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. And now that we have the historical perspective, I will add my thoughts on them. And also mix in some photos not shown on the Graceland Blog.
“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.”
Oh, come on. 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.”
Say what??? Certainly not the simplest and clearest metaphor Mr. Gould ever wrote. A less erudite blog writer might say “like a kid singing in the shower.
“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 to them.
“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. If you read the paragraph where he called Elvis a virtuoso of hootchy kootchy, it almost sounds like he enjoyed watching those Elvis moves that enraged so many others.
Elvis’ performance of “Hound Dog” on the June 5, 1956 Milton Berle Show has become one of the most iconic events in Elvis’ career.
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