A special report from Todd Slaughter to coincide with the release of the greatest Elvis movie ever.
In the mid to late 60's The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Tom Jones, Engelbert Humperdinck, Herman's Hermits, and the Dave Clark Five were all out-selling and out-performing Elvis Presley in the charts, on the concert circuits, and in Las Vegas. The British Invasion had certainly rattled Elvis. The world's greatest superstar was locked into movie contracts by a manager who, for the first time in his professional career, had miscalculated his non-existent five year plan for Elvis, and at the same time hadn't appreciated a massive change in the social strata of the time. The Colonel thought that Elvis' pinnacle of achievement was to have in place a Hollywood contract at all times. The shunning of television and live appearances for the majority of the 1960's had opened the floodgates for a massive onslaught of British talent, none of which was in the slightest bit interested in movie contracts. Anxious to appease an unhappy Elvis who was refusing to sign more movie deals, in October of 1967 Colonel Parker opened negotiations with NBC's Tom Samoff for a Christmas 1968 Special that would give Elvis his first television outing in eight years. The Colonel had always looked for million dollar movie deals, and with NBC the money was matched for a one-hour television special. Recorded in Burbank on 27th and 28th June 1968, and broadcast to a massive US TV audience on December 3rd of the same year the show was an astounding success. Elvis was able to prove that he had lost none of his on-stage sparkle whist being locked away for almost a decade on the movie lots of California.
"One Giant Step For Elvis"
On 21st July 1969 Neil Armstrong said "That's one small step for man but one giant step for mankind." as he became the first man to walk on the moon. On that very day Elvis Presley was locked into rehearsals at 6363 Sunset Boulevard - the West Coast home of RCA Records. "We were there for six nights in total, and learnt almost 150 songs;" James Burton recalls. They were there rehearsing for Elvis' return to live entertainment which was to take place ten days later at 10.l5 pm, on the 31st July, on the stage of the International Hotel, Las Vegas. Going back to sing on stage in Las Vegas for the first time since 1956 was certainly one giant step for Elvis, who only minutes before was in a state of near collapse with violent feelings of panic and nausea. He need not have worried - his celebrity audience was on its feet for almost the entire performance. After the show, the Colonel concludes his famous table-cloth contract with hotel president Alex Shoofey guaranteeing Elvis $1,000,000 for two four week seasons each year for five years. Quite a deal for the hotel, as Elvis and the Colonel are left to pick up the expenses. From 31st July - 28th August Elvis performs a total of 57 shows, before an estimated audience total of 150,000. Although only licensed for 2,200 seated guests, the hotel was known for "crammin' 'em in". It was a wonderful deal for the hotel. For less than 4 hocks-a-piece the hotel was able to present Elvis, yet the hotel took in $12.00 per head. Everyone was happy, especially hotel magnet Kirk Kerkorian.
"Our Dome failed as it didn't have Elvis as its main attraction"
Elvis returned to Vegas for a further 57 shows on January 26th 1970, and by 1st March the Colonel was prepared to let Elvis appear outside of the Las Vegas environment, in possibly one of the biggest indoor venues in the world - the fantastic Houston Astrodome. A staggering 36,000 packed the "dome" for the first show that first evening, a figure which was replicated for each of the six shows staged over the three days of the Houston gig, with the Saturday late show achieving a record of 43,000. The "dome" was so big that it "hosted" it's own weather system within the complex, and would occasionally rain without prior notice. Thankfully it didn't rain when Elvis appeared, and as always he walked away over a million dollars richer! (It's a pity our Dome didn't enjoy similar attendance figures, but it couldn't, could it? Greenwich didn't have Elvis as the main attraction.) By now, RCA was receiving dozens of calls from its licensees and affiliates around the globe demanding the inevitable "World Tour". For almost 15 years RCA staff in every country had been trumpeting Elvis' success to their domestic media, and for the same period of time, that media had been asking "when is he coming here?" In the words of British singer Johnny Wakelin in his "Tennessee Hero" song,
"Elvis Presley, you've been away too long We've seen the Rolling Stones, And then came Elton John You've been star now for 20 years or more But no one knows what you've been waiting for The population says what we all know, Yeah, we want to see an Elvis Presley Show"
(That's out of context really, because Wakelin didn't record the song until 1975, but the sentiments were the same, we all wanted to see an Elvis Presley show.) For the first time the Colonel's back was against the wall. Tom Diskin was sent to New York to fend off RCA executives, and he was also stopped off in Memphis to calm down Elvis who by this time was itching to perform outside of the US. "The Colonel says that there are no suitable venues." Elvis sends some of his cronies to Britain to check out available locations, but they come back and report that what the Colonel says is fact. "There is no where big enough Elvis". "Ah, Shit, so where did the Beatles play?" replies Elvis. Had the "Mafia" been got at, we ask?
"Kerkorian Snowed The Colonel"
The Colonel had to placate RCA, so he dreamed up the idea of a pay-per-view deal, where Elvis would appear in cinemas around the world, and perform a live closed-circuit theatrical concert. (The Colonel told me just six months before he died that he got the idea from my 1963 "Elvis via Telstar" project, and of course he eventually presented 'Aloha From Hawaii" -by satellite in 1973. The million dollar deal fell through, but MOM Studios owner Kirk Kerkorian came to the rescue with a half million dollar guarantee linked with the proposed "Elvis: That's The Way It Is" documentary movie project, which of course; had to be filmed at his Las Vegas International Hotel. Kerkorian not only owned the venue, the on stage fights to the artist at that time, but also the movie company. He had snowed the Colonel! The filming was to take place between 10th August and 15th August - the first part of a third season at the International Hotel, with 58 performances this time an extra show planned for the Labour Day holiday period. Producer Dennis Sanders had earlier travelled to Europe to film this fan club's convention in the Grande Duchy of Luxembourg. The location of the venue was selected because of our club's affinity with the broadcasting company Radio Luxembourg. Its DJ's, including Tony Prince, were firm favourites with Elvis fans, and being located in the centre of Western Europe it meant that all major European Fan Clubs could support the event. For us it was a fantastic success, but Sanders chose to concentrate on the bizarre aspects of the gathering, which both devalued our people, and showed Elvis enjoying the support of fans who were not quite "the full quid". That said, at the time we were delighted, and thankfully Elvis must have wet himself when he saw the footage selected to be included in the 1970 biopic. (Happily all the European and American fans "dribblings" have been edited out of the Special Edition version due to premiere over here mid March 2001. We might have all looked a bit odd, but how can a cat love Elvis?) The August/September 1970 season was eloquently reported by Norwegian fan Stein Erik Skar in the magnificent "Elvis The Concert Years" Book. Stein sets the scene: Las Vegas, l0th August -8th September, 1970 Then they poured into Las Vegas again - thousands and thous