Elvis Presley - Movie Studio History

By: www.elvis.com.au
Source: Elvis Australia
July 21, 2004

A look at the history of the movie business and the various movie studios for which Elvis Presley made his films:

In 1873, an English photographer, Eadweard Muybridge, spaced cameras along a racetrack in order to capture the movement of a galloping horse. Over the next ten years Muybridge and his assistants continued to improve and perfect photographing animals and men in motion. Meanwhile, George Eastman and Thomas Edison were each separately working on new kinds of film. Eastman Kodak was working on manufacturing rolled film - irst on paper, then on celluloid. Edison was working on perforated film and developing a Kinetoscope, which was a cabinet used to display film to one spectator at a time. By 1894, Edison's assistant William Dickson was making films to show on the Kinetoscope that lasted around 20 seconds and featured vaudeville acts and famous personalities such as Buffalo Bill Cody.

In late 1895, French partners Louis and Auguste Lumiere patented a camera and projector and opened the first public film show in Paris. They brought their show to other countries including Britain and America. Soon, inventors around the world were working on their own versions of camera and projection systems.

In 1905, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania was the site of the first five-cent movie or nickelodeon. 'Variety' magazine began publication that same year. Films in 1899 had run just over a minute in length, however, by 1906 they were 14 minutes. There were animated cartoons by then as well as experiments in the use of scents in the cinema, such as the smell of roses emitted into the theater during the showing of the Rose Bowl game.

In 1911 came the first movie fan magazines. 'Photoplay' and 'Motion Picture Story Magazine' were established. The year 1927 ushered in the 'talkies' as sound was added to film and performer Al Jolson said most prophetically, 'You ain't heard nothin' yet'.
The technology continued to improve. Production companies and studios continued to be formed. The animated Disney character Mickey Mouse made his debut in 'Steamboat Willie'.

By 1933, the average time for making a film was 22 days and the average cost was $70,000. In 1935, child performer Shirley Temple topped the list of America's money-making stars, along with Will Rogers, Clark Gable, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, and Joan Crawford. Early that year, a boy was born in Tupelo, Mississippi and named of Elvis Presley.

Fast forward a couple of decades:

On Monday, March 26, 1956, new singing superstar Elvis Presley was at Paramount Studios in Los Angeles to screen-test for producer Hal Wallis. Mr. Wallis had heard about Elvis from his partner Joseph Hazen, who had seen Elvis performing on the Dorsey Brothers' 'Stage Show' television program. Under the direction of Frank Tashlin, Elvis performed two scenes from the script for the movie 'The Rainmaker'. In one he acted opposite Frank Faylen. Elvis had made it clear that his desire was to become a serious actor and to not sing in the movies, however another part of his screen test was to lip-synch to his recording of 'Blue Suede Shoes' while holding a prop guitar. They wanted to see if his energetic performances on television and stage would translate well to film. Quickly, there was little doubt of that.

Peter Guralnick, in his Elvis biography 'Last Train To Memphis', quotes screenwriter Allan Weiss, who was then a part of the sound department and present at the screen test. Weiss said, 'The transformation was incredible...electricity bounced off the walls of the soundstage. One felt it as an awesome thing--like an earthquake in progress, only without the implicit threat'.

With that, Elvis began his movie career, eventually making a total of thirty-one feature films as an actor and two theatrically-released concert documentaries.

By 1956, Elvis Presley's music career had taken off in a big way. His records were selling faster than they could be produced. His performances on TV and on stage were the hottest topic at the teenage hangouts of the day, as well as around the water cooler at their parents' offices. It was his intense performance energy and on-stage presence that first caught the eye of the executives at Paramount Studios.

Hal Wallis was born Harold Brent Wallis in Chicago, Illinois on September 14, 1899. Much like Elvis, he was a product of the American dream. He was forced to quit school to go to work to help support his family at age 14. He rose from office boy to become one of Hollywood's most successful producers. Mr. Wallis moved to Los Angeles in 1922 and was hired as the manager of a movie theater, where his success was noticed by the Warner brothers, who hired him to assist the head of the publicity department at Warner Brothers Studios. From there he worked his way up to producer. In 1944 he left Warner Brothers to form his own independent company with partner Joseph Hazen. They released their pictures through Paramount Studios until the late 60's, when they switched to Universal Studios. Wallis produced well over 300 films, among them 'The Maltese Falcon', 'Yankee Doodle Dandy', 'The Rose Tattoo', 'The Rainmaker', 'Becket', 'Barefoot in the Park', 'True Grit' and his Academy Award winning film 'Casablanca'.

