Elvis Presley’s time in the army is well-known, but there is a lesser-known period in his adult life that the American public has yet to fully explore: the 18 months he spent in Germany. This period is shrouded in mystery for two main reasons. First, the army completely removed Elvis from the show business scene. No movies, no personal appearances, and no television. As a result, Elvis essentially vanished from the public eye. Second, the military implemented a policy to shield the high-profile draftee from the press, creating a considerable barrier for reporters who sought to interview Elvis.
A Disappearing Act
Elvis’s army journey began on March 24, 1958, with an expected discharge date of March 24, 1960 (though he was discharged 19 days earlier). The darkest days of press coverage occurred during the middle of his army service. The initial fanfare of his induction had long faded, and anticipation for his return to civilian life had yet to build. During this ambiguous period, rumors swirled that Elvis’s star had faded, reaching its peak.
Elvis himself harbored doubts, stating in March 1959, “I have no way of telling if my fame is fading. I stay homesick all the time. I’d give my neck to be back. You just don’t know. I hope the folks back home haven’t forgotten me.”
A Glimpse Behind the Scenes
Hazel Guild, a journalist who filed her story from Germany on March 24, 1959 (the official halfway mark of Elvis’s army stint), offered valuable insights into Elvis’s current situation. She explained how the army treated Elvis as just one of the boys at Ray Kasern, with strict orders not to give him any special treatment or publicity. Despite this, Elvis received around 100 calls per week for interviews, TV appearances, and photo shoots. He dedicated one night each week to fulfill the major requests, resulting in constant coverage in German, French, and English newspapers.
A Hidden Superstar
While the military kept the press at bay, Elvis maintained a standout public relations image. Living with his father, grandmother, and a male aide in a luxurious rented house in Bad Nauheim, Elvis’s every move attracted attention from the local German press. Whether he was attending an ice show, observing a film shoot in Munich, or driving around in his new snow-white supercharged BMW, Elvis was never far from the public eye. His car, parked on the street due to the lack of a garage, would be covered in lipsticked notes, phone numbers, and the names of local female fans every morning.
Rumors and Reality
The wire services went into a frenzy when a false report circulated that Elvis had died in an auto accident. While UPI, AP, Reuters, and France Press denied the rumors from around the world, an angry UPI official believed the rumor stemmed from someone seeking publicity for a book on Elvis. In reality, the rumor originated from a minor auto accident involving Elvis’s father and secretary on the Autobahn.
A Normal Soldier’s Life
Despite the press’s efforts to get to him, Elvis was living a relatively normal soldier’s life in Germany during the midpoint of his military service. He would wake up at 5:45 a.m. to be at the barracks by 7 a.m., sharing a carpool with fellow soldiers from Bad Nauheim. His days were filled with classroom studies, map-reading, compass work, and practical training in the field. On Friday nights, Elvis participated in the GI party, assisting in cleaning latrines and barracks until 10 p.m. to prepare for the Saturday inspection.
The Great Leveler
Elvis expected to face teasing and harassment from his fellow soldiers, but he found that they treated him with understanding and camaraderie. “When I came in the army, I was expecting a lot of kidding and so-called harassment from the other boys,” Elvis explained. “But it was just the opposite. When the fellows found out I was doing the same things they were—on guard detail, road marches, KP (kitchen patrol)—they figured we’re all alike.”
A Forgotten King?
Even in the midst of his mundane army life, there was evidence that Elvis had not been forgotten back home. As of March 24, 1959, the midpoint of his military service, orders for his latest RCA Victor release, “A Fool Such As I” coupled with “I Need Your Love Tonight,” had exceeded 1,000,000 copies. This marked his 20th consecutive gold record. Elvis may have been out of sight, but he was undoubtedly not forgotten.
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Article adapted from Alan Hanson’s work | © July 2010