Elvis Presley's Strangest Concert

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Based on the pandemonium Elvis Presley had generated the last two times he played Jacksonville, Florida, Colonel Tom Parker, his manager, booked him for six shows over two days in August of 1956. All six shows would be at the Florida Theater, a medium-sized venue that held about 2,200 people.

The 21-year-old Elvis was quickly becoming a national celebrity based on the riots he had stirred up in places like Jacksonville. A few months earlier, after his Jacksonville performances, which included his trademark bumps, grinds, and hip motions, "Elvis the Pelvis" had incited the female members of the crowd to nearly tear him apart like jackals on a rabbit. They literally tore the clothes off his back. Besides his gyrations, Elvis would also lie face down on stage, stretching full out on the microphone, writhing and saying things every girl in the crowd wanted to hear. And while the girls were whipped into a frenzy by Elvis's controversial singing and moves, their boyfriends were furious with jealousy, and many wanted to tear the young singer apart themselves.

Although the teenage girls were enthralled, the adults of Jacksonville were both worried and terrified. And so it was that before his August concerts of 1956, Elvis Presley was ordered to meet with local judge Marion W. Gooding. Meeting Elvis with Judge Gooding were the Optimists Club and the National Congress of the P.T.A. All were up in arms, "frozen stiff with outrage and bewilderment" at Elvis's "bizarrely spasmodic and purely sexual" moves. They saw Elvis as arrogant, sneering, dangerous, and defiant -- the very embodiment of the 1950's juvenile delinquent -- and insisted the judge warn him to tone down his libidinous intensity.

"They had me convinced that no teenage girl was safe around Elvis Presley..."

"They had me convinced that no teenage girl was safe around Elvis Presley," Judge Gooding recalled years later. "They wanted to have him watched at the theater and they wanted his hotel room watched. They had him pictured as a real villain."

In his chambers, the judge warned Elvis and his manager that he would be present at the first show and that he had prepared warrants charging him with "impairing the morality of minors." As if for proof, deputies would be stationed in wings of the Florida Theater.

After the meeting, Elvis told reporters, "I don't know what I'm doing wrong. I know my mother approves of what I'm doing."

Judge Gooding called Elvis a sweet, gentle kid, "with the sort of good manners that we associate with southern politeness." Still, the judge attended the first show at 3:30 p.m.

On stage, Elvis opened with his current hit, "Heartbreak Hotel," and threw his hips out once. "I'm going to put him in jail, sure as anything," Gooding whispered to the lawyer in the theater. But then Elvis caught himself and decided to have some fun.

"Wait a minute. I can't do this..."

"Wait a minute. I can't do this. They won't let me do this here," Elvis told the audience. To everyone's amazement, instead of shaking, wiggling, and jumping around, Elvis stood perfectly still. Then he wiggled his little finger suggestively in place of his usual movements. This thrilled the crowd, who found "the finger" both hilarious and deeply erotic. Elvis continued the finger twitching movements throughout the remainder of the concert.

"The kids went nuts anytime he did anything," said June Juanico, Elvis's girlfriend at the time. "He could just make a funny face, and they would scream. These teenagers would just go crazy."

So Judge Gooding's wife, the Goodings' three daughters, and their girlfriends all watched as Elvis wiggled his finger suggestively throughout the unique concert. Even they roared when Elvis dedicated "Hound Dog" to the judge.

"Everybody in the audience got the biggest charge out of that," said Marilyn, one of the judge's daughters.

After the concert, Elvis happily told June (who hadn't been able to attend that day) all about it: "Baby, you should have been there. Every time D.J. [Elvis's drummer] did his thing on the drums, I wiggled my finger, and the girls went wild. I never heard screams like that in my life. I showed them sons of bitches--call me vulgar. Baby, you don't think I'm vulgar, do you?" Then, to lighten the mood, Elvis put a pair of June's panties on his head and strode around the room.

Elvis performed all six concerts in the Florida Theater on August 10th and 11th with no pelvis thrusts or gyrations, just the "sexy" wiggling of his pinky finger.

Elvis's mother, Gladys, hearing later about Judge Gooding, told her beloved son to never, ever go back to Jacksonville. There was nothing for him there except trouble.

But he had made some new fans. The judge's grandson, Tony, would grow up to idolize Elvis and plaster Presley posters over his walls. And the last Christmas Judge Gooding was alive, for a Christmas present, he gave his wife an album of Elvis Presley singing religious songs. There seem to have been no hard feelings by the judge or anyone after Elvis's "censored" performances in Jacksonville.

But what about Elvis himself? Did Elvis leave the Florida Theater with any kind of upset or angry feelings?

Well, after Elvis's sixth show and final performance in Jacksonville on August 11th, Elvis had a little message for the good judge and his cronies in attendance, according to Juanico.

"F**k you very much..."

"You know how Elvis always said, 'Thank you very much'? I heard it clear as day. He said, 'F**k you very much. F**k you very much.' Everybody was screaming, but all the members of his entourage heard it. He did it twice and he looked over at me and grinned." But June couldn't quite believe what she had heard. She couldn't believe Elvis had said those words right on stage, in front of everybody.

After the concert, once they were alone together, June asked Elvis if she'd heard him correctly.

"You heard correctly," he replied.


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.

Read all Eddie's mental_floss stories.

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March 23, 2012 - 3:34am
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