From 1969 to 1976 Elvis Aaron Presley (January 8th, 1935 – August 16th, 1977) performed 837 consecutive sold out shows in Las Vegas, Nevada, selling $43.7 million in show tickets for 2.5 million guests at what was the International Hotel and then from 1971 the Hilton Hotel which had the biggest showroom in Vegas (he would perform 2 shows a night for a month-long stretch, one an 8pm dinner show with lobster or steak for $17.50 and the other at midnight included drinks and was slightly cheaper but if you wanted to sit up close to Elvis that cost extra). When Elvis was performing in town, be they famous movie stars, musicians or the general public, 1 in 2 visitors to Las Vegas saw his show. He truly was “The King“. Some 40 years later Elvis is back in the building and taking care of business in the form of ELVIS: The Exhibition, which is presented by Graceland and displayed in the very same hotel but today it is known as the Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino (renamed in 2012).
In my previous posts I discussed the displays on the early career of Elvis Presley and his life in the late 1960’s during his comeback period but this exhibition also has many different artifacts from his time performing in Las Vegas from 1969 to 1976. These include photos, memorabilia, mementos, clothing, jewelry, documents, letters, personal items and naturally his legendary stage costumes. Yes the glorious white jumpsuits that glittered in their bejeweled magnificence! This is all accompanied by information boards and multimedia displays playing his music, interviews, movies and more.
The jumpsuits were made between 1969 to 1977 by costume designer Bill Belew. They were decorated with gems, rhinestone studs, metal, sequins and embroidery (he also made many items of clothing that Elvis wore off stage in the 1970’s too). Gene Doucette did the elaborate embroidery work which became a big feature of the jumpsuits from 1974 to 1977 (he mostly designed the patterns too especially from 1972 to 1977 including the American Eagle shown at this exhibition). The jumpsuits were mostly white so they would stand out under the stage lighting. They worked well!
To me the jumpsuits worn by Elvis left an indelible memory for me of this music icon. It was great to see some of them again (I visited Graceland in 1998 and a number were on display there) but I seriously wouldn’t have wanted to wear them, yet alone perform a concert in all that gear! They must have been incredibly heavy and hot to wear (especially in Hawaii!)?
Something interesting in the “Vegas Years” section of the exhibition is a 1969 coffee shop table-cloth on which Colonel Tom Parker (Elvis’s infamous manager) sketched out the basic contract with the International Hotel management for Elvis’s performances in Las Vegas from 1969 to 1973 (actually written after the first highly successful show but written so it was backdated to include it). The crux of the contract was a base income of $500,000 per monthly engagement, 2 times a year for the 5 years (a total of $5 million) plus additional bonus payments and expenses paid. Not too bad at all!
The grand finale of the Elvis exhibition is a 26 minute movie featuring numerous musical performances by Elvis. This short movie is fantastic and covers music from his early first appearances on TV through to his movie songs, his 1968 comeback special, the 1973 Aloha from Hawaii via Satellite performance and of course his sold out Las Vegas shows. Great stuff!
If you are an Elvis fan and in Las Vegas you should go see this exhibition for sure and experience Vegas Years era of Elvis’s stunning but far too short career. Then go and check out an Elvis tribute show that will no doubt be playing somewhere in Sin City to relive the music all over again. I managed to catch a great free show at the Fremont Street Experience by Tyler James as Elvis and the Memphis Experience.
My Niece went up front and was presented a scarf by “Elvis” during Suspicious Minds. She was one happy Niece and I was one proud Uncle. Viva Las Vegas!