Steve Allen Talks About Elvis

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The Steve Allen Show aired July 1, and besides 'Hound Dog', Elvis sang 'I Want You, I Need You, I Love You'. Elvis was presented wearing formal attire. His body movements were subdued. He sang 'Hound Dog' to a live basset hound. Through the years, much has been written and said about this appearance. The thrust of the historical record is that Elvis was being demeaned by Allen, and that he resented the treatment for the rest of his life. Steve Allen disagrees wholeheartedly, and appeared on our June 30 show to tell his side of the story. As a special bonus to our most loyal listeners, we are transcribing the complete, unedited interview.

JG: People may not remember that your program was brand new at the time.

SA: It was our second week of that particular series, which went on for four years, yes.

JG: How did the Elvis appearance come about? Who approached whom?

Elvis Presley performing country music with Steve Allen and Imogene Coca on the Steve Allen Show in New York City in 1956.
Elvis, Steve Allen, Imogene Coca

SA: It was neither. I had seen an earlier appearance by him. I had no idea who he was. I didn't know very much about him, and those in the business knew very little about him. But, he was in the summer (sic) replacement show, emceed by Tommy Dorsey and Jimmy Dorsey. So I saw this kid, and he was nothing much more than that at the time. It was hard to say what he had, but there was something unusual about him. He had an interesting quality. He didn't have a glorious voice, in the sense that Mario Lanza did, or Andy Williams, or Frank Sinatra in his prime. But his sound wasn't that important. It was the way he conducted himself, the way he put a song over. Anyway, I made a note immediately to book him for our new show, and we just had the good fortune that between that night and when he appeared a few weeks later suddenly there was a lot of controversy and media attention.

JG: He had been under criticism for his body gestures on The Milton Berle Show. How did the NBC execs react when you told them who the guest star was going to be?

SA: They were overjoyed. They really didn't know who he was either, but they were pleased. They didn't pay much attention to us. They were very fine gentlemen, but they weren't program producers, or ...

JG: So that's counter to what we've always read...

SA: I've read more nonsense about, well about my whole life for that matter. But a lot of wrong reports have gotten into the public.

JG: So that's a myth, then that there was an immediate move on their part to cancel his appearance?

SA: If there was, I never heard about it. And since it was my show, I think it would have brought to my attention.

JG: Did anyone ever say to you that he needs to tone down the movemnts if he ws going to be on at all?

SA: No! I took no objection to the movements I'd seen him make on the Dorsey Brothers show. I didn't see a problem. Of course, I had read about some of the controversy, much of it generated by Ed Sullivan, who was opposite of our show on CBS. It didn't matter to me. I ws using good production sense in booking him.

Interview by Jay Gordon 1996

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