By Halloween 1957, Elvis had achieved the impossible and he knew it. The shimmering iridescense that was the King of Rock 'n' Roll glowed in every corner of the globe. Even in silhouette, his image was unmissable.
Earlier that year, the Colonel organized a concert tour starting in Chicago and working its way through St. Louis, Philadelfia and Buffalo, to Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa,. Squezeed in between the end of filming Loving You in March and the start of Jailhouse Rock in May, the tour proved so successful that Elvis was back on the road in late August, covering the Pacific North-west centres of Spokane, Tacoma, Seattle and Portland. In Vancouver, ha flapped his wings so freely that he was accused of inciting a full-scale rock 'n' roll riot among the fans. Elvis revelled in it.
But there was serious trouble waiting in Los Angeles, where Elvis ached to give the best show of his life at the Pan-Pacific Auditorium in the heart of Hollywood. More by accident than design, the first performance ended in a bizarre climax, which even Elvis found hard to explain after the damage had been done.
Bathed in white light and clad in a tuxedo woven of golden thread, its lapels and cuffs sparkling with rhinestones ($10,000 from Nudie's Hollywood), Elvis was at the height of his powers. Even before he opened that first night, 28 October, with 'Heartbreak Hotel', a mounting crescendo of ear-splitting squeals told him he had died and gone to teenage heaven. The audience, decked out from top to toe in Elvis fashions and waving his publicity picture over their heads like sails in a high wind, they let him know that they were here for some action. He was only too happy to oblige. This was the Teddy Boys army. And Teddy Girls, its battle colours of Hound Dog Orange, Hearbreak Pink, Love Ya Fuchsia, and Cruel Red shining brightly on moist young lips. His own likeness smiled boldly back at him from a multitude of scarves, dresses, dungarees, blouses, sneakers, and charm bracelets. He knew he was among the faithful.
Instantly, he was Presley the Performer, a master illusionist who created magical shapes with his flowing torso and liquid limbs. These combined with nerve-tingling sound bites from those curling, bee-stung lips to summon up the libido even in those too young to know they had one. The black pompadour slicked back into the classic ducktail, the kiss curl hanging over the high, noble forehead and the long sideburns now stamped him as arrogant, delinquent and dangerous. As he cast his spell, the dynamic that came into play made anything, anything at all, seem possible for a few fleeting moments: the most improbable sexual fantasy might just become reality for the truly devout believer.
As the vision Elvis created became momentarily real, yet more squeals, tearful cries and ecstatic screams ripped the night air, only to rise even higher the instant that pivotal, pump-action pelvis stopped moving. Once the radioactive particles ceased to vibrate, the illusion faded and the sudden withdrawal was unendurable. All too aware of what he had done, Elvis looked curiously contrite. Standing motionless beneath the spotlights, he was human again and noticeably vulnerable. But still they begged for more and, once again, he obliged. Maurice Kinn reported that night in the New Musical Express:
Throughout the fifty minutes of Presley's shattering antics, the entire auditorium was a seething, contorting mass of wriggling humanity, reacting with shrill screams and convulsive jerks to every breath of the Presley voice, every twitch of the Presley hips. This was not just audience reaction, but sheer mass hypnotism. Fans fainted in dozens, falling like ninepins in the aisles and across the rows of seats.
He deliberately sets out with an almost sadistic intent to arouse the fans to fever pitch. They say that Elvis is the only singer who wears out his trousers from the inside -and now I know just what they mean.
In a final burst of high spirits, Elvis concluded the show by rolling over and over on the stage with his arms and legs wrapped around a stuffed version of Nipper, the dog normaly seen cocking an attentive ear to a wind-up phonograph on the RCA Victor logo. Elvis had ended each performance on the tour by serenading the mascot with a fast and furious rendition of 'Hound Dog'. In Los Angeles, when he suddenly seized Nipper in this undignified and unscripted embrace, the foreplay had been so great that some outraged members of the press thought he was simulating sex with it. Exciting young girls to orgasm was bad enough, but having sexual intercourse with a dog was going to far. The final taboo had been broken.
The LA deputy police chief ordered the Vice Squad to instruct Elvis to eliminate any 'sexy overtones' from his next performance. To underscore the caution, the Colonel was also warned that obscenity charges would be brought against his star if the Nipper act were repeated at the second concert.
Three 16mm movie cameras were hastly despatched to the Pan-Pacific Auditorium to shoot Elvis from different angles. In the event of further infringement, the film would be produced in the court as evidence. Bunkered down in the Presidential suit of the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, Elvis stuck to his usual rejoinder: 'They all think I'm a sex maniac, but I come from a respectable family and I wouldn't do anything to embarras them. I just act natural.'
No Presley concert had ever been staged in front of such a dedicated turnout of his peers or in such a high-voltage atmosphere of official disdain. He came on with the eyes and ears of the world upon him, with the Vice Squad waiting in the wings and the créme de la créme of Hollywood's young talent watching in rapt anticipation from their ringside seats. It was a big moment. Elvis stood briefly speechless as he caught sight of the famous faces. Some he knew well, like Nick Adams, Dennis Hopper and Sammy Davis, but he had never met Ricky Nelson, Ricky shifted uncomfortably when he realized Elvis was looking at him.
Addressing the crowd, Elvis said: 'I'm sorry this came up, but we're not gonna let it stop us from putting on the best show we can for you people. If they think I'm obscene, that's their problem, not mine.'
Before going into his act, he winked at one of the spy cameras, inscribed a halo around his head with a circular motion of his hand and said: 'I'm going to be angel tonight'. Pandemonium.
|Fans fainted in dozens, falling like ninepins in the aisles and across the rows of seats... New Musical Express, Oct. 1957|