The King’s New Clothes – Elvis Presley and Lansky Brothers

They say you should dress for the job you want, not the job you have. A young Elvis Presley did just that, with the help of Lansky Brothers Men’s Clothing Store. Elvis began shopping at this Memphis store when he was still in high school. He wanted to be an entertainer, and he followed many of the city’s local entertainers into Lansky Brothers. It wasn’t long before Elvis was dressing just like the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll he always knew he’d be. Lansky Brothers Men’s Clothing Store began in 1946, when Samuel Lewis Lansky, a Russian immigrant, purchased a store at 126 Beale Street for $125. He bought the store for his sons, Bernard and Guy. The store that had previously inhabited that location sold women’s clothes, so the Lanskys tossed the women’s wear and opted to sell what was readily available – army surplus clothing, thanks to the end of World War II. Once that trend died down, the men found their true calling – selling fashion for men. Bernard and Guy often traveled to California and New York to check out and buy the latest styles, which caused a stir back home in Memphis – no one had seen such bold colors and patterns. As Bernard said, the store sold clothes in vibrant “Life Savers” colors, like red, orange, yellow, green and purple. The Lansky Brothers display windows were always a sight to see, full of flashy, eye-catching designs. The store became a hit with local entertainers, church groups and bands. The guys focused on selling quality clothes at a fair price – in fact, the store claimed it was “just around the corner from high prices.” Bernard Lansky first noticed a young Elvis Presley checking out the store’s window displays in the spring of 1952. He invited Elvis to come in and shop, but the young king declined, saying he didn’t have any money. As the story goes, Elvis told him, “When I get rich, I’ll buy you out,” and Bernard replied, “Do me a favor: Don’t buy me out, just buy from me.” Elvis made good on that deal. Soon, he returned to the store to buy a shirt for $3.95. When prom season arrived, Elvis asked the tailors at Lansky’s to create a unique suit for him – one with a pink coat, black pants and a pink and black cummerbund. The pink...
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Elvis Presley’s #1 Hits – Part 3

One of the most breathtaking sights at Elvis Presley’s Graceland is the wall of Gold, Diamond and Platinum Records hanging in the Elvis: The Entertainer Career Museum. It’s an entire wall full of awards – and there are even more awards on the surrounding walls. This year on the Graceland Blog, we’re celebrating Elvis’ Number 1 hits. Check out part one and part two, and now, here’s part three. “Hound Dog” You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog Cryin’ all the time Well, you ain’t never caught a rabbit you ain’t no friend of mine Originally, this song was performed by a woman, as she told off her “hound dog” of a man. This song, however, was written by two men – Mike Stoller and Jerry Leiber. They penned the tune for blues artist Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton, whose 1953 original landed at No. 1 on the Billboard R&B singles chart in the US. Rufus Thomas recorded “Bear Cat,” an “answer song” written by Sam Phillips, also in 1953. Freddie and the Bellhops recorded a male-perspective version of “Hound Dog” in 1955, and the group performed it in 1956 in Las Vegas. Elvis caught one of the group’s performances and loved their version; soon, he was also performing it live. Elvis recorded “Hound Dog” on July 2, 1956, at RCA Studios in New York, just one day after singing the tune to a Basset Hound on the Steve Allen Show. “Hound Dog” was recorded at the same session just prior to “Don’t Be Cruel,” so all of the same musicians were present, except Shorty Long, who was running late. Gordon Stoker filled in for him on piano. The Jordanaires provided background vocals and the clapping. (Learn more about “Don’t Be Cruel” from part 1 of this series.) It proved difficult to capture the excitement of Elvis’ live “Hound Dog” performances, and it took 31 takes for Elvis to be truly happy with the recording. “Hound Dog,” with “Don’t Be Cruel,” arrived in stores a few weeks after they were recorded. The two tracks were equally popular and fought for the top spot on the charts. “Hound Dog” has been covered numerous times by the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis, Jimi Hendrix (look out for artifacts from the legend in the new Icons exhibit at Graceland), James Taylor, Little Richard and many more. “Good Luck Charm” Come on and be...
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Animal Instinct: Elvis Presley’s Pets