It was Hal Wallis who set up Elvis' March 1956 screen test in which he performed scenes from the movie 'The Rainmaker'. Elvis played the part of Jim, a role that eventually went to Earl Holliman in the movie, which starred Burt Lancaster and Katherine Hepburn.

Wallis and Hazen signed Elvis to his first movie contract. In it they agreed to produce one film with options for six more. Payment was to have been $15,000 for the first, $20,000 for the second, $25,000 for the third, and so on, up to $100,000 for the seventh film. Elvis' manager Colonel Tom Parker reserved the right for Elvis to make one picture each year with another studio, however, Mr. Wallis also had the option to match the other studio's offer.

Hal Wallis did not have a script ready for Elvis to do for Paramount, so his first movie was 'Love Me Tender', produced by Twentieth Century Fox. Under his initial contract with Mr. Wallis, only two pictures were made for Paramount: 'Loving You' and 'King Creole'. In the end, the Colonel capitalized on the great success of 'Love Me Tender' and got Wallis to agree to pay bonuses and expenses to match the $100,000 that Elvis received from Fox. The original contract with Wallis and Hazen was renegotiated and rewritten in October 1958, and it was amended numerous times throughout the years. Each time, Elvis' salary increased, as did his participation in the profits of his movies. In total, Hall Wallis and Paramount Studios produced nine Elvis movies : 'Loving You' (1957) 'King Creole' 1958), 'G.I. Blues' (1960), 'Blue Hawaii' (1961), 'Girls! Girls! Girls!' (1962), 'Fun In Acapulco' (1963), 'Roustabout' (1964), 'Paradise, Hawaiian Style' (1965) and 'Easy Come, Easy Go' (1967).

And now, some background on Paramount:

In 1912, Adolph Zukor, a furrier, founded the Famous Players Film Company. In 1913, vaudeville musician Jesse L. Lasky, glove salesman Samuel Goldfish (later known as Sam Goldwyn), and aspiring playwright Cecil B. De Mille formed Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Company. In 1914, Paramount Pictures Corporation, a film distribution company, was formed by W.W. Hodkinson. By 1916, Zukor's Famous Players and Lasky's company merged. In 1917 they acquired several distribution companies, including Paramount Pictures. In 1927 the corporate name was Paramount Famous Lasky Corporation. Over the years, memorable Paramount films have been: 'The Sheik', 'Psycho', 'Coconuts', 'White Christmas', 'The Ten Commandments', 'Breakfast At Tiffany's', 'Love Story', 'The Godfather', the Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis comedies, the Bob Hope/Bing Crosby/Dorothy Lamour 'road films', 'Saturday Night Fever', 'Grease', 'Forrest Gump', the 'Star Trek' movies, the 'Indiana Jones' movies, the 'Beverly Hills Cop' movies, and the 'Naked Gun' movies. Today. Paramount is owned by Viacom, an entertainment conglomerate that includes MTV, Nickelodeon and Showtime television channels. The studio offers tours to the public.

(By the way, Paramount's famous original iron entry gate at Bronson Avenue was the inspiration for the screen name actor Charles Bushinski took - Charles Bronson. Bronson, who co-starred with Elvis in 'Kid Galahad' (1962) for United Artists, died this week at age 81.)

Now, more about Twentieth Century Fox:

The 1929 stock market crash and pressures from antitrust actions nearly brought about the bankruptcy of William Fox's Fox Film Company, formed in 1913. It was saved by the profits of the 1930's films of child star Shirley Temple. Twentieth Century Fox was the result of a 1935 merger between Fox Film Company and Twentieth Century Pictures, which had been founded in 1933 by Darryl F. Zanuck and Joseph M. Schenck. Fox Film Company had emphasized sound quality by developing Movietone, a system of applying the sound track directly onto the film. Twentieth Century Fox also emphasized the technical quality of their films, leading the industry with techniques such as wide-screen CinemaScope.

Twentieth Century Fox ended up making three Elvis films in all: 'Love Me Tender' (1956), 'Flaming Star' (1960) and 'Wild In The Country' (1961). The Colonel's deal with this studio for the last two films included a salary of $200,000 for 'Flaming Star' and $250,000 for 'Wild In The Country', plus 50% of the net profits.

