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Colonel Tom Parker: The Curious Life of Elvis Presley's Eccentric Manager [Hardcover]

James L. Dickerson
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

8 May 2001
Revelations abound in this telling biography packed with new information that guarantees it will receive wide attention. Included is evidence that Elvis was not drafted into the Army, but rather entered through a Parker-engineered enlistment. Dickerson also shows that Elvis's well-publicized trip to Washington, DC to visit President Nixon was not a drug-induced display of mental deterioration, but rather a desperate plea for help. Parker (1909-1997) apparently had a plan to cut the late country great Hank Snow out of his management deal with Elvis and Parker also made sure that Elvis never toured Europe due to the Colonel's own status as an illegal immigrant.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Cooper Square Publishers Inc.,U.S.; 1st Cooper Square Press Ed edition (8 May 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0815410883
  • ISBN-13: 978-0815410881
  • Product Dimensions: 23.7 x 16.1 x 2.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,004,989 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

A native of Mississippi, James L. Dickerson is the author of twenty-six books, and over 2,000 magazine and newspaper articles; he has worked as a magazine editor and publisher, newspaper editor, reporter, columnist, book critic, and social worker.
Dickerson's book, The Mojo Triangle, was the winner of a 2006 IPPY award (Independent Publisher Book Awards) in the non-fiction category. Two other books, Goin' Back to Memphis and That's Alright, Elvis, were finalists for the Gleason Award. Reprint rights to Dickerson's books have been sold to publishers in Australia and China, where two of his books have been translated into Chinese.

Product Description

Review

The wealth of detail that [Dickerson] gathers and lucidly imparts along the way is never less than utterly compelling. -- Johnny Black Mojo An incendiary, powerful investigative account ... an explanation, finally, of the twisted, corrupt relationship between Elvis and Colonel Parker. -- Joe Eszterhas, Screenwriter and Bestselling Author of American Rhapsody This is essential Elvisiana, excellent about showbiz's underbelly. -- Mike Tribby Booklist In this new biography of Colonel Parker, which also sheds new light on his most famous protege's life, Nashville-based music historian James Dickerson blows the lid off the career of a rock 'n' roll promoter and con man whose audacity knew no bounds. ...The amount of detail in this biography is stunning. -- Larry D. Woods The Tennessean This intriguing, meticulously researched biography of Presley's Svengali could be a manual of how not to take care of your client... Fans will be dismayed to learn of the endless stream of ripoffs Parker perpetrated on the King and, even more disturbing, the arduous work schedule he forced Presley to endure... Dickerson has painted a riveting portrait of an especially unsavory character. -- Mike Villano Billboard Colonel Tom Parker is intriguing-a fascinating look at a secretive power behind the throne. -- Joel Welin The Herald Tribune Packed with personal interviews, Dickerson's book is hugely entertaining and informative, a lasting tribute to a unique and enigmatic hustler. -- Peter Grendysa Discoveries A rare glimpse into the underbelly of the music biz. Los Angeles Daily News Arguably the most notorious manager in show business history, Colonel Tom Parker (1909-1997) virtually controlled every aspect of Elvis Presley's career. Dickerson is tough but fair with his slippery subject... This is a well-presented biography of Parker, who, through gall and cunning, created the ultimate celebrity icon. Recommended. Library Journal This jaw-dropping biography confirms what I felt for years-that the Colonel was a far more fascinating rascal than Elvis ever became. This is a model of research assembled with crafty objectivity and humor. -- Hal Kanter, Director of the Elvis film Loving You Here is the amazing story of how an illegal Dutch immigrant went from playing Santa Claus in a Las Vegas apartment store to become a marketing pioneer who revolutionized American popular culture... Dickerson's authoritative account of the racist gambling addict who had his boy unwittingly paying the Mafia $1 million a year to ease his debts is an incredible story of one of the twentieth century's biggest hustlers. Uncut How Parker came to manage one of the twentieth century's greatest icons and the stunts he pulled still take some believing. It's a tale Dickerson