These Actors Clearly Owe Their Success to Elvis Presley
'Lou Grant' and 'Death Wish' are just two projects that owe their existence to the King of Rock'n'Roll
The world knew him as the King of Rock and Roll, but it turns out that Elvis Presley had a pretty good eye when it came to co-stars who’d go on to achieve greater fame in later life (or, in a couple of cases, those whose careers had fallen on hard times and needed a little boost; Angela Lansbury, I’m looking at you).
Elvis starred in 31 movies (and an additional couple of concert movies) during his lifetime — a movie career that began with the Nov. 15, 1956 release of Love Me Tender — but how many of his co-stars do you remember? It turns out, more than you think. Here are ten actors you probably wouldn’t have guessed had shared the screen with the King.
Walter Matthau — King Creole (1958)
Eight years before Matthau received an Oscar nomination for his role in The Fortune Cookie (and a full decade before The Odd Couple made him a star), the actor played Maxie Fields in this early Presley movie — a club owner, abusive boyfriend to Elvis’ love interest in the movie and a character saddled with the unfortunate nickname “The Pig.” Clearly, things could only get better for him. But what about that love interest…?
Carolyn Jones — King Creole (1958)
Yes, the girl that the King had his eyes on (despite The Pig’s presence) turned out to be none other than the woman who, six years later, would become better known as Morticia Addams on The Addams Family. She’d also go on to make appearances on a number of television shows, including Batman, Ironside and Fantasy Island. If only she’d stuck with Elvis, who knows where she might have ended up…? (Dallas, probably.)
Barbara Eden — Flaming Star (1960)
Eden was still five years away from her I Dream of Jeannie fame when she took the female lead role in Don Siegel’s adaptation of the novel Flaming Lance, replacing Barbara Steele midway through filming. She wasn’t alone in being a replacement; Presley himself got the role of Pacer Burton following Frank Sinatra having been linked to it. Considering that it was stills from this movie that Andy Warhol used to create Double Elvis, think about how different pop art could have been if Sinatra had stayed involved.
Charles Bronson — Kid Galahad (1962)
Yes, it’s true: long before Bronson became synonymous with New York vigilantism in the Death Wish series, the actor was a bit-part player in the little-known Elvis movie about a former soldier finding success as a boxer. A year later, he’d be struggling to escape a Prisoner of War camp alongside Steve McQueen in The Great Escape, almost certainly using skills gained from merely standing in close proximity to the King. But Bronson wasn’t the only future star to pop up in this movie…
Ed Asner — Kid Galahad (1962), Change of Habit (1969)
Lou Grant was some distance away when Asner made the first of two screen appearances with Presley (In addition to Kid Galahad, he also showed up in 1969’s amazing Change of Habit). You’d be forgiven for missing him in Galahad, however; he’s uncredited in his role as Assistant D.A. Frank Gerson.
Teri Garr — Kissin’ Cousins (1964), Clambake (1967)
A strange fact about Teri Garr: years before she’d become known for roles in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Tootsie and Young Frankenstein, she appeared in uncredited bit parts in not one, but two, Elvis movies. File it under “Things actors will do to pay the bills” — or, perhaps, “Maybe she was just a really big Elvis fan.” (Also making an appearance in Kissin’ Cousins: a pre-Batman Yvonne Craig.)
Bill Bixby — Clambake (1967), Speedway (1968)
When Bixby appeared in Clambake — the first of two Presley movies he showed up in, with the other being Speedway, a movie which also featured the “acting” debuts of a bunch of real-life racing drivers — The Incredible Hulk was just a comic book character and even The Courtship of Eddie’s Father was just an idea in the back of a writer’s brain. Thankfully, Elvis was around to give America’s former Favorite Martian something to do while he waited.
Corbin Bernsen — Clambake (1967)
Bixby wasn’t the only familiar face to show up in Clambake — although it’s unlikely you’d recognize future L.A. Law and Psych star Bernsen in the movie; his is an uncredited role as “Boy at Playground,” his first on-screen appearance.
Dick Sargent — Live A Little, Love A Little (1968)
When Sargent played Harry in one of Elvis’ final movies, Dick York was still Darren on television’s Bewitched. It would be another year before the actor — at that point, arguably best known for a role in 1959’s Operation Petticoat supporting Cary Grant and Tony Curtis — would step into York’s comfortable shoes, making this slight comedy (which features Michele Carey as a prototype manic pixie dream girl) his most high-profile gig yet… and probably a sign that he could put up with Samantha’s cute magic tricks.
Dabney Coleman — The Trouble with Girls (1969)
Snagging the role of Harrison Wilby in this genuinely strange quasi-comedy (Full title: The Trouble With Girls (And How to Get Into It)) must have seemed like a good news/bad news deal for Coleman. On the one hand, it was an important role in a high-profile movie, which he hadn’t really enjoyed before. On the other, the reason the role is important is because his character gets killed off early on to get the story going. The heights of Nine to Five must have seemed almost unimaginable at the time.
Oddly enough, this movie also features appearances of Frank Welker and Nicola Jaffe, who’d go on to voice Fred and Velma in Hanna-Barbera’s Scooby-Doo for years afterward. Yet more proof that Elvis recognized potential when he saw it.