To kick off the new year, this month’s Old Hollywood Spotlight will be a little different. In the past, this column has only focused on entertainers who are actors first and foremost or on classic movies that everyone deems “a must-see.” But this month, we’re focusing on an artist who is primarily known as a singer first and an actor second. With that being said, don’t let that distinction fool you; this multi-talented performer was just as successful in the movies as he was in his singing career. So, without further ado, this is Old Hollywood Spotlight: Elvis Presley.
Elvis Presley was born in Tupelo, Mississippi, on January 8, 1935. While Elvis grew up as an only child, he actually had a twin brother named Jesse, who was stillborn. Born into poverty, Elvis’ family struggled to make a living, and, subsequently, he moved around a lot. It wasn’t until 1948 that Elvis found himself calling Memphis, Tennessee, home — a place that was not only special to Elvis throughout his life but is also special to his fans. Every year, thousands of fans flock to Graceland, Elvis’ magnificent mansion, to pay tribute to the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. But we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves. Let’s backtrack a couple of years, shall we?
On January 8, 1946, at the age of 11, Elvis was given a very special birthday gift that would change the course of his life: a guitar. Music had always played an important part in Elvis’ life, especially Gospel music; his parents were devoutly religious and raised him to have a strong faith in God. Elvis got his first taste of musical success when he won his high school talent show; but, as much as he wanted to be a professional singer, it would be another eight years before he made his singing debut.
On July 5, 1954, Elvis made his first record, “That’s All Right,” at Sun Studio in Memphis, Tennessee. When the owner of Sun Studio, Sam Phillips, heard his recording, he decided to mentor Elvis and to help him on his path to stardom. Pretty soon, Elvis found himself in a world filled with touring dates and recording sessions. As he would soon find out, his world would only get crazier from there.
Inspired by the musicality of Gospel music coupled with Memphis’ heavy blues influence, Elvis set his sights on a career that incorporated both musical sounds. In the midst of honing his sound, Elvis’ popularity was soaring, which opened up more doors for him. Soon Hollywood started calling, and in 1956 he made his first movie, Love Me Tender. Elvis’ movie roles tended to complement his singing career as many of his hit songs, such as “Love Me Tender,” were sung in the movies. His movie roles also had him in varied career choices; in Spinout (1966) Elvis was a race car driver while in Wild in the Country (1961) Elvis was an aspiring writer. During the course of his Hollywood career, he made 31 movies over the span of 13 years. Elvis’ last movie, Change of Habit, was filmed in 1969.
While Elvis never won any acting awards, he did win three Grammy Awards for his Gospel music. Elvis also had “18 No. 1 Singles” in addition to being “one of the first performers inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame” in 1986. But sadly, his career was short-lived. On August 16, 1977, Elvis was found dead in his Graceland home. He died of heart failure due to misuse of prescription medicine. Yet for as long as he’s been gone, his movies and music have lived on to influence both artists and fans for countless generations.