Elvis Presley's nineteenth movie was "Harum
Scarum" (MGM, 1965), also known by one of the working titles as "Harem Holiday".
It was produced by Sam Katzman, who was known "king of the quickies" for making
films quickly and cheaply. Principal photography began on March 15, 1965. Elvis
was finished his work on the movie on April 19, 1965.
It featured a movie within a movie. Elvis' character Johnny Tyronne is an American actor visiting the Middle East for the premiere of his latest film, "Sands of the Desert". Tyronne is kidnapped, which leads to a series of adventures in the fictitious Arabian kingdom of Lunarkand. The thin plot and the economical production with a short shooting schedule brought Elvis more disappointment and frustration over the state of his film career.
The film was released for Thanksgiving weekend on November 24, 1965 and reached #11 on the following week's "Variety Box Office Survey", the fortieth-highest grossing film for 1965. The soundtrack album, which contained a souvenir picture of Elvis in one of his costumes from the film, had a 23-week stay on the Billboard LP chart, peaking at #8.
Filming took place on the lot in Culver City,
California with sets reused from Cecil B. DeMille's 1925 silent film "King of
Kings" and with costumes from the 1944 movie "Kismet" and its 1955 remake.
At first, Elvis was at first very excited about working again with director Gene Nelson, with whom he had worked on the film "Kissin' Cousins", and about wearing the Rudolph Valentino type costumes. So enthusiastic was he that Priscilla says in her memoirs that Elvis would wear his full makeup and costume home each night, fully immersed in his role. His excitement soon waned when it became apparent that, as she put it, "the plot was a joke, his character a fool, and the songs were disastrous." Even Elvis' manager Colonel Parker expressed in a letter to MGM that it would take "a 55th cousin to P.T. Barnum to sell this picture". He suggested they add a talking camel as narrator, a la "Francis the Talking Mule" in the Donald O'Connor movies, in order to save it and to make it seem as if the ridiculousness was intended. His idea was rejected by the studio.
Producer Sam Katzman's career started as a teenager working with movie props and continued as he learned all the various phases of movie making. He became a producer in 1935. He produced over 230 movies, most of which were profitable due to his penchant for producing with little budget. He also was the producer for Elvis' film "Kissin' Cousins" as well as numerous jungle films, westerns, and the East Side Kids film series. He put out such films as the 1949 version of "Batman and Robin", "Captain Video, Master of the Stratosphere" and "Brenda Starr, Reporter" before producing "Your Cheatin' Heart" and teenage musicals such as "Rock Around The Clock" and "Let's Twist Again".
The director, Gene Nelson, had worked with Elvis on "Kissin' Cousins". Along with Gerald Drayson Adams he received a Writers Guild of America nomination in 1965 for that film as Best Written American Musical. In 1933, Mr. Nelson was inspired by Fred Astaire to become a dancer. He joined the Sonja Henie Ice Show and toured for three years with her before joining the US Army in World War II. After the war he appeared in movies, receiving a Golden Globe Award in 1951 as Most Promising Newcomer for his work in "Tea For Two". He might be best remembered for the role of cowboy Will Parker in the film"Oklahoma". He also directed many television series including "I Dream of Jeannie", "Star Trek", "Hawaii Five-O", "Starsky and Hutch" and "Fantasy Island". After "Harum Scarum" wrapped Elvis gave him an autographed picture saying "Someday we'll do it right."
Writer Gerald Drayson Adams was educated at Oxford University in England. He worked as a literary agent and business executive. He specialized in action-adventure and western movies as well as TV series. He shared in the Writers Guild nomination with Gene Nelson for "Kissin' Cousins", as mentioned above.
Mary Ann Mobley was Elvis' leading lady for "Harum Scarum", the second of her two films with him. Previously, she was in "Girl Happy" with Elvis and leading lady Shelley Fabares. Mobley was was born in Biloxi, Mississippi. She was crowned Miss Mississippi 1958 and went on to win the title of Miss America 1959. She sang in the talent segment of the Miss America pageant, which started her television career singing on variety shows. She won a Golden Globe Award in 1965 for Most Promising Newcomer- Female along with Mia Farrow and Celia Kaye. She has since had many roles in both film and television. Ms. Mobley currently suffers from Crohn's Disease and is an advocate for related research funding . She has also been active in the March of Dimes as well as other charities that support children around the world.
Fran Jeffries played the sultry Aishah. Ms. Jeffries was born in San Jose, California and became a recording artist and night club performer while still in her teens. She performed in many prestigious hotel venues and clubs and toured with Sammy Davis Jr. and Bob Hope. Before becoming a solo act she was partnered with her first husband, Argentine-born singer Dick Haymes. Years later, her second husband, actor/director Richard Quine, featured her in films such as "Sex and The Single Girl" and "Talent for Loving". She also had a role in the film "The Pink Panther".
