Interview with Hal Kanter Director of Loving You
November 10, 2011 - 11:33:00 PM
Elvis Articles, Elvis Interviews
Q : Tell us how you first met Elvis.
A : I was asked by a producer named Hal Wallis to come and see a screen test that he had made of a young man named Elvis Presley. And I had heard of Elvis Presley, but I had never seen him work. He was a great favorite among young children. And I was, at the time, not a young child myself, but I did have three daughters. And they were so excited about the fact that I was going to go to a screen test, because they had never seen a screen test themselves. Anyway I went to Paramount and saw a screen test of a young man. And I had great trepidation about seeing that because I didn't think that from what I had known of Elvis that he was screen material. I thought he was a passing fancy for young children, especially young girls. But I was very pleasantly surprised by what I saw on the screen. As a matter of fact, pleasantly surprised is sort of -- that might be a euphemism. I was actually knocked on my socks. My socks were knocked off seeing what I saw on the screen.
So, I went into see Wallis after and said, 'I think it's terrific. I'd love to do a picture with him'.
And then he handed me a script that had been written from a short story. And the script was not very good. And he said, 'That's your first chore is to make this a better script, something we can shoot. You wouldn't shoot what I had been given'. After I did a first draft of the script that both he and I approved, then he sent me to Memphis, Tennessee to meet Elvis in person and to talk about the show that we were going to do together. I think it was Elvis's second picture. He'd made only one film before. And that was a little western he made at 20th Century Fox. Elvis met me at the airport and drove me on a tour of Memphis which took up the better part of 15 minutes. And then we checked into a hotel. And he came by later and picked me up and took me to his house to meet his family and to have dinner. Now, that was my first exposure to Elvis and probably one of the most refreshing afternoons I ever spent in Memphis, Tennessee.
Q : How long were you in Memphis visiting Elvis?
A : About a day-and-a-half. That's why it was so pleasant.
Q : Tell us about working with Elvis once he came back to Hollywood.
A : First of all, while we were having dinner at Elvis's house, a rather boisterous gentleman came barging into the living room. That was Colonel Tom Parker. That's when I had met him for the first time. He was on his way to Shreveport where I was going to accompany Elvis for his farewell concert on the Louisiana Hayride. It was supposed to be his farewell concert on the Louisiana Hayride. And that was one of the primary reasons that I went to Memphis, not only to meet Elvis himself, but also see him in action and to learn as much about his method of operation as I possibly could and eventually to incorporate some of what I'd learned in the film itself. Because I had not only written the screen play, I was now to direct it.
Hal Kanter, Lizabeth Scott and Elvis Presley on the set of 'Loving You'.
And Elvis was very proud of me, because I was his Hollywood director. He kept introducing me to people as my director from Hollywood, overlooking completely the fact that I was the writer which I was more proud of than being a director, and still am as a matter of fact. Anyway, as I said, I was able to meet the Colonel and some of his associates. Then I met the group of people who were going to Shreveport with us in the car, in two cars as a matter of fact. Elvis was driving one. And Bill Black was driving the other one with Scotty Moore and D.J. Fontana. And we drove at night through Tennessee and into Louisiana and arrived very, very early in the morning at the Shreveport Hotel and tried go get some sleep.
And I was awakened about maybe 7:30 by hoards of children shouting Elvis' name trying to waking him up. And he finally opened the window in his hotel room and leaned out and said, 'Please, let me get some sleep, folks. I'll see you all later'. And they quieted down. And I was amazed at that. I never saw anybody control a crowd so effortlessly as he did. Anyway, early in the next morning, I went to the Shreveport Fairgrounds where he was to perform that evening. And Bill Black had drove me there. And I picked up a couple of things that I had made notes of and later incorporated into the film itself.
