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Growing up Elvis

It Happened at the World’s Fair

Quick, Presley, the needle!
Quick, Presley, the needle!

Aunt Fay had the hots for Elvis, and little Scotty loved going to the movies. So it was that many a Saturday afternoon found us hopping the 96 Lunt Ave. bus to Chicago’s Adelphi Theatre where we would spend hours basking in the presence of the King. Between Roustabout and Speedway, Fay dragged me to every Elvis release with the exception of one: we stayed away from Stay Away, Joe. The fascination was all hers; I was in it strictly for the hot buttered corn.

Given the constant exposure at such a tender age, one would half expect Elvis to have left an indelible imprint similar to those planted by Groucho, Bugs, Jerry, and Larry (Fine). Forget it. Fickle Fay lost interest after Clambake. When it comes to Presley, I side with noted American mass murderer Richard Speck who told a Chicago newspaper, “If Little Richard or Chuck Berry were white, we wouldn’t be calling Elvis Presley the King of Rock ’n’ Roll.”

With the exception of a few films (Jailhouse Rock, King Creole, Flaming Star, Kid Galahad, and Scorsese’s montage wizardry on Elvis on Tour), the term “Elvis picture” holds the same critical cache as a Blondie or Bowery Boys sequel. At least Columbia’s Blondie series came complete with Three Stooges sound effects. I could stand a few “UHHHS!“ to punctuate the pervasive fistfights that eat up almost as much screen time as the musical numbers.

The Unisphere was calling. I begged my parents to make the 1964 World’s Fair our summer vacation destination. Dad responded with, “I’ll take you to Shopper’s World, is that fair?” (Now you know from whom I inherited my rapier wit.) The fleeting fascination began with a “comic souvenir” documenting The Flintstones visit to the 1964 World’s Fair. Not since Sherlock Holmes boarded a propaganda powered time machine to do battle against the Nazis had the entertainment industry been rocked by a metachronism such as this.

The idea was the brainchild of former governor of Washington, Albert Rosellini, who pitched the concept of Elvis and the Fair to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer execs. Elvis had the looks and the voice, but Helen Keller would have picked better scripts for him than manager/goniff, Col. Tom Parker. Since they couldn’t bring the World’s Fair to Elvis, much of the “location work” was done in Culver City. This is instantly made clear during the credit sequence when the lovely open-air second unit work is jarringly intercut with claustrophobic studio inserts of Elvis piloting a mock cockpit while crooning the opening tune.

Elvis plays crop duster jockey Mike Williams. Clad in a leather jacket and butch flyer's cap, the King looks more like the Queen ready to disco the night away at the The Cockpit on Little Santa Monica. Mike has to save up enough dough to prevent the bank from repossessing Bessie, his beloved bi-plane, but Mike squanders his earnings on “duds and dames.“ Mike’s partner, Danny Burke (Gary Lockwood), is an inveterate gambler who absconds with the company’s savings the moment the big dumb hillbilly’s back is turned. Fortunately for Danny, he is a master in the art of sycophancy and, not unlike Elvis’ Memphis Mafia, Mike keeps him around as part of his entourage.

Elvis consults with director Norman Taurog

There are plenty of chicks to keep Mike happy and director Norman Taurog’s anamorphic coverage of the love scenes proves him to be the anti-Minnelli. (Vincent, not Liza.) Those unfamiliar with the term “TV-safe compositions” need look no further than Taurog for enlightenment. He couldn’t stick two characters any closer together at the center of a Panavision frame if he used Crazy Glue. There is enough extra side space to park two grip trucks! IMDB credits a whopping 179 features and shorts to his name. Taurog was best known for Boy’s Town and its mind-stultifying sequel in addition to a handful of lesser Martin & Lewis vehicles. He was the recipient of two, count ’em, two Academy Awards (Skippy and Boy’s Town). Further proof, as if any is needed, of Academy dispensibility.

