During the mid-1950s, a young man named Elvis Presley rose to stardom thanks to his musical talents and flare for provocative showmanship.
But it was the latter that almost derailed one of his very first indoor concerts, held here in Jacksonville.
Presley had previously played an outdoor show at the Gator Bowl in 1955, and in 1956 he was scheduled to return to Jax for a show at the Florida Theatre. But in the time between those two performances, his profile had grown significantly – thanks in part to his “provocative” hip gyrations, showcased nationally on The Milton Berle Show, which brought about frenzied responses from both teenage girls and censorship advocates.
By today’s standards, Elvis’s moves would be considered tame, possibly even boring. But in the conservative climate of the mid-‘50s, his performances were frowned upon by many – including some here in Jacksonville.
Elvis planned to come to town for a series of six shows over two days – August 10 and 11, 1956 – at Florida Theatre where he would perform hits like “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Hound Dog” and would be joined by The Jordanaires, Phil Maraquin, Frankie Connors, the Blue Moon Boys, and more. When he arrived in Jax, however, he was greeted by local judge Marion Gooding who ordered Presley to remove his signature move from his act – or face immediate arrest during the show. Ironically, the judge’s objections – as well as those of local church groups – only served to elevate the hype surrounding Presley’s shows, all six of which were to be performed in front of sold-out crowds.
Sure enough, Gooding was not bluffing. He showed up to each show, along with local police officers ready to act on an arrest warrant that was issued by the judge in the event things went awry.
Presley, not looking to cause trouble, didn’t shake his hips at all – though he did reportedly wiggle his finger as a sly alternative and dedicated the final song of his show, “Hound Dog,” to the judge.
The shows went on without a hitch and Elvis Presley escaped Jax without arrest.
The incident helped add fuel to Presley’s meteoric rise to stardom. Just under a month later, Presley performed to an audience of 60 million viewers on The Ed Sullivan Show, and his status as a pop culture icon was cemented.