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Happy Birthday, Elvis Presley!

Elvis Presley would have turned 80 today so in honor of his birthday, here are a couple of fun fact excerpts from Elvis FAQ books, Elvis Music FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About the King’s Recorded Works by Mike Eder and Elvis Films FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About the King of Rock ‘N’ Roll in Hollywood by Paul Simpson.

His breakthrough hit was Heartbreak Hotel, released in 1956 – a song inspired by a newspaper article about a local suicide:

00333500“A record that altered the path of so many people and things, “Heartbreak Hotel” is the song that put Elvis on the map. It was written by Mae Boren Axton, who was inspired by a story her friend Tommy Durden told her about a John Doe who left a suicide note reading, ‘I walk a lonely street.’ Axton gave Tommy and Elvis a third of the credit and royalties on the song, the latter because Axton felt sorry for the kid from Memphis who just escaped from poverty. “Heartbreak Hotel” stands out as a composition because of Axton’s use of imagery. The hotel is at the end of ‘Lonely Street’; there’s a crying bellhop, and a desk clerk dressed in black. The music matches the glum mood of the lyric, with the piano of Shorty Long sounding, in the immortal words of author Robert Matthew-Walker, like ‘sad-rain.’ Elvis sings with distress in his voice and a newly honed sense of the dramatic. Still mysterious and alluring, “Heartbreak Hotel” is an incredibly unusual song. Teens could relate to the feeling of bottomless despair, and moreover Elvis made anguish sound cool. As “Heartbreak Hotel” slowly became a phenomenon, it gave young people something of their own to hold on to. Elvis launched the whole rock-and-roll image – he talked the talk and walked the walk. He wasn’t going into this thinking he was going to change things in society; he just wanted to be good at what he did, make enough money to give his parents the things they wanted, and, most of all, find some personal redemption. After all, how many people who are considered outcasts actually bend society to their way of thinking?” – Elvis Music FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About the King’s Recorded Works

In 1956, he began his film career with a western, Love Me Tender:

“…Presley made his screen debut in the B western Love Me Tender, originally titled The Reno Brothers, which 00314953had been revamped to give him a significant supporting role in which he could sing four songs. The cast and crew on his first movie weren’t sure what to make of him. His love interest Debra Paget summed up Hollywood’s preconceptions when she said later: ‘Before I met him, I figured he must be some sort of moron.’ On set, his humility, charm, and industry overcame such skepticism, but it could do nothing to shield him from the critical abuse that greeted the movie’s release on November 21, 1956. The Hollywood Reporter dismissed Presley as ‘an obscene child’ but did note that the new hero possessed ‘mannerisms by Brando out of the Actors Studio’ and concluded: ‘The new hero is an adolescent. Whether he is twenty or thirty or forty, he is fifteen and excessively sorry for himself. He is essentially a lone wolf who wants to belong.’ That last line pretty much sums up Elvis’s status in the movie industry as his film career progressed and, you could argue, the tragedy of his life and death.” – Elvis Films FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About the King of Rock ‘N’ Roll in Hollywood

 

 

Fun in Acapulco

Today is the 50th anniversary of the release of the Elvis musical comedy film Fun in Acapulco. Below is an excerpt from Elvis Films FAQ.

Fun in Acapulco’s got mariachis, muchachas, amigos, and an inordinate number of scenes where Elvis is superimposed on whatever footage the production crew could glean from a quick whizz around Acapulco. There are almost as many rumored reasons why Elvis wasn’t allowed to go down Mexico way as there are songs in the movie. The most favored explanations are, in no particular order: rumors that the star had made derogatory remarks about the country or its women, worries about the expense of the security required if El went south of the border, or Parker’s paranoia about his client leaving the United States to work in a country where his movies were banned (after G.I. Blues triggered a riot in Mexico City). So Elvis, who had been so keen to go on location he bought a matador’s cape, stayed in Hollywood, masking his disappointment by taking lessons to improve his Spanish pronunciation.

Like every other Wallis/Presley movie of this era, Fun in Acapulco would not deviate from the musical-comedy travelogue formula. Yet Elvis might still have been enthused by the musical challenge. In the early 1960s, his music had acquired a Latin flavor, an influence that even Ernst Jorgensen, the greatest living authority on the King’s recording career, admits he cannot explain. Some of the tracks on his 1962 album Pot Luck – notably the lovely “Fountain of Love” – had Latin rhythms and moods, and he had just revamped Cole Porter’s “Begin the Beguine” into the yearning “You’ll Be Gone.”

In Fun in Acapulco, only “Bossa Nova Baby” is on par with Porter’s classic, but Elvis gives his utmost, even on such nonsense as “There’s No Room to Rhumba in a Sportscar,” simmers beautifully through the finger-snapping “Margarita” and the suave “You Can’t Say No in Acapulco,” brings an insane conviction to “El Toro” (a song about a morose matador), and soars to meet the considerable technical and linguistic challenge posed by Pepe Guizar’s “Guadalajara.”

O’Curran’s staging of Bossa Nova Baby” is one of the musical highlights of Elvis’s movie career, almost up there with some of the numbers in King Creole as a musical spectacle. The song, the suit, the beat, the urgent vocal are so effective you don’t even mind the fact that the instrumental break sounds like Saturday night in a Mexican brothel.

Even the hard-to-please Roy Carr and Mick Farren say in The Illustrated Record: “The movie soundtracks were now coming thick and fast and, by the standards of the average Elvis film, this was one of the better examples. At least part of its success was due to sticking closely to the Mexican theme, rather than trying to shoehorn a bunch of unrelated songs into a minimal plot.”

The plot in Fun in Acapulco was still minimal. Elvis is Mike Windgren, a trapeze artist haunted by guilt after dropping – and killing – his brother, who has come to Acapulco to find himself. Funnily enough, the rest of the Windgren family seem – a telegram suggests – to live in Tampa, Florida, Colonel Parker’s hometown.

After getting sacked from his job on a boat (after spurning the advances of his boss’s Lolita-esque daughter), he gets a job as a part-time lifeguard (cue for a few too many scenes of Elvis climbing onto the diving board and looking angst-ridden) and, through the offices of a precocious, loquacious, engaging boyish Svengali called Raoul (Larry Domasin), moonlights as a singer at Acapulco’s biggest nightspots and hotels. He catches the eye of Dolores Gomez (Elsa Cardenas), a highly sexed lady bullfighter, and the beautiful Marguerita Dauphin (Ursula Andress), director of entertainments at the hotel where he is working. Marguerita already has a boyfriend – champion diver Moreno (Alejandro Rey) – and her father (Paul Lukas) is a famous chef desperate to work north of the border. The predictable complications ensue, with Raoul doing his best to muddy the waters (“Girls are trouble, Mike, and if I’m your partner, half the trouble is mine”), before Mike conquers his fear of heights and assuages his guilt by making a 136-foot dive off La Perla cliff. This feat helps resolve the romantic quadrangle, as he is reconciled with Andress, and Rey makes do with Cardenas. All that remains is for Mike to celebrate with a rendition of “Guadalajara” that is so rousing it sounds as if every man, woman, child, and stray dog in the neighborhood has been pressed into service.

Elvis Films FAQ

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. Elvis Films FAQ explores his best and worst moments as an actor, analyzes 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.

Elvis’s Hollywood years are full of mystery, and Elvis Films FAQ covers them all! Which of his own movies did he actually like? What films did he wish he could have made? Why didn’t he have an acting coach? When will Quentin Tarantino stop alluding to him in his movies? And was Clambake really the catalyst for his marriage to Priscilla? 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.”