Film footage of Elvis Presley, the martial artist
A companion to these photo pages that includes additional information and 133 Quicktime video clips.
NOTE: I'm doing my best to dig up accurate photo credits for the photographs below -- I culled them from the Worldwide Web over quite a long period of time and only a couple of people's sites provide photo credit. I'll put up photo credits as I sort them out (just wanted to get this addition to the "Elvis and the Martial Arts" page up before then or I may never do it). My primary sources for images were:
The Canuck's Elvis Pages
Silvester's Elvis Pages
Elvis Presley In Concert
Paul's Elvis Page
Other photos came from all over the place, including:
At left, a crowd of fans trying to get to Elvis. At right, Elvis being escorted backstage by law-enforcement officers. Both photos are circa 1956 but escorts and protective phalanxes of police, state troopers, and even National Guard soldiers were something that Elvis got used to being surrounded by throughout his career, when performing live, traveling to and from venues, and while in the recording studio. Elvis was unique among those in the upper stratsophere of pop and rock stardom in that he was unable -- throughout his career -- to go anywhere by himself for fear of being mobbed or perhaps suffering even more serious consequences. The same suffocating fame kept him a virtual prisoner for most of his adult life, turned him ever more toward a nocturnal life in which he rented entire amusement parks and movie theaters (even department stores) to allow him a taste of the recreational outlets available to 'normal' people, insulated him from those same 'normal' people (who he often saw only from a stage), and contributed greatly to his untimely end. Unlike many true superstars, though -- most of whose light shone far dimmer and more briefly than his -- Elvis was polite and considerate to the fans who hung around his gates or otherwise tried to catch a glimpse of him in less chaotic crowds than the one pictured. From the beginning -- even before national fame -- Elvis' popularity placed him at risk as he avoided the none-too-tender ministrations of his females fans' jealous boyfriends, assorted rednecks who disdained his 'negro' (to put it somewhat politely) ways and music. He proved that he could handle himself in physical confrontation long before he began studying martial arts and often stressed the point that his karate was not about fighting...by the 1960s, Elvis had surounded himself with a cadre of people whose ranks included karate-trained bodyguards (some of them included among his entourage as people whose purported loyalty did not extend beyond Elvis' death and ended in post-mortem character assassination). These bruisers were sometimes more trouble than Elvis needed -- some had pronounced violent streaks that resulted in lawsuits -- but they did help protect Elvis from the crowds that, certainly by the late '60s, could well have included a notoriety-seeking would-be assassin (Elvis often worried about assassination, was the target of many death threats and bomb threats during his 1970s concert career, and erased all doubt in his mind that those he paid to protect him would let someone live who could say that he had killed Elvis Presley). In the end, the potential assassins never hit the target and Elvis experienced little physical threat other than the considerable risk he took around his sometiems-frenzied "regular" fans and concerts audiences, but the always-resent crowds nevertheless helped him to an early death. Elvis was famous as nobody before or since, and the hackneyed phrase is true: he paid the ultimate price.
Elvis in court as a result of a fracas at a Memphis gas station on October 18, 1956, four days after he completed a brief but spectacular series of concerts in Texas. The station's manager, Ed Hopper, brought charges of assault against Elvis. Witnesses backed up Elvis' side of the story, thusly: Elvis' presence at the gas station attracted a crowd and Hopper none-too-politely asked Elvis to leave, rapidly escalating the situation to the point at which Hopper cuffed Elvis on the back of his head. Hey, man, don't be messing up my hair. The two came to blows and, though crewcut Ed Hopper was a far meatier type than the relatively slender 21-year-old, Elvis beat the heck out of him (as proven by post-fight picture that I haven't yet seen on the Internet). Station attendant Aubrey Brown, all 6'4" of him, rushed in to have a go at the young rock'n'roller and was probably quite surprised that he, too, came out in second place. One of the attackers may have had a knife, though I'm not sure whether that's true or a later embellishment. Elvis seems to have escaped without injury and, ten days later, tore up the nation's television screens during his second of three appearances on Ed Sullivan's show. I must say that I am endlessly impressed by the outcome of this fight. Elvis didn't always prevail, and was protected to some extent by Red West during his high-school years, but he was a scrappy type when he had to be and obviously capable of taking his best shot at self-defense. The judge ended up acquitting Elvis and fining his two assailants, who were promptly fired by the gas station's management, for assault and battery. Less than a month later, while Elvis was playing Toledo, OH, he was attacked again. This time the aggressor was a sheet-metal worker named Louis Balint, who resented that his wife carried a picture or pictures of Elvis in her purse (he was fined but didn't have the money on him so instead went to jail). It's perhaps no coincidence that Elvis would never again be as publicly accessible and that his seclusion became complete and entrenched a few months later when he bought Graceland.
