Elvis Presley Jailhouse Rock

JAILHOUSE ROCK – behind the scenes of Elvis Presley’s third movie (Part 11)

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behind the scenes of Elvis Presley’s third movie (Part 11)

By Mariusz Ogieg?o

A few days later, when the preliminary arrangements were completed, Elvis and the rest of the cast moved from the rehearsal room to the film set, where on Monday, May 13, 1957, the shooting of “Jailhouse Rock” officially began.

Elvis Presley Jailhouse Rock

Several weeks of work on the new production began with filming an extensive music scene with the subsequent title track. The same one that Elvis and Alex Romero had been practicing and discussing so intensely just a few days earlier.

The script assumed that Presley (actually, Vince Everett, who was portrayed by him) would perform Leiber and Stoller‘s composition in a television program. In a set design resembling a prison corridor and surrounded by inmates dressed in prison uniforms.

Ladies and Gentlemen, some time ago I spent a sort of vacation with a group of people in a large resort outside the city ,” the film’s Vince Everett was said to have said when announcing the song. “ When I was there – with these people, who you could say were also guests there, we met, rode a bit and sang and always had a good time. However, we had the most fun with this one song – ‘Jailhouse Rock’ .

After saying these words, Elvis disappeared behind the curtain and a moment later appeared to the audience again – this time as one of sixteen prisoners who danced to freedom to the sound of music.

A group of fifteen professional dancers was engaged on stage. Interestingly, some of them, like Frank Magrin, were not Presley supporters at all. In fact, they probably didn’t even fully realize who he was…

Recalling his first meeting with Presley in the book “Down At The Lonely Street“, Magrin admitted that he was rather unenthusiastic about it. Despite this, he had the impression that Elvis did everything in his power to make the atmosphere really friendly. As proof of this, the dancer cited a short exchange of words that took place between him and the famous singer.

” I don’t know what I’m doing here. ” I can’t even dance ,” Elvis reportedly said at one point.

And do you sing? “, Magrin blurted out to him.

Ah, you’re a Pat Boone fan, right? “, Elvis replied, smiling indulgently.

The entire sequence, as well as most of the scenes in the new MGM production, were filmed at studios in Culver City. On a set closed to curious and uninvolved viewers, with only a handful of people from the production present. Including the director, Richard Thorpe, who in many cases guaranteed the quick completion of filming (including because, as his collaborators recalled, he was able to complete individual scenes after one or two attempts).

As long as the work on set went smoothly and, as in this case, there were no unexpected complications.

So what went wrong? Well, Alex Romero’s idea assumed that after singing a few lines of his new hit, Elvis would slide down a fireman’s pole to the floor. The problem is that Presley admitted before the recording that he was afraid of heights and couldn’t play it well.

He tried. Despite this, the effect was, to put it mildly, unsatisfying and the shots had to be repeated over and over again.

Also the next day. And it was during one of such attempts, on May 14, that an unfortunate but very dangerous accident occurred…

While sliding down the pole, Elvis broke off a porcelain crown from his tooth and swallowed it. The cap accidentally got stuck in his lung and immediate hospitalization was necessary (the doctor called to the set was unable to help him).

On May 15, Elvis was transported to Cedars of Lebanon Hospital (now Cedars-Sinai Medical Center) – one of the most renowned hospitals in Los Angeles, where the object threatening his health was removed using a bronchoscope.

In this way, the ” voice worth millions of dollars ” was saved, but work on the film had to be interrupted for the next five days. Elvis returned to the cameras only on May 20.

After resuming filming, we finally managed to finish the scene with the song “Jailhouse Rock” and start implementing the next points of the script. From then on, the pace of work was extremely fast. Richard Thorpe rushed to shoot as if he were trying to make up for all the time lost to Presley’s treatment and recovery in a matter of weeks.

For example, the scene with the song “(You’re So Square) Baby I Don’t Care” was shot in a much shorter time (it was shot on June 13), on a much smaller scale and… using much less financial resources. “ We only had our Hawaiian shirts in it ,” remembered Jerry Leiber in a conversation with Ken Sharp, author of the book “Writing For The King.” “ It was the only outfit the studio provided us. The rest was our own clothes. They really saved money on clothes. The studio and Tom Parker were going to make a fortune on this movie, so they figured, ‘Why waste money on costumes?‘ “.

Almost all key plot scenes were shot in Hollywood. Without leaving the studio. One of the few exceptions were photos of the prison where the main character served his sentence.

These, and more specifically – photos showing the building from the outside (the scenes inside the prison were already shot in Culver City), were shot in the North Carolina State Prison (near Raleigh).

The use of the above materials in the finished film caused considerable indignation of the then director of the facility, WF Bailey.

In an interview given to Variety magazine shortly after the film’s premiere in November 1957, Bailey assured journalists that the MGM team operated without any agreement with him and without appropriate permits.

The chief’s greatest concern, however, was not so much the fact that “Jailhouse Rock” showed the building itself, but rather the life behind its walls. Even though it was complete fiction, Bailey was afraid that some viewers would identify some of the events shown on screen – including, for example, the use of corporal punishment against prisoners – with the real functioning of the facility.

What’s more interesting, according to Alan Hanson, author of the book “Elvis ’57. The Final Fifties Tours“, the footage showing the prison did not have to be filmed specifically for “Jailhouse Rock“. In his opinion, MGM could have used… cutouts from its earlier production, the drama “Carabine Williams” from 1952 (also directed by Richard Thorpe).

Jailhouse Rock” aroused great emotions from the very beginning, and information from the film set leaked to the press from time to time caused an unprecedented stir both among high-ranking people, such as the above-mentioned director Bailey, and among legions of Presley fans.

The latter, for example, raised a huge uproar when they learned that their idol would play a prisoner whose hair would be cut off after breaking through the prison walls. Not wanting to let this happen, they literally flooded MGM’s offices with letters begging them to spare their favorite singer’s distinctive hairstyle.

Elvis Presley Jailhouse Rock

Of course, it is worth emphasizing here that none of the film crew even intended to attack Elvis’s famous hair, and a special wig was simply used for the scenes in which he appears with his head shaved almost to nothing.

Work on the film “Jailhouse Rock” lasted until the second half of June 1957. During this short time, Elvis was involved not only in playing his character but also… in judging a beauty contest, in which the main prize was a small role in a newly created picture* 1 .

Ultimately, the final scenes for the third Elvis film (and the first for MGM) were shot on June 14, 1957. Three days later, on Monday, June 17, the official end of filming was announced.

*1 The event took place in May 1957. According to the authors of the book “The Making Of Jailhouse Rock“, it was very popular and attracted dozens of girls, of whom Presley selected four to the final: Linda Williams, Toni DiClementy, Yvette Mimieux and Darlene Owens. The winner was Linda Ownes, who was credited in the film’s end credits as “the girl in the swimsuit.”


Information provided by EP Promised Land (Poland), Mariusz Ogieg?o http://www.elvispromisedland.pl/

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