'48 Hours' mimics the tabloids with Elvis show

August 12, 1992|By Greg Dawson | Greg Dawson,Orlando Sentinel

At the Weekly World News, one of the dingier supermarket tabloids, the philosophy is: When in doubt, put Elvis on the cover.

Is the thinking all that different at CBS? Tonight's edition of "48 Hours" (10 p.m., Channel 11) -- "Crazy About Elvis" -- commemorates the 15th anniversary of the King's death. Sunday is the actual date.

Since the Elvis myth-making machinery has never stopped grinding from the day he ingloriously succumbed at Graceland, the very notion of a 15th anniversary commemoration is laughable.

Redundancy, thy name is Elvis.

The anniversary looks like an excuse, and not a very creative one, for getting Elvis on the CBS "cover" in a slow week in August. A sure winner.

As CBS correspondent Erin Moriarty puts it bluntly, "Elvis is worth more dead than alive." CBS could put a still photo of Elvis on the screen for 60 minutes and probably do a good rating. The 8 percent of our fellow citizens who think the King is alive would see this as a sure sign of his long-awaited return.

The Elvis phenomenon seems impervious to overkill. In fact, it apparently has thrived on it, the way some bugs seem to multiply faster after becoming immune to the latest insecticide.

Yes, "48 Hours" takes us, for the umpteenth time, to the two-room house in Tupelo, Miss., where the King was born. Also to Tupelo Hardware, where young Elvis' mother bought him his first guitar instead of the .22 rifle he really wanted.

We're mercifully spared any update on Elvis sightings. ("Elvis did die, of course," says anchor Dan Rather, so it must be true.)

But all the other usual Elvis-special elements are in place, including an interview with an Atlanta bartender who claims she lived and traveled with Elvis for three years . . . after his presumed demise.

We follow a quartet of Elvis idolaters, big-haired women now in their 50s, on a pilgrimage to Graceland. One of them keeps her autographed photo of Elvis in a safe-deposit box at the bank.

There's a visit to the Sun Records studio in Memphis where Elvis recorded his first song and where, for $50, you can make your own demo today.

We meet Rufus Thomas, the Sun label's top star until Elvis -- the "white boy who could sing black" that founder Sam Phillips had been looking for.

"Elvis did that leg, you know," says Mr. Thomas. "We'd been wigglin' our legs all the time." But he's not too resentful, crediting Elvis with opening white consciousness to black rhythm and blues.

No Elvis hour would be complete without an impersonator piece, and wry Bill Geist is just the man to do it. He visits Las Vegas, home of "countless aspiring Elvises, or Elvi," including a 6-year-old who has been doing Elvis for three years.

There's a tribute from game-show host and Elvis friend Wink Martindale: "The day he died, a very light rain started falling in Las Vegas. It was almost like tear drops falling from the sky in the city that he had become such a hero in."

We accompany fans through Graceland, except for the upstairs, where Elvis died. Fans ogle the long glass dining table where Elvis sat at the head "not only because he was head of the family but also for the best view of the TV," says the tour guide.

Downstairs is the fabled "Jungle Room" where Elvis entertained women. Elvis chose the furnishings himself "and it's said he did it in less than 30 minutes," says the guide. I'm not surprised.

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