Rock ‘n’ Roll Rebel: Elvis Presley on the Milton Berle ShowPosted by Elvis Presley's Graceland on Jun 3, 2016 | 20 comments
“Beware of Elvis Presley”
Can you imagine such a headline? For a while in 1956, those sorts of headlines dominated the media, following Elvis Presley’s June 5, 1956 performance on the “Milton Berle Show.” Looking at his performance today, it’s downright tame, but in 1956, it was downright scandalous. They say there’s no such thing as bad publicity, and this performance proved that to be true. No matter what anyone thought about Elvis’ performance, everyone was talking about it, and suddenly, Elvis was in the spotlight. He was a star, a true rock ‘n’ roll rebel.
Elvis kicked off 1956 with his national television debut on the Dorsey Brothers’ “Stage Show,” and he’d make six total appearances on the program. On April 3, 1956, he made his first appearance on the “Milton Berle Show,” performing on the deck of an aircraft carrier.
He returned to perform on the show again on June 5, and his fellow guests included “Sheena, Queen of the Jungle” star Irish McCalla, actor Arnold Stang and actress Debra Paget, who, in a few months, would co-star with Elvis in his first film, “Love Me Tender.”
In a fun skit, Berle played a record store manager trying to calm down a group of girls excited to meet Elvis at the store. When Elvis arrived, Berle mistook him for another excited teen, until Elvis proved he was the real deal. Elvis then sang his hit, “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You.”
Elvis’ performance of “Hound Dog” was what had people talking the next day. Elvis had performed on television before, but he’d often had his guitar with him or had sang ballads. The world simply hadn’t seen him bust out his soon-to-be-famous moves. Toward the end of “Hound Dog,” he and the band tore into a half-time ending to the song, and he gave it his all, in full Elvis swagger, his hips shaking and and black hair shining. The girls in the audience swooned and squealed.
Berle interviewed Elvis after his performance and asked him how he liked being the center of attention. Elvis, playing along with the skit, said he didn’t like all of the attention from his female fans and he wanted to date a quiet girl like Debra Paget. Berle introduced him to Debra, who, also playing along, squealed at the sight of Elvis and gave him a huge hug and kiss.
The next day, the press had a field day skewering Elvis and his performance. A Catholic publication ran the “Beware of Elvis Presley” headline, and major publications like the New York Times and the Daily News claimed Elvis had no talent beyond shaking his hips.
After countless Gold, Platinum and Diamond Records, 33 successful films and cultural milestones like the ’68 Special and “Aloha from Hawaii,” it’s hard to imagine anyone could say such about the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. But this was 1956, and Elvis, 21, hadn’t been crowned “the king” just yet. Still, the publicity only put Elvis in the spotlight and blasted his career to otherworldly levels.
And what those critics seemed to miss, or fail to mention in their reviews, was the part of the show where Berle presented Elvis with a Billboard Award for reaching number one on retail, disc jockey and jukebox charts with “Heartbreak Hotel.” That award is currently on display here at Graceland.
In the aftermath of the “Milton Berle Show” performance, Elvis was booked to perform on the “Steve Allen Show” on July 1. Elvis used that performance to prove he wasn’t a threat by performing a short version “Hound Dog” to an actual hound dog. Elvis was then booked for three performances on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
Elvis started 1956 as a young, up-and-coming singer, but he finished it as the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll and movie star. This June 5 performance, though it initially drew criticisms, was one of the major turning points of Elvis’ career.
Want to learn more about Elvis’ legendary career? Visit Graceland, where you can see artifacts from his career, awards, his stage wear and much, much more.