on 19 December 2001
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.
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!