Some of the best titles for ElvisBlog columns have come from the texts of Elvis reviews in the New York Times. One was “Virtuoso of Hootchie Cootchie,” taken from the Times review of Elvis’ June 5, 1956 appearance on The Milton Berle Show, and there was “Turgid, Juicy, and Flamboyant,” which came from the Times review of the first Elvis movie “Love Me Tender.” You might remember that the Times columnists slammed Elvis pretty hard in both cases.
Well, there is also the Times review of Elvis’ 1973 worldwide TV special “Elvis – Aloha from Hawaii.” That’s the source of the above title for this article. So, what do you think? Did they slam Elvis once again? Let’s take a look.
Favorable opinions about Elvis in the New York Times were rare in his early days, but this column by John J. O’Conner stayed fairly balanced. Perhaps neutral would be a better characterization, as he barely said anything good about Elvis. The most positive line about “Aloha” was this: “Smartly produced and directed by Marty Pasetta, the program maintained an effective and attractive fluidity, not easy with ‘live’ concerts on TV.” That’s not Elvis’ fluidity he’s complementing, it’s the show’s. Not a word about Elvis’ voice or how he mesmerized the live audience of 6000 folks at the Honolulu International Center. At least there was mention that the show was broadcast live by satellite to 1.5 billion people in 40 countries. This was a monumental technological feat back in 1973.
“Shameless, Oldfangled Showmanship” came from the last line of the New York Times review of “Aloha.” Columnist O’Conner was convinced that under the careful orchestration of Col. Parker, 38-year-old Elvis had evolved into a calculated and calculating showman. However, Mr. O’Conner was not saying that this was a bad thing.
He was not at all negative as he presented his ideas why Elvis was pure schmaltz: “His white jumpsuit costume is adorned, in studded jewels, with American eagles. His repertory includes a medley of 'Dixie,' 'Battle Hymn of the Republic,”'and 'Hush Little Baby.”'His fingers are clogged with flashy rings. His act includes tossing scarves, dabbed in sweat from his chest, to aging teeny boppers.”
I love the way Mr. O’Conner summarized what all that meant: “It is pure showbiz in the style of Radio City Music Hall, reeking of apple pie, or more precisely, peanut butter and jelly, distinctly grape.” I’ll bet he was really proud of that line. Reeking of peanut butter and jelly is a good thing, right?
Mr. O’Conner’s most negative statement came in an author aside, when he started a paragraph with the words “Mr. Presley,” but then decided Elvis didn’t deserve the title Mr. He concluded “… no, that sounds downright silly.” Well, excuse me, but your attitude sounds downright elitist. However, Mr. O’Conner tried to recover by saying, “Elvis is a proven entertainment commodity.” Wow, that was really going out on a limb.
Here is what the article says about Elvis’ career: “Bursting out of country music’s relatively youthful strain of ‘rock-a-billie’ around 1960, he bumped his way to national notoriety with such hits as ‘Hound Dog’ and ‘Blue Suede Shoes.'” I have to quibble about a few points, here. Mr. O’Conner shows some ignorance about basic Elvis history. Both songs he referenced came out in 1956, the year Elvis burst on the national scene, not 1960.
The Times review continues: “Appearing on Ed Sullivan’s TV variety show, he was generally restricted to camera shots not going below the belt. Those were the television days of innocence and absurdity.” If Mr. O’Conner wanted to point out the best example of the TV days of innocence, he should have referenced the nation’s mood when Elvis’ performed on the June 5, 1956 Milton Berle Show (camera shots were definitely not restricted to above the belt). And the absurdity was better illustrated in the tidal wave of protest against Elvis in the press and the pulpits around the country after that wild appearance on the Berle show.
Fortunately, Mr. O’Conner followed that with begrudging acknowledgement of Elvis’ continued success: “But Elvis has survived. He is still churning out hit records, and his relentlessly unmemorable movies have made millions of dollars.”
Of course Elvis survived. As he got older he moved away from the wild rebel image and settled nicely into an era of shameless, oldfangled showmanship. In fact, according to polls, this is the favorite Elvis period for the majority of today’s fans. That’s fine for them, but I still favor 50’s Elvis, back when he was turgid, juicy and flamboyant.
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