The tall young man with the dark, curly hair, smoothed down his soldier’s uniform, rose from the bar stool and walked glumly below bright lights, out among the crowded night-club tables. Sulkily he acknowledged applause and cheers of his soldier buddies, slapping one on the back, tousling another’s hair, as he moved toward the bandstand by popular request. When he neared the orchestra leader, he said to an approaching soldier:
“I thought I told you not to help.” The soldier grinned and replied, “What did I do?” Whereupon the dark-haired soldier mocked, with heavy sarcasm, “What did I do,” and sullenly accepted a guitar from a smiling bandleader.
There was no need for Elvis Presley to do any more than hold the guitar in this scene from “G. I. Blues,” his first movie since his discharge from the Army. He had already recorded in a sound studio his eleven songs for this picture. “I liked that,” Presley called across the night-club set at Paramount Studios as soon as the cameras stopped.” “I liked it too,” echoed Norman Taurog, the director, from beside the camera men. “We’ll print that.”
Mr. Taurog, who has a reputation for knowing how to work with child actors and young actors, explained that the secret of working with someone like Presley was that “you have to like music and you have to enjoy working with young people.”
Presley, he said, was obviously a natural for the movies. “There is no stiffness with this boy. This is the most relaxed boy you could want. He reminds me of Crosby and Como. He is a good listener. When you have a good listener you have a good actor.”
Hal B. Wallis, the producer, approached as Mr. Taurog broke off the eulogy to confer with him. Presley returned to his bar stool to chat with his co-star, Julie Prowse, who was adorned in flesh- colored tights and beads for her role of the night-club singer besought by Presley.
Mr. Wallis finished his conversation with Mr. Taurog and recalled how he had signed Presley under a personal movie contract more than four years ago. “I saw him on a TV show. There was an excitement in him. His whole look had it. I could see he was not just a singer. I saw something in him more than a personality. I signed him without a screen test.”
During an interval while the camera recorded crowd enthusiasm, in general and in detail, Mr. Presley withdrew to a small dressing room and discussed acting and singing. Acting, he said, was more difficult. He had heard that lots of young men and women venturing into movie work had decided to study acting. “I’m not doing any studying,” he said. “At least not so far as reading or taking lessons goes. I’m learning from experience.”
He denied he would sacrifice his singing career for acting. He liked singing too much, he explained. All kinds of singing. “The other night at the Milton Berle show–you know his night- club show–he put on six opera singers,” said Presley. “I flipped my lid. They had great voices, great arrangements.” With regret, he confessed that while he was stationed in Germany with the Army, he had not been to any opera. “I was just too tired at night to go anywhere,” he said sadly.
About his own singing, he was more specific. He does not read music, he said. “I just listen to it get played a few times. No one can tell me how you should do this song or that one. I work strictly my own way. If the day ever comes when I listen to anyone else I’ll get mechanical and I’m dead.”
He could see no sense in reports that rock ‘n’ roll music was dying and he said it was ridiculous to think that the success of this sort of music was due solely to payola to disk jockeys who plugged rock ‘n’ roll records.
“Rock ‘n’ roll music,” he said, “is getting better than ever. The sound engineers are learning more about how to handle the stuff. It couldn’t have been made popular by payola alone. Too many Americans love it. Nope. I don’t see why I should change my singing style right now. Seems pretty foolish to me. Of course,” he added, after a pause during which he squinted carefully up at the ceiling, “if things change I’ll change too. You have to. That’s show business.” Of the eleven songs he has done for “G. I. Blues,” he said that only about three or four were rock ‘n’ roll. “Then I did some medium beat and some ballads.”
He stretched. It was good, he said to have a car of his own instead of an Army jeep. “I get up just as early as I used to because I have to make movies.”
He grinned broadly. “There’s a little difference now. A little difference in tactics. A little difference in maneuvers.