GI Blues 1960 – Elvis’ 5th Movie
GI Blues was Elvis’ first movie after coming out of the army and his first musical comedy. I like it fine, but it is not one of my favorites, it is not in my rotation of 11 Elvis movies I watch all the time. I am not sure why it is not one of my favorites, maybe because of that annoying crying baby scene or the “Wooden Heart” puppet scene (I cannot stand that song!) or that I really don’t love Juliet Prowse as Elvis’ leading lady or her two too long solo dance numbers. My favorite scene is probably the first nightclub scene and Elvis’ character Tulsa’s first interaction with a woman. He bites his lower lip while giving his sexy smile and says, “Keep your motor runnin’ honey,” kisses her and then makes this moaning sound. SIGH! I really like the GI Blues soundtrack – so many catchy songs. I can definitely see why it did so well. Besides my original 1960 issue 33 1/3 rpm GI Blues album, I actually have one piece of GI Blues memorabilia. It is one of those photo on wood art that I got free when I bought another one – tacky I know, but I love tacky!
After a two year absence from the public while he was in the army, fans were clamoring to see Elvis. Movies would be their only way to see Elvis for the next eight years. And teens were not the only Elvis fans now. His service in the army and the loss of his mother endeared Elvis to a whole new audience of adults. His performance on the Frank Sinatra show just after his release from the army solidified Elvis’ new squeaky clean image making him one of the most bankable stars in Hollywood who appealed to all generations of moviegoers. No longer was Elvis the chip-on-his-shoulder brooding character as in his first four movies, which were musical dramas. In this his first musical comedy GI Blues, Elvis’ character is more mature, more likeable and has a more conservative singing style. As a result, Elvis had a new family-friendly image that was going to pay off in a big way as far as making money (Elvis was paid $200,00. plus $50,000 for expenses for GI Blues) but unfortunately at the same time this would squelch Elvis’ creative juices. GI Blues became the prototype (solidified with the success of Blues Hawaii after the box office failure of the dramatic Flaming Star and Wild in the Country) for other Elvis musical comedies where the beautiful hero wooed beautiful women in beautiful locations while singing enough songs to sell an album, which was really the whole point of making the movies. As the decade progressed, the quality of these “Elvis Travelogues” declined.
Originally titled Christmas in Berlin then Cafe Europa, GI Blues was produced by Hal Wallis. Although Elvis requested Michael Curtiz (from King Creole but he was unavailable), GI Blues was directed by Norman Taurog, who went on to direct eight more Elvis movies including Blue Hawaii, Girls Girls Girls, It Happened at the World’s Fair, Tickle Me, Spinout, Double Trouble, Speedway and Live a Little, Love a Little. The screenplay was written by Edmund Beloin and Henry Garson, who were nominated for a Writers Guild Award as Best-Written American Musical for GI Blues. Christmas in Berlin was a story about a GI named Memphis stationed in West Berlin dreaming of opening a night club in Brooklyn and that turned into GI Blues about a GI named Tulsa stationed in Frankfurt dreaming of opening a night club in Oklahoma. It has the age old romantic plot where the hero (Elvis’ character Tulsa) bets his buddies he can win over a frosty beauty (Juliet Prowse’s Lili).
Juliet Prowse was not the first choice for Lili, Tulsa’s love interest. German actress Vera Tschechova, who had been dating Elvis, was originally considered for the role. Juliet Prowse was engaged to Frank Sinatra at the time of filming GI Blues, but that didn’t stop her from having an affair with Elvis. (Wouldn’t stop me either btw – just sayin.) Prowse was supposed to return to play Elvis’ love interest in Blue Hawaii, but Hal Wallis did not like her high salary demand or her insistence on her own makeup man and and her own secretary. Prowse did show up years later on the documentary That’s the Way It Is as one of the celebrities attending Elvis’ Vegas performance. James Douglas, who played Tulsa’s buddy Rick (the father of the baby) also played Grant Coleman on my favorite As the World Turns. Jeremy Slate, who played Turk who makes the bet with Tulsa, also played Elvis’ nemesis in Girls Girls Girls – he’s the blonde one. Bobby Darin, Gary Crosby (Bing’s son and who also years later costars with Elvis in my favorite Girl Happy), Joey Bishop (part of Frank Sinatra’s Rat Pack), Darryl Hickman (of Dobie Gillis fame), Johnny Carson and Jackie Cooper were among those considered for the role of Cookie which ultimately went to Robert Ivers. Elvis was so taken with one of the extras, Miss Austria 1957 Hannerl Melcher, that he invited her and her roommate to spend Christmas with him and his family at Graceland.
