Elvis Presley’s PR guru reveals he faked LA police’s threat to shut down a 1957 performance


Elvis Presley’s PR guru Gene Schwam reveals he faked LA police’s threat to shut down a 1957 performance as a stunt to sell more tickets

It was late 1957 and Elvis Presley’s hip-swivelling dance moves were beginning to cause moral panic.

The young rock ‘n’ roller had already been denounced from the pulpit as a ‘pelvic contortionist’ and ‘anti-Christ’. Now, the Los Angeles Police Department was threatening to shut down one of his concerts, an act that would only serve to propel him to greater stardom.

But 65 years on, with director Baz Luhrmann’s biopic of the singer enthralling a new generation of fans, the story of how cops intervened to save the youth of America has been exposed as a publicity stunt to boost ticket sales.

Presley’s former press agent Gene Schwam, 91, has revealed that he pretended to the police that Elvis’s performance at the Pan Pacific Auditorium in Los Angeles was ‘getting too risqué for the kids’.

The young rock 'n' roller had already been denounced from the pulpit as a 'pelvic contortionist' and 'anti-Christ'. Now, the Los Angeles Police Department was threatening to shut down one of his concerts, an act that would only serve to propel him to greater stardom

The young rock ‘n’ roller had already been denounced from the pulpit as a ‘pelvic contortionist’ and ‘anti-Christ’. Now, the Los Angeles Police Department was threatening to shut down one of his concerts, an act that would only serve to propel him to greater stardom

He recalled: ‘The first show was doing well, but the second show was not selling well.’

The singer’s manager, Colonel Tom Parker, played by Tom Hanks in the new movie, suggested spending more on advertising but the publicist replied that ‘we need an idea to get some real attention’. 

He added: ‘I got the idea to call the police and tell them I was hearing people saying the Elvis show was getting too risqué for the kids.’

He told them that some who had seen the opening show had branded his act ‘lewd’ and ‘the most disgusting and most frightening’ they had seen. Taking the bait, Los Angeles deputy police chief Richard Simmons ordered his vice squad to watch the second show.

But 65 years on, with director Baz Luhrmann's biopic of the singer (seen above) enthralling a new generation of fans, the story of how cops intervened to save the youth of America has been exposed as a publicity stunt to boost ticket sales

But 65 years on, with director Baz Luhrmann’s biopic of the singer (seen above) enthralling a new generation of fans, the story of how cops intervened to save the youth of America has been exposed as a publicity stunt to boost ticket sales 

Schwam made sure that newspapers and radio reported on the looming scandal before Elvis took the stage. ‘And it worked,’ he said. ‘Elvis sold out the second show.’

Police found there was nothing obscene or illegal in his act and let the show go on without incident –but the legendary episode lived on long after Presley’s death in 1977, aged 42. 

TV stations censored his gyrations, which were considered to simulate sexual intercourse, by showing only the upper half of his body. Elvis claimed he did not set out to arouse female passions. ‘My legs just shake naturally when I sing,’ he said.

Schwam confirmed that the new movie accurately portrays Colonel Parker as an intimidating monster. When they first met in Parker’s Beverly Hills hotel suite Mr Schwam ‘extended my hand and said, ‘Hello, Mr Parker.’ ‘ Parker – who had only served briefly in the military – shouted back: ‘Colonel!’

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