Elvis Presley’s hips were almost as famous as his voice. The rock icon was known for his gyrating dance moves, and in the new movie Elvis, these sexually suggestive gestures almost land the King in jail.
In the film, Presley (played by Austin Butler) is on tour with country singer Hank Snow, playing to normally buttoned-down crowds. However, Presley’s style of performance – his energetic stage presence, his affinity for Black music and especially his provocative dance moves – continually work audiences into a frenzy. The singer’s bravado helps his star rise and also causes trouble.
Fellow musicians begin to resent Presley for all the attention he receives. Sponsors worry about associating their brand with the pioneering rocker. Meanwhile, the community leaders take a moral stand against the singer’s sexually charged dance moves, threatening he’ll be arrested if he continues with the antics.
Presley ends up ignoring the warnings and opts to continue his onstage gyrations. The dancing soon becomes part of Presley’s mystique, aiding his wild and rebellious rock ‘n’ roll image. But how did things happen in real life?
Presley’s dancing indeed riled up fans and the moral majority in different ways. And while the threat of arrest may have just been showboating by public officials, it happened.
The most obvious example took place in Jacksonville, Fla. Presley was scheduled to perform six shows at the Florida Theatre in August 1956 before a local judge decided to impart his will.
“Marion Gooding, who was at that time the juvenile court justice in Jacksonville, summoned young Mr. Presley to his offices and told him there would be no hip-swiveling and no suggestive body movements,” current Florida Theatre president Numa Saisselin explained to News4Jax.
Gooding had heard about Presley’s shows, how he had ignited fans and enraged authorities. The judge insisted none of it would happen in his town and threatened to have Presley arrested for “impairing the morality of minors” should he attempt any hip-shaking.
Unlike in the film, Presley abided by the commands in real life. “By all accounts, he stood center stage … and performed his show straight. No moving around,” Saisselin noted.
While hip-shaking didn’t land the King in cuffs, he did run afoul of the law on other occasions. In 1955, he was pulled over and given a ticket for driving 20 miles over the speed limit. In 1966, he was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct, battery and assault following an altercation at a gas station (station employees and Presley reportedly got in a fight after his fans swarmed the establishment). Those charges were dismissed the following day.