Michael Ansara played Prince Dragna. He was born in Syria of American parents. The family moved to the United States when he was two and eventually settled in California when he was ten. He originally planned to pursue a career as a doctor, but became involved in studying drama instead. He started appearing in films in 1944, playing in such movies as "The Robe", "The Ten Commandments", "The Greatest Story Ever Told" and "The Sad Sack" among many others. It was his role of the Indian chief Cochise in the 1950's TV series "Broken Arrow" that first made him widely known. He was married for some time to actress Barbara Eden, who, early in their marriage, worked with Elvis in the film "Flaming Star" and later became best known as the star of the "I Dream of Jeannie" television series Ansara directed and appeared in episodes of "I Dream of Jeannie". You might remember him as the Blue Djinn who placed Jeannie in the bottle to begin with. In recent years he has had a role in three of the Star Trek film series, "Star Trek: The Next Generation", "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine", and "Star Trek: Voyager". His is also the voice of Dr. Victor Fries/ Mr. Freeze in the animated "Batman" series.
Philip Reed played King Toranshah and father to Princess Shalimar, played by lieading lady Mary Ann Mobley. Born in 1908, Mr. Reed began his career as a handsome leading man on stage. His movie career began in 1933 and he appeared in movies such as "Female", "Affairs of a Gentleman", "The Last of the Mohicans", "Madame X" and "Girl In the Red Velvet Swing". "Harum Scarum" was his last film before retiring.
This was also the last movie for Larry Chance, who played Captain Heart. He had numerous TV roles in the 50's and 60's, as well as roles in such films as "Against All Flags", "The Rose Tattoo" and "Al Capone" . In the Elvis film "Flaming Star" he played an Indian chief.
Barbara Werle played Leilah, servant to Princess Shalimar. Ms. Werle had a number of roles on various TV adventure series in the 1960's. She also played in movies such as "Battle of the Bulge", "The Rare Breed", "Krakatoa, East of Java" , along with the Elvis films "Tickle Me" and "Charro!".
Theodore Marcuse played the evil villain Sinan. He was known for his sinister presence and often played such roles both on TV and om films such as "Star Trek", "The Wild, Wild West"and "The Glass Bottom Boat".
Jay Novello played Zacha, the leader of the thieves that Elvis' character befriends. Mr. Novello had a distinguished career as a character actor from the 1930's to the 1970's. His hundreds of credits can't be listed here, but some highlights are: his role of Captain Sam Sabaaya on CBS Radio's "Rocky Jordan" from 1948 1953, his role as Juan Greco in the long running TV series "Zorro", and roles in the films "Boys Town", "The Great Train Robbery", "Captain America", "The Robe" and "Pocketful of Miracles".
The famed "little person" Billy Barty played the mute pickpocket Baba. Mr. Barty was a prolific actor beginning his career at the age of three. A successful activist for the rights of persons of small stature, he founded The Little People Of America Inc. in 1957 and The Billy Barty Foundation in 1975. He was quoted as saying, "The general public thinks all little people are in circuses or sideshows. We have doctors, nurses, just about every field covered." Barty's acting credits are many and include a role in the Elvis film "Roustabout".
Julna the drummer was played by Jack Costanza, also known as "Mr. Bongo". He was a dancer from Chicago who developed an interest in bongos while visiting Africa. He worked in the 1950's with Stan Kenton's jazz band and eventually played percussion on hundreds of jazz, big band, and Latin recordings.
The dancing girls were Sapphire, Amethyst and Emerald were played, respectively, by Gail Gilmore, Wilda Taylor and Brenda Benet. Ms. Gilmore did not continue in movies. Ms. Taylor had dancing roles the Elvis films "Roustabout" and "Frankie and Johnny". Ms. Benet was a dancer and actress probably best recognized for her role of Lee DuMonde on the TV show "Days Of Our Lives". She was married for a time to actor Paul Petersen and then to actor Bill Bixby, who co-starred with Elvis in two films -"Speedway" and "Clambake". Tragically, Ms. Benet committed suicide in 1982 due to grief over the sudden death of her six-year-old son Christopher Bixby.
Although the production of "Harum Scarum" had its flaws, one saving grace was the exceptional sets and set decoration designed by the award nominated team of George W. Davis, McClure Capps, Henry Grace and Don Greenwood Jr. George W. Davis was nominated seventeen times for Academy Awards, winning two. Henry Grace was nominated thirteen times winning one. Don Greenwood was nominated once. They have worked on films such as "How The West Was Won", The Blackboard Jungle", "All About Eve", "Gigi", "The Robe", "Cimarron", "The Diary of Anne Frank", "Mutiny On The Bounty", "The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm", "Patch of Blue", "The Unsinkable Molly Brown", "Mr. Buddwing" and "The Shoes of the Fisherman" , among
It was while filming "Harum Scarum" that Elvis began in earnest to pursue his spiritual studies. When the film wrapped, Elvis presented the cast and crew with watches that he had Harry Levitch, one of his favorite jewelers, design. It featured both a cross and a Star of David and symbolized for Elvis "universal brotherhood".