Saturday, April 2, 2011

2 April 1957 “Elvis and Graceland: A Symbolic Rise”

graceland On March 26 of this year, 1957, the 22-year-old Elvis Presley buys Graceland on 3734 Bellevue Boulevard for $US100,000. Adjusted for inflation, that would be like spending $787,576.51 today. While certainly that is a large amount, one must consider a home of this size on 13 acres today would be much more than that.

This is an amazing jump in wealth for the young artist, when you consider his first ‘nice’ house purchase when he began to make money as a singer.

elvishome56 This is  1034 Audubon Drive in a nicer well-to-do suburban middle/upper middle class neighborhood east of downtown Memphis.  This was his first house he purchased in Memphis. He paid $29,100 in March of 1956, keeping his mom and dad on the title. This would be the price of $229,184.77 today. This is roughly our current U.S. median house price. Yet, in 1956, this would around three times the yearly salary of the average family.

This was quite a move up from his birthplace elvisbirthplacein the 1930’s. Elvis Aaron Presley was born in Tupelo, Mississippi on January 8, 1935 to Vernon and Gladys Presley. His father would later lose them this home (which cost $108 dollars to build in the 1930’s or about $1500 today) when he was arrested and found guilty of check forgery.

What I find interesting about Elvis time at his first ‘nice home’ in 1956 is how fitting it is to him. Here he is in the front yard.56elvishomeAnd enjoying beer with friends on the patio.elvis56homeA happy and well off Elvis is seen here. Someone who is making a decent living at what he is doing.

Now for me, here is the turn. In one year, this year 1957, his fame and wealth shoots through the roof. His continued fame and his foray into movies, such as this year’s Jail house rock.

To me, we begin to see a sad turn of events that I am beginning to associate with the growing greed and idol worship in my country at this time. Elvis fame came quick and made millions for others who fed off Elvis, and I don’t mean hangers on but Record and Movie execs who saw a ‘product’ to exploit for gain.

Had Elvis lived in an earlier time such fame would not have been considered. Certainly the Crooner’s of the 40’s had a fame approaching this, but not to the extent. Radio and movie appearences began to lead to the type of exploitation a new ‘hottest thing’ could be, but really we are here in this pivotal year when the increased TV ownership/viewing, Growing Movie industry (The sweeping dramas of the 1930’s and even the high Technicolor Comedey extravaganza are beginning to go in lieu of more and easily made pictures ‘featuring’ the latest product: in this case Elvis).

I guess what makes me sad is if Elvis had lived in a world where one appreciated his talent and he was paid for his singing and appearances a reasonable amount, his life may have continued on into old age happily at his little suburban House. But, the money made for him was made at his own expense. His increased prescription drug use into the 1970’s to keep him on stage is the sad fact of this ‘products’ advantage to make more and more for those around him. When is enough enough? Are we to believe we must always have more and more? Is the big pink mansion really the ultimate goal for us when it comes at the cost of our lives and souls? I don’t know.

This sudden rise and even the vast movement in homes of Elvis is almost a microcosmic version of our country from 1950’s to today. The move from the ‘old ways’ of the little house with the relatives, living together to help one another out to ‘our own home in the suburbs’ isolation and increased costs to the McMansions of today. Are we happier? We all live ‘better’ we have more buying power and multiple cars and things at our fingertips, but is our health, our family, our lives better? Are we happier?


christmasgracelandThis is part of Graceland decorated for Christmas. Even this image shows the level to which Elvis was happy, a paneled rumpus room. One would not even associate this picture with the big pillared colonial structure in which it is in. Was this merely Elvis making a happy little nest in the vastness of his new wealth and fame?

I think there is a lesson here in Graceland. The rise from affordability, family, and honest work for honest pay. When we prop up one person and millions who have little happily give up their money to that idol, the money does not go to only them. It feeds a system of people who live and make wealth off the opportunity of others making no real product or music. And was this idol worship good for Elvis? Certainly his traumatic slide and dramatic end makes a great tale and has an almost God-like or Greek Tragedy quality in its telling, but at the root of it, Elvis was simply a young man who liked to sing and play his guitar. Was the result worth it? And, is the result, the need we now have to want to ‘live like a rock star’ a healthy attitude? Do young people even today associate ‘bad behavior and choice’ as a goal to work towards? Wealthy people mis-behaving, abusing themselves and those around them? Is this what we have become?