After a quick perusal of his little black book, Mike decides to pay a call on a pre-Batgirl Yvonne Craig. One of the film’s biggest inadvertent laughs is the casting of the generally compliant Olan Soule in the role of her rifle-toting father. This goober could barely figure out the logistics of sexual intercourse, let alone produce a child as fine as Craig. The ensuing musical number — Mike serenades the comely Craig while chasing her around the living room — is as fine an example of the Taurog touch.

Thanks to Danny’s gambling debts, the Sheriff marks time on the runway while waiting to attach Bessie. With only a guitar and garment bag to their names, Danny and Mike exercise their hitchhiker’s thumbs and in no time flag a ride on a produce van containing Sue-Lin (Ginny Tiu) and her know-nothing Uncle Walter (Kam Tong). For ease of plot convenience, they just happen to be heading to the World’s Fair!

Something’s not right about this kid and her uncle. She wears more rogue than a Chicken Ranch strumpet and is instantly attracted to Mike. This fresh off the boat peon would trade his poor niece for a sack of rice. Study Taurog’s direction of Ginny as she sits between Mike and Danny listening to them talk. Imagine a kid watching a tennis match in slow-motion.

Dumbsock Uncle Walter drives all the way to Seattle only to make a phone call and have to turn around to do a “special job” for an “important customer.” And Sue-Lin did so want to ride the monorail. Wait a minute! Here’s an idea: Why not leave your eight-year-old niece in the care of two flyboy greaseballs you just met? Didn’t he hear what happened to Elvis’ pet chimpanzee?

Mike and the kid take us on a panoramic tour that’s part historical artifact, part travelogue, and all picture-postcard views, and for five minutes the film comes to life. After plying the girl with an eggroll and a slice of pepperoni, Mike rushes her to the dispensary where he meets nurse Diane Warren (Joan O’Brien). What a stiff! She worked for Blake Edwards (Operation Petticoat), Frank Tashlin (It’$ Only Money), and The Duke (The Alamo), and yet I still couldn’t pick O’Brien out of a lineup.

Video:

"Rock-A-Hula-Baby" Elvis Presley

A wide-angle unbroken take filmed from inside the monorail during the “magic hour” sets the scene for one of the laziest musical numbers on record. Sue-Lin lies passed out in a food-induced coma between a huge red stuffed dog and Mike. Elvis doesn’t even bother singing this one. His lips remain still as telepathic viewers study with rapt ardor as the song runs through his head. For a moment I thought the plush pooch was a ventriloquist. Another comatose number, “One Broken Heart for Sale,” shows Mike walking around a trailer park entertaining the trash.

Uncle Walter — who probably spent his afternoon violating the Mann Act — waits for them at the foot of the elevated railway to claim his dead-to-the world niece. Without Sue-Lin or the Fair to look at, the experience begins to resemble something akin to skiing through wet cement.

Elvis gets a kick out of Kurt Russell

There is one intriguing bit of trivia I'm obliged to pass on. This was the first of three features to permanently join the King and Kurt Russell together at the hip. On screen for all of two minutes, It Happened at the World's Fair marked Russell‘s screen debut. He is assigned the enviable task of running up to Mike and kicking him in the shin. Years later Russell said that he didn't want to give Elvis the boot and that the King paid him five dollars to do so.

Russell went on to portray the King in John Carpenter’s TV biopic Elvis as well as an Elvis impersonator in 3000 Miles to Graceland. The latter spoofs It Happened at the World's Fair when a young boy runs on screen and kicks Russell (clad in full Elvis attire) in the shin.

There’s a rear-projection pedicab ride that forces perspective down our throats. A romantic dinner atop a studio duplicate of the Space Needle’s revolving soup kitchen is quickly shattered when Russell reenters the picture and blows Mike’s cover. Mike then proceeds to walk from one side of the bed to the other as he sings Sue-Lin (and the audience) to sleep.

