Elvis Presley's Strangest Concert

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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Karl Walter, Getty Images
When the FBI Investigated the 'Murder' of Nine Inch Nails's Trent Reznor
Karl Walter, Getty Images
Karl Walter, Getty Images

The two people standing over the body, Michigan State Police detective Paul Wood told the Hard Copy cameras, “had a distinctive-type uniform on. As I recall: black pants, some type of leather jacket with a design on it, and one was wearing combat boots. The other was wearing what looked like patent leather shoes. So if it was a homicide, I was thinking it was possibly a gang-type homicide.”

Wood was describing a puzzling case local police, state police, and eventually the FBI had worked hard to solve for over a year. The mystery began in 1989, when farmer Robert Reed spotted a circular group of objects floating over his farm just outside of rural Burr Oak, Michigan; it turned out to be a cluster of weather balloons attached to a Super 8 camera.

When the camera landed on his property, the surprised farmer didn't develop the footage—he turned it over to the police. Some local farmers had recently gotten into trouble for letting wild marijuana grow on the edges of their properties, and Reed thought the balloons and camera were a possible surveillance technique. But no state or local jurisdictions used such rudimentary methods, so the state police in East Lansing decided to develop the film. What they saw shocked them.

A city street at night; a lifeless male body with a mysterious substance strewn across his face; two black-clad men standing over the body as the camera swirled away up into the sky, with a third individual seen at the edge of the frame running away, seemingly as fast as possible. Michigan police immediately began analyzing the footage for clues, and noticed the lights of Chicago’s elevated train system, which was over 100 miles away.

It was the first clue in what would become a year-long investigation into what they believed was either a cult killing or gang murder. When they solved the “crime” of what they believed was a real-life snuff film, they were more shocked than when the investigation began: The footage was from the music video for “Down In It,” the debut single from industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails, and the supposed dead body was the group's very-much-alive lead singer, Trent Reznor.

 
 

In 1989, Nine Inch Nails was about to release their debut album, Pretty Hate Machine, which would go on to be certified triple platinum in the United States. The record would define the emerging industrial rock sound that Reznor and his rotating cast of bandmates would experiment with throughout the 1990s and even today on albums like The Downward Spiral and The Slip.

The band chose the song “Down In It”—a track with piercing vocals, pulsing electronic drums, sampled sound effects, and twisted nursery rhyme-inspired lyrics—as Pretty Hate Machine's first single. They began working with H-Gun, a Chicago-based multimedia team led by filmmakers Eric Zimmerman and Benjamin Stokes (who had created videos for such bands as Ministry and Revolting Cocks), and sketched out a rough idea for the music video.

Filmed on location among warehouses and parking garages in Chicago, the video was supposed to culminate in a shot with a leather-jacketed Reznor running to the top of a building, while two then-members of the band followed him wearing studded jumpsuits; the video would fade out with an epic floating zoom shot to imply that Reznor's cornstarch-for-blood-covered character had fallen off the building and died in the street. Because the cash-strapped upstarts didn’t have enough money for a fancy crane to achieve the shot for their video, they opted to tie weather balloons to the camera and let it float up from Reznor, who was lying in the street surrounded by his bandmates. They eventually hoped to play the footage backward to get the shot in the final video.

Instead, the Windy City lived up to its name and quickly whisked the balloons and camera away. With Reznor playing dead and his bandmates looking down at him, only one of the filmmakers noticed. He tried to chase down the runaway camera—which captured his pursuit—but it was lost, forcing them to finish shooting the rest of the video and release it without the planned shot from the missing footage in September of 1989.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the band, a drama involving their lost camera was unfolding in southwest Michigan. Police there eventually involved the Chicago police, whose detectives determined that the footage had been filmed in an alley in the city's Fulton River District. After Chicago authorities found no homicide reports matching the footage for the neighborhood and that particular time frame, they handed the video over to the FBI, whose pathologists reportedly said that, based on the substance on the individual, the body in the video was rotting.

 
 

The "substance" in question was actually the result of the low-quality film and the color of the cornstarch on the singer’s face, which had also been incorporated into the press photos for Pretty Hate Machine. It was a nod to the band's early live shows, in which Reznor would spew cornstarch and chocolate syrup on his band members and the audience. “It looks really great under the lights, grungey, a sort of anti-Bon Jovi and the whole glamour thing,” Reznor said in a 1991 interview.

With no other easy options, and in order to generate any leads that might help them identify the victim seen in the video, the authorities distributed flyers to Chicago schools asking if anyone knew any details behind the strange “killing.”

The tactic worked. A local art student was watching MTV in 1991 and saw the distinctive video for “Down In It,” which reminded him of one of the flyers he had seen at school. He contacted the Chicago police to tip them off to who their supposed "murder victim" really was. Nine Inch Nails’s manager was notified, and he told Reznor and the filmmakers what had really happened to their lost footage.

“It’s interesting that our top federal agency, the Federal Bureau of [Investigation], couldn’t crack the Super 8 code,” co-director Zimmerman said in an interview. As for Wood and any embarrassment law enforcement had after the investigation: “I thought it was our duty, one way or the other, to determine what was on that film,” he said.

“My initial reaction was that it was really funny that something could be that blown out of proportion with this many people worked up about it,” Reznor said, and later told an interviewer, “There was talk that I would have to appear and talk to prove that I was alive.” Even though—in the eyes of state, local, and federal authorities—he was reportedly dead for over a year, Reznor didn’t seem to be bothered by it: “Somebody at the FBI had been watching too much Hitchcock or David Lynch or something,” he reasoned.

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Courtesy of Park Circus and MGM
West Side Story Is Returning to Theaters This Weekend
Courtesy of Park Circus and MGM
Courtesy of Park Circus and MGM

As Chris Pratt and a gang of prehistoric creatures get ready to face off against some animated superheroes for this weekend’s box office dominance, an old rivalry is brewing once again on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. West Side Story—Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins’s classic big-screen rendering of Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim’s Broadway musical—is returning to cinemas for the first time in nearly 30 years.

As part of TCM’s Big Screen Classics Series, West Side Story will have special screening engagements at more than 600 theaters across the country on Sunday, June 24 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. If you can’t make it this weekend, encores will screen at the same time on Wednesday, June 27. The film—which is being re-released courtesy of TCM, Fathom Events, Park Circus, and Metro Goldwyn Mayer—will be presented in its original widescreen format, and include its original mid-film intermission. (Though its 2.5-hour runtime is practically standard nowadays, that wasn’t the case a half-century ago.) The screening will include an introduction and some post-credit commentary by TCM’s Ben Mankiewicz.

West Side Story, which was named Best Picture of 1961, is a musical retelling of Romeo and Juliet that sees star-crossed lovers Maria (Natalie Wood) and Tony (Richard Beymer) navigate the challenges of immigration, racial tension, and inner-city life in mid-century Manhattan—but with lots of singing and dancing. In addition to being named Best Picture, the beloved film took home another nine Oscars, including Best Director, Best Supporting Actor and Actress (for George Chakiris and Rita Moreno, respectively), and Best Music—obviously.

To find out if West Side Story is screening near you, and to purchase tickets, visit Fathom Events’s website.

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