The Backlot Boy King: Elvis Presley’s Path to Hollywood Glory

In 1957, Elvis Presley focused on Hollywood with concerts, movies while the town was agog

Austin Butler as Elvis Presley in 'Elvis'
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Picture

Elvis,” Baz Luhrmann’s big-screen love letter to the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, shook up the Cannes Festival in May and has enlivened awards season with its fresh young star Austin Butler, Oscar mainstay Tom Hanks and technical and artistic achievements starting with Luhrmann’s trademark showmanship and including the film’s artful artisans and their wonderful re-creation of ’50s Americana utilizing colorful Australian locations.

But 65 years earlier, Elvis Presley had arrived in Hollywood as a spiffy young showbiz conquering hero, making his stage debut at the Pan Pacific Auditorium and keeping heads turning at the Paramount lot and all over town as he released not one but two big-screen vehicles, the landmark “Jailhouse Rock” and showbiz yarn “Loving You” that year.

Variety followed Elvis’ every move that year and every year after, but it’s worth noting that though some have found Luhrmann’s portrait of Elvis’ relationship to his manager, Col. Tom Parker, a bit too Mephistophelean to be believed, Variety’s review of “Loving You” included this prescient observation: “Col. Tom Parker, Presley’s manager, gets credit as technical adviser, and take that literally and seriously. He’s an expert property developer.”

By 1970, Elvis’ Hollywood years were behind him, his legendary Las Vegas concert run was just beginning and the star’s sad demise, captured so memorably in Luhrmann’s portrait, would begin, ending with his death in 1977.

The King’s reign lasted only 20 years, and the myths that fueled so many tributes and touched so many fans for all these decades was carved forever in just those two short decades. Hollywood’s role in Presley’s rise included 31 feature films cranked out in a frenzied stream across fewer than 15 years.