Elvis Presley
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ELVIS’ MOVIE CAREER:
HE WANTED TO WIN AN OSCAR

 
  “I’m not making another damn movie again. I’m not, “Elvis cried, “I can’t. How can I make a teenybopper movie now? I can’t do this. I can’t do it anymore. I know the difference. I know now; I know.” His voice takes on a contemptuous tone. “I mean, what the hell purpose is there in movies like “Girls, Girls, Girls”or Girl Happy or Tickle Me and all the others? All they do is change my name and throw in a few new sets; it’s just the same ol’ flick. Man, they’re downright embarrassing, and so’s the music they make me sing.  I want out! I need to have some purpose in my life and in my work!”  
     

Elvis was taking about “Love Me Tender”, “Loving You”, “King Creole”, “Jailhouse Rock” and “Wild in the Country,” his earlier films.   “I know I can be a great actor, it’s in me.  All they have to do is give me a chance. Just give me a chance.   Hal Wallis puts me into something like “Fun in Acapulco”,Easy Come, Easy Goor some other dumb-ass flick and makes millions off me just ‘cause it’s an Elvis Presley picture, and then turns around and makes a great dramatic movie like “Becket” with actors like Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole.  Hey, I’m making money too, but I’m not in this just for the money.  I keep asking the Colonel, an’ he keeps telling me the same ol’ thing.  That he and Wallis are looking for a good script. 

“When Marlon (Brando) bowed out (of “Bus Stop” starring Marilyn Monroe) the role was offered to Elvis Presley.  It could have been a career-making move in Hollywood for Elvis.  Many producers in Hollywood salivated at the prospect of Elvis and Marilyn in the same movie.  But his manager Colonel Tom Parker turned down the juicy role, preferring Elvis to remain in the exploitation films he selected for him”    

Brando Unzipped by Darwin Porter

Elvis’ film career was the most frustrating part of his life.  After ”Wild in the Country,” Lee Strasberg, the celebrated dramatic coach of the most illustrious talents of theatre and films, such as James Dean, Marlon Brando, Marilyn Monroe, Al Pacino and Dustin Hoffman, told colleagues that Elvis was a great talent going to waste.

Elvis was redefining his life as he embraced the spiritual teachings and philosophies he studied so passionately. From the beginning, the changes were evident to the group, changes with which they were not pleased. They felt—rightly so—that Elvis was pulling away from them and some of their more frivolous pursuits. In time, Elvis’ maturing persona was seen by others, notably the classic film director Norman Taurog who was at the helm of nine of Elvis’ movies (including “Blue Hawaii,” a favorite of Elvis’). He saw the emergence of a more professional Elvis who read in his trailer or participated in meaningful conversations with others on the set. This was a far cry from the Elvis who had played practical jokes and joined in water balloon games between scenes. Taurog commented to Elvis, “Whatever change you’re going through, keep going. You finally came of age.” They spoke quietly for a few moments, shook hands, and then a beaming Elvis entered the dressing room. “Mr. Taurog just gave me one of the best compliments of my life. He told me that I was tapping into my potential. He said he always knew that I’d wake up some day.”

The recognition of his maturity as a person was important to Elvis, who was sensitive to how others perceived him. He knew that while the music business had great respect for him and his talent, the rest of the entertainment industry saw him as uneducated and unsophisticated, nothing but a teen idol who got lucky. Elvis never gave up his belief that he could be a respected actor, even win an Academy Award, if only he could get the right part in the right movie. By 1966 he had accepted that it would have to remain a dream, and that he would continue to be stuck in the slick formula movies that brought in so much money to the studios. His desire to be respected as a person, however, was within his reach, and Norman Taurog’s compliment gave him that validation.

In Elvis’ twenty-third film, “Easy Come, Easy Go,” Elvis played a diver bent on discovering sunken treasure.  For no logical reason the script calls for a yoga instructor named Madame Neherina, played by Elsa Lanchester, and a duet performed by Elvis and Lanchester, “Yoga Is as Yoga Does.”  The Colonel chose to express his disapproval of Elvis’ esoteric interests through a little “in” joke, one that required Elvis’ character (which, in the minds of some fans, was the same as Elvis himself) to ridicule something Elvis respected and loved.  Everything about the yoga scene suggests that students and teachers of that are nuts.  Elvis’ character makes disparaging comments about them.  Only Parker-who served as a technical adviser on the film-knows why.  Once Elvis saw the script and heard the song, he knew what was up, and he was livid.  After the scene was shot, he stormed into his trailer, shouting, “That son of a bitch! He knows, and he did it!  He told those damn writers what to do, and he’s making me do this.” 

