Aug 9, 2022 - News

The Florida history of The King and The Colonel

black and white photo of elvis and the colonel
Elvis Presley and his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, sit at a typewriter in 1956 in Memphis. Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

You may have heard Tom Hanks plays Elvis Presley's manager, Colonel Tom Parker, in the movie "Elvis," but did you know that Parker has local ties?

Kealing, who wrote "Elvis Ignited: The Rise of an Icon in Florida," reminds us what the movie bypassed: that the Dutch-born Parker entered the Army in the Florida Panhandle in 1931, but was discharged after he was diagnosed as a psychopath in 1933.

Sometime after, he made a home in Tampa and married a "cigar girl" he met at the Florida State Fairgrounds, and the two started running carny scams around Tampa Bay.

  • In 1940, the carnival barker took a job at the Hillsborough County Humane Society and started the area's first pet cemetery β€” also a scam, because he'd bilk grieving people on the headstones and funeral services.

In that role, in 1941, he organized a charity hillbilly show starring Minnie Pearl at Tampa's Homer Hesterly National Guard Armory.

  • That show's success drove him to produce more shows, and more, until one day in 1955, when he watched a new performer named Elvis Presley get mobbed by girls at one of his shows at a baseball stadium in Jacksonville.

The rest is history.

Of note: Don't miss that amazing illustration of The Colonel and Elvis by Ringling instructor Regan Dunnick.

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