Elvis practicing boxing at home on Audubon Drive, in Memphis, in December, 1956. It had been quite a year for Elvis, who started the year as a relative unknown with a growing regional reputation and ended it as the epitome of the word 'superstar,' his fame by this time starting to spread beyond the borders of his home country.
When questioned in the '50s and early '60s, Elvis listed football as one of his favorite activities -- once he listed it and karate as favorites and noted that both were action-oriented and more to his taste than sedate pastimes like golf. Elvis lived and died by his credo of 'taking it to the max,' and constantly sought new stimulation for his keen mind and restless and apparently indefatigable body. It would be two decades from the time this photo was taken (it looks like circa 1957) until Elvis' spring finally wound down.
Elvis' third film, Jailhouse Rock, and his fourth, King Creole, are classics that indicate just how naturally talented Elvis was as an actor and how good he may have become had his career traveled a different path. Both films were shot in black and white and both, moreso than those before or after, highlighted the 'darker' side of Elvis' image and -- to some extent -- of his nature. Elvis was convincing as a 'bad boy,' a film archetype that he never again really adopted after 1960. These photos are publicity stills for 1958's excellent King Creole, a film directed by Michael Curtiz, the man who brought Casablanca (among others) to the screen. Against a supporting cast stronger than any he'd had before or would after, Elvis delivered a performance that he was happy with and that made the critics, who'd almost universally dismissed his earlier efforts, sit up and take notice. These stills capture the bad-boy image quite nicely. The film was completed during a short deferment from the beginning of Elvis' two-year duty with the US Army, a duty that could not have come at a worse time for the young man who was by now poised at the top of an unprecedented career and famed around the world. Was Elvis finished? Many couldn't see how his career could survive two years of isolation from the public eye, especially when rock 'n' roll was widely reckoned a fad at the mercy of a fickle teenaged audience, but they hadn't counted on the phenomenon that was Elvis Presley.
Elvis was a good soldier, who did his duty alongside his fellow GIs without complaint, but he apparently was not all that happy about being in the Army. Still, he must have enjoyed the opportunity to get at some of these military weapons and -- as student of history with a particular interest in modern warfare -- the opportunity to be involved with aspects of military strategic and tactical planning (he was commended for hatching the scheme whereby his unit won a skirmish during maneuvers). Elvis was deployed at the East German border for part of his time there, freezing himself half to death while on extended operations, which the East Germans claimed was part of an Imperialist American plot to undermine the will of their youth. I vaguely remember a story about Elvis and at least one other fellow soldier accidentally straying across the border, but please don't quote me on that as the details are fuzzy and I may be wrong. Elvis rose to Sergeant while stationed in Germany and it was there that he would meet his future wife. It was also while stationed in Germany that Evis would begin his formal study of the martial arts, under well-known instructor Jurgen Seydal, in December, 1959.
Elvis with Murakami Tetsuji, a Shotokan sensei Elvis trained with while on leave in Paris in January, 1960. Elvis' current instructor back in Germany, Jurgen Seydel, set the training up and accompanied Elvis. Elvis trained at Sensei Tetsuji's cold and spartan Club Yoseikan quite intensively from January 13 to January 16, earning his brown belt in the process.
Elvis had this photo of him with his white belt -- probably from early 1960 -- retouched when he earned his black belt. I've returned the favor in the photo at right. In 1974, Elvis described (during an on-stage monologue about martial arts) how he tested five hours for his black belt, including sparring with two black belts. Al Tracy, veteran kenpo instructor who was also a participant in the late 1960 kenpo exhibition that led Elvis to meet Ed Parker, vouches for the severity of Hank Slomanski's training regimen (his interesting Web pages are linked to my Elvis-and-the-martial-arts links page). Sensei Slomanski awarded a battered Elvis his black belt on March 21, 1960, only 16 days after the young singer's discharge from the Army and 13 days after his return to Memphis.
Flaming Star , the 1960 western directed by Don Siegel (whose earlier accomplishments included Invasion of the Body Snatchers and whose later contributions included Hell Is for Heroes, Two Mules for Sister Sara, The Beguiled, Dirty Harry, Charley Varrick, and The Shootist), was an excellent film in which Elvis managed to -- for the only time, really, portray someone who the viewer did not recognize as Elvis. Playing a character of mixed Kiowa-Anglo heritage, caught between the two cultures in frontier Texas, Elvis faced both dramatic and physical challenges. Extended and violent fight sequences in the latter part of the film certainly gave Elvis a chance to show what he was made of in terms of his physical ability. A few months later, while filming his next movie -- another dramatic role in Wild In The Country -- the newly-minted black belt met Ed Parker for the first time at a demonstration that the kenpo legend gave in Beverly Hills.
