Squarely in the middle of the rapid rise (and accompanying cultural tumult) of Elvis Presley, the 21-year-old singer stopped in Toledo on Thanksgiving day 1956, played two shows at the Sports Arena, and beat up a guy later at the Commodore Perry Hotel.
The timing of Presley’s visit to Toledo was remarkable. By this point, Presley was a national sensation: young folks mostly loved him and adults mostly reviled him. He’d already had five singles at No. 1, had already appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show twice, his first movie, Love Me Tender, opened at the Paramount two days earlier (“His ability as an actor is debatable,” The Blade wrote in a Thanksgiving Day review), the song Love Me Tender was No. 1 on the Billboard charts, and within two weeks, he would be present at the legendary Million Dollar Quartet session in Memphis with Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins.
And there was no denying the popularity of Elvis, especially among Toledo’s high school crowd. A couple of days after the shows, The Blade, in reporting that lockers at three high schools were searched following reports of planted bombs, noted that at Burnham High School, well over half of the girls’ lockers displayed Elvis pictures, while at Woodward, assistant principal Raymond McNeill said “almost every freshmen girl’s locker had a picture of Elvis Presley in it.”
(No bombs were found.)
But here was Elvis, in Toledo, Ohio, on Thanksgiving, playing an afternoon and an evening show. Tickets were $2 and $2.50, less than a one-way fare to Cleveland on the New York Central ($3.81). But then, as now, the kids “paid out countless more for EP hats, EP souvenir albums, EP photographs, EP popcorn and even EP binoculars.”
The whole story, written by The Blade’s Charles W. Gilmore, has an adult spin and an adult viewpoint.
The half-hour appearance by Presley came at the end of two hours of “hasily contrived vaudeville acts and a series of ‘warm ups’ designed to put the kids in a proper emotional state to receive him. From there, the story: half news article, half tongue-in-cheek review, took off:
The crowd was told “how to scream, when to scream and where to scream. But he carefully neglected to tell them why. And that is the phenomenon of Elvis Presley. …
Elvis Presley boasts he has never had a music lesson, an educational void he clearly demonstrated when he performed. But it made no difference. …
Later however, in the Shalimar room at the Commodore Perry, Presley met up with Louis John Balint, 19, who gave a S. St. Clair St. address, who shouted “My wife carries your picture but doesn’t carry mine.” Police broke up the scuffle to find Presley “pummeling his accuser.”
A couple of days later, however, The Blade caught up with Balint, who claimed Presley owed him $200 for the fight. He claimed the whole thing was arranged in a bar between shows. He spent a couple of days in the Workhouse until his father bailed him out, and had been fined $10 (with $9.60 in costs).
“You don’t think I’d bust in like I did in that bar and swing at Presley without I was to get some dough?” he asked. “I read where Presley takes $16,000 out of toledo for them two shows at the arena … sixteen grand and he’s too cheap to pay me my lousy $200.”
Presley returned only one other time to Toledo, an April 23, 1977 concert at the University of Toledo’s Centennial Hall. Alas, the paper with the review is missing, but the tease on the following Monday’s front page makes you wonder.