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What really killed Elvis in Hollywood?

Sat Jun 28, 2003 11:36 am

I was at Borders last night paging through Alanna Nash's new Parker bio. In the bio Nash quotes a memo from the head of Paramount Pictures to Hal Wallis. The memo spoke about the bad grosses for Elvis' movie "Frankie and Johnny". The studio head says something to the effect that without your (Wallis's) production values to hold him up he's nothing.

My response to this statement was flat out amazement. Does anyone think that Elvis was what was wrong with "Frankie and Johnny"? And did anyone sit through "Fun in Acapulco" because of the production values (like the obviously pre-filmed Acapulco backdrops)? That Wallis could take credit for the success of any Elvis movie is flabbergasting.

Yet this dunderheaded statement gives a real hint at why Elvis' film career was such a disappointment? All the big shots including Parker had no respect for Elvis' talent, as a musician or an actor, or even his appeal. To them Elvis was just some sort of prop that the fickle teenagers liked. Nobody working with Elvis got what he was about.

This was true in the music industry as well as the movies. In music it didn't hurt so much because that industry skewed younger and Elvis did work with some songwriters etc. who really knew what he was doing. As far as the suits went though they were clueless. In the movies there was no one who knew how to use Elvis because there were filmmakers who knew what he could do. The sad thing is that if there weren't such ingrained prejudice against Elvis southernness or black qualities or if he'd made movies a decade later when the people influenced by his music got positions in the industry, he might have been a splendid movie star either in musicals or straight films.

A lot of people forget that the reason that "A Hard Day's Night" was such a success was the fact that it was made by a maverick director who got the Beatles.

Sat Jun 28, 2003 11:58 am

"King Creole", gave the answer to the critics. Rembering the long lines to watch Elvis' early movies I know in my heart the post army movies were destined to undermine respect for Elvis in the world.

http://www.elvispresleybirthplace.com/tourism.asp

Sat Jun 28, 2003 1:30 pm

Elvis was never going to be a great actor or even a good one, thats not the reason why Wallis and the other heads of studios signed him up. He was signed purely because he was a great singer with a great personality. Granted, with the right script, cast and director, he was capable of turning in a decent performance, eg "King Creole" and "Jailhouse Rock". But if Elvis really wanted to do play serious parts, he would have made it happen when he had the power of a top ten star. Instead as always, he took the easy money/way out. He did`nt care enough to make it happen for himself.

Enjoy Elvis for what he was, the greatest singer that ever walked the planet. And enjoy the fims for what they were........the music videos of the day.

Sat Jun 28, 2003 3:26 pm

Carolyn in the new book Nash mentions how Elvis petitioned the Colonel for script approval but was blown off. The Colonel said "when they're paying this much money you know they're not going to give you a bad a script." Uh Huh.

In Priscilla's book and even the Goldman book, it is indicated that for one of the rare times in his career that Elvis did lobby for "Flaming Star" and "Wild in the Country". That these movies were not successful and the fluff that immediately followed and preceded them was sealed his fate.

As for Elvis' talents as an actor "Flaming Star" and "King Creole" showed the goods to deliver dramatically. And he even showed a flair for light comedy in "Follow that Dream". But even if Elvis' movies were strictly personality vehicles and musicals they could have been done much better.

The Beatles didn't make anybody forget Marlon Brando in "A Hard Day's Night" but the film is a classic because it fits and incorporates their personalities so well. And a guy like Arnold Schwarzenegger is no great shakes as an actor but he has a respectable body of work as an action star because great care was taken with the majority of his vehicles. The script for the original "Terminator" and for "Total Recall" are amazingly ambitious. The same could not be said for Elvis or any Elvis movie with the exceptions of "Flaming Star" and "King Creole".

Re: What really killed Elvis in Hollywood?

Sat Jun 28, 2003 6:34 pm

likethebike wrote:I was at Borders last night paging through Alanna Nash's new Parker bio. In the bio Nash quotes a memo from the head of Paramount Pictures to Hal Wallis. The memo spoke about the bad grosses for Elvis' movie "Frankie and Johnny". The studio head says something to the effect that without your (Wallis's) production values to hold him up he's nothing.
.


