'Elvis: The Movies'
Interview with author Alan Hanson
EIN Interview by Piers Beagley - January 2018
Elvis Presley's dream was to become a movie star, and the dream started well for him. His acting ability developed steadily throughout his first four movies. But, alas, it was the music which first gave him access to Hollywood, that proved the undoing of his acting career. The inevitable result was a long series of films with weak plots in which only the music mattered.
Author Alan Hanson chronicles Elvis' cinematic career, combined with hundreds of stunning photos from Erik Lorentzen's exclusive colection.
EIN's Piers Beagley interviewed Alan Hanson to find out more..
'Elvis: The Movies' author Alan Hanson grew up in Spokane, Washington. In the sixties he not only saw every Elvis movie, but actually would spend a whole Saturday afternoon inside the theater so he could watch each new Elvis movie twice. Naturally, every record Elvis put out he bought and played until the grooves wore out.
After leaving military service in 1975, he began a thirty-year career teaching English and in 2005 when he left the field of public education started writing and publishing articles.
In 2007, his excellent book, Elvis ’57: The Final Fifties Tours, was published.
He launched his Elvis-History-Blog.com in March 2008 and have been blogging on the site since then.
Hanson twice saw Elvis perform in concert, first in Seattle in 1970 and again in Spokane in 1976. The latter performance was viewed entirely through the lens of a camera, taking nearly 80 photos of Elvis on stage.
Author Alan Hanson explains.. Elvis Presley's dream was to become a movie star, and the dream started well for him. His acting ability developed steadily throughout his first four movies. But, alas, it was the music which first gave him access to Hollywood, that proved the undoing of his acting career. The inevitable result was a long series of films with weak plots in which only the music mattered.
In this book fasn will find my reviews of each of Elvis Presley’s 33 films, plus 'This Is Elvis' a documentary released after his death. For each film, I mix my remembrances with excerpts from reviews of the film when it was first released. I hope fans will truly enjoy this chronicle of Elvis's cinematic career.
EIN: Thanks for agreeing to chat about your new 'Elvis The Movies' book. I only received my copy yesterday but I am very impressed. First let me ask you, how did the book come about?
Alan H: It was all Erik’s idea. He had used some of my articles in books he had published in the past, so I wasn’t surprised when a message from him appeared in my inbox on December 15, 2016. (I know the timeline because I filed all the Erik’s emails on this project.) This time, though, he had something much more ambitious in mind. He wanted to use all of the 33 Elvis movie reviews posted on my website, elvis-history-blog.com, in a proposed book called simply, “Elvis – The Movies.” He also mentioned he wanted to use some other articles by me in the book, so I knew if I got involved I’d have to write some more articles. He was clear that he wanted every word in the book to be written by me. I thought about it for a few minutes. Then I emailed back … “I’m in!”
EIN: The last time we talked was close to ten years ago when you published your stunning book 'Elvis '57'. Have you been thinking of publishing other Elvis books since then?
Alan H: Not at all. I self-published that book, and nearly 10 years later, I still haven’t made a cent on it. In fact, I’m still about $300 in the hole. Erik’s commitment to take full financial responsibility for “Elvis – The Movies” was one of the reasons I agreed to do it.
EIN: How many months did it take to put the whole book together?
Alan H: As I said, Erik first proposed his vision of the book to me in December 2016. He was working on another project at the time, so it wasn’t until mid-March that he was ready to turn his attention to the movies book. He asked me to write some additional material, so that took awhile. About mid-June we started emailing back and forth almost daily until the book was finished in early November.
EIN: Your articles provide far more interesting information about Elvis' movies than the usual general run-through you might see in other movie books. What drove you to write about every movie individually?
Alan H: “Elvis ’57” was published in 2007. I started elvis-history-blog.com at that time so that I could sell copies online. To draw traffic to the site, I had to create come content in a hurry. In addition to blogging every week, I wrote and posted reviews of two Elvis movies each week. So I wrote the 33 movie reviews in about a four-month span in late 2007 just to get some pages up and running on my site. I’ve been pleasantly surprised over the years by how often I get requests to use some of the reviews in magazines, books, and, most recently, FTD CD booklets.
EIN: Your blog is very thorough in what you have examined and written about. So what do you say to Elvis fans who wonder why they should get “Elvis – The Movies” when they can always go to your website and read all of your movie reviews there?
