Douglas Laurence, Producer of Three Elvis Films, Dies at 93
Douglas Laurence, a onetime director of entertainment at the famed Flamingo Hotel hotspot in Las Vegas who produced Speedway and two other Elvis Presley films, has died. He was 93.
Laurence, who also produced Judy Garland’s first album for Capitol Records in 1955, lived in San Rafael, Calif., and died Oct. 2 from complications following surgery, his daughter Valentina Pfeil said Friday.
Laurence also produced the Delbert Mann film Mister Buddwing (1966), a black-and-white drama that earned two Oscar nominations and starred James Garner as a well-dressed man who wakes up in Central Park and has no idea who he is.
Earlier, Laurence and Mann collaborated on the Antarctica-set comedy Quick, Before It Melts (1964), which toplined George Maharis, Robert Morse and Anjanette Comer.
In addition to Speedway, which showcased Presley as a stock car driver beset with tax problems, Laurence produced Stay Away, Joe (with Elvis playing a half-breed named Joe Lightcloud) and Live a Little, Love a Little (with the King as a photographer forced to work two jobs to pay back a debt to a lovely lady). All played in theaters in 1968; Presley would do just three more films after these.
(On the set of Speedway, Presley announced that his wife Priscilla was pregnant with daughter Lisa Marie. And Live a Little, Love a Little was notable in that it was the last of some 100 features directed by Oscar winner and frequent Elvis collaborator Norman Taurog.)
Pfeil tells The Hollywood Reporter that her father often remarked that he found Presley “surprisingly polite and humble, given his phenomenal success and fame." During one hiatus between movies, Elvis visited the Laurence home and played their piano, which the family still owns.
“We can't bring ourselves to sell or give it away,” she said.
Laurence’s film résumé also includes Doctor, You've Got to Be Kidding! (1967), a comedy starring Sandra Dee, George Hamilton and Celeste Holm. All the films he produced were at MGM.
Born Douglas Jenkinson on Dec. 16, 1918, in Totowa, N.J., Laurence loved big band music and while in high school played bass and sang at local venues with his uncle’s band. An encounter with Tommy Dorsey led to his touring with the renowned bandleader as his personal driver, and at 19, he moved to New York to sing professionally under the stage name Douglas Laurence.
Laurence served with the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II, flying B-17s as an engineer-gunner on 50 missions; he once was shot down, taken prisoner and escaped. He was awarded the Air Medal three times as well as the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Flying Cross.
After the war, Laurence moved to California and managed the musical acts The Wilder Brothers (formerly The Weidler Brothers) and The Continentals and the Rowan & Martin comedy team.
As director of entertainment at the Flamingo in the 1950s, he worked with Garland, Jack Benny, Pearl Bailey, Frankie Laine, Sammy Davis Jr. and others. He produced the Garland album Miss Show Business, featuring songs she had been performing in concert to great acclaim for several years.
After leaving the film business, Laurence, a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, lectured at universities such as UCLA, USC and NYU on the subject of movies and participated on various film festival panels.
In addition to Valentina and her husband David Oliver Pfeil -- a member of the DGA and an Emmy winner for outstanding achievement in graphics and title design for CBS’ The Bold and the Beautiful -- Laurence is survived by his wife of 65 years, Frances; his stepson David Baughn and his son Paul; three grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.