The Elvis Movie Originally Intended For James Dean

King Creole (1958)

Elvis Presley’s film career began with great promise. Love Me Tender, Loving You, and Jailhouse Rock were phenomenal hits for the new star from Memphis. Each had the perfect amount of grit and sex appeal for the late 1950s.

But then the Army called. His manager, Colonel Tom Parker was able to postpone Elvis’s draft induction at Fort Smith, Arkansas to allow enough time to finish King Creole.

His character died in his 1956 film debut, the Civil War-era Western Love Me Tender, causing his mother Gladys to cry, along with millions of other females at the end.

Just when everyone thought his film career had peaked with Jailhouse Rock, along came 1958’s King Creole. Most critics and Elvis himself consider it their favorite of his all his movies. It was his last before getting drafted in the Army and shipping out to Germany.

Elvis with Carolyn Jones and Walter Matthau.

The movie’s “juvenile delinquent” theme was extremely popular in the ’50s; in fact, King Creole has a lot in common with the 1955 James Dean classic Rebel Without A Cause: A hotheaded kid keeps getting into trouble despite his best efforts, hindered by an ineffectual father not strong enough to give him the guidance he so clearly needs. 

Creole was originally envisioned as a vehicle for Dean, based on Harold Robbins’ bestselling 1952 novel A Stone For Danny Fisher, about a Brooklyn boy who turns to boxing to support his family when his father can’t.

After Dean’s death, Creole was retooled for Presley, with the setting wisely moved to New Orleans’ French Quarter and Danny’s boxing changed to singing. 

After Danny fails to graduate from high school for the second time, he gets a chance to sing at the nightclub where he’s a busboy, and soon becomes the pawn in a game between two club owners: the honest Charlie LeGrand (Paul Stewart) and the manipulative crime boss Maxie Fields (Walter Matthau).

As Maxie, Matthau shows how deceptively menacing he could be at this stage of his career, cruelly lending out his ruined moll, Ronnie (a pre-Addams Family Carolyn Jones), to try to entice Danny to his way of life.

Danny’s torn between her (sample smoldering banter: “It’s a pretty piece of material. You oughta have a dress made out of it”) and good girl Nellie (future nun Dolores Hart). But his biggest struggle is between the life he wants to carve out and the more traditional life his failed father wants for him.

Director Michael Curtiz (CasablancaMildred Pierce) depicts the French Quarter as simultaneously picturesque and sinister: It can be a glorious bash where Danny finds success singing on Bourbon Street, or a dangerous cesspool full of shady characters, who trail him as he walks under the St. Louis Cathedral. 

The film opens with the greatest Elvis Presley song nobody’s ever heard of, “Crawfish,” as Danny (aided by superb vocalist Kitty White, matching him note for note) leans off a Royal Street balcony, mimicking the street vendors who peddle their wares each morning.

The movie’s dark shadows make Presley’s musical moments stand out even more, joyfully taking advantage of New Orleans’ musical legacy in songs like the electrifying “Trouble,” backed by Dixieland jazz musicians; the future classic “Hard Hearted Woman”; and “Dixieland Rock.”

But ultimately, it’s Presley as he portrays Danny offstage who winds up carrying the whole movie, as we have to be completely invested in Danny’s life to care about what side of the road he ends up on. 

With his charismatic vulnerability, Presley sells it completely: the anguish over his father, the magnetic flirtations with both women, the fervent desire to stay out of trouble even as it follows him like the shadows on those cobblestoned streets. 

Both Curtiz and Matthau predicted Presley would have a different dramatic career than the one he wound up with (Matthau called him an “instinctive actor”), forced to churn out many cookie-cutter like musicals throughout most of the 1960s.

