Elvis’ first movie of 1963 used to be in my top Elvis movies I would watch all the time, but has since been replaced by Roustabout. I do still like It Happened at the World’s Fair a lot though, but it is not one of my go-to’s. This was only the fourth movie filmed in Seattle. I thought about Elvis when I visited Seattle in 2011 and rode the monorail wondering if Elvis stood in the same place I was waiting to board (and when I went up in space needle in 2001 during my first visit). Those structures created for that world’s fair in 1962, still in use today, are part of an area now called Seattle Center. Technically the name of the Seattle World’s Fair was Seattle Century 21 Exposition, which is why the name of trailer park where Elvis’ character stayed in the movie was called Century 21 Estates. This is the second Elvis movie soundtrack not to have a title song.
It Happened at the World’s Fair was Elvis’ third movie directed by Norman Taurog. It was produced by Ted Richmond, and the screenplay was written by Si Rose and Seaman Jacobs (although originally it was supposed to be written by William Fay). Before becoming It Happened at the World’s Fair, earlier working titles were Mister Will You Marry Me, Take Me Out to the Fair and Take Me To The Fair. On August 28, 1962, Elvis reported for pre-production work at MGM Studios. His dressing room once belonged to Clark Gable. Elvis had to postpone his soundtrack session after only recording three songs because he had a cold. On August 31st, Elvis had his wardrobe fittings with ‘Tailor to the Stars’ Sy Devore, who had to be very careful with Elvis’ pants as he did not wear underwear during this time (as we learned in Girls! Girls! Girls!). Elvis was much more adult looking in this his 12th movie, wearing a suit most of the time. His wardrobe of 10 suits, 2 cashmere coats, 4 sports coats, 15 pairs of slacks, 30 shirts and 55 ties cost $9,300. While Elvis was working in Hollywood, he would often drop into Devore’s store near Sunset Boulevard on Vine Street and order as many as 15 suits at a time, all size regular 42.
Elvis plays a pilot named Mike Edwards in It Happened at the World’s Fair, but sings ten songs randomly throughout the movie. Elvis’ love interest was Joan O’Brien, who played Diane Warren the nurse who Elvis’ character Mike pursues. She went on to play a nurse in several other movies. Joan eventually gave up acting for a career with Hilton Hotels. Elvis’ other love interest in the movie, although just briefly in the beginning, was Yvonne Craig, who played Dorothy Johnson. Yvonne had WAY more chemistry with Elvis than Joan did, and maybe that is because Elvis and Yvonne were dating at the time. Yvonne would go on to play one of Elvis’ love interests in Kissin’ Cousins and then go on to play Batgirl in TV’s Batman series. Vicky Tiu, Elvis’ real leading lady of It Happened at the World’s Fair played Sue-Lin, the little girl Elvis’ character Mike escorts around the fair and takes care of while her uncle is missing. I always loved her and thought she was so cute and made the movie. Her sisters Ginny and Elizabeth were the cute little girls in Elvis’ previous movie Girls! Girls! Girls!. Originally Ginny was supposed to play Sue-Lin in It Happened at the World’s Fair, but she was already booked to play piano at the While House for President Kennedy so her sister Vicky stepped in for her. This was Vicky’s first and only movie, and she is my favorite of the three Tiu sisters. Eventually Vicky moved to Hawaii and became its First Lady from 1994 to 2002 while her husband was governor.
Kurt Russell played the kid who Elvis’ character asked to kick him in the shin so he would have an excuse to visit Nurse Diane. In the movie, Elvis’ character gives Kurt’s character a quarter to kick him. In real life, Kurt was hesitant to kick Elvis, so Elvis gave him $5 to kick him. Kurt was 11 years old, and Elvis was 27 during It Happened at the World’s Fair. Years later in 1979, Kurt would play Elvis in a movie called Elvis. Kurt was then 27 years old, the same age Elvis had been in when he worked with him in It Happened at the World’s Fair. Kurt says although he had a lot of research about Elvis available to him, “it was really my memory of who he was, having worked with him for a couple of weeks. His demeanor and style was what I drew from.” Kurt briefly married his Elvis costar Season Hubley, who played Priscilla in the movie. In 2001′ 3000 Miles to Graceland, Kurt’s character is disguised at Elvis when a boys runs up to him and kicks him in the shin.
