One of Elvis’ earliest and most prolific pop culture-changing moments happened 60 years ago this month: “Jailhouse Rock” was released on November 8, 1957.
“Jailhouse Rock” was Elvis’ third movie, but thanks to the electrifying dance scene, Elvis’ leading man status and the iconic inmate costume, the film is one of the most famous Presley pictures. It’s more than a highlight of time in the movie business; it’s one of the most well-known and beloved moments of his entire career.
“Jailhouse Rock” premiered October 17, 1957 in Memphis, Tennessee. It opened nationwide in November.
In “Jailhouse Rock,” Elvis stars as Vince Everett, a construction worker who is sentenced to jail after accidentally killing a man in a bar fight. After his release from prison, Vince becomes a singing sensation, thanks to his country star cellmate, Hunk (Mickey Shaughnessy) and Peggy (Judy Tyler) who helps manage his career. Elvis plays the part well, taking Vince from a young man with a hot temper to a rebellious rock star. Fans still swoon at Elvis’ most famous lines from the movie, like “It ain’t tactics honey – it’s just the beast in me.”
The famous dance scene is often considered the first “music video.” Choreographer Alex Romero had originally planned for the scene to be full of smooth, Fred Astair-type dancing, but of course, Elvis is Elvis – not Fred Astair. He asked Elvis to perform a few songs as if he was performing on stage at a concert. After watching Elvis’ natural dance moves, he redesigned the entire number.
That dance sequence would impact the film in more ways than one. While filming the number, Elvis aspirated a cap off one of his teeth, and it lodged in his lung. He was hospitalized, and his doctor had to part his vocal cords to retrieve it from his lung. Thankfully, Elvis’ golden voice was not harmed, but the incident did influence the movie – that’s why Vince suffers a throat injury toward the end of the film.
Elvis was released from the hospital in California the same day as his parents moved into their new home: Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee.
When filming wrapped, Elvis boarded a train for Memphis. He was excited to see Graceland, so he left the train in Louisiana and rented a car to drive the rest of the way to Memphis. He spent his first night at Graceland on June 26, 1957.
Elvis’ “Jailhouse Rock” co-star Judy Tyler was killed in a car crash shortly after filming wrapped, on July 3, 1957. She was just 24, and her husband, who were newlywed, was also killed. Elvis devastated to hear the news and did not attend the movie’s premiere in Memphis on October 17.
“Jailhouse Rock” opened nationwide on November 8, 1957, and it peaked at No. 3 and would be the 14th most successful film of the year. By 1969, Variety reported its U.S. and Canadian earnings had reached $4 million, comparable to that of “The Wizard of Oz.”
If you love Elvis’ movies, check out Elvis: The Entertainer Career Museum at Elvis Presley’s Memphis at Graceland. It’s the world’s largest Elvis museum, and it contains artifacts from Elvis’ historic career, including jumpsuits, awards and more – including movie props, scripts and costumes. You can only experience the museum here at Graceland, so make plans to visit Graceland now.
And tell us - what are your favorite "Jailhouse Rock" scenes and songs?