RCA’S CARTOON PICTURE SLEEVES of the ’50s featured a “biography” that summed up each artist’s life in a few comic strip-like panels. While rather rare, these sleeves are not very collectible and therefore are not valuable, except for one: the Elvis “This Is His Life” sleeve is among the rarer Presley items of that time.
The Elvis cartoon sleeve has been a sought-after collectible for decades, fetching four figures whenever one in nearly near-mint condition pops up for sale. Collectors generally refer to the sleeves for other artists as “cartoon sleeves” but Elvis collectors refer to the Presley sleeve as the “This Is His Life” sleeve. Note that all references to a “This Is His Life” sleeve in this article are to the Elvis sleeve.
This article is one in a series about collecting Elvis records from late 1955 and early ’56.
These cartoon sleeves appear to have been used promotionally. There was only one promotional pressing of a standard Presley 45 at that time: 47–6357, I Forgot To Remember To Forget / Mystery Train, from November 1955. Yet the Presley sleeve appears to have been manufactured too late to have been included with this promotional record.
After decades of research by collectors and compilers of price guides, several questions about the “This Is His Life” sleeve remain:
• When was the sleeve manufactured?
• When was the sleeve issued?
• Which Elvis record was it meant to accompany?
With this article, I look at the other cartoon sleeves to see if I can determine reasonable answers to these questions.
Before reading this article, I suggest that you read “RCA Victor’s Cartoon Picture Sleeves Of The ’50s,” which presents a lot of background information on the “This Is His Life” sleeve. To read that article, click here.
Promo records and cartoon sleeves
This section rehashes what you hopefully just read in the “RCA Victor’s Cartoon Picture Sleeves Of The ’50s” article. In the early ’50s, RCA Victor pressed promotional copies of most of their singles. The first Presley platter that RCA Victor pressed was 6357, I Forgot To Remember To Forget / Mystery Train, in late November 1955—just in time for there to have been a promotional pressing.
During 1955–1956, RCA Victor manufactured a series of special sleeves for their promotional records. The design for each theme was the same:
• The front cover featured a nutshell “biography” of the artist (and not necessarily a factually accurate biography) in a few comic strip-like panels. Because of this design, they are referred to as cartoon sleeves, although comic strip sleeves would be more appropriate.
• Along with the panels, there was a scroll with a portrait of the artist. For male artists, the top of the scroll reads “This Is His Life”; for female artists, it reads “This Is Her Life”; and for groups, it reads “This Is Their Life.”
This Is His Life
The “This Is His Life” sleeve has been popping up on the collectors market for decades—sometimes with a record, sometimes without. The artwork on the various cartoon sleeves appears to have been done by the same artist. Most of it is excellent drawing in the slick style that was popular in a lot of advertising at the time.
To try to determine when the Elvis sleeve was manufactured, I dissected the “facts” in the biography of Presley’s life on the sleeve. Here is a panel-by-panel breakdown:
Text: “A natural-born performer, young Elvis Presley, only 19 years old, looms as a great personality in the entertainment field.”
Elvis Presley was born on January 8, 1935. For him to have been 19 at the time that this sleeve was made, the text would have to have been written in 1954. That would have been a year before Elvis became an RCA Victor recording artist. So, this “fact” is of no use in determining the manufacturing date.
As for “looming” as a great personality in the entertainment field, it may have been hyperbole at the time it was written, but it proved true.
Text: “He hails from Tupelo, Mississippi, and was singing for friends and folk gatherings as a mere youngster.”
The term “folk gathering” usually referred to an event that would later be called a “hootenanny.” While Elvis may have sung at gatherings of family or friends, I am unaware of his having done any hoots in the ’50s.
Text: “Picking a $2.98 guitar, Elvis began ‘professionally’ singing on street corners.”
Hah! Gladys would have died years earlier from a heart attack if she had found her son taking money from strangers on the streets of Memphis. Even Baz Luhrman didn’t make nonsense such as this a part of Elvis’ hyperbolized past in his movie!
Text: “While in high school Elvis made a demonstration disk and was signed on the spot by an independent record company. He has to be seen to be believed!”
Elvis graduated from Humes High School on June 3, 1953. Sometime after that, Elvis paid $3.98 to the Memphis Recording Service to record himself singing two ballads, My Happiness and That’s When Your Heartaches Begin. Most researchers place this event in July 1953.
It was not a demonstration record and he was not signed by anyone.
On January 4, 1954, Elvis returned to the Memphis Recording Service, paid another $3.98, and made another one-of-a-kind record. They were two more ballads, Casual Love Affair and I’ll Never Stand In Your Way.