Come the dawn and Sue-Lin overhears Danny’s suggestion that they deposit the kid with a social worker and split. Pressing her face against a space heater fools Mike into thinking Sue-Lin has a fever. It also advances the romantic subplot when she tricks the dupa into phoning the Mount Sinai wing of the World‘s Fair to summon what appears to be the only nurse on call in all Seattle. By the time Diane arrives, Sue-Lin is medium rare. After putting the cutie pie to bed, Diane smokes, Mike sings, and together they walk no more than ten paces across the porch. Elvis didn’t want to needlessly exert himself.

With Walter still out of the picture, Mike dispels any notion of Sue-Lin missing her uncle with a quick reassurance that she now has new friends who will look after her. To prove it to her, Mike walks around the trailer singing. Danny gets a paying gig and it‘s time for Mike to strap on a parachute and once again take to the air. One catch: they‘ll be transporting err…uhh…freight for the nefarious Vince Bradley (H.M. Wynant).

Florence Nightingale blows the whistle on the boys. Enter Miss Ettinger (Dorothy Green), the Elvira Gulch in the piece. She’s a willowy, Chesterfield-marinated spinster from the Child Welfare Board who appears to dine on little Asian girls for breakfast. At least the old Prop 8 denouncer adds a hint of chlorophyll to the conversation by pointing out that it’s wrong for a little girl to be living in a trailer with two unemployed bachelors. With visions of internment camps looming in her head, Sue-Lin’s ensuing escape fills Mike with righteous indignation, thus allowing Elvis a shot at some real acting.

So what is it exactly that Vince is trafficking in? Drugs? Munitions? Human lives? No. A bunch of mangy animal pelts. BFD! Uncle Walter stands guilty of worse crimes starting with child abandonment and endangerment, but as we'll soon learn the old buzzard was hospitalized after his truck skidded out of control and went into the Sound.

The snapcases of Tickle Me and Speedway remain un-cracked and will probably stay that way for some time to come. Over 50 years since its release, and still nothing’s happened at the World's Fair.

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Quick, Presley, the needle!
Quick, Presley, the needle!

Aunt Fay had the hots for Elvis, and little Scotty loved going to the movies. So it was that many a Saturday afternoon found us hopping the 96 Lunt Ave. bus to Chicago’s Adelphi Theatre where we would spend hours basking in the presence of the King. Between Roustabout and Speedway, Fay dragged me to every Elvis release with the exception of one: we stayed away from Stay Away, Joe. The fascination was all hers; I was in it strictly for the hot buttered corn.

Given the constant exposure at such a tender age, one would half expect Elvis to have left an indelible imprint similar to those planted by Groucho, Bugs, Jerry, and Larry (Fine). Forget it. Fickle Fay lost interest after Clambake. When it comes to Presley, I side with noted American mass murderer Richard Speck who told a Chicago newspaper, “If Little Richard or Chuck Berry were white, we wouldn’t be calling Elvis Presley the King of Rock ’n’ Roll.”

With the exception of a few films (Jailhouse Rock, King Creole, Flaming Star, Kid Galahad, and Scorsese’s montage wizardry on Elvis on Tour), the term “Elvis picture” holds the same critical cache as a Blondie or Bowery Boys sequel. At least Columbia’s Blondie series came complete with Three Stooges sound effects. I could stand a few “UHHHS!“ to punctuate the pervasive fistfights that eat up almost as much screen time as the musical numbers.

The Unisphere was calling. I begged my parents to make the 1964 World’s Fair our summer vacation destination. Dad responded with, “I’ll take you to Shopper’s World, is that fair?” (Now you know from whom I inherited my rapier wit.) The fleeting fascination began with a “comic souvenir” documenting The Flintstones visit to the 1964 World’s Fair. Not since Sherlock Holmes boarded a propaganda powered time machine to do battle against the Nazis had the entertainment industry been rocked by a metachronism such as this.