tells with relish: Presley's conscription into the army, why he made those rotten movies, and what lay behind his close ties with Las Vegas all take turns under the magnifying glass... A lively contribution to the endless Elvis industry. Q Magazine Dickerson's research has confirmed more than I ever suspected. -- Scotty Moore, Elvis's guitarist and First Manager Colonel Tom Parker is a journey toward understanding the man who wielded power over Elvis and everyone else who fell into his orbit. Dickerson explores Parker's mysterious origins and provides telling information about the early relationship between the Colonel and Elvis, information that clarifies why Parker behaved the way he did... This is a brisk, enjoyable read, perfect for Elvis fans, serious or casual. Dickerson pulls the reader into the drama of the story. His insider knowledge of the music industry allows him to present his material in a lucid fashion. While all the questions that surround the perplexing relationship between an ex-carnival barker and a country boy who hit the big time may never be completely answered, Colonel Tom Parker leaves the reader with a provocative story and fresh insights. Book Page Dickerson puts Parker under the microscope and attempts to reconstruct the life of a man who worked very hard to remain in the shadows. Anyone interested in the darker side of the entertainment business will find this well-documented biography an interesting read. Charleston Post and Courier Dickerson does a good job of recreating the early Parker years despite some formidable obstacles... This book is filled with anecdotes. More importantly, Dickerson provides an intriguing portrait of a man who was at once a brilliant promoter and a devious con man. Country Music Magazine Dickerson reveals how rock promoter and con-man extraordinaire Colonel Tom Parker swindled Elvis and put unreasonable pressures on him, even while turning him into an icon. Dickerson's investigation cuts through the flimflam and lies that the Colonel created about himself to discover who he really was and how much of Elvis's success was the result of Parker's schemes. Gadfly This riveting biography shines a hard light on the inscrutable Colonel... Dickerson has made it easy to understand that if rock and roll will never die, it owes its life to how Parker wrote the rules of the game. -- Mark Ribowsky, Author of He's a Rebel: Phil Spector, Rock and Roll's Greatest Producer Dickerson has dug deeply and comes a bit closer to unravelling Parker's story than most... A rare look into the behind-the-scenes machinations of a man who was perhaps the twentieth century's most notorious show business figures. Country Standard Time Dickerson is a careful craftsman. No detail in Parker's life is too small and he weaves them all together to form a fascinating profile of a man driven by greed, fear and a lifetime of covering his own mysterious identity... Dickerson, an experienced journalist and author, keeps a healthy distance from his subject, and readers even gain some sympathy for Parker... This is a book not to be missed for so many reasons, but most of all because it puts into perspective the greatness of Elvis Presley and the tragedy of his fall. Bluespeak.Com Here is the whole sad and amazing story of 'the most accomplished con man since P. T. Barnum.' In swift, deft strokes Dickerson has sketched the greed, compulsion, and lies that drove every decision in the making and undoing of rock and roll's greatest talent. This is the book our study of popular culture's most glittering icon has lacked. -- Lewis Nordan, Author of Music of the Swamps and The Sharpshooter Blues The thing that comes through most clearly in Dickerson's biography is that Parker was a strange, shrewd man who never wandered far from the training he got as a carny... This look at the public Tom Parker, a gambling addict who clamped himself onto Elvis Presley and thereby outearned and outlived the King, fills in the blanks. Oxford American Dickerson offers readers fascinating glimpses of the carnival culture that became Parker's first family, his methodical courtship of Presley as a client, his campaigns to separate the singer from his original band, assorted contractual machinations, and organized crime in the South... Entertaining. No Depression

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Elvis wasn't drafted 19 Dec 2001
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
Colonel Tom Parker is a man about whom little information is available (his real name is not even known for certain). This book unearths probably all that is available until his currently tight-lipped former staff begin to talk.
