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December 6, 2021

In the 1950s, Elvis Presley’s Manager Sold ‘I Hate Elvis’ Buttons to Profit From Haters

Colonel Tom Parker (1909–1997) was a Dutch-born musical entrepreneur who was the manager of Elvis Presley. He discovered the then-unknown Elvis Presley in 1955. He maneuvered himself to become Presley's sole representative. Within months, he had won him a recording contract with the RCA Victor record label. This led to Presley having a commercial breakthrough in 1956 with his first single “Heartbreak Hotel” and rising to become one of the most popular and commercially successful entertainers in the world.

Colonel Parker was able to receive more than half of the income from the enterprise, an unprecedented figure for a music manager. He negotiated Presley’s lucrative merchandising deals, TV appearances, and acting roles in film musicals. He turned down offers to allow Presley to tour overseas, probably due to his status as an illegal immigrant, which would have been exposed had he consented for Elvis to go abroad.

Parker signed a merchandising deal with Beverly Hills film merchandiser Hank Saperstein for nearly $40,000 to turn Presley into a brand name. With over 78 different ranges, from charm bracelets to record players, Presley merchandise had brought in $22 million by the end of 1956. Parker, with his 25% share of profits, was finding many new ways to make money from his artist that managers before him could only have dreamed about. He had even come up with the idea to market ‘I Hate Elvis’ badges to make money from those who otherwise wouldn’t have parted with their cash.

Parker, who tied on a vendor’s apron to peddle both I LOVE ELVIS and I HATE ELVIS buttons to folks who reacted strongly one way or another, didn’t care what the newsmen said as long as they said it — and paid their own admission to the shows. Not even an “Elvis is queer” story got his feathers up. When Gabe Tucker threw just such a magazine piece on his desk, Parker didn’t say a word until his friend stopped sputtering. “Well,” Parker finally said, “did they spell his name right?”


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