Alan H: First of all, for “Elvis – The Movies” I reedited all the reviews to make them flow together easier in a common narrative. More importantly, though, there is so much more to “Elvis – The Movies” than just those 33 film reviews. Averaging about 1,200 words each, the 33 reviews total up to about 40,000 words.
But in “Elvis – The Movies” there are 17 other articles, which are only available in the book. Subjects of these other articles include the roles of Colonel Parker and Hal Wallis in Elvis’ film career; Elvis’ Paramount screen test; behind the scenes information concerning Love Me Tender, Loving You, and G.I. Blues; Elvis’ 16 Hollywood contracts; other teen idols in Hollywood; Elvis’ support of the Motion Picture Relief Fund; and a closing review of the documentary This Is Elvis. These 17 articles, which are exclusive to “Elvis – The Movies,” add an additional 22,000 words of text to the book.
Elvis in Speedway - one of the author's favourite photos
EIN: What articles or opinions do you think might surprise readers of this book?
Alan H: I’m an Elvis fan, but I’m also a historian by training. A have a lot of pleasant memories of seeing Elvis’ movies back in the sixties, and I think that comes across in “Elvis — The Movies.” However, historical honesty requires that Elvis be held responsible for the course of his Hollywood career, and that comes across in this book too. Because I’m an Elvis fan, and have been for over 50 years, I think it will surprise readers that I believe Elvis was more to blame than Colonel Parker for his failure to become a good dramatic actor. The Colonel was an unsavory character, to be sure, but in the end, Elvis signed all of the 16 Hollywood contracts that Parker negotiated.
EIN: But surely as a manager Parker should have been looking for creative inspiration for his only artist as well as simple profit? Doesn’t the way Steve Binder forced Parker’s hand to get away from that original idea for a bland Christmas special show that Parker had no real idea or interest in what the public wanted from Elvis and what Elvis wanted himself?
Alan H: As pointed out in the book, Colonel Parker gave Elvis a choice as early as Love Me Tender—to be a serious actor or to make money. Elvis chose to make money. All that Parker ever promised Elvis were to make him famous and make him rich. He never thought Elvis had what it took to be a great actor. If Elvis really wanted to go that route, he should have stood up for himself. Instead, he signed the contracts and he took the money. Elvis could have fired Parker at any time, and at times he did exercise his right to veto his manager's decisions, as he did with the 68 special, as you noted. He just didn't do it very often. As for "what the public wanted from Elvis," didn't box office receipts reveal that? G.I. Blues and Flaming Star were released a month apart. The musical-comedy was a big hit; the western was a flop by comparison. Elvis understood what kind of films the public wanted to see him in.
Some of the images of Elvis and Col Parker are wonderful - if a little scary!
EIN: I do like the way your chronological look at Elvis’ Hollywood contracts helps explain how he got locked into terrible productions years in advance. Your book is also different from the “usual” Elvis movie books in that you don’t waste time explaining the plot or listing all the credits. One of my favourite articles is 'From King Creole To G.I. Blues' where you state that the unique partnership between Elvis and Parker never worked better than when Elvis was out of the country! As a good manager shouldn't Parker have visited Elvis in Germany after all Hal Wallis did?
Alan H: I don't see what could have been accomplished by Parker visiting Elvis in Germany. He was negotiating with the Hollywood studios and RCA, which were all in the U.S. The Colonel kept in touch with Elvis through letters during that time. Hal Wallis, on the other hand, had business with Elvis and the army in Germany. He was overseeing the shooting of background footage in Germany.
EIN: I first came to Elvis movies via seeing them when they started playing on TV on summer holidays on Sunday afternoons. Now I realise that those mid-sixty movies I loved at the time were mostly fluffy-rubbish. What's your opinion?
Alan H: I saw most of Elvis’ movies during their first run in theaters in the sixties. I looked forward to each one with great anticipation. Of course, with many of the later ones, I wished the stories and the music had been better, but they all were a treasured part of my youth. I know it’s fashionable among many older Elvis fans to label many of his later movies as “junk” and so forth. When I watch them now, though, I remember that they were the only way I could see Elvis and hear him sing back then. And that’s what I wanted. I didn’t want to see Elvis in dramatic films. As a 16-year-old Elvis fan in 1965, I wouldn’t have traded Girl Happy and Tickle Me for a couple of dramas like Wild in the Country. At that difficult age, Elvis’ movies made me happy. That’s still how I think of them today.
EIN: How did you work with Erik on the design or photo selection?
Alan H: Not at all. I decided early on that design and photo selection were Erik’s responsibilities and focusing on the text was my job. Neither of us got in the other’s way.
EIN: Do you know how many rare or unpublished photos are in the book?
Alan H: No. That’s a question for Erik. Some pictures were familiar to me and many weren’t. I just know that there are more than 530 photos in the book. (I counted them.) Of the 432 pages in the book, only 10 pages do not have at least one photo on them. There are over 150 full-page pictures of Elvis in the book.
- Erik Lorentzen adds, "Around 150 photos in 'Elvis The Movies' are unseen and rare with a lot of the others in much better quality than ever seen before. Some photos are also "full page" for the first time and as always I have tried to avoid using the same photos as in our previous books."
EIN: So what are YOUR favourite photos in the book?
Alan H: I'll give you three. All of them feature Elvis' amazing smile. I love the photo on page 13, showing Elvis during the 'Mean Woman Blues' segment in Loving You. It's so full of youthful exuberance and energy. I also like the photo on page 199 that has Elvis posing around a piano with four ladies from Girls! Girls! Girls! (see picture below) - That's the first Elvis movie I saw when I first became a fan. It reminds me of how great he looked then. Finally, I like the photo on page 348, which was taken on the set of Speedway. Again, it's the smile. I don't think he ever looked as handsome, before or after, as he did in 1968.
EIN: I like the fact that 'This Is Elvis' is included as the last movie. Do you think they have ever made a movie that truly represented Elvis' amazing legacy?
Alan H: No. How could they? He was such a complex person, both professionally and personally, that no documentary could ever capture the complete magnitude of his life’s story. This Is Elvis is the best we’ve got for now.
EIN: How did Elvis go from something as enjoyable as 'Follow That Dream' to the woeful 'Kissin' Cousins' in just one year?
Alan H: I go along with the theory that the culprit was cost overruns on Viva Las Vegas, which was completed before Kissin’ Cousins but released afterwards. After Viva Las Vegas, Colonel Parker insisted that Elvis’ movie budgets not be exceeded so that Elvis’ profit sharing (and the Colonel’s) could be maximized. The result was quick shooting schedules, cheap sets, and silly songs.
EIN: Did Parker miss the fact that Viva Las Vegas was one of Elvis’ most successful movies and biggest earners? If he had put out a Soundtrack LP that would also have been a massive seller. Surely Parker had a choice to do the opposite of what he actually did and put Elvis in quality movies with great co-stars? Isn't that Parker’s worst mistake with respect to Elvis’ movie career?
Alan H: OK, can we be realistic here? Certainly Colonel Parker was egotistical, unethical, and a thoroughly distasteful person to deal with or even be around. However, he did not have the power to micro-manage every aspect of Elvis' career, as your question suggests. RCA made the decisions on what records to issue. Yeah, the Colonel pressured and bullied them, but in the end Colonel Parker could not have decided on his own to "put out" a Viva Las Vegas LP. (And I have to disagree that such an LP would have been a "massive seller." Neither the title song nor What'd I Say on the single reached the top 20 on the Hot 100, and they would have been the best two tracks on an LP.)
As for the movies, neither Parker nor Elvis had any say on the types of movies Elvis made once the contracts were signed. On one occasion, the Colonel negotiated a contract for two "serious" movies with 20th Century Fox for Elvis. They were Flaming Star and Wild in the Country. When both did poorly at the box office, Hollywood lost interest in starring Elvis in "serious" roles. Even Elvis understood that.
EIN: If I remember rightly Elvis admitted his mid sixties movies were stinkers but if done right he quite liked doing them. He mentioned 'Tickle Me' as being one of the best. Your thoughts?
Alan H: More than the scripts, I think he became increasing frustrated with the music he had to sing in the movies. The later films were never challenging, but he was a professional still. He was always on time, knew his lines, and treated the cast and crew members with respect.
EIN: In 1967 The Beatles released 'Sgt Pepper', Elvis released 'Double Trouble' – what a terrible contrast?
Alan H: That was the time when Elvis effectively gave up his crown as the King of rock ’n ’roll. I remember hoping Elvis would step up his game to meet The Beatles’ challenge. Unfortunately, the movie contracts tied him up in unimaginative movies and equally out-of-date soundtrack albums.
EIN: Clambake, Harum Scarum or Easy Come Easy Go - which is the more unwatchable?
Alan H: Not close. “Harum Scarum” was the bottom of the barrel for Elvis. Colonel Parker even complained to MGM about how bad it was.
GREAT HAIR - The quality of some of the full-page photos is stunning.
EIN: At the end of the book you publish a very enjoyable look at 'Elvis Film Awards', Best movie, Best co-star etc as selected & voted on by a panel of one! (that made me laugh) It is a great idea, did you do this to help stimulate debate or purely for fun?
Alan H: Erik wanted to end the book with another article about Colonel Parker, but I thought it best to end with something light and fun. I had written something like this years ago, but I completely reworked it for “Elvis – The Movies.” I would have preferred that it be the very last thing in the book, but Erik decided to stick with the book’s chronological order and put the This Is Elvis piece at the end.
EIN: What do you think this book offers to Elvis Movie fans over your own blog?
Alan H: On elvis-history-blog.com, I’ve written nearly 350 blogs in the past 10 years. Go there, or to any of the other fine Elvis sites available, if you want to find piecemeal information on about every aspect of Elvis’ personal and professional life. But if you want an in depth look at his Hollywood career, with all the other noise stripped away, pick up a copy of “Elvis – The Movies.” Erik’s vision was a good one—a book that gives coverage in both text and photos to each and every one of Elvis’ 33 films, plus other articles that create a backdrop of Elvis’ Hollywood career. This book has a single voice and focus throughout, unlike many other Elvis books that paste together newspaper articles, some Variety reviews, a few interviews, with two or three Elvis fans offering their opinions of how terrible were most of Elvis’ movies. “Elvis – The Movies” offers the memories and analysis of a fan who grew up with Elvis’ movies in real time. Combine that with its hundreds of photos, and you have, in my opinion, the best book ever published about Elvis Presley’s Hollywood career.
To purchase“Elvis – The Movies” click here to 'Elvis Files' website. €129 including shipping Worldwide
Please check with YOUR local Elvis Shop - they may have a better deal with local postage.
NOTE Elvis Fans in the U.S. can buy personally signed copies direct from Alan Hanson. Please email him through his website contact - CLICK HERE.
EIN note, the images used in this interview are my personal low-res scans - the photos in the book are far sharper.
Interview by Piers Beagley.
-Copyright EIN January 2018
EIN Website content © Copyright the Elvis Information Network.
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Coming soon - EIN's review of 'ELVIS: The Movies'
'Elvis '57: The Final Fifties Tours' Book Review: In 1957 Elvis performed in eighteen cities, including a short tour of Canada. 'Elvis ’57: the Final Fifties Tours' by Alan Hanson is a detailed look at these tours which started in Chicago and ended with the headline grabbing sensation of the LA Pan Pacific concerts and the final Hawaii trip in November. These would be Elvis' last live appearances before he left for his army stint and would help cement his place in Pop culture forever. This book is a sensational investigation into the phenomenon of Elvis in the fifties presented from a brand new perspective. The reviews from the time are exhilarating . .
"He clutches the mike and begins to sing, twitching all over. . . Up and down the stage he goes, dragging the mike like a captive, undulating, shouting feverishly.... Then his face sets, his lips curl back and seizing the mike by the scruff of the neck he prowls like a panther up and down the platform, snarling and driving his worshippers crazy."
EIN suggests that all discerning Elvis fans should invest in this thrill-ride. Go here for full review and photos.
(Book Reviews: Source;EIN)
Alan Hanson talks to EIN: Elvis' tours in 1957 were his last before entering the Army. Alan Hanson, author of Elvis '57: The Final Fifties Tours recently sat down to talk with EIN about this incredible year in the Elvis story.
In his stimulating and highly informative interview, Alan discusses what is in his critically acclaimed book, the height of Presleymania and the controversy around it, the Nudie Gold Suit designed for Elvis, why the Montreal concert was cancelled, the little known concert Elvis did essentially for military personnel and a lot more about Elvis on tour in 1957. (Dec 2007)
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