Unrealized Elvis Presley Film Projects

Neatorama presents a guest post from actor, comedian, and voiceover artist Eddie Deezen. Visit Eddie at his website.

The movie career of Elvis Presley was a Greek tragedy, much like Elvis' life itself. In 1956, the red-hot, eager, fresh-faced, 21-one-year-old came to Hollywood, signed a contract, and proceeded, over the course of the next decade and a half, to star in 31 films (plus two full-length documentaries).

After showing great potential in his first four movies (all of which are actually enjoyable to varying degrees), Elvis was drafted into the Army. His movie career after his military hitch, much like his musical career (not to mention Elvis himself), was never to be the same.

The resume of what any movie fan or serious critic now knows as "the Elvis Presley film" quickly sank into around two dozen or so mediocre grade-B movies where Elvis would routinely be cast as a semi-anti-hero who routinely got into some fights, sang a half-dozen songs, courted and eventually got the girl and succeeded in his chosen endeavor- against all odds.

As sad as Elvis’ career in films was, perhaps an even sadder facet of Elvis' career is his unrealized film projects, each one of which Elvis could fairly easily have gotten, but some factor (most usually Elvis' very greedy manager, Colonel Tom Parker, who relished the millions of dollars Elvis' lousy movies always reaped and the lucrative contracts he watched Elvis sign for more of the same.)

By the cruelest of ironies (at least to Elvis) no matter how terrible his progressively worsening films got, each one inevitably made a healthy profit at the box office. While Elvis and the Colonel were both paid very generously for Elvis to star in his crummy films, only Elvis did the suffering, singing to bikini-clad bevys of girls, reciting inane dialogue, and being reduced, by the mid-60's, to dancing "the clam" on a beach movie set. The Colonel happily raked in the dough, while Elvis had to watch his dreams of becoming "the next James Dean" go down the toilet, along with his reputation as "the King of Rock 'n' Roll.”

The following are a few of the potential films Elvis could have either starred in or been a part of (as one last sad irony, a great majority of the films on the below list are vastly superior to any Elvis actually appeared in):

The Girl Can't Help It (1956) Elvis was offered the chance to perform a musical number in this semi-classic, albeit very campy, Jayne Mansfield comedy. But the colonel didn't like Elvis sharing the spotlight with several other singers.

The James Dean Story (1957) Before the film became a documentary, Elvis was very eager to star as his film idol, James Dean. Elvis had watched Dean's classic Rebel Without a Cause (1955) countless times and reportedly knew the entire film's dialogue by heart.

The Defiant Ones (1958) Elvis was reportedly anxious to play Tony Curtis’ John “Joker" Jackson role in this film opposite Sidney Poitier. A true Hollywood classic, the Colonel probably wasn't too enthused to have Elvis play another convict after just playing one in Jailhouse Rock (1957).

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) Elvis was reportedly offered the role of “Brick,” opposite Elizabeth Taylor. The role eventually went to Paul Newman.

Thunder Road (1958) Another cult classic Elvis nixed. Robert Mitchum personally asked Elvis to play his son. The Colonel was dead set against Elvis playing a role where he came from a family of moonshiners.

Rio Bravo (1959) According to some sources, Elvis was up for the Ricky Nelson “Colorado" role, and getting the chance to play opposite the great John Wayne and his supreme musical hero, Dean Martin.

West Side Story (1961) A film Elvis greatly admired, and it could have been an Elvis vehicle if director Robert Wise had got his way and cast Elvis as “Tony" (or “Bernardo" depending on the source). The producers decided against the idea.

Bye-bye Birdie (1963) The classic musical about an Elvis-like singer (ironically based on Elvis himself), the film was to have featured some Elvis songs before the Colonel, as usual, gave it the thumbs-down. The role instead went to Dick Gautier. If Elvis had gotten the role, he might have met his <>Viva Las Vegas" co-star Ann-Margret a little sooner.

Your Cheatin' Heart (1964) A Hank Williams biopic, for which Elvis was reputedly in the running before either the Colonel rejected it, figuring it wasn't enough of a cash cow, or Williams' widow said no because she didn't want her husband's life eclipsed by Elvis' star billing. The role eventually went to George Hamilton.

Midnight Cowboy (1969) One of the all-time great movies, and a Best Picture Oscar-winning film Elvis could potentially have been in. Elvis was, according to one of his aides and best friends, George Klein, for the Jon Voight Oscar-nominated-role. The Colonel was horrified by the idea of "his boy" playing a male prostitute, even though by this time the Colonel was soliciting Elvis for meatier roles. (Elvis was also not widely-known for his high tolerance of homosexuals.)

True Grit (1969) Elvis was briefly considered for the role of the Texas Ranger, opposite John Wayne. Glen Campbell got the role. The colonel refused to ever let Elvis appear in any film unless he got star billing (but in a John Wayne film??? I think not).

A Star is Born (1973) Probably the most legendary of the "potential Elvis films.” Star Barbra Streisand reportedly was dying to star opposite the King, but the Colonel covertly put the kibosh on the idea. He simply asked for too much money. (This was almost always the Colonel's sly method of getting Elvis out of the running in any film he himself didn't want Elvis to participate in.) There is also a story of Elvis refusing to take second-billing to his female lead, Streisand. An alternate story, possibly true, is that by this time in his career, Elvis himself had lost so much confidence in his abilities, he actually asked the Colonel to get him out of it. It is also said that Elvis didn't cotton to the idea of playing a washed-up singer.


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