Review - The Colonel : The Extraordinary Story Of Colonel Tom Parker And Elvis Presley

By: David Neale
Source: Books In Print
April 1, 2005 - 6:46:00 PM
Elvis Reviews, Elvis Book Reviews, By David Neale


The Colonel: The Extraordinary Story of Colonel Tom Parker and Elvis Presley.
The Colonel: The Extraordinary Story of Colonel Tom Parker and Elvis Presley.
The first quarter of a century of Parker's life is full of holes: remarkably little is known of what he did. This is perhaps less surprising for his early years as a child and youth in the Netherlands, but even the time following his two trips to the USA, when he was for a great deal of that time apparently a member of the US armed forces, his exact machinations are veiled, despite the clearly rigourous efforts of Alanna Nash to uncover exactly what he did and, indeed, who he was, for it seems he used more than one alias. I get the impression that much of what is reported regarding this part of Parker's life is based on hearsay and poor recollection. This is amply demonstrated when Nash writes that a friend of Parker's during his carnival years told her that 'he was [still] talking like a Dutchman: 'Brassa, was ist los, ja, ja, ja'. That's not Dutch, but German!

Reports in other reviews that the book tells that Parker (or van Kuijk as he was at the time) fled the Netherlands after having committed a murder, are incorrect. The author is careful to indicate only speculation on this point, but there is certainly sufficient speculation for the case to be more closely examined. What is very clear from the book is that Parker probably suffered some mental deficiency. Not only is evidence for this provided by reports from acquaintances who knew him during his time with Elvis, but Nash shows that Parker was indeed discharged from military service because of a mental disorder, similar to schizophrenia.

Nash relates the tale of Parker at a fast pace and there are some disconcerting jumps in time, but these are undoubtedly the result of the lack of reasonable, reportable information about much of Parker's life, especially the first thirty years of it. Things clear up by the early 1940s (though Parker ensured that most of the rest of his life was also less than adequately recorded), and we are able to learn about his move from the world of the carnival into that of managing a fairly major star, Eddy Arnold. As Nash reports it, Parker did a good job, building the singer's marketability, but she also indicates that Parker never really left the carnival mentality and this was at least partly to blame for Arnold's dropping of Parker in the early 1950s. This is a very interesting part of the book, where the reader starts to understand why Parker handled Elvis in his uncommon fashion.

About one-third into the book, we start to learn about Parker's dealings with Elvis. Nash gives a great deal of information on the events that led up to the eventual signing of the contract that bound Elvis to Parker. She then goes on to chart the promotional and managerial efforts of Parker on behalf of his client. The extent of Parker's almost unbelievable control, not only over Elvis, but over almost everyone with whom he dealt, from lowly minions to heads of record and film organisations, is quite astonishing, hardly believable, and is amply reported by Nash. The man manipulated, cheated, bluffed, and humiliated everyone and anyone. He continued to do business as if he were still in the carnival and he earned little respect, yet a huge amount of fear from his contemporaries. Elvis, of course, was one of these, and Nash makes it clear that Parker looked upon him as no more than a source of income, with very little respect for his talent. This is often pretty heavy stuff and those who have supported Tom Parker in the past might not feel comfortable reading it. As Nash indicates, Parker might have been a good promoter, but as a manager he was almost a non-starter, interested only in control, control, and more control. Any suspicion that someone was trying to wrest control from Parker was met head on and any actual loss of control, no matter how temporary, was avenged mercilessly. This is well illustrated by Nash in her description of the events leading up to, during and following the making of the TV show, 'Singer Presents Elvis'. The author allows considerable space for this episode and rightly so -- excellent stuff.

By now we have reached the final third of the book and the reading becomes even more disturbing, as Parker is depicted as becoming ever more addicted to gambling, an addiction that appears to affect his judgement in making contracts, scheduling shows and all other aspects of an increasingly distant relationship between himself an Elvis. As Nash describes it, it is as if Parker lost any ideas of management that he might have had and even his genius at promotion started to falter. Certainly his concern for the artistic and personal well-being for his client, never a major consideration, now more or less evaporated. In this part of her book, Nash concentrates more on Elvis than on Parker and the result is a harrowing read that will shock many in its honesty. The book's conclusion is a fairly hasty review of the events surrounding Tom Parker from Elvis' death to Parker's own demise in early 1997. Enough is told, however, to emphasise the dichotomy of the man and to leave the reader pondering on whether he was the best thing that could have happened to Elvis, or a money-grabbing con-man who really did find that golden-egg laying goose'. The Colonel' is a great read, but Parker continues to hold something back. In the end, much information is given, a lot is missing; many questions are asked, a lot left unanswered. Perhaps we shall never know the full story, the truth behind this strange character and perhaps Alanna Nash's 'The Colonel' is as close as we shall get.

David Neale

Author: Alanna Nash
Publisher: Aurum Press Ltd.
ISBN: 1-85410-948-0 (hardback, 394 pp. incl; notes, bibliography, index)

- Interview with Alanna Nash

- Andreas van Kuijk
- Interview with Colonel Parker
- Interview with Loanne Parker
- Photos - Colonel Parker and Elvis Presley
- Colonel Parkers Birthday on the Set of the '68 Special

- I Met The Colonel

- Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis Presley's Manager, Dead at 87

Buy The Colonel Book

Book Review : The Colonel By Michael Lollar (Memphis Commercial Appeal)

Parker began life in Breda, Holland, as Andreas Cornelis van Kuijk. His mother's family were gypsy-like merchants. They fascinated the child, nicknamed 'Dries', who grew up with a seemingly inescapable need to 'snow' the world, separating people from their money by whatever means. With nine brothers and sisters, Parker worked as a child to help support the family, mainly himself. They lived above the stables where his stern militaristic father, a livery man for a freight handling firm, cared for the firm's horses.

