While ex-wife Priscilla Presley and daughter Lisa Marie Presley are still making headlines, unsurprisingly Elvis Presley remains prominent on people’s minds. Whether it’s the new animated series Agent King that reimagines him as a secret agent or his legacy of music and, in this case in particular, his films, Elvis is everywhere.
When it comes to his movies, there’s a perception that for the most part they’re dismissible, formulaic and completely superficial. There’s the other side of the argument, however, that without them we wouldn’t have nearly the amount of music that we have of Elvis, which in many instances was precisely the point. To be sure, these films were created to get butts into theater seats, but, even more importantly, they were geared towards selling soundtrack albums, which in many instances were far more profitable. Not that this was a new approach taken to a popular singer.
“There was a tradition going all the way back to Al Jolson in the early pop era,” explains Susan Doll, author of, among other books, The Films of Elvis Presley. “A tradition of pop singers already having an image, because they were already a performer, then showcasing that image in a series of films and sometimes fine-tuning that image in the films. That was kind of the tradition of grooming a popular singer into the movies. So there was Jolson, there was Bing Crosby, and there was Frank Sinatra. Even the opera singer Mario Lanza, who was very handsome and very masculine, Hollywood tapped into. They created a series of vehicles to showcase him. Elvis was a big fan of Mario Lanza, and he also really followed Sinatra’s career. In his mind, when he was being courted for the movies, that’s how he saw his career going in terms of becoming an actor: Using his singing popularity and then filtering that into an acting career.”
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