The book is simply written, and not much background information is needed to enjoy it. You would probably need to be an Elvis fan to even contemplate reading it, but I believe it is a book that even non-Presley fans would become engrossed in.
Parker's methods were legendary, and he earnt the respect of all other managers in the business, whilst earning the love of nobody.
Parker is shown to be single-minded in his search for wealth, in his addiction to gambling, and how far he would go to support both desires. He is also shown to be an innovative promoter par excelence, and despite his totally offensive greed, you have to give him, begrudgingly, some respect.
Elvis, unfortunately for fans, is shown to be guillible and unable to stand up to the Colonel..... unable to force his ambition to tour Europe and the World, unable to maintain his band, unable to keep out of the movies, and manoeuvred away from the black influences of his youth. Parker struck gold when he dumped his other commitments and stuck like a leech to the country-bumpkins that Elvis and his family were (future wife Priscilla excluded).
The book also shows how Parker stood by as Elvis' life fell apart, worked Elvis literally into the grave, and began planning his exploitation of the estate the day Elvis died. As cold-blooded as ever.
I thought the revelation about Elvis' entry into the Army shocking, and I won't spoil it for you by recounting it here.
All in all, an easy read and very interesting to someone who loves the music, but does not already have a library dedicated to the King.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "Don't Be Cruel to a Heart That's True" 8 May 2004
By Donald Mitchell HALL OF FAME TOP 500 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover
Review Summary: James L. Dickerson adds colorful background and interesting speculations about Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis Presley's long-time manager. The bulk of the book, however, contains relatively little that is new about Elvis or Parker. The story line is convoluted, bringing in detail in many places that is disconnected from the material before or after it. Elvis fans will enjoy reading about books about Elvis rather than Colonel Parker. Parker himself is hardly s noble or novel figure, so for most this book will lack appeal.
Review: The key theme of this book is that Tom Parker was a manipulative con man who took advantage of those who trusted him, and was deathly afraid of being exposed. Like a lot of show business managers, he feathered the nest more for himself than for those he represented. His gambling addiction and fear of being deported led him to be an easy mark for those who knew how to put on the pressure.
Like many overnight successes, Elvis Presley and his family had little understanding of the complexities of show business. Colonel (an honorary title from his friend, the governor of Louisiana) Tom Parker was way ahead of Elvis and his other acts, and earned a marvelous living in the process.
There were pros and cons to this. Clearly, he helped Elvis get a top recording contract and lots of attention early in his career. On the other hand, he probably siphoned off a vast multiple of what was normally charged for such services. After Parker got into debt to the casinos in Las Vegas, he probably short-changed Elvis even more to get the casinos off his own back. One aspect of this was a cut-rate deal for Elvis to appear in Las Vegas at the International (later the Las Vegas Hilton).
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Amazon.com: 2.8 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "Don't Be Cruel to a Heart That's True" 6 July 2001
By Donald Mitchell - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Review Summary: James L. Dickerson adds colorful background and interesting speculations about Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis Presley's long-time manager. The bulk of the book, however, contains relatively little that is new about Elvis or Parker. The story line is convoluted, bringing in detail in many places that is disconnected from the material before or after it. Elvis fans will enjoy reading about books about Elvis rather than Colonel Parker. Parker himself is hardly s noble or novel figure, so for most this book will lack appeal.
Review: The key theme of this book is that Tom Parker was a manipulative con man who took advantage of those who trusted him, and was deathly afraid of being exposed. Like a lot of show business managers, he feathered the nest more for himself than for those he represented. His gambling addiction and fear of being deported led him to be an easy mark for those who knew how to put on the pressure.
Like many overnight successes, Elvis Presley and his family had little understanding of the complexities of show business. Colonel (an honorary title from his friend, the governor of Louisiana) Tom Parker was way ahead of Elvis and his other acts, and earned a marvelous living in the process.