In “Tiger Man,” Elvis Presley sings that he’s the “king of the jungle” – and that’s a pretty accurate description of the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Elvis loved animals of all kinds. He had many pets during his lifetime – so many, in fact, that it would be a pretty difficult to name them all. We’ll stick to a few of the favorites for this week’s blog. When Elvis purchased Graceland in 1957, he bought not only the house, but 13.8 acres of the surrounding land. That provided for a nice little farm for the Presley family. Elvis’ mother, Gladys, had some chickens, and Elvis owned a turkey named Bowtie. Vernon, Elvis’ father, raised hogs, and he smoked and cured pork in the old pump house that Elvis, years later, would turn into a temporary makeshift firing range (you can tour this building at Graceland). Elvis was given some donkeys, but because the fence around the property wasn’t finished yet, he kept the donkeys in his new, empty swimming pool. The Presley family added even more animals to their farm when Elvis, Vernon and friend Lamar Fike drove a limousine to Germantown, just outside of Memphis, to buy more chickens and ducks. Lamar sat in the back of the limo with the birds to try to control them, but they flew around and made a mess. They cleaned and fumigated the limo, but it was never the same, and the vehicle was eventually replaced. And speaking of birds, Elvis once had a mynah bird that would repeat the excuses it heard about why Elvis couldn’t come to the phone: “Elvis is asleep,” “Elvis isn’t available,” “Elvis isn’t here.” One day the bird began repeating all of the phrases, over and over, which Elvis thought was hilarious. Australian fans sent Elvis a wallaby – twice. Once was while he was filming “Jailhouse Rock” in 1957, and the second time was in 1962. He donated each of the animals to the Memphis Zoo. Elvis also had a few peacocks, but they scratched at their reflections in the shiny paint of his cars – so they, too, went to live at the Memphis Zoo. Elvis owned several horses throughout this lifetime – in fact, you can read more about them here on a past Graceland Blog post. His favorite horses included Rising Sun, a golden palomino quarter horse and a Tennessee Walking Horses named Bear. A...
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Elvis Presley, the Student

Get your No. 2 pencils out – it’s back to school season. The stores are full of supplies and school bells are ringing, and surely, Elvis fans everywhere are wondering: what was Elvis like as a student? Elvis is often described, especially in high school, as a “fair” student, earning a lot of B’s and a few C’s. He graduated high school in 1953, not long before his incredible career took off. But of course, Elvis’ school years began in Tupelo, Mississippi, where he was born. He began first grade in the fall of 1941 at East Tupelo Consolidated School on Lake Street. Elvis continued his elementary school years in Tupelo, mostly uneventful, until the fifth grade. October 3, 1945, was Children’s Day at the Mississippi-Alabama State Fair, and all of the schools were let out for the day. Elvis’ fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Oleta Grimes, entered Elvis into the fair’s talent show after hearing him sing in the morning prayer program at school. He sang “Old Shep” with no accompaniment. He won fifth place, and the prize was a few dollars worth of ride tickets. Elvis would later recall that his mother, Gladys, gave him a spanking that day too, probably for riding the more dangerous rides and giving her a scare. Elvis entered sixth grade at Milam Junior High School, which is still there, in Tupelo, in September 1946. His classmates remembered Elvis as a shy boy who didn’t fit in very well, but that he loved music. He often sang gospel favorites and songs he learned from listening to the Grand Ole Opry on the radio. Gladys bought Elvis his first guitar in 1946, and by the time Elvis entered the seventh grade at Milam, he was bringing that guitar to school with him most every day. He’d play during recess and lunch time for his classmates. His classmates were mostly indifferent to his performances – and a few were even hostile. During Elvis’ eighth grade year at Milam, a group of bullies cut his guitar strings. Elvis’ classmates knew how much Elvis loved his guitar, and some of them took up a collection to buy him another set of strings. A few months later, the Presley family moved to Memphis, where Elvis was enrolled in the eighth grade at Humes High School. Vernon later recalled that Elvis looked very nervous as he walked his son to the...
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