On this day in 1956, Love Me Tender, featuring the singer Elvis Presley in his big-screen debut, premieres in New York City at the Paramount Theater. Set in Texas following the American Civil War, the film, which co-starred Richard Egan and Debra Paget, featured Elvis as Clint Reno, the younger brother of a Confederate soldier. Originally titled The Reno Brothers, the movie was renamed Love Me Tender before its release, after a song of the same name that Reno sings during the film. Presley, who became one of the biggest icons in entertainment history, sang in the box-office hit Love Me Tender as well as the majority of the 33 movies (31 features and two theatrically released concert documentaries) he made in his career. Despite the commercial success of his films, many were considered formulaic and forgettable, and critics have argued that Elvis never achieved his full potential as an actor.
Elvis Aaron Presley, who was born on January 8, 1935, in Tupelo, Mississippi, began his music career with Sun Records in Memphis in 1954. In March 1956, he released his first album for RCA, Elvis Presley, which went to the top spot on Billboard’s pop album chart and launched him on his way to super-stardom. In late March of that same year, Presley had his first Hollywood screen test, for a movie called The Rainmaker. He failed to get the role, which went to Burt Lancaster, and instead began shooting Love Me Tender that August. Soon after, on September 9, 1956, Elvis made the first of three appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show and the popular variety show received record-breaking ratings. (When Elvis made his third appearance on the program, the TV censors infamously allowed him to be shown only from the waist up, for fear his swiveling hips would scandalize the nation.)
In November 1957, Presley’s third film, Jailhouse Rock, opened in theaters across the United States. The movie, which is considered by many critics to be one of his best, contains the now-iconic “cell block” dance production number, choreographed by Elvis and set to his song “Jailhouse Rock.” Elvis’s fourth movie, King Creole, was released in July 1958 and is also considered a standout, earning him some of the strongest reviews of his acting career. Co-starring Walter Matthau, Carolyn Jones, Vic Morrow and Dean Jagger, King Creole was helmed by Casablanca’s Michael Curtiz and based on a Harold Robbins novel called A Stone for Danny Fisher.
The “King of Rock ‘n’ Roll”‘s eighth film, Blue Hawaii, debuted in 1961 and ushered in an era of Presley movies featuring lightweight plots, pretty girls and multiple musical numbers. Among his other films during this time are Fun in Acapulco (1963), Viva Las Vegas (1964), Clambake (1967) and The Trouble with Girls (1969). Elvis’s 29th movie, a Western called Charro! in which he sported a beard, was released in 1968 and is the one film in which he doesn’t sing on camera.
Presley’s final feature film was Change of Habit (1970), in which he portrayed a doctor and Mary Tyler Moore played a nun. After suffering from health problems and drug dependency, Elvis died at the age of 42 on August 16, 1977, at Graceland, his home in Memphis, Tennessee.