Reader Rant About Colonel Parker
Raises Issues on Presley Sources

“What about CORRECTING EVERY STUPIDITY YOU HAVE PUBLISHED ONLINE AND ELSEWHERE about ‘Colonel Tom Parker’? How come so-called ‘historians’ do not do any research work before writing stupidities … later reproduced in ‘encyclopedias’ like Wikipedia? … The information about Parker's psychopathy is ALL ON THE WEB, within a few CLICKS!” — Isabelle

Ya know, I don’t mind when readers disagree with things that appear in my blogs, and I even appreciate occasionally being corrected on matters of clearly discernable facts. After all, if I’m going to call this “Elvis History Blog,” there must be a commitment to truth. However, when someone questions my integrity, it becomes difficult to remain calm and respond with reason.

Isabelle tops the chart, though. Her rant against Colonel Parker … and the “stupidities” that “so-called historians” like me have written about him … ran over 400 words. Just think how fervent a reader must be to enter that many words in a small “Comment” box on a website. Here’s a summary of Isabelle’s indictment of Colonel Parker: He was a psychopath, a “cold and unsensitive (sic) monster” with no emotions and no feelings. Highly manipulative and incapable of feeling empathy, he always acted in his own self-interest.

We’re all familiar with Elvis fans who believe Parker was responsible whenever things went wrong in his client’s career, but just take a look at all the sins of the manager that Isabelle lays at the feet of Tom Parker.

“Elvis became rebellious to Parker in 1957, so should have fired him then, before Parker sent him to the army, which killed Elvis' mother, introduced Elvis to Dexedrine/drugs and made him meet (expletive)/army brat Priscilla, who in turn manipulated Elvis for years, making him believe she would eternally be a tame girl, obeying his every desire.”

• Source article looked good, but then …

Normally, on reaching the end of such a rant, I would have rolled my eyes and dismissed it, but after a final directive that I “do the necessary work before misleading people,” Isabelle actually provided a source for her denunciations of Colonel Parker. And it appeared to be a very respectable source …

Mike Dash’s article, headlined, “Colonel Parker Managed Elvis’ Career, but Was He a Killer on the Lam?” was posted on on February 24, 2012. The headline reads more like something you’d see on the cover of a tabloid in a supermarket checkout lane than one under the respected Smithsonian name. The same goes for the subhead of Dash’s article, “The man who brought The King to global fame kept his own past secret. But what exactly was Tom Parker hiding?” 

So who is Mike Dash? At the bottom of his article, he’s credited as being a “contributing writer in history for" Previously, it’s noted, he “authored the award-winning blog A Blast From the Past.” Checking some of his past articles, he appears to specialize in historical mysteries. Parker’s obscure pre-Elvis life, therefore, was right up his alley.

Dash sketches out the alleged unflattering details of Parker’s early adult life, which have floated around the web since the 1980s. He wasn’t a U.S. citizen, entered the country illegally, and never had a passport. After enlisting in the U.S. army, he deserted and spent time in a military prison, being released only after suffering a “psychotic breakdown.” Dash’s assertion that Parker was discharged from the army after being diagnosed as a “psychopath,” is obviously the basis for Isabelle’s belief that he remained a dangerous nut job during his years as Elvis’s manager.

• The homicide case against Colonel Parker

Dash then follows the trail back to Parker’s youth in the Netherlands. His mysterious disappearance after the violent death of a woman in his hometown feeds speculation that Parker murdered the lady and fled to America. No direct evidence points to Parker, although Dash points out that eyewitnesses “suggest” the killer was wearing a coat of yellow, “always Tom Parker’s favorite color.”

Dash then turns to Parker’s temperament. Was he the kind of man who could have committed murder? “It took very little to set him off,” he quotes Byron Raphael, a former Parker assistant. “In those fits of rage, he was a very dangerous man, and he certainly appeared capable of killing.” Dash them quotes Lamar Fike, a long-time Memphis Mafia-teer and Parker critic. “I don’t think that there’s any doubt he killed that woman,” Fike declared. “He had a terrible temper. He and I got into some violent, violent fights.”

There’s more circumstantial evidence thrown in, but you get the point. Isabelle certainly did. Dash’s essay on Parker reinforced her undoubtedly preconceived belief that the Colonel was a psychopath who ruined Elvis’s professional and personal lives. But we’ve all heard the warning: “Don’t believe everything you read on the internet.” What was it that made Isabelle believe Mike Dash was a credible writer on the subject of Colonel Tom Parker? Dash is certainly not an expert on either Parker or Presley. Since 2011 he’s written over 60 articles on various historical mysteries, but the one on Parker is the only one that relates to Elvis. 

And I spotted an obvious factual error in his article. He claims Parker was afraid to leave the U.S. because he might not be allowed back in, and that’s why Parker did not go along when Elvis played three cities in Canada in 1957. The picture at right shows Colonel Parker in front of the stage in Ottawa, Canada, on April 3, 1957. Parker reentered the U.S. with Elvis that spring and went back into Canada for Elvis’ show in Vancouver B.C. in late August.

