The June Kelly painting (1964)
By Bob Pakes
Love it or hate it, the June Kelly poster has certainly left its mark on the Elvis world. In this article we’ll be taking a look at the origins of the poster, as well as its original purpose. We’ll also be highlighting the occasions when this poster was put to work by RCA and Tom Parker between its release in late 1964 and when the poster was last seen, in 1970. Next to this, we have a few fan candids of ‘meet and greets’ with Elvis that include the poster, and we’ll find out that the painting ended up on the cover of an American beat magazine in the mid 60’s.
June Kelly painted her depiction of Elvis in 1964. Poster prints of the paiting, an example of which we see to the right, measure 16″ x 20″. The artist’s signature can be seen in the bottom left.
Since hundreds of thousands of June Kelly posters were printed, it’s still quite easy to locate a copy of this promotional item over fifty years after it first became available. A nice touch is that the poster did not come with any nasty fold lines. Record stores were equipped with a flat stack of these posters, and customers would then be taking the rolled up poster home, which of course made it ideal for framing.
It’s generally assumed that the poster was given to buyers of the Girl Happy album, which was released in March 1965. This is only partly true. As we can read in the article to the right, the poster’s purpose was to stimulate the sale of the Roustabout album, released in late October 1964. But even though the poster was supposed to be given, free of charge, to buyers of the Roustabout album, only five months had passed between the releases of Roustabout and Girl Happy, and because over half a million of these posters had been printed, there were still plenty of copies left to then be given to buyers of the Girl Happy album. However, since the poster was not sealed in with a specific abum, it seems fair to assume that most record stores probably linked this free poster to any Presley product on their shelves and not just to Roustabout or Girl Happy.
To the right we see the back of an early print of the June Kelly poster. The first wave of these posters came with a stamped reference to Paramount’s Roustabout movie, which was released in the second week of November. Later prints of the poster came with a blank back.
Due to the heavy promotion of both the Roustabout movie and its soundtrack, and also because Elvis’ previous film, Viva Las Vegas, had been a huge hit at the boxoffice, the Roustabout album went on to top the Billboard chart for one week in the first week of 1965. This was Elvis’ first number 1 album since the Blue Hawaii soundtrack in early 1962. After having spent one week in the number 1 position. The Beatles took the top spot, as they did so often in the mid 1960’s.
During 1964 and 1965, Elvis only spent 1 week on top of Billboard’s album chart, while The Beatles held that position for a combined total of 54 weeks over the same period: 30 weeks in 1964, and 24 weeks in 1965. Elvis would have to wait until the release of the Aloha From Hawaii album, in 1973, before he would top Billboard’s most important chart again.
The origins of the painting
June Kelly probably used publicity stills from the photo shoot for Kissin’ Cousins, done in November 1963, as the basis for her painting. Elvis’ pose and the clothes he wears in the photo to the left, resemble the painting. But a photo that looks identical to Kelly’s work has not yet surfaced. And maybe a photo like that doesn’t even exist. It’s possible that different aspects from different photos have been used. If this has been the case, Kelly might have used Elvis’ facial expression from the photo to the right (also from November 1963).
These yearly pocket calendars, most of which had an image of Elvis on the front while all had a 12-month calendar on the back, were issued by RCA and served as giveaways for fan clubs and record stores. A total of 18 calendars were issued yearly, until 1980.
The pocket calendar measures circa 4″ x 2.25″. As we can see, June Kelly’s name was cropped out of the image, while “Sincerely Yours, Elvis” was added.
The June Kelly poster made its European debut in London, at the Inauguration Meeting of the International Elvis Presley Appreciation Society on January 10, 1965, at the St. Pancras Town Hall, nowadays known as Camden Town Hall.
In the photo to the right, we see Peter Aldersley (seated to the left) and the most highly respected figure within the British Elvis community, Albert Hand.
Peter Aldersley was a popular DJ at Radio Luxembourg. He was also Chairman of the International Elvis Presley Appreciation Society. But Peter is perhaps mostly known for his appearance in Elvis: That’s The Way It Is. In this documentary, Elvis gifted Peter a two seated bicycle, which Peter took back to Europe and was raffled off at a fan club convention later that year (1970).
Albert Hand is the founder of the world-renowned Elvis Monthly magazine and he ran the Official Elvis Presley Fan Club since April 1962, when he took over from OEPFC’s founders Jeanne Saword and Dug Surtees. When the meeting in London took place, Albert had already met Elvis on several occasions. He had even stayed at Graceland. Albert was also in close contact with Parker and a member of Parker’s exclusive Snowman’s League.
KRLA Beat was a weekly magazine printed in newspaper style, that existed from October 1964 to May 1968. Since the magazine was active at the height of the British Invasion, bands like The Beatles and The Stones dominated the magazine as well as its cover. As a result of this, the mag quickly became very popular among fans of 60’s rock music. So, for KRLA Beat to dedicate a cover to Elvis seemed like an odd thing to do since Elvis, by late 1965, appeared to be completely out of touch with the music world and instead wasted his talents on Hollywood movie sets. So why was Elvis on the cover of a publication that so clearly catered to followers of the British Invasion? Well, the reason was that RCA Victor had recently signed Elvis for another 10 years at the record company, and according to KRLA Beat, Elvis was still a force to be reckoned with, even though the mag was only able to offer Elvis’ newly signed contract with RCA, as well as his extended longtime association with movie producer Hal Wallis, as evidence for this otherwise weak statement.
