Picture it: Memphis, Tennessee. The sun is shining, there’s a cool spring breeze, and the smell of honeysuckle (and maybe a little barbecue) is in the air.
The weather has been gorgeous in the Bluff City for the past few weeks. In fact, it’s been the perfect weather to blow off responsibilities – deadlines, emails, assignments and the like – and enjoy everything Memphis has to offer.
As the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Elvis Presley didn’t have average responsibilities; his office was anything from the concert stage to the movie set to the recording studio. But when he wanted to take the day off and have fun, Elvis spent his time at local parks and movie theaters.
If Elvis were to have a Ferris Bueller-style day off, what would he do? How did Elvis spend his days off in Memphis?
When Elvis wanted to have fun in Memphis, he could usually be found at a movie theater, at the Fairgrounds and at a park playing football.
He often had to go late at night or rent a theater or park out at night so he could enjoy his time without being mobbed by thousands of fans. He’d often arrive at about midnight and stay until 3:30 or 4 a.m. – sometimes until dawn. Despite his efforts, fans still often found out about his late-night adventures. In a British fan magazine in June 1962, it was reported he spent one night in Memphis playing football, watching “West Side Story” at a local theater, the Memphian, and enjoying the rides at the Fairgrounds until dawn.
Elvis also rented bowling alleys, like the Whitehaven Plaza, and rollerskating rinks, such as the Rainbow Rollerdome. He’d often rent these spaces for a matter of days or weeks at a time, just as he did with movie theaters and amusement parks.
In July 1960, Elvis enjoyed time with friends at McKellar Lake with a new waterskiing boat he’d recently purchased. That same month, he rented out the Fairgrounds to enjoy with his girlfriend, Anita Wood, and friends.
The movie theater was Elvis’ home away from home. He loved just about every genre of film. Long before the days of DVDs and BluRays, the only way to see a film was in the theater, so Elvis often watched some of his favorite movies multiple times in a theater. He visited several theaters in Memphis, but the Memphian was a favorite.
He’d often go to the movies every night for a week or more. In May 1963, he saw “Village of the Damned,” “The List of Adrian Messenger,” “Harold Lloyd’s World of Comedy” and “The Nutty Professor” (three times) over the span of about 10 days at the Memphian. Later that year, in August, he returned to the Memphian to see a variety of films, like the Oscar-winning French documentary “The Sky Above, The Mud Below,” the Boris Karloff and Jack Nicholson movie “The Terror” and the musical comedy “Hootenanny Hoot,” directed by “Kissin’ Cousins” director Gene Nelson.
Elvis often rented out the Memphian and the Fairgrounds on the same night. In August 1964, he did just that. He saw one of his favorite films, “Dr. Strangelove,” five times, as well as Biblical films like “King of Kings,” and he also managed several trips to the Fairgrounds with his friend Larry Geller and his family.
Elvis caught another screening of “Dr. Strangelove” in December 1965, as well as other films such as “Cleopatra,” “Dr. No” and “Thunderball.” A few weeks later, he celebrated his 31st birthday at the Memphian, where he saw “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.”
Throughout his life, one thing was constant: if Elvis had the time, he was sure to go see a movie.
Elvis also loved to play football. Before his fame skyrocketed, Elvis could often be found playing football with friends around Memphis. In December 1956 – fresh from making his first movie – Elvis played a game of football with friends at the Dave Wells Community Center in Memphis. Later, Elvis played football on the Graceland grounds.
If you’re taking a day off in Memphis soon, be sure to visit Graceland.
While you’re here, be sure to see what else the Bluff City has to offer, from the Stax Museum of American Soul Music to the Memphis Zoo, from the National Civil Rights Museum to Sun Studio.