CIVIL WAR OP-ED: When 'Love Me Tender' Premiered in New York

By Calvin E. Johnson Jr.
CIVIL WAR OP-ED: When 'Love Me Tender' Premiered in New York
Howdy Folks!


Did you know that Elvis Presley had Cherokee ancestry and November is American-Indian Month?


In 1956 America loved President Dwight Eisenhower, Fats Domino sang “I found my thrill on Blueberry Hill”, Buddy Holly and the Crickets appeared at New York’s Paramount Theater and “Love Me Tender” starring Richard Egan, Debra Paget and introducing Elvis Presley premiered at the Paramount Theater located at 43rd Street and Broadway in New York’s Times Square Theater District.


On November 30, 1956, Floyd Patterson won the world heavyweight boxing championship as people were watching I Love Lucy, Gunsmoke and Howdy Doody on TV, and….


Two weeks earlier on Thursday, November 15, 1956, Elvis Presley fans gathered at New York’s Paramount Theater under a huge 40-foot cut-out of the King of Rock and Roll for the premiere of “Love Me Tender", a wide screen  “Cinemascope” motion picture.


Let’s pray for New York City and other areas in the Northeast recovering from Hurricane Sandy and go back in time to the year 1956 during happier times in the Big Apple, when….


Elvis Presley appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show and sang “Love Me Tender” for the first time….And, because of the unprecedented advance sale of over a million copies of that RCA recording, making it a “Gold Record” before it was even released; the producers for the movie changed the title from The Reno Brothers to Love Me Tender.


Love Me Tender was a hit for Twentieth Century-Fox, despite a few negative reviews. Many more, however, gave it thumbs-up saying “Elvis can act.” Young ladies, Elvis’ true fans, could not control their excitement and screamed for joy throughout the movie.


The movie was a Mother’s love for her family and the love triangle within a Southern-Texas family who were recovering from four years of terrible war. To make things more complicated, the Reno Brothers and fellow Confederates held on to the money that they took during a raid on a Union gold shipment. They did not know the war had ended when they took the money.


What a movie, with Elvis Presley singing four songs, a wonderful musical score by Lionel Newman and the great movie direction by Robert D. Webb who also directed  "The Proud Ones" and "On the Threshold of Space" during that same year.


The song “Love Me Tender” came from a Southern War Between the States era song “Aura Lee.”


The movie also starred veteran actors Neville Brand, Robert Middleton, James Drury, William Campbell and a very credible and heart-warming performance by Mildred Dunnock as the Mother of the Reno Brothers.


Elvis Presley attended a private screening of the movie on November 20th at the Loews State Theater in Memphis, Tennessee prior to its nationwide release on November 21st. During the screening Elvis’s Mother, Gladys Presley cried at the death of her son’s character at the end. Elvis Presley would insist that his characters would not die again on the screen. The death scene, however, would become famous as many people, young and old, wept at the movie’s ending that highlighted Elvis singing Love Me Tender as the family walked away from his grave.


It was a time of movie legends of the silver screen and of great entertainers like Elvis Presley. Ya’ll come back now, you here!


Johnson, who lives in Kennesaw, GA, near Atlanta,  is a speaker, writer of historical essays, author of the book “When America Stood for God, Family and Country” and Chairman of the Confederate History and Heritage Month Committee for the Sons of Confederate Veterans:

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