Young Dries was drawn by traveling carnivals, wearing sandwich boards and riding tall bicycles to promote the shows, then working as a water boy, animal caretaker, and all-around hustler when the shows came to town. Like his father, he developed an affinity for animals, but when he tried to demonstrate his carnival skills by teaching the horses to kneel and curtsy in the livery stable, his father burst in, beating him with a belt in front of his brothers and sisters and the neighborhood children.

Nash concludes the incident and his treatment by his father incubated in Parker a permanent 'need to humiliate others, especially those in subordinate positions'. [Elvis Australia Note : Extreme need for control]

Nash makes her writing task more difficult by forgoing a straight narrative approach and bouncing back and forth from Parker's childhood to his relationships as an adult. In the sometimes confusing process, his future clients, from country music stars Eddy Arnold and Hank Snow to Elvis, string the reader along with what's to come.

Parker left Holland in 1929 (roughly the time of the mysterious robbery-murder there) and made his way to the United States without visa or entry papers. Traveling carnivals would become both his refuge as an illegal alien and his passion. Parker worked tirelessly, learning every promotional trick and every nuance of the carnie. He worked as animal trainer, concessionaire, barker, promoter, always frustrated by his inability to land a job in the 'front office'. He would get his revenge by returning again and again to 'gloat' once he became the promoter of the world's biggest act.

Parker also worked tirelessly to cover his tracks, changing his name and registering for the military. Eventually wanderlust or instability caused him to go AWOL and resulted in an Army discharge with the diagnosis: 'Psychosis, Psychogenic Depression, acute, on basis of Constitutional Psychopathic State, Emotional Instability'.

The diagnosis seems prophetic for a man often portrayed as cruel, cunning and greedy - a man who would take 50 percent or more of the profits from Elvis with seemingly no concern about the quality of Elvis' music or the 'bikini' movies that frustrated Elvis.

Strangely, Nash's story also creates what may be unintentional sympathy for Parker. [Elvis Australia note: Michael Lollar dosn't get it, Alanna nash intended Empathy] He parlayed his carnie skills into music promotion with his first high-profile client crooner Gene Austin, who, in the late 1930s, was the Bing Crosby of his day (his tunes included the hit My Blue Heaven). Parker worked every angle, often paying Austin's bills with checks signed by Austin. He told merchants, 'That's a real autograph there. You might want to hang that on the wall'. An uncashed check was money in the bank.

[Elvis Australia note: *** Empathy is the capacity to recognize or understand another's state of mind or emotion. It is often characterized as the ability to 'put oneself into another's shoes', or to in some way experience the outlook or emotions of another being within oneself. It may be described metaphorically as an emotional kind of resonance or mirroring. [ As Elvis sang, 'Walk A Mile In My Shoes'.]

Parker usually traveled separately from his stars, acting as the advance man. When they drove into town, he often greeted the tour bus at 5 a.m., passing out hotel keys to the entourage, including Elvis, then heading to the next town where he worked late into the night promoting, advertising and making all arrangements for the next concert.

Parker once told a British tabloid that, no, it wasn't true he took 50 percent of Elvis' earnings. 'He takes 50 percent of everything I earn'.

The colonel was a master showman, originating the sales of merchandise at rock concerts, using movies to sell soundtrack albums and merchandise and, always, surrounding his star with an air of mystery. Nash rises to a rarely memorable line in the book on that account: 'By not allowing Elvis to be seen or heard in interviews, Parker made him into an object of nearly limitless romantic fantasy from a pious innocent who loved his mama and his Lord to a wiggling, greasy god of sex'.

Elvis was soon commanding $25,000 a night - 2 times the fee for the next biggest act of his day, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.

By the late 1960s, Parker was booking Elvis into grueling Las Vegas schedules of two shows a night, seven nights a week, reinforcing the star's need for the uppers and downers that created the long downward spiral that led to his death.

The colonel was facing his own demon - a voracious gambling habit that may have consumed more than $40 million and left him with an estate of less than $1 million when he died at 87 in 1997.

The colonel's grip on Elvis had ended in a long legal battle with the singer's ex-wife Priscilla Presley, as guardian of heir Lisa Marie Presley, after Elvis' death. By the time Parker died, longevity had created a measure of respect for him and what he had done. 'I can sleep good at night', he said.

At his eulogy, Priscilla said:

'Elvis and the Colonel made history together, and the world is richer, better and far more interesting because of their collaboration. And now I need to locate my wallet, because I noticed there was no ticket booth on the way in here, but I'm sure that Colonel must have arranged for some toll on the way out'.

[Elvis Australia Note : This is the best book ever written that explains not only Colonel Parker but Elvis Presley]

- Interview with Alanna Nash

- Andreas van Kuijk
- Interview with Colonel Parker
- Interview with Loanne Parker
- Photos - Colonel Parker and Elvis Presley
- Colonel Parkers Birthday on the Set of the '68 Special

- I Met The Colonel

- Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis Presley's Manager, Dead at 87

Buy The Colonel Book


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Tupelo's Own Elvis Presley DVD + 16 page booklet.

Never before have we seen an Elvis Presley concert from the 1950's with sound. Until Now! The DVD Contains recently discovered unreleased film of Elvis performing 6 songs, including Heartbreak Hotel and Don't Be Cruel, live in Tupelo Mississippi 1956. Included we see a live performance of the elusive Long Tall Sally seen here for the first time ever.

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The 'parade' footage is good to see as it puts you in the right context with color and b&w footage. The interviews of Elvis' Parents are well worth hearing too. The afternoon show footage is wonderful and electrifying : Here is Elvis in his prime rocking and rolling in front of 11.000 people. Highly recommended.