Roustabout 1964 – Elvis’ 16th Movie

It has just been in the past couple years that Roustabout has become one of my favorite Elvis movies. Until recently I hadn’t really watched it that much, but then both the Sundance channel and HDNetMovies was playing it several times a week, and I would keep watching it over and over. Now Roustabout is my 9th favorite Elvis movie and is included in the rotation of 11 Elvis movies I watch all the time. I also really enjoy the soundtrack, it’s fantastic! I have both the original 1964 release and the FTD sessions double LP, which is great to hear all the different takes and versions and of course Elvis talking. Even though the movies contains 11 songs, it is a rare dramatic role in the midst of all Elvis’ cheesy musicals and really his last good script until the last of his movies. Elvis’ role is one that takes him back to his bad boy, chip on his shoulder character of his early movies. I’m pretty sure Elvis’ bad boy character combined with a great soundtrack is why Roustabout has become one of my favorites.

Roustabout was first announced in May of 1961, but production was delayed until March of 1964. During that time the title went from Right This Way Folks to Roustabout, Elvis’ character name went from Charlie Main to Charlie Rogers and Barbara Stanwyck’s character’s name went from Maggie Moore to Maggie Morgan. Roustabout was the seventh of nine Elvis movies Hal Wallis produced. Before filming, Wallis was shocked how soft and fat Elvis looked and how wig-like his hair looked and ordered the Colonel to get Elvis back in shape and get the dye and goo out of his hair. Elvis did lose some weight, but his hair remained the same. Roustabout was the first Elvis movie directed by John Rich, who was reluctant to do a movie with Elvis. Sensing that Elvis had it in him to be a better actor, Rich pushed Elvis and would do as many takes as it took to make the scene great. Elvis never complained and rose to the occasion. Assistant Director Micky Moore states that when Elvis was surrounded by quality actors and a good director, he was a great actor as was the case with Roustabout. According to Hal Wallis’ assistant Paul Nathan, “Elvis saw the picture recently and told me it is the best picture he ever made.” Rich said Elvis was interested in editing, but shied away from it when his buddies gave him a hard time because they were bored while he was learning. Rich also blames the Memphis Mafia for Elvis not wanting to learn to be a better actor saying “they took him out of that notion.” In interviews, Rich never spoke of this but it has been reported that he did not want the Memphis Mafia hanging around and playing practical jokes prompting Elvis to say that if his guys go then he goes because when his movies stop being fun he’ll stop doing them. John Rich went on to direct Elvis in Easy Come Easy Go then onto televisions series such as All in the Family, The Jeffersons, and Newhart.

The screenplay was ultimately written by Allan Weis and Anthony Lawrence. Allan Weis was also the screenwriter for Elvis’ Blue Hawaii, Girls! Girls! Girls!, Fun in Acapulco, Paradise Hawaiian Style and Easy Come Easy Go. He had originally written Roustabout as Elvis’ character Charlie drummed out of the army for running under fire. Since he’s broke, Charlie begs Maggie to hire him as a Roustabout and falls in love with her daughter Cathy, the carnival clown. Joe, the carnival foreman, is also interested in Cathy and he and Charlie fight for her. Anthony Lawrence was brought in to rewrite some of Weis’ parts that Wallis didn’t like. Roustabout ended up as Elvis playing Charlie Rogers, a singing drifter with no family and a chip on his shoulder who ended up working at a carnival and falling in love with Cathy, who was Joe the foreman’s daughter and saving the carnival for Maggie. This was a far cry from Weis’ original screenplay. When he was first asked if he wanted to write a screenplay for Elvis, Lawrence didn’t even know who Elvis was. He did a lot of research to make the movie more authentic and came up with those booth names like ‘mugg joint’ and ‘dirty show’ etc. The writers put in the script where the songs go then according to the content the songwriters would write the songs. While he was working, Lawrence’s office was right down the hall from the Colonel. He asked the Colonel if he could have an Elvis poster for his kids, and the Colonel said, “Sure, a dollar and a half.” Anthony Lawrence also worked on scripts for Elvis’ Paradise Hawaiian Style and Easy Come Easy Go as well as the 1979 movie Elvis starring Kurt Russell.

