Museum exposes Elvis, "the threat" to American morals

Sunday 28 March 2010 02:00

When Elvis Presley made his debut he triggered a wave of conservative media outrage scandalized by the young pop idol who they swiftly denounced as a "threat to the morals of young America."

A new exhibition dubbed "Elvis: The groundbreaking, hip-shaking, newsmaking story," now charts the fortunes of the explosive singer, who was in later years to become known simply as "The King".

"Elvis startled America and the news media in 1956, and press coverage was often scathing and alarmist," said Ken Paulson, president of the Newseum in Washington, which is hosting the expo.

But by painting Elvis as a danger after his 1956 appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show," the media actually helped the young singer - trademark quiff, jumpsuit and all - shoot to fame.

"The press of the 1950s viewed themselves as arbiters of American values. The press criticism was very harsh, very negative," Paulson told AFP.

"But if you tell America that somebody is too dangerous and too sexy to be on a TV set, you find yourself selling a lot of records overnight. It turned out to be very helpful to his career."

The exhibit, which opens in what would have been Elvis's 75th birthday year, features a flurry of news clips from the 1950s where he is accused of triggering an "orgy of squealing" among "agitated" adolescents and old ladies alike.

"He vibrated his hips so much... it was impossible to hear him sing," another article read.

In a June 16, 1956 Time magazine piece, a policeman quipped: "If he did that in the street, we'd arrest him."

In addition to rare photographs, newspaper clippings and a news scrapbook compiled by Elvis manager colonel Tom Parker, the exhibit features some of the most memorable costumes from his stage and screen appearances, many never shown publicly before.

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There is the dress uniform Elvis wore during his US Army service, a signed champagne bottle from his marriage to Priscilla at the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas and his 1957 Harley Davidson motorcycle and leather jacket that helped make the singer a symbol of youth rebellion.

The music sensation's "American Eagle" jumpsuit and cape worn during rehearsals for his 1973 "Aloha from Hawaii" concert, seen by over a billion viewers worldwide, is also featured in the exhibition, which runs until February 14, 2011.

Fans can also catch a glimpse of the keys to Graceland, the Memphis property where he lived until his death at the age of 42 in 1977, and which to this day remains a place of pilgrimage for his legion of fans around the world.

Also on display are the gold-plated belt and velvet jacket Elvis wore during his 1970 White House meeting with president Richard Nixon, an event so closely guarded that it was not leaked to the press until a year later.

The photograph of the conservative president shaking the King's hand is the most requested photo at the National Archives, even surpassing the Bill of Rights or the US Constitution.

Elvis came away with a federal narcotics badge which Nixon gave him after the singer requested to be made a federal anti-drugs agent-at-large.

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