"Jailhouse Rock". An In-depth Look At The Movie

Elvis' third movie was the 1957 MGM film "Jailhouse Rock".

The story was written by Nedrick Young, who won numerous awards, including an Academy Award for "The Defiant Ones". He was also nominated for an Academy Award for his writing of "Inherit The Wind." Mr. Young had a number of small acting parts in films over the years, including an uncredited role as a prison guard in "The Defiant Ones".

Working with Young on the screenplay was another award winning writer, Guy Trosper, who received various awards for his work in such films as "Birdman of Alcatraz", "The Spy Who Came In From the Cold" and "The Pride of St. Louis".

"Jailhouse Rock" was produced by Pandro S. Berman, who came from a movie industry family. He started out as a script clerk and worked his way up to assistant to David O. Selznick of RKO. It is Mr. Berman who is credited with bringing together Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire and making a star of Katherine Hepburn. His films include "The Hunchback of Notre Dame", "National Velvet", the original "Father of the Bride", "Sweet Bird of Youth" and "Blackboard Jungle". He was nominated three times for an Academy Award and received the Academy's Irving G. Thalburg Award in 1977.

The director of "Jailhouse Rock" was Richard Thorpe, who began his career in Vaudeville and then acted in a few movies in the early 1920's. He tried his hand at screen writing, sometimes using the pen name Frank L. Inghram. By 1923, he began directing. Over the course of his career, he directly nearly 200 films, including "Ivanhoe" and "The Prisoner of Zenda". He teamed up with Elvis a second time by directing 1963's "Fun In Acapulco". He retired in 1967.

Art direction was provided by award winners Randall Duell and William Horning.

Randall Duell received Academy Award nominations for his work in the films "When Ladies Meet", "Random Harvest" and "Blackboard Jungle". In 1958, he started designing theme parks, going on to design Astroworld, Magic Mountain, the Six Flags parks, the Kings Island and King's Dominion parks, both Marriott Great Americas properties, Opryland, the Universal Tour, Hershey Park, Lion Country Safari and many other American theme parks.

William Horning received seven Academy Award nominations, including the films "The Wizard Of Oz", "Quo Vadis?", "Raintree Country", and "North By Northwest". He won Academy Awards for "Gigi" and for "Ben-Hur".

F. Keogh Gleason was the set decorator. He was nominated seven times for an Academy Award. His four wins were for the films "An American In Paris", "The Bad and The Beautiful", "Somebody Up There Likes Me" and "Gigi".

Studying inter-office memos within the MGM company, we find that Elvis's character name was in question, going from Vince Matthews to suggestions such as Vince Delwyn, Vince Jackwood, Vince Ledway, Vince Edwards and Vince Edmunds before Vince Everett was finally settled upon. Also, the character Hunk Houston became Hunk Houghton.

It seems that proper names, company names, city names and phone numbers used in a script are subject to approval by the legal department, which watches for conflicts with actual places and people. Soda bottles in a memo were to be generic rather than a popular brand name. Stock footage of a prison in Raleigh, North Carolina used previously in the film "Carbine Williams" was approved for use in "Jailhouse Rock"; however, the director did not wish to use a name for the prison. So, in a memo it was decided that Vince's fan mail must not be filmed in a way that an address would show.

This was Elvis's first film for MGM. After starting work on the soundtrack on April 30, he reported to the lot on May 6, 1957 for costume fittings, makeup tests and dance rehearsals. He was assigned to Clark Gable's former dressing room.

It often has been reported incorrectly that Elvis was the choreographer for the big "Jailhouse Rock" production number in this film. Alex Romero was the choreographer for the film, but Elvis's own natural moves were Romero's inspiration. Mr. Romero had designed the production number for the song "Jailhouse Rock" . Then, when Elvis tried the Fred Astaire type of steps that has been planned, they found that it wasn't going to work. So, Mr. Romero asked Elvis to perform several songs as if he were on stage. After watching Elvis perform "Hound Dog", "Don't Be Cruel" and "All Shook Up", Mr. Romero announced "I got it. See you later, Elvis," and then explained that he was going home to work out a routine using Elvis's natural movements. The next day, they worked their way through to create the now-classic "Jailhouse Rock" production number, one of pop/rock music's greatest and most iconic moments on film, a performance considered by many to be ahead of its time and the father of modern-day music videos. Mr. Romero also worked with Elvis as choreographer for the 1967 movie "Clambake".

