Elvis Presley’s fourth movie, “King Creole,” is widely regarded as his best theatrical film. At just 23 years old, Elvis received rave reviews for his dramatic acting, setting the stage for his future ambitions as a skilled actor. Delve into the behind-the-scenes story of this iconic movie and discover how Elvis, his co-stars, and the dedicated crew collaborated to create a film that showcases Presley’s unique talents.
Hollywood Debut and Key Contributors
Elvis arrived in Hollywood on January 13, 1958, a week before principal photography commenced for “King Creole.” The filming took place at the Paramount Studio lot in Hollywood until the end of February. The renowned producer Hal Wallis chose Michael Curtiz as the director for the film. Curtiz, having worked with Wallis on numerous Warner Brothers films, joined forces with him at Paramount for the first time. Other significant contributors included choreographer Charlie O’Curran and cameraman Russell Harlan. The talented writers Herbert Baker and Michael V. Gazzo received critical acclaim for adapting Harold Robbins’ novel “A Stone for Danny Fisher” into an engaging and moving screenplay.
Unforgettable Moments on Set
During the filming in Hollywood, some unforgettable moments took place. On February 22, just two days into shooting, actress Dolores Hart organized a birthday party for her co-star Jan Shepard. Elvis surprised everyone by attending the party with two gifts for Jan—a stuffed tiger and a movie camera, which they used to film home movies during the celebration. Jan Shepard later shared her memories of Elvis on set, highlighting his fun-loving nature and love for music.
Casting Choices and Impressive Performances
The casting of “King Creole” included some notable actors who left a lasting impact. Carolyn Jones, renowned for her previous nomination as best supporting actress, chose to work alongside Elvis in the film, despite facing criticism. She defended her decision, emphasizing the brilliance of the role and the immense draw of an Elvis Presley picture. Lilianne Montevecchi, initially skeptical of Elvis, eventually changed her opinion after meeting him personally. She recognized his genuine and sweet nature.
Walter Matthau, an accomplished actor, played the role of the villainous crime boss, Maxie Fields. Elvis, eager to improve his acting skills, approached Matthau and asked for his guidance. Matthau happily obliged and was amused by director Mike Curtiz’s playful advice to “act less.” Dolores Hart also spoke highly of Matthau, praising his kindness and generosity on set.
A Memorable Experience in New Orleans
After the Hollywood shoot, the cast and crew relocated to New Orleans for location filming. However, their plans to keep the crowds under control were thwarted when the mayor declared an “Elvis Presley Day.” Enormous crowds flocked to the French Quarter, making it challenging for the crew to move freely. Dolores Hart vividly recalled the intense fan frenzy, with fans desperate to touch Elvis. Despite the difficulties, the filming continued, and two days of shooting were lost due to unexpected rainfall.
Candid Insights and Memorable Encounters
Elvis’s charisma extended beyond the set and into the lives of his co-stars. Carolyn Jones experienced an influx of letters from fans asking about Elvis’s kissing skills. She responded, explaining the intricacies of on-screen kissing and praising Elvis’s professionalism. Walter Matthau, in his first meeting with Elvis, found him humble and open to learning. Director Mike Curtiz expressed his confidence in Elvis’s abilities, viewing the film as an opportunity for him to showcase his acting range beyond being just a rock ‘n’ roll singer.
Farewell and Legacy
The production of “King Creole” concluded in New Orleans on March 11. A surprise going-away party was organized for Elvis the following day, where he received a prop civil war musket as a farewell gift. Actors like Dolores Hart, Michael Curtiz, and other industry figures celebrated Elvis’s achievements. The film was released nationwide in July, becoming a success with audiences. Elvis, after completing his military training, watched the film with his parents in Memphis before his official induction into the army.
“King Creole” provided an unforgettable experience for the entire cast and crew. The film allowed Elvis to showcase his acting skills and challenged the audience’s perception of him as solely a rock ‘n’ roll singer. Even years later, the memories of working with Elvis on “King Creole” remained cherished for those involved.
Read Alan Hanson’s Review of “King Creole”