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Viva Las Vegas

And Elvis, Of Course

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More Than 50 Years After Making The Classic Film That Has Employed A Horde Of Impersonators In Bedazzled Jumpsuits, Elvis Presley’s Impact On His Co-Stars Is Virtually Unparalleled

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By David Fantle & Tom Johnson
Special for Modern Times Magazine

May 26, 2014 — This year marks the 50th anniversary of the 1964 release of Viva Las Vegas, one of Elvis Presley’s best movies and his biggest moneymaker among the roughly couple of dozen (largely forgettable) films in which he starred throughout the 1960s.

The film, co-starring Ann-Margret, takes place in Vegas and is emblematic of the King’s live performance career — much of which took place at the Hilton in Sin City. Although Elvis plays a luckless race car driver in the movie (a far cry from the real life kitschy stage God he would become in Vegas), it features the totemic title tune which has been a godsend over the decades to legions of Elvis impersonators who often cover it bedecked in Elvis’ late Vegas-era regalia of flared bell-bottoms, capes and three-inch stiff collars.

Years ago we interviewed the director of Viva, George Sidney, who also helmed many musicals from MGM’s golden age, including Anchors Aweigh, Kiss Me Kate and Showboat.

“There’s not much to say about Elvis,” Sidney told us matter of factly. “I never had any trouble with him. He was a nice young man and he approached his job in a professional manner.”

Comedian Jack Carter who played a master of ceremonies in the movie, echoed Sidney when he told us recently, “I loved Elvis. He was just the nicest kid, a sweetheart and so easy to work with.”

Carter was appearing in Las Vegas when the movie was being filmed.

“I told the producer Jack Cummings I didn't need any pay,” he said. “In lieu of pay, Cummings gave me these huge diamond cufflinks with the initials JC. I tried returning them to Van Cleef & Arpels and they called the cops because they thought they were stolen from Jack Cummings because we shared the same initials.

“After we shot our scene together, and anytime from that point on when I saw Elvis perform in Vegas, he would call me out in the audience as my pal, the great comedian Jack Carter.”

Although she didn’t appear with Elvis in the movie, Shelley Fabares did co-star with the King in three other films: Spinout, Girl Happy and Clambake. In an interview we had with her a few years ago, Fabares told us that for her, Elvis’ legacy was more personal.

“I loved him dearly and I always found him to be funny, charming and a true Southern gentleman,” she said. “I'm afraid appearing in those films bored him to tears. I miss him every day and think about him all the time.”

David Fantle & Tom Johnson have interviewed more than 250 celebrities, mostly from Hollywood’s Golden Age. They are co-authors of the 2004 book, Reel to Real: 25 years of celebrity profiles from vaudeville to movies to TV. Reach them at www.reeltoreal.com.
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