CLOSE
Liaison/Getty Images
Liaison/Getty Images

The Sad Story of Elvis Presley's Senior Prom

Liaison/Getty Images
Liaison/Getty Images

In 1953, Elvis Aaron Presley was an 18-year-old senior at Humes High School in Memphis, Tennessee. Elvis's date for the senior prom was the girl he was courting, a 14-year-old named Regis Wilson—a pretty, petite blonde with a big smile.

Wilson had a crush on Elvis, whom she considered "a gentle soul, but all boy—he kind of had this swagger to him." Elvis dressed differently than his classmates, often donning extremely colorful, loud pants and shirts, not at all the fashion for the typical male in the conservative 1950s. "He would show up in outfits that were so flashy I would open the door and blink my eyes," Wilson recalled in a book by Alanna Nash about the women in Elvis's life.

His hair was already unorthodox—heavily greased and slicked back into a ducktail, including sideburns running almost down to his chin. Still bearing the last vestiges of teenage acne on his face, though, Elvis was so shy he would sometimes stutter when faced with certain social situations. But if Elvis felt like an alien among other teenagers most of the time, he was never so out of place than on the night of his senior prom at the swanky (and segregated) Peabody Hotel in downtown Memphis.

"It was the most exciting thing I had ever done," Wilson recalled. "I felt like Cinderella getting ready to go to the Royal Ball." The excited 14-year-old had picked out a pink taffeta dress for $14.98 and accessorized it with pink shoes. Strapped for money, she had her hair done for free at the beauty college across the street from the Peabody. As she sat in the beauty chair, she excitedly looked at the Peabody Hotel across the street and said to herself, "Just think, in a few hours from now I'll be back here all dressed up."

Although most of the other boys wore white tuxedos, Elvis chose a relatively conservative dark blue suit. And he did have on a pair of blue suede shoes (no kidding!). He showed up at Wilson's door in a shiny rented Chevy, also dark blue, paid for with the money he had saved by ushering at the local movie theater. Shyly, as Wilson blushed, Elvis pinned a pink carnation corsage on her dress.

As the couple entered the Continental Ballroom at the Peabody, the band was playing, and couples were already out on the dance floor. But Elvis steered Regis to a seat and offered her a Coke.

"I can't dance," Elvis apologized shyly. (Wilson remembers him perspiring under his jacket.) Wilson took it that he didn't dance because he was so religious and sweetly replied, "That's all right." And so they sat out the entire night, talking and sipping on soda pop while watching the other couples.

Finally, they lined up with all the other couples for the grand march, stepping through a mammoth heart as their names were called and their picture was taken. In the photo, Wilson managed a half-smile, but Elvis looks as stiff as a soldier, peering solemnly into the camera.

Elvis apparently made no attempts to socialize. But Elvis promised Wilson they'd have more fun afterward at Leonard's Barbeque, where they'd meet some of his pals and go on to a party. They drove out and waited, but nobody ever showed. Wilson could tell it bothered him, and finally, chagrined, Elvis took her home.

A few weeks after the prom, Elvis dropped by Wilson's house to see her and found that she and her family had simply vanished.

Wilson's mother, financially strapped, had decided to move the family to Florida to live with her relatives. Wilson said she was "embarrassed" to tell Elvis she was moving. She couldn't bring herself to tell him how bad their financial situation was. Besides, she recalled, "Girls didn't call boys in those days," so she never said goodbye.

In the family's move to Florida, Wilson lost her photo from their prom date. But Elvis always kept his, and a few years later his mother gave a copy to a fan magazine. By then, Elvis Presley was a teen heartthrob and a national sensation, with very specific dance moves all his own.

