Elvis Presley: What? Why?

Look Magazine - August 7, 1956 (cover and inside cover)

On May 25, 1956, while in Detroit, Michigan on tour, Elvis and the band were joined by Gereon Zimmerman and Phil Harrington who were doing an article for Look Magazine. They followed them to Columbus, Ohio, then Dayton and then home to Memphis, along with another writer and photographer in Dayton that were doing one for Seventeen Magazine.  While the Seventeen piece was favorable, this one from the August 7, 1956 issue of Look is not so. Recently, Michael Rose sent us some photos, several unpublished, to use on the site from his collection that he will be publishing in a new book soon, including some full size un-cropped versions that appeared in the article.  Lacking a suitable use for the non performance related ones, I thought it would be interesting to display them here in the context they were initially published, along with the original article.  Coincidentally, the inside cover of the magazine had a full page ad for Cadillac, featuring also a pink one.


This "cat" flies


with lidded eyes


A WILD TROUBADOUR who wails rock ’n’ roll tunes, flails erratically at a guitar and wriggles like a peep-show dancer is a U. S. entertainment sensation. He is 21·year·old Elvis Presley, a former Memphis, Tenn., truck driver whose sullen sweetness, ducktail haircut and long sideburns send girls (and women) into hysterics. His RCA-Victor records (Heartbreak Hotel, Blue Suede Shoes, etc.) have grossed almost $6 million. Presley's fans adore him; some trample each other in the effort to tear off his "cool" zoot suits. They send him 3,000 letters a week. His unprecedented success seems incredible to a public devoted to languid crooners.

They say, “'He can't be!" But he is, and he has landed on top.



He can't be . . . but he is  


Shrieking listeners react enthusiastically to Presley in Dayton, Ohio. After show, hundreds chanted "We want Elvis" for hours outside auditorium


through storms of shrieks and sighs


Col. Tom Parker is Presley's manager. He says, "In 29 years of show business, I've never seen anything like this. Elvis is a rarity, the genuine character." Parker is excited about Elvis' movie future. Producer Hal Wallis, who signed Presley to a seven-year contract, notes: "I signed him as an actor, not as a rock 'n' roll type. He has unusual promise."
Presley: "The Cadillacs and the fan clubs are like a dream come true."


Elvis Presley’s fame is a legend of the "American Dream” of success that is overshadowed by a nightmare of bad taste.

Here are some of the "Dream" elements: Elvis never took a lesson on his guitar, cannot read music. He paid $4 to make his first record and a twister of reaction began; he was a smash hit on the hillbilly circuit by 1955, without strong promotion. It seems certain that his 1956 income will top $500,000. He does not smoke or drink and night clubs bore him. He is devoted to his parents and bought them a $40,000 air-conditioned home (with swimming pool) in Memphis. He is unusually polite and softspoken. He does everything on impulse, much like the mixed-up teen-agers in his favorite movie, Rebel Without a Cause. (Elvis’ film idol is the late James Dean.)

But Presley is mostly nightmare. On-stage, his gyrations, his nose wiping, his leers are vulgar. When asked about the sex element in his act, he answers without blinking his big brown eyes: "Ah don’t see anything wrong with it. Ah just act the way Ah feel." But Elvis will also grin and say, "Without mah left leg, Ah'd be dead.” Old friends, like the Memphis Press-Scimitar's Bob Johnson, advise him to clean up his "dances.” Elvis listens and then goes out and does the same, very old things. His naive intransigence threatens his future.

Presley has taken the rock 'n' roll craze to new sales heights. He has also dragged "big beat" music to new lows in taste.


Elvis likes amusement parks, where he plays milk-bottle marksmanship games to win teddy bears for his bedroom.


are another passion, although he is no mechanic. He also own as motor scooter.

Elvis plays
bank pool with his 40-year-old father, who quit his factory job to handle overflow of business matters when Elvis was catapulted to the big time.



He owns
four Cadillacs. Fans collect the dust from them and steal the license plates



Elvis' parents
now see him "between engagements," when he returns to his Memphis home

"A fine boy," says Dan Shackleford, who knew Presley as a child in Tupelo, Miss.   END

Produced by GEREON ZIMMERMAN               Photographed by PHIL HARRINGTON

Page added May 8, 2011

This article by Gereon Zimmerman is reprinted here as it originally appeared in the August 7, 1956 issue of LOOK.  All pictures of Elvis on stage on this page were taken May 26, 1956 in Columbus, OH.  Phil Harrington's photos appear on this site with the permission of Evan Harrington with respect to his father and family and for which we greatly appreciate their use. As of December 2014 we have been informed that all of Phil Harrington's photos including the ones pictured here are now and only licensed through Corbis. Evan Harrington has created an account with Fine Art America for the sale and distribution of individual prints.


All photos on this site (that we didn't borrow) unless otherwise indicated are the property of either Scotty Moore or James V. Roy and unauthorized use or reproduction is prohibited.

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