Elvis at a breakfast in Memphis (February 25, 1961) held in his honor in Memphis, TN. One of the buttons he is wearing is a 'black belt' symbol. Elvis had come a long way since he first burst on the national -- and then international -- consciousness, and was finally at least somewhat embraced by the 'Establishment' that had so recently seen him as almost as great a threat as the specter of Communism, and possibly a greater threat than Communism to the country's moral fabric. The occasion of this breakfast was an event honoring Elvis' giving two benefit concerts in Memphis. Well into his movie career by now, and about to start an almost unbroken string of lightweight musicals that would comprise the bulk of his film work until 1968 (less than a month later he recorded the phenomenally successful Blue Hawaii soundtrack and flew to the islands to begin work on this definitive 'beach picture'), Elvis had not performed before a large live audience since his Hawaiian concerts in November, 1957. His benefit show in Hawaii (March 25, 1961, released by RCA in 1980) featured an excellent song selection and extremely energetic performances that provide insight into the Memphis shows and paint a regrettable picture of what might have been had Elvis not become mired in Hollywood -- Elvis, the consummate live performer, would not perform a true live concert again until the summer of 1969.
On location near Ocala, FL, for the filming of Follow That Dream in the summer of 1961. Elvis is grappling with his cousin, Billy Smith, between takes. Follow That Dream broke away from the formula established by the wildly successful GI Blues and Blue Hawaii and provoked Elvis' best sustained comedic performance caught on film -- an enjoyable movie, all around. A young Tom Petty, who lived near the shooting location, was apparently in one of the crowd scenes.
Elvis performing a takedown on bodyguard and friend, Red West, whose Hollywood career began with brief appearances in Elvis' movies. I'm not sure whether he's rehearsing a scene for this movie -- Follow That Dream , filmed on location in the Ocala area of north Florida in the summer of 1961 -- or if he's just doing a demo for the cast and crew. During the '60s, Elvis often performed lengthy karate demonstrations that included sparring with Red West and others and breaking boards.
Elvis was a major-league gun collector, too, and his collection included such things as BARs and other automatic weapons. Here he's playing with a tommygun on the set of Follow That Dream , a great movie shot on location near Ocala, FL, in the summer of 1961. Tom Petty, then an 11-year-old kid growing up in nearby Gainesville, met Elvis on the set (Tom's uncle was an assistant prop man for the film). Tom Petty credits the meeting as having changed his life and inspired him to take up music -- he formed his first band less than a year after his handshake from Elvis (his first step was to trade his slingshot to a friend in exchange for a stack of Elvis 45-rpm singles) and has included covers of Elvis songs in his live and recorded repertoire.
The 1962 movie, Kid Galahad , was shot on location in Southern California's San Bernadino mountains in a beautiful little town called Idyllwild, during the late fall and winter of 1961. The film was a loose remake of a 1937 feature that starred Humphry Bogart, Edward G. Robinson, and Bette Davis and that was directed by Michael Curtiz who later directed Elvis' King Creole . Elvis played a boxer in this movie, capitalizing on his physical ability and his recent immersion in martial arts. Included in the supporting cast were Gig Young and Charles Bronson -- Bronson wasn't impressed with Elvis' ability and his own statements about the making of the film paint him as something of a malcontent, to use a polite term. Elvis was not that impressed with Bronson, either (he referred to him as a "musclebound ape"), though he later enjoyed his Death Wish franchise. Things were much rosier between Elvis and his boxing coach, famed champion boxer and trainer Mushy Callahan, and the two enjoyed a mutual respect based on Callahan's ability and competence and Elvis' not being afraid of (in fact, reveling in) the hard work and punishment required to enhance his boxing skills for the screen. Callahan credited Elvis' martial-arts background as helping him learn quickly and absorb physical punishment.
Elvis in training for his film role. I'd guess that the other fellow is Mushy Callahan.
Another picture of Elvis preparing for his role as a boxer, with (who I assume to be) Mushy Callahan testing Elvis' abdominal integrity.
Elvis on the set of Kid Galahad, wearing his head protector.
A film shot and a promo shot of Elvis as a boxer.
Elvis bleeds for his art in Kid Galahad .
A fight scene from the 1962 movie, Girls! Girls! Girls!. Here Elvis is beating up Jeremy Slate, who plays a bad guy who isn't all that bad. I'm struck by Elvis' facial expression in this shot -- it looks like he's paving the way for Robin Williams' later portrayal of Popeye (the Sailor Man). Toot toot.
