Rock ‘n’ Roll Rebel: Elvis Presley on the Milton Berle Show

“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.

This flyer thanked Uncle Miltie for allowing Elvis to perform on the show.

This flyer thanked Uncle Miltie for allowing Elvis to perform on the show.

 

On June 4, Elvis and Scotty Moore rehearsed for the "Milton Berle Show" performance.

On June 4, Elvis and Scotty Moore rehearsed for the “Milton Berle Show” performance.

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.”

Debra Paget, to Elvis' left, and Elvis rehearse a skit for the "Milton Berle Show."

Debra Paget, to Elvis’ left, and Elvis rehearse a skit for the “Milton Berle Show.”

 

At this performance, Elvis met "Sheena, Queen of the Jungle" star Irish McCalla.

At this performance, Elvis met “Sheena, Queen of the Jungle” star Irish McCalla.

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 performed "I Want You, I Need You, I Love You" on his second "Milton Berle Show" appearance.

Elvis performed “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You” on his second “Milton Berle Show” appearance.

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.

Elvis' energetic performance of "Hound Dog" had tongues wagging the next day.

Elvis’ energetic performance of “Hound Dog” had tongues wagging the next day.

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.”

The critics may have panned Elvis' performance, but they really just added fuel to the Presley flame. As 1956 continued, Elvis went on to perform several more times on television, release even more hit singles and release his first film.

The critics may have panned Elvis’ performance, but they really just added fuel to the Presley flame. As 1956 continued, Elvis went on to perform several more times on television, release even more hit singles and release his first film.

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.


20 Comments

  1. Steve Bloomfield

    This is my all time favourite Elvis performance. Hound Dog on Milton Berle show.

  2. Olivia King

    My goodness I love him. He’s just…somethin’ else. 60 years ago…wow…<3

  3. The last 30 seconds of the performance on the Milton Berle Show forever changed American Culture & the entire world of popular music. One from the pulpit declared “I have seen The Devil,& his name is Elvis”

  4. William F. Martin, Jr.

    Great stuff as usual. Thanks

  5. Michael Leckie

    Thank you for these facts in history. Love them.

  6. Johnny boggs

    Truly a person who new how to perform in front of small or huge audiences. He was a person who took care of people that worked for him and those that performed with him . truly deserves the title of king of rock and roll .

  7. Robert

    The world would never been the same after The Most Atomic Powered singer on tv

  8. Marie Dion

    You didn’t show the video of Elvis’s Performance!

  9. robert lynch

    ELVIS is, was and will ALWAYS be the GREATEST of all time. He truly is 2nd to None(sorry Beatles, Michael Jackson and Garth Brooks). Elvis is the beginning and end when it comes to music and live performances!

    • Yvonne Hart

      I couldn’t agree more with what you have written here Robert I love everything Elvis he will never eclipsed there is no one then or after who could come close

    • Janet Hastings

      I agree with you 100%. Been an Elvis fan since the 50’s. I remember when it all started for Elvis. Loved him then, still love him now.

  10. Bruce Drouin

    Great Photos

  11. Judy Lindley

    Thank you Graceland for all the information you send to the Elvis Fans. His memory will last forever
    Judy Hunt Lindley

  12. Carole Brocher

    For me Elvis was the best singer. He could sing any type of music. Love this beautiful man.

  13. Gary Carlson

    When oh when will the powers-that-be FINALLY see fit to release a complete, digitally remastered, unedited of Elvis’s TV appearances on the Dorsey Brothers, Milton Berle, and Steve Allen Shows??? The Sullivan collection of a few years back was superb! Why not do a similar, separate volume on the 6 Dorsey Shows, and then a companion volume that combines both the Milton Berle and Steve Allen Shows, complete with skits and everything! We’ve seen many of these clips piecemeal over the years in various documentaries and compilations, but never all in one place, complete and unedited! These historical performances DESERVE to be preserved and presented in one carefully prepared packaged. In fact, this is long, long overdue! Gary Carlson

    • Yvonne Hart

      I couldn’t agree more with you Gary I have seen bits and pieces of YouTube and I have some of Elvis early performances but a DVD of all the tapes of these shows and the welcome home show with Frank Sinatra where Elvis looked so deversatingly handsome would be perfect. There are hundreds of thousands of Elvis fans out there who would snap them up ❤️
      Eve from England

  14. M. C.

    Great article on the early times. Thanks.

  15. stephen stathis

    Elvis knew he was something special by how cool he was, how confident he was too. For someone who never performed in a group until he got to Sun, he had a confidence about his ability that is inspiring. People say the Colonel controlled Elvis: I think not; Elvis went after what he wanted too.

  16. Yvonne Hart

    Fantastic information once again thank you so much Graceland for posting these wonderful snippets. I can only imagine how Elvis must have felt reading all those hurtful and disparaging newspaper reports about his performances. For a decent well brought up young man it must have been dishaeartening to say the least. No doubt Colonel was delighted with all the publicity regardless of what was said and written ❤️

  17. jacqueline carbaugh

    Elvis presley his name is well knowen, just will never be a man that can top his looks, talent, and charisma. He was the best, I loved his music and sense of humor, his generosity and caring for his fellow man, a Christian man that’s forsure, miss you Elvis.

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