Book Review:

Elvis: Frame By Frame

Elvis: Frame By Frame, Bill Bram, WingSpan Press, USA, 2008, Softcover, 377 pages, Illustrated, ISBN-13: 978-1595942203

The sub-title of Bill Bram’s new book, Elvis: Frame By Frame, is “Behind the Scene Accounts About the Making of Nine of Elvis Presley’s Films”.  It is wonderfully apt as it truthfully conveys a real sense of what the reader can expect.

Elvis: Frame By Frame investigates the making of 9 of Elvis’ films.  The author originally intended to cover all 31 of The King’s narrative roles but refocused his efforts on a smaller number in order to finish his book in a reasonable time.

I always find it pleasing when the subject of a new Elvis book is his body of film work.  Often unfairly maligned, that body has its distinct phases and numerous elements of merit.

Unlike recent visual examinatioins of several Elvis films by the Elvis Unlimited group, Bram's release is essentially a narrative account with a small number of visuals. This is in no way a negative!

The 9 films featured in Elvis: Frame By Frame span Elvis’ film career and are:
  • King Creole
  • Kid Galahad
  • Roustabout
  • Easy Come, Easy Go
  • Double Trouble
  • Clambake
  • Live A Little, Love A Little
  • The Trouble With Girls
  • Change of Habit

Elvis: Frame By Frame gains much value as much of its information is taken directly from the movie files, while the author’s interviews with Elvis’ co-stars and film personnel offer often eye opening insights about Elvis and life on the set during each of the films covered.

Some of the co-stars interviewed include Dabney Coleman (The Trouble With Girls), Teri Garr (Roustabout), James Gregory (Clambake), Pat Harrington (Easy Come, Easy Go), Sue Ann Langdon (Roustabout) and Lee Majors (Clambake).

There are so many highlights throughout Elvis: Frame By Frame that it literally becomes a treasure trove of fascinating information and anecdotes.  The stories are diverse and enlightening, including:

  • The story behind sex symbol Raquel Welch’s one line role in Roustabout and how co-star Sue Ann Langdon helped her with her make up
  • Which co-star bought Elvis’ El Dorado Cadillac
  • The assistant script supervisor with a crush on Elvis
  • What Elvis did to scare Bill Reynolds, brother of the legendary Debbie Reynolds
  • The impact on Shelley Fabares of her make-up for Clambake
  • Which Elvis co-star once threw original Elvis Presley lipsticks and key rings in the garbage
  • did Elvis enjoy making Clambake? - Bill Bram offers an interesting assessment
  • What happened at the ‘wrap up’ parties
Many readers will appreciate the author’s chapter about Elvis’ lost film projects. Producer, Jon Peters, has much to say about the role of Colonel Tom Parker in negotiations falling through for Elvis to co-star with Barbra Streisand in A Star Is Born.  Peters also offers one striking quote about Elvis:

“We wanted to be able to strip him naked, to get the beauty of his soul”.

That Barbra Streisand initially didn’t want to do A Star Is Born is also interesting.

One of those interviewed is Hollywood director/producer/writer, Michael A. Hoey.  EIN had the pleasure of interviewing Michael earlier this year.  On Elvis' missed film opportunities, Michael observed to Bill Bram:

I wrote a number of treatments, we hoped to get interest from the studios. These treatments were not musicals. The Colonel's attitude was, "I don't care what you write, give me a million dollars and I'll deliver Elvis." The studios were not that interested, either, they wanted him to do musicals and the Colonel did also. That way they could sell another album.

Elvis: Frame By Frame also includes three appendices covering:

  • King Creole Production Details
  • Roustabout – Highlights from the movie files
  • Easy Come, Easy Go – Highlights from the movie files

As an example of what is contained in the appendices, for Easy Come, Easy Go the reader is treated to official memos to producer Hal Wallis; information on the salaries of Elvis’ co-stars; contract details; casting suggestions; and more.

For Roustabout, Bram provides selected quotes from a very interesting 3 page memo dealing with a meeting with Colonel Parker.

I found it illuminating to also discover that producers considered both Dick Martin (Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In) and Bob Denver (Gilligan) for the role of Judd in Easy Come, Easy Go, before settling on the excellent Pat Harrington.  Screen legend, Martha Raye, was also considered for the part of Madame Neherina in the same film, while Susan Saint James was an early choice for the part of Sister Susan in Change of Habit.  The reason or reasons why a number of casting choices didn’t eventuate are intriguing.

There is also an 18 page bibliography and an Index.

Prior to the release of Elvis: Frame By Frame, Bram provided the interesting essay for Joseph Tunzi’s excellent release, Elvis in Tickle Me.

Verdict: Elvis: Frame By Frame is a resonating commentary on and insight to 9 of Elvis’ films.  It offers a fascinating perspective thanks to its finely balanced blend of interviewee contributions and actual archival film material.

Visit the "Elvis: Frame By Frame" website & buy the book

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