On Monday, May 6, 1957, Elvis met with Alex Romero, the choreographer for his third film "Jailhouse Rock". The principal photography for the movie began the following week on May 13th. with the famous "Jailhouse Rock" production number.

While Mr. Romero and Elvis were rehearsing, Elvis' friend, actor Nick Adams, introduced him to fellow actor and dancer Russ Tamblyn. Russ Tamblyn grew up in the movies and his credits include such films as "Seven Brides For Seven Brothers" and "West Side Story". Today, he is also known as father to the actress Amber Tamblyn, star of the current hit TV series "Joan of Arcadia". While visiting at the Tamblyn beach house that weekend before filming began, Elvis and Russ practiced dance movements and ways for Elvis to improve his performance.

With all the dance movements fresh in his head, Elvis was excited to do the production number, but an unusual mishap caused a delay. While sliding down the pole in the scene, Elvis lost the cap off of a tooth. It was discovered that he had aspirated the cap and that it had lodged in his lung. It was successfully removed by a surgeon, who parted his famous vocal cords and retrieved the errant dental appliance. Although Elvis's voice was hoarse for a few days, to the relief of everyone there was no permanent vocal damage and he was released from the hospital on the 16th. (This also happened to be the day his family moved into their new home, Graceland, in Memphis.) Ironically, Vice Everett, Elvis's character in the film, had an injury to his vocal cords and had friends and associates holding their breath to see if there would be lasting damage to his singing voice.

Trivia: Early in the film, Vince Everett is sent to prison for manslaughter. The number on his prison uniform is 6239. After prison, when Vince becomes a star and does the "Jailhouse Rock" production number for a TV show, the number on his prison costume is 6240.

Elvis's leading lady in the movie was a young actress named Judy Tyler. Her father was a big band trumpeter and her mother had been a Ziegfeld Follies dancer. Judy Tyler had studied acting and dance. She had danced with the chorus line of the famous Copacabana Club and had played the role of Princess Summerfall Winterspring on the popular children's television program, "The Howdy Doody Show". She was a newlywed at the time she began work on "Jailhouse Rock" with Elvis in May of 1957. Sadly, on July 3rd, soon after finishing the film, she and her husband were killed in an automobile accident during a cross-country trip. Elvis badly shaken by the news.

Mickey Shaughnessy played Hunk Houghton, Vince's cell mate. His career included the films "North To Alaska", "Pocketful of Miracles" and "How The West Was Won". He received a Golden Laurel Award nomination in 1958 for the film "Don't Go Near The Water". He also had guest roles on a number of TV shows in the 50's and 60's.

Vaughn Taylor played Mr. Shores and was the film's narrator. He had a very long career in TV playing roles in nearly two hundred shows and receiving Emmy nominations for Best Actor in 1952 and 1953. His film credits include "Cat On a Hot Tin Roof", "Psycho", "The Carpetbaggers", "The Unsinkable Molly Brown", "In Cold Blood" and "The Gumball Rally".

Dean Jones played disc jockey Teddy Talbot. Mr. Jones had been a blues singer. Later, he became best known for his leading roles in Disney movies of the 60's and 70's, among them: "That Darn Cat", "The Love Bug", "$1,000,000 Duck" and "The Shaggy D.A." He received a 1972 Golden Globe nomination for "$1,000,000 Duck". A recent credit is playing Scrooge in the 2001 TV movie "Scrooge and Marley". His autobiography "Under Running Laughter" was published in 1982.

Anne Neyland played Vince's date Laury Jackson. Elvis dated her in real life while the film was in production. Her credits include the films "Hidden Fear" and the original version of "Ocean's Eleven".

Jennifer Holden played the starlet Sherry Wilson. After only three films Ms. Holden gave up acting.

Elvis's third film, "Jailhouse Rock," had a large and eclectic cast of character actors. Among them was Bess Flowers, who played the Van Alden party guest espousing musical trends. Having in her credits over 500 movie roles from 1923 to 1964, Ms. Flowers was nicknamed "Queen of the Hollywood Extras." On the list of her credits are two other Elvis films - "GI Blues" and "Blue Hawaii."

