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Publicity consultant gave Elvis a bad review—at first!

In the 1950s, Jack Fones researched upcoming acts and decided a young Elvis Presley was too pretty to be a country singer. But the King was a hit on show night.

Jack and Jane Fones pose with Lucille Ball in the 1950sMy career in public relations brought me into contact with some of the most famous names in the ­entertainment world, such as ­Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball. That’s my wife, Jane, with Lucy and me in 1954 (at right).

I also knew a young Elvis Presley, early in his career, and actually tried to cancel two of his first gigs.

Philip Morris, which was a client of my company, Publicity Consultants Inc., planned shows for its employees in Louisville, Kentucky, and Richmond, Virginia. Melvin Gold, a New York producer, was hired to stage the shows, and when the three acts were set, he asked me to check them out.

They were country singer Hank Snow, some country comic and an unknown named Elvis Presley, who was a truck driver and aspiring singer.

I thought Presley was much too pretty to be a country singer, so I asked Mel to cancel him. But Elvis had already been signed for $150 per city, so we had to take him.

Elvis’ old Cadillac convertible broke down on the way to Louisville, but he took the stage that night, singing Blue Suede Shoes, Hound Dog and other soon-to-be-famous Elvis Presley songs.

The president of Philip Morris, who was in the audience, yelled to one of his aides to get Elvis off the stage, claiming that his hip gyrations were obscene. Elvis finished the show, though, and was a tremendous hit with the employees and their families.

The next week in Richmond, the crowd reacted the same way, and an RCA Records talent scout was there. The scout signed him to a contract after the show, and his career was off and running—despite my original intention!

Jack Fones • Keene, New Hampshire

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