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.
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.
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.
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!
POSTSCRIPTUALLY, 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