If this were not the move the world made from 1950’s to today, we might be able to buy a ticket at a good price to sit in a little honky tonk and listen to the ‘old man’ Elvis play his guitar and sing us some of our old favorites. Instead we have a shrine to the lifestyle and waste and we happily worship at it, only hoping we might be so “lucky”.elvisgrave


  1. Very interesting. I think Elvis was a reluctant big star and was probably shuffled around by others instead of living how he really wanted to live. Maybe not, but he never seemed happy in his later years. My husband and I bought a starter home when we were married 16 years ago similar to Elvis' first home. It's a small cottage 2 bedrooms and one bath. We came very near to upgrading to a larger home 10 years ago but did not go through with it, so we are still in our original home. And I'm really glad we never upgraded to a larger home because we don't need the extra space. It's just us. And by keeping this smaller much less expensive home, we are more financially secure than if we would have continued to buy bigger houses, always starting off with another 30 year mortgage. We were very fortunate to have paid off our little house, but if it would have been the larger one, we would still have a note for sure.
    It frees you up financially to make other decisions and take one step out of the rat race to slow down.

    I'm hoping to be able to either change jobs to something less stressful or stay at home soon. I'm so ready to live more simply and live off one income.

  2. Stephanie-I agree that Elvis was rather a reluctant star. And really, think how much happier he would have been if he realized one can say "NO" and that the 'dream' does not have to be bigger always!
    I read how much he loved Christmas and Family time, imagine if he had stayed more local, doing some world/country concerts sometimes, less movies and just played his music, got his music. Also think how he could have improved his home state as well if he continued to live and do his actual playing there.
    But we are sold this dream, really starting in the 1950's, that we need to be always growing and getting bigger. That is the same issue with our economy today, it is not rational to have a finite world and expect to continually grow, it isn't logical. And when we see most of the sadness and bad things in the world, they often follow the tail of "One step further, one more thing", rather it is our weight our debt our nation. Moderation may as well be stricken from the Dictionary, for it has no real meaning or purpose in anything we seem to do as modern people.
    I know of a young person, who is 20, works 40 hours minimum wage, carries a student load debt, credit card debt and just updated his i-phone. That is he got the latest version of it which is over 300 dollars I believe. I also found out that the monthly bill for that phone is over 100 dollars. Now, consider after taxes this person makes maybe 200 after taxes. Half of each first month's paycheck goes to pay a monthly service to be able to type some random emoticons to friends. That is an insane way to live and it is the normal everyday situation of most people.
    Without moderation and realistic views of how an economy and a life can be lead, destruction cannot be far behind.
    I hate to sound doom and gloom, but it is hard not to see the writing on the wall more and more every day. I used to be plugged into this world in the same way with no thought of spending etc, and now when I consider my old pre 1955 life I shudder and think of how we might have ended up.

  3. That was an excellent article. I very much enjoy your insight...keep them coming.

  4. Good post as it truly shines a light on what we as a society seem to thrive off of. We take no thought into elevating anyone into stardom-take Jon and Kate makes eight(not sure if that is the exact title), and the life they worked so hard to obtain is shattered. They desperately wanted children, paid tremendously for them, and then the television show gave them importance, and also money...and what started out as a goal to raise a family has turned into mom dancing with the stars heading all over the world with the eight kids, and dad photoed with a beautiful girl here and there.

    The price of the ladder we are moving up is vast and truth be told not everyone can be the CEO of a company or the best at anything, and the entire system has crumbled. We need people in all levels, and people to stay where they are instead of trying to move up a ladder ...just because. Perhaps where one is -should be where they stay, as they are most efficient there.

    Thanks again. The price is too high and I am very sad for the Elvis's of the world.

  5. It's interesting how keenly aware John Lennon was of what happened to Elvis, something he referred to often; that he didn't want to end up like Elvis. :(

  6. I just wanted you to know that I love your blog. I read it every day (well, every day that you post!)

    I agree with the sadness of wealth turning your life inside out. If you haven't seen "Capitalism: a Love Story," I would recommend it. It does a really good job of profiling America's affair with greed.

  7. So many stars end up like this. They are not "lucky." A lot of them are exploited. You have good insight.

  8. 50's gal you wrote: "Moderation may as well be stricken from the Dictionary, for it has no real meaning or purpose in anything we seem to do as modern people." That sentence says a lot!!!

    I have some friends who go to Vegas every couple of years. They only stay a couple days each time, joking that you can only handle a couple days there because everything goes nonstop 24/7.

    Consider the same for our daily lives at home. When I was a kid TV stations went off the air about midnight or sooner. Stations would play the National Anthem showing the flag, and then a voice would say "That concludes our programing for the day". TV screen would then go to the station's logo or spectrum pattern. It was almost as if the station was saying "TV's off, my gosh go to bed!". I got to see this once or twice, up late when I was sick or something, and I still remember it.

    Today - 24/7 TV and for those with cable/satellite there's 100+ stations as well (not the 4 I grew up with).
    Same for the internet. 24/7 availability.

    Just makes ya wonder sometimes.

