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!