It was also not a demonstration record and, again, he was not signed by anyone. (Perhaps this data is an early example of “alternative facts.”)
But these recordings did attract someone’s attention: a few months later, Sam Phillips called him back.
Text: “Now on RCA Victor label, Elvis Presley is a recording sensation, a TV star (Jackie Gleason Stage Show), and finds himself mobbed by adoring fans on personal appearances.”
There are four facts in this statement:
1. “Now on RCA Victor label” indicates that the text for this sleeve was written after Presley signed with RCA Victor on November 21, 1955.
2. “Elvis Presley is a recording sensation” could refer to either his earlier success with Sun Records or his first few months with RCA Victor.
3. “Elvis Presley is a TV star (Jackie Gleason Stage Show)” indicates that the text for this sleeve was written after January 28, 1956. That was the date of Presley’s first appearance on Stage Show, a variety show produced by Jackie Gleason that featured Jimmy Dorsey and Tommy Dorsey as hosts. Elvis made five more appearances on that show in February and March 1956.
4. “Elvis Presley is mobbed by adoring fans on personal appearances” had been more or less true since he released his first record on Sun in July 1954. It was one of the reasons RCA signed him in the first place.
When was the sleeve scripted?
Using the “facts” in the five panels above that are actually factual, we can safely say that the “This Is His Life” sleeve was scripted no earlier than late January 1956.
This record or that record?
The “This Is His Life” sleeve has been found with several records on the collectors market. On Popsike, I found fifty-four sales listed under “Elvis this is his life sleeve” and “Elvis cartoon sleeve.” (There may be duplicate sales under these two groupings; I did not spend the time cross-checking each one to find out.)
In these ads, the sleeve was found with four records:
47–6357 I Forgot To Remember To Forget / Mystery Train
47–6383 Baby Let’s Play House / I’m Left, You’re Right, She’s Gone
47–6420 Heartbreak Hotel / I Was The One
47–6540 I Want You, I Need You, I Love You / My Baby Left Me
I tried to count the number of times each of these records was found with the “This Is His Life” sleeve but there are too many “weird” sales—usually, the same item sold twice because the winning bidder reneged on making payment the first time. Most of the time, it was either 47–6357 or 47–6540. (Again, I did not cross-check each one.)
Let’s look at all four:
RCA Victor 47–6357
As a Sun record, I Forgot To Remember To Forget / Mystery Train had been in the Top 10 of the Billboard C&W Best Sellers in Stores survey since September 28, 1955. It peaked at #3 on November 2, then began falling back down the chart.
As an RCA Victor record, it finally reached the #1 spot on February 15, 1956, staying for two weeks. Then started its final, slow descent off the chart.
So, did RCA give a final push to the record in early February by sending a new batch of records with the “This Is His Life” sleeve to record stations around the country?
RCA Victor 47–6383
Fans and collectors have long pondered the possibility that copies of the RCA Victor reissues of the other four Sun singles might have been slipped into copies of this sleeve and shipped to radio stations for airplay. This argument is bolstered by the sale of at least one of the sleeves on eBay that included a copy of 47–6383.
RCA Victor 47–6420
Fans and collectors have also considered the possibility that copies of Heartbreak Hotel / I Was The One might have been used with this sleeve. This argument is also supported by the sale of one of the sleeves on eBay that included a copy of 47–6420.
RCA Victor 47–6540
The record that is most often associated with the “This Is His Life” sleeve is 47–6540, I Want You, I Need You, I Love You / My Baby Left Me. It was Presley’s second RCA Victor single of newly recorded material and was released on May 4, 1956.
The last known RCA Victor cartoon picture sleeve is usually associated with s Jaye P. Morgan’s Just Love Me / The Call Of The Wild (47–6653) from August 1956. The copy of this sleeve found on the 45cat website has the record’s catalog number and date written on it as “47 6653 – 8/23/1956.” (See image above.)
This was probably written on the sleeve by someone at a radio station when they received the sleeve and record. So, granting the inscription as being from a radio station, then we know that these cartoon sleeves were used into the summer of ’56.
This means that the cartoon sleeves were in use at the time of the release of 47–6540 and that the “This Is His Life” sleeve could have been used with it.
When was the sleeve used?
So, I posed three questions at the beginning of this article and have effectively answered them. Here is the nutshell version of all the information above:
• Given the reference to Stage Show on the sleeve, it was probably manufactured no earlier than early February 1956.
• Given the fact that several records have been found with the sleeve, it was probably used from February through May 1956.