Elvis was crushed.  He faced pressure from the Colonel, who ran his career, made the deals and repeatedly told him, “Without me, you are nothing.  Without me, you’ll be in trouble.”  On the other side there were the fans, whom Elvis wanted to please however he could.  There’s no question that Colonel Parker and Elvis made a dazzling combination, and that Parker was part of the Elvis Presley phenomenon.  Still, there were hundreds of Parkers, but only one Elvis.

“A PRESLEY PICTURE IS THE ONLY SURE THING IN HOLLYWOOD.” Hal Wallis, Producer

“Larry, if there’s one thing I regret in my career, it’s not grabbing the chance to make better movies.  Maybe even winning an Oscar, who knows? Let’s face it, I was packaged into making teenybopper movies.  But it’s not too late.  Hey, that’s all I ever wanted to do when I was growing up.  I don’t know how I ever got out of school.  I remember sitting in class, staring out the window and daydreaming.  I would fantasize, and put myself up there on the big screen, like guys like Tony Curtis, Mario Lanza and Marlon Brando.  I mean, I saw it Larry, in my mind, for me, I was living it.  I just knew someday I could be one of those guys. After making ‘Love Me Tender’ I started dying my hair black because I liked Tony Curtis’ look. His hair color really made his blue eyes stand out.” 

During the location filming of Elvis’ twenty-second movie Spinoutat Malibu Lake, his temper got the better of him in a very public way. On a hot July day, he was required to get into a rubber wetsuit for an action scene in which he rescued his leading lady from the lake.

“It’s about 150 degrees in this damn suit,” he complained, dripping with sweat.

The assistant director, Claude Binyon Jr., knocked on the trailer dressing door and said almost apologetically, “It won’t be long now, Elvis; they’re getting ready for you as fast as they can.”

As time passed, Elvis was having trouble breathing, taking deep breaths every once in a while, and gulping down water. “Damn it,” he shouted, “what the hell is wrong with those guys? I’m suffocating in here. Can’t they see that?”

Another hour went by, and then the assistant director stepped gingerly through the door of the dressing room.

“I’m sorry Elvis,” he said contritely. “We had to make a little change. We’re not doing your scene until after lunch. So you can take that suit off for now.”

Elvis had struggled for thirty minutes to squeeze his talcum-powdered body into the rubber suit. Now he spent the next half-hour swearing like an angry sailor as he pried himself out of it.

He stormed out of the trailer, grabbed a carton of milk from the refreshment table, and savagely threw it directly at his own Rolls Royce parked alongside the trailer. I’ll never forget the sight of white streams of milk running down in all directions over the black paint of that beautiful British classic, turning it into a surreal Salvador Dali painting.

His anger unabated, he stomped back into his trailer, slamming the door behind him. He stayed in there sulking until he was called back to film the scene. He cursed vehemently as he once more struggled into the rubber suit.

“If they don’t get it right this time,” he cried, “they won’t see me again. They’re supposed to be professionals. Let them act like it.”

He completed the scene, doing his best to hide his anger and his embarrassment for displaying his emotions publicly. He was still seething when he got into the Rolls at the end of the day.

He was quiet on the ride home. When we went inside the house, he charged into the living room, knocking over a table lamp, pulling down the velvet drapes and karate-kicking a chair into the wall. He didn’t stop until he got to his bedroom down the hallway, pausing only momentarily before thrusting his fist through the door.

The next morning he was quieter than usual, but he seemed to be in a good mood, as if none of the previous day’s events had occurred. Nothing was said until later when I was working on his hair.

“I did a lot of thinking last night.” He seemed a little awkward. “Man, I’ve got a long way to go; I really blew it yesterday. I’m embarrassed as hell and I set a bad example for the guys. And I realize that I have the power to manifest heaven or hell. I can either scale the heights or sink to the very depths. Lawrence, I just have to learn how to achieve some balance.”

His eyes sparkled with restrained mischief and feeling. “‘Get thee behind me, Satan.’ Hey, even Jesus lost his temper. Didn’t he turn over the moneychangers’ tables with a whip and tell them where to get off?”

He knew he had to atone for his actions, and he did it in a way that suited his nature.

The next day, we all drove to the Lou Ehlers Cadillac dealership on Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills. A salesman approached unhurriedly until he recognized his customer. His eyes lit up as he sensed he was about to make the biggest sale of his career.

Elvis turned to us.

“You all pick out the car you want. This is my gift to you.”

Elvis purchased ten Cadillacs. He had made amends.

Photographs from the Elvis movies Larry worked on

 


“Yours is the first book on Elvis I have ever read that dissects the legend and shows the reader who this person truly was.”
 
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