A little over 60 years ago, in August of 1955, Elvis signed a contract with manager, Colonel Tom Parker. The Colonel negotiated a deal with RCA for Elvis’ Sun contract for an unprecedented $40,000, $5,000 of which was a bonus for back royalties owed by Sun Records (Elvis was 20, and officially a minor, so his father had to sign the contract).
Over the years, many differing accounts regarding their relationship have surfaced. From what I can gather, based on snatches I’ve heard from sources that should be reliable, Colonel Parker was both beneficial and detrimental to Elvis’ career.
No one can argue that Elvis rose to mega superstardom never seen before or since. But how much of that had to do with the Colonel and how much was solely due to Elvis’ phenomenal talent and charisma? It appears the Colonel was more concerned with money than what was good for Elvis. While Elvis received 50% of the profits rather than a per picture fee, he was also more or less forced to star in movies that were considered laughable by some (although I personally enjoyed them immensely), rather than serious movies he could be proud of. As most know, the only movie Elvis made that he liked was King Creole. He wanted to follow in the footsteps of James Dean and Marlon Brando, but supposedly, the Colonel held him back from that. Robert Mitchum wanted Elvis to play in ‘Thunder Road’ but the Colonel refused to allow it.
Other notable Elvis/Colonel facts…
- By the end of Elvis’ career, the Colonel was taking 50% of Elvis’ earnings, rather than the standard 10% for managers.
- The Colonel never served in the military, but was given the ‘title’ by a pal. And, while Elvis never learned this, the Colonel’s true name was Andreas Cornelis Van Kujik and he was born in Breda, Holland and in the U.S. illegally. Elvis would have loved to tour overseas, but he was never able to because the Colonel feared deportation.
- Scotty Moore, who was Elvis’ first manager and his original guitarist tells of a time early in Elvis’ career, before he made it big, when Elvis promised Scotty and Bill Black 50% of his earnings. Scotty told him that was way too much. He said Elvis would make it big and he shouldn’t offer such a high percentage. Scotty told Elvis that, if he wanted to, he could just give them 1%. Elvis agreed, but Parker took over his career and shut Scotty and Bill out of the earnings. Scotty did approach Elvis about it, but the Colonel had so much control over Elvis, he was more or less helpless. Obviously, Elvis was known for his kind heart and generosity, so he most definitely well-compensated those who worked for him. But as far as any contractual agreements, those were all controlled by Parker.
This is a rare and fascinating interview by Ted Koppel with Colonel Parker:
He starts out by saying he had little to do with Elvis’ success, but by the end, he is definitely giving himself a great deal of the credit. He also states that no one told Elvis what to do, but then admits to turning down a script that the producer said could almost guarantee Elvis an Academy Award because they couldn’t pay them what they wanted. I’d say that is a pretty damning admission. No doubt in my mind, the Colonel held Elvis back from doing the serious acting he desired.
I feel that the Colonel was a crafty manager and knew how to make a buck, but I don’t believe that he was the best choice for Elvis, and that Elvis could have done what he did, and perhaps exceeded that and at least had an opportunity to pursue his dream of becoming a serious actor, with someone else managing him. What do you think?
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Elvis was known for his giving heart and charitable work during his lifetime. Lisa Marie and Elvis Presley Enterprises have continued that tradition with their involvement in various charities. In 1984, The Elvis Charitable Foundation was formed. The EPCF created a scholarship fund for students majoring in the arts. The charity also contributes to one of Elvis’ favorite charities, Goodwill Homes, a Memphis facility that provides counseling and services for abused children and their families. The EPCF also assists numerous other charities, especially focusing on arts, education and children’s programs.
Learn more here, including how to donate:
END OF LONELY STREET – Now Only 99 Cents!
On Elvis’ birthday this year, I released a Vintage Romance short story set in 1957, and of course, my heroine is an Elvis fan. 🙂 As a tribute to Elvis’ generosity, and in order to assist with this worthy cause, 10% of my proceeds for End of Lonely Street will go to the EPCF.
All Toby Lawson wants is to go to college to become a teacher and to be free of her alcoholic mother and some painful memories. But when her mother nearly burns the house down, Toby must put her dreams on hold and return home to care for her. The only time she isn’t lonely and miserable is when she’s listening to her heartthrob, Elvis Presley. His music takes her away and helps her escape from everything wrong in her life.
Noah Rivers has always loved Toby, but no matter what he says, she can‘t get past the fact that her drunken mother once kissed him. He soon realizes the true problem lies in Toby’s belief she’s not good enough for him and in her fear she will be just like her mother.
What will it take to prove to her that she deserves to be happy, and that he would give anything to be the man to make her dreams come true?
4 responses to “Ramblings of a Lifelong Elvis Fan – Part 62 – Elvis and Colonel Tom Parker”
Elvis would have been terrific as Robin in Mitchum’s Thunder Road– probably a world he understood, and I doubt he would’ve needed a dialect coach. Pity we were never allowed to see Elvis’ dream of achieving serious acting credits because like everything else he did, it goes without saying he possessed the talent, but much more than that, the passion. And, yes, I blame the Colonel for that…and many more things.
Very interesting about the Colonel. There are always people ready to take advantage of rising stars.
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I loved Thunder Road and Elvis would have been wonderful in that film – no doubt it would have brought him other serious acting roles had he been able to break away from control of the “Colonel.”
Yes, I agree completely. Thanks for stopping by!