The idea was the brainchild of former governor of Washington, Albert Rosellini, who pitched the concept of Elvis and the Fair to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer execs. Elvis had the looks and the voice, but Helen Keller would have picked better scripts for him than manager/goniff, Col. Tom Parker. Since they couldn’t bring the World’s Fair to Elvis, much of the “location work” was done in Culver City. This is instantly made clear during the credit sequence when the lovely open-air second unit work is jarringly intercut with claustrophobic studio inserts of Elvis piloting a mock cockpit while crooning the opening tune.

Elvis plays crop duster jockey Mike Williams. Clad in a leather jacket and butch flyer's cap, the King looks more like the Queen ready to disco the night away at the The Cockpit on Little Santa Monica. Mike has to save up enough dough to prevent the bank from repossessing Bessie, his beloved bi-plane, but Mike squanders his earnings on “duds and dames.“ Mike’s partner, Danny Burke (Gary Lockwood), is an inveterate gambler who absconds with the company’s savings the moment the big dumb hillbilly’s back is turned. Fortunately for Danny, he is a master in the art of sycophancy and, not unlike Elvis’ Memphis Mafia, Mike keeps him around as part of his entourage.

Elvis consults with director Norman Taurog

There are plenty of chicks to keep Mike happy and director Norman Taurog’s anamorphic coverage of the love scenes proves him to be the anti-Minnelli. (Vincent, not Liza.) Those unfamiliar with the term “TV-safe compositions” need look no further than Taurog for enlightenment. He couldn’t stick two characters any closer together at the center of a Panavision frame if he used Crazy Glue. There is enough extra side space to park two grip trucks! IMDB credits a whopping 179 features and shorts to his name. Taurog was best known for Boy’s Town and its mind-stultifying sequel in addition to a handful of lesser Martin & Lewis vehicles. He was the recipient of two, count ’em, two Academy Awards (Skippy and Boy’s Town). Further proof, as if any is needed, of Academy dispensibility.

After a quick perusal of his little black book, Mike decides to pay a call on a pre-Batgirl Yvonne Craig. One of the film’s biggest inadvertent laughs is the casting of the generally compliant Olan Soule in the role of her rifle-toting father. This goober could barely figure out the logistics of sexual intercourse, let alone produce a child as fine as Craig. The ensuing musical number — Mike serenades the comely Craig while chasing her around the living room — is as fine an example of the Taurog touch.

Thanks to Danny’s gambling debts, the Sheriff marks time on the runway while waiting to attach Bessie. With only a guitar and garment bag to their names, Danny and Mike exercise their hitchhiker’s thumbs and in no time flag a ride on a produce van containing Sue-Lin (Ginny Tiu) and her know-nothing Uncle Walter (Kam Tong). For ease of plot convenience, they just happen to be heading to the World’s Fair!

Something’s not right about this kid and her uncle. She wears more rogue than a Chicken Ranch strumpet and is instantly attracted to Mike. This fresh off the boat peon would trade his poor niece for a sack of rice. Study Taurog’s direction of Ginny as she sits between Mike and Danny listening to them talk. Imagine a kid watching a tennis match in slow-motion.

Dumbsock Uncle Walter drives all the way to Seattle only to make a phone call and have to turn around to do a “special job” for an “important customer.” And Sue-Lin did so want to ride the monorail. Wait a minute! Here’s an idea: Why not leave your eight-year-old niece in the care of two flyboy greaseballs you just met? Didn’t he hear what happened to Elvis’ pet chimpanzee?

Mike and the kid take us on a panoramic tour that’s part historical artifact, part travelogue, and all picture-postcard views, and for five minutes the film comes to life. After plying the girl with an eggroll and a slice of pepperoni, Mike rushes her to the dispensary where he meets nurse Diane Warren (Joan O’Brien). What a stiff! She worked for Blake Edwards (Operation Petticoat), Frank Tashlin (It’$ Only Money), and The Duke (The Alamo), and yet I still couldn’t pick O’Brien out of a lineup.