The key word here is production values.

And I find this a perfecrtly reasonable memo. Taken as a whole the production values of a Elvis' Hal Wallis were higher than that of other studios.

The memo is merely pointing out that a NON Wallis production grossed poorly and urged Wallis to keep up the production values that he had achieved with Loving You, King Creole, G.I. Blues, Blue Hawaii, Girls Girls Girls etc. And not lower standards as others did who produced Harum Scarum. Tickle Me , Kissin Cousins etc.

As the actress said to the Bishop "You can have a cheap quickie or you can have quality - but not both"

Instead of calling the head of Paramount a "dunnderhead" - we should be thanking him in trying to maintain standards.

Unhappily even Wallis had thrown in the towell by the time Easy Come, Easy Go" rolled around. I wonder if that very title was Wallis' way of saying goodbye to Elvis and the Colonel.

Sat Jun 28, 2003 8:49 pm

I agree with Kiwi Alan’s points about the production values of the Paramount pictures in comparism to films such as “Tickle Me” or “Kissin’ Cousins”, but whilst the early Wallis musicals are the best Elvis made in the genre, even Wallis and Paramount had run out of ideas by the mid sixties, and this added to the general decline of Elvis’ movies.

Elvis was capable of much better films, and the likes of “King Creole” and “Jailhouse Rock” do give us an insight into what might have been.

Sun Jun 29, 2003 12:33 am

Even without the fact that "Kissin Cousins" and "Tickle Me" had zero production values and were considered substantial hits, Wallis deserves every insult you can heap on him. These movies were not a hit because of their production values. They were a hit because Elvis was in them and Elvis sang songs. Just like the Martin and Lewis a decade before, Wallis had no right to claim "credit" for the commercial success of these movies. Gee, I'll take the most popular comedy team in the country and the most popular singer in the history of the country and when people turn out to see the movies I'll take the credit. Get out of here!!!!!!

Each Wallis movie grew worse than the last and effectively killed Elvis' reputation as an actor and a singer. The reason people didn't turn out to see "Frankie & Johnny" was because sick of seeing the same movie 20 times in a row.

When Nash mentioned that Wallis considered "Paradise Hawaiian Style" Elvis' last "good" movie, I almost vomitted.

WE'RE MISSING THE POINT!

Sun Jun 29, 2003 1:30 am

Whatever was thought back then, was purely B.!
Still, watching movies like. all of the 50's ones, plus FLAMING STAR and WILD IN THE COUNTRY, even today, I hold them high!
We must not turn back time too much! It was then, not now!
People in my family, never cared about Elvis, are beeing suprised to watch a movie like FLAMING STAR! Is it really Elvis? 'nouf said!

Mon Jun 30, 2003 12:42 am

likethebike wrote:Even without the fact that "Kissin Cousins" and "Tickle Me" had zero production values and were considered substantial hits, Wallis deserves every insult you can heap on him. These movies were not a hit because of their production values. They were a hit because Elvis was in them and Elvis sang songs. Just like the Martin and Lewis a decade before, Wallis had no right to claim "credit" for the commercial success of these movies. Gee, I'll take the most popular comedy team in the country and the most popular singer in the history of the country and when people turn out to see the movies I'll take the credit. Get out of here!!!!!!

Each Wallis movie grew worse than the last and effectively killed Elvis' reputation as an actor and a singer. The reason people didn't turn out to see "Frankie & Johnny" was because sick of seeing the same movie 20 times in a row.

When Nash mentioned that Wallis considered "Paradise Hawaiian Style" Elvis' last "good" movie, I almost vomitted.


Hey c'mon, let's be fair. While "Paradise" was probably Elvis' worst movie ever it's not fair to bash Wallis for everyting that went wrong with Elvis' film career. Wallis was a producer, not a mentor or acting teacher.

