Some Elvis Critics in the Fifties
Urged Parents to React Violently

Through the past several years, as I’ve scanned through thousands of 1950s newspaper archives, I’ve gotten used to reading some pretty brutal comments about Elvis in various articles and columns. However, it’s still shocks me when I find a journalist who suggested parents use physical violence to deal with their teenage children who liked Elvis during those early years.

For instance, I recently came across Herb Rau’s column in the Miami Daily News issue of August 4, 1956. The writer had attended one of Elvis’s shows at Miami’s Olympia Theatre the day before. Rau, who, from his photo at the top of his column, appeared to be in his fifties, blasted Elvis from the top of his column to the bottom. Here’s just a sample of his vitriol directed toward Presley and his fans.

“Elvis can’t sing, can’t play the guitar, and can’t dance. Yet two thousand idiots per show yelp every time he opens his mouth, plucks a guitar string, or shakes his pelvis like any striptease babe in town.”

Actually, when you consider the legendary career Elvis subsequently built, such comments directed at him at the start of his career are now quite amusing to read. They reveal just how out of touch these aging journalists were at the time. However, though I could smile at Rau’s comments above, I could only shake my head when I got to the end of his column and read his recommendation to parents whose children enjoyed Elvis’s show in Miami.

“We’re no prude,” he self-righteously declared, “but we might suggest a gift for these fourteen thousand Miami girls who, as if it were a fetish, are vocally and mentally genuflecting to Elvis Presley. A SOLID SLAP ACROSS THE MOUTH. (Caps and bold face supplied by Rau)

Now, we all know that corporal punishment of children, both in the home and in schools, was widely accepted in the 1950s. Still, as a father of two daughters who have already passed through their teen years, the mere thought of a parent slapping a teenage daughter over something as trivial as a difference in musical taste makes me cringe.

• Houston mother would take Elvis-raving daughter to the woodshed

Rau wasn’t the only who advocated such adult overreaction to Elvis in the 1950s. Following are several other examples of journalists who suggested physical remedies against young Elvis fans in the 1950s.

The first example is actually not from a journalist, but rather from a parent whose letter-to-the-editor was printed in the Houston Chronicle on October 8, 1956, just five days before Elvis appeared at the Houston Coliseum. Mrs. N.J. Aubin wrote the following:

“I can’t keep still any longer. It’s the raving teen-agers themselves, who will sound the death-knell for Elvis. They, with their antics, make people sick, so the people lash out at Elvis. If I had a daughter who said everybody was stupid who didn’t like Elvis, I’d take her to the woodshed. When I got through she would understand other people have a right to their opinion, also.”

We all know what happened in the “woodshed” back then. Comments like Mrs. Aubin’s reveal the real danger adults saw in Elvis’s growing popularity with teenagers. He was a threat to parents who desperately sought to make their children conform to the strict, conservative values of the post-war era in the U.S.

• Vancouver writer would kick his daughter in the teeth for wanting to see Elvis

Speaking of the proverbial “woodshed,” another, more brutal, call for parental reaction against their Elvis-loving daughters appeared in the Vancouver Sun on August 31, 1957. The Sun had sent reporter Mac Reynolds to view Elvis’s show in Spokane, Washington, the previous evening, and Vancouver Presley fans woke up on the morning of Elvis’s appearance in their town to see the following headline on the front page of the Sun: “Daughter Wants to See Elvis?—‘Kick Her in the Teeth!’”

“It is a frightening thing for a man to watch his women debase themselves,” Reynolds wrote of the young girls who “screamed, and quivered, and shut their eyes and reached out their hands to him as for salvation” at Memorial Stadium in Spokane. “It’s hardly original,” he pronounced, “but if any daughter of mine broke out of the woodshed tonight to see Elvis Presley in Empire Stadium, I’d kick her teeth in.”

Apparently, Reynolds’ violent suggestion to Vancouver parents had little effect. A crowd of about 16,500 showed up at the stadium that evening. It was the second largest crowd to see Elvis perform in the 1950s, topped only by the crowd at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas in October 1956.

• Los Angeles writer would slap the sneer off Elvis’s face

Another example of journalistic physical ire against Elvis appeared in Paul Coates’ “Confidential File” column in the Los Angeles Mirror News on October 31, 1957. Three days earlier Elvis had appeared at the Pan Pacific Auditorium, after which Mirror drama critic Dick Williams accused Elvis of committing lewd acts on stage with a statue of Nipper, the RCA dog. Coates admitted he hadn’t seen Elvis’s show that night, but he still felt the need to weigh in on the issue. Instead of suggesting what parents should do to children who like Elvis, Coates explained what he would do to Elvis himself.

“Let me admit at the outset that I don’t like Elvis Presley,” he wrote. “He’s the kind of a child that other children are traditionally ‘not allowed to play with.’ He’s a sullen, ill-kempt-looking youth. If he was my kid (and I was a helluva lot better shape than I am), I’d smack that sneer off his face and send him out for a haircut. In all, I consider him a very distasteful individual.”

Of course, Elvis was almost 23 at the time, and I doubt that even in 1957 many fathers would seriously have considered slapping a son of that age, especially one like Elvis, who had demonstrated an inclination to start throwing punches when angered.

• What kind of father would Elvis have been to a teenage Lisa Marie?

As distasteful as they are to read, journalists’ comments such as those above make we wonder what kind of father Elvis would have been to his own daughter, had he lived to see her teenage years. It’s known that Lisa Marie put her mother through the ringer during her adolescence. Perhaps Elvis’s love could have helped ease his daughter’s passage through that troubled period. We’ll never know for sure. Still, I can’t imagine Elvis would ever have struck his daughter, as dictatorial journalists like Rau, Reynolds, and Coates suggested parents do to their Elvis-adoring daughters in the 1950s. — Alan Hanson | © April 2009

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"I don’t like Elvis Presley. If he was my kid, I’d smack that sneer off his face and send him out for a haircut."