Kissin’ Cousins was Elvis’ 14th released movie, but it was his 15th movie made. Elvis’ 15th released movie was Viva Las Vegas, which was made before Kissin’ Cousins, but Kissin’ Cousins was released before Viva Las Vegas. (Although they were released in order in the UK.) Kissin’ Cousins is known as one of Elvis’ worst movies. I have only watched it about five times in my life, but after viewing it this time, I actually enjoyed Kissin’ Cousins. Yes it is dumb and cheesy, but like Cynthia Pepper writes “it’s not art, but it is entertaining.” To me, Kissin’ Cousins is bad like Tickle Me and Speedway, but not terrible like Harum Scarum and Double Trouble. (I have always thought Kissin’ Cousins should have been called Double Trouble.) An Elvis movie is like pizza, even when it’s bad it’s good. Kissin’ Cousins was a watershed movie in Elvis’ movie career in that it signaled a change in how Elvis’ movies were made when the Colonel learned he could make a lot of money with a quickly filmed, low budgeted movie as Kissin’ Cousins was one of Elvis’ most profitable movies. This just goes to show you just because something makes money does not means it is good, which is what I have been saying about music for years!
Kissin’ Cousins had a low budget of $800,000., compared with Blue Hawaii‘s $4 million. The Colonel was upset that Viva Las Vegas had gone way over budget, so he needed to do a cheap quick movie. Sam Katzman, ‘King of the Quickies,’ was chosen as the Prodcuer as he was known for churning out low budget movies on short schedules. He also produced Elvis’ Harum Scarum and 230 other movies. Filming for Kissin’ Cousins was completed in 18 days in late October and early November of 1964 in Big Bear and at MGM Studios. Elvis and the crew stayed at Cedar Lake Lodge while filming on location in Big Bear in the San Bernadino Mountains of California. Gene Nelson directed Kissin’ Cousins and also wrote its screenplay with Gerald Drayson Adams. Nelson also directed Elvis’ Harum Scarum, which with Kissin’ Cousins are two of Elvis’ most ridiculed movies. Elvis, who doesn’t appear until four minutes into the movie, plays dual roles as cousins Josh Morgan, a dark-haired army officer, and Jodie Tatum, a blond mountain man. Elvis was fitted for a blond wig, which he hated. Josh is sent to the Smokey Mountains to get his cousins to let the army use their land as a missile site. Elvis really plays up the country bumpkin Jody versus the distinguished Josh. In fact, Kissin’ Cousins really over-stereotyped the depiction of country people reinforcing all the prejudices against poor white southerners. At the time, rural ‘hillbilly’ themed shows were very popular. The Beverly Hillbillies premiered just months after Follow That Dream, and Green Acres premiered months after Kissin’ Cousins (and then there was Hee Haw in 1969).
Lance LeGault, who can also be seen in Elvis’ ’68 Comeback Special and was the voice of the narrator of the Graceland audio tour, was Elvis’ stand in. He played whichever one of the cousins Elvis was not playing in the scene. Obviously, we are never supposed to see Lance’s face as he was supposed to be Elvis’ twin, but there were a few times in the movie where you can clearly see Lance’s face. The most obvious times were during the last number “Kissin’ Cousins.” Lance also played Colonel Roderick Decker on tv’s The A-Team. Glenda Farrell, who plays Ma Tatum, fell off the porch during the scene where she was carrying a big plate of corn on the cob and had to wear a back brace for the remainder of filming. While driving down the mountain from Big Bear Lake, Elvis’ brakes went out in the mobile home he was driving but eventually he was able to get the vehicle to safely stop. While filming back at MGM Studio, Priscilla came to visit Elvis for the first time. Her visit was cut short when Ann-Margret was quoted in the newspapers as being in love with Elvis. Colonel sent Priscilla back to Memphis fearing the press would then dig into Elvis and Priscilla’s relationship.
Kissin’ Cousins opened nationwide March 6, 1964. It reached #11 on the Variety National Box Office Survey and was ranked #26 for the year. It made $2.8 million, making it one of Elvis’ most profitable movies because its budget was only $800,000. Kissin’ Cousins was nominated as the Best Written American Musical of the year for 1965 from the Writer’s Guild of America.
Yvonne Craig plays Azalea Tatum, who is Jodie’s cousin and Elvis’ character Josh’s love interest. Yvonne was also in It Happened at the World’s Fair as a love interest of Elvis’ character Mike in the beginning of the movie. Yvonne and Elvis previously dated in real life. She said it was not a great love affair, “it was just kind of hanging out.” Yvonne also played Gidget in the movie of the same name and Batgirl in the tv show Batman. Elvis also previously dated Pam Austin who plays Selena who is Azalea’s sister and Jodie’s cousin and also initially vied for Josh’s attention. I thought it was strange that Pam was billed above both Yvonne and Cynthia Pepper, yet you didn’t see much of her the second half of the movie. Pam had also played in Blue Hawaii. Maureen Reagan, the daughter of Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman, played one of the Kittyhawks who were a crazed group of women on the prowl for men aggressively attacking them. Beverly Powers played another one of the Kittyhawks – the one with the big cleavage. She also played in Elvis’ Viva Las Vegas and Speedway. Joan Staley played Jonesy and also played Marge in Elvis’ Roustabout.
Arthur O’Connell plays Pappy, head of the Tatum clan. He also played Elvis’ character’s father in Follow That Dream. Tommy Farrell plays Sgt. Bailey who is involved with Selena. He also played in my favorite Elvis movie Girl Happy. Tommy is Glenda Farrell’s son. Jack Albertson plays Captain Robert Salbo and also played Lou in Elvis’ Roustabout. Kent McCord has an uncredited role in Kissin’ Cousins and small roles in Elvis’ Viva Las Vegas and Roustabout. He had a personal friendship with Elvis, and they played football together on weekends with other actors when in Hollywood. Terri Gar was also in Elvis’ Fun in Acapulco, Viva Las Vegas, Roustabout, Girl Happy and Clambake. Sailor Vincent was also in Elvis’ Roustabout. Elvis’ friends Joe Esposito, Richard Davis, Red West and Alan Fortas all had bit parts as soldiers, and Joe even had a few lines.
Cynthia Pepper plays Corporal Midge Riley who falls in love with Elvis’ character Jodie. Cynthia also starred in tv’s My Three Sons and Margie. I have met Cynthia Pepper many times as she is very active in the Elvis world and often attends events at Graceland. During Elvis Week 2018, I finally had her sign her book for me. She is such a great lady! Cynthia got the part for Kissin’ Cousins because she fit the costume. Cynthia was SO excited to be in an Elvis movie that she was going to fit that costume no matter what. There was no audition and after the fitting, she reported on set three days later learning the script on the way to Big Bear. Elvis had recommended Cynthia for the part after seeing her on tv. She found flowers from him in her room when she arrived. A few minutes later Elvis stopped by to introduce himself. She, like everyone else I have ever read about, said he was even more beautiful in person than on screen. Cynthia writes kissing Elvis was wonderful and his lips were “very soft, as if someone had combined silk and velvet into one fabric then turned it into his lips.” Cynthia went on to say she purposely messed up her kissing scenes, so she and Elvis could keep kissing over and over.
Like everyone has said, Cynthia also says that Elvis knew everyone’s lines and was great to work with as he stayed for others’ close-ups so they would not have to act alone. Elvis nicknamed Cynthia ‘Speckled Pup,’ and the writer/director put that into the script having Jodie call Midge ‘Speckled Pup.’ During the scene where Midge flips Jodie over her shoulder, Elvis played one of his practical jokes by pretending to be unconscious after one of Cynthia’s flips. She was very nervous when she, as Midge, had to drive the jeep and stop it just three feet away from Elvis, as Jodie laying on the ground. They had to shoot that scene three times. During filming, Elvis helped Cynthia look for this lost kitten that she had been feeding. She kept that kitten and gave it a nice, long life. Cynthia’s favorite song from the movie was of course the one Elvis (as Jodie) sang to her, “Tender Feelings.” Although it was her favorite, it was difficult for Cynthia because she was instructed to walk away from Elvis when obviously all she wanted to do was walk toward him. It was during this scene where Elvis confided in Cynthia that maybe he “should be back home driving a truck” instead of making these movies. She reassured Elvis that his fans love him and his movies. Then Elvis asked her if anyone would remember him “when it all ends.” Cynthia and Elvis kept in touch through the years, and he asked her to come see him in Vegas but she never made it. Elvis died about 18 days before Cynthia’s birthday, which was about the same number of days they spent together making Kissin Cousins.
Elvis began recording the soundtrack songs at RCA’s Studio B in Nashville on September 29, 1963, but he had a cold and could not sing so only the instrumental tracks were laid down. Elvis finally recorded the vocals on October 10, 1963 back at the MGM sound stage. There are two totally different versions of the title song “Kissin’ Cousins.” I definitely like the version that is actually performed in the movie rather than the version that is played over the credits. The version during the credits (No.2) was written by Bill Giant, Bernie Baum and Florence Kaye. The second version, the closing number in the movie, was written by Fred Wise and Randy Starr. It was released as a single with “It Hurts Me” on the flip side. It stayed on the charts for nine weeks peaking at #12. Both versions are included on the soundtrack. “Anyone (Could Fall in Love with You)” is on the soundtrack album, but it was taken out of the movie. Kissin Cousins soundtrack album was on Billboard‘s Top LP chart for 30 weeks, peaking at #6 selling around $300,000 copies. I like the bonus songs (“Echoes of Love” and “Long Lonely Highway”) on the soundtrack more than the songs that were actually in the movie, except I do really love “Once is Enough!” I have the original 1964 release 33 1/3 soundtrack album. Elvis had received the songs on September 16, 1963 that the musical director Fred Karger had chosen. He was not only the composer, arranger and musical director of Kissin’ Cousins, Harum Scarum, Frankie and Johnny, but he was also had been the vocal coach for Columbia Pictures where he coached Marilyn Monroe. Karger was also married to Jane Wyman during the making of the movie, which coincidently Maureen Regan, Jane’ daughter, had a small part in.
**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, Pigtails, Presley & Pepper for more information**
To read my take on all of Elvis’ movies, please click HERE.