Rich Wilhelm

Archive for the ‘Elvis Presley movies’ Category

Origin Story: My Fascination with “Clambake”

In Elvis Presley, Elvis Presley movies, Uncategorized on August 10, 2017 at 5:24 am

Every fascination has an origin story. Here’s the story, as best I can remember it, of the beginning of my fascination with the 1967 movie Clambake, starring Elvis Presley, Shelly Fabares, Bill Bixby, and — let’s not forget — Will Hutchens.

It all started with a toothache. It was the fall of 1986. I was living in Temple Towers, an on-campus apartment at Temple University in Philadelphia. It was getting later in my college career and I may have been beginning to lose the plot. I wasn’t adapting well to apartment life, after three years in the dorms. For several weeks during that semester, Temple’s professors were on strike, leading to massive bouts of confusion, ennui, and general disarray on campus. If I was doing anything other than spending copious amounts of time at the school newspaper office and eating from lunch trucks, I sure as hell don’t remember what it was.

In the midst of all this, my wisdom teeth started to hurt, as my gums began to grow over them. At least, I think it was my gums. I probably tried to ignore it at first, but before too long, I found myself taking the Broad Street subway north, to Temple’s dental school. There, future dentists, presumably under the watchful eye of their professors, would do basic dental work for cheap, mostly for Temple students and North Philadelphia kids.

It was quickly determined that my wisdom teeth had to go. And so it was that on two successive Fridays I again headed north on Broad and sat in a cubicle to have the pesky wisdom teeth removed, two at a time.

After the first of those Friday appointments, I found myself in my friend Greg’s dorm room, in some degree of pain. It hurt bad enough that I took Advil for the first time ever. I do not remember if it helped or not, but I do remember that taking my first Advil felt like a momentous occasion.

Despite that fact that I wasn’t feeling great, Greg and I, and I don’t remember who else, decided to go “where the hippies meet,” according to the Orlons — South Street. While South Street was certainly a hot spot for Philadelphia college kids to both drink and eat — I remember a delicious aroma around Fifth and South throughout my college years, though I never specifically pinpointed the restaurant of its origin — for me, the whole point of South Street at that time was to buy weird records.

Weird records were easy to find in the mid-1980s, mostly because, at that time, “weird records” were not yet the irony-laced hot commodity they became in the 1990s. But, I like to consider myself at least a bit of pioneer in the art of appreciating weird records and places like the Philadelphia Record Exchange and Book Trader on, or just off, South Street were gold mines.

I got lucky that toothachey fall Friday night on South Street. Or, at least I got lucky in the sense of finding weird records, since I scored two key Elvis Presley albums, the soundtrack to Clambake and an odd German RCA compilation of Presley film songs, which included both the title track to Clambake, and his other clam-related song, “Do the Clam.”

My reason for wanting these songs was simple: I believed, and continue to believe, that the word “clam” is one of the best words in the English language.

Now,  by the fall of 1986, I had not seen Clambake, or any Elvis movie. Seeing the movies wasn’t really the point anyway. I was all about the records. But, eventually, I did seek out a VHS tape and got hip to the cinematic wonder that is Clambake. It is my favorite cheesy Elvis movie and I have watched it several times over the years. It always makes me smile.

While I typically don’t plan on watching Clambake — as you might imagine, it’s better when Clambake just happens — I do have two viewings on the horizon. Clambake is playing this Sunday, August 13, at the Colonial Theater, right here in Phoenixville. I’ll watch it again on November 22. That will be the 50th anniversary of the release of Clambake, and it also happens to be the day before Thanksgiving. I hope to spend my time between now and then orienting my life to the point where I can settle in on that Wednesday night with a glass of my “best sipping whiskey” and a special 50th anniversary celebration of Clambake.

Here is the plot of Clambake:

The plot of Clambake is that it’s an Elvis Movie.

That’s the plot of Clambake.

I could say more, of course, but I’m no spoiler.

Now, of course, some serious Elvis fans despise the movie years, and that is completely understandable. But, if you turn your brain down to “simmer” for awhile, try to forget that Elvis was bored silly by the time he finally broke free of Hollywood, and accept that the Movie Years were simply an interlude between the raw talent of the Sun/early RCA records and the mature artistry of the post-“Comeback Special” Memphis recordings, then you’ll probably enjoy Clambake just fine.

In case you’re wondering, before too long my teeth felt fine again, the Temple professors went back to work, and South Street continued on its steady path to become just another haven for many faceless franchises that you can find just about anywhere else. I survived my year at Temple Towers and eventually graduated.

Life moved on, as it inevitably does. But Clambake will always be Clambake, and I guess that’s why I will always love it.

 

Patrick F. O'Donnell

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