Elvis Entertainment

Texans Jack & Dodie View All →

Raised in San Antonio, Jack Dennis’ early experiences were as a newspaper reporter and private investigator. With a Texas State University bachelor’s degree, Jack studied journalism, education and psychology. He was the founding vice-president of Sigma Delta Chi, the Association of Professional Journalists at the University. Jack has received numerous awards, including Investigative Reporter of the Year from Rocky Mountain Press Association, David Ashworth Community Award, and Leadership in Management.
Some of the people and groups Jack has interviewed include:
Elvis Presley, Merle Haggard, George Jones, Willie Nelson, B.B. King, George Strait, Roy Orbison, Justin Timberlake, Steven Tyler, Freddie Mercury, Kenny Rogers, Kenny Loggins, Jackson Browne, Steve Wariner, Tanya Tucker, Scotty Moore, Fats Domino, Patty Page, Tommy Roe, Emmy Lou Harris, Johnny Rivers, Charly McClain, Kinky Friedman, John McFee, Guy Allison & Patrick Simmons (Doobie Brothers) , Randy Bachman (BTO), Jim Messina, Todd Rundgren, Alvin Lee, Gary Puckett, The Ventures, Freddy Cannon, Augie Meyer, Christopher Cross, Whiskey Myers, Sha Na Na (John “Bowzer” Baumann), Flash Cadillac, Jerry Scheff, John Wilkinson, Darrell McCall, and more.
Politicians & News
George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, Lady Bird Johnson, Greg Abbott, Rudolph Giuliani, Larry King, Jack Anderson, Tom Bradley, Connie Mack, and more.
Clint Eastwood, Mike Myers, Taylor Lautner, Cameron Diaz, Jerry Lewis, Eddie Murphy, Antonio Banderas, Julie Andrews, Selena Gomez, Tippi Hedren, James Earl Jones, James Woods, Jim Nabors, Martha Raye, Rosalind Russell, June Lockhart, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Howie Mandel, Meg Ryan, Cheri Oteri, Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, James Drury, Melanie Griffith, Nathan Lane, Alan Thicke, Lou Diamond Phillips, Clint Howard, Tony Sirico, Cesar Romero, Michael Berryman, Tracy Scoggins, William Windom, Warren Stevens and more.
Space Explorers
Buzz Aldrin, Alan Bean, Wally Schirra, Dave Scott, Gene Cernan, Walt Cunningham, Scott Carpenter, Gene Kranz (NASA Flight Director), Ed Mitchell, Richard Gordon, Bruce McCandless, Vanentina Treshkova (first woman in space, Russia), Alex Leonov (first man to walk in space, Russian), Al Worden, Dee O’Hara (nurse to astronauts) and more.
Sports: Joe Torre, Roger Staubach, Bob Hayes, Billie Jean King, Manuela Maleeva, Drew Pearson, Bob Lilly, Tim Duncan, David Robinson, George Gervin, Tony Parker, Shannon Miller, Cathy Rigby, Bruce Bowen, Wade Boggs, Fernando Valenzuela, Bernie Kosar, Dale Murphy, Jim Abbott, Dick Bartell, Mike Schmidt, Dan Pastorini and more.
May Pang, Bob Eubanks, Vernon Presley, Vester Presley, Charlie Hodge, Joe Esposito, Rick Stanley (Elvis’ step-brother, Harold Lloyd (Elvis’ first cousin), Doyle Brunson, Kara Peller, Hank Meijer, Norman Brinkler, Stanley Marcus, Jerry King, Mac King, Nathan Burton, Zach Anner, Louie Anderson, Owen Benjamin, Steve Byrne and more.

As head of Facilities for a major retailer (H-E-B Food/Drugs) for 20 years, Jack co-founded Professional Retail Store Maintenance Association (PRSM) and was elected President to establish PRSM magazine. Jack is a writer, speaker, golf-concierge and happiness coach. He has researched and studied happiness for over 40 years.
Jack was a prolific writer for, with over 1,900 articles written in six years. His articles and stories have appeared in AXS Entertainment, The ROWDY Country Music, Memphis Flash, and numerous magazines.

He is author of “Miracles of Justice,” a true courtroom drama novel about social injustice and miracles.

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