‘Elvis’the musical biopic about the King of Rock that he has directed Baz Luhrmanputs the spotlight back on the mythical figure of one of the greatest icons of the 20th century, and does so by confronting the larger-than-life magnetism he gave off Elvis Aaron Presley with the dark presence in the shadow of the colonel tom parkerthe guy who led the singer’s career with an iron hand for 22 years.
In the film he is played by a Tom Hanks covered in tons of makeup like a cunning, manipulative and selfish shellfish, at times fascinating and at times repulsive, capable of anything to get away with it, including restricting, enslaving and inciting drug addiction that would end up leading to death your protégé, but whatwho was he in real life this key figure in Presley’s career that Luhrmann has made the unequivocal villain of his baroque performance?
A carny born in the Netherlands
Born in 1909 in Breda, the Netherlands, Andreas Cornelis van Kuijk He got involved from a very young age in the circus shows and fairgrounds that were in his city and that would preconfigure his attraction to the world of entertainment. At age 20, he came to the United States as an illegal immigrant and enlisted in the Army under the name Tom Parker. After two years of service, he deserted his battalion and was subsequently expelled from the army after discovering it was mentally unstablesomething that is addressed in Luhrmann’s film.
In 1935 he settled in Tampa, Florida, and married Mariane Mott. He returned for a time to the world of carnies, but then tried his hand at promoting music stars, working with artists such as Gene Austin, Minnie Pearl, Eddy Arnold and Hank Snow. It was the latter who took a then young musician named Elvis Presley. Parker, who had already adopted the false rank of ‘Colonel’, saw that this boy had the future under his arm and that this future could cover him with millions of bills.
‘Heartbreak Hotel’, the beginning of the legend
In 1955 the Colonel signed a contract with Elvis to be his representative and managerr. He went on to manage his career full time. Under his direction, the signing with the RCA label took place and the single would be published in January 1956. ‘Heartbreak Hotel’. The legend was born and Parker was in charge of exploiting it through all kinds of products and appearances on television and movies. One could almost say that he invented the merchandise long before George Lucas with Star Wars. Also, Parker took up to 50% of the profits of the singer, at a time when most representatives kept between 10 and 15%.
In the film it is shown that in those early days the Colonel tried to get Elvis to soften his image and leave behind his controversial and sensual movements on stage to avoid scandals, but according to Alan NashConsidered Parker’s official biographer and author of “The Colonel: The Extraordinary Story of Colonel Tom Parker and Elvis Presley,” Parker loved that “Elvis was like a male stripper. That sold tickets!”
However, there is a lot of truth in the manipulative character of the Colonel. In the HBO documentary ‘Elvis: The Searcher’, music critic and manager Jon Landau explained that “Parker was not interested in Elvis becoming someone too independent. He needed Elvis I believed that everything good came from him, and that everything bad came from imaginary enemies. She kept up that delusion for far too long.”
Decline in the 60s and return to the top
Parker encouraged the singer to enlist in the army in 1958 after receiving a notice of compulsory military service and fulfilling his obligation. He would thus show the world that he was like any other American citizen and placate the critics who accused him of corrupting the youth. Upon his return from the Army, the Colonel focused on Elvis making (bad) movies, family TV appearances, and unremarkable albums. He prioritized quantity over quality and contributed to the decline of the artistsurpassed by the new sounds that arrived in the 60s with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones as the spearhead.
Ten years after having starred in the greatest musical revolution of the 20th century, Elvis was perceived as a true antique and had to be the 1968 television specialin which he recaptured much of the original authenticity, which put him back on top. The Colonel took advantage of the situation to send Elvis on tour, and even got him a residence in a luxurious hotel in Las Vegas, very lucrative economically but that in the long run would end up dragging the artist into irrelevance.
The golden cage of Las Vegas
In ‘Elvis’ it is shown how the Colonel deliberately delays the international tour that Elvis wants to make, prolonging his residence in Las Vegas beyond what is desirable in order to pay his own gambling debts with the Hotel. in his book ‘Elvis: Taking Care of Business’, the journalist David English talks about the pressure exerted by the Colonel in the last stage of the musician’s life, well reflected in the film: “I had huge debts with the casinos, Y he was influenced to make these deals that were not necessarily right for his client. Elvis always respected Parker, so he thought: ‘He’s doing what’s best for me.'”
Regarding tours, it is true that Elvis never left North America, since Parker only allowed him to perform in Canada. The Colonel’s status as an illegal immigrant was believed to prohibit him from traveling as he did not have a passport, nor could he obtain it because his papers were not in order, although he hid in security issues and that in foreign countries they were not up to the task in this regard to receive the idol.
For Parker’s biographer, the theory that he was under pressure from government forces that threatened to expose his past, as a non-American native of Holland, “is total and unequivocal nonsense, a complete fabrication in the film.” “When Colonel Parker enlisted in the US Army, he declared himself a Dutch citizen, with Dutch-born parents. He just had to swear that he would become a US citizen, even though in the end he didn’t,” she explains. .
Another controversial point in Luhrmann’s vision is when Elvis flies into a rage upon learning of his manager’s goings-on and cruelly announces onstage during a performance that parker is fired. Nash denies this point. The writer does admit in an interview in ‘Variety’ that the singer and the Colonel had an incident behind the scenes in Las Vegas in 1974 but that “Elvis no way would have been so rude enough to have fired the Colonel from the stage”.
Addiction to roulette and craps tables
The Colonel’s gambling addiction is real. “Elvis never knew how many concerts he gave for free to satisfy Parker’s slavery to the roulette wheel and the craps table. In fact, the Colonel didn’t even have to go down to the casino. The hotel brought a roulette wheel to his room.” Nash says. Meanwhile, the singer’s health progressively deteriorated as he became dependent on prescription drugs to meet the exhausting schedule of recitals and sleep at night.
After Presley’s death, on August 16, 1977Parker kept making money at the expense of the star’s legacy and eventually was sued by the heirs from Elvis for his mismanagement. In 1980, the new administration of the musician’s estate was completely in the hands of her daughter, Lisa Marie Presley, through a court ruling that left Parker aside and ended his functions as administrator. He ended up quietly retiring from the music business, although in 1983 they had to pay him 2 million dollars for his “right, title and interest” in all Elvis-related contracts.
Even so, the Colonel continued to appear at events related to the myth and continued to live in the same suite he had occupied at the Las Vegas Hilton since working with him. He was finally evicted when their debts incurred in games of chance exceeded 30 million dollars. On January 20, 1997, Parker suffered a stroke and died the next day. He was 87 years old. His biographer disagrees with the film’s view of him: “By turning him into an antagonist, they have stripped him of his many accomplishments with Elvis Presley,” she says. But you know, sometimes a good story is worth as much as his villain.