One would think that getting a leading lady gig in a 1960s Elvis Presley movie would lead to something. However, if the actress in question hadn’t already started her cinematic career and had some buzz, appearing with Elvis didn’t amount to much. Naturally talent, a competent agent, persistence and luck played their part in achieving and maintaining stardom, whether or not you were in an Elvis film.
Those who failed or perhaps were not fanatical about their careers enough to leverage their presence in an Elvis vehicle into long-term, big-screen stardom included Joan Blackman (Kid Galahad), Blackman and Jenny Maxwell (Blue Hawaii), Laurel Goodwin (Girls! Girls! Girls!), Pamela Austin, Cynthia Pepper (Kissin’ Cousins), Joan Freeman (Roustabout), Jocelyn Lane (Tickle Me), Mary Ann Mobley (Harum Scarum), Shelley Fabares (Spinout and Clambake), Pat Priest (Easy Come, Easy Go), Donna Douglas (Frankie and Johnny), Susanna Leigh and Marianna Hill (Paradise, Hawaiian Style), Michele Carey (Live a Little, Love a Little), Annette Day (Double Trouble), Nancy Sinatra (Speedway), and Marlyn Mason (The Trouble with Girls). It didn’t help that Elvis, who could have done so much more himself, was kept from even trying by his guru, Colonel Parker. As a result, Elvis’ films became ever weaker as the decade came to a close.
Sometimes there was no expectation of superstardom via Elvis. Anne Helm was his leading lady in 1962’s Follow That Dream (released in April), but she’d been very busy that year: The Couch (February), The Magic Sword (April), The Interns (August). (The Swingin’ Maiden was a 1962 British film released in the U.S. in December, 1963.)
In April of this year Ms. Helm responded to a question about Follow That Dream:
I know there were quite a few names up for the part when I tested for it. I loved the part but really didn’t think I would get it because of some of the names attached to it, one being Tuesday Weld. I can’t remember the other ones. I never really thought about future ambitions in those days. God I was so young. I think I was more intent on my prince coming along at that time of my life. My career as an actress was not motivated by a lot of ambition, although I was always glad to be working. Looking back now I see it all as a grand play unfolding and I just showed up…so happy to be working. How lucky was I to have played so many different roles.
Three actresses not affected positively or negatively by being in a 1960s Elvis movie were Joan O’Brien, Stella Stevens and Ann-Margret. O’Brien, a successful singer, transitioned into actress and had significant roles on TV and in Operation Petticoat (1959), The Alamo (1960) and It’s Only Money (1962) before playing opposite Elvis in It Happened at the World’s Fair (1963). Stevens played opposite Elvis in Girls! Girls! Girls! (1962), but her cinematic career had begun in 1959 and included roles in Li’l Abner, The Blue Angel, and Say One for Me. She was a Playboy centerfold in 1960 (another venue that rarely led to a significant acting career) and that same year guested on five TV series. She was on her way and had a solid film career through the decade and beyond (The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, The Nutty Professor, The Silencers, The Ballad of Cable Hogue, Slaughter, The Poseidon Adventure). Like Stevens, before she costarred with Elvis in 1964’s Viva Las Vegas, Ann-Margret had a big-screen career on the fast track: Pocketful of Miracles (1961), State Fair (1962), and Bye, Bye Birdie (1963). She was a multi-talented performer who could hold her own with The King.
Further corroboration that his leading ladies got short shrift is that except for a small frame of the prime cast in Kissin’ Cousins, they did not appear on the cover or reverse of Elvis’ soundtrack albums. This includes the legendary Barbara Stanwyck (Roustabout). The King Creole (1958) soundtrack reverse does feature a few black and white photos that include Carolyn Jones. One can only surmise Colonel Parker demanded every column of space devoted to his protégé.
Anne Helm email to author, April 18, 2017. Helm made 77 guest appearances on 1960s TV series, from Route 66 to Gunsmoke, from Run for Your Life to Hawaii Five-O. Her pal Yvonne Craig, who in addition to her role in Elvis’ Kissin’ Cousins briefly appeared at the beginning of his It Happened at the World’s Fair (1963), also had over 70 guest starring roles on 60s TV, including her stint as Batgirl on Batman.