From 1969 through 1975, the Las Vegas Strip belonged to Elvis Presley. Breaking records, drawing massive crowds, and receiving rave reviews, Presley reigned supreme. But it wasn’t always like that. In 1956, a young and rising rock ‘n’ roll star named Elvis Presley performed a two-week stint at the New Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas. Although it was not a roaring success at the time, this early Vegas engagement played a significant role in shaping Elvis’s career.
A Promising but Challenging Start
At just 21 years old, Elvis faced the Vegas audiences, a mix of veteran Vegas acts and curious onlookers. The young newcomer, promoted as an “extra added attraction” and “the atomic powered singer,” was clearly different from the typical Vegas performers of that era. Drummer D. J. Fontana later admitted that the Vegas audience wasn’t quite ready for Elvis’s style. Despite giving it their all, the enthusiastic and charismatic Elvis failed to win over the Vegas crowd.
Elvis’s Unique Appeal
In an effort to prepare the Vegas patrons for Elvis’s act, the New Frontier Hotel’s publicity director, Bud Lilly, tried his best to describe the enigmatic young star. Elvis was a phenomenon, capable of arousing mass hysteria wherever he went, yet remaining unassuming and completely untouched by his overnight success. Lilly compared Elvis to other popular singers but insisted that Elvis was a unique talent, doing what came naturally to him.
A Struggle for Acceptance
Elvis’s first night at the New Frontier’s Venus Room faced some challenges. Despite being given the coveted closing spot on the bill, Elvis appeared minuscule compared to the previous performers. The Vegas audience, consisting of jaded adults, responded with tepid applause. Showbiz columnists tried to soften the blow, acknowledging Elvis’s potential appeal to teenagers but hinting at a lack of connection with the adult audience.
The official review by Bill Willard in the Las Vegas Sun did not hold back. Willard criticized Elvis’s act, referring to it as overbearing and uncouth. However, another reviewer, Robert Johnson, had a more charitable attitude toward Elvis. Even though Johnson acknowledged that Elvis didn’t quite fit the Vegas mold, he noted that Elvis began to win over the showroom crowds as the engagement progressed.
Elvis’s Lasting Impact
Despite the initial challenges, Elvis’s Vegas engagement in 1956 marked the beginning of his iconic Vegas journey. Although he may not have wowed the Venus Room audience, Elvis remained the center of attention in Las Vegas. His popularity continued to grow, captivating both teenagers and curious onlookers. Elvis’s future success in Las Vegas was already set in motion.
A Glimpse into Elvis’s World
Elvis’s time in Las Vegas wasn’t just about the performances. A photo captured Elvis and his band lounging around the hotel pool, showcasing a watch Elvis had admired on Frank Williams, co-owner of the New Frontier Hotel. Williams, impressed by Elvis, gifted the watch to him. Elvis’s Vegas engagement also included a special matinee performance that drew a raucous reaction from the teenage audience.
Elvis Leaves a Lasting Impression
Elvis’s two-week stay in Las Vegas came to an end, and he expressed his eagerness to return home. As he reflected on his rapidly rising career, Elvis’s name echoed through the hotel’s public address system. Despite the challenges and high expectations, Elvis maintained his humility and intensity, always reaching for the stars.
Remembering Elvis’s 1956 performance at the New Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas allows us to glimpse the early days of his legendary career. It’s a testament to his resilience and determination, paving the way for his future triumphs on the Las Vegas Strip.