Editor’s note: Every year on the anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death, fans from all over the world gather to remember the man who launched a thousand lip curls. On the 34th anniversary, I’m dusting off the first Washington Post article about the sultry hip-swinging singer. Written by Jack Stone on May 27, 1956:
Elvis Presley is not, as his name might lead you to believe, a Shakespearean actor, a Blue Book registerite or a college dean.
He is — as millions of adoring, screaming teen-age girls will tell you — a tall, shyly earnest, shambling, 21-year-old native of Tupelo, Mississippi, whose rise to popularity in the record field has been so fast even he “cain’t understand it.”
Two years ago Elvis, fresh out of a Memphis, Tennessee high school, was studying to be an electrician and fooling around with a “gee-tar” on the side. One day he made a recording, at his own expense, as a surprise for his mother. Instead his unusual style surprised the recording company manager, who surprised Elvis with a contract. His first professional platter. “That’s All Right, Mama,” set the local teen-agers on fire.
RCA-Victor snapped him up. For them he hit with “I Forgot to Remember to Forget.” Then “Heartbreak Hotel “ moved him into the million-record class. An Elvis Presley album sold like hotcakes largely on the strength of his explosive interpretation of “Blue Suede Shoes.”
In personal appearances and on TV, Elvis caught and held the teenagers with his supercharged voice and non-stop gyrations. With half-closed eyes, he releases lyrics like reluctant machine-gun bullets. He wriggles, bounces, ducks and thrusts his head about like a tracking beagle — all to the accompaniment of moaning idolizers. Stage door jills almost smothered him in Charlotte, North Carolina, and San Diego, California.
“Near ripped me to pieces,” Elvis recalls solemnly.
He made $55,000 last year and expects to take in more than $500,000 in 1956. He has four cars — one pink and one canary-yellow — and a motorcycle (“Man, she takes off faster’n a scared rabbit!”). An only child, his success has helped his father, a 39-year-old paint factory employee, to retire (“Ah make enough in 15 minutes to cah-y him along nicely”) and furnished a home for his mother.
He’s also been signed to a long-range movie contract by producer Hal Wallis.
“Ah’d like to be a movie actor,” Elvis opines, “if’n Ah can hol’ still long enough for the camera.”
What’s your favorite Elvis song? Tell us using #ElvisPlaylist and we’ll post a few of your choices here.