Reminding its readers of the impact the rocking and rolling Elvis Presley once had on the music business, KRLA Beat poetically stated: “Elvis burst onto the pop music scene in the mid 1950’s like the horde of Genghis Kahn out of Mongolia”.
In late 1965, the painting made its first appearance in an Elvis movie when Harum Scarum was released in November. Right before the movie’s very last scene, in which Elvis’ character, Johnny Tyronne, appears on a stage singing Harem Holiday, an announcement for Tyronne’s show can briefly be seen.
Even though plenty of publicity stills from Harum Scarum were available, the June Kelly artwork was chosen for this particular scene. It’s interesting to think about why this specific image of Elvis was chosen instead of a real (and more recent) photo.
In the photo to the right we see a different variation of the June Kelly poster. Unlike the common 16″ x 20″ prints, the posters we see here came with a large white border.
The man to the left is Norman Taurog, the director of no less than 9 Elvis films. Taurog has over 180 directing credits to his name, the last 4 of which all were Elvis movies.
Below we see two candids from May 1967. The lady holding the poster went to Graceland to get Elvis’ autograph (1st photo), but once there she was told that Elvis was honeymooning at the Circle G Ranch, and this is where she managed to get her June Kelly poster signed by Elvis (2nd photo).
The most eye-catching detail in the photos below, is of course not the Kelly poster, nor the hairdo of the lady in question, but the glasses on the nose of the man to the right in the first photo.
The photos to the right and below take us to the Arizona desert of October/November 1967, when a group of devoted Elvis fans visited their idol on the set of his latest movie, Stay Away, Joe. The group had brought a couple of June Kelly posters along for Elvis to sign.
Candids like these make you realise how easily approachable Elvis was during the first fifteen years of his career. Thousands of candids from the 50’s and 60’s of similar meet and greets, reveal how much Elvis enjoyed the company of his fans and how he remained within their reach, despite his immense stardom.
In another photo from this day, the woman with the glasses gets the 1956 sheet music of Love Me Tender signed by Elvis.
The poster also popped up during the press conference in August 1969, when Elvis returned to performing live again. But by this time, the image of Elvis in the June Kelly poster was almost five years old and totally irrelevant as a promotional tool for the current phase in Elvis’ career. Almost as if the glorious NBC TV Special and Elvis’ groundbreaking recordings at American Sound had never happened, almost as if these two landmark events had not both shown the artistic evolution Elvis had gone through since the dreadful movie years, Tom Parker decided to decorate the room with June Kelly posters …
The use of the 1964 poster during the 1969 press conference, symbolically represents how incredibly outdated Elvis’ manager had become. This man was clearly way past his expiry date.
For more info on the flashy coat Parker is wearing, please visit:
Colonel Parker & His Amazing Technicolor Movie Coats
In the documentary Elvis: That’s The Way It Is, the camera follows Joe Esposito as he walks the viewer through the headquarters of the International Hotel, and literally every inch of the walls is filled with Elvis promo items. Most of these items are in-store promotional posters that RCA had originally sent to record stores since the mid 60’s. But the June Kelly poster is without a doubt the most dominant item in these offices.
The viewer must have been blow away by the huge amount of promo stuff, but then Joe enters the room we see below!
Next to the overload of June Kelly posters, the ceiling of this room contains the bonus photos that came with Frankie And Johnny, Spinout, Double Trouble, From Elvis In Memphis and From Memphis To Vegas. Interestingly, the bonus photos of Clambake and Flaming Star are missing on the ceiling.
More June Kelly artwork!
What??? June Kelly actually did another painting of Elvis???
Yes she did. In 1966.
Kelly’s much lesser known second painting of Elvis can be spotted in the photo with Joe Esposito, but we’ll dive into this work (and how it was put to use by Parker and RCA Victor) in Part Two of the June Kelly story.
Soon on Echoes!
Over the decades, the Kelly painting has taken a lot of criticism from Elvis fans: some fans like it, most fans hate it. My personal view is that the painting was clearly the work of a female, especially the way Elvis’ eyes and lips are presented in the painting seem to have a feminine touch. But then again, could there ever be a painting of Elvis, on which all fans agree that it looks exactly like him? Not in a million years! Even Rembrandt and Vermeer would have been grilled by the ‘experts’ if they had taken on the task to paint one of the most easily recognized faces in the world. What it all comes down to with a work of art, is personal taste. So let’s just appreciate the June Kelly poster for what it most of all is: a collectible vintage poster that over time has become an undeniable part of Elvis Presley’s legacy.
As mentioned, hundreds of thousands of June Kelly posters were printed, and a mint copy can always be found on eBay for somwhere between $50 and $100. Once you’ve decided to get yourself one of these Elvis Presley time capsules, please make sure the colors of the poster you are buying haven’t faded but are still fibrant and strong. Also, since the poster originally came rolled, never settle for a copy with fold lines.