Eddie Deezen has appeared in over 30 motion pictures, including Grease, WarGames, 1941, and The Polar Express. He's also been featured in several TV shows, including Magnum PI, The Facts of Life, and The Gong Show. And he's done thousands of voice-overs for radio and cartoons, such as Dexter's Laboratory and Family Guy.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Terror Vision
arrow
Pop Culture
The Unsolved Mysteries Soundtrack Is Coming to Vinyl
Terror Vision
Terror Vision

If you never missed an episode of Unsolved Mysteries, just listening to the opening theme of the series may be enough to raise the hairs on the back of your neck. Now, you don't need to wait to catch reruns of the show to experience the haunting music: The original soundtrack is now available to preorder on vinyl—the first time it's been available in any format.

Terror Vision, a company that releases obscure horror scores on vinyl, has produced two versions of the soundtrack: a single LP for $27 and a triple LP for $48. Both records were compiled from the original digital audio tapes used to score the show. Terror Vision owner and soundtrack curator Ryan Graveface writes in the product description: "The single LP version features my personal favorite songs from the ghost related segments of Unsolved Mysteries whereas the triple LP set contains EVERYTHING written for the ghost segments. This version is very very limited as it’s really just meant for diehard fans.”

Both LPs include various iterations of the Unsolved Mysteries opening theme—three versions on the single and five on the triple. Customers who spring for the triple LP will also receive liner notes from the show's creator John Cosgrove, composer Gary Malkin, and Graveface.

Over 30 years since the show first premiered, the theme music remains one of the most memorable parts of the spooky, documentary-style series. As producer Raymond Bridgers once said, "The music was so distinctive that you didn’t even have to be in the room to know that Unsolved Mysteries was on.”

You can preorder the records today with shipping estimated for late June.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Wikimedia Commons
arrow
music
11 Surprising Facts About Irving Berlin
Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

Irving Berlin is famous for writing classic American songs such as “White Christmas,” “God Bless America,” "Puttin' on the Ritz," and “There’s No Business Like Show Business.” Known as the King of Tin Pan Alley, he wrote more than 1000 songs that appeared in movies, TV shows, and Broadway musicals. In honor of what would be Berlin’s 130th birthday, here are 11 facts about the legendary songwriter.

1. HE WAS RUSSIAN BY BIRTH, NOT GERMAN.

Israel Isidore Baline was born May 11, 1888 in Mohilev, Russia. In the early 1890s, Berlin’s parents moved their family of eight (Israel, who was 5 at the time, was the youngest of six) from Russia to New York City’s Lower East Side to escape anti-Jewish pogroms. He went by Izzy in America in an attempt to assimilate, and when his first composition was printed, it bore the name "I. Berlin." Berlin allowed a rumor to circulate that it was a printing error that created his pen name, but biographers tend to note that he chose it because it closely resembled his birth name, but sounded less ethnic. In 1911, he legally made the change from Izzy Baline to Irving Berlin.

2. AFTER HIS FATHER DIED, HE QUIT SCHOOL AND BEGAN SINGING ON THE STREET.

Berlin's father, Moses Baline, had been a cantor (one who leads prayer songs) in Russia, but had trouble finding steady work in America. He died of chronic bronchitis when Berlin was just 13. Though the young boy had already been selling newspapers to try to help his family make money, Berlin quit school and, in an attempt to lessen the financial burden for his mother, he also moved out and lived in a ghetto on the Bowery, beginning when he was just 14 years old. To support himself, he busked on the streets and in back rooms of saloons for money, hoping that passersby and bar regulars would give him their spare change. He later worked as a singing waiter in Chinatown.

3. HE EARNED A HANDFUL OF COINS FOR HIS FIRST SONG.

In 1907, Berlin sold the publishing rights to his first song to a music publisher for 75 cents. Because he co-wrote the song, called “Marie from Sunny Italy,” with a pianist, Berlin only received half (approximately 37 cents) of the payment for the piece.

4. HIS RAGTIME SONG INSPIRED A TRENDY DANCE.

Long before the Macarena or the Harlem Shake, Berlin’s song “Alexander's Ragtime Band” (1911) topped the charts and sold more than 1 million copies of sheet music. Although it wasn’t an authentic ragtime song, it inspired people across the world to hit the dance floor. Over the decades, different singers including Ray Charles recorded versions of the song.