Elvis 'relaxing' at home in August, 1962, sparring with Red West (my thanks go to Johnny Savage for the corrected date). Visitors to Graceland and to Elvis' homes in Los Angeles were often privy to spontaneous displays of Elvis' martial prowess, either through sparring or through 'parlor tricks' that showcased his speed or strength. Shooting for It Happened at the World's Fair began in Culver City, CA, on August 27, 1962 -- in that movie, Elvis showed his ability to take a kick, albeit from a kid (played by Kurt Russell who, 17 years later, would portray Elvis).
Elvis' '60s movies inevitably included at least one fight scene, many of them heavily-laced with martial arts, though far shorter and less technical than those in the unrealistic but amazingly-choreographed fight scens in Hong-Kong kung-fu films that would follow. This shot is from 1964's Roustabout -- a rebellious Elvis had just finished a song called "Poison Ivy League" that offended some of his college-student audience and Elvis' charatcer and three of the frat-boys had an altercation after he came off the stage (sample dialogue: "I've seen more action in a zoo," to which Elvis replied "From what side of the cage, pal."). Things went downhill, as they tend to do, from there. The three collegians followed Elvis outside to his Honda 350cc motorcycle (Elvis tended to favor Harleys, but the more reliable and gutsy little Hondas were really making an inroad in the US at this time). Here's what happened:
College dude in suit: Is that your sickle?
Elvis: You oughta stop reading those hot-rod magazines, buddy. "Sickle" is out -- it's either "bike" or a "motorcycle."
Suit: Made in Japan, huh?
Elvis: That's right. Made in Japan.
Suit: What's the matter -- aren't American sickles good enough for you?
Elvis: You don't dig world trade, College Boy, after all the Economics they've tried to shove into you?
Thickset college dude in letter jacket: Get off, buddy.
(Elvis gets off the motorcycle)
Here's where it gets exciting -- the jock throws a right punch that Elvis parries with his left before chopping into the assailant's inner elbow and then back into his face with his right. The jock bites the dust as the second of the three college boys (who had no lines to deliver) charges in to be met by Elvis' palm strike -- as he doubles over, Elvis strikes down across his back and takes him to the ground. The fellow in the suit backs quickly away from the scene.
Elvis (to the suit-wearing student): C'mon. C'mon.
Suit: No, no...that's karate.
Elvis: That goes with the sickle. C'mon...
In the end, Elvis spends a bit of time in jail for breaking the jock's arm, but the movie eventually has a happy ending (of course). Thus does a fight scene in an Elvis movie get elevated to a masterly swipe at jingoism and ethnocentrism (as well as a bit of product placement for the Honda and for karate).
I don't know what Asian martial-arts weapons Elvis learned, if any, but in 1965's Harum Scarum he acquitted himself pretty well with this sword (then again, he was a big fan of Japanese samurai movies and particularly liked the 'Blind Swordsman' series). "Harum Scarum , to my mind, was perhaps Elvis' most dire movie -- certainly his most dire soundtrack in a year marked by dire soundtracks -- but it included a few scenes, and one very good mass fight scene, that partially redeemed the film.
A scene from the 1967 movie Easy Come, Easy Go (filmed in late 1966), in which Elvis gets in with the 'beat' crowd. Here he's giving yoga a try, singing the truly wretched (but sometimes fatally catchy) "Yoga Is As Yoga Does." In reality, Elvis was a serious student of yogic philosophy and the physical art itself, having become further and further immersed in his metaphysical and spiritual studies since hiring hairdresser Larry Geller, who shared Elvis' interests. According to Larry Geller's book, If I Can Dream, Elvis fumed over this song and this scene, convinced that the scheming Colonel Parker (who felt threatened both by Elvis' expanding his horizons and by Larry Geller's influence) had it written in to the script as a none-too-subtle put-down of a subject that Elvis sincerely cared about. As was usually the case, Elvis steeled himself and did it, regardless of his own feelings about what it represented.
