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the first published caricature of elvis presley

THE FIRST CARICATURE OF ELVIS PRESLEY that I have found was first pub­lished in the July 6, 1956, issue of Col­lier’s mag­a­zine. The image was drawn by the inim­itable Al Hirschfeld and was used to il­lus­trate yet an­other column crit­i­cizing the singer—or more ac­cu­rately, the singer’s fans. As this is an im­por­tant image, I have de­voted the en­tirety of this ar­ticle (es­sen­tially “Elvis’ Golden Car­i­ca­tures Volume 7”) to this one drawing.

The first six vol­umes in this se­ries of ar­ti­cles cov­ered art that ad­dressed Presley in the 1950s and ’60s (see the list of links at the end of this piece). Hirschfeld is the most fa­mous car­i­ca­turist of the past hun­dred years—even if he loathed being re­ferred to as such.

He did sev­eral draw­ings of Elvis that span a twelve-year pe­riod, ending with the ’68 NBC-TV spe­cial. The next volume in this se­ries will dis­play those draw­ings and pro­vide some back­ground on Hirschfeld.

This Hirschfeld drawing of Hirschfeld’s that seems to be the first car­i­ca­ture of Presley was done for John O’Hara’s column in Col­lier’s mag­a­zine, “Ap­point­ment with O’Hara.” That column was al­most al­ways ac­com­pa­nied by a Hirschfeld drawing.

First Published Caricature: drawing of Elvis by Al Hirschfeld for Collier's magazine in 1956.

A fairly generic Elvis

Hirschfeld’s drawing is fairly generic-looking: the white jacket over a black shirt was typ­ical Elvis, but it’s the shock of hair and the side­burns that iden­tify the singer. And it is typ­ical Hirschfeld: a lovely, fluid black line on a snow-white board, al­most min­i­mal­istic in con­cep­tion and ex­e­cu­tion. The move­ment of the arms and the arrow-like black­ness of the shirt move the view­er’s eyes to the singer’s face, eyes closed while singing.

It’s un­cer­tain as to what was Hirschfeld’s in­spi­ra­tion for the drawing: while a reg­ular column might be one of the last things sub­mitted to a weekly pe­ri­od­ical for in­clu­sion, even it was written weeks in ad­vance of the cover dates. O’Hara doesn’t com­ment on any re­cent event, simply that the little girls are making a fuss over Elvis.

 

“I also wonder how Elvis would turn out if he could be in­duced to re­tire for a few years and go to Yale.”

 

If we as­sume that the column and the drawing were done in the middle of June, the most re­cent event that cap­tured a wide au­di­ence out­side of AM radio air­play was Pres­ley’s ap­pear­ance on the Milton Berle Show on June 5.

Elvis did wear a light-colored jacket and a shirt that was partly black, so it could have been Hirschfeld’s source. But Elvis did not use a guitar during that ap­pear­ance.

More likely, Hirschfeld’s drawing was based on the iconic photo on Pres­ley’s first LP taken by William “Red” Robertson (who is not cred­ited on the album jacket). There the singer is wearing a white jacket and a black shirt, is strum­ming a guitar, and has his eyes closed as he sings.

 

First Published Caricature: front cover of RCA Victor LPM-1254, Elvis Presley's first LP album from 1956.

In March 1956, RCA Victor re­leased one of the most fa­mous and in­flu­en­tial al­bums in the his­tory of pop­ular music, ELVIS PRESLEY (LPM-1254).It fea­tured this great photo of the singer seem­ingly lost in his song. Sixty years later, it is still one of the most icono­graphic photos of “the Fifties.”

Ap­point­ment with O’Hara

Here is the com­plete text of Mr O’ Hara’s column from July 6, 1956. It is set in san serif type and in­dented. Note that I broke the column up into smaller para­graphs to make the whole thing more read­able.

“My ex­cuse for not having said any­thing sooner about Elvis Presley is that I thought it would go away. But the daugh­ters of the early Frankie-boy swooners are car­rying on the tra­di­tion es­tab­lished by their mothers, and until Elvis has com­pleted his book­ings we are going to be hearing about the screams and faint­ings of little ex­hi­bi­tion­ists who can’t have any fun un­less they’re making nui­sances of them­selves.

