Elvis Presley’s Most Embarassing Moment Involves A Hound Dog
Elvis Presley live in 1956 - Joyce Vaughn / Youtube
In 1956, rock and roll sensation Elvis Presley was presented with an idea.
The rising rockstar was in hot water the past few weeks after singing his hit “Hound Dog” in an appearance on The Milton Berle Show on June 5. His pelvis-shaking performance in the show has attracted his first controversy, one that was so intense he had to agree to try something self-deprecating.
The future King of Rock and Roll performed on The Steve Allen Show on July 1 where he sang “Hound Dog” to an actual hound dog dressed in a bowtie and a top hat, minus the gyrations, of course.
Elvis would call the performance “the most embarrassing moment of his career.”
The controversial hip-gyrating Elvis
As the spring of 1956 unfolded, Elvis was rapidly transcending into a nationwide phenomenon. His inaugural single under RCA Records, titled “Heartbreak Hotel,” claimed the top spot on music charts, and plans were even underway for a movie.
Having already graced national television screens six times, it was his presence on The Milton Berle Show that drew the ire of the conservative masses. Television reviewers nationwide condemned the performance for its perceived “appalling lack of musicality,” for its “vulgarity” and “animalism.”
The Catholic Church even joined in the lambasting through a scathing feature in its weekly publication titled “Beware Elvis Presley,” directing concerns toward juvenile delinquency and shifting moral values attributed to the charismatic singer.
Following the Berle’s show incident, Ed Sullivan, renowned for his highly-rated variety program, openly declared that he wouldn’t feature the rockstar declaring him “unfit for family viewing”. It was a competing host who wanted to still give Presley a chance.
Steve Allen of The Steve Allen of NBC had already secured Presley for an episode on July 1. Despite of all the criticisms and the calls for cancellations, Allen stood firm against his network’s pressure, pledging to prevent any offense.
“Hound Dog” to hound dog
Allen meticulously devised a more subdued and family-friendly segment. And upon presenting Presley to the audience, he said:
“Well, you know, a couple of weeks ago on the ‘Milton Berle Show,’ our next guest, Elvis Presley received a great deal of attention which some people seemed to interpret one way and some viewers interpreted another. Naturally, it’s our intention to do nothing but a good show … We want to do a show the whole family can watch and enjoy and we always do and, tonight, we’re presenting Elvis Presley in his … what you might call his first comeback.”
View this post on Instagram
The rockstar good-naturedly embraced a parody of his own image, and the “new Elvis” showed up onstage clad in a tuxedo and serenading “Hound Dog” to a top-hat-wearing basset hound named Sherlock.
Sherlock, who ignored Elvis all throughout the rehearsal, looked unimpressed during the actual performance. Elvis, on the other hand, was feeling stiff and uncomfortable,
The episode, which the King would later refer to as his most ridiculous one ever, amassed impressive viewer ratings that even beat The Ed Sullivan Show for the first time.
The furious Presley would later swear to never appear on Allen’s show. Despite of his misgivings about the controversy and the performance, he recorded his definitive version of “Hound Dog” in the RCA studios the following day.
The King stands in triumph
Later at night after his performance with Sherlock, a defiant Presley said on the local TV show Hy Gardner Calling that he didn’t think he did anything wrong in reference to the criticisms he was getting.
“I don’t see how any type of music would have any bad influence on people when it’s only music. … I mean, how would rock ‘n’ roll music make anyone rebel against their parents?”
Presley would later affirm his stance in an outdoor concert in Memphis a few days later, as he told the crowd “You know, those people in New York are not gonna change me none. I’m gonna show you what the real Elvis is like tonight.”
Due to his popularity despite the criticisms, and the fact that Allen’s show trounced his show once, Sullivan would later backtrack his June statements and invite Presley for three appearances for an unprecedented $50,000.
— Elvis Presley (@ElvisPresley) September 9, 2019
In the initial appearances, although the camera occasionally maintains distance to capture Presley’s movements in a less provocative manner, there’s no attempt to control his actions or musical choices. However, for the final show, CBS cameras restricted shots of Presley to the waist up, even during his rendition of a gospel tune.
The broadcast concluded with Sullivan publicly embracing Presley and lauding him as “a real decent, fine boy.” Some historians speculate that these camera instructions might have been strategically orchestrated by Presley’s manager, Colonel Tom Parker, to ignite publicity.
View this post on Instagram
Presley’s music, an fusion of rhythm and blues and country influences, became the driving force behind the rise of rock ‘n’ roll. His immense popularity among America’s youth propelled him into the ranks of the first media superstars.
As the years unfolded, Presley’s legacy swelled with accomplishments: 90 record albums, 149 singles charted, including 18 topping the Billboard chart, participation in 31 films, and performances that resonated with countless fans. His passing became a national media spectacle two decades later.