Colonel Parker: From Dancing Chickens to Elvis

Colonel Tom Parker with Elvis Presley was the agent for Elvis and managed him wisely but did take a larger cut than most agents.

Colonel Tom Parker was born Andreas Cornelius Van Kuijk in Breda, Holland in 1909. He was not a real colonel but is thought to have gotten his name from a captain in the Army named Tom Parker.

He was an employee of a circus and came up with the idea of having chickens dance on a plate which had a concealed hot plate under it so the chickens danced fast to the tune of  Turkey in the Straw.

Parker would be designated an honorary colonel by Jimmie Davis the  governor of Louisiana in 1948 explaining why he was known as the colonel.

Bob Neal was the current manager for Elvis so Parker worked his way into being co-agent for Elvis until Neal relinquished his management rights completely turning over the management of Elvis to Parker.

Next on the agenda for Parker was to disengage Elvis from his contract with Sun Records. Sam Phillips told him he would release Elvis from his recording contract for $40,000. Parker had problems finding a record label for Elvis that would agree to pay him $40,000 until RCA agreed to sign Elvis for that amount.

In what would prove to be a risky but brilliant move Parker paid $40,000 to a movie merchandiser to promote Elvis Presley merchandise and by the end of 1956 there were staggering sales of $22 million. Parker got his 25 percent which came to $5.5 million for him while most managers were getting 10 percent of profits which would have been $2.2 million.

Even Parker made mistakes like booking Elvis into a Las Vegas engagement that received a cool reception since most of those in the audience were older. Parker had made the mistake of taking Elvis from his comfort zone of performing in front of screaming teenage girls into a venue where he was not accepted by an older crowd.

A more logicial move was when Parker negotiated with the television networks to have Elvis appear on national television which exposed him to the whole country at once.

However Parker knew too much exposure is not a good thing either so was happier than Elvis was about being drafted and sent to Germany. Parker made sure some new Elvis music was released while he was in the Army to keep fans happy but kept Elvis out of the public eye for the most part.

When Elvis returned from Germany Parker negotiated a contract for Elvis to appear on the Frank Sinatra Show for $125,000 for Elvis to sing two songs and be on the show for eight minutes.

For the next eight years Elvis would make very few live appearances but by now his movie career was in full swing but moviegoers would only see him about three times a year since he was making three movies during most of the Hollywood years while still releasing new music.

Since Elvis wasn’t touring at the time Parker conceived the idea of having the gold Cadillac of Elvis go on tour and 40,000 paid to see it in one day in Houston.

The 1968 NBC comeback special did not turn out the way Colonel Parker wanted. He wanted Elvis to wear a Santa Claus suit and sing Christmas songs.  The producer of the show Steve Binder was not enamored with the idea of  Elvis wearing a Santa suit and wanted Elvis to sing his old songs instead. Elvis told Parker he wanted to do the show the way Binder wanted it done and Elvis and Binder prevailed and Elvis turned in a great performance.

Now Parker was ready to give Elvis another shot at Las Vegas and was very successful this time. Then Parker somehow got Elvis to agree to a 50/50 deal with Parker and writing the contract in such a way that Parker was actually earning more than Elvis.

Parker made another brilliant decision to have Elvis appear worldwide via satellite in his Aloha From Hawaii concert. This concert was Elvis at his best and may have been the beginning of the end for Elvis as he started to get involved with drugs in the last years of his life.

Elvis actually fired Parker after Elvis had been reprimanded by Parker for attacking Barron Hilton the owner of the Las Vegas hotel he was appearing in. An employee that Elvis liked had been fired and Elvis had mentioned it on stage.

We may never know if Parker warned Elvis of the dangers of becoming addicted to drugs or if Elvis ever objected to him getting such a large percentage of his earnings. Parker refused to write a book about Elvis saying that they want dirt on Elvis and he wasn’t going to be a dirt farmer.

Parker said he quit after being told he was fired by Elvis but Parker asked for a $2 million buyout of his contract and cooler heads prevailed and he remained as agent for Elvis till his death.

Even after the death of Elvis he was quick to get Vernon Presley to let him continue to manage the affairs of Elvis in death.

Looking back it is easy to see where Parker made some brilliant decisions while managing him but at the same time he was taking  so much money for himself that it can’t be said he always had the best interests of Elvis in mind.

Despite making millions as the manager of Elvis he had huge gambling debts that left his wife with only a million dollars at the time of his death when he died in Las Vegas on January 21, 1997 at the age of 88.


Author: Andrew Godfrey

Retired from newspaper work after 38 years. Had served in the Army in Hawaii and Vietnam in the 60's. Am now retired and living in Sulphur, Louisiana.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: