"Elvis Presley is the greatest cultural force in the 20th century."

(Leonard Bernstein)


"If you're an Elvis fan, no explanation is necessary; If you're not an Elvis fan, no explanation is possible."

(George Klein)


"For a dead man, Elvis Presley is awfully noisy."

(Professor Gilbert B. Rodman)


"History has him as this good old country boy, Elvis is about as country as Bono!"

(Jerry Schilling)






The men who would be King

WHEN HE MADE the 1963 film "It Happened at the World's Fair," Elvis Presley got a kick out of it ... right on the shins, delivered by a kid actor named Kurt Russell. The kick was written into the script, so Elvis didn't take it personally. Indeed, he treated Russell well.

Fitting, then, that 16 years after "It Happened at the World's Fair," Russell took on the lead role of the ABC 1979 TV biopic "Elvis." Advertisement Russell played Elvis, but didn't "sing" Elvis.

The Presley estate did not give its blessing to the film, so Russell lip-synched to songs recorded by Presley sound-alike Ronnie McDowell.

(Next week, CBS will premiere a new Elvis flick starring Irish actor Jonathan Rhys Meyers in the lead. The film has the imprimatur of the Presley family, so Rhys Meyers lip-synchs to original Elvis recordings.)

If Russell was a good choice to play the King, the choice of John Carpenter to direct "Elvis" seemed an odd one, unless the object were to portray Elvis as a psychotic killer; Carpenter had helmed the seminal bleeder "Halloween" just a year before "Elvis." In his favor, Carpenter was a big Elvis fan and had a musical background; indeed, he'd composed the music for "Halloween."

Plus, he had the same name as the character Elvis had played in "Change of Habit." Playing Elvis' mother, Gladys, was double Oscar winner Shelley Winters. And playing Elvis' dad, Vernon, was ... Bing Russell, Kurt's father, who'd played Deputy Clem Foster on "Bonanza" from 1961 to 1973. Playing Priscilla was Season Hubley, who would become Kurt Russell's wife that same year. The two were divorced in 1984, just around the time Russell began a long-term relationship with Goldie Hawn. (They're still together.)

After "Elvis," Russell and Carpenter would team as star and director on "Escape From New York," "The Thing," "Big Trouble in Little China" and "Escape From L.A." Kurt Russell starred in what western series in 1963 and 1964? Sweet nothin' Director John Carpenter comes by his musical talent naturally -- his father, Howard, was a music professor at Western Kentucky University and a violinist whose work on Brenda Lee's first No. 1, "I'm Sorry," earned him a gold record.

Like Elvis, Brenda Lee is a member of both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Country Music Hall of Fame. And like Elvis, Lee had a manager, Dub Albritten, who was as shrewd as the King's Col. Tom Parker. Dubbed "Little Miss Dynamite," Lee as a kid singer had the voice of a woman in the body of a pixie, and had made the country charts at the ripe age of 12. In the late '50s, Albritten made an attempt to expand Lee's popularity by having her booked into Olympia Music Hall in Paris. This would mean international exposure.

But the French promoter thought Lee, given her big voice, was an adult. The booking was nearly canceled, until, according to "The Billboard Book of Number One Hits," Albritten "saved the day by planting a story in the French newspapers that Brenda Lee was a 32-year-old midget." Lee broke out big in 1960, with her first Top 40 single, "Sweet Nothin's," the seasonal standard "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree," and two No. 1 singles, "I'm Sorry" and "I Want to be Wanted." In all, Lee put 29 singles in the Top 40 during her pop career between 1960 and 1967.

Brenda Lee's "I'm Sorry" took over No. 1 from what single by one-hit-wonders the Hollywood Argyles? Return to tender Elvis Presley and Katharine Hepburn. Poor Southern boy and Eastern sophisticate. Peanut butter and caviar. And yet these two came close to playing brother and sister in the film "The Rainmaker." After Elvis had exploded in 1956, he was signed to a film contract by Paramount and tested for a role in the drama "The Rainmaker."

The test went well enough, but Paramount producer Hal Wallis and Elvis' manager, Col. Tom Parker, felt the film wasn't the right debut vehicle for their boy -- Elvis wouldn't be singing, and he was likely to be overshadowed not only by Hepburn, but by co-star Burt Lancaster. So Elvis was loaned out to Fox for his screen debut in "Love Me Tender."

The film was set in 1865, but didn't know much about history. Elvis shook his moneymaker and sang like it was 1956, because that's what kids were paying to see, historical appropriateness be damned. Elvis did four tunes, including the title song, which like every Elvis tune of the period passed go and went right to No. 1.

For the only time in his film career, Elvis was billed third, behind Richard Egan and Debra Paget. Also in the cast were James Drury, later of "The Virginian," Mildred Dunnock, Neville Brand and William Campbell. This last, who played one of Elvis' three brothers, is cited by the Internet Movie Database as the same William Campbell who was supposed to have taken Paul McCartney's place in the Beatles amid the "Paul is Dead" nonsense.

Other sources identify the fake-Paul William Campbell as a Canadian or a Scot who underwent plastic surgery to resemble McCartney. Doesn't matter; it's all cranberry sauce. This much is true of the "Love Me Tender" William Campbell -- he was born in New Jersey and he was married from 1952 to 1958 to Judith Exner Campbell, she of the later affairs with JFK and Sam Giancana.

(News, Source: The Star Ledger)




VCD: Joe Esposito's Home Videos of Elvis
Book: Complete Guide to Elvis Presley
CD: Now What (Lisa Presley)
Concert: Greg Page, Mick Gerace & TCB Band in Australia
CD: In The King's Shadow
CD: Lust, Elvis
Show: All Shook Up
CD: Elvis The Cover-Up
Magazine: Elvis The Man & His Music
VCD: Adios The Last Show
DVD: Elvis In Concert (3 hour version)
"Orion" gunned down!
Elvis Is Back
Elvis - Hero with 1000 faces
Elvis Film Guide
Elvis & the Lansky Brothers
Was there anything before Elvis?
Elvis rules on television!
Beware of fake bootlegs!
Elvis & other major artists miss out on Grammy Awards
It's time for an "Elvis' Greatest Hits" DVD!
Thank God 1981 sale of EPE didn't happen
Sale of EPE - good or bad?
How did Elvis die?
Elvis Film Bio
Lisa Presley on Larry King Show
Tony Joe White
Stanley Oberst
Bud Glass (part 2)
Bud Glass
Chris Lambeth
Mick Gerace
Greg Page
Bill Burk
Lisa Presley on EPE sale
Larry King transcipt
Red & Sonny West
Paul Simpson
Ed Bonja (Part 2)
Ernst Jorgensen
Phil Aitcheson (Presley Commission)
Did you miss?
Online Elvis Symposium
All about Lisa Presley
All about Graceland
FTD review- Elvis: New Year's Eve
DVD Review: Elvis Presley The Last 24 Hours
Elvis vs. Bing: who really was The King?