But he was the one who brought Elvis to Hollywood, he was the one who produced the first real Elvis movie, Loving You (was this one a bad movie?), and supplied him with probably his best role ever, King Creole. He was there in Germany to pre-produce material for GI Blues, a movie that definately added much to Elvis comeback in 1960 when nobody knew if there would be something like a comeback. It became one of Elvis most successful movies and soundtracks. Think about it whatever you like - you've got to admit it. Wallis was even there in the recording studio at least during the GI Blues and Blue Hawaii sessions. And even if he wasn't artistically involved in the process of recording the soundtrack he still showed up and demonstrated that he cared for his star.

Unlike other producers his name stood indeed for a certain production standard IMO. Except for GI Blues and Fun In Acapulco he was the one who cared for the location. "Blue Hawaii" owes much of it's appeal to the location. And also "Girls" and "Paradise" were no studio productions. Maybe that was what he meant when he said "Paradise" was the last good movie.

Loving You, King Creole, GI Blues, Blue Hawaii and Fun In Acapulco where extremely successful soundtracks. Probably some of his best. I mean, look at how people think about the FTD re-issue like Fun In Acapulco ... Roustabout even became Elvis' last number 1 album of the 60ies. Probably that weren't Wallis' earnings directly. But if you blame him for the horrible "Paradise" soundtrack on the one hand, you have to admit that he was probably also resonsible for the better soundtracks on the other hand ...

Mon Jun 30, 2003 12:51 am

1) extremely low box office returns

2) substandard direction, scripts, songs

3) mediocre acting

Who's to blame? Presley, Parker and Wallis can all get a share, along with the fans that stuck with the movie formula through the years 1961-66.

When the world changed in 1964, so should've the direction of the Presley career. But this was not to be.

Mon Jun 30, 2003 12:52 am

I think it's neither the star nor the location alone. I guess it's mixture of both. Movies like Follow That Deram, It Happened At The World's Fair, Kid Galahad and even Stay Away, Joe owe much to the location. I mean what about a film like Cast Away with a star like Tom Hanks? Would it have been an (artistical) success if it was shot entirely in the studio???

Mon Jun 30, 2003 7:12 am

What killed Elvis in Hollywood? Nothing killed him, the formula simply wore out it's welcome. As the Doc said the times had changed. In the years 64-67 popular culture grew increasingly socio-political, what with the war in Vietnam, the rise of the counter-culture, the civil rights movement, and the assasinations of the Kennedy's and Martin Luther King. Elvis' cornball formula films from these years still operated with a more "innocent" early 60's kind of sensibility: boy meets girl, boy gets in fight, boy beats the bad guys, by wins race, boy gets girl." The times simply passed these films by. And it certainly didn't help that the overall quality of these films (and the accompanying music) dropped significantly during these years. When the formula dried up the studios lost interest pure and simple. Look, if you're making a drama who do you get to star, Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, ....or Elvis Presley? There's an idea out there that if Elvis had studied acting under Lee Strasberg or Stella Adler he could've been another Brando or Montgomery Clift or whatever intense method actor you want to name. I don't know about that. Elvis certainly had the potential to be a reasonably good, solid actor, as King Creole and Flaming Star display. But Elvis was more from the old school of Hollywood: show up on time, know your lines, hit your marks, do your job, be professional. But Hollywood didn't sell Elvis as "actor" Hollywood sold Elvis as a personality. In short, Hollywood sold Elvis as ELVIS: striking good looks, unique charisma, great singing voice, nice-guy disposition.

Mon Jun 30, 2003 7:34 am

like the bike makes some good comments. It's also worth remembering that when the formula films waned they tried to revive Elvis's career. His last few films were actually quite different: Live A Little, Love A Little is a competent sex farce (Elvis in bed with his co-star!); Stay Away, Joe an over-the-top adult western comedy, The Trouble With Girls - very underrated, with some of the highest production values of any Elvis movie (sets, costumes, use of unusual camera techniques) and Change of Habit, an attempt at a contemporary social drama. Unfortunately the critics couldn't see the change and this last set of films tends to be lumped in with Elvis's others - quite unfairly. The same can be said of his 1950s vehicles (excluding Love Me Tender) and the dramas from 1960-61.