There were pros and cons to this. Clearly, he helped Elvis get a top recording contract and lots of attention early in his career. On the other hand, he probably siphoned off a vast multiple of what was normally charged for such services. After Parker got into debt to the casinos in Las Vegas, he probably short-changed Elvis even more to get the casinos off his own back. One aspect of this was a cut-rate deal for Elvis to appear in Las Vegas at the International (later the Las Vegas Hilton).
The most interesting part of the book to me is the life of Parker before he met Elvis. There is no clear agreement in the documentary record, but he probably was an illegal immigrant from Europe. Part of that time was spent in Holland and he could have been from Russia earlier. Arriving in the United States, he avoided conflicts that could have exposed him to deportation. For example, he overpaid his and Elvis's income taxes to avoid attention from the federal government. That may have been why he discouraged Elvis from touring abroad, because Parker would have had to leave to U.S. to make the tours work.
His first regular work was with a traveling midway, for which he sold candied apples and hot dogs. During those years, he learned a lot about what draws crowds and that the profits are in the concessions. Later, as a manager he would offer cut rate appearance fees in exchange for a split of the concessions, and made more money that way. The book recounts ways that he would take advantage of the customers on the midway. When there weren't enough lemons for the lemonade, he would pour in citric acid and put a slice of lemon on top to give the correct appearance. He also had "dancing" chickens which he coerced by turning on a hidden hot plate beneath the sawdust to scald their feet.
The book also casts doubt as to whether he was ever married to his longtime "wife." No marriage license records were found by the author, and draft board records suggest that he may not have been married.
The author also makes the case that Elvis could have developed as an actor, except for a lack of faith on the part of Hal Wallis and Parker. I suspect that reasonable people will differ on that point.
Where many other sources suggest that Elvis was paranoid about threats to his life, this book takes those threats more seriously by describing the many mob connections to Parker, government, and the entertainment industry.
After you have finished reading this book (if you decide to), I suggest that you think about how you can protect yourself and your family from people who are better at negotiating and presenting their own interests than you are. How would you have spotted Parker? How would you have kept him under control?
Take the time to learn how to look after your own financial interests!
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A waste of time. 29 April 2002
By LMP - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I don't care to write too much about this book, because it just wastes more time.
Too much effort was put into this book and it was all futile.
Not enough "real hard evidence" supports anything reported in this "tabloid" type of book.
I felt like I was reading the National Enquirer (hardback version) than a book about Elvis and his manager.
This man obviously used a lot of other people's material, from other books, and added his opinion: which doesn't amount to much.
I like Scotty Moore and what he did for Elvis, but he was always kept in the dark about Elvis' business. So his comment about how much this book was an eye-opener is expected.
This was a waste of my money, but even moreso my time.
I would rather read something more substantial.
4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars An Unfair Portrait of Elvis Presley's Manager 6 Mar 2002
By Fred Decker - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Colonel Tom Parker was Elvis Presley's manager for virtually Elvis' entire career. Parker began his career working for carnivals and when he became a successful music manager, first for country singer Eddy Arnold and later for Elvis, Parker maintained his image as a carnival man. In negotiations he played the role of the unpolished but sharp dealing operator who took his adversary by surprise and got a great deal for his client and himself. Parker seemed to enjoy and possibly profit from his mysterious and unsavory reputation.
That mysterious and unsavory reputation draws suspicion to Colonel Parker when Elvis Presley's career is considered. Alot of bad and weird things happened to Elvis as his career went on. He made terrible movies, indifferent records and suffered weight and drug problems. Why did this happen? Colonel Parker is a convenient scape goat, but how much was Colonel Parker really to blame for Elvis' misery?
The answer may never be known. There are many rumors about Colonel Parker. He was an illegal alien so Elvis never toured Europe. (That makes no sense to me. Colonel Parker wouldn't have to leave the country for Elvis to tour Europe. After all, Elvis was stationed in Germany while Parker managed him.) Another rumor is that Elvis was a great and exciting singer until Colonel Parker corrupted him into a cheesy money making parody of himself. The 1968 "Comeback TV Special" was rumored to be one of the few times that Elvis defied the Colonel and showed the public the "real" Elvis. But if Elvis was unhappy with the Colonel, why didn't he fire him? If Elvis didn't like the direction is career was taking why didn't he try to change it? There are many unanswered questions.
Unfortunately this book doesn't provide many answers. Instead it just adds more unsubstantiated rumors. For example, it has been rumored that Parker was born in Breda, Holland and was originally named Andreas van Kujik. The author believes that Parker was born to jewish parents in Russia and only lived with the van Kujik family when he was in his teens. It's frustrating that the author offers no facts in support of this theory.
Another rumor is that Parker was involved with organized crime. Probate court records after Elvis' death show that Parker was losing one million dollars a year gambling in Las Vegas by the early 1960's. Certainly a man with heavy gambling debts would be vulnerable to collection pressures. It's plausible that Colonel Parker was unduly influenced in his managment decisions by his need to raise cash, but that doesn't mean that Parker is neccessarily guilty. The author suggests that Parker was involved with organized crime, but does not offer any proof to convict him. The author even speculates that Parker was close to surrendering his managent contract on Elvis to satisfy gambling debts. No facts are offered to support these rumors. All that is known for sure is that Colonel Parker was a heavy gambler.
This is just a poorly crafted book. Dickerson's writiing is competent enough, but his research work is shoddy. People write books about Elvis Presley all the time. His old girl friends, his family members, his friends, his band members, have all written books about Elvis. With so many books about Elvis out there, why waste time reading this one?
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating insight into The Colonel & into Elvis' career 5 Sep 2002
By "hounddog-1" - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I like to learn about Elvis from the inside out. This is unquestionably one of the best and most interesting books I have ever read about Elvis' career. It is a fascinating and enlightening insight into Colonel Parker and thus into Elvis and his career also. Dickerson's approach takes you down a road I don't believe has been explored before. He has done remarkable research into (i) what influenced and shaped The Colonel and enabled him to emerge as a revolutionary and unique manager and (ii) into the underlying cultural and political forces of the time that greatly influenced the course of this particular piece of history. If you are serious about learning about Elvis and The Colonel, Dickerson's writing makes you think; it opens doors and suddenly so much becomes clear. The first half of the book is, perhaps, kinder to The Colonel than the second half; but, above all, if you want new and interesting information and great insight into these two gentlemen (Elvis and The Colonel), this book is brilliant. This book is well worth your time and money.
3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What the experts have to say! 11 Mar 2002
By "jjjones70" - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
FROM THE BOOKJACKET:
"James Dickerson's research has confirmed more than I ever suspected"--Scotty Moore, Elvis's guitarist and first manager
"An indendiary, powerful investigative account . . . an explanation, finally, of the twisted, corrupt relationship between Elvis and Colonel Parker"--Joe Eszterhas, best-selling author, screenwriter and former writer for Rolling Stone magazine
"This jaw-dropping biography of Tom Parker confirms what I felt for years--that the Colonel was a far more fascinating rascal than Elvis ever became. This is a model of research assembled with crafty objectivity and humor"--Hal Kanter, director of the Elvis film "Loving You"
"Here is the whole sad and amazing story of 'the most accomplished con man since Barnum.' In swift, deft strokes Dickerson has sketched the greed, compulsion, and lies that drove every decision in the making of undoing of rock and roll's greatest talent. This is the book our study of popular culture's most glittering icon has lacked"--Lewis Nordan, author of "The Sharpshooter Blues"
"This riveting biography shines a hard light on the inscrutable Colonel . . . Dickerson has made it easy to understand that if rock and roll will never die, it owes its life to how Parker wrote the rules of the game"--Mark Ribowsky, author of "He's a Rebel"
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