Big Boss Man - Col. Tom Parker
Elvis thought he owed it all to Colonel Tom Parker. Other's aren't so sure.
Andreas 'Dries' Cornelis Van Kuijk was born on 26 June 1909 in Breda, Holland. He was the fifth of nine children. His
father, Adam, was a liveryman who met his mother, Maria, while he was in the army. When Andreas was 16 years old, his father
died, and he moved to Rotterdam. He worked as a borgeman but was entranced by the ocean-going ships in the port. It wasn't
too long before he was on board a ship to New Jersey. It was thought he stowed himself away.
He was then enlisted with the US Army - they didnt really care about papers back then - and was stationed in Hawaii. When
he finally wrote home, it was in english and it was signed ' Thomas Parker'. The name was given to him by the Captain who
interviewed him at the time of his enlistment.
Years later Elvis's friend Lamar Fike asked parker ' how come you never told us you were a Dutchman?' Parker looked at
him and said ' Son, you never asked me'.
Parker spent several years with a touring carnival called The Johnny J. James Exposition. His special act was dancing
chickens, which he achieved by hiding a hot plate under the straw of the cage! After marrying Marie Mott in 1935, Parker left
the carnival to work for the Tampa Humane Society ( I bet he never told them about the dancing chickens!) he then moved to
Nashville and became the manager to country singer Eddie Arnold.
Parker was given an honorary commission, from an old friend called Jimmy Davis. He became Louisana Governor and then Parker
was known as the Colonel from that day onwards. Funnily enough, in March 1961, Governor Buford Ellington of Tennessee made
Elvis an honorary Colonel. Elvis didn's deem it necessary to use his title.
In 1953, Eddie Arnold fired Parker for unknown reasons. Parker then hooked up with Hank Snow and created Jamboree Attractions,
which became the biggest booking agencies in the South. Yet that partnership broke up acrimiously when Parker, without Snow,
signed a new young talent. His name was Elvis Presley.
Parker first met Elvis in February 1955, in a Memphis Coffee Shop. Parkers first words to Elvis were ' You got a manager,
son?'. He signed Elvis onto the Jamboree Attractions and was ready to pounce on him. Elvis was still under-age in 1955, so
Parker knew the contract had to be signed by his parents. Vernon was a push over but Gladys didnt trust Parker. So to get
her into his good books, backstage at one of her son's shows, she met a close friend of Parker's who told her ' Parker is
a good Christian gentleman'.
Then Elvis's parents signed the contract on 15 August 1955.
Soon Parker set up a deal with RCA records company and Hill and Range, his own music publishers. Steve Scholes, RCA's
Director of Country music, put his neck on the line by offering $23,000. Hill and Range offered a further $15,000. So with
$40,000 offer in place, Parker paid Sam Phillips an agreed $35,00 and give Elvis $5,000. Elvis signed with RCA on November
21 1955. The next day he sent a telegram to Parker in which he promised to stick with him through thick and thin, and he also
loved him like a father.
On January 8, 1956, Elvis turned 21 years old and was given a new contract - To sign as an adult. It ratified all previous
contracts and gave the Colonel 25% of all Elvis's earnings. Once Parker became his full time manager, he never wanted anyone
esle. He told the press ' I'll live and breath Elvis 24 hours a day'.
Parker showed his nerve when he demanded $100,000 for Elvis to star in Love Me Tender. When the Producer said even Jack
Lemmon didn't get that kind of money. Parker looked into his eyes and said ' Maybe Lemmon needs a new manager!'.
Parker was also scared once Elvis hit Hollywood, he would see what Parker was really going. So Parker started to lsolated
Elvis from the outside world. That's how the Memphis Mafia started. One day songwritter Mike Stroller knocked on Elvis's hotel
room door, Elvis greeted him nervously and said the Colonel wouldnt like me doin one to one meetings.
When Elvis joined the Army, Parker told him ' Son, I consider it my patriontic duty to keep you in the 90% tax bracket'.
Parker's view was ' If you want to see Elvis Presley, you buy a ticket!'. Elvis was not allowed to give private shows,
in the army or anywhere esle. Also Elvis never did encores, he always left them begging for more.
During the filming of Blue Hawaii, Parker ran shouting and yelling into the middle of a scene, pointing at Elvis's watch
and demanded ' If you want the watch in, you'll have to pay another 10 grand!'. No wonder Elvis began to hate making films.
In public, Hal Wallis admired Parker, as a supersalesman - Yet in private, he said ' I'd rather try and close a deal with
the devil'. Parker really couldnt care less about Presley's acting talent. He wanted a simple film, with cute girls and an
album worth of songs. Also Parker wanted alot of money for these films, after all he was making a fortune.
When a TV executive came to Parker offering $50,000 for a single prime time appearance by Elvis, Parker respounded ' That'll
be be just fine for me, but how much will you give Elvis?'
The extent of Parker's role in Elvis's wedding is disuted, some say he told Elvis to get married for publicity purposes,
but it was a rushed affair with a sevagely brief guests list, which caused a huge ructions among Elvis's entourage. Parker
also refused to let the happy couple have the honeymoon in europe they wanted, he said it would upset the fans around the
world. Why Elvis didn't insist on the wedding he and Priscilla really wanted is enduring mystery.
Parker was a competent hypnotist. He lked to get staff members to act like chickens and once had the Memphis Mafia barking
like dogs. However, theories that Parker kept Elvis hypontised for 20 years should be taken with a pinch of salt.
Elvis stood up to the Colonel on a handful of occasions. One was the 1968 TV Special, which Parker wanted a dull Christmassy
show, thank god Elvis did it his way. It give him one of his finest, rawest performances. Then the second time happened when
Parker didnt want Elvis to record a particular song due to recording right. That song was ' Suspicious Minds'.
In 1969, Elvis went back on the road and played the International Hotel in Las Vegas. Alex Shoofy, the hotel's general
manager, came to see Parker in the hotel dining room and offered a 5 year contract in which Elvis would play the hotel in
February and August each year and earn $125,000 a week. Parker scribbled some terms on a red tablecloth, but he ignored inflation
and tied Elvis long term. Alex Shoofy signed his agreement on the tablecloth and promptly told the press it ' was the best
deal ever made in this town'. Not, perhaps, for Elvis.
Parker had a long term gambling habit and it got alot worse in Vegas. He moved into the hotel in a fancy suite and lost
million a year on the tables!
In the 70's, Elvis's income came from touring. In February 1972, he signed away one third of his tour profit to Parker.
In 1973, after a heated row, Elvis fired Parker, but he wouldnt leave - without his million he was still waiting for.
Elvis threw a fit and went on a huge drug fuelled week that culminated in a teenage girl almost overdose. Who does Elvis call
to sort out the mess and keep the press away?? Parker.
Parker turned down endless offers for Elvis to tour the world. The reason was Parker was an illegal immigrant without
In 1973, RCA bought the masters - and royalty rights - of all Elvis's previous recordings for $5.4million. Jack Soden
of EPE describes the deal as being right up there with the Indians selling Manhatten for 24 dollars. Seven years later, a
lawyer for the Presley Estate Blacnchard Tual,concluded that Colonel Parker and RCA were probably guilty of collusion, conspiracy,
fraud and misrepresention.
In 1974, Parker set up Boxcaar Enterprises to handle the merchanding business. Parker was on 40% on the income while Elvis
only got 15%!
When Joe Esposito phoned Parker to tell him Elvis had died, Parkers first words were ' Oh dear god! then after a long
pause ' nothing has changed! This wont change anything!' Within a dat of Elvis's death, Parker got Vernon Presley ( the exector
to Elvis's will) to agree to keep al l the deals made with Elvis as they were. He also signed a deal with the merchanding
company, Factors Inc, that meant Parker would take 78% of the proceeds of the forthcoming souvenir boom! At Elvis's funeral,
Parker wore an hawiian shirt and a baseball cap. At the cemetery he wondered away from the graveside and say by himself on
a police motorbike. After Vernon's death in 1979, the courts got involved and after a long battle, a deal was struck whereby
Parker was cut from all connections with the Presley Estate for a hefty sum.
Colonel Tom Parker (aka Andreas 'Dries' Cornelis Van Kuijk) died in January 1997.
Opinion on Parker remains divided. Some believe he was a brilliant promoter and tireless manager. Other's think that the
career of naive genius was nearly destroyed by his greed.