The 1963 financial disaster 'Cleopatra' caused a crisis for Twentieth Century Fox. A change in management resulted in the highly successful film 'The Sound of Music'. Among the other Twentieth Century Fox classics are: 'The Grapes of Wrath', 'Miracle on 34th Street', 'The Robe', 'Hello Dolly', 'Patton', 'The French Connection', the 'Planet of the Apes' movies, the 'Star Wars' movies, and 'Titantic'. The studio is currently owned by publishing magnate Rupert Murdoch. This studio does not offer public tours.

Of his career total of 33 feature films, Elvis made 14 for Metro Goldwyn Mayer (MGM) . Twelve of his MGM films were as an actor: 'Jailhouse Rock', 'It Happened At the World's Fair', 'Kissin' Cousins', 'Viva Las Vegas', 'Girl Happy', 'Harum Scarum', 'Spinout', 'Double Trouble', 'Stay Away Joe', 'Speedway', 'Live A Little, Love A Little', and 'The Trouble With Girls'. The other two MGM films were feature documentaries: 'Elvis-That's The Way It Is' and 'Elvis On Tour'.

Elvis' first contract with MGM was in February 1957 for the film 'Jailhouse Rock'. He was paid $250,000 plus 50% of the net profits. As with all the other studios, Elvis' manager Colonel Tom Parker renegotiated and extended his contracts with MGM over the years. By1966, Elvis was paid $850,000 per picture plus 50% of the profits.

MGM, like the other studios, is a blend of various companies merging through the years. Samuel Goldwyn was born Shmuel Gelfisz in Warsaw, Poland. He immigrated to England at age 11 and then to the U.S. at age 13. He changed his name to Goldfish. He found work as an apprentice glove maker in New York, becoming an expert by age 15 and a successful glove salesperson by age 18. He married into the Lasky family. Along with his brother-in-law Jesse and the young director Cecil B. De Mille, he entered the film business in 1913, forming the Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Company. (You might remember from Part 2 of this series that the Lasky company became a part of Paramount Studios years later.) By late 1916, Goldfish was bought out of Feature Play Company. He went on to form a new partnership with Edgar Selwyn. They took the first syllable of Goldfish and the last of Selwyn and formed Goldwyn, a name Sam Goldfish liked so much that in 1918 he legally changed his own name to Goldwyn. Unfortunately he was edged out of the corporation by 1922. Disillusioned about the problems of partnerships, he then formed an independent company, free of partners or others to whom he ad to be accountable.

One of Goldwyn's contemporaries was Louis B. Mayer, who was born in Russia and emigrated with his parents to New York as a child. As a young adult, he and his wife lived in Boston where he was in the scrap metal business. In 1907 he bought a down and out motion picture theater, which he turned into a successful business. He soon acquired other theaters and eventually owned the largest theater chain in New England and branched out into film distribution. By 1918 he was producing films and moved his operations to California.

Meanwhile, Marcus Loew, the son of Austrian immigrants, had worked his way up from owning 40 nickelodeons in 1907 to acquiring over 400 motion picture theaters across the country by 1912. (You might remember that Elvis was for a time a movie usher for Loew's State Theater in Memphis.) In 1920 Loew bought Metro Pictures and in 1924 he acquired controlling interest in the Goldwyn
company and Louis B. Mayer Pictures. The three were thus consolidated into Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer with Loew's Inc. as the parent company and Louis B. Mayer as vice president and general manager.

Under Mayer's leadership, MGM thrived and became a powerful part of the industry with the motto 'more stars than there are in the heavens'. They developed their famous logo with the roaring lion, Leo. Leo was actually 'Jackie' from Gay's Lion Farm in El Monte, California, which housed, trained and exhibited hundreds of African lions used in the entertainment industry. Along with Leo, the logo bore the words 'Ars Gratia Artis' or 'Art For Art's Sake'. Mayer, a staunch conservative, preferred they produce movies with moral convictions that espoused virtue, patriotism and family life. MGM became a standard for high quality films such as 'The Wizard of Oz', the 'Andy Hardy' series, the 'Thin Man' series, the 'Tarzan' adventures, 'Meet Me in St. Louis', 'Easter Parade', 'Show Boat', 'Singing in the Rain', 'Guys and Dolls', 'Ben Hur', 'Doctor Zhivago', 'The Dirty Dozen', '2001: A Space Odyssey', 'Moonstruck' and many more.

In 1970, MGM was bought by Kirk Kerkorian. (You might remember he at one time owned the International Hotel in Las Vegas, where Elvis performed.) The studio sold many of its movie artifacts, props and costumes and switched their company emphasis from movie production to the hotel industry with their famed MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas. In 1981 they acquired United Artists, making it a subsidiary. The company changed hands a few times in the 1990's and then ended back in the hands of Mr. Kerkorian in 1996. Today, the old MGM studio lot is owned by Sony Entertainment, which has refurbished the historic sight and is today home to Columbia /Tristar where the game shows 'Jeopardy' and 'Wheel of Fortune' are taped. There is a walking tour available. Today, the MGM movie catalog is owned by Turner Entertainment, which is owned by Warner Brothers.

