I am no longer amazed at some of the stuff I find while surfing the web on the trail of Elvis links. However, I was very pleased to run across the full text of a 49 year old news report in the Toronto Star covering two Elvis shows at Maple Leaf Gardens. The article was like a time capsule, revealing what went on during the height of Elvis-mania.
The stories of mass hysteria at previous Elvis performances must have been well known to the promoters of his Toronto concerts, because they supplemented the regular Gardens security staff with 90 special constables. This worked out fairly well at the first show, which had a crowd of 8,000 teenagers. I like this quote in the news report: “Whenever a youngster bounced up in his seat, a policeman would reach over and plunk him down again. This sometimes gave the Gardens the appearance of a large jack-in-the-box.” Can you picture it?
The later show had 15,000 fans in attendance, making it the largest crowd at an Elvis concert up to that point. It was a considerably wilder event than the first show, partly because of the antics of local disc jockey Josh King, who acted as Master of Ceremonies. First he announced that Elvis was coming. Then he had an attendant rush up on stage with the news that Elvis wasn’t coming. The MC announced, “Elvis doesn’t think you are making enough noise.” Uh oooh. Bad move. According to the Toronto Star report, “From the time Elvis … walked on stage and smiled until he gave his last bump nearly an hour later, nearly every teenager in the place screeched, at the top of his lungs. Despite a good public address system, Elvis managed to get across only the occasional note the audience could hear.” I guess it was worth the price of admission to see Elvis, even if they couldn’t hear him.
The news account of Elvis’ stage mannerisms is what you would expect. “He cuddles the mike as he sings, tilting it at weird angles and dragging it along behind him, and he wanders back and forth across the stage.” “The much publicized pelvis was plainly in action, too. Elvis rocks his hips back and forth. He shakes his knees and wobbles his legs and bumps like a fan dancer.” “Every time Elvis reached out his arm in one direction or turned to smile in another, all the crowd in that section would screech with ecstasy.”
Elvis wore the famous gold lamé suit for both shows. He had introduced it just five days earlier at a Chicago concert. Elvis didn’t like the look of the pants, and the gold was wearing off the front because he frequently got down on his knees while performing. In subsequent concerts, he would wear the coat with a pair of black pants.
Some of the songs he sang at the Toronto concerts were mentioned in the article: “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Long Tall Sally,” “Don’t Be Cruel,” “That’s When Your Heart Aches Begin,” “Love Me,” “Blueberry Hill,” “Too Much,” and “Butterfly.” You and I have never heard Elvis’ rendition of “Butterfly,” the great Charlie Gracie hit. The only time Elvis sang the song was this concert in Toronto. Too bad it wasn’t recorded, but if it had been, probably all you would hear is screaming.
One thing about the shows seems wrong. Here was Elvis at the height of his popularity, packing 23,000 people into the venue, and who did he have as supporting acts on the bill? Frankie Trent, a tap dancer; Pat Kelly, a blond singer (one song); Rex Marlow, a comic; and Jimmy James, a banjo player. I’ll bet the kids wouldn’t have cared if they were all left off the show. Of course, knowing how Col. Parker operated, he probably made all four acts pay him for the right to be on the bill with Elvis.
© 2006 Philip R Arnold www.elvisblog.net