Elvis Presley’s “Tickle Me” at 50

Yes, it’s Elvis – as a singin’, swingin’ cowboy! Elvis Presley’s “Tickle Me” turns 50 this month. “Tickle Me” was released June 30, 1965, followed by a nationwide release on July 7. The movie, a musical-Western-romance-comedy, has fans LOL’ing with its sight gags and Elvis’ innate comedy timing. “Tickle Me” was Elvis’ 18th movie. It was released between “Girl Happy” and “Harum Scarum.” Elvis, who was 29 when he filmed the movie, plays Lonnie Beale, a singing rodeo rider who moonlights between rodeos as a horseback-riding instructor at a weight-reducing dude ranch for wealthy women. His co-stars include Julie Adams, Jack Mullaney, Jocelyn Lane and Merry Anders. His friend Red West also has a small, uncredited role. Though “Tickle Me” is fun from start to finish, its behind-the-scenes story is a bit more serious. The film was produced by Allied Artists Studio, which at the time was in deep financial trouble. Elvis’ manager, Col. Tom Parker, cut a deal to make everyone happy: He cut Elvis’ normal $1 million pay for 50% of the profits. He also saved money by releasing a soundtrack full of already-recorded songs, rather than recording a whole new soundtrack. Another cost cut was made by filming the movie on a studio back lot instead of filming on location. All of this cost cutting, plus the film’s success at the box office, saved Allied Artists Studio for a while longer. Elvis’ leading lady, Jocelyn Lane, stars in “Tickle Me” as Pam Meritt. She retired from acting in 1971 to become a real princess when she married a Spanish prince. Today, she designs jewelry. Julie Adams, who stars as Vera, has enjoyed a decades-long career in Hollywood. Many movie fans know her from the classic horror flick “Creature from the Black Lagoon.” Norman Taurog directed “Tickle Me” – in fact, he directed the most Elvis movies, with a total of nine. Norman also directed “G.I. Blues,” “Double Trouble,” “Girls! Girls! Girls!” “Blue Hawaii,” “It Happened at the World’s Fair,” “Speedway,” “Live a Little, Love a Little” and “Spinout.” Norman worked with many of Hollywood’s biggest stars, including Judy Garland, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Deborah Kerr, Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin. He directed six Lewis and Martin films. The tag line for “Tickle Me” is everything any film-goer would want in a movie: “It’s Fun! It’s Girls! It’s Songs! It’s Color! It’s ELVIS!” Sounds like a winning combination. Col Parker got RCA to...
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A Father’s Day Tribute: Vernon Presley

One of the constants in Elvis Presley’s life was his father, Vernon Presley. Elvis’ dad was always there, raising his son in Tupelo, supporting his early career in Memphis and working behind the scenes as his son became the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. This Father’s Day, on Sunday, June 21, we celebrate Elvis’ father, Vernon Presley. Jesse D. and Minnie Mae Presley welcomed their son, Vernon Elvis Presley, into the world on April 10, 1916, in Fulton, Mississippi. As a teenager, Vernon met the lovely Gladys Love Smith at church, and quickly fell in love. The young couple wanted to get married, but a little detail slowed them down: Vernon’s age. He was 17, and Gladys was 21. They changed their ages on their marriage license to say he was 22 and she was 19, and the pair were married in Verona, Mississippi, by a Pontotoc County circuit clerk on June 17, 1933. Vernon, his brother Vester and their father built a two-room house for the growing Presley family. Gladys gave birth to Elvis (and his twin, Jessie, who was stillborn) on January 8, 1935, in the home. Vernon worked odd jobs and manual labor to support the family. They never had much money, but they had plenty of love. The Presleys went to church and loved singing gospel music together around the family piano. Elvis was very close to his mother Gladys, but he was close with Vernon, too. On Elvis’ 14th birthday, Vernon gave Elvis a paperback book of cartoons by George Price, and he inscribed it: “May your birthday be sprinkled through ‘n through with joy and love and good times too, Daddy.” Elvis kept this book and brought it with him to Germany when he served there in the Army, but he lost it there. Elvis was so close with both of his parents that he brought them along for the ride when he became a superstar. Vernon and Gladys Presley moved in with Elvis when he purchased Graceland in 1957. Vernon managed his son’s business affairs in an office behind the mansion. Graceland was truly a family home. Vester and Vernon Presley, who worked at the gates of Graceland, often greeted fans at the gates. Elvis’ grandmother (and Vernon’s mother) Minnie Mae lived there, as did Vernon’s sister, Delta, who also helped open Graceland to the public. Many of the documents pertaining to Graceland and Elvis’...
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The Man Who Dressed the King: Bill Belew and Elvis Presley

