LOVE ME TENDER – Elvis Presley's First Film Role (Part 9)

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Don’t kill Elvis…

The song “Love Me Tender” became such a hit that over the next years various myths and legends began to grow around it. Not always entirely true.

One such story, very often reproduced in various sources (also in Poland), is the one about changing the title of Elvis Presley’s first film from “The Reno Brothers” to “Love Me Tender”.

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Many authors claim in their studies that the producers of 20th Century Fox made the above decision as a result of the stunning success of the title song (or the single on which it was released, because such a translation can also be found). And surely, taking into account the facts and statistics cited earlier, such an explanation would be fully justified. Only that if we carefully look at the chronology of events, the above theory ceases to be so obvious.

Well, 20th Century Fox informed the public about its decision at the beginning of September, and more specifically, on September 2, 1956. The very next day, however, the title “Love Me Tender”, and not “The Reno Brothers”, began to function in the American press. One of the first authors to write about a Presley film in this way was Thomas M. Pryor of The New York Times (the journalist used the new title in his September 3, 1956 article, “Wald makes ‘The Hard Hats’; producer plans a third film for Fox, and a TV announcer signs an acting contract outside prison walls”).

At that time, however, no one except for Elvis, a few musicians taking part in the recording session, people from the production of the film or a few employees of the RCA Victor record company had the opportunity to listen to the title track (recorded on August 24).

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“Love Me Tender” was first publicly presented by Elvis only a week later, on September 9, on the Ed Sullivan show. And it wasn’t until after the episode aired to a record-breaking sixty million viewers (meaning the show had a viewership rating of 82.6%) that the song began to enjoy unprecedented popularity, which eventually led to the massive success of the single (produced by RCA 28 September) on which it was released.

So what actually prompted 20 th Century Fox to change the title of their new movie? It seems that this question was best answered by Alan Hanson, the author of the books “Elvis. The Movies” and “Elvis ’57: The Final Fifties Tours”, writing in one of their articles: ” When RCA Victor chose one of four songs, ‘Love Me Tender’, for Elvis’ next single, Fox – believing it would be as popular as his earlier records* 1 , he decided to capitalize on this and gave Presley’s film the same title as the song “.

Less than a month after the announcement of the above changes, on September 21, the shooting of the film “Love Me Tender” officially ended.

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The next day, Presley returned home to Memphis, from where, just four days later, he traveled to Tupelo to play two concerts at the annual Mississippi-Alabama Fair And Dairy Show. The same one, during which, as a yet unknown ten-year-old, he performed an acapella version of the ballad “Old Sheep”.

Around the same time that crowds of Tupelo residents took to the streets to greet Presley’s return to his hometown in a jubilant procession, work on editing the first film with his participation began in Hollywood.

“Love Me Tender” was edited by Hugh S. Fowler, an experienced editor, associated with 20th Century Fox for years , who had already worked on such classics as “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” (he was responsible for the scene with the song “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend”) and “The Straw Widower” (he worked on the legendary scene in which Marilyn Monroe’s white dress flutters above the subway grate).

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According to the initial assumptions, the action of the film was to follow the literary prototype. This also applied to the ending of the picture, in which the youngest of the Reno brothers dies during the shootout.

However, when on October 1, 1956, the finished film was presented to the audience at a special pre-premiere screening, it turned out that these plans would have to be modified very quickly.

The reason turned out to be the unprecedented reaction of the audience. Most of the young people present in the audience that day simply fell into hysterics. At the moment when the fatal shot was fired on the screen, the people in the room initially froze and then started screaming and crying loudly.

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Not wanting to risk similar behavior in the future, the producers decided to change the emotional ending. Its final shape, however, became the subject of fierce discussions, as was mentioned by Hollywood correspondent Harold Heffernan in his account. ” Whether Elvis Presley would stay alive at the end of his first movie, Love Me Tender, or die violently in the original script, was such a big concern for 20th Century Fox box office experts that a vote almost the entire board had to be summoned .”

Interestingly, Heffernan’s text quoted above shows that the creators of the film originally assumed a completely different solution than the one we know from its official version. It assumed that Presley would be shown in it ” rising from the grave, walking with a guitar in his hand towards the sky and singing the theme song – ‘Love Me Tender’ “.

In the end, however, a compromise solution was chosen (by definitively abandoning the previously shot scene in which Elvis does not die). Clint Reno, played by Elvis, will die in the final minutes of the film, but to reassure his fans, he will return to the screen in its final scene.

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1* Sales of singles released just a few months earlier with such songs as “Heartbreak Hotel”, “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You” or “Hound Dog” oscillated around one million copies

Information provided by EP Promised Land (Poland), Marius Ogieglo

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