Long before joining TV Guide, this reporter was working at the Sahara-Tahoe Hotel Casino in 1971 when Elvis Presley made his "northern Nevada debut." The casino was festooned with placards proclaiming "Elvis Summer Festival." And every front-of-the-house employee, from the craps dealers to the house-maids, was issued an Elvis Summer Festival Styrofoam faux straw hat. Failure to wear the hat while on shift meant termination — on orders from "Colonel" Tom Parker."That sounds right," says Randy Quaid, who's winning critical raves as the King's almost equally legendary manager in CBS' two-part Elvis miniseries. (Tonight's conclusion airs at 8 pm/ET.) "That's carnival time, with the straw hats and the banners. [Parker's] PR came from the tricks he learned when he promoted carnivals. He was the advance man, and he would go into the town a couple of weeks before the carnival arrived, put up all the poster displays, make deals with the grocer and various merchants. "Sometimes," Quaid adds, "if the carnival couldn't pay the bills they'd run up, the Colonel would put up a 'Held Over!' sign. And they'd stay until they could pay their bills. He invented the word promotion in regard to making Elvis a rock-and-roll star." In researching the Colonel — who "just liked the moniker and decided to take possession of it" — Quaid found that the man "had a rather dark past. He left Holland [Parker's native country] under suspicious circumstances. There's an implication that the Colonel was involved in a murder of a woman. He left Holland the morning after. He came here when he was about 18, and joined carnivals in the South. He really stayed out of the mainstream. And he never became a citizen of the United States. He always made sure Elvis paid full taxes because he didn't want the IRS coming around." But the Colonel was not always careful with money. "He was a big gambler," says Quaid. "[Elvis] ending up in Las Vegas was because of the Colonel's gambling debts. Everything Elvis did, basically, was pretty much because the Colonel needed money." And Elvis, apparently, was relatively powerless in his predicament. "The Colonel had Elvis in his clutches legally. He kept records of everything. In a scene in the second part tonight, the [tension] between Elvis [played by Jonathan Rhys Myers] and the Colonel comes to a head. The loyalty thing only went so far. After 1968, it became more of a legal relationship, and for Elvis to get out from under the Colonel, it would have cost him millions of dollars that he really didn't have to go through the separation. It was like a marriage." But a marriage that rocked the world. Quaid's take: "Elvis was born with a million dollars' worth of talent. But after he met the Colonel, he had a million dollars. I don't know if that would have happened to the extent it did if he and the Colonel hadn't gotten together." Can't get enough Elvis nostalgia? Read today's Insider interview with Priscilla Presley.
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