Elvis Presley | How he changed his public image by Lloyd Shearer

By: Lloyd Shearer
Source: Parade magazine (1962)
July 22, 2023

From 'Parade magazine' (1962): Last year Elvis Aaron Presley earned the staggering sum of $2,800,000 on which he cheerfully paid, after all deductions, a federal income tax of $1,700,000.

Certainly this was one of the largest returns, if not the single largest, filed by any taxpayer in 1961, let alone a young man of 27 who 10 years ago mowed lawns in Memphis, Tenn., at 50 cent per lawn.

This year Elvis, unincorporated, will gross another $2,500,000. He will earn $500,000 from record royalties, RCA having sold more than $12,000,000 worth of his records. He will also receive $500,000 plus 50 per cent of the profits on each of his last three films: Kid Galahad, Girls, Girls, Girls, and Take Me to the Fair.

If Presley had really wanted to extend himself this year, he could have easily picked up another million for 17 nights' work via the TV- and personal-appearance routes.

According to 'Colonel' Tom Parker, 50, a razor-sharp mountain of a personal manager, 6 feet tall, 260 pounds wide: 'In the past 10 months we've been offered $125,000 for a single guest shot on 7 different TV shows. We were also offered 10 nights at the World's Fair in Seattle for $250,000. We just couldn't fit the dates in with Elvis motion picture schedule.

'Besides', the Colonel adds, 'I don't think it's fair for Elvis to appear on TV when motion picture studios are investing anywhere from one to three million dollars in his films. If we offer Elvis for nothing on TV, we're not protecting their investment. Elvis believes in playing fair and square with everyone. This boy has a fine character'.

Elvis Presley at the Worlds Fair.

Status Equals Success

In social structure Hollywood is basically a community of economic hierarchies in which status is equated with success and success is equated with money.

Here, more than anywhere else, money is the great corrupter, the invariable despoiler of character. Money takes young, handsome, photogenic players of scant education, poor background and little breeding, and overnight it transforms them into 'monsters', truculent, imperious, dictatorial, selfish, suspicious, narcissistic, egomaniacal and, most inexcusable of all - bad-mannered.

Look how money has changed the original behavior patterns of Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra, Doris Day, Elizabeth Taylor, Burt Lancaster. Has it made these people more kind, more understanding, more humane, more patient, more trusting, more warm, more giving, more lovable?

Take Burt Lancaster, for example, once a poor boy raised on the streets of the Harlem area of New York and now worth an estimated fortune of $4,000,000.

Several months ago, to publicize Birdman of Alcatraz, Lancaster embarked on a cross-country exploitation tour. In San Francisco at the Mark Hopkins Hotel he invited newsmen to question him about Robert Stroud, on whose incarceration the film is roughly based. Stroud is a double murderer of violent temper who, in jail, became an authority on ornithology. Today at 71 he's confined to the federal prison hospital in Springfield, Mo. For years he's been a thorn in the side of penology officials. Attorney General Robert Kennedy studied his case most thoroughly and refused to recommend a parole, pardon or probation for Stroud on the grounds that he still constitutes a potential danger to the public.

Lancaster in his San Francisco press conference made it clear that he felt strongly and sincerely that Stroud should be released. He planned, he said, to go to Washington to lend his influence to that cause. A reporter asked if some share of the profits from Birdman of Alcatraz might be siphoned off into a fund to be used on Stroud's behalf.

In reply Lancaster walked over to the reporter, whom he did not know, leveled his index finger at him and shouted, 'You're nothing but a - - , a - - '.

There were women sitting at the reporters' table where everyone was shocked by the actor's sudden and brazen display of bad manners and his uncalled-for use of foul language. Representatives from United Artists immediately apologized, but the reporter felt Lancaster should apologize himself. He walked up to Lancaster and said, 'Mr. Lancaster, I think you owe me an apology'. Lancaster's answer: 'I don't owe you a - - - thing!'

This is exactly the type of arrogant, impolite movie-star behavior which Elvis Presley cannot abide.

Despite all his money, Presley today is one of the most considerate, well-mannered young gentlemen in the movie colony. He addresses his seniors as 'Sir' and 'Ma'am' and his treatment of co-workers, no matter what their salary scale, is courteous, sincere and democratic. He is warm, charming and friendly to everyone. Although Colonel Tom Parker has been his personal manager for almost 10 years, Elvis still calls him 'Colonel or 'Mr. Parker' - never 'Tom'. Although Tom Diskin has been handling his public relations since 1955, Elvis still addresses him as 'Mr. Diskin'. '

One of the workers with the least status on any motion picture set is the 'coffee man', the unimportant fellow who brews the drink for the grips, the electricians, the members of the cast For the most part he's ignored. But listen to the coffee man on the set of Elvis' latest film Take Me to the Fair:

Portrait of a Gentleman

'I've worked with a lot of stars in this racket', he told me - 'some of them nice, but lots of them louses. But let me tell you the finest one I've ever seen is Elvis Presley. He treats you like a human being, always says 'thank you . . . good morning . . . so long'. He includes you in the conversation. Lots of stars, they look right through me as if I wasn't there, just a ghost or something. But not Presley. He's a gentleman'.

Ironically enough when Elvis first came to Hollywood six years ago he was considered the most controversial entertainer in show business, largely because he wore three-inch sideburns and swiveled his hips while teenage girls swooned, screamed and in some cases fainted.

Critic John Crosby described him as'unspeakably vulgar'. Hedda Hopper urged that he be kept off the screen, advised parents 'to work harder against the new alleged singer, Elvis Presley'. Clergymen described his act as savage, obscene and indecent.

Today all this has changed. Both the sideburns and the detractors have retreated. Elvis is regarded as a paragon of virtue, 'one star who has kept his nose clean'.

How has Presley managed to change his public image?

The simple truth', he says, is that at the beginning a lot of people called me immoral and obscene without knowing anything at all about me. They just didn't like my act. They didn't think I could sing one way and behave another.

'I never thought my act was immoral, and I don't think so now. And I don't think I've changed in any of the fundamentals. Sure, I've got more money, more material things, also more responsibilities. But I was raised to treat people, all people, with respect and courtesy, and I've always done that.

'My mother and daddy . . . they raised me to consider other people's feelings, not to kick anybody on the way up or the way down. I've seen some stars out here behave in that 'get-these-people-out-of-here' attitude. They won't sign autographs or pose for pictures and they want their sets closed . . . no visitors allowed . . . and all that jazz. That's not for me.

'Where would I be without the support of the people? Why antagonize them? Why put on airs? Before I went into the Army, I guess I antagonized a lot of the men. Maybe they thought I was a lady's man or a great lover. Maybe it was envy or jealousy. I don't know. But I've never thought of myself as anything but a man's man. In the Army I served just like anybody else. I had offers to entertain in Special Services and join this outfit and that outfit but I stayed in an armored division. And by the time I got out I reckon the fellows figured I was just one of them. No better, no worse.

'Every now and then', Elvis continues, 'people tell me to surround myself with intellectuals. They say, ‘You're leasing the second-largest house in Bel Air. You ride around in a $21,000 Rolls Royce. You own a 14 -acre, 14 -room mansion, Grasslands, the showplace of Memphis. How come you've surrounded yourself with eight stooges?' Actually, I've only got five guys living with me, and Billy Smith, my little cousin. He's so small no one would give him a job, so I've put him on my payroll doing various odd jobs.

'The other boys - they all have specific jobs. One is a bookkeeper. Another takes care of the cars. Another helps drive my Dodge mobile home between Memphis and Hollywood. They look after my clothes; they do the packing and the unpacking.

They also happen to be my buddies, my friends and in some cases my relatives. None of them are what you'd call intellectuals. I'm afraid of intellectuals, particularly out here. They bring dissension and envy and jealousy.

'I remember one night a girl snuggled up to me and said, 'Elvis, don't make the mistake of surrounding yourself with people you can't learn something from'. The girl never caught it, but I got up and slipped away from her, just smiled and walked away. I never said anything, but in so many words I was saying - 'Okay, I can't learn anything from you, so I'll leave'.

'I have my own way of learning, mostly through observation and reading and experience. And to my way of thinking, it's more important for me to surround myself with people who can give happiness and receive happiness. Because if I've learned anything I've learned that you only pass through this life once, Jack. You don't come back for an encore.

'I've had intellectuals tell me', Presley continues, 'that I've got to progress as an actor, explore new horizons, take on new challenges, all that routine. I'd. like to progress. But I'm smart enough to realize that you can't bite off more than you can chew in this racket. You can't go beyond your limitations.

Eleven Money-Makers

'They want me to try an artistic picture. That's fine. Maybe I can pull it off some day. But not now. I've done 11 pictures, and they've all made money.

'A certain type of audience likes me. I entertain them with what I'm doing. Td be a fool to tamper with that kind of success. It's ridiculous to take it on my own and say I'm going to appeal to a different type of audience, because I might not. Then if I goof, Tm all washed up, because they don't give you many chances in this business. If you're doing all right, you better keep at it until time itself changes things'.

Elvis feels the same way about human relationships. 'If you get along with people', he says, 'why let success or money spoil you? Over the years I've become a fairly good judge of people. I stay away from those who can get me in trouble, particularly girls, because they can get a man in the worst sort of trouble. I stay with my own kind of people. I've got very simple pleasures. I like to play football. I like to read medical books. One time in high school I thought I'd become a doctor. I pick my own songs and my own pictures. And I mind my own business.

'My daddy invests my money. Colonel Parker manages my show-business career. I look after my private life. Right now Td like to get married, but the older I get, the more choosy I become. To me right now the most desirable characteristics in a girl are a sense of humor, understanding and loyalty. I've dated quite a few girls, and women with those qualities are mighty hard to find, especially understanding. But I'm in no rush. I've learned to live with a little loneliness. And I've learned to take care of myself. I eat health foods. I weigh 174. I use a little will power and I don't stuff myself. I smoke, but I don't inhale and I just do it to use my hands instead of biting my fingernails. I've got a lot of nervous energy'.

Elvis Presley also has a lot of heart. Over the years I've interviewed him many times, and not once has he ever mentioned the fact that each year he contributes more than $250,000 to various charities.

As a matter of opinion, I believe no one in Hollywood is more worthy of the title - Star.

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