To believe that this sleeve was used with white label promo 45s of 47–6357 in late 1955 requires us to believe that “Elvis Presley is a recording sensation” refers to solely Presley’s Sun records in 1955 and “Elvis Presley is a TV star (Jackie Gleason Stage Show)” is based solely on the deal made in 1955 for Presley’s appearances on future appearances on Stage Show in 1956.
This is unlikely.
To believe that this sleeve was used with 47–6540 requires us to believe that “Elvis Presley is a recording sensation” refers to the extraordinary success of Heartbreak Hotel and that “Elvis Presley is a TV star (Jackie Gleason Stage Show)” is based on Presley’s actual appearance on Stage Show in 1956.
So, which one was it?
Not only do I think it’s both, but I’m going with all four of them!
I have two suggestions for discographers and price guide editors:
1. Instead of trying to link it to one record, give the “This Is His Life” sleeve its own entry as a separate collectible item.
2. Instead of trying to pin the release date down, list it as having been used from February through May 1956.
Two “This Is His Life” sleeves?
The Elvis Records site displays two versions of the back side of the “This Is His Life” sleeve:
• One variation has rounded corners at the bottom with a pointed thumb-notch (top image above).
• The other variation has square corners at the bottom with a rounded thumb-notch (bottom image above).
If both of these images are of the legitimate sleeve (see “Reproductions exist” below), then it probably indicates that two different printers were used by RCA Victor to manufacture them.
Avid Record Collector Price Guide
As the field of Elvis collecting is still confused about this sleeve’s origin, how many authentic versions exist, and how to differentiate between authentic sleeves and reproductions, I will gracefully decline to assign any kind of definite value to it.
However, I will say that this sleeve should be worth thousands of dollars in near-mint condition!
Reproductions exist of the “This Is His Life” sleeve. These were made by different sources over several years, if not several decades. I am unable to provide reasonable instructions on how to discern the difference between an authentic sleeve and a reproduction.
At this time, I can offer the time-honored “Caveat emptor” and ask that the reader be wary of copies in like-new condition.This article about the Elvis ‘This Is His Life’ cartoon picture sleeve is one in a series about collecting Elvis records from late 1955 and early ’56. Click To Tweet
FEATURED IMAGE: Since the featured image at the top of this page is a record label that already appeared in this article above, I am filling this space with a caricature of Elvis. This cool drawing of Elvis was done by the artist Alberto Russo. I have published eleven collections of Elvis caricatures on this blog; to view the first one, click here.
The first fourteen articles in this series are almost completed and listed below with links to each. Should you access one of these articles and receive an Error Page, try back a week later.
01 RCA Victor’s “SPD” Series of Specialty Records
02 What Was the First Elvis Record That RCA Victor Released?
03 The Biggest Country & Western Record News of 1955
04 The First RCA Elvis Record Was “I Forgot to Remember to Forget”
05 The RCA Victor Cartoon Picture Sleeves of the ’50s
06 The Elvis “This Is His Life” Cartoon Picture Sleeve
07 RCA Victor 47–6357 Bootleg Picture Sleeves
08 The “Record Bulletin” Picture Sleeve for RCA’s First Elvis Record Is a Fake
09 Did RCA Release Other Versions of Elvis’ Songs to Compete With Elvis’ Records?
10 A New Kind of Hit Re-run With Elvis Presley
11 Was “E‑Z Pop Programming 5” the First LP to Feature an Elvis Track?
12 Was “E‑Z Country Programming 2” the First LP to Feature an Elvis Track?
13 Was SPD-15 the First EP to Feature an Elvis Track?
14 Is the Country & Western Jukebox Promotion Kit a Fake?
More articles addressing the early RCA Victor releases are planned. Each will contain the blockquote, “This article is one in a series about collecting Elvis records from late 1955 and early ’56,” like the one at the beginning of this article.
To find all the articles in the series, copy the blockquote, paste it into the Find option (the magnifying glass in the navigation bar at the top of each page), and then press Return or Enter on your keyboard.
Mystically liberal Virgo enjoys long walks alone in the city at night in the rain with an umbrella and a flask of 10-year-old Laphroaig who strives to live by the maxim, “It ain’t what you know that gets you into trouble; it’s what you know that just ain’t so.
I’ve been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet, a pawn, and a college dropout (twice!). Occupationally, I have been a bartender, jewelry engraver, bouncer, landscape artist, and FEMA crew chief following the Great Flood of ’72 (and that was a job that I should never, ever have left).
I am also the final author of the original O’Sullivan Woodside price guides for record collectors and the original author of the Goldmine price guides for record collectors. As such, I was often referred to as the Price Guide Guru, and—as everyone should know—it behooves one to heed the words of a guru. (Unless, of course, you’re the Beatles.)