The hip-wiggler, teen-corrupting Elvis Presley should be outlawed.
That opinion of James Todd of Ocean Springs, stated in an Aug. 8, 1956, letter to The Daily Herald, was quickly disputed by a Biloxi teenager, a married woman from Pass Christian and the manager of Gulf Hills Dude Ranch and Country, the Ocean Springs resort where Elvis sometimes stayed and was “a considerate, perfect gentleman at all times.”
The exchange of readers opinions is unusual for the 1950s because few letters to the editor were written or published in the local newspaper. Americans did not spout their opinions as readily as they now do in the current age of instant communication.
The Herald, an early incarnation of this newspaper, had reported on Elvis’ rising star since his first three concerts on the Mississippi Coast in June 1955.
That was just too much for Todd, who declared:
“It seems as though just about every night there is some article about Elvis. I don’t envy him his talent one bit, but as a father of two teenage daughters I think there should be a law to stop such low-down music...
“I don’t know how any parent could let their children listen and watch a boy act as ridiculous as Elvis. We don’t even like his records let alone his name and his actions before teenagers.... They may wind up smoking weed and going to the Crazy House.
“We, my family and neighbors, are not against good music and listen to it but this so-called sex Romeo is going to cause trouble along our Gulf Coast with these teenage girls, and it’s the parents fault when it is all summed up for letting this hip-wiggler hang around. We should do something, to either put a ban on him or his ... music....”
Digging in the archives
I discovered this fascinating exchange of Elvis opinions this summer while researching the Coast music scene of the mid-20th century. Elvis’ national star rose so fast after six Coast concerts in 1955 that local music promoters could no longer afford to bring him here.
For awhile, Elvis continued to bring his parents and himself here to fish and relax, and he even had a Biloxi girlfriend named June Juanico.
This was a time when Elvis honed rockabilly music, fusing Country-Western with the gospel and Rhythm & Blues of black Americans, and a bit of recording pop thrown in. The Coast has maintained a soft spot for the Mississippi native who would become The King of music and die tragically.
More than half a century after Todds’ letter, we are not likely to remember the controversies around Elvis’ new brand of music. We might see old clips of the Ed Sullivan shows where he stirred up controversy for a gyrating “You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog!”
But mostly, the opinions of Todd and his kin are forgotten.
Fans fight back
In 1956, however, Todd’s Herald letter rated three rare responses.
“I as a teenager resent Mr. Todd’s reprisal of Elvis Presley,” wrote Caryl D. Clarke of Biloxi.
“Elvis Presley isn’t going to cause any more harm on the Coast than any of the other ‘bop-sters’ have done elsewhere in former years. For instance, Frank Sinatra, who was the teenage idol in the early ’40s. Did you ever stop to think maybe it was some of your relatives who acted just as crazy over him as some teenagers are doing Presley today.
“Why, I can remember when many of the elderly ladies in 1954 were swooning over Liberace. What in the world could be more sickening that that?
“To get back to Elvis. Let’s face it — to be crazy over a favorite singer and actor is kid stuff. It will pass over. My own mother told me she stood in the rain for four hours just to catch a glimpse of Frank Sinatra.”
Myrtle Brigdon of the Pass wrote: “If Mr. Todd is so worried about his teenage daughters then maybe he should look to himself.”
And this from C.E. Spearman Jr., Gulf Hill’s assistant manager: “As far as banning Elvis or his type of music, that sounds like something that might have taken place in Nazi Germany.”
Kat Bergeron, a veteran feature writer specializing in Gulf Coast history and sense of place, is retired from the Sun Herald. She writes the Mississippi Coast Chronicles column as a freelance correspondent. Reach her at BergeronKat@gmail.com or at Southern Possum Tales, P.O. Box 33, Barboursville VA 22923.