Elvis: Colonel Tom Parker Was Really That Bad

Parker, on the other hand, was committed to the money he could pump out of Elvis. His merchandising alone brought in more than $22 million by the end of 1957. It was arguably the first marketing campaign aimed entirely at teens. He sold Elvis hats, lipstick, sneakers, charm bracelets, record players, and teddy bear perfume. He even sold “I Hate Elvis” buttons.

“The job of the carnie is to take people to the glittering lights on the outside of the city, promise them something they’ve never experienced before, and then give it to them almost for a fee,” Hanks said. The New York Post

In Luhrmann’s film, Presley goes through the memories of the Colonel’s deathbed, and his accounting would claim victory. His client is still the best-selling solo artist of all time, making African-American gospel and blues something conservative 1950s Central America could dance to, and made a fortune doing it. Parker initially took a 25 percent commission, which grew to 50 percent. He made more of the toys, TV appearances, and acting roles than Elvis.

“Was he a cheap crook who played fast and loose? Yes,” Hanks said in Cannes. “The number of ways Parker has defrauded people with nickels and dimes and dollars is extraordinary. As for his background, I don’t think anyone knew the Colonel’s background. There are some extraordinary, tabloidy, melodramatic stories about why and how he left the Netherlands. I’d like to think, yes, he was on the run from some aspect of his past and fleeing his small town, and who of us wouldn’t jump at the chance to do just that?”

At the height of Presley’s popularity, the Colonel turned down offers to tour overseas. There is speculation that this may be due to the manager’s hidden status as an illegal immigrant. Thomas Andrew Parker’s real name was Andreas Cornelis van Kuijk. He was born on June 26, 1909 in Breda, Netherlands. He entered America illegally by jumping off a ship and traveling with a tent show before returning to the Netherlands. Alanna Nash’s biography of Parker, The Colonelclaims he may have tried to avoid passport control because he may have been a suspect in a murder in Breda.

Parker returned to the US in 1929. He took the name Tom Parker when he enlisted in the military and christened himself after the officer who interviewed him. He served two years, went AWOL, was charged with desertion and was sentenced to solitary confinement. This led to his admission to a psychiatric hospital. The Colonel never rose above the rank of soldier while serving in the military, his discharge papers labeled him a psychopath. He received the honorary title from a country music singer named Jimmie Davis in exchange for working on the campaign that helped him be elected governor of Louisiana.