Was Elvis arrested for dancing? (Movie versus reality)

Photo by Kindel Media: https://www.pexels.com/photo/a-person-s-hands-on-the-table-wearing-handcuffs-7773260/

In the Baz Luhrmann biopic Elvis, the “King of Rock-N-Roll” gets himself handcuffed for gyrating his hips during a performance. He doesn’t get arrested, but the threat of arrest for dancing provocatively leads him to strike a deal to cut his hair and join the military for a few years to rehab his image. Did all of this really happen the way it was depicted in the film?

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In the movie, Elvis is told by his manager Colonel Tom Parker that he is absolutely not to dance while performing. He immediately defies these orders by moving and shaking while he performs he blues song “Trouble” written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller.

The song starts out with

“If you’re looking for trouble
You came to the right place,”

And continues in a frenzy until Elvis is shouting the ending lyrics:

“I’m evil, evil, evil, as can be
I’m evil, evil, evil, as can be
So don’t mess around don’t mess around don’t mess around with me.”

The vice squad closes in on Elvis and his future to freely express himself via dance looks pretty grim.

Elvis Presley did sing this song, first in 1958. He also opened up what became known as his “Comeback Special” in 1968 with the song while wearing black leather.

This is Elvis singing the song in the 1958 movie King Creole

Elvis did not, however, get arrested for dancing while singing this, or any other, song. He was arrested, though, on October 19, 1956, for assault. He was also threatened to be thrown in jail by a judge in Jacksonville, FL.

While Elvis was in the city to perform for two nights in August 1956, Judge Marion Gooding met with him after the first show to tell him to not dance during the second show or else he would be jailed.

This scenario is similar to the one seen in the movie, but in the real-life incident Elvis did tone down his moves. He did, however, wiggle his little finger during the show, which had a similar effect on the audience as his signature dance moves. Elvis told the press that he had no idea what he was doing wrong, but he didn’t defile authorities and was not arrested for his performance. Still, the threat of arrest is pretty chilling.

Similar to the movie, this incident in Florida happened after Elvis had debuted his dance moves on the Ed Sullivan show, which caused a frenzy of controversy. For Elvis’ third appearance on the show on January 6, 1957, he was censored and only filmed from the waist up so his provocative moves wouldn’t be broadcast to the young people watching.

Like in the movie, in 1957 Elvis was filmed by the Los Angeles Vice Squad during a show. In the end, though, they found nothing to arrest Elvis for during the show, which contrasts with what we see in the Baz Luhrmann film.

The scene where Elvis defies authority and dances while singing “Trouble” is a mashup of several incidents in Elvis’ life and takes artisitc license to leave an impression rather than impart factual historical events.

Elvis’ real arrested happened at a car service station in Memphis, TN. Elvis pulled into the station for repairs on his car and was immediately swarmed by fans. The station owner Edd Hopper asked him to leave, and then Hopper, Elvis and employee Aubrey Brown got into a physical altercation. All three were arrested for assault and battery, and disorderly conduct. In the end, Elvis’ charges were dismissed and the other two were fined.

How Elvis started dancing

Elvis’ controversial hip and leg movements are said to have originated from nerves during one of his first performances on stage. In the instrumental parts of sounds, his legs started to shake from stage fright and he turned this into dancing, which made the crowd go wild.

“Music has reached its lowest depths in the ‘grunt and groin’ antics of one Elvis Presley,” journalist Ben Gross said in the 1950s. “Elvis, who rotates his pelvis… gave an exhibition that was suggestive and vulgar, tinged with the kind of animalism that should be confined to dives and bordellos.”

Here’s the scene from the bedroom

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