Paul Nathan contacted the Beatles manager Brian Summerville to ask if the Beatles would be interested in working with Elvis in Roustabout. The thought was Elvis and the Beatles would perform the closing number together. Unfortunately, the Beatles had an exclusive three movie deal with United Artists, so they could not be in Roustabout. (I can only imagine what that movie would have been like!) The Colonel was actually a consultant on Roustabout as it was about a carnival, something he knew a lot about. In fact, the sword swallower / fire eater Lester Miller was auditioned and hired by the Colonel. Elvis wanted to try the fire eating, but when he lit one of the torches the fire startled him and he dropped it and yelled. Luckily he was not hurt. Miller said Elvis was one of the nicest, down to earth people. Preproduction work on Roustabout began on February 28, 1964 with long shots of Elvis’ double, Howard Curtis, riding his motorcycle on the road crashing through a fence and long shots of doubles for Barbara Stanwyck, Leif Erickson and Joan Freeman riding in their jeep. The first day of rehearsal was cancelled because they had to re-dye Elvis’ hair after it turned green from swimming, some sort of reaction between the chlorine and his hair dye.

Barbara Stanwyck, who I think is the biggest movie star of all of Elvis’ costars, plays Maggie Morgan the carnival owner. She said she wanted to do a movie with Elvis because she wanted to be exposed to the younger generation who didn’t know her. She had never seen an Elvis movie, but had worked with Hal Wallis many times. She said Elvis was wonderful to work with and asked for nothing. She said, “Elvis was a fine person. His manners are impeccable, he is on time, he knows his lines.” Roustabout was her second to last film before Stanwyck turned to television with The Big Valley. A pair of specially fitted blue jeans were created for Stanwyck by Edith Head. Mae West was originally supposed to play Barbara Stanwyck’s part. There are two stories as to why West turned it down. One story is that she wanted to be the star of the movie with Elvis playing a small part opposite of her. The second story is that she wanted to play Elvis’ love interest, although she was in her 70s she looked like she was in her 40s according to Paul Nathan. Janet Leigh, Carolyn Jones, Shelley Winters, Angie Dickinson, Stella Stevens, Piper Laurie and Patricia Neal were all considered for the role of a younger Maggie while Lana Turner, Lauren Bacall, Dorothy Malone, Bette Davis, Claudette Colber and Ida Lupino were considered for the role of an older Maggie. (If my favorite actress Lana Turner would have been in a movie with my favorite Elvis OMG!!!) Joan Freeman plays Elvis’ love interest Cathy, but in real life did not hang out much with Elvis. Tuesday Weld, Linda Evans, Annette Funicello, Ann-Margret and Joey Heatherton were all considered for the role of Cathy. Sue Ann Langdon plays Madame Mijanou the fortune teller whom Elvis’ character Charlie kisses. She was also in Elvis’ Frankie and Johnny in a larger role as Mitzi. They had to do their kissing scene over and over. Langdon had woken up with an allergy or something and lost her voice. Director John Rich was upset that her voice was hoarse in that scene. Leif Erickson plays Joe Lean, the carnival foreman and Cathy’s father. Telly Savalas, Jack Palance, Burl Ives, Buddy Ebsen, Lee Marvin and Rod Steiger were also considered for the role of Joe. Dabbs Greer plays the banker. He also played the minister on Little House on the Prairie. Pat Buttram plays Harry Carver, the owner of the competing Carnival. He also played a mechanic in Elvis’ Wild in the Country. Jack Albertson plays Lou the owner of Mother’s Tea House.

Glen Wilder plays Toby (in the gray sweater at the front table at Mother’s Teahouse nightclub in the first scene). Sonny West told how he was offered a bit part in Roustabout to have a fight with Elvis’ character, but he was too much of an Elvis type that the director wanted more of a contrast for the fight scene. They gave this part of Toby to Glen Wilder, a former football player training to be a stuntman. Elvis insisted on doing the stunt himself. Wilder was supposed to throw a punch and Elvis kicks him in the stomach. According to Sonny West, Wilder went into a flip (instead of just dropping flat) and as he went over his heel caught Elvis just by his eye. They had to write it into the script that Elvis’ character had a motorcycle crash and cut his eye. (remember that scene where Elvis is run off the road on his bike and wears a band aid on his forehead in the next scene.) Now Wilder says Elvis fell on his heel as Wilder was rolling over. There was a lot of blood. As they were taking Elvis to the doctor with a towel wrapped around his head, he saw Red and Sonny and the guys giving Wilder a hard time. Elvis rolled down the window and said, “Leave the wild man alone, it was my fault.” Production was shut down for a while. Elvis got 9 stitches, plastic surgery and makeup and mortician wax as used while filming so you couldn’t see it. Wilder said after it was in the papers, he had girls throw drinks in his face because he hurt Elvis. Gene Wilder also worked on Elvis’ Viva Las Vegas and Harum Scarum as a stuntman / actor.