Another prolific actor was Glenn Strange, who played a convict in the prison. During his career he acted in over 200 movies and in numerous TV guest appearances, many of them westerns. In fact, he began his career as a country music singer on radio. He played Frankenstein in the 1940's, but is probably best known for his twelve years of playing Sam, the Longbranch Saloon bartender in the TV series "Gunsmoke."

William Forrest played the head of the movie studio in "Jailhouse Rock." Earlier that year he had played "Mr. Jessup" in Elvis's movie "Loving You." There are over 200 movie credits to his name.

John Daheim played the man that Elvis's character Vince Everett accidentally kills in a barroom fight. Among his credits are roles in two other Elvis films, "It Happened At the World's Fair" and "Change of Habit."

Bill Hickman had the role in "Jailhouse Rock" some fans can't bear to watch, that of the prison guard that bull whips Vince. Besides his acting roles, Mr. Hickman was also known as an expert stunt driver. His expertise can be seen in classic car chases in films such as "Bullitt", "The French Connection" and "The Seven-Ups."

Dan White played the paymaster to whom Vince gleefully quips about his paycheck, "I'm gonna buy me a herd of chorus girls and make 'em dance on my bed." Mr. White, one of twelve siblings, traveled the South as a teenager in tent and minstrel shows. He moved to Hollywood during the Great Depression and had hundreds of roles in movies and TV. Many of his roles were in westerns.

Percy Helton played Sam Brewster. He began his long career as a child actor and protégé of George M. Cohan. At one point in his youth, his vocal chords were damaged and he became permanently hoarse. His raspy voice then became his trademark.

John Indrisano played a convict in the prison. Mr. Indrisano had been a boxer and often used his boxing skills to stage fight scenes in movies. He also had roles in the Elvis movies "King Creole," "It Happened At The World's Fair" and "Fun In Acapulco."

It's Gloria Pall's legs that you see in "Jailhouse Rock" as she plays the striptease dancer. Also known in Hollywood as "Voluptua," she has had a number of screen roles as a dancer.

Songwriter Mike Stoller played the pianist who accompanies Vince. Mr. Stoller is half of the famous song writing team of Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, who wrote a number of hits for Elvis, including several songs for "Jailhouse Rock," including the classic title song.

The film's hair stylist provided Elvis with a specially fitted wig for Vince's prison butch haircut.

The make-up was headed by award winning artist William Tuttle.

Special effects were provided by another award winner A. Arnold Gillespie. Mr. Gillespie was nominated thirteen times for the Academy Award, winning 4 times. His credits include films such as "The Wizard of Oz," "Ben-Hur," and "Mutiny On The Bounty."

Former Olympic pentathlete Loren Janes was in charge of the stunts. Mr. Janes co-founded the Stuntmen's Association in 1961.

During filming, actor Robert Mitchum visited Elvis and indicated he wanted Elvis to play his son in his forthcoming film "Thunder Road". Elvis did not end up doing the film.

During production of "Jailhouse Rock" Elvis received a wallaby as a gift from fans. Unable to keep the pet, he sent it home to Memphis as a donation to the local zoo.

Another bit of trivia - the studio commissary added to their menu some of Elvis's favorite foods, which included crisp bacon and mashed potatoes with brown gravy.

While filming there was a small fire in Jennifer Holden's dressing room. Elvis, ever the hero, carried the actress out to safety.

Elvis finished his duties with "Jailhouse Rock" and returned to Memphis, boarding a train on June 25, 1957. Impatient and excited to get there, he left the train in Lafayette, Louisiana and rented a car to drive the rest of the way. He spent his first night in his new home, Graceland, on June 26, 1957.

The film's premiere was attended by Anne Neyland on October 17, 1957 in Memphis. It was released nationwide on November 8th.

The critics were unkind to Elvis's role of a man who frequented bars and had killed a man. The film reached #3 for the week in Variety and #14 for the year. It was re-released on March 9, 1960 in honor of Elvis's return from service in the U.S. Army. In 1969 "Variety" reported that in the U.S. and Canada the film had earned over $4 million or the equivalent of the movie "The Wizard of Oz".

Today, "Jailhouse Rock" is widely regarded as a classic of the rock opera genre, and the "Jailhouse Rock" production number is considered the "father" of modern-day music videos.

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