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May 14, 1956: Elvis Presley plays the Twin Cities

Posted by: Ben Welter under Minnesota History, Minnesota newsmakers Updated: May 13, 2013 - 10:04 PM
 
Elvis Presley arrived in the Twin Cities on May 13, 1956, to play two concerts: a matinee at the St. Paul Auditorium and an evening gig at the Minneapolis Auditorium. The Tribune dispatched Will Jones to St. Paul for the early show. His "After Last Night" column appeared the next morning in the Monday paper. It's an engaging series of observations about the future King of Rock 'n' Roll -- then just 21 years old -- and his young fans.

AFTER LAST NIGHT

Squeals Drown
Presley's Songs

By Will Jones

Elvis Presley, young bump-and-grind artist, turned a rainy Sunday afternoon into an orgy of squealing in St. Paul auditorium.

He vibrated his hips so much, and the 3,000 customers squealed so insistently at the vibrations, it was impossible to hear him sing. None of the smitten seemed to care.

The crowd was much smaller than expected. Presley faced a sea of empty seats. When the noise started, however, even the empty seats seemed to be screaming.

Presley wore a Kelly green jacket, tight blue trousers, and, disappointingly, black leather shoes.

He only sang "Blue Suede Shoes." (I couldn't actually hear him sing it, because of the squeals. A girl in tight pink slacks assured me that's what it was.)

Uniform for the Day: Pink Slacks

Tight pink slacks were almost a uniform among the fans. Tight white slacks and tight black slacks were popular.

Presley was wearing tight black jeans and a black silk shirt when he arrived at the auditorium. A dozen policemen marched him into his dressing room. Then he stood around with his hands in his jeans posing for pictures and talking with reporters.

He smiled a faint, half-sneering kind of smile at times. He didn't look nearly so tortured or pouty as he does in most published photographs.

His brown hair doesn't appear so dark, either. He has pimples all over the back of his neck, a few on his chin, and a number of nervous facial mannerisms. The most intriguing is the repeated rapid puffing of a single cheek. His long eyelashes have a Valentino-like mascaraed look.

"Any advice for all your girl friends?" asked a TV reporter.

"Well, that's a pretty stiff question," said Presley. "I have one word for 'em - 'Hi.' "

People kept handing him pictures and slips of paper to autograph.

His Record Firm Is 'the Biggest'

A radio interviewer asked him about his record successes.

"I switched to Victor because that's the biggest company there is," drawled Presley.

"You 19 or 21?" asked another. "I've heard both."

 
  Elvis took a moment to compose himself after the Minneapolis show.
"Twenty-one," answered Presley. "Wish ah was 19."

Presley came here from Memphis, Tenn., his home. He's been so busy he hasn't had a chance to get home for awhile. He got a few free days by surprise after he flopped at a Las Vegas night club. They replaced him with a girl singer. The older customers in Las Vegas just didn't dig him.

I asked Presley about his movie plans. He's been signed for one picture a year for seven years by producer Hal Wallis.

"I was asked to do one of the leading parts in 'The Rainmaker' with Burt Lancaster," he said. "A young kid, lovesick, real shy. I mean, he wasn't real shy. Real jolly. Real happy, real jolly, real lovesick. It wasn't like me.

"I took this screen test where I came in and was real happy and jolly and I didn't like it. I did this other one where I was mad at this girl, and I liked that better -- it was me."

He's Against Any 'Excess Actin'

As he talked, he gently stroked the hand of a pretty girl who was standing beside him waiting for an autograph.

"Mr. Wallis asked me what kind of a part I'd like, and I told him one more like myself, so I wouldn't have to do any excess actin'. So he's havin' somebody write one for me like that."

I asked him who was to play the girl in "The Rainmaker."

"Katharine Hepburn," he said, "if you wanna call her a girl."

The policemen let a few lucky girls at a time into the dressing room for autographs. One who came in had a haircut just like Presley's. Another one brought him a flattened greasy popcorn box to sign.

He had a way of whipping up the crowd at the start of a song by playing a few introductory notes, stepping to the microphone, and then singing nothing.

Squeals! Another pause, another false start, more squeals, and then finally the song.

The Mob Screams, Closes In

When he wanted silence to announce a number he held up a hand in the traditional platform gesture -- but a double-jointed thumb twitched as he held the hand aloft.

In moments of public passion, he clutched the microphone to his forehead. He ended up limp and sweating and loped off the stage half-staggering.

The mob screamed and ran for him. The police marched him to a waiting car. A young, beautiful, well-dressed, highly-made-up blonde tried to get in the car with him. The police barred her.

"I'm a member of his company!" she cried. "I belong with him! Stupid police!" Presley got away. The blonde walked around in the rain complaining while the rain made a soggy mess of her hair.

 

 

Elvis Presley signed autographs for four remarkably composed fans at the Minneapolis Auditorium. (One of them checked in by e-mail a week after this photo was posted. She identified herself and the others -- and shared her memories of the "surreal experience" of watching the concert from backstage. See the update below.)

 

A spotlight captured Elvis on stage at the Minneapolis Auditorium.

 

The woman in the cateye glasses looks like my mom. But Mom would have been 31 years old and was definitely not an Elvis Presley fan.

 

About 3,000 fans showed up for the Minneapolis concert. Those look like police -- actual police, not security guards -- making sure fans didn't get too close to the stage.

 

Another crowd shot: Do you recognize any of these nicely dressed young folks?

 
FEB. 16, 2011, UPDATE: A week after posting the photo of Elvis signing autographs, I received an e-mail from Suzanne Olson, who identified herself as one of the girls in the photo. She was kind enough to answer a few of my questions in a followup e-mail:
"I thought you might be interested to know that I'm one of the girls in the Elvis photo. In fact, I may be the only living person left in that photo. The girl standing closest to Elvis is Timi Anderson, then myself, next to me is Dede Smith, who is responsible for getting us all backstage for the concert, and the girl on the far right is Anna Skarning, the promoter's daughter.
"Last year Dede Smith and I found each other after a 45 year lapse and she wrote to me the whole story about how this miraculous event was accomplished. Unfortunately she died a few months later which was very sad for me having just found her. Timi Anderson died quiet a while ago and Anna Skarning was someone I saw backstage for the first time and never again ...
"Timi, Dede and I all knew each other and went to St. Louis Park Junior High School. Dede and I were 14 years old and were best friends, Dede and Timi were neighbors and I believe Timi was 13 at the time. I have no idea how much the ticket cost. I think Dede must have purchased them. I remember waiting out in the pouring rain for hours before we were allowed in. Then it was a mad stampede to get seats. Dede's mother was a free lance writer and Dede was following in her footsteps and had a part time job writing for the local Sun Newspaper. She was the one who bugged the promoter to get us back stage which happened very shortly after the mad stampede.
"Watching the concert from back stage was such a surreal experience. I remember thinking that he was unlike any 21 year olds I had ever come in contact with. He didn't seem at all adult, and at the same time very adult. I'm sure it had something to do with how sexy he was. I didn't really take it all in until the next day. Of course when we went back to school on Monday nobody would believe us that we had been back stage. That is, until the Parade Magazine came out 2 Sundays later. Then we were celebrities. And continue to be every time the picture is printed (about once every 10 years). The picture even turned up in another class yearbook that was remade for a 1968 reunion yearbook a few years ago.
"I never imagined that Elvis would continue to become such an icon. And yes, I'm still a fan. At one time I even had an autograph on a program from the event and I threw it out because it was such a bad scrawl that it was illegible. I've been kicking myself ever since."

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