'Big Boss Man:

What Kind of Technical Advice Did Parker Provide for Elvis’s Movies?'

- An EIN Spotlight by Paul Simpson -

As technical advisor, Colonel Tom Parker was hailed by showbiz bible Variety as an "expert property developer." Though some of the movie properties Elvis’s manager helped develop were incredibly slapdash, that observation does raise one of the most puzzling aspects of the star’s Hollywood career.

How much control did Parker have over Presley’s films, and what kind of technical advice did he provide between 1956 and 1972?



In this EIN Spotlight respected author Paul Simpson takes a fascinating look at Colonel Parker and his input, both positive and negative, into Elvis' film career...

Big Boss Man: What Kind of Technical Advice Did Parker Provide for Elvis’s Movies?

As technical advisor, Colonel Tom Parker was hailed by showbiz bible Variety as an "expert property developer." Though some of the movie properties Elvis’s manager helped develop were incredibly slapdash, that observation does raise one of the most puzzling aspects of the star’s Hollywood career. How much control did Parker have over Presley’s films, and what kind of technical advice did he provide between 1956 and 1972?

Although many aspects of Presley’s life are still a matter of fierce debate, there is no doubt that Parker orchestrated the star’s move to Hollywood, negotiated all the movie contracts on his client’s behalf with input from the William Morris agency, and expressed the view that "all Elvis’s films are good for is making money." As the easiest way to make money was to sell music, Presley would sing in thirty of his thirty-one feature films.

The Colonel developed the strategy – and ensured it was executed. Though his client often complained that he was "tired of these damn movies" in which fought in one scene and sang to a dog in the next, he never decisively rebelled, signifying his distaste by hiding in Memphis for as long as possible until the next shooting schedule beckoned. Presley proved especially reluctant to turn up for the making of Harum Scarum and Clambake, infuriating his manager. Yet Presley was usually, as Hoey has noted, "very conscientious about his work, and always arrived on the set on time, knowing his dialogue and ready for business." Parker had repeatedly threatened Elvis that if he offended the studios he would return to oblivion, cleverly exploiting one of the star’s recurring nightmares.

It is much harder to say with clarity how much interest Parker took in the movies themselves. Hoey said: "The Colonel had absolutely no interest in the quality of the projects, only the size of the check. His only consideration was with the music selection and a quick read of the script to see where the songs would fit." Once, when Hoey and Taurog discussed a different kind of film role, Elvis urged them to consult his manager. Parker refused to read the script, saying, "Give me a million dollars and you can have him and shoot the phone book, if you’re crazy enough."

Elvis’s manager certainly liked to suggest that he only cared about money, telling Variety in 1964: "Look, you got a product, you sell it. As long as the studios come up with the loot, we’ll make the deal." Michael Fessier Jr., who interviewed Parker for Variety, explicitly points out in the story: "Once a deal is made, the studio takes complete control of a film, the Presley camp having no say-so on cast, script or production costs."

Parker justified this laissez-faire attitude, saying, "We start telling people what to do and they blame us if the picture doesn’t go. As it is, we both take bows and if it doesn’t hit, maybe they get more blame than us. We don’t have approval on scripts – only money. Anyway, what’s Elvis need? A couple of songs, a little story and some nice people with him."

As usual with the Colonel, the reality was nowhere near as straightforward as his observations suggest. For a start, there were rarely just a "couple of songs". Only seven – Change of Habit; Charro!; Flaming Star; Live a Little, Love a Little; Love Me Tender; Stay Away, Joe and Wild in the Country – had fewer than five numbers. In his memoirs, Elvis, Sherlock and Me, Hoey says Parker and Presley both had a say in the soundtrack selection: "Their choices differed greatly and the Colonel, looking out for his album tie-ins, frequently prevailed."

The Variety interview fails to reflect how Parker’s contractual shenanigans shaped how and what films were made. For a start, his insistence on a large fee upfront for his "boy" made it significantly less likely that a studio would take creative risks. Parker acknowledged as much, telling Variety he had turned down one producer who had asked to reduce Elvis’s fee so he could pay for a better script and rebuffed another who insisted he had an Oscar-winning story: "I told him pay us our regular fee and if Elvis gets the Oscar, we’ll give his money back. We never saw him again."

While Presley dreamed of an Oscar nod – not an absurd aspiration after King Creole and Flaming Star – Parker pursued a very different holy grail: getting a fee of $1m a picture for his star. He achieved this milestone – or millstone – in 1966, just as the musical comedy travelogue formula was wearing thin. He was perplexed when Elvis, who understood the impact this would have on budgets and co-stars, greeted his new status as Hollywood’s highest-paid star rather coolly. Needing to recoup such hefty fees, the studios usually played safe, giving the audience more of what the box-office receipts had proved they wanted in the past.

The star’s fees forced producers to cut costs, although even Parker, after watching Harum Scarum and complaining it would take a "55th cousin of P. T. Barnum" to sell the movie, decided never to work with quickie producer Sam Katzman again and wrote to MGM suggesting they spend more time on the next film to improve quality. By then, with box-office revenues shrinking, the studios were more interested in trimming budgets.

Though Hoey insists the Colonel never had any input into the screenplays for the movies he worked on, Parker didn’t always just stand idly by, counting the money, devising promotional stunts, and suggesting movie titles. (Clambake was his idea. He also helped persuade MGM to retitle Chautaqua as The Trouble with Girls (and How to Get Into It).

Right from their first meeting in 1956, Hal Wallis and his partner Joseph H. Hazen had known Parker would need careful management. Making Roustabout (1964) was partly designed to flatter the Colonel, honoring his carnival past, a point Wallis made explicit in a letter: "Of course, we want you to be associated with the project, as I know how close this type of life is to you." This wasn’t mere rhetoric: the producer paid Parker $25,000 for a weekend’s consulting on carny lore with scriptwriter Allan Weiss. The notes from that meeting are detailed and specific, and three of the manager’s suggestions made it into the final film.

Parker didn’t look at some scripts, telling Katzman it would cost $10,000 to appraise a draft for Kissin’ Cousins, but did read others, notably those for Spinout and Kid Galahad. Co-writer Theodore J. Flicker once recalled the making of Spinout: "Pasternak had given us the line for the story: the daughter of the richest man in the world wants her father to invite the biggest singing star in the country to sing for her Sweet Sixteen Party. So we sat down, we tried to imagine what Elvis’ life was like. And we wrote that – as if we were writing a real movie. The next thing we knew, the head of the studio called us in and said: ‘The Colonel read the script and said ‘When I want to do Elvis’ life story, I’ll get a hell of a lot more than a million dollars for it.’" A new script was submitted, and Parker turned up in the writers’ offices, threw the script on the desk, and said: "This is great. Just one thing: put a dog in it."

A senior suit at MGM then told Flicker and co-writer George Kirgo, "We can’t accept this script. There’s no racing in it." Having added a dog, they were hardly likely to balk at incorporating racing cars, in the vain hope of repeating the box-office success of Viva Las Vegas. All the revisions were complete when Elvis turned up at MGM for pre-production in February 1966.

Spinout was not the only significant departure from Parker’s official policy of non-interference. John Flynn, assistant director on Kid Galahad, told Bill Bram, author of Elvis Frame by Frame: "The writer asked: ‘Colonel, how did you like the script?’ The writer was wondering how the Colonel liked the dramatic flow but the Colonel couldn’t give a shit. He just said ‘It needs two more songs.’" When the writer queried this, the Colonel explained: "Boy, there’s ten songs on an album and you got eight. It needs two more songs." In the event, the released version contained six songs, but here, once again, Parker made his point, sending out a message not just to the makers of that film but to the producers of other Presley pictures.

The bowdlerization of the script for Charro! – a much raunchier, tougher spaghetti Western in its initial incarnation – into something that felt more like an extended episode of Bonanza also smacks of Parker’s concern to maintain his star’s all-round family entertainer image.

Before the release of That’s the Way It Is in 1970, the Colonel detailed his objections to certain scenes in a three-page letter to MGM boss Jim Aubrey. Needless to say, his concerns were all addressed.
As Michael Moore, assistant director on six Presley pictures and the director of Paradise, Hawaiian Style, put it, the star, the crew, and the studio knew the best way to placate the Colonel was to include a dozen songs.

The idea that Parker didn’t approve anything in Elvis’s films but the money was a convenient fiction and, like many great fictions, all the more convincing because it contained some truth. The Colonel was obsessed by money, but he also kept close, almost claustrophobic, tabs on Presley, monitoring shooting, dropping in to offer his own brand of comic relief when nerves got frayed (striding around the set of Kissin’ Cousins wearing Elvis’s blond wig), and stopping the cameras rolling one morning on The Trouble with Girls set because Presley’s eyes were puffy. He was also the conduit for producers’ instructions regarding his star’s appearance – Wallis was particularly critical about Elvis’s weight, facial appearance, and hair as the 1960s wore on.

The Colonel’s influence on casting is hard to gauge. Marlyn Mason, Elvis’s leading lady in The Trouble with Girls, was chosen over his objections. Parker, the actress recalled, "wanted some buxom blonde; and Peter Tewksbury said ‘I’ll walk if you don’t cast Marlyn.’" It sounds plausible, although there’s little other evidence of Parker trying to have his say on casting, apart, perhaps, from noting that Elvis enjoyed working with particular actors, such as Shelley Fabares.

The clinching evidence that Parker did not hand over complete control to the studios during filming is provided by Viva Las Vegas. Realizing the production was busting its budget – and that Ann-Margret was getting as much of the limelight as Elvis – he protested so vehemently that the stars’ duet on "You’re the Boss" was cut. Complaining that director George Sidney’s camera angles favored Ann-Margret, he threatened to drop his usual promotional campaign. Though he couldn’t stop the cost overrun, Parker won most of the other battles and, enraged, made the disastrous decision to make two pictures with penny-pinching Katzman. Ironically, Viva Las Vegas is one of nine Presley movies in which the Colonel is not credited as technical advisor.

The relationship between Presley and Parker remains so mysterious as to be all but unfathomable. The most likely explanation for the Colonel’s dominance – that, offstage, Presley lacked the confidence to confront such a powerful character and was doubly reluctant to do so because of his morbid fear that he would slip back into the poverty of his youth – is too prosaic for many, who prefer to speculate about blackmail and other dark arts.

Depending on whom you believe, Parker may have threatened to reveal the family’s guilty secret (Vernon Presley’s conviction for fraud), compromising photographs of the star, or the terrible details of a youthful stunt involving three midgets, a human cannonball, and the roof of Ellis Auditorium in Memphis. Others – notably Steve Binder, the producer of the 1968 TV special, have a simpler explanation: "I swear the Colonel hypnotized Elvis."

Parker’s flamboyance was eye-catching, a useful sleight of hand to obscure the fact that some of his more ruthless practices weren’t that dissimilar from the mob’s. This chilling account, by Presley’s friend Arlene Cogan, of Parker’s visits to Graceland, partly explains why the singer feared his manager: "The Colonel would just take over the house. He would bring in some of his men and they would screen the telephone calls. Vernon told us that when Parker came to the house and got Elvis locked up for a meeting, he couldn’t even talk to his own son till Parker left."

If Cogan’s memory serves her well, this sounds more like the intimidatory modus operandi of a gangster than an open discussion between talent and management about their shared goals.

Although the Presley-Parker partnership endured for more than twenty-one years, it did so, in part, because they kept out of each other’s way as much as possible. Cast and crew on Elvis’s movies didn’t see the Colonel that often, but many have testified that a visit from his larger-than-life, cigar-chomping manager rarely lightened the star’s mood.

Every eccentricity, flaw, and mistake in Presley’s life has been chronicled, dissected, and often overhyped. Parker’s reputation remained relatively unscathed – even in Steve Dunleavy’s tabloid hatchet job Elvis: What Happened? – until Alanna Nash’s 2002 biography depicted him as an obsessive-compulsive tyrannical genius with a serious gambling addiction who had been certified as psychopathic by a military doctor and, according to onetime aide Byron Raphael, was obsessed by his own feces.

After Presley’s death, Parker declared: "Yes, I did love him" – an enigmatic statement that tacitly admitted the issue was, publicly at least, in doubt. Yet love is too simple a word for what Parker felt for Presley. There was plenty of resentment, obsession, jealousy and anguish in there too.

Raphael recalls Parker’s reaction when Elvis forgot his birthday on June 26, 1957. After a birthday bash, Raphael stayed at the Parkers and was woken by, as he told Nash: "These horrible sounds . . . like an animal wailing, the strangest sound I ever heard in my life." The crying lasted all night long and when the aide raised the issue with Parker’s wife Marie, she shrugged: "Oh I don’t know, Elvis forgot the Colonel’s birthday." Stunned by the reaction to such an oversight, Raphael quickly got word to Elvis, who gave him a ring and instructions to say he just hadn’t been able to deliver a gift in time. Parker wasn’t deceived.

Whatever kind of technical advice Parker provided for Presley’s movies, he was hardly a disinterested professional. Maybe the answer to the mystery of how rock’s most charismatic star came to sleepwalk his way through such fluff as Paradise, Hawaiian Style lies in his extraordinarily opaque and complex relationship with his controversial, manager.

This article for EIN is an extract by author Paul Simpson from his own book 'Elvis FAQ: All That’s Left To Know About The King Of Hollywood' Click HERE for info


Spotlight written by Paul Simpson (images by Piers Beagley)
-Copyright EIN July 2014
EIN Website content © Copyright the Elvis Information Network.





HAVE YOUR SAY - Was Colonel Parker good for Elvis as a Technical Advisor?

Interview with 'Elvis Films FAQ' author Paul Simpson: "Elvis Films FAQ"  was reviewed by EIN as one of the best Elvis books published in 2013... "Paul Simpson examines every angle of Elvis’ film career and writes about it in a very engaging and enjoyable style. The real triumph of this book is that it will make you want to watch all of Elvis’ films one more time! Highly recommended."

While Elvis' Hollywood years are full of mystery, and Elvis Films FAQ covers them all! Elvis Films FAQ explains everything you want to know about the whys and wherefores of the singer-actor's bizarre celluloid odyssey; or, as Elvis said, "I saw the movie and I was the hero of the movie."
"Elvis Films FAQ" was without doubt one of the best Elvis books published in 2013 and EIN wanted to know more from its author Paul Simpson.
(Interviews, Source;ElvisInfoNet)

'Elvis Films FAQ' Book Review: Elvis' Hollywood years are full of mystery, and supposedly 'Elvis Films FAQ' covers them all! Elvis Films FAQ by author Paul Simpson explores his best and worst moments as an actor, analyses the bizarre autobiographical detail that runs through so many of his films, and reflects on what it must be like to be idolized by millions around the world yet have to make a living singing about dogs, chambers of commerce, and fatally naive shrimps.
After all if Elvis Presley had not wanted to be a movie star, he would never have single-handedly revolutionized popular culture.
Yet this aspect of his phenomenal career has been much maligned and misunderstood – partly because the King himself once referred to his 33 movies as a rut he had got stuck in just off Hollywood Boulevard.

It is a mightly entertaining book - but go here as EIN's Piers Beagley investigates to see whether this new book by author Paul Simpson really answers all the questions you need to know ....

(Book Reviews, Source;ElvisInfoNet)


'The Dark Side Of Colonel Parker' - EIN Spotlight: June 26th 2009 is a special date that commemorates four unique events of the Elvis World.
1. The 100th Birthday of Colonel Parker.
2. The 32nd Anniversary of Elvis' final concert in Indianapolis.
3. The 30th Anniversary of the death of Elvis' father, Vernon Presley.
4. The 30th Anniversary of the revelation to Elvis’ estate that Colonel Parker was still fleecing his client.

Although comedian Nipsy Russell stated that "Every entertainer should go to bed at night and pray he finds a Colonel Tom Parker under his bed when he wakes up in the morning" - is that really the truth?
It is a fact that after Elvis' death an official investigation found that "both Colonel Parker (and RCA) acted in collusion against Presley's best interests. Colonel Parker was guilty of self-dealing and overreaching and had violated his duty to both Elvis and to the estate."
While there is no doubt that Elvis and The Colonel's story is extremely complex, in this in-depth Spotlight EIN takes a look at the darker side of Colonel Tom Parker - and includes plenty of insights from Elvis’ colleagues and friends.
. Go here for this fascinating investigation- and also Have Your Say.
(Spotlight, Source;EIN)

Go here for other relevant EIN articles:

FTD review 'Closing Night' September 1973.

'Caught In A Trap' book review

Author Alanna Nash talks to EIN about Elvis & The Colonel:

Marty Lacker EIN interview

Lamar Fike EIN interview

Billy Smith EIN interview

Larry Geller interview - The Seventies

Ed Bonja EIN interview

EIN Website content © Copyright the Elvis Information Network.
Elvis Presley, Elvis and Graceland are trademarks of Elvis Presley Enterprises.
The Elvis Information Network has been running since 1986 and is an EPE officially recognised Elvis fan club.