One of the things that really impressed me was the fact that we arrived in a Cadillac. Bill was driving. And thousands of kids evidently recognized it as Elvis' car. And they swarmed around the car. And I was sitting in the back seat. They were all trying to see who I was. And of course they had no idea who I was. They all recognized Bill. But they didn't know me. And they were rocking the car. It was a frightening experience. Till he finally he was able to get out and say, 'Just relax, kids. That's Elvis' director from Hollywood. We're going to go to make a movie'. We all knew we were going to make a movie. But they all stood around just staring at me and nothing I could do about it. Because I couldn't even get out of the car at that point. There was just a mass of people. And finally when Bill got rid of them, one little girl stood behind. And she took a piece of Kleenex out of her bodice, and she opened it up, and she took her hand and scraped the dust off the car and put it in this Kleenex and wrapped it up and put it back in her bodice. And she walked away smiling, happy that she had achieved a trophy. I couldn't believe that, the hero worship that existed among that crowd.
The evening of the concert was another eye opener to me. I had never seen so many flash bulbs in my life. The place was jammed. And the audience itself was making so much noise that they couldn't even hear what the man was singing, I thought. It was absolutely spectacular even for me.
And, as a matter of fact, I think I did get a lot of it on the screen in 'Loving You'.
Anyway, I was wearing a shirt, a black velour shirt that my wife had given me just before I left to go to Memphis. And Elvis admired the shirt. He said, 'Where did you get that?' And I said, 'Do you like it?' And he says, 'Oh, I like it very much'. I said, 'I'll give you this one'. So we changed shirts. I took my shirt off and gave it to him. He couldn't believe that I had given him that shirt. He was so proud of that black velour shirt. And so I got another shirt and went about our business. When he showed up in Hollywood several weeks later to start rehearsing the show, he was wearing that shirt. And I said to him, 'That's a good looking shirt you're wearing there, Elvis'. I said, 'Where did you get that?' He said, 'Well, some fan gave it to me'. I said, 'Okay'. But the last time I saw that shirt, his cousin Gene was wearing it.
Q : You met Elvis' mother and father.
A : Yes. Elvis' father and mother. Vernon and Gladys.
Q : Did his mother say how she felt about Elvis' acting to you.
A : She didn't say anything to me about it except she was obviously very pleased and very proud. And she and Vernon came out to Hollywood to spend some time with Elvis. And he asked if they could come on the set. And I said, 'Of course they could'. And they showed up with another couple, friends of theirs from Memphis whom Vernon introduced as their decorator. It turns out this man was a house painter. And I remember him because he was wearing a brand new hat. And it had no creases in it at all, just at hat just taken out of a hat box. And he wore that. And he had a white shirt buttoned at the collar but no tie. And I'd seen very few people dressed that way. I never heard the man say one word. But Gladys and Vernon both were rather quiet people.
And after one take ... On the back lot we were working one night. And we'd finished the scene, and we were shooting night for night. And I said, 'As long as you're, you know, Gladys while you're here', I said, 'Why don't you stand in front of the camera, and we'll run a few feet off of you, and you and your son and your husband. And you'll see it tomorrow in the dailies'. And she said, 'Oh, I don't -- I don't know..'. And Elvis said, 'Come on, Mom. Come on. Come on'. And they finally all got in front of the camera. And they did a little something. Whatever it was escapes me. And when I said, 'Cut', she said, 'Oh'. She was so grateful. She was very embarrassed to be in front to the camera. She wanted her friends to be on the camera too. But I said, 'That's enough. No more'. The next day, they saw the dailies, and she was just embarrassed just to see herself. She thought that she looked heavy which she was. But Vernon seemed to be very pleased with it. Vernon had the feeling that he probably could be an actor himself, you know. But that little piece of film is probably a very valuable piece of film, you know, to aficionados and Elvis freaks. But nobodys ever able to find it. I think that he, himself, got a hold of that film sometime later and had it destroyed. Because nobody could find it anywhere.
Q : The scene that I remember she's applauding him.
