On this day, 55 years ago, Elvis Presley received his draft notice for the United States Army while on a Christmas holiday at Graceland, his then newly-purchased mansion and estate in Tennessee. Read more about this episode in the rock-and-roll icon’s life in this installment of Today in History!
On December 20, 1957, Elvis Presley was in Memphis, Tennessee for a Christmas holiday in Graceland, the mansion he bought early that year, when he received his draft notice for the US Army. He was to spend two years away from the public eye and serve as a regular GI.
In 1956, the rock-and-roll star was at the peak of his career, made a national icon by his hit debut movie, “Love Me Tender” and a series of gold records. However, at 21 years old, he was eligible for drafting like most men of that age. Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis’s manager, was already aware of the situation and its possible effect on his client’s career.
Parker first thought of having Elvis considered for Special Services, for which the star would only do six weeks of basic training then resume life as normal, and would only be required to perform several times a year for the US Army. But, he did not push through with it since Elvis would be performing for free and each performance would be recorded.
Instead of finding a way for Elvis to avoid the draft completely, Parker saw it as a chance to project a new image of the rock-and-roll star. Older Americans disliked Elvis’s “sexually charged” performances and saw good riddance his drafting — something which Parker believed would change if they saw that the rock-and-roll star did not find a way to get special treatment.
So, despite his fear and worry for his career, Elvis accepted his two-year army stint, but not without assurance from his manager. Parker reassured him that he had enough material and merchandise to keep Elvis in the public eye while he was away.
On January 4, 1957, Elvis went through a pre-induction army medical at Kennedy Veterans Hospital in Memphis. Four days later, on his 22nd birthday, the Memphis Draft Board declared that he was physically fit and likely to be drafted within the next 8 months. On December 16, he was informed to expect his draft notice soon, and indeed, it arrived four days later.