The teenagers sitting at the table besides Glenn Wilder were Racquel Welch (dark hair) in her movie debut, Linda Foster (short blonde hair) up front next to Glenn, Teri Hope (long blonde hair), Norman Grabowski (blue sweater) was also in Girl Happy, Toby Reed (dark jacket and tie) and Lynn Borden (the blonde sitting behind Racquel Welch). Racquel Welch got to say the line “Uh, how come they call this place a tea house, dear?” because the other girl couldn’t get it right. She had an issue with her makeup though. She did not like the way production did her makeup, so she did her own and they did not like that. Linda Foster grew up an Elvis fan, and her father became an Elvis fan when he was introduced to him saying “I have never met a nicer person in my life.” Lynn Borden said she and Elvis would sit in his dressing room and have long talks. Marianna Hill plays Viola and played Lani in Elvis’ Paradise Hawaiian Style. Joan Staley plays Marge the waitress at Mother’s Tea House and played Jonesy in Elvis’ Kissin Cousins. Wilda Taylor plays Little Egypt and also had roles in Elvis’ Harum Scarum and Frankie and Johnny. Diane Libby had a brief scene on the midway about meeting a handsome man in her future to which she responds “I already know all about it brother.” She said working with Elvis made her an Elvis fan. She said Elvis was a lot more talented that she had thought. He was a hard worker and paid attention. After working with him, she saw Elvis perform several times in Vegas. Suzanne Covington was in the audience in the small tent scene. She had small parts in many Elvis films per his request. She was in Kissin’ Cousins, Viva Las Vegas, Tickle Me, Harum Scarum, Girl Happy, Frankie and Johnny and Live a Little Love a Little. Linda Rand plays a college girl and was also in Elvis’ Fun in Acapulco and Girls! Girls! Girls!.

Teri Garr worked as a dancer in Roustabout as well as in Elvis’ Viva Las Vegas, Girls Happy, Clambake and Speedway. I know her first from the movie Mr. Mom then later as Phoebe’s mom on Friends. She said Barbara Stanwyck was lots of fun, and Elvis was very nice to all the dancers and would invite them up to his house for parties. She said Elvis was more comfortable with regular people, more than celebrities. Garr said the last time she saw Elvis was in Mobile, Alabama when he was there doing a concert and she was there filming Close Encounters of the Third Kind. They were both staying at the same hotel. Jim Horn who played saxophone during the small tent scenes was also in Elvis’ Girls! Girls! Girls! and played the sax in the studio for Live a Little, Love a Little. Horn said he and Elvis would jam. Johnny Meeks was the on-screen guitarist, in the orchestra pit, during “Little Egypt” and “Big Love, Big Heartache.” They were filmed on two different days. He was in Lance LeGault’s band, and it was Lance who got him the part. Lance plays a carnival barker. Johnny Meeks also played guitar for Gene Vincent and was roommates with Red West for a bit in Hollywood in the sixties. Roustabout featured one of the worlds shortest and tallest actors. Billy Barty, was also in Elvis’ Harum Scarum, was 3’9″ and Richard Kiel was 7’2″. Steve Brodie, who plays the Fred the pitcher, was also in Elvis’ Blue Hawaii and Paradise Hawaiian Style playing antagonist for Elvis’ character to fight with. Kenneth Becker plays Gregg and was also in Elvis’ Loving You, GI Blues and Girls! Girls! Girls!. Joseph Forte plays a concessionaire and was also in Elvis’ Loving You. Mike Mahoney plays a deputy and was also in Elvis’ Loving You and It Happened at the World’s Fair. Kent McCord, who was Elvis’ friend, had an uncredited role in Roustabout as well as in Viva Las Vegas, Kissin Cousins and Girl Happy. Jim Dunsford, an extra during the dunk scene with dark hair wearing a blue sweater and red shirt and white tee, said Elvis was very approachable and would talk to everyone and sign autographs. He was also an extra in four other Elvis movies: Girl Happy, Spinout, Kissin’ Cousins and Double Trouble. Jimmy Gaines was the extra Elvis picked up and puts on his shoulder while singing “It’s Carnival Time.” He said Elvis would leave the door to his trailer open so all the kids in the carnival audience could watch him break boards with his karate chop. Diane Simpson Kerr, an extra who led the elephant around the carnival, said Elvis went through photos of her baby daughter looking at each of them asking questions and commenting on each one. She also worked as an extra in Elvis’ Girls! Girls! Girls! and Fun in Acapulco. For background at the carnival, “waiver extras” were used. They were paid to just walk around the carnival with their family and eat and enjoy the rides. The people who operated the rides were actual carnival workers.

