Book review:

"Salty but Kosher Look at Little Known Part of Elvis’s Heritage"

On a regular basis EIN looks at a new release or issue in the Elvis world. In this edition we shine our spotlight on:

Schmelvis: In Search of Elvis Presley’s Jewish Roots, Jonathan Goldstein & Max Wallace, ECW Press, Canada, 2002, 208 pages, Illustrated, ISBN: 155022462X.

Some books in the Elvis world are difficult to review. This is one of them.

The reason why ‘Schmelvis’ is difficult to review is that it charts unusual territory for an Elvis book and it does it in the form of satire.

‘Schmelvis: Searching for Elvis Presley’s Jewish Roots’ is loosely based on a documentary produced by Diversus Productions.

It arose out of a popular skit, “Jew, Not Jew?”, on the irreverent television show ‘Saturday Night Live’ and an article published in the Wall Street Journal in 1998: “All Shook Up in the Holyland”. The book is essentially the author’s recollections of how the documentary was made.

While it is a satire, the facts of Elvis’s Jewish roots are authentic. At the heart of the concept is the fact that Elvis’s great-great grandmother, Nancy Burdine (who married John Mansell), on his mother’s side was a Jew and under Jewish law her relations are considered to also be Jewish. The Burdine family is thought to have come to America from Lithuania around the time of the American Revolution.

Schmelvis is a very unusual entry in the world of Elvis literature. Its (at times) choice language, eclectic Elvis-religious themes ranging from Elvis and the Bible Code to the First Presleytarian Church of Elvis The Divine (yes it does exist, in fact there is a chapter in Melbourne, Australia!) and comments about what Elvis thought of his genitals give it an uneven, but flavoursome texture.

Throw in Zucchini Elvis, El-Vez (the Mexican Elvis) and Schmelvis in a crowded Piggly Wiggly parking lot and this is one far-out reading experience that often borders on the surreal! Written as part production journal, part screenplay and part scrapbook, digesting Schmelvis is definitely a heady, pot pourii experience. During their trek across America and Israel to prove Elvis’s Jewish heritage the authors are assisted by an eccentric Orthodox rabbi named Reuben Poupko. On their travels they interview key figures in the Elvis world including George Klein and Bernard Lansky (Clothier to The King).

The characters in Schmelvis are colourful, the prose salty and the after shock, funny. In fact, Schmelvis is highly amusing on many occasions although the humour won’t be to everyone’s taste (be warned, the funniest pieces, not reproduced here, involve very choice language):

“Do you serve kosher peanut butter and banana sandwiches here?” Schmelvis asked him.

“The Israeli’s, they don’t like that.”

“Can you serve one for Schmelvis.”


At Graceland, a three-hundred pound tribute artist named J.R. is on stage singing “Pork Salad Annie” while his manager hobbles around on crutches handing out business cards:

“Ideal for bachelorette parties”. While the book doesn’t make a big thing of it, the authors do draw attention to Elvis’s use of the Star of David and the absence of any mention at Graceland of his Jewish ancestry.

‘Schmelvis: In Search of Elvis Presley’s Jewish Roots’ also answers the burning question of whether or not Max Wallace is an Elvis fan.

Verdict: Highly unusual entry in the world of Elvis literature that will appeal to those with a perverse sense of humour and a way out sense of adventure. It is not for the squeamish.


Availability: Schmelvis is available from leading bookstores in the USA or can be ordered online from, or This edition of Spotlight on The King was prepared by Nigel Patterson. It was based on reading ‘uncorrected, unedited proofs’ of the book. © EIN, 2002

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