And now, some background on United Artists:

Elvis made four films for United Artists: 'Follow That Dream', 'Kid Galahad', 'Frankie and Johnny' and 'Clambake'.

United Artists was formed in 1919 by Charlie Chaplin, D.W. Griffith, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks with the goal to make and distribute their own product. It was a distributor and financier of independent producers and had no studio of its own. At first this was somewhat of a handicap. However, by the 50's and 60's they found it an advantage over some of the more burdened studios with high overheads. In 1957, United Artists became a public company. In 1967, it became a subsidiary of TransAmerica Corportation, which sold the company to MGM in 1981. They made such films as 'The African Queen', 'High Noon', 'Some Like It Hot', 'The Apartment', 'One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest', 'Rocky', and several James Bond films.

In November of 1963, Colonel Parker made a deal for one Elvis picture with Allied Artists for $600,000 plus $150,000 for expenses and 50% of the profits. Elvis' s $750,000 was more than half of the total budget for the film. The movie made under this agreement was 'Tickle Me', filmed in the fall of 1964 and released in July of 1965. It quickly earned back its costs and, for a time, saved the financially struggling Allied Artists company.

Allied Artists was established in 1946 as Allied Artists Productions, a subsidiary of Monogram Pictures, which produced low budget, B picture series such as 'Charlie Chan', 'The Bowery Boys' and 'The East Side Kids'. Allied was formed to produce Monogram 's higher budget films. By 1953, Monogram itself became known as Allied Artists and had little success until they released Elvis' film 'Tickle Me'. They sold their production studio in 1967 and focused instead on releases of foreign films. They returned to production in the 1970's making films such as 'Papillon' and 'The Man Who Would Be King', but financial problems continued and they filed for bankruptcy in 1979. The studio was sold to Lorimar Productions in 1980. Today, their old studio houses KCET, the Los Angeles PBS television station.

Elvis made one film for National General Pictures - 'Charro!' in 1968. Elvis was paid $850,000 plus 50% of the profits. The movie was released nationally in March of 1969. We were unable to find any further information on the history of this production company.

Elvis' thirty-first and final feature film as an actor was 'Change of Habit', made for co-producers Universal Studios and NBC as part of the deal that Colonel Parker worked out to make the 1968 TV special 'Elvis'.

Universal was formed in 1912 as Universal Film Manufacturing Company by Bavarian immigrant Carl Laemmle. He had companies on both coasts. Wanting to consolidate his businesses, in 1914 he purchased 230 acres of ranch land near Los Angeles. In 1915 he officially opened the gates of Universal City, the world's first self-contained community dedicated to making movies. And they offered tours to visitors with a behind-the-scenes look at the making of films. They suspended the tours in the 1920's when producers of the new 'talkies' demanded a quiet set. Some of their early films were 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame', 'The Phantom of the Opera' and the Academy Award winning 'All Quiet On the Western Front'. They also had a series of successful horror films that included 'Dracula', 'The Mummy', 'Frankenstein' and 'Bride of Frankenstein'.

Mr. Laemmle retired in 1936, selling the company to Standard Capital Company. They then specialized in musical and comedy films such as the 'Abbott and Costello' series and the 'Francis the Talking Mule' series. Universal merged with International Pictures in 1946. The company was bought again in 1952, this time by Decca Records. Among their hit films were 'Pillow Talk', 'Operation Petticoat', 'To Kill A Mockingbird', and 'Spartacus'.

In 1958, MCA, Inc. (Music Corporation of America) purchased Universal City Studios lot and in 1962 they officially merged. The studio tours were restarted in 1964. Movies such as 'Jaws' and 'ET: The Extra Terrestrial' were produced and they became very involved in television production as well. In 1991, Matsushita Electrical Industrial Co., Ltd. acquired MCA and in 1995 The Seagram Company Ltd. acquired it from Matsushita. In 2000 Seagram combined with France's Vivendi and Canal+. Today Universal Studios is a part of Vivendi Universal, a global media and communications company.

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Elvis Presley Video Tupelo's Own Elvis Presley DVD

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. + Plus Bonus DVD Audio.

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Tupelo's Own Elvis Presley DVD Video with Sound.