A : Yes. Yeah, I finally used them in the picture itself. And if you have a sharp eye, you can see that Gladys and then Vernon and there were two people sitting next to them. And that was the house painter and his wife. They went everywhere. They seemed to be moral support of body or body guards or what... I don't know. I never saw the Presleys without those two people with them.
Hal Kanter, Elvis, Wendell Corey, Lizabeth Scott.
Q : What were your impressions about Colonel Parker?
A : My impression about Colonel Parker is that he was much more interesting man than Elvis was. I found him absolutely fascinating. And I would trust him across the room on anything. He was one of the sharpest con men that I've ever run across. And he was remarkable. I can, you know, I can talk about him for two or three hours which you would enjoy hearing about. But I'm not going to. Because actually I thought that he was a contributor to downfall of Elvis himself, in my view. Anyway, we shouldn't do that. Let's destroy all that. Don't, don't... Colonel Parker was a man who had Elvis' best interests at heart. But he had Tom Parker's best interest even closer to heart than he did Elvis. On the last day of shooting, I decided to give a cast party.
And I made all the arrangements to get one of the sets of a picture that Cornell Wilde was doing at the time. And he had finished with his set, a nightclub set. And I asked them, 'Please, leave that set alone, so we can have our cast party there'. And I had paid for everything. The last shot was with Elvis and Liz Scott. And early on, little by little, as the cast was being dismissed, everybody go across the lot to the party near the commissary. When finally the show was wrapped, Elvis and Liz and I walked across to the stage. And the party was in full swing. And there was a big boot there with a great big sign saying, 'Elvis and the Colonel, thank you all'. And he was standing there giving out autographed pictures of Elvis printed, you know, little 4 x 5's. He was also giving out lottery tickets, because he was going to raffle off an Elvis album and also a phonograph which had been donated by RCA I guess. And that cast party which cost me several thousand dollars out of my own pocket became his farewell party to the cast and crew. That's typical of him.
Now, seven years later, my wife and I went to Palm Springs. And we had a dinner date. And while she was preparing, getting ready, I said, 'I'll meet you downstairs at the bar'. I want to have a drink before we go meet out friends. And while I was sitting there, I see a man I thought was Tom Parker and Tom Disken his cohort, I don't know exactly what Tom's job was. But he was his assistant, let's say. Anyway, it was Disken and Tom and two women whom I didn't recognize. And Tom then was walking on a cane which he hadn't walked on before. And he'd gained a lot of weight. And they stopped at the matred and went inside to have dinner. So, I called the matred over to the bar, and I said, 'Is that Tom Parker?' He said, 'Yes'. I said, 'Would you send him a bottle of a wine, of Lancer's Rose wine, with the compliments of Hal Kanter. And put it on my bill'. And said, 'Here's my room number'. He said, 'Yes, sir'. And he left. My wife came down and said, 'Well, let's go. We're late'. I said, 'Just a minute'. I told her what I did. I said, 'I want to get some reaction, to see what the Colonel said'. Finally the matred just ignored me completely. And I went over to him, and I said, 'Excuse me'. I said, 'Did you send that bottle of wine to the Colonel?' He said, 'Yes'. He said, 'Not the Lancer's Rose. He does not drink that. He drinks so and so and so, whatever. A much more expensive wine, incidentally'. And he said, 'I sent it to... It's on your bill, sir'. I said, 'Well, what did he say? Didn't he say anything?' He said, 'Yes, he said, 'This man is obviously an impostor'. He said, 'The real Hal Kanter would have sent me a case of wine'.' That's Tom Parker. Now, you want more about him? We'll talk more about him some other time.
Q : Do you have any memories of 'Blue Hawaii'?
A : I have very little, very few memories of 'Blue Hawaii', because I didn't direct the picture. I wrote the picture. I re-wrote the picture again. I never did hear from Elvis about that. I think I saw one day. I went on the set. Oh, Michael Curtiz, I think, was directing that picture. Mike Curtiz or Norman Taurog.
