ELVIS A HUMANITARIAN
by Paul Belard
Reviewed by Nigel Patterson, September 2019
Elvis A Humanitarian, Paul Belard, Linden Press, USA, 2019, Softcover (21.5 x 28 cms), 301 pages, Illustrated, ISBN-13: 978-1733922104
"I could never become so rich that I would forget what it was like to be poor." Elvis Presley
Paul Belard’s goal is to record the Elvis Presley story in visual form. To date he has released 12 photobooks. A number of Belard’s books, including Elvis Black and White to Technicolor, are properly referred to as thematic photo-journals as they offer a balance between visual, narrative and archival material centred on a particular aspect of Elvis’ life. The author’s latest release (published last month) is another photo-journal, Elvis A Humanitarian.
As Belard’s excellent Elvis Black and White to Technicolor dispelled the myth that Elvis was racist, Elvis A Humanitarian presents an impressive record of Elvis’ kindness to and compassion for those less fortunate. The full extent of Elvis’ acts of charity and kindness has not been fully recorded until the release of Elvis A Humanitarian. Belard’s book provides a more comprehensive and up-to-date record than the very good 1992 release by Mike Freeman and Cindy Hazen, The Best of Elvis: Recollections of a Great Humanitarian.
The following passages from the back-cover of Elvis A Humanitarian reveal the motivation for Elvis' kindness and encapsulate the range of charitable endeavours he undertook during his lifetime (and beyond):
He was a generous and kind man. He used his immense fame and wealth to help others. Born into a poor family which too often relied on the help of others to make ends meet, he never forgot those acts of kindness and repaid them in spades.
One can only guess at how many people Elvis touched throughout his career. Elvis performed benefit concerts in support of various causes. He donated to many charities. He reached out to friends, family and total strangers, paying hospital bills, providing financial assistance, buying cars, houses and other necessities. His support of sporting teams knew few boundaries, from Little League Baseball and Racquetball teams, to school football teams and martial arts clubs.
Above: Shrine Junior League Paper sale
Above: McComb Twister Victims Appeal (1975)
Just as Elvis' music was authentic, so was his concern for others. As the author notes, in the tender and poignant embraces Elvis gave sick or disabled children, his concern and love are so genuine that they are reflected in the children’s faces.
Also illustrative of Elvis’ compassion for others is the uplifting, yet ultimately very sad story of 14 years old Priscilla Myers who was dying due to the effects of cystic fibrosis. Elvis met her backstage in November 1956. Priscilla passed away the following year. Another, very moving story in Elvis A Humanitarian, complimented by color photos, is of Elvis realising a young girl in the front row of his concert in Norfolk, Virginia on July 20, 1975, is blind. Elvis took her hands and privately (on stage) talked with her for several minutes before kissing his scarf and then touching both her eyes with it. Elvis later arranged for the young girl to see a specialist and paid for a corrective procedure she needed.
Many of Elvis’ acts of generosity will be familiar to many readers, a lot will not be. Some of Elvis’ lesser known acts of kindness and recognition of that kindness include:
- Elvis’ support for “Coffee Day for Crippled Children” and Camp Fire (USA) the sister organisation (targeted at girls) to Boy Scouts of America
- Elvis’ concerts to fund the Elvis Presley Youth Center in Tupelo
- Elvis sending a $1,000 check to the Ivory Joe Hunter Fund following the r&b singer’s hospitalisation due to cancer
- Recognising his Jewish connection, Elvis pledged $10,500 to The Memphis Jewish Community Center Building Fund
- Elvis’ support for the Southern Nevada Tuberculosis Christmas Seals Appeal
- Elvis Presley Park in Budapest, Hungary
- Elvis’ handwritten letter to his friend, Gary Pepper, a cerebral palsy victim
Some readers may find it surprising to read that one of the many individuals Elvis helped, was Martin Luther King Jr.
Above: March of Dimes
Above: Germany, December 1958
Not surprisingly, given their nature, there is a wide variation in the quality of the photos and archival material. Poorer quality images are included due to their historical importance. There are many interesting visuals:
- The book’s stark, but striking, cover image of Elvis signing a copy of his single, Teddy Bear, for a young fan (smartly dressed in a two piece suit), on the set of King Creole
- Elvis receiving his Salk Vaccine polio shot
- Several images of Elvis carrying a young disabled girl while touring in Florida
- Elvis and singer Faron Young with several children from the March of Dimes
- Eight-years old Mary Kosloski, kissing Elvis (who is holding a giant teddy bear) on the cheek at Graceland on his birthday in 1957
- Elvis receiving the 1,400 tickets he bought so that Humes High School students could attend the annual E.H. Crump Memorial Football Game for the Blind
- Elvis being welcomed by his friend, cerebral palsy victim, Gary Pepper, on his return from the Army
- A series of photos of Elvis reacting to children
- Colonel Parker carrying a young disabled girl to Elvis during his show in Cleveland on November 6, 1971
While most of the visuals are in b&w, there are various color images, including:
- a four-page spread devoted to Elvis’ Aloha From Hawaii concert
- Elvis signing autographs for fans holding Elvis For President signs
- Elvis on stage in his Gold Lamé suit
- with fans on the set of Charro
Paul Belard provides added balance and gravitas to Elvis A Humanitarian through the reproduction of an array of wide-ranging and important archival material. The material includes:
- Elvis and the March of Dimes
- Joanne Kelly’s interview with EIN (Joanne was one of the children in the film Touched By Love aka To Elvis, With Love)
- Transcript of a radio interview Elvis gave in September 1956
- Article by Lou Hohn, Elvis and the Handicapped (which originally appeared in Elvis Monthly in April 1963
- Elvis’ Gold Cadillac Tour of Australia and New Zealand. The tour raised almost $150,000 (more than $1M in today’s dollars) for the Benevolent Society of New South Wales
- Why Elvis Can’t Sleep Nights - a Feb 1958 article from Movie Life magazine focusing on Elvis’ charitable work in Memphis, Tennessee
The author presents each of Elvis’ acts of kindness in chronological order, up to and including the establishment of the Elvis Presley Memorial Trauma Center in Memphis, in 1983.
Verdict: Paul Belard’s Elvis A Humanitarian is an important release which, as a record of Elvis' concern for others, contributes to a fuller understanding and appreciation of Elvis Presley “the person”. Recommended.
Contact the author to purchase Elvis A Humanitarian
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EIN’s reviews of other books by Paul Belard:
Elvis Black and White To Technicolor
Elvis 1960 Seven Days In March
Elvis September 1958 - Germany Bound
Elvis 1956 January - February
Elvis The Gospel Singer