COLUMBUS, Miss. – Every year thousands of fans around the world gather to remember American icon Elvis Presley.


This year was no different, with Aug. 16 marking the 37th anniversary death of Presley, a household name to many who was often referred to as The King of Rock and Roll.

Known for his roundabout hip-movement, dark hair and trademark left-sided grin, Presley’s career is characterized by his 18 No. 1 singles and contributions to country, gospel and rock-n-roll. While Presley’s musical career is one that is well known, his film career is the vehicle that achieved his fame.

Dr. Van Roberts, associate professor of communication at Mississippi University for Women, stated, “Although Elvis possessed a wealth of singing and acting talent, he often found himself confined to disposable roles designed to bolster his musical career rather than cinematic his career.

“He really didn’t do that many concerts back in the 50s and 60s. Like they do today, films were a way for the studios to release his new songs,” said Roberts. “‘In Love Me Tender,’ which was Elvis’ first film, Presley strummed in the background and would be shot and killed.

“Later they decided that Elvis would be showcased in lightweight romantic musical comedies--what you might call pot-boilers,” he explained. Potboilers, a term used to describe low-quality, disposable films, were the ideal way to market his songs, according to Roberts.

"Elvis’ early movies were his best because they didn’t know what they had. Elvis had more fans than we can ever imagine. This was before The Beatles, and people went crazy about the guy.”

Roberts said Elvis did have one trademark when it came to his movies--getting the girl.

“Sports movies end one of two ways. You win and everyone feels good. You lose and learn a lesson. You never learned any lessons in Elvis’ movies, except Elvis always got the girl, and he looked cool doing it,” he said.

Even though Presley achieved box office success, he wanted to have value in his work and be proud of his acting career.

Presley once said, “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!”

Even with much success, Presley’s acting career brought him much frustration due to management.

Mary Margaret Roberts, MUW director of prospect research and communications and Elvis enthusiast, said, “He desperately wanted to take on more challenging and serious roles as he matured, but his manager, Col. Tom Parker, demanded he stick to the formula. While he gained musical fame by shattering the boundaries of race, sexuality and class, the films served to temper that controversial image somewhat.

“There were a number of more serious roles offered to Elvis that Parker forced him to decline. For instance, Tennessee Williams met Elvis and sought him for the lead in `Sweet Bird of Youth,’ but Parker convinced Elvis the role would be disastrous for his career.”

Most of Presley’s movies depicted him having a good time with some rowdy buddies, but not all of them touched on easy subjects. Elvis even took on race relations in the 60s.

In “Blue Hawaii,” Presley plays the son of a pineapple entrepreneur. He wants to marry an island girl while his mother wants him to marry a Caucasian. In “Flaming Star,” a genre western, Presley takes on the role of an American Indian.

“It might be his best movie ever because he isn’t playing Elvis,” Roberts said about “Flaming Star.”

Even though Presley’s career was riddled with frustration and challenges, he would star in 33 movies that would coin as much as to $150 million dollars. He was nominated for two Grammy Awards, both for Best Soundtrack Album or Recording of Original Cast from a Motion Picture or TV. Presley won one Laurel Award for Male Musical Performance in “Tickle Me” and was nominated for five others.

Presley’s acting career is one that many dream of achieving, but would be over shadowed by his 149 songs on BillBoards’ Hot 100. Without the launching pad of his films, Presley's music career may have earned hm the title of “The King.”

Aug. 19, 2014
Contact: Tyler Wheat
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