    The grandma I was closest too was born on a farm in 1888. I remember her commenting that things were fast paced and busy - in the 1970's. She sure saw a lot of changes in her life. Some she thought were *wonderful*, particularly medical advancements. Others - such as stores starting to be open on Sundays (!!) really bothered her. No one took the time to rest anymore. That bothered her.

    Always the struggle with balance, no matter what generation. Really makes you stop and think, ya know?

    Oh - very quick comment related to nothing in the blog above - I was flipping through a magazine in a waiting room the other day and read a Q&A with the actress who plays Peggy on "Mad Men" tv show. Show takes place in the late 50's. In the interview she commented on how she wished women wore still wore gloves. She said whenever she puts on her gloves, in her role on the TV show, she feels wonderful feminine (paraphrased - I can't recall her exact wording but that's the jist of it).

  9. You know what's sad? The husband and I went to Graceland a few years ago. On the shuttle there was a mother and children.
    Children: This is no mansion! Our guest house is bigger than this!!

    Mother: Well, you know, this was a really long time ago and it was considered a big house way back when.

    I was appalled and shocked. I guess I am just a poverty ridden shlub because I found it still a large house on a large piece of property with many different buildings that were for different purposes... It really opens one's eyes to how greedy and entitled folks have become.

  10. Just found your blog and it's so interesting i know i'll be back to read it all. I hope sometime you address the birth control issues of the 50's. Since i havent read all maybe you already did.

  11. fullhouse-think of the money and energy put into entertainment/new media/and unnecessary advertising for new prescription drugs ( a very scary business I might add) was just put into improving health care. We might live longer and healthier and with that study would go hand and hand the importance of diet/food but that also would fly in the face of two other big business : agro-business (Corn for corn syrup-corn planting for this purpose and 'fuel' is going up this year AGAIN.) and junk foods which contain all sorts of agents/chemicals that might very well in time be shown to make cigarette smoking look like child's play. There is not reason that advancements in science and health have to go hand in hand with endless buying and spending on pointless new media/gadgets and more TV/entertainment options!
    The glove comment is very true. My white cotton gloves in Spring and Summer make me feel and act more lady-like and proud. There is much to be said for the power of clothing, it has served humans for centuries. We act as if it means nothing today, just pop on those jeans and that printed T, but really think about what so much of our clothing literally says: Corporate logos or ironic re-prints of actual 70/80's shirts that were probably printed locally in their day and are now pumped out in China/India, shipped thousands of miles, sold for a few dollars so we can 'appear' cool. Now what sounds more crazy? Wearing white gloves in summer (Pretty and also a good germ deterrent) or the other?
    Lapetitmort-I guess it is all about perspective. And certainly their 'guest house' and big home would seem minuscule in comparison to an English Country House with acres of rooms and servants floors and wings. It's all perspective, but how are they supporting their current lifestyle? Big mortgage? If so, I fear they may have to move into the guest house themselves to make ends meet, as our dollar fades.
    Lorraina-I haven't actually talked much about birth control. In the U.S. the 'pill' wasn't available, I don't think, until 1961 (or 60 have to check that). There was a popular method known as the rhythm method and here is an Etsy listing for an actual 1955 pamphlet mailed about that method, interesting stuff:

  12. Elvis achieved fame and fortune at a time when our country was experiencing great change and improvements in lifestyle. However the changes occurred at a much smaller pace in rural America.
    I love to talk about the 50s with my older friend, Doris, who raised her sons in rural Montana in the 50s. Times were still very hard for rural Americans and didn't improve much until the 70s.
    Elvis seemed to give hope to those who were still struggling to earn a decent living and provide the basics for their families.
    Over and over again in Hollywood and the music industry we see lives destroyed by "too much too fast". Many entertainers spend their fortunes as fast as they earn it and feel compelled to continue to do more and to keep up in a fickle industry.
    Elvis was generous with those closest to him and I suspect he felt pressured to continue to provide either material possessions or jobs for a lot of people.
    I have a friend who got a degree in dentistry and feels pressured to bring in the dollars to keep her staff employed. It takes its toll on her family and makes me sad.
    Thanks for another well thought-out post.....Denise

  13. I love how insightful your posts are. Picture blogs are always beautiful, but its blogs like this that really get my gears turning. Fabulous work :)

  14. The sad thing is that all this promotion of the star/artist didn't start with Elvis. Look at what was done to Judy Garland when she was just a child. Too bad this wasn't just an aberration rather than the beginning of a trend that has crippled or killed many of those with great talent.

  15. Ooh, Elvis – I’ve been af fan since I was a little girl. I’ve read lots of books about him. He had such a lovely voice, such a great talent, he was such a nice person – but he was a tradegy. I helped son some months ago writing about Elvis for school, and in one of my books there was a timeline, and reading it from start to end, we both wondered why he didn’t die earlier. He was SO abused. Poor boy. May he rest in peace.


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