Remembering When 'The King' Entered the Army

This week marked the 50th anniversary of Elvis Presley's induction into the Army. After he was drafted, his fans practically went into mourning. Susan Stamberg remembers her stint as the judge of Sixteen magazine's "I Miss Elvis Because" contest.

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SUSAN STAMBERG, host:

Fifty years ago this week, Elvis Presley became a private first class in the U.S. Army. Elvis' induction was worldwide news. Fans practically went into mourning, although they had plenty of records to listen to and his teenage fans could scream and shiver at his movies.

This reporter, as Mr. Murrow liked to say, was a witness to some of the hysteria surrounding the absence of Elvis in Manhattan, a year and a few months after he was drafted.

I had a summer job on 16 magazine. A cheapy(ph) papered rag devoted to teen preoccupations like pimples, rock and roll, and most importantly, the King. Gloria Stavers was the editor of 16, and that summer of 1959, she made me the only judge of the magazine's, I'm Miss Elvis Because contest. It's not that I was such an Elvis fan, Dave Brubeck was my hero in those days, he still is. I was named judge because apart from editor Gloria and 16's publisher, Jacques Chambrun, I, the secretary, was the only other person in the office.

Bags full of entries for the I'm Miss Elvis Because contest arrived. Fans had hundreds of reasons for missing Elvis, because he was cute, because he gave them goose bumps, because they loved his wiggly hips. I opened every letter and I gave each one careful consideration. Ultimately I chose not one winner, but two. I split the prize. So many years later, I can't remember what the prize was, probably a lifetime subscription to 16 magazine, which stopped publishing monthly eight years ago, or a lock of Elvis' hair, who knows.

Split it between a grandmother in her 60s and a three-month-old baby. The grandma missed Elvis because her grandchildren were less sparkly with PFC Presley off in Germany. The three-month-old missed him because the baby needed an up-close role model that early in life. By the way, the three-month-old's handwriting was most impressive for a child so young.

My serious summertime as being over, I went off to start graduate school and I never did pick up the issue of 16 in which the winners were announced. I am sure that the grandma is long gone. But if you were the three-month-old baby in the summer of 1959 and remember winning that contest and what your prize was, I do hope you'll get in touch. By this time, we all miss Elvis because, although of course, Elvis lives.

(Soundbite of song "G.I. Blues")

Mr. ELVIS PRESLEY (Musician): (Singing) I've got those hup, two, three, four occupation G.I. blues. From my G.I. hair to the heels of my G.I. shoes. And if I don't go stateside soon I'm going to blow my fuse. We get hasenpfeffer and black pumpernickel for chow. We get hasenpfeffer and black pumpernickel for chow.

STAMBERG: This is NPR News.

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