Elvis’ 4th movie King Creole (the fan favorite and supposedly Elvis’ favorite) is not one of my favorites. I like it fine, but it is not even in my top 10 favorite Elvis movies – it is probably around my 13th favorite (out of 31). I don’t watch it that often, except when it is on tv. It is definitely not in my rotation of 11 Elvis movies I watch all the time. I honestly find it a little slow, but Elvis does look amazing in it. It is crazy that director Michael Curtiz, who also directed Casablanca, said Elvis was pudgy and asked him to lose about 10-15 pounds before filming – and to lose his sideburns. Every book I have read claims this was Elvis’ best acting and his most dramatic role, and he never matched it again. I disagree. I think Elvis was just as good, if not better, in Wild in the Country (and he was almost as good in Kid Galahad), which was an equally dramatic movie. There are 11 songs in King Creole, which is a lot for such a dramatic movie. Although Elvis did have a few comedic lines. My favorite line in King Creole is when Danny (played by Elvis) says to Ronnie (played by Carolyn Jones), “That’s a pretty piece of material. You ought to have a dress made out of it.” Then he laughs, oh that beautiful, sexy Elvis smile! One thing I just noticed (even though I’ve seen the movie many times) is what the gangster says to Danny in that first bar scene where Danny meets Ronnie – he says to Elvis’ character, “You looking for Trouble?” I had never noticed that before!
Elvis received his draft notice on December 19, 1957 after Paramount had already spent $350,000. in preparation for King Creole. As we all know, Elvis did get a sixty-day deferment to finish the movie then was inducted into the army on March 24, 1958 just two weeks after filming was completed. The screenplay for King Creole, which was almost called Danny and Sing You Sinner, was written by Herbert Baker and Mike Gazzo and was loosely based on A Stone for Danny Fisher by Harold Robbins. Among other things, they changed Danny from a boxer to a singer and the location from New York to New Orleans. Russell Harlan was the cinematographer photographing King Creole in a dark, moody lighting to capture the seedy atmosphere of the French Quarter. Elvis plays Danny Fisher who becomes a nightclub singer on Bourbon Street who gets mixed up with the mob – to put it succinctly.
Other actors who were considered for the role of Danny were Tony Curtis, Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, Paul Newman and James Dean (who was considered after the first draft of the screenplay was completed in 1955 but died a few months later). The theory is when Elvis was surrounded by a talented cast and crew, his performance and the movie was better (but isn’t that obvious?). One of Danny’s love interests was Ronnie played by Carolyn Jones, who went on to play Morticia in The Addams Family (and who was married to Aaron Spelling during King Creole). Some of the actresses who were considered for the role of Ronnie were Lizabeth Scott (from Loving You), Joanne Woodward (this would have been interesting if Paul Newman would have gotten the role of Danny), Donna Reed (I cannot see her as Ronnie – she’s too innocent), Kim Stanley (I can totally see her in this role), Gena Rowlands, Dorothy Malone, Gwen Verdon (the dancing lady?) and Gloria Grahame. Danny’s nemesis / bad guy gangster Maxie Fields was played by Walter Matthau. Some of the actors considered for the role of Maxie were Lee Marvin, Jason Robards, Edward G. Robinson and Richard Boone. Danny’s other love interest Nellie was played by Delores Hart, who also played Elvis’ love interest in his second movie Loving You. Danny’s sister Mimi was played by Jan Shepard, who was in Paradise Hawaiian Style with Elvis years later. Danny’s father was played by Dean Jagger, who played the general in White Christmas. The gang member Danny befriends the deaf-mute “Dummy” was played by Jack Grinnage, who was in Rebel Without A Cause. Danny’s boss and Mimi’s boyfriend Charlie LeGrange was played by Paul Stewart, who played the butler in Citizen Cane. Candy Candido, who played the doorman, was the voice of Popeye in the 1930s.
King Creole was filmed at Paramount Studios from January 15 to March 11 of 1958, except when they were on location for five days in New Orleans from March 2nd to March 6th – Elvis’ first on-location movie. There were several locations used in New Orleans for filming. The courtyard and exterior of 1018 Royal Street near Ursuline Street was used for Danny’s house. The exterior of McDonough 15 Elementary school at 721 St. Philip Street near Royal Street was used as Danny’s high school. The courtyard at 726 Saint Peter Street was used as Maxie’s house. There were many scenes filmed in the French Quarter on Bourbon Street near Canal Street, Cabildo Arches, Pirates Alley, Vieux Carre Saloon and St. Louis Cathedral. The scenes on the pier at the end of the movie were filmed on Lake Pontchartrain at an area known as “Little Woods” off Haynes Boulevard, but that shack is no longer there. The opening number “Crawfish” where Elvis is on the porch singing was actually filmed in the studio, not on location in New Orleans.
