A recent article that Tom Hanks might play the role of Colonel Tom Parker in a planned new Warner Brothers movie about the life of Elvis Presley attracted my attention.  I don’t know if the screenplay will feature Parker since no one was proposed for the Elvis role. I suspect this movie will be a backstage expose of the two men.

Floridatraveler ELVIS pic of Colonel Tom Parker

Florida and Elvis and the Colonel go hand in hand.  Yes, I know Elvis was raised in Tupelo, Mississippi, moved to Memphis as a teen, and showed up at Sam Philips’ Sun Records.

Elvis went on a Florida tour on May 7, 1955, with his guitarist Scotty Moore serving as manager and big brother.  The King of Rock got $50 to warm up Hank Snow and was just a red-sequined “Special Added Attraction” for what was mainly a country music tour, the most common show in the South.

The next day (May 8, 1955) Elvis was performing at Tampa’s Homer Hesterly Armory, the first of nine shows he would do in the Big Guava in the first fifteen months of his career.  By mid-1956, Elvis did 41 Florida shows. Young women immediately went wild and from the start experienced entertainers did not want the young singer to open their show.  Faron Young told Elvis it was dirty to shake his hips. 

FLORIDATRAVELER Fort Hesterly Armory-006

I never saw Elvis at Fort Hesterly since I moved to Florida in 1961, but I saw Elvis at the late Curtis Hixon Auditorium.  There was even a song about Elvis not liking Tampa, but he kept showing up with Tampa shows possibly because of the Colonel.

Colonel Parker was really “Andres van Kuijk” and he never became a U.S. citizen. The Colonel listing was also fake, a title he got from political friends and not military service.  Parker was once Tampa’s dogcatcher and he once lived above the Humane Society at 3607 North Armenia Avenue. He was a carnival announcer and then a Florida promoter, which is how he got became part of the Elvis story.

FLORIDARAVELER elvis Adams City Hatters

Parker was prematurely bald and that is how I met the Colonel.  When in town Parker got his famous fedoras from Joe Adams, Tampa’s mad hatter, and a downtown icon. It was clear from the start that Parker was a wheeler-dealer and disliked by many locals as a con man.  Parker loved to talk about Elvis to anyone who was in the store.

FLORIDARAVELER elvis and the colonel

Elvis was always “my boy.”  Parker kept saying this line. Parker hated airplanes so Elvis turned down huge sums of money to perform in Europe and Japan.  Parker had been kicked out of the Army so he hated Elvis’ military tour in Germany, where Parker lost influence. Elvis was committed to ten movies, each of which had to have a new album of songs of varying degrees of quality.

By the summer of 1956, Elvis had made 41 Florida concerts from Miami to Jacksonville.  Elvis’ July 30-31, 1955, show at Hesterly was the Parker’s first Elvis performance and Parker actually paid the Tampa Sertoma Club to get Elvis on a country show headed by TV star Andy Griffith.  A huge billboard showed Elvis in tiny letters.

FLORIDATRAVELER Elvis in Tampa and the photo albums

But that didn’t bother the Colonel.   He had hired the best photographer in Tampa, William Robertson, to capture the performance in front of a huge crowd, many of them older people.  These photos would be used on Elvis record covers for many years.  The Colonel also helped Elvis get a fancy convertible as part of the image.

FLORIDATRAVELER elvis the tonsil album

Elvis’ first hit also has Florida routes.  A Jacksonville fan Mae Axton wrote the music for friend Tommy Durden, a local guitarist, who wrote a song.  The tune was “Heartbreak Hotel.   And with a touch-up job to make the song more edgy, it became the song that launched Elvis into 1956 stardom.


About floridatraveler

Historian and travel writer M. C. Bob Leonard makes the Sunshine State his home base. Besides serving as content editor for several textbook publishers and as an Emeritus college professor, he moderates the FHIC at www.floridahistory.org
This entry was posted in florida history. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s