Before trusting Dash’s story on Parker, the reader needs to dig deeper. Dash’s article was Isabelle’s source for her rant on Parker, but what were Dash’s sources? To his credit, he listed his sources at the end of his article (many internet writers don’t). From repeated references in the essay, it’s obvious that his main source was Alanna Nash’s 2003 biography, The Colonel: The Extraordinary Story of Colonel Tom Parker and Elvis Presley

• Alanna Nash’s place in Presley journalism

Over several decades, Alanna Nash has made a name for herself by ghostwriting and authoring books and articles about Elvis and others associated with him. I’ve read her biography of Colonel Parker and some of her other writings regarding Elvis. I’m not going to disparage the integrity of her overall work, but I will say this. In my over 300 blogs in the past eight years, I’ve relied on dozens of sources to support judgments and conclusions. Very rarely have I quoted Alanna Nash’s work in my blogs. It’s not that I don’t trust her; rather, I don’t trust some of her sources.

Let me give you just one example of why that is. An article titled, “In Bed with Elvis,” appeared the November 2005 issue of Playboy Magazine. The author credit read, “By Byron Raphael with Alanna Nash,” which means she interviewed Raphael, a one-time Colonel Parker staffer, and used his responses to fashion a long, first-person narrative that sounded as if Raphael wrote it. That made him the soul source for the article. In it he relates some hard to believe anecdotes about Elvis’ sex life. Consider Raphael’s description of what he says Elvis did on stage in Los Angeles on October 28, 1957.

“Then he did the unthinkable. Pumped up by either adrenaline or libido, he began to unfasten his pants and slowly pull down his zipper … With his pants now open but not down, Elvis reached for Nipper … Elvis pressed the dog against his crotch … as he rode the pooch back and forth in a masturbatory glide. As the crowd noise grew to a furious roar, Elvis continued to dry-hump poor Nipper.”

Gordon Stoker of the Jordanaires was on stage that night and he told me very emphatically that none of that ever happened, and that Elvis never would have acted that way on stage. Now, is Alanna Nash responsible for spreading that falsehood about Elvis? She might say she was only quoting what Byron Raphael said. Still, it’s difficult for me to use her as a source about Presley topics without further supporting evidence. I’m also troubled by the following Alanna Nash statement that Mike Dash used to conclude his article about Colonel Parker.

“Nash sums things up this way: ‘I want to be clear in saying that there is no hard proof that he committed this murder, in my heart of hearts, I believe he did. Certainly the way he lived his life, for the duration of his years, suggests a secret of that kind of gravity. In other words, if that’s not what happened back in Holland, something equally awful did.’”

No author truly committed to historical honesty would make such an unsubstantiated statement. And that another author would repeat that statement as the closing reflection about Colonel Parker on Smithsonian.comis a real head-shaker to me.

• Colonel Parker fulfilled his promises to Elvis

Now, I’m not defending Colonel Parker in this case. He may indeed be guilty of homicide, but, as both Nash and Dash admit, “there is no hard proof that he committed this murder.” Clearly, though, both wanted their readers to believe that he did. Whether he did or not, however, has nothing to do with how Parker acted as Elvis Presley’s manager from 1955 to 1977. That’s what Isabelle wants me to believe, that somehow the Colonel’s flawed psyche in his youth caused him to ruin Elvis’ life and career. But I can only evaluate the Parker-Presley relationship based on what the two men did during the years they worked together.

In the beginning Parker promised to make Presley rich and famous. He did both of those things very quickly and continued to fulfill that promise for over two decades until Elvis’ death. He never promised to make Elvis a great singer or a great actor; that was Elvis’ responsibility. Elvis could have fired Parker at any time if he thought his manager was not acting in his best interest. How much Elvis paid his manager was completely up to him. Presley signed every personal contract he had with the Colonel, and if he chose to pay his manager up to half of his income, that was his business, as were the choices he made in his personal life. Unlike Isabelle, I detect no pathological behavior in Colonel Parker’s relationship with Elvis. I’m not an apologist for Parker, but neither am I a detractor. Certainly he made some poor decisions concerning Elvis along the way, but overall he did the best he could, and while Elvis may have objected at times, he obviously never reached a point where he thought he could do better with a different manager.

So, sorry Isabelle, but I’m going to decline your demand to “re-read what you have written re. Parker and correct any stupidity.” You say you’re “angry at all those pseudo ‘journalists and historians’ who don’t even fulfill their duty [to] do the necessary research work before misleading people.” I would give you the same advice, Isabelle. When reading articles about Colonel Parker or Elvis on the internet, do the necessary research to check on facts and the reliability of the authors and their sources. Then you’ll be able to avoid misleading yourself. — Alan Hanson | © August 2017

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