In my day, or what I call the Cracked Ice Age, the men who brought out the worst in girls were Rudy Vallee and Paul Ash. The Villa Vallee was at 10 East 60th Street in New York, the exact same spot that is now called the Co­paca­bana. Paul Ash usu­ally led the or­chestra and mas­tered the cer­e­monies at the big movie houses in New York and Chicago.

 

What can the mother of a Presley fan say when little Debbie has to be bailed out for dis­or­derly con­duct?

 

Be­cause Vallee had gone to Yale it was somehow all right with mothers if you took their daugh­ters to his crib, al­though you were more likely to be seated at a table near Larry Fay and other mob­sters than to en­counter Jock Whitney and other Vallee class­mates. In gen­eral, Villa Vallee was an or­derly joint as night clubs went, but even in the movie houses the Vallee and Ash fans were, by com­par­ison with their present-day nieces, quite sub­dued.

I sup­pose we were, in 1928, close enough to the Vic­to­rian era to allow an au­dible sigh to suf­fice as a con­fes­sion of frus­tra­tion. A thou­sand sighs are aw­fully au­dible, but at least they’re not car­nage. What can the mother of a Presley fan say when little Debbie has to be bailed out for dis­or­derly con­duct?

Does she level with the kid and admit that she her­self has a moc­casin that she swiped from Frankie-boy?

Or does she clout the child over the head with an old Tommy Dorsey record and tell her to take it easy?

This is not an iso­lated problem, and de­serves the at­ten­tion of Dr. Gesell. I also wonder how Elvis would turn out if he could be in­duced to re­tire for a few years and go to Yale. I sug­gest Yale for this ex­per­i­ment in ed­u­ca­tion be­cause I live in Princeton. No matter where he went, those first two years would be tough on the neigh­bors. 2

To his credit, Mr O’Hara’s cur­mud­geonly at­ti­tude wasn’t re­served strictly for Elvis and rock & roll: he seems to have nei­ther ap­pre­ci­a­tion nor re­spect for ei­ther Rudy Valli or Frank Sina­tra’s fans and fol­lowers.

Hirschfeld’s draw­ings of Elvis began in 1956 and ended with the ’68 NBC-TV spe­cial. Click To Tweet

First Published Caricature: picture of John O'Hara's column on Elvis in Collier's magazine.

This is a re­pro­duc­tion of the page from the July 6, 1956, Col­lier’s with the “Ap­point­ment With O’Hara” column ad­dressing the “nui­sances” that were Pres­ley’s fe­male fans at the time. Note that the il­lus­tra­tion in the lower right corner is al­most an af­ter­thought to the column.

Was it the first published caricature?

It should be noted that there may have been other car­i­ca­tures of Elvis that were done for smaller news­pa­pers in the South and South­west be­fore Hirschfeld, but none have sur­vived.

Fi­nally, a very spe­cial thanks to Katherine Eastman, Archives Manager for the Al Hirschfeld Foun­da­tion, for her as­sis­tance in an­swering my ques­tions!

Elvis 1957 goldsuit standup 1000POSTSCRIPTUALLY, I have to note that I have planned four vol­umes of car­i­ca­tures of Elvis in the ’50s, two for the ’60s, and at least one for the ’70s. Al­though I am fo­cusing on car­i­ca­ture, later posts might in­clude other re­lated art, es­pe­cially fan art. Here are links to the other vol­umes:

Elvis’ Golden Car­i­ca­tures Volume 1 (Rockin’ the ‘50s)
Elvis’ Golden Car­i­ca­tures Volume 2 (Rollin’ the ‘50s)
Elvis’ Golden Car­i­ca­tures Volume 3 (Rat­tlin’ the ‘50s)
Elvis’ Golden Car­i­ca­tures Volume 4 (Shaggin’ the ‘50s)
Elvis’ Golden Car­i­ca­tures Volume 5 (Stuck On The ’60s)
Elvis’ Golden Car­i­ca­tures Volume 6 (Wild In The ’60s

 

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