Elvis Presley

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Elvis Presley : biography

8 January 1935 – 16 August 1977

Allen’s show with Presley had, for the first time, beaten CBS’s Ed Sullivan Show in the ratings. Sullivan, despite his June pronouncement, booked the singer for three appearances for an unprecedented $50,000. The first, on September 9, 1956, was seen by approximately 60 million viewers—a record 82.6 percent of the television audience. Actor Charles Laughton hosted the show, filling in while Sullivan recuperated from a car accident. Presley appeared in two segments that night from CBS Television City in Los Angeles. According to Elvis legend, Presley was shot only from the waist up. Watching clips of the Allen and Berle shows with his producer, Sullivan had opined that Presley "got some kind of device hanging down below the crotch of his pants–so when he moves his legs back and forth you can see the outline of his cock. … I think it’s a Coke bottle. … We just can’t have this on a Sunday night. This is a family show!" Sullivan publicly told TV Guide, "As for his gyrations, the whole thing can be controlled with camera shots." In fact, Presley was shown head-to-toe in the first and second shows. Though the camerawork was relatively discreet during his debut, with leg-concealing closeups when he danced, the studio audience reacted in customary style: screaming. Presley’s performance of his forthcoming single, the ballad "Love Me Tender", prompted a record-shattering million advance orders. More than any other single event, it was this first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show that made Presley a national celebrity of barely precedented proportions.

Accompanying Presley’s rise to fame, a cultural shift was taking place that he both helped inspire and came to symbolize. Igniting the "biggest pop craze since Glenn Miller and Frank Sinatra … Presley brought rock’n’roll into the mainstream of popular culture", writes historian Marty Jezer. "As Presley set the artistic pace, other artists followed. … Presley, more than anyone else, gave the young a belief in themselves as a distinct and somehow unified generation—the first in America ever to feel the power of an integrated youth culture."

Crazed crowds and movie debut

The audience response at Presley’s live shows became increasingly fevered. Moore recalled, "He’d start out, ‘You ain’t nothin’ but a Hound Dog,’ and they’d just go to pieces. They’d always react the same way. There’d be a riot every time." At the two concerts he performed in September at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show, 50 National Guardsmen were added to the police security to prevent crowd trouble. Elvis, Presley’s second album, was released in October and quickly rose to number one. Assessing the musical and cultural impact of Presley’s recordings from "That’s All Right" through Elvis, rock critic Dave Marsh wrote that "these records, more than any others, contain the seeds of what rock & roll was, has been and most likely what it may foreseeably become."

Presley returned to the Sullivan show at its main studio in New York, hosted this time by its namesake, on October 28. After the performance, crowds in Nashville and St. Louis burned him in effigy. His first motion picture, Love Me Tender, was released on November 21. Though he was not top billed, the film’s original title—The Reno Brothers—was changed to capitalize on his latest number one record: "Love Me Tender" had hit the top of the charts earlier that month. To further take advantage of Presley’s popularity, four musical numbers were added to what was originally a straight acting role. The movie was panned by the critics but did very well at the box office. Presley would receive top billing on every subsequent film he made.

On December 4, Presley dropped into Sun Records where Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis were recording and jammed with them. Though Phillips no longer had the right to release any Presley material, he made sure the session was captured on tape. The results became legendary as the "Million Dollar Quartet" recordings—Johnny Cash was long thought to have played as well, but he was present only briefly at Phillips’ instigation for a photo opportunity. The year ended with a front-page story in The Wall Street Journal reporting that Presley merchandise had brought in $22 million on top of his record sales, and Billboards declaration that he had placed more songs in the top 100 than any other artist since records were first charted. In his first full year at RCA, one of the music industry’s largest companies, Presley had accounted for over 50 percent of the label’s singles sales.