All of Elvis’ scenes in GI Blues were filmed on the Paramount lot in Hollywood, but background filming actually started in Germany in August 1959 weeks before Elvis was released from the army. During that time, Hal Wallis met with Elvis. During the three weeks in Germany, Wallis oversaw the background filming in Frankfurt, Wiesbaden and Idstein on the Rhine River. Fellow Mississippian Tom Creel served as Elvis’ stand-in for the long shots. The army provided tanks from Elvis’ (and Tulsa’s) Third Armored Division. Just six weeks after being release from the Army Elvis, along with cousin Gene Smith and friends Joe Esposito, Lamar Fike, Sonny West and Charlie Hodge, left for Hollywood by train on April 18, 1960. They arrived April 20th for preproduction of GI Blues, which included Elvis getting an army haircut. Elvis and his entourage stayed at the Beverly Wiltshire Hotel.
Filming for GI Blues took place from April 29 to June 25, 1960. During the shower scene, wooded blocks were used in place of soap during the long shots. Scotty Moore and DJ Fontana can once again be seen playing with the band backing up Elvis’ character in the first nightclub scene. During this time in Hollywood, Elvis saw many great acts including Sammy Davis Jr and one of my favorites Bobby Darin. Elvis attended Dean Martin’s birthday party on the Paramount lot. During the course of filming, many dignitaries including two Scandinavian Princesses, visited Elvis on the set.
The Paramount Commissary was transformed into the Cafe Europa for the industry preview of GI Blues complete with a German orchestra, beer and brown bread. Famed gossip columnist Hedda Hopper said, “she had never seen Elvis … but thought he was fantastic and so was the movie.” There was a sneak preview of GI Blues at the Majestic Theater in Dallas on August 18, 1960. On October 23, 1960, a month before its release, Paramount allowed military camp theaters to begin showing GI Blues as a thank you for their cooperation in the making of the movie. On November 4, 1960, GI Blues opened in New York at the Victoria Theater. As a benefit for the Hemophilia Foundation, a special showing of GI Blues was held at the Fox Wilshire Theater on November 15, 1960 with Ronald Reagan, Cesar Romera and Juliet Prowse in attendance. GI Blues opened nationally on November 23, 1960 ranking #2 on Variety‘s chart and by the end of the year ranked #14 on Variety‘s list of top-grossing movies of 1960 earning $4.3 million, the 6th highest grossing US film of 1960. GI Blues was the reason why Elvis could not film Fun in Acapulco in Mexico a few years later. A riot broke out at a screening of GI Blues in Mexico City destroying the Americas Theatre and as a result the Mexican government banned all Elvis movies.
My favorites off the GI Blues soundtrack are “Pocketful of Rainbows,” “Doin the Best I Can,” “What’s She Really Like,” and “Frankfurt Special” is REALLY catchy. Besides my original 1960 issue 33 1/3 rpm GI Blues album, I also have the FTD release of Cafe Europa GI Blues Vol 2, the double album of the GI Blues sessions. With Scotty Moore, DJ Fontana, the Jordanaires (among others), Elvis recorded the soundtrack at RCA Studios in Hollywood on April 27, 28 and May 6, 1960. The soundtrack spent 10 weeks at #1 on Billboard pop chart in 1960, remaining on the chart for 111 weeks and earned a Grammy nomination for Best Soundtrack Album. Included is a different version of “Blue Suede Shoes,” which in the movie is played on the jukebox selected by a patron who “wants to hear the original” rather than the live music by Tulsa and his band. A very clever in-joke. The other songs rounding out the soundtrack are “GI Blues,” “Tonight is So Right for Love,” “Didya Ever,” “Shoppin’ Around” (I just love Elvis’ sexy subtle little laugh at the end), “Big Boots,” and my absolute least favorite Elvis song of all time “Wooden Heart” (and I’m German!). Leiber and Stoller presented two songs, “Dog Face” and “Tulsa’s Blues,” for the soundtrack, which were rejected by Colonel Parker most likely because he saw them as a threat to his control over Elvis as they ‘stirred up funny ideas in Elvis.’
**I consulted Elvis: The Elvis Files Vol 3, 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.
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