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Production Background

Elvis Presley as "Sp5 Tulsa McLean" of the 3rd Armored Division.


In August, 1959, Director Hal Wallis came to Germany with a film crew of 40 people to shoot a large portion of the scenes for Elvis Presley's first film since he was drafted into the Army in 1958. It was to be called "Cafe Europa." Cameras rolled in and around Frankfurt am Main, Friedberg, Wiesbaden, and Idstein am Rhein. After remaining scenes were completed in Hollywood in the summer of 1960, the final title of the film became "G.I. Blues" - a far better choice.

Capt. John Mawn of the 3rd Armored Division PIO (Drake Kaserne, Frankfurt) was assigned as technical advisor to the film's director. Mawn had also been the Division's Press Officer assigned to Elvis' activities from the day the singer/soldier arrived for duty in October, 1958. Elvis served with the Division's 1st Battalion, 32nd Armor, at Ray Barracks in Friedberg until March, 1960, when he returned to the States for discharge and to wrap up work on G.I. Blues.

It was a marked departure from his earlier films. G.I. Blues was the beginning of Elvis' transition from the bad-boy rock and roller of the late 1950's to the well-groomed balladeer that he would come to be in the 1960's. Fearful that his fans had forgotten him, Elvis sets out to capture a broader audience.

He agreed to retain his regulation Army haircut and dug out his original khaki uniform for his role as Sp5 Tulsa McLean, a G.I. stationed with the 3rd Armored in Frankfurt, who becomes involved with Lili, a night-club dancer. Songs and many misunderstandings followed, along with a somewhat awkward but inevitably happy ending ("We can get hitched," Elvis tells an agreeable Lilie, "Maybe this afternoon, if I can get the CO's permission.").

Recording techniques had improved enormously by the late 1950's. Stereo, previously seldom used in popular music recordings or movie soundtracks, was now a matter of course. Its greater fidelity brought a more realistic sound to movies and allowed a more creative approach to recording pop and rock.

Besides, during his Army time in Germany, Elvis had worked hard on his voice at the house that he rented in Bad Nauheim, leading to a larger range and smoother transitions. The sound-track for G.I. Blues was recorded at the end of April and beginning of May, 1960, just a few weeks after the recording sessions for his first post-Army album "Elvis Is Back!".

The sound-track for G.I. Blues contains a mix of songs, from soft ballads to more rocky tunes, sprinkled with European influences to express the "local color" of the film. The movie's unexpected big hit was "Wooden Heart", a number far removed from the hard-driving rock of pre-Army days, and he sang not to co-star Juliet Prowse but to a puppet.

Nevertheless, "Wooden Heart" sold two million copies in Germany, where they obviously regarded him as an adopted son, and reached number one the charts in Britain as well (LP 55 weeks on the charts, 22 weeks on number 1). Approximately 7.500.000 LP's of the sound-track were sold and the movie reached number 2 in Variety's Box Office listing of 1960. In 1961 the movie was a big hit in Europe.

-- Web Staff

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