ELVIS PRESLEY REMEMBERED: Mike Stoller recalls the day The King died
Mike Stoller, who with collaborator Jerry Leiber, wrote many of Elvis Presley's '50s classics -- such as "Hound Dog," "Jailhouse Rock" and "Treat Me Nice" -- had just returned from a European vacation on this date (August 16th) in 1977. In a time before the 24-hour news cycle and instant access to breaking news, he learned that Elvis Presley had just died as he arrived home.
Mike Stoller learned of Elvis Presley's death when he returned to New York from vacation:
"I went up to my apartment, which I had sublet to a wonderful director-writer named Stanley Donen. And he said to me, 'Oh your assistant called from your office and said to tell you that Elvis Presley died today.' And my knees almost buckled, I almost fell to the floor. It was a major shocker and a major loss, not just for me, obviously. But for a whole world of people."
Leiber and Stoller hadn't worked much with Elvis during the '60s, a period of underwhelming movies that removed him from the cutting edge of entertainment. Years later, as Presley's film career stalled, the ace tunesmiths were asked to join with a pair of respected filmmakers for a project that had the potential to put Elvis back on top.
Mike Stoller on the project that he and Jerry Leiber were asked to join:
"To be directed by Elia Kazan and written by Budd Schulberg. The director and producer of this projected film asked that Jerry and I write the songs and help to get Elvis to star in it. Now, Elvis had always wanted to do something like a Marlon Brando as an actor. And these were the people who had done On the Waterfront."
Top creative people, top notch project, but from outside Colonel Tom Parker's orbit. Mike Stoller's recall falls in line with the criticism often heard of the Colonel in the recent HBO documentary, which blamed him for stifling Elvis as an artist.
After working with the company that handled Elvis's music publishing rights, Colonel Tom Parker angrily rejected the proposal.
Mike Stoller talked about being rejected by Colonel Parker:
"We were thrilled about this idea and we brought it to the publishers who asked us to wait outside the room while he spoke to the Colonel. When he called us back in, we were thinking how they were going to reward us for bringing this fantastic project. And instead, the Colonel said, 'If you ever dare interfere in the career of Elvis Presley, you'll never work again.' And we basically stopped writing for Elvis at that point."