A scene from the stellar 1968 TV Special (titled simply Elvis) that was shot in June, 1968 and first aired that December. The story of the television special (which, perhaps better than any other landmark, defined Elvis' return from celluloid exile -- 'comeback' is somewhat inappropriate because he still enjoyed a successful career, at least in terms of selling power, if not happiness and pride in his work) has been told many times, and this is a good place to read more about it. Basically, the show consisted of segments taped as studio production numbers and others taped as informal 'jam sessions' and more directed concert segments before a small studio audience -- these live segments include some of the highlights of Elvis' career, I think, and he knew that he had to prove to himself and the world that he still had what it took to live up to his own past and stride into the future an intact and unmatched performer. Originally conceived by Colonel Parker as a traditional Christmas show, Steve Binder (the young man in charge of the production) had other ideas and elicited Elvis' help in transforming the project into something entirely different. One of the show's major components followed, though song, the travails of the "Guitar Man" from "Nothingville" to fame and then back to his roots -- an in-a-nutshell approximation of Elvis' path to that summer of 1968. One of the songs included in the sequence was a great version of "It Hurts Me," a ballad written by Charlie Daniels and originally recorded by Elvis in a 1964 studio (non-soundtrack) session. The really weird thing about the performance is that Elvis breaks away from singing to his female co-star to deal with multiple attackers, singing all the while. The whole thing is probably a send-up of some of Elvis' '60s movies (he stated in a press conference held immediately after his 1969 return to the stage that he'd grown tired of singing to men in the movies that he'd beaten up a couple of scenes before) but it was also a great showcase for his martial arts. Unfortunately (perhaps fortunately, considering its somewhat offbeat sense-of-humor) the entire song was excised from the Special, along with a 'bordello scene' (to the tune of "Let Youself Go" -- one of the better latter-day movie songs delivered in down-and-dirty style) that was judged too racy for TV. Both scenes, along with additional songs not included in the original TV special, survive in modern videotape releases of the '68 Comeback Special.
During the same scene, Elvis' kenpo is ready and waiting for a would-be attacker's assault.
A bit of grappling handily foils an attacker's charging kick -- you know that Elvis must have had a lot of fun doing this scene. One of the ironies of this period is tha Elvis and Priscilla flew to Hawaii in May, 1968, to give Elvis a bit of a break and let him get a tan in preparation for the TV taping in June. On May 28, the two attended a karate tournament in Hawaii at which they watched champion karateka Mike Stone in action -- Elvis was impressed. Less than three years later, Mike Stone would be a figure in the split between Elvis and Priscilla.
Elvis back before a live audience (albeit in the confines of a TV studio) on June 29, 1968 in NBC's Burbank, CA studios. Elvis did two shows on this day and two a couple of days earlier, all filmed for inclusion (in part) in his 1968 Christmas TV Special. Colonel Parker's vision was to have Elvis sing the standard Christmas carols but, thanks in large part to the show's young Producer and Elvis himself, things turned out a little different. The taping of the TV special was one of the prime highlights of Elvis' entire career, and the two shows on June 29 were nothing short of mind-blowing. Elvis, visibly nervous as he opened with "Heartbreak Hotel" (his hand was shaking as he reached for the microphone) was insecure and uncertain that he would be able to pull it off or if he would be well-received...as it turned out, he had nothing to worry about
Elvis tears into "Jailhouse Rock" during one of the June 29, 1968 "stand-up" shows (the June 27 "sit-down" shows featured Elvis, in the same hot leather suit, jamming with some of his friends and musicians in what would now be called an 'unplugged' performance). His emerging new physical style is visible in these performances as an amalgam of his '50s approach, the moves of his early few '60s performances, and the more karate-driven style that would develop more and more over the next couple of years.
Another view of Elvis in action during one of the two 'stand-up' performances recorded at NBC's Burbank, CA studios on June 29, 1968.
Elvis' third-to-last scripted movie, Charro, was a Western that promised Elvis as a 'different kind of man...a different kind of role." Unfortunately, the film was somewhat undermined by fairly unimaginative writing and not the greatest production values -- it could have been quite something if the late 'spaghetti-western' master Sergio Leone had been at the helm -- but Elvis still delivered a nice performance and a look that was most definitely something of a departure. Here Elvis ups the violence quotient toward the end of the film. The film was shot during the summer of 1968 in California and near Phoenix, AZ.
This photo, taken at Graceland's gates in June, 1969 (thanks again to Johnny Savage for the correct date and location), shows Elvis signing autographs for his fans. Those responsible for Elvis' security must have been beside themselves during some of these encounters, and weren't helped much by Elvis' occasional sneaking off by himself (the most celebrated of which was his December, 1970 quest to get a Federal narcotics officer's badge for his collection, which ended with him visiting President Nixon in the Oval Office). Elvis had just recently completed filming Change of Habit, his last scripted movie, shot on location in Los Angeles during the spring of 1969 and wrapped on May 2.
1969. The 'Tiger Man' was back and in his element, live on stage. Las Vegas was the only real obstacle to his meteoric rise in 1956, and Elvis came back with a vengeance and a det