Elvis started filming Roustabout on March 9, 1964 at Paramount’s Stage 5. Elvis always used Jerry Lewis’ dressing room when he was at Paramount. Elvis shot the number “Poison Ivy League” on the set used for the interior sequence for the Mother’s Teahouse Nightclub. For the big tent interior shots, for the first time in the studio’s history, three main sound stages were opened and combined. Most of the movie was filmed on location in Thousand Oaks, close to Sherwood Lake. There were three main areas within 10 minutes of each other and about 45 minutes from Hollywood. The first location was the long stretch of highway where Elvis sings “Wheels on My Heels” and crashes his bike. The second location was the exterior of a small house on the Alan Ladd Ranch where he performs karate on the three college guys (after the scene in Mother’s Teahouse. The third location is the Albertson Ranch where the carnival was set up. It was in Elvis’ contract for all his movies that he had a driver and limo to pick him up each morning at his house in California and drive him to the set, whether it be the studio or on location. Elvis wanted the extras out of the small tent scene when he sang “Hard Knocks” and “One Track Heart.” Choreographer Earl Barton kept it simple for Elvis saying he was a singer, not a dancer. He and Elvis got along so well, he was asked back for Elvis’ Harum Scarum and Frankie and Johnny. This was the first movie Larry Geller did Elvis’ hair for as he had recently joined the group. It was during the filming of Roustabout the newspaper article came out with Wallis saying it was because of the money he made from Elvis’ movies that he was able to make classics like Becket. It was also during this time Ed Hookstratten became Elvis’ attorney when Richard Davis hit and killed a man while driving Elvis’ car while on an errand for Elvis. The final day of shooting Roustabout was April 20, 1964 when the finale song “There’s a Brand New Day on the Horizon” was completed. Everyone on set was given an Elvis album and an Elvis bust.

There was a preview at the Studio Theatre on the Paramount lot on September 21, 1964, and Roustabout opened nationally on November 11, 1964. A special copy of the song “Roustabout” was sent to the theaters. Before the movie came out, side 1 was played with the song then an announcer saying “Coming Soon.” Once the movie was out, side 2 was played with the song then an announcer saying “Now Playing.” Roustabout was on Variety’s chart for two weeks peaking at #8 and reaching #28 on the list of movies for the year of 1965 grossing $3 million. Elvis was ranked the sixth biggest money making movie star for 1964. Roustabout was nominated for Best Written American Musical of 1964 by the Writers Guild of America. Decades before Roustabout there was an actual dancer, Catherine Devine, known as Little Egypt who danced at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. Three months after Roustabout was released another dancer using the stage name Little Egypt sued Paramount, RCA and Elvis Presley Music for $2.5 million in damages and sought an injunction against showing the movie and selling the album saying she did authorize the use of the name nor the song. She lost her lawsuit. In 1965, Elvis signed a three-picture deal with MGM for $6 million making him the highest paid performer in show-biz history. In 1986, the Irish film Eat the Peach shows an unemployed man watching Roustabout on video in his local pub inspiring him to spend time building a wall of death (like the motorcycle scene).

In January of 1965, the Roustabout soundtrack reached #1 on Billboard “Hot LPs” chart and selling 450,000 copies. It received a Gold Record for sales over $1 million. Roustabout was Elvis’ last #1 album until 1973. Strangely there were no singles released. This was the first movie since Kid Galahad that did not have a single released from it. “It’s a Wonderful World,” written by Sid Tepper and Roy C. Bennett, was considered for an Academy Award nomination for Best Song, but it was never actually nominated. It is the only Elvis song every to be considered for an Oscar nomination. “Little Egypt” was written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller back in 1961 and was recorded by The Coasters. I love the Roustabout soundtrack. My favorites are “Little Egypt,” “Big Love Big Heartache,” “It’s a Wonderful World” and “There’s a Brand New Day on the Horizon.”

**I consulted Elvis: The Elvis Files Vol 3, Elvis The Movies, Elvis: Frame by Frame, The Films of Elvis Presley, Reel Elvis, Elvis Presley in the Movies, Elvis Films Faq, Essential Elvis Interviews, 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.

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