Gary Lockwood played Danny Burke, Mike’s friend and partner who is the reason why they are in debt, lose their plane and go looking for work in Seattle. In 1961, Gary also played Elvis’ nemesis in Wild in the Country, which was his second movie. Gary was part of the gang who played football with Elvis at De Neve Park while Elvis was in town making movies. I got a chance to see Gary Lockwood at Elvis Week in 2007 during the Conversations on Elvis panel. Here is what I wrote about that experience,
“Gary Lockwood took the stage. I was SO excited to see Gary because he was in my second favorite (and rarely talked about) Elvis movie Wild in the Country and costarred with Elvis in It Happened at the World’s Fair. My excitement quickly waned. Gary was SO full of himself, a complete jerk I thought. He never said anything bad about Elvis, but he was bragging about all the women he had been with like Tuesday Weld and Joan Crawford’s daughter Christina. He even said Tuesday Weld looked at him and looked at Elvis and picked him – I seriously doubt it. It was the tone he used and the smirk on his face when he talked about these women. Gary was name dropping and almost competing with Tom Brown saying I was friends with Jim Morrison, and I was real good friends with Ricky Nelson too – again it was his tone. Then Gary said William Shatner was an ass and had a really mean look on his face. After this, I was quite ok that I was going home and missing the screenings of Girls Girls Girls and It Happened at the World’s Fair and Q n A and Meet and Greet with Laurel Goodwin and Gary Lockwood the next day.”
On September 4, 1962, Elvis (wearing that same hot hat he wore in Girls! Girls! Girls!) arrived in Seattle. He and his friends stayed on the 14th floor of the New Washington hotel where they would get bored because they couldn’t leave so they would play tricks on room service like removing all the furniture for the bellboy then replacing it all when the manager showed up. Filming on It Happened at the World’s Fair began on September 5th at the monorail terminal, which is still in operation today as is the Space Needle where Elvis also filmed. The World’s Fair exhibits seen in the movie were as follows: Skyride, Dream Car Exhibit, Bell Telephone Exhibit, Floating City of Tomorrow, Theme Building, Science Exhibit and the Filipino Building. The coliseum that housed the World of Tomorrow exhibit where Elvis filmed is now the Key Arena, and the Federal Science Building where Elvis filmed is now the Pacific Science Center. During filming, there were hundreds of local police as well as six Pinkerton plainclothes detectives to protect and escort Elvis through the crowds. Ten million people visited the Seattle World’s Fair between April 21 and October 21, 1962. Elvis filmed there for just ten of those days.
Along with dating Yvonne Craig, it was also reported that Elvis was dating Seattle local girl Sue Wouters during filming. The Colonel turned down an offer for Elvis to sing at the Fair for $250,000. Elvis presented two Tennessee hams to Washington Governor Albert Rosellini on behalf of Tennessee Governor Buford Ellington. That was not Elvis and Joan in the final scene leading the marching band through the fair – they were stand ins. Filming in Seattle finished on September 13, 1962 and resumed on the MGM lot in Hollywood on September 17th. Elvis was interviewed on set by Lloyd Shearer where he discussed his love of reading and studying philosophy. Elvis finished filming on November 9, 1962 and went to Las Vegas to vacation before returning to Memphis for the holidays.
The It Happened at the World’s Fair soundtrack was recorded at Radio Recorders Studios in Hollywood in September of 1962. The ten songs in the movie and on the soundtrack album were “Beyond the Bend,” “Relax,” “Take Me To The Fair,” “They Remind Me Too Much Of You,” “One Broken Heart For Sale,” “I’m Falling In Love Tonight,” “Cotton Candy Land,” “A World Of Our Own,” “How Would You Like To Be” and “Happy Ending.” Of all of those, only “One Broken Heart For Sale” (written by Otis Blackwell and Winfield Scott) was released as a single with “They Remind Me Too Much Of You” on the b side. It remained on Billboard‘s Hot 100 chart for nine weeks peaking at #11. In the movie, Elvis sings an extra verse to this song. “Happy Ending,” the movies’ closing number was written overnight by Ben Weisman who was called because he was the only songwriter living in Los Angeles at the time – and he had just moved there. The It Happened at the World’s Fair soundtrack sold around 300,000 copies. The RCA LP remained on Billboard‘s Top LPs chart for 26 weeks peaking at #4 while the stereo version of the LP remained on the Stereo LPs chart for 17 weeks peaking at #15. I have the original 1963 release Stereo 33 1/3 album. Before listening to the soundtrack (and re-watching the movie again), I couldn’t really remember any of the songs except “One Broken Heart For Sale” thinking it was a very forgettable soundtrack. But I REALLY like “Relax.”
It Happened at the World’s Fair premiered in Los Angeles on April 3, 1963 and opened nationally on April 10th. It was ranked as #55 for the year on Variety’s list of movies grossing $2.25 million for the year. It Happened at the World’s Fair was Elvis’ second film for MGM, the other was Jailhouse Rock.
**I consulted Elvis: The Elvis Files Vol 3, Elvis The Movies, The Films of Elvis Presley, Reel Elvis, Elvis Presley in the Movies, Elvis Films Faq, Elvis Elvis Elvis The King and His Movies, Elvis Presley The Hollywood Years, Elvis in Hollywood, Elvis Presley from Memphis to Hollywood, The Elvis Film Encyclopedia, The Elvis Movies, Elvis Presley in Hollywood Celluloid Sell-Out, for more information**
To read my take on all of Elvis’ movies, please click HERE.