Not Live Yet

Sixties City presents a wide-ranging series of articles on all aspects of the Sixties, penned by the creator of the iconic 60s music paper  Mersey Beat

Elvis’ 20th cinema movie was released in June 1966. The United Artists film was directed by Frederick de Cordura (this was his last feature film) and produced by Edward Small with a script by Alex Gottlieb, based on a story by Nat Perrin. The film was loosely based on the 1938 film ‘Frankie & Johnny’, starring Helen Morgan and Chester Morris which, in turn, was based on an event in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1899 when Frankie Baker shot Al ‘Johnny’ Britt when she found him with another woman. This led to the traditional song (writer unknown) about the gambling man who was shot by his lover because “he done her wrong.”

Elvis portrayed Johnny, a riverboat singer and compulsive gambler aboard the Mississippi Queen riverboat. His singing partner Frankie (Donna Douglas) refuses to marry him unless he gives up his gambling. Johnny is always on a losing streak and she wants him to save up their money before they can marry. He decides he must try to change his ways and goes to see Princess Zolita, a fortune teller. However, she tells him he will be party to a lucky streak in gambling if he finds a red-headed woman.

When he then meets red-haired Nellie Bly (Nancy Kovak), he thinks she will be his lucky mascot at the roulette wheel. Frankie, Johnny and Nellie perform the traditional number ‘Frankie & Johnny’ each night on stage but, as Johnny continues his lucky streak with Nellie, a furious Frankie throws his $10,000 winnings out of the window. As Frankie sees Johnny’s interest in Nellie grow, she becomes more and more jealous and infuriated. Then, one night, as they are staging the ‘Frankie and Johnny’ number on stage, someone loads a real bullet into the prop gun and, as they perform the song, Johnny is shot. Unlike the true story, he doesn’t die; the bullet is diverted by a charm he wears around his neck.

Donna Douglas, a former ‘Miss New Orleans’, had portrayed Ellie May Clampett in ‘The Beverley Hillbillies’ television series for a number of years. Although her singing voice in the film was dubbed by Eileen Wilson, Donna went on to record a number of gospel albums. Comedy was provided by Harry Morgan who played Johnny’s friend Cully, the pianist with the troupe.

Sue Ane Langdon portrayed Mitzi, Frankie’s friend. She had previously appeared as Madame Mijanou, a fortune teller, in Elvis’ 1964 film ‘Roustabout.’ She says that Frankie & Johnny’ is her favourite Elvis movie. She was also to recall, “At the time, it was no big deal to make an ‘Elvis picture'. Working with him was quite pleasant, though. He was very nice and professional. However, seeing him in later years in concert during the Vegas years, he was fantastic and I really became a fan.”

When Elvis was told what the 12 songs he was required to record were, he was furious and only agreed to record the vocals after the instrumental tracks had been laid down. Here was the singer behind such songs as ‘Blue Suede Shoes’, ‘It’s Now Or Never’ and ‘Hound Dog’, required to sing numbers such as ‘Petunia, The Gardener’s Daughter’! According to Alan Fortas, a member of the ‘Memphis Mafia’, Elvis was so frustrated with the type of number he was required to sing that he threw a tantrum on the first night of the recording sessions.
The soundtrack album was released on 1st March 1966 on RCA LPM 3553 and reached No.20 in Billboard with a chart life of 19 weeks.

The songs were:
‘Come Along’ (David Hess) sung over the opening credits;
‘Petunia, The Gardener’s Daughter’ (Sid Tepper and Roy C. Bennett) sung on stage aboard the Mississippi Queen;
‘Chesay’ (Fred Karger, Sid Wayne, Bob Weisman) sung in a Gypsy camp;
‘What Every Woman Lives For’ (Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman) sung to Nancy Kovak on the stage of the Mississippi Queen;
‘Frankie & Johnny’ (traditional tune arranged by Alex Gottlieb, Fred Karger and Ben Weisman), sung twice in the film and when issued as a single spent eight weeks in the chart and reached No.25 with ‘Please Don’t Stop Loving Me’ on the flip side.
‘Look Out Broadway’ (Fred Wise, Randy Starr), sung in a dressing room;
‘Beginner’s Luck’ (Sid Tepper and Roy C. Bennett) sung while Elvis and Donna Douglas are in a dream sequence;
‘Down By The Riverside’ / ’When The Saints Go Marching In’, traditional songs performed during a New Orleans parade;
‘Shout It Out’ (Bill Giant, Bernie Baum, Florence Kaye) sung at a Mardi Gras costume party;
‘Hard Luck’ (Sid Wayne, Ben Weisman) sung during a walk down a New Orleans street;
‘Please Don’t Stop Loving Me’ (Lou Byers) sung to Donna Douglas on the deck of the Mississippi Queen;
‘Everybody Come Aboard’ (Bill Giant, Benrie Baum, Florence Kaye) was the end production number.

The musicians on the soundtrack were: Elvis Presley (vocals), Scotty Moore, Tiny Timbrell and Charlie McCoy (guitars), Bob Moore (bass), D.J. Fontana and Buddy Harman (drums), George Worth (trumpet), Richard Noel (trombone), Gus Bivona (sax), John Johnson (tuba), The Mello Men (vocals). In 1991 there was a totally unrelated film, also called ‘Frankie & Johnny’, starring Michele Pfeiffer and Al Pacino.


Also see Sixties City pages: Elvis Films

Mersey Beat Magazine Bill Harry attended the Liverpool College of Art with Stuart Sutcliffe and John Lennon and made the arrangements for Brian Epstein to visit The Cavern, where he saw The Beatles for the first time. Bill was a member of 'The Dissenters' and the founder and editor of 'Mersey Beat', the iconic weekly music newspaper that documented the early Sixties music scene in the Liverpool area and is possibly best known for being the first periodical to feature a local band called 'The Beatles'. He has worked as a high powered publicist, doing PR for acts such as Suzi Quatro, Free, The Arrows and Hot Chocolate and has managed press campaigns for record labels such as CBS, EMI, Polydor. Bill is the critically acclaimed author of a large number of books about The Beatles and the 60s era including 'The Beatles Who's Who', 'The Best Years of the Beatles' and the Fab Four's 'Encyclopedia' series. He has appeared on 'Good Morning America' and has received a Gold Award from the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors.

Article Bill Harry 2012               Original Graphics SixtiesCity 2012

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