Nearly as legendary as his famous client was Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis Presley's manager. He was mysterious and colorful, and, under his guidance, his one and only client -- Elvis -- reached unimaginable heights.
Colonel Tom Parker's involvement in the music industry began as a music promoter in the late 1940s, working with such country music stars as Minnie Pearl, Hank Snow, June Carter and Eddy Arnold, as well as film star Tom Mix. During this time he received the honorary title of 'Colonel' in 1948 from Jimmie Davis, the governor of Louisiana. His involvement with Elvis Presley began when he booked Presley as the opening act for Canadian singer Snow.On August 15, 1955 Elvis Presley was signed by 'Hank Snow Attractions'.
Shortly thereafter, 'Colonel' Parker took full control and recognizing the limitations of Sun Studios, negotiated a deal with RCA Victor Records who acquired Elvis' Sun contract for $35,000 on November 21, 1955.
Parker was a master promoter who wasted no time in furthering Presley's image. Colonel Parker managed Elvis Presley from 1955 until the singer's death in 1977. Prior to managing Presley, Parker helped transform Eddy Arnold into a country superstar with his own radio shows, movie roles, Las Vegas bookings, and an unparalleled resume of #1 records. In steering the careers of both men, Parker revolutionized the artist management role, displaying an unprecedented marketing savvy while exercising near-total control. His energetic, all-encompassing management style created a blueprint that is still followed today.
Parker, a purposeful, perceptive, and mysterious character, was born Andreas Cornelis van Kuijk in Breda, Holland, and entered the United States illegally in 1929. After serving in the Army for three years in Hawaii, he moved to Florida, where he joined the Johnny J. Jones and Royal American carnivals, passing himself off as a native West Virginian under the name of his former commanding officer, Thomas Parker.
After several years of carnival life, Parker settled down and became director of the Tampa Humane Society (he was, among other things, Tampa's chief dog officer) where he developed a remunerative range of pet service-pitches that translated seamlessly into showbiz promotion.
He started off with Gene Austin, Roy Acuff, and Ernest Tubb, focusing at first on Florida tours exclusively but gradually expanding his show-business activities until in 1944 he met Eddy Arnold on a Jamup & Honey tent show. He managed Arnold as his exclusive client from 1945 until 1953, developing a range of unique promotions that helped make the singer one of the most prolific hit-making artists of all time.
By early 1955, Parker had set his sights on the emerging Elvis Presley, whom he placed as an opening act on tours by his new client, Hank Snow. By August, Parker had acquired a controlling interest in Presley's management contract, and two months later set up a deal for RCA to purchase Presley's contract from Sun Records for the unheard-of sum of $35,000. (With $5,000 going to Presley).
Under Parker's exclusive guidance, Presley went on to become one of the most influential cultural figures of the twentieth century - a tribute to a talent and a gift for communication that continues to defy definition. Parker secured for Presley broad national exposure through television at a time when other managers feared that the new medium would undercut the value of personal appearances. Calling the shots in Hollywood, Parker made Presley a #1 box-office star and kept the entertainer's career alive during his two-year stint in the Army.
Interview with Colonel Tom Parker from 1987 (06:48) : This is a very rare interview from Colonel Tom Parker with ABC news Anchorman Ted Koppel. Original ABC TV air date : August 15th 1987.
Interview with Colonel Tom Parker from 1987 (02:52).
A second interview with Colonel Parker, this time at the launch of the Elvis stamp in the USA.
Respected Elvis Presley biographer, Peter Guralnick, Talks About Colonel Tom Parker. (43m:31s).
Colonel Tom Parker and Elvis Presley
Colonel Parker hard at work managing and looking after Elvis' Career :-).
Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis Presley's Manager
As Presley's fame grew, people became interested in Parker as well. For a while he lied about his early years, claiming to have been born in Huntington, West Virginia and that he had run away at an early age to join a circus run by an uncle. The truth about his early years was revealed when his family in the Netherlands recognized him in photographs of him standing next to Elvis; it was confirmed when Parker tried to avert a lawsuit in 1982 by asserting that he was a Netherlands citizen.
He was actually born in Breda, Netherlands on June 28, 1909. Still carrying his baptism name, Andreas Cornelius van Kuijk fled his native land at about the age of 18, joined the United States Army, then changed his name to Tom Parker and became part of the circus world some time after leaving the Army. He also worked as a dogcatcher and a pet cemetery proprietor in Tampa, Florida, in the 1940s.
Colonel Parker died of a stroke on January 22, 1997, aged 87.
To find out more about Colonel Parker, we recommend the excellent book, The Colonel by Alanna Nash.
Interview with Alanna Nash, Author of the book, The Colonel
Interview with Loanne Parker
Andreas van Kuijk
I Met The Colonel
Parker's shadowy past news to Memphis Mafia
Review : The Colonel Book
Colonel Tom (Parker's Death Dark Shadow)
Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis Presley's Manager, Dead at 87