Fox Prop Guitar
(used in Love Me Tender, Flaming Star)


original one-sheet for 20th Century Fox's Love Me Tender - 1956
Photo courtesy IMP Awards

In April of 1956 Elvis signed with Hal Wallis and Paramount Pictures to make movies and for his first he was loaned out to 20th Century Fox to star in "The Reno Brothers."  He started production on the post civil war story in August of 1956 after finishing his last tour of Florida and New Orleans and played the younger brother of three retuning Confederate soldiers, one of which who's girl he had married after falsely hearing about his death in battle.


Studio photo of Elvis for Love Me Tender - 1956
Photo courtesy Ger Rijff


Scotty, Elvis, Richard Egan, Bill, DJ and the Jords on the set of Love Me Tender
- 1956
Photo EPE Inc.

callsheet.jpg (81143 bytes)Originally intended to be solely a dramatic role, to appease and attract his fans, four songs were scored and added to the film. Initially Scotty and the rest of the band auditioned for the band in the movie but weren't told it was to be a western with hillbilly songs so they did their regular act and were turned away because they wanted "country music." Ironic, since Scotty and Bill were weaned on "country music," but according to Scotty it was just a political effort to appease Elvis since the musical director, Ken Darby, had his own trio and musicians he had always intended to use (Rad Robinson, Jon Dodson and Charles Prescott).


Debra Paget, William Campbell, Elvis, Mildred Dunnock and Richard Egan
in Love Me Tender - 1956
Photo courtesy Ger Rijff


Elvis with prop guitar on the set of Love Me Tender - 1956
Photo courtesy Ger Rijff

Much to the Colonel's delight this resulted in the first time Elvis would record without them, something Elvis would rectify by his next film. Much to the delight of his fans, he pretty much performs the music scenes complete with the gyrations and movement he'd been noted for in his live performances.  The title of the film was ultimately changed to the name of the song to accommodate the Colonel's marketing plan.  The song, Love Me Tender, written by Darby but credited to his wife, had hit the top of the charts a month before the movie was released.


Elvis and movie band on the set of Love Me Tender - 1956
Lobby card 20th Century Fox


Elvis with prop guitar on the set of Love Me Tender - 1956
Photo courtesy Ger Rijff


tuners and rear of prop headstock
Screen capture 20th Century Fox

Though the critics didn't care much for Elvis' debut performance any more than his music and stage appearances, the fans didn't care and the film recouped its total costs in the first two weeks when released in November.  To accompany himself in his musical numbers Fox's property department provided him with a rather unique and as yet unidentified guitar.  The same guitar would be used again after returning from the Army four years later in his next film with 20th Century Fox.


Poster for 20th Century Fox's Flaming Star - 1960
Photo courtesy Movie Poster.com

The 1960 release of Flaming Star was Elvis' sixth film and his second after returning from the Army.  The film also starred Steve Forrest  and Barbara Eden, probably best known from I Dream of Jeannie.  A western set in the untamed Texas frontier, Elvis has a dramatic role as the half-breed son of a white rancher played by John McIntire and a Native American mother played by Dolores del Rio.


Lobby card for 20th Century Fox's Flaming Star - 1960
Photo courtesy
eBay

In addition to the title song heard in the opening credits Elvis sings one other song early in the film, A Cane and a High Starched Collar, with which he accompanies himself with the same prop guitar from Love Me Tender.


Elvis with prop guitar and cast  in a scene from Flaming Star - 1960
Screen capture 20th Century Fox


Elvis with prop guitar and cast in a scene from Flaming Star - 1960
Screen capture 20th Century Fox


Elvis with prop guitar and Delores Del Rio in a scene from Flaming Star - 1960
Screen capture 20th Century Fox

Since we can't honestly say what kind of guitar Fox provided for the films at this point, we can only speculate what it appears to be and why it might not.


Page from the Harmony catalog for distribution in Canada
courtesy Lew Skinner


closeup of Harmony 162 from catalog for distribution in Canada
courtesy Lew Skinner


1942 Harmony H162
Photo courtesy Harmony Guitar Database

At first glance, the movie prop guitar is strongly reminiscent of an early Grand concert size Harmony H162, or a Kay, minus the pickguard and with the finish roughed up considerably to give it a weathered and beaten look. The H162 model was manufactured under various brand names with different configurations from around 1940 until 1971.  Besides the obvious size and shape, several features the prop guitar shares with the H162 is the single top binding, the pinless bridge and the number of fret markers.


Harmony H162 Master
Photo courtesy Harmony Guitar Database

The neck and headstock are reminiscent of a Martin but the C.F. Martin Co. has confirmed that this guitar was not one of their models.  The H162 model replaced what Harmony called their "Master" model which featured a headstock like the prop guitar but a fairly distinct fretboard.  Also, the markers on the prop's fretboard are larger and spaced closer than similar Harmonys. In fact, the positioning of the fret markers on the prop guitar are unlike most other guitars.


Mildred Dunnock and Elvis in a scene from Love Me Tender - 1956
Screen capture 20th Century Fox

Normally markers start at the 1st, 3rd or 5th fret and continue to the 7th, 9th and 12th and on.  Oddly, on this prop guitar, they start at the 6th fret and continue to the 8th, 10th, 13th and on.  In all likelihood the fret markers were painted on incorrectly by the prop dept. when they initially painted and distressed the guitar.


end strap pin on prop guitar and 1942 Harmony H162
Screen captures 20th Century Fox, Photo courtesy Harmony Guitar Database


soundhole rings on prop, not there on Harmony H162
Photo courtesy Harmony Guitar Database

Some other distinguishing features of the prop guitar not found on these Harmony models are the several soundhole rings visible in the guitars top. Also, at the bottom of the prop guitar where the two sides meet at the end strap button is a thin strip of mahogany or rosewood like you might find on a Martin but was not known to be on any of the Harmonys. On the Martins, dreadnoughts at least, this piece is normally the same material as the binding.


Photo of Elvis on the set of Love Me Tender - 1956
Lobby card 20th Century Fox


Elvis with prop guitar in a scene from Flaming Star - 1960
Screen capture 20th Century Fox

Flaming Star was the last time this guitar was used. Elvis's next film Wild In the Country, his last with 20th Century Fox, would have a more contemporary setting and although another heavily dramatic role, he would sing and use another guitar in it.

This page added August 15, 2010 is part of the section The Movie Guitars of Elvis Presley.

Special thanks to Lew Skinner for his identification, assistance and motivation with this page. Musician call sheet courtesy Ger Rijff.

 

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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