Did You Miss these Popular Interviews?
Linda and Sam Thompson in Australia:
John Wilkinson Tribute & 1972 Interview:
Interview - Dr. Gary Vikan:
'Elvis: Walk A Mile In My Shoes' - Arjan Deelen Interview:
RIP - Bernard Lansky talks to EIN:
Allyson Adams 'The Rebel and The King' Interview: 
Joseph A. Tunzi
David Stanley (2012)
Author Chris Kennedy Interview about D.J. Tommy Edwards:
Vernon Presley Interview:
EIN interviews John Scheinfeld director of  'Fame & Fortune'
Jerry Leiber Interview for EIN
Elvis Paradise Hawaiian Interview - with Peter Noone
Sam Thompson, Elvis' bodyguard, 2011 Interview
James Burton Interview - Rick Nelson & Elvis:
Elvis Drummer Jerome "Stump" Monroe EIN Interview:
Donnie Sumner Remembers his friend Sherrill Nielsen: 
Lamar Fike EIN Exclusive Interview
Jamie Aaron Kelley - EIN Interview:
Ernst Jorgensen interview about 'The Complete Masters' and more:
D.J Fontana Interview - Elvis Week 2010 special: 
Red West Interview:- 2010 Elvis week special
Linda Thompson - Interview Special:
Elvis in 1969 - Ann Moses & Ray Connolly Interviews:
Ernst Jorgensen interview about 'On Stage' and Elvis' Legacy in 2010:
Paul Lichter
Dr. Nick talks to EIN
Alanna Nash
Ernst Jorgensen (2009)
Joseph Pirzada
Jeanne LeMay Dumas
Larry Geller
Mac Davis
Roger Semon
Ernst Jorgensen
Wayne Jackson (Memphis Horns)
Ernst Jorgensen (Record Collector)
Did You Miss these Popular EIN articles
'The Nation's Favourite Elvis Song' Spotlight
Linda and Sam Thompson in Australia:
Elvis Passwords - We’ve Hacked them all! 
Fourteen Key Elvis Singles:
Remembering ELVIS in 2013:
Elvis And The Vocal Group Tradition:
Happy Birthday EIN EIN turns 100 – a retrospective!:
Aloha From Hawaii - The Concert 2013- EIN Exclusive
Elvis at Madison Square Garden 40 Years Ago
'The Wedding' Elvis & Priscilla EIN special Spotlight:
'Elvis In Ottawa' Spotlight & Elvis Interview:
'Elvis: Live at the International' Book Review:
Book Review: Elvis in Vegas
'Promised Land' FTD CD Review:
'The Complete Louisiana Hayride Archives 1954-1956’ Review:
Elvis By Special Request '71 At 40 (Book Review):
"Kissed By Elvis" Janet Fulton Interview:
'1956, Elvis Presley’s Pivotal Year':
"ReBooked At The International'- in-depth Review:
EIN Spotlight on Alfred Wertheimer:
'Elvis Memphis to Madison 1977' The Gas Station Incident:
'The Elvis Files Vol. 2' Book Review:
'Elvis In Concert' 1977 TV special; Should it be released officially?
Ernst Jorgensen interview about 'The Complete Masters' and more:
Dark Side of the Colonel
Did you miss these Reviews
'Elvis Files Magazine ISSUE 5' Review:
'The Elvis Files Vol. 6 1971-1973'  Book Review:
'Love Me Tender' Blu-Ray Edition Review:
'Houston We Have A Problem' - CD review:
‘Elvis At Stax’ [Deluxe] Reviews:
‘The King Revealed’ Magazine Review:
'Hot August Night' FTD CD Review:
‘The King Revealed’ Magazine Review:
'Elvis - The Man & His Music'#100 review:
'Elvis Files Magazine ISSUE 4' - Review:
'Elvis - Aloha Via Satellite: A 40th Anniv Release' Book Review:
'The Elvis Files Vol. 1 1953-56' In Depth Book Review:
'Aloha From Hawaii' 40th Anniv LEGACY CD Review:
'Elvis Files Magazine ISSUE 3' - Review:
Aloha From Hawaii - The Concert 2013- EIN Exclusive Review:
‘Elvis On Tour’ E-book Review - with Great jumpsuit photos-
'From Elvis Presley Boulevard' FTD In-Depth Review:
'Prince From Another Planet’ In-Depth Review:
'Elvis: Walk A Mile In My Shoes' - EIN Review:
‘Greatest Live Hits of the 50s’ MRS CD Review: 
Once Upon A Time: Elvis and Anita (Memories of My Mother) - Book Review:
'A Boy From Tupelo' special In-depth Review:
Bootleg Elvis (Book Review)
'G.I.Blues Vol.1' FTD Soundtrack - CD review:
'The Elvis Files Vol. 5 1969-70'  Book Review:
'From Hawaii to Las Vegas' FTD CD Review:
'Blue Hawaii - The Expanded Alternate Album' Review:
'Elvis: Live at the International' Book Review:
'The Complete Louisiana Hayride Archives 1954-1956’ Review:
'48 Hours To Memphis' FTD CD Review:
Elvis By Special Request '71 At 40 (Book Review):
'The Elvis Files Vol. 4' Book Review:
'Young Man with the Big Beat' In-Depth Review:
'Fashion For A King' FTD in-depth Review:
"ReBooked At The International'- in-depth Review:
'Stage Rehearsal' FTD Review:
Best of Elvis on YouTube
Graceland cam
EPE's Multimedia Elvis Gallery
Sirius Elvis Satellite Radio
Elvis Radio (ETA's)
Elvis Express Radio
Ultimate Elvis Radio
Elvis Only Radio
"Images in Concert" PhotoDatabase
Radio Interview: Vernon & Gladys Presley
Sanja's Elvis Week 2007 Photo Gallery
'EIN's Best of Elvis on YouTube'
The Music of Elvis Presley - Australian Radio Show
All about Elvis
All about Elvis Tribute Artists
All about Graceland
All about Lisa Marie Presley
Ancestors of Elvis
Art Archives
Book Releases 2009
Contact List
Elvis and Racism
Elvis as Religion
Elvis CDs in 2007
Elvis DVDs in 2006
Elvis Film Guide
'2007 New Releases'
Elvis Presley In Concert "downunder" 2006
Elvis Online Virtual Library
Elvis Research Forum
Elvis Rules on Television
Graceland - The National Historic Landmark
How & where do I sell my Elvis collection?
Is Elvis the best selling artist?
Links to Elvis' family & friends
Links to other Elvis sites
Marty's Musings
Online Elvis Symposium
Parkes Elvis Festival 2009 (Australia)
Presley Law legal archives (Preslaw)
Presleys In The Press
Sale of EPE (Archives)
6th Annual Elvis Website Survey
Spotlight on The King
"Wikipedia" Elvis biography