Anyway I was on the set one time. And we said, 'Hello, how are you?' 'How things are going?' 'Fine'. 'How's the army?' 'Okay'. 'How is it?' 'Okay'. 'Nice to see you'. 'Nice to see you too'. 'Take care'. 'Will do'. 'Bye-bye'.
That's about it. He was a different boy by that time. He wasn't the same fun-loving, happy-go-lucky, sweet, young country boy that I'd met when I first went there.
Q : Do you think it was possibly because he had lost his mother and had been in the army?
A : Possibly. That could have been. It could be. I really have not paid too much attention to what happened to him after because I had other interests, and obviously, so did he.
Q : What that the last time you saw Elvis?
A : I'm not sure. I really don't recall the last time I saw him.
I did see Tom Parker on several occasions. And he was always trying to get me to do something for him for free. He wanted me to write the his autobiography, or his biography. And he said, he wanted me to write his autobiography. I said, 'Well, if I write it, it's not an autobiography. Well, it could be, as told to'. And anyway he said, 'If you'll do my biography', he said, 'you're going to make a lot of money. It's going to be an automatic best seller'. He said he knew it was going to be a best seller. I said, 'How do you know that?' He said, 'Because I'm going to sell advertising in the book'. I said, 'What?' He said, 'Yeah, the book is going to..'. He said, 'I've already sold the back cover to RCA'. And he says, 'I'll sell the front cover to Paramount Pictures'. He said, 'So, the book is paid for immediately. So every dime that comes in now is pure profit'. And he said, 'And also I've got a title for it'. I said, 'What's the title?' He said, 'The title is 'How Much Does It Cost If It's For Free?'' I said, 'Pretty good title'. And I said, 'And I think, let's talk about making a movie out of your life'. And he says, 'All right, then do that'. And I said, 'I've got the ideal guy to play your part'. He said, 'Who's that?' I said, 'W.C. Fields'. He said, 'Thank you very much' and never mentioned again to me.
Q : He worked every angle didn't he?
A : He sure did. He sure did. But he was a character. I think that some day somebody's going to do a wonderful study of him, and it's going to make a great movie.
Q : Is there anything else that comes to mind that the Colonel wanted you to do?
A : He wanted me to write something for Elvis.
I've forgotten what it was now. He had some idea that Elvis could do something spiritual. And I said, 'You've got the wrong fellow'. I said, 'I can't write spiritual'. He wanted some kind of a spiritual lyric. I said, 'I don't write lyrics. That's somebody else'. He says, 'Well, I don't want it to be lyrics. I just want it to be lyrical, but not lyrics, but something we can say in the middle of his act'. And I said, 'I'll think about it'. Again, he never mentioned that to me after that. First of all, I said, 'We'll have to discuss money'. And I said, 'And I hate to discuss money, so you'll have to talk to my agent. How about that?' He said, 'I'd rather talk to you'. I said, 'I know you would, but I'd rather you talk to my agent'. So I don't know if he ever did or not. It was some way -- that was forgotten. But it was something I had no intention of doing in the first place.
Q : What do you think it is about Elvis that keeps fans loving him?
A : I think that, first of all, he was a very unique talent. I had completely misjudged him at first. I think most people my age misjudged him. He was uniquely original talent, because he combined all of the best of Black music and all of the best of Country music. And as a result, he was unique. He was just unusual. You can't forget him. Once you are exposed to his music, it's very hard to forget the man himself. I found his music was unique, unique and original. He was an original man, even though a lot of his originality is eclectic because he took from here and took from this and took from this that. I don't think that he was aware of the fact that it was taken from other people. It was something inborn, something so genuinely lyrical about the man that once you hear him and once you pay attention to him, you're not going to forget him. And I think that also here's a good actor. And I think that given time and given better scripts and more retention and less reliance on money and on lyrics and on singing, he could have been a superb motion picture actor. He could have done a lot of other things that he was never able to do under the thumbs of Tom Parker.
Q : Is there anything else you can say to Elvis's fans?
A : Anything else I can say to Elvis's fans is God bless your hearts.
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