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December 1, 2023

Swooning, Screaming, Crying: Vintage Photographs of Teenage Fan Girls at Elvis Presley Concerts in the 1950s

“Screaming girls”—that was a recurring theme in newspaper reviews of Elvis’ stage shows in 1956 and 1957. At almost every stop, the girls screamed so loud that no one could hear Elvis sing. Even the musicians on stage had trouble hearing each other. Scotty Moore once said, “We were the first band directed by an ass.” He meant that because of all the screaming, he and the other musicians couldn’t hear Elvis sing, so they took their cues from watching Elvis move from behind. Elvis himself explained that at times in 1957 he had to cover his ears with his hands so that he could hear himself sing.

These days girls screaming at a concert is not unusual, but back in 1956 and 1957 it was a new phenomenon. It frightened some adults and puzzled nearly all of them. Sinatra’s fans had certainly gotten excited and some swooned, but they hadn’t abandoned all reason and screamed hysterically and continually like Elvis’ fans did.

In an article titled “Girls Identify Elvis as Lover” in the September 28, 1956, issue of the New York Daily Mirror, writers Norman Miller and James McGlincy tried to uncover the reasons behind the Presley craze by consulting psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers. After doing so, they came to the following shocking conclusion.

“When a teenager on the threshold of womanhood watches or listens to Elvis Presley, there is only one thing on her mind—sex. She may deny this. She may not even believe it herself. But that’s what it is, according to specialists.”

Miller and James then presented their evidence in the form of quotations from these “eminent,” but unnamed, specialists. “Watch their faces,” one psychiatrist said of the girls in Elvis’ audiences. “See their twitching, their uncontrolled movements. They are in ecstasy. They have identified Presley as their lover. Many of them are, to use an old-fashioned term, ‘good girls.’ Most of them, probably. They never would let themselves go with their own boyfriends. But, watching Presley, it’s safe.”

The psychiatrist pointed out that this reaction was not confined to teenage girls. He also had business women as clients, who he said felt frustrated and confined in what was still a man’s world.

“They are fearful of romantic involvement,” explained the doctor. “But they still want to escape the masculinity of the business world. They want to be women. Elvis Presley gives them that. They escape to their natural femaleness, listening to him. And it’s perfectly safe. Next day they go back to work with no ties, no danger, as there might be in a love affair. It’s vicarious. But it is a release.”

A psychologist offered another theory for why Elvis affected girls and women as he did. “He’s primitive man. His dress, his actions, the music he sings, all these are primitive. And they arouse primitive instincts. Put Elvis Presley in a Brook Brothers suit, shave the sideburns and make him stand still while he sings a romantic ballad, and he would be just another unsuccessful entertainer.”


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