Here are two old posts. The first one I originally wrote in 2006 and added pictures to it in 2016. The second one I wrote in 2007 but never went back and added pictures. I’m not going to do that now, either, because it would take a lot of time. But you will still enjoy reading the story.
Elvis on the Milton Berle Show
Last week the Graceland Blog celebrated the 60th anniversary of Elvis’ earth-shaking second performance on the Milton Berle Show. It was a good article with lots of photos, but there is much of the story they barely touched on.
As the Graceland Blog explains, by 1956 standards, Elvis’ performance of “Hound Dog” on the show was scandalous. Actually, Elvis’ leg shaking and hip thrusts freaked out the entire country. The next day, a huge national backlash started, and Elvis rocketed into the entertainment stratosphere. Some day it might be fun to chronicle the worst of the press attacks on Elvis, but for now let’s start with what the New York Times had to say.
Jack Gould was the king of TV critics during his 35-year career with the New York Times. He was there when the new medium was born, and he was its most notable commentator for the next two decades. Like the rest of America, he saw Elvis’ second appearance on the Milton Berle Show on June 5, 1956. The next day, Jack Gould’s pen dripped with disdain for Elvis. It’s fun to look at some of his statements, line-by-line.
“Elvis Presley is currently the entertainment world’s most astonishing figure.”
So far, so good, but Mr. Gould gets no special credit for this statement. Whether people liked or disliked Elvis in early June, 1956, nobody disputed he was the most astonishing figure in show biz.
“Mr. Presley has no discernible singing ability.”
This is the first indication that Mr. Gould just didn’t ‘get’ Elvis. And, we can safely assume Mr. Gould never went out and bought any Elvis records.
“His specialty is rhythm songs, which he renders in an undistinguished whine.”
I don’t know. Seems like Elvis’ whine is very distinguished.
“His phrasing, if it can be called that, consists of the stereotyped variations that go with a beginner’s aria in a bathtub.”
What??? Certainly not the simplest and clearest metaphor Mr. Gould ever wrote.
“For the ear, he is an unutterable bore…”
You want boring? How about “stereotyped variations that go with a beginner’s aria in a bathtub”? Maybe Elvis was a bore to Jack Gould, but he could make the girls cry at his concerts. Elvis was anything but boring.
“From watching Mr. Presley, it is wholly evident that his skill lies in another direction. He is a rock-and-roll variation on one of the most standard acts in show business: the virtuoso of the hootchy-kootchy. His specialty is an accented movement of the body… identified with the repertoire of the blond bombshells of the burlesque runway.”
At the end of “Hound Dog” on the Berle Show, Elvis sure did do some classic bump-and-grind. Mr. Gould’s loquacious pontification took a long while to get to Elvis’ moves, but, you will note, he didn’t say he disliked them.
“The gyration never had anything to do with the world of popular music and still doesn’t.”
Boy, did Mr. Gould get that one wrong. It’s a good thing he passed away before music videos showed up on MTV. He’d probably roll over in his grave if he saw one now. Today’s popular music is synonymous with sensual gyrations.
Jack Gould was a middle-aged man when he watched Elvis perform on TV on June 5, 1956, so he can be excused for ‘not getting it.’ But millions of American teenagers saw the show and got it. Got it big time. Elvis’ career shot into overdrive, and all of the bad press from TV critics and others could not stop it.
In fairness, Jack Gould did not accuse Elvis of poisoning the minds of America’s teenagers as did many other entertainment critics, clergymen, disk jockeys, and high school administrators. He didn’t rant that Elvis would create a nation of juvenile delinquents.
Elvis’ performance of “Hound Dog” on the June 5, 1956 Milton Berle Show has become one of the most iconic events in Elvis’ career.
Love Me Tender
Earlier this year, we had fun looking back at the 1956 New York Times review of Elvis’ first movie Love Me Tender. To say the least, the reviewer, Jack Gould, didn’t like it. Do you think Elvis fared any better in the review published in Time Magazine? Of course not.
For some reason, the unnamed writer begins the review with a description of Elvis’ body. Considering that Pat Boone said Elvis looked like a Greek god, and Carl Perkins called Elvis the best looking man he had ever seen, it’s hard to figure out how Time could say this stupid line:
“Is it a sausage? It is certainly smooth and damp-looking, but who ever heard of a 172-lb. sausage 6 ft. tall?”
This was the opening lines of the review in America’s leading news magazine. It sounds like a fourteen-year old wrote them. Give me a break. They refer to Elvis as “it” and say he looks like a sausage.
“Is it a Walt Disney goldfish? It has the same sort of big, soft, beautiful eyes and long, curly lashes, but who heard of goldfish with sideburns?”
These lines are just as stupid, but at least there is praise for Elvis’ eyes and lashes. What Disney goldfish was he referring to, anyway?
“Is it a corpse? The face just hangs there, limp and white
with its little drop-seat mouth.”
OK, lets summarize: The Time reviewer thinks Elvis’ Greek god face looks limp and damp and white and just hangs there. I’d like to know what this guy thinks a handsome face looks like.
Next, the reviewer describes Elvis’ body motions as he sings.
“But suddenly the figure comes alive. The lips part, the eyes half-close, the clutched guitar begins to undulate back and forth in an uncomfortably suggestive manner. And wham! The midsection of the body jolts forward to bump and grind and beat out a low-down rhythm.”
This is a fine description of Elvis’ live performances in 1956, but it in no way describes his motions in the movie Love Me Tender. There were only four songs, and two were ballads, and Elvis is very restrained doing them. I guess the writer just had to get in some well-crafted lines whether they fit in a movie review or not.
Then it was time to describe Elvis’ singing voice.
“As the belly dance gets wilder, a peculiar sound emerges. A rusty foghorn? A voice? Or merely a noise produced, like the voice of the cricket, by the violent stridulation of the legs?”
Now, I like a good simile as much as the next reader, but that’s the dumbest comparison I’ve ever seen. Can you visualize Elvis rubbing his legs together to produce a sound like a rusty foghorn? Awful. And the Editor left it in the piece.
The review continues:
“Words occasionally can be made out like raisins in cornmeal mush. ‘Goan…git…luhhv…’ And then all at once everything stops, and a big, trembly tender half smile, half sneer smears across the CinemaScope screen. The message that millions of U.S. teenagers love to receive has just been delivered.”
How about that. Despite the knock on his diction (going, get, love), Elvis does get a begrudging compliment. And he’s right abiut Elvis getting that message out.
At this point in the review, there were only four lines left, and neither the movie nor Elvis’ acting had been discussed yet. Here is all they printed:
“In his first screen appearance, with a secondary role as the hero’s little brother, in an 000otherwise routine western, Elvis Presley all but steals the show from such better known players as Richard Egan and Debra Paget.”
Finally, a full-fledged compliment. Then the reviewer predicted Love Me Tender would be a box-office bonanza. At least he got that right.
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Post # 998