In early 1957, Elvis Presley was on top of the world. On January 6 he appeared, for what would be the final time, on the The Ed Sullivan Show (the producers and network big-shots made sure to shoot The King from the waist up). Recognizing that his pulsating pelvis would not be shown, Elvis spiced up his wardrobe from the previous drab duds he’d worn on the show and let his long hair fall over his face. He ended his appearance by showing the world a bit more of his range by singing the spiritual “Peace in the Valley,” a choice that went against Sullivan’s wishes. Still, Sullivan concluded by telling the millions watching that Elvis was “a real decent, fine boy.”
Two days later on January 8, 1957, the Memphis draft board announced that Elvis would be classified 1A and that the chances were good he’d be drafted into the U.S. Army within the year. Still, the #1 hits followed, including “Too Much,” “All Shook Up” and “(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear.” He was becoming a sensation in places where his music was not officially released, including the Soviet Union. He purchased Graceland, an 18-room mansion in Memphis where he and his parents could live. The soundtrack to his third film, Loving You, became his third consecutive #1 album.
Still, not everything was as smooth as a grilled peanut butter, banana and bacon sandwich. One person who was not too keen on the rock and roll phenomenon was Frank Sinatra, who said the music was “brutal, ugly, degenerate, vicious… It fosters almost totally negative and destructive reactions in young people. It smells phoney and false. It is sung, played and written, for the most part, by cretinous goons. This rancid-smelling aphrodisiac I deplore.”
Elvis responded to the Chairman’s harsh words, saying, “I admire the man. He has a right to say what he wants to say. He is a great success and a fine actor, but I think he shouldn’t have said it. This is a trend, just the same as he faced when he started years ago.”
On December 20, 1957, Elvis received his draft notice from the army. He was given a brief deferment to finish shooting the movie King Creole, then on March 24, 1958, he was inducted into the army as a private at Fort Chaffee in Arkansas, which whipped the media into a frenzy. Fans and photographers turned out in droves as Elvis stepped off the bus to begin serving his country. Amidst the hoopla, he informed the world that he was looking forward to serving and that he didn’t wish to be treated any differently from any of the other young men he’d be serving with.
Elvis completed basic training at Fort Hood in Texas, and despite his huge celebrity, he was convinced that his career was doomed. Then tragedy struck when in August of 1958, his mother passed away from heart failure. She’d just been diagnosed with hepatitis, and Elvis had been granted an emergency leave to see her in Memphis. She died at the age of 46 just two days later, which devastated Elvis.
After basic training he joined the 3rd Armored Division in Friedberg, Germany, on October 1. It was here where Elvis was introduced to two diversions that would become a big part of his future life: amphetamines, which he indulged in with many of his comrades for their strengthening and weight loss benefits, and karate, which he studied diligently and would eventually incorporate into his stage shows.
Elvis’ fellow soldiers thought highly of him because of his desire to be just one of the guys. He donated his army pay to charity, and he bought extra fatigues for the guys in his outfit. It was also in Friedberg where Elvis met his future wife, 14-year old Priscilla Beaulieu. Sergeant Elvis Presley was honorably discharged on March 5, 1960.
On this date in 1960 Elvis began his post-Army recording career by entering RCA’s studio in Nashville to record tracks for his upcoming album, Elvis is Back!, an album that would feature the singles “Stuck on You,” “It’s Now or Never” and “Are You Lonesome Tonight?”
Sean Patrick Dooley | 03.20.2011