On January 13, 1958, Elvis took the train to New Orleans with his cousin Gene Smith and his friends Alan Fortas, Cliff Geaves and Ken Moore. They stayed on the top floor of the Roosevelt Hotel. Elvis had to take the elevator up in the building next door, cross the roof and use the fire escape to his room to avoid the swarm of fans. But even inside the hotel was a problem. Girls were hiding in closets, in elevator shafts, behind chairs in the lobby, in bathrooms and in other actors’ rooms. There were hundreds, if not more, of screaming fans in the school yard during filming. In the scene on the street when the gang grabs Danny, a male fan ran up to Elvis while they were shooting and asked for his autograph. Elvis wanted to try some of New Orleans’ famous cuisine at the legendary Antoine’s, but they could not guarantee crowd control so Elvis ordered room service for his five nights in New Orleans.
There are always scenes that don’t make the final cut. One such scene for King Creole was the hotel scene, when Danny takes Nellie to the hotel for the ‘party.’ In the final version, the two stay in the hallway and never actually go into the room, but that is not how it was originally filmed. The original script had Danny and Nellie inside the hotel room where Nellie partially unzips her dress. Other scenes, like ones with Mimi and Charlie, were deleted just so they could add more songs into the movie. Elvis almost fell off the bar while filming “Trouble.” During the fight scene with Danny and the gang, Elvis really did get cut in the left arm by the knife. During the fight scene between Danny and Maxie, Walter Matthau broke a chair over Elvis’ head then picked up the broken chair leg and hit Elvis across the back with it and Elvis threw up as it was just after lunch – that was one scene they could not use.
While filming, Elvis of course asked Jack Grinnage a lot about James Dean and how we was on set. Grinnage wore the same jacket in King Creole that he had worn in Rebel Without a Cause, but it got ruined in the final scene when he and Matthau fell off the pier into the water. Scotty Moore, Bill Black, DJ Fontana again joined Elvis in the movie playing his back up band. In one scene, Scotty is wearing Elvis’ shirt. The Imperials were also in King Creole. Gordon Stoker said in between scenes they would sing spirituals with Elvis. While filming, Elvis met Sophia Loren – they look quite cozy in these photos.
Elvis used to give Jan Shepard little trinkets from the Five and Dime set. She said they got real close (like a brother and sister) because it was just the two of them the first week of filming. Elvis was eating lunch with Jan sitting at the table next to Marlon Brando at the commissary, and their chairs were back to back. Jan told Elvis to slightly hit his chair against Marlon’s when he got up, so he could meet him. And that’s exactly what happened. They said hello and shook hands, and Elvis couldn’t have been more excited! On February 22, 1958, Delores Hart threw a Surprise Birthday Party for Jan Shepard and invited everyone including Elvis, never thinking he would attend but he did carrying a huge stuffed Tiger named Danny Boy and movie camera as gifts for Jan. Elvis even played the piano during the party, with Delores on clarinet. Elvis asked Delores out on a date, but she declined saying she wanted to keep their relationship professional and adding it would have created quite the ‘buzz.’
On July 2, 1958, King Creole premiered at Lowe’s State Theater in New York City. It appeared on Variety‘s box-office survey for four weeks peaking at #5. King Creole received the best reviews of Elvis’ first four movies, everyone agreeing (although a bit begrudgingly) that Elvis can in fact act. It was an artistic triumph, but not a commercial success. King Creole made $2.64 million in ticket sales at the end of its nationwide run, which was a disappointment compared to Elvis’ first three movies (Love Me Tender $9.24M, Loving You $8.14M and Jailhouse Rock $8.58M).
King Creole really does have a great soundtrack! Of its 11 songs, “Don’t Ask Me Why,” “Young Dreams” and “Trouble” are my my favorites. The others making up the soundtrack are “King Creole,” “As Long as I Have You,” “Hard Headed Woman” (which only the end was included in the movie because they couldn’t get the rights), “Dixieland Rock,” “Lover Doll,” “Crawfish,” “Steadfast, Loyal and True” and “New Orleans.” I have the original 1958 7-inch 45 rpm and the 1962 12-inch 33 1/3 rpm release. The songs were recorded January 15th, 16th and 23rd at Radio Recorders in Hollywood and on February 11th on the Paramount Sound Stage in Hollywood. “Hard Headed Woman” debuted on Billboard‘s Top 100 chart at #15 in June 1958, and a week later made its way to #3. It was the first of Elvis’ songs to receive the Gold Disc Award from the Recording Industry Association of America. “Steadfast, Loyal and True,” written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller (who also wrote “Trouble” and “King Creole”), went on to become the official song of the International Elvis Presley Appreciation Society. Tired of dealing with the Colonel, Leiber and Stoller never wrote another song for Elvis after King Creole.
**I consulted Elvis: Frame by Frame, The Elvis Files Vol 2, Elvis The Movies, Reel Elvis, Elvis Presley in the Movies, Elvis Films Faq, Elvis Elvis Elvis The King and His Movies for more information**
To read my take on all of Elvis’ movies, please click HERE.