5. “WHEN I LOST YOU” WAS ABOUT THE DEATH OF HIS NEW WIFE.

In 1912, Berlin married Dorothy Goetz, but his new wife caught typhoid fever on their honeymoon in Cuba and died five months later. He wrote his first ballad, “When I Lost You,” about the experience: “I lost the sunshine and roses / I lost the heavens of blue / I lost the beautiful rainbow… When I lost you.” The song sold more than 1 million copies.

6. HE WROTE PATRIOTIC SONGS IN WWI AND WWII.

In 1917, during World War I, the U.S. Army drafted Berlin to write patriotic songs. In order to raise funds for a community building on his Long Island army base, he wrote Yip! Yip! Yaphank!, a popular musical revue performed by actual soldiers that later went to various theaters around New York. It included the popular song "Oh! How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning," which Berlin sang at each performance.

During World War II, Berlin wrote This Is The Army, which became a Broadway musical and 1943 film starring Ronald Reagan. Berlin chose not to personally profit from the show—he gave all the earnings, over $9.5 million, to the U.S. Army Emergency Relief Fund.

7. HE BOUGHT TRANSPOSING PIANOS DUE TO HIS LACK OF MUSICAL TRAINING.

Despite Berlin’s incredible songwriting success, he was neither classically trained nor educated in music theory. He only knew how to play the piano in F sharp, so in order to write songs that didn’t all sound the same, he bought transposing keyboards. These special keyboards changed the key, allowing him to play the same notes but produce different sounds. Berlin also paid music secretaries who notated and transcribed his music.

8. HIS INTERFAITH MARRIAGE GENERATED CONTROVERSY.


Getty Images

In 1925, Berlin met and fell in love with a Roman Catholic debutante named Ellin Mackay. Her father, a financier named Clarence Mackay, disapproved of Berlin because he was Jewish. The couple’s interfaith relationship attracted major press attention, and Mackay’s father reportedly disowned her when she married him in a secret ceremony in 1926. One biographer noted that though Irving was Jewish and Ellin was Catholic, their three daughters were raised Protestant, "largely because Ellin was in favor of religious tolerance." Mackay’s father came around several years later, and the Berlins were together for 62 years until Ellin's death in 1988. He died the following year at age 101.

9. HE GAVE ALL ROYALTIES FOR “GOD BLESS AMERICA” TO THE BOY AND GIRL SCOUTS.

Although Berlin originally wrote “God Bless America” during WWI for Yip! Yip! Yaphank!, he didn’t use the song until 1938. Through its lyrics, Berlin expressed his gratitude to America for giving him everything, and “God Bless America” became an instantly recognizable, patriotic song.

He decided that 100 percent of the song’s royalties would go to the Boy and Girl Scouts and the Campfire Girls. Thanks to Berlin’s God Bless America Fund, which assigned royalties from “God Bless America” (plus his other patriotic songs) to the Scouts, the organizations have received millions of dollars over the years.

10. HE COMPOSED ANNIE GET YOUR GUN AFTER HIS FRIEND’S SUDDEN DEATH.

In 1945, composer Jerome Kern (best known for Show Boat) started working on the score for a new Rodgers and Hammerstein-produced musical, Annie Get Your Gun. But when Kern died unexpectedly within a week of starting to write, Berlin took over scoring duties. Berlin’s music and lyrics for the musical, which included songs such as “There's No Business Like Show Business” and “Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better,” helped make Annie Get Your Gun a massive success.

11. ALTHOUGH “WHITE CHRISTMAS” IS HIS BIGGEST HIT, CHRISTMAS WAS A TRAGIC TIME FOR BERLIN.

“White Christmas” has become a Christmas classic, selling more than 100 million copies. But Christmas was a time of sadness for Berlin and his wife: their only son, also named Irving, died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome on Christmas Day in 1928. The baby was three weeks old when he died, and the Berlins, along with their three other children, mourned his death each holiday season.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios