“You’ll never know
What heaven means
Until you’ve been down
To New Orleans.”
Well… maybe not right now, but that sentiment probably fit back in 1958 when Elvis sang those lyrics. The song is “New Orleans,” one of eleven in Elvis’ fourth movie, King Creole. It was the first movie that involved any filming on location, and Elvis got to spend nine days in “The Big Easy.” He and his growing entourage stayed on the tenth floor of the Roosevelt Hotel. A Google internet search reveals that it is now called the Fairmont Hotel; it is near Canal Street, just one block from the French Quarter and a short walk to the Convention Center. Nothing on the web indicates what shape it is in after the flooding from Hurricane Katrina.
Some of the New Orleans locations used for the filming of King Creole were a local high school, Lake Pontchartrain, Bourbon Street and several other streets in the French Quarter, and the Vieux Carre Saloon. A web search for this saloon brings up a site, but the pictures show it to be an 1100 square foot conference room in the Iberville Hotel, so the original is probably gone now. Interestingly, Vieux Carre, or Old Quarter, is the name of one of the highest sections of New Orleans, and it has underground electric lines that still function. So, it is one area where the residents are now resisting forced evacuation after the hurricane.
Elvis made three stops in New Orleans prior to the filming of King Creole, all in 1955. In February, he performed at the Golden Cadillac Club. In May, he did two shows at the New Orleans Municipal Auditorium. And in September, he was part of a “Hillbilly Jamboree” at Pontchartrain Beach Amusement Park. 20,000 people showed up that day to see Elvis and possibly one of the other features, the “Miss Hillbilly Dumplin’” competition.
Although Elvis did extensive touring throughout the country in the 70’s, he never returned to New Orleans to perform again. Today, it is doubtful how many of the displaced residents of the city will ever return. Let us hope this unique city will recover and rebuild, so that everyone will again, as Elvis sang, know what heaven means when they've been down to New Orleans.
© 2005 Philip R Arnold