Mon Jun 30, 2003 8:44 am

My trouble with Wallis is that he treated Elvis as if he were a prop. There is no sense in any interview with him that he was working with an exciting new talent. Instead "of oh we have to work with Elvis Presley....". The attitude should have been "WE"RE GETTING TO WORK WITH ELVIS PRESLEY!!!!"

Elvis' movies would be much better thought of today if Wallis made better musicals. Part of the reasons for the bad Elvis songs was the situations for which the songs were being written. Wallis should have been conscious of Elvis as an artist and maybe tried to do something new with him instead of trying to shoehorn into being a new Bing Crosby.

Screw the production values. What about hiring a director? After "King Creole" with Mike Curtiz Elvis was never again paired with a talented and ambitious director in any Paramount feature. Or how about a decent screenplay. Or how about coming to an agreement with Presley publishing and going out and hiring some first rate songwriters. Not this hiring on spec crap but giving them the job.

Over 40 years later, nobody rents "Blue Hawaii" to see pictures of Hawaii. Elvis is what makes that work in the sense that it does work. The pictures of Hawaii makes it more palatable. They may have helped the movie become a bigger hit in 1961/1962 but let's not forget the primary reason for the success was not the production values but Elvis.

And I will not admit (even if someone put a gun to my head) that Wallis contributed anything to the soundtrack of "Blue Hawaii". Those songs are listenable because Elvis sings the heck out of them. As songs many of them ("Ito", "Rock a Hula" etc) aren't much better as songs than the songs in "Paradise". By the time "Paradise" rolled them around though Elvis was too worn to turn another sow's ear into a silk purse.

Mon Jun 30, 2003 6:12 pm

I think it was William Goldman, in his book, "Adventures In The Screen Trade", who said, "the first rule to remember is, nobody in Hollywood knows anything about movies". Its all chance, even with the best of talent and the biggest of stars. I think its something like 75% of all films bomb at the box office, so without Wallis in Elvis` corner, things would have probably been a lot worse. Whatever you say about Wallis, the guy had a great cv, and knew his stuff. But even with better songs and screenplays etc, the times had changed, and the film musical was on its last legs.

Tue Jul 01, 2003 12:53 am

I agree with Doc JC again on this one, Elvis, Wallis, Colonel Diablo, and the fans were all to blame for the low quality of the 60's films.

The comment about Wallis' production values may have some justification; as I discovered at a local drive-in Elvis night, on the big screen Blue Hawaii has stunning photography compared to what was to follow (including some of Wallis' productions which saw a decline in quality as well.) And Blue Hawaii was one of the biggest hits, along with Viva which also has superior production values to the others.

But to discount Elvis in the equation is fool's work. Most of Wallis's 60's Elvis films were just as shallow and insipid as the rest, and of course people are going to prefer slick, attractive superficiality over the garishly ugly type. But if Hals' production values were the main thing putting asses in theater seats, they could have released travelogues instead and made more by not having to pay for Elvis. All the "genius" had to do was spend a little more money to add some polish to the movies, so bully for the brilliant Mr. Hal Wallis that he could write good size checks, so f*cking what?

None of us will ever know how good Elvis could have been with some proper acting training. Even without approaching Dean's and Brando's level, he very well might have proven a uniquely talented actor with even greater screen presence.


Here's the thing that has always bugged me about these "failures" like Wild in the Country and Flaming Star. What straight actor hasn't been allowed to have a career that includes many box office failures as long as he remains a star that can can still deliver big hits often enough? Look how many flops actors like Bruce Willis or even Al Pachino have had, yet their careers march on because they have to talent to make good material work with good directors.

But Wallis and Colonel Sh*thead viewed Elvis merely as a cash cow, and the minute he failed to make these two greedmongers even richer because he wanted to try something new, they would crack the whip like trainers humbling an uppity circus bear.

However if they'd really explored what Elvis could really do as a movie star by giving him training and material that inspired him, who knows how much more he could have made for them? It's clear that these men didn't get Elvis's significance outside of his ability to line their sleazy pockets.