'd say, "don't play this," or "don't play that. We've got to control you up in the booth" and all that stuff.' However, both musicians believe that, among all of Elvis' television appearances, Stage Show came closest to capturing his early, uninhibited stage performances. 'He was definitely different on Stage Show,' D.J. says. 'He gyrated more and was more natural. When he was younger he was more flamboyant. He didn't care what he did.' However, D.J. is equally certain that television never fully captured Elvis in performance. At live concerts, 'he was all over the stage, and the TV cameras couldn't have kept up with him. He'd go from one end of the stage to the other, jump up and down, lay down on the stage. He was a high-energy performer' who struggled to restrain himself to accommodate television. Moore says, 'It was one of those things where you had to be there. The camera just couldn't catch it,' but he agrees that 'Elvis was more energetic on the Dorsey shows. There was no heavy pressure on him yet, and no one told him "don't do this" and "don't do that.'''

"They would start telling him that soon enough, however, and the taming process would continue through the year as Elvis gradually abandoned many of his physical, sometimes crude stage antics."

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Allen J. Wiener


Channeling Elvis: How Television Saved the King of Rock 'n' Roll


CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform


Copyright 2014 Allen J. Wiener


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