Rock stars love the grungy look: sweat-stained T-shirts, ragged jeans, worn-out shoes. But Elvis Presley was no ordinary rock star. He was, after all, the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, and he dressed like it. Fans never saw Elvis on stage in anything less than the best. Even early on in his career, he carefully chose his fashionable stagewear. He wanted to give the audience a thrill – not just with his music, but with his look. All these years later, Elvis’ style is as iconic as his music. Elvis had great fashion sense, but it was designer Bill Belew who helped take Elvis’ fashion to the next level. Belew designed clothes for Elvis to wear both on and off the stage. “You could be daring as a designer and put anything on Elvis and he could make it work,” Belew said. “And the simplest outfits that didn’t seem particularly remarkable on the rack transformed into something spectacular when Elvis put them on. He was that beautiful and powerful a presence.” On June 11, 1968, Elvis met with costume designer Bill Belew to go over ideas for his upcoming TV special. Elvis’ famous black leather suit was designed by Belew, as were several other pieces that were seen in that special. The suit is on display at Graceland; it was recently exhibited at Elvis at The O2 in London. Belew designed for other musical acts and celebrities, such as Gladys Knight, The Band, The Jacksons, Brooke Shields and the Osmonds, but he’s especially remembered for his designs for Elvis. Elvis is known for so much – his velvet voice, his Southern generosity, Graceland, his pink Cadillac and, of course, his eye-catching jumpsuits. Belew designed them all, and many of them featured elaborate embroidery by Gene Doucette. There are actually two versions of Elvis’ Flame jumpsuit; the other version’s kick pleats are red, while this version’s is orange. Belew said that many of Elvis’ jumpsuits were white to allow the stage lights to truly capture Elvis on stage. They experimented with several colors, however, such as red, black and blue. Another of Belew’s celebrated jumpsuits is the American Eagle, which Elvis sported in the 1973 “Aloha from Hawaii” special. Eagles show up in several other of Belew’s jumpsuits. He also created a colorful Chinese Dragon jumpsuit, four Phoenix jumpsuits (white with turquoise, dark blue with silver, white with red and white with black) and one...
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33 Years of Elvis Presley’s Graceland

Elvis Presley’s Graceland opened to the public on June 7, 1982. Sunday, June 7, 2015, is our 33rd anniversary. To say we’ve been busy in those 33 years is an understatement. In 33 years,  over 19 million Elvis fans have walked in the footsteps of the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll at Graceland. Guests come from around the globe to see the house Elvis called home. Some of those guests have been celebrities, like Sir Paul McCartney, Robert Plant, Dolly Parton and Taylor Swift, and some have been royalty, such as Princes William and Harry. The Graceland property has grown to include the plaza across the street, a new Archives Studio near the home and a Chapel in the Woods. Fans explore more than just the home – they can step inside Elvis’ airplanes and see his cars. It all started one spring day, 33 years ago, right on the steps of Graceland. When Elvis purchased Graceland in 1957, he didn’t buy it just for himself, but for his family. His parents, Vernon and Gladys, lived there, as did his grandmother, Minnie Mae (all of whom are now buried at the Meditation Garden at Graceland). Several family members lived at Graceland over the years, including Elvis’ aunt, Delta Presley Biggs, Vernon’s sister. In fact, she still lived at Graceland when it opened for tours, and she lived there with her dog, Edmond, until her death in 1993. Delta and Elvis Presley Enterprises CEO Jack Soden cut the ribbon to open Graceland in 1982, and Priscilla Presley was on hand to welcome guests to the home. Fans lined up to tour Graceland on its first day – 3,024 fans, to be exact. The kitchen was not added to the Graceland tour until 1993. Today, fans can see the living room, dining room, Elvis’ parents’ bedroom, the kitchen, pool room, TV room and Jungle Room. Upon its initial opening, the tour featured guides in each room, who shared facts about Elvis and his home. Today, fans are guided through Graceland with a state-of-the-art iPad tour, narrated by Elvis fan and actor John Stamos. The iPad tour includes exclusive video and photo of Elvis and his family at Graceland. A lot has changed in 33 years, but one thing hasn’t: Graceland is ground zero for fans who want to celebrate, learn more about and pay tribute to Elvis Presley. Here are a few of the different ways...
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