Video:

"Rock-A-Hula-Baby" Elvis Presley

A wide-angle unbroken take filmed from inside the monorail during the “magic hour” sets the scene for one of the laziest musical numbers on record. Sue-Lin lies passed out in a food-induced coma between a huge red stuffed dog and Mike. Elvis doesn’t even bother singing this one. His lips remain still as telepathic viewers study with rapt ardor as the song runs through his head. For a moment I thought the plush pooch was a ventriloquist. Another comatose number, “One Broken Heart for Sale,” shows Mike walking around a trailer park entertaining the trash.

Uncle Walter — who probably spent his afternoon violating the Mann Act — waits for them at the foot of the elevated railway to claim his dead-to-the world niece. Without Sue-Lin or the Fair to look at, the experience begins to resemble something akin to skiing through wet cement.

Elvis gets a kick out of Kurt Russell

There is one intriguing bit of trivia I'm obliged to pass on. This was the first of three features to permanently join the King and Kurt Russell together at the hip. On screen for all of two minutes, It Happened at the World's Fair marked Russell‘s screen debut. He is assigned the enviable task of running up to Mike and kicking him in the shin. Years later Russell said that he didn't want to give Elvis the boot and that the King paid him five dollars to do so.

Russell went on to portray the King in John Carpenter’s TV biopic Elvis as well as an Elvis impersonator in 3000 Miles to Graceland. The latter spoofs It Happened at the World's Fair when a young boy runs on screen and kicks Russell (clad in full Elvis attire) in the shin.

There’s a rear-projection pedicab ride that forces perspective down our throats. A romantic dinner atop a studio duplicate of the Space Needle’s revolving soup kitchen is quickly shattered when Russell reenters the picture and blows Mike’s cover. Mike then proceeds to walk from one side of the bed to the other as he sings Sue-Lin (and the audience) to sleep.

Come the dawn and Sue-Lin overhears Danny’s suggestion that they deposit the kid with a social worker and split. Pressing her face against a space heater fools Mike into thinking Sue-Lin has a fever. It also advances the romantic subplot when she tricks the dupa into phoning the Mount Sinai wing of the World‘s Fair to summon what appears to be the only nurse on call in all Seattle. By the time Diane arrives, Sue-Lin is medium rare. After putting the cutie pie to bed, Diane smokes, Mike sings, and together they walk no more than ten paces across the porch. Elvis didn’t want to needlessly exert himself.

With Walter still out of the picture, Mike dispels any notion of Sue-Lin missing her uncle with a quick reassurance that she now has new friends who will look after her. To prove it to her, Mike walks around the trailer singing. Danny gets a paying gig and it‘s time for Mike to strap on a parachute and once again take to the air. One catch: they‘ll be transporting err…uhh…freight for the nefarious Vince Bradley (H.M. Wynant).

Florence Nightingale blows the whistle on the boys. Enter Miss Ettinger (Dorothy Green), the Elvira Gulch in the piece. She’s a willowy, Chesterfield-marinated spinster from the Child Welfare Board who appears to dine on little Asian girls for breakfast. At least the old Prop 8 denouncer adds a hint of chlorophyll to the conversation by pointing out that it’s wrong for a little girl to be living in a trailer with two unemployed bachelors. With visions of internment camps looming in her head, Sue-Lin’s ensuing escape fills Mike with righteous indignation, thus allowing Elvis a shot at some real acting.

So what is it exactly that Vince is trafficking in? Drugs? Munitions? Human lives? No. A bunch of mangy animal pelts. BFD! Uncle Walter stands guilty of worse crimes starting with child abandonment and endangerment, but as we'll soon learn the old buzzard was hospitalized after his truck skidded out of control and went into the Sound.

The snapcases of Tickle Me and Speedway remain un-cracked and will probably stay that way for some time to come. Over 50 years since its release, and still nothing’s happened at the World's Fair.

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Other intriguing bits of trivia about "It Happened At The World's Fair":

= Vicky Tiu, the child actress who plays "Sue Lin" grew up to marry Ben Cayetano (Democratic Party), the fifth governor of the State of Hawaii in 1997. Tiu later said that, while Elvis Presley was a joy to work with, she hated working with director Norman Taurog. For a scene where Sue-Lin cries, Taurog got real tears from Vicky by telling her that her beloved grandmother had just died.

