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: Books: K And the ing lives on.

Byline: David Charters

BEFORE he was the most famous man in the world, Elvis was simply the mother-loving ``Hillbilly Cat'' with shoogly legs and a voice as smooth as molasses.

And then he was introduced to the huckster whose eyes had grown greedy and cynical watching the whirl of gambling wheels. The huckster worked the carnivals, like the mountebanks of the old frontier towns who sold snake oil to cure all your ills. With his bull's build and guttural tones, this self-styled ``Colonel'' Tom Parker may have seemed crude, but he had a canny way with money.

How else could he had prospered from a cemetery which offered ``perpetual care for deceased pets'' and toured with a troupe of dancing chickens? The poor creatures kicked higher when he turned the heat up on the plate under their feet.

Yes, Col Parker was as sharp as a nest of needles in a tailor's cushion. Business was his meat and his passion. But the riches that were about to flow from the Presley boy were like nothing Parker had come across before in his life of dealing and dodging.

And, as we approach the 25th anniversary of Elvis's death (August 16), there is sure to be much reappraising of the singer and the relationship he had with this manager, Parker, invariably billed as the ``Svengali'' by biographers.

For it was Parker who decided that his charge should enter the movies, as a kind of Marlon Brando with a guitar. The trouble was Elvis never made any truly memorable films, unlike his dead hero James Dean.

But some weren't too bad, especially the earlier ones such as Love Me Tender, Jailhouse Rock, King Creole. By the mid-sixties, though, they were uniformly awful.

Titles like Clambake, Speedway and The Trouble With Girls suggest a man whose natural progress is being impeded.

John Lennon famously said that Elvis died when he joined the army. Well, that wasn't true, as we were to learn from his comeback in 1968. For several years after that Elvis remained in good shape and good voice, gaining millions of new admirers.

But there is no doubt that his reputation was wounded by the films and their generally mediocre music. One of those songs, A Little Less Conversation from the film, Live A Little, Love a Little, which wasn't even released in the UK, peaked at number 68 in the US charts. But a `remixed' version of the song has been the number one record in the UK for the past two weeks.

In defence of the films, you could argue that they gave his fans a chance to see him at a time when he was not performing live. In fact, Elvis never performed outside the USA.

In the end, though, you have to conclude that the movies were just an easy way of the Colonel, his boy Elvis and their associates making easy money Last year, Robson Books published David Bret's Elvis: The Hollywood Years. Bret,who has written biographies about numerous stars including Edith Piaf, Maurice Chevalier, Marlene Dietrich and Freddie Mercury, suggests that Elvis might have had a homosexual affair with a minor actor early in his career.

It is further suggested that Parker's part in preventing this ``information'' reaching a scandal sheet, intensified his power over Elvis. This resulted in the punishing and ultimately ruinous run of engagements the singer had to keep in Las Vegas. Elvis wasn't happy there, but the ``colonel'' was addicted to the roulette tables.

Of course, it is quite possible for a writer to fantasise about his subject.

Peter Guralinck's Last Train To Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley has been reprintedmany times since it was published in 1994. This is a good book, well written, pulsing with atmosphere and thoroughly researched, taking the reader to the moment in September 1958 when Elvis waves to his fans from the troopship USS General Randall.

For those who like the slim Elvis, creating the sound which would electrify teenagers across the world, this is the book. Guralinck followed it with Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley, also published by Abacus. Both are still available.

The book most burned by his fans is Elvis by Albert Goldman, published in 1981 and now out of print. Its claims about his over-eating, obsessive behaviour and sexual preferences, culminating in a detailed description of his autopsy, offended all those who loved the king of rock'n'roll.

Billions of words have been written about Elvis, in newspapers, magazines and books, since he first starred on the Louisiana Hayride. We can expect millions more in the coming weeks.

For this figure, standing at 6ft 2ins in his polished black slip-on shoes, became the symbol of the age, perhaps even more potent than the Beatles. In a way this young man with a guitar, brooding eyes and full lips took the 20th century away from the dictators, the presidents and the religious leaders.


ELVIS EPICS:; Billions of words have been written about Elvis Presley and, no doubt, many more will follow
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Copyright 2002 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Jul 6, 2002
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