= Elvis' script from the movie is included in his exhibit at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The script is opened to the page where Kurt Russell's character kicks Elvis in the shins.

= Dolores Fuller wrote the song "Beyond The Bend" that opened the film (see video below). She was the one-time girlfriend of Ed Wood Jr. - memorably portrayed by Sarah Jessica Parker in the only good Tim Burton movie "Ed Wood".

= Col. Tom Parker wanted Elvis to look more slick for this film. So he sent Elvis to Jerry Lewis' favorite tailor, Sy Devore. The wardrobe, consisting of ten suits, four sports jackets, 30 shirts, 15 pairs of slacks, two cashmere coats, and 55 ties, cost about $10,000.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oP4exUDIeow

July 28, 2016

Also, in 2014, his famous quote about truth being like the sun became the basis for the title of a novel by Jim Lynch, which focussed in corruption in 1962, all the way to the present, starting during the filming of IHATWF. It is called "" Truth like the sun" Here is the NYT review http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/09/books/truth-like-the-sun-by-jim-lynch.html?_r=0

July 28, 2016

Also, a story about he staying at a home of an Army buddy BEFORE the start of filming is amazing, for what it became of it...

http://beachdriveblog.com/2007/05/45_years_agoelv.html

July 28, 2016

Here is the story...

At 4225 Beach Drive SW, stands the Chambliss House -- a bright blue home on the Puget Sound with a plaque above the doorway that states "Elvis Presley Slept Here, May 18, 1962." The plaque speaks the truth, according to Alan Chambliss, building owner and 30-year resident. He wasn't around to witness Elvis, but tells the story like it happened yesterday. About 15 years ago, Chambliss noticed a man and woman filming his house. Wondering what the fuss was about, he asked them what they were doing. Their father, dying of cancer lived in the upstairs apartment years before and loved it so much the family wanted to document it as part of a remembrance video. While making their keepsake, the family mentioned that the dying man was Elvis Presley's army buddy and the King once spent the night in the upstairs apartment. As proof of their story, they showed Chambliss pictures of their father with the music legend.Elvis and his chum kept in touch throughout the years. In 1962, Elvis came to Seattle to film "It Happened at the World's Fair" and the friend picked him up from Sea-Tac and drove him to the house on Beach Drive. "He didn’t expect to stay the night at first," Chambliss says. Perhaps the Rock-and-Roll Legend was a sucker for water views. Chambliss let the dying man's family film the upstairs apartment. About three weeks later he received the plaque, now mounted above the doorway, along with a thank you note for being so welcoming. Tenant Bob Castonguay now rents the upstairs apartment that Elvis slept in long ago. It is a modest room with a sizable deck and glittering views of the Sound. "People always laugh when I tell them I rent the Elvis room," Castonguay says. Sunlight streams through the apartment's windows, but the air hangs heavy with the sense that something important happened there. As Castonguay puts it, "Elvis is long gone, but his spirit lives on." I saw Elvis live in concert the year before he died. Even then, he was bigger than life, and had amazing charisma. Haven't seen anything like it since...

July 28, 2016

Viva Gallivant! Thanks for these!

July 29, 2016

OMG, this review is like listening to a ten-year-old boy's blow-by-blow recap of "The Secret Lives of Pets." It is over the top. But I liked the reference to scary Richard Speck whom I have not thought about for many many years -- all those wonderful nurses gone, gone -- and the image of rouged-up Aunt Fay with her precocious nephew. Please remind us again of the first names of your parents, as they must have been indulgent, patient, wonderful people.

July 28, 2016

I remember you once scolding me for using the term "air conditioned" in reference to the JFK assassination. Now you're chuckling at a Richard Speck reference. I knew you'd eventually come around, Mon! And my folks were Esther aka Babe and Larry. God bless you for asking about them!

July 29, 2016

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