‘Mass hysteria ... gripped the crowd.’ Elvis made women shriek, faint, sob in Fort Worth

On May 29, 1955, a 20-year-old rising music star named Elvis Presley came to Cowtown for the first time. He was the top-billed performer in a Grand Ole Opry tour at the North Side Coliseum.

Three weeks later he was back in town with the All-Star Country Road Show, a country-western music program broadcast on WBAP radio. Again he was top-billed above nine now-forgotten performers.

But the Star-Telegram provided no news coverage of Elvis’ first two Fort Worth appearances. That indifference would not be repeated.

On Jan. 20, 1956, eight days before Elvis’ debut on national television on the Dorsey Brothers Stage Show, Presley made his third appearance in Fort Worth, second-billed under Hank Snow at the North Side Coliseum. Presley had just turned 21.

Star-Telegram entertainment columnist Elston Brooks referred to Presley as a “bop-country music exponent.”

In April 1956 Brooks announced that Presley — “the writhing guitar player currently rocking the teen-age set” — would make his fourth appearance in Fort Worth.

After the concert, Brooks wrote the page 1 story:

“There was no riot of fans when Elvis Presley finished his stage appearance Friday midnight at North Side Coliseum. Twenty policemen took care of that. But there was a crush of women, of all ages, begging just to touch the drake-tailed, guitar-playing crooner who currently is sitting on top of the entertainment world.

“A married woman from out of town was hidden with a girlfriend in a darkened car on the lot. She flung open the door when she saw Presley emerge. ‘Elvis, I love you,’ she implored. ‘Come here, let me see you. I won’t hurt you — I love you.’

“Her girlfriend gave a shriek and appeared to faint in the front seat. The woman began sobbing, begging police to let her out of her car. A Star-Telegram reporter asked the woman if her husband knew where she was. ‘Of course, he does,’ she bawled. ‘Let me see Elvis.’

“Elvis at the moment was busy fending off a tall blond from another city who managed to get backstage to tell him, ‘I’ve got my husband’s Cadillac outside. Do you want to come with me?’ Presley ... declined. Instead he had a date with a brunet airline hostess who had flown in to catch the show.

“A throng of teen-aged girls sobbed and snarled at police who kept them away from the parking lot. ‘Elvis, we love you,’ they screamed as the 21-year-old star sat in his Cadillac waiting for the guitars to be loaded in the vehicle. As police led the Presley car away a mother with four teenage girls in her car gunned after the vehicle. The girls had pencils and autograph books poised. The mother was hunched over the wheel like a racing driver.

“Presley, who two years ago was a $35-a-week truck driver in Memphis, will make $500,000 this year, his agent said. He has two records in the top 10, has just signed a movie contract and soon will get $20,000 for 14 days in a Las Vegas night spot. The attraction that has given him the boost apparently is hip movement that he has incorporated into his rock and roll singing. It provoked the feeling in the majority of the 7,000 fans at Presley’s two shows Friday night.”

And Elvis wasn’t the only one writhing. Brooks wrote: “The females in the crowd wept, writhed on their chairs and screamed ecstatically whenever Elvis started contorting.”

Two Elvis fans — remember: fans is short for fanatics — from Dallas, who chartered a bus with 38 other girls, used knives to scratch the word Elvis into their arms.

Two Dallas high school girls etched Elvis’ name on their forearms for his concert in Fort Worth in April 1956.
Two Dallas high school girls etched Elvis’ name on their forearms for his concert in Fort Worth in April 1956.

Here is Brooks’ review in his entertainment column:

“Mass hysteria completely gripped the crowd — mostly teenage girls — at two full house shows as it watched the drake-tailed young rock and roller. ‘Elvis, I’m going to die!’ one girl shouted in ecstasy. She didn’t. ‘Elvis, I’m going to faint!’ another threatened with closed eyes and clenched fists. She almost did.

“Presley closed his eyes and began the sensual, almost vulgar swaying of his body that has made him a nationwide celebrity. In a reaction better explained by Freud than Variety or Billboard, the girls collapsed on one another, moaning from side to side with closed eyes. They screamed. Tears ran down their faces. They swarmed toward the stage.

“Twenty policemen, imported for the Friday night show, shook their heads in amazement and ushered them back to their seats. Presley moaned and swayed through ‘Heartbreak Hotel,’ ‘Blue Suede Shoes,’ ‘Long Tall Sally,’ ‘Only You,’ ‘I Was the One, Honey’ and ‘I’ve Got a Woman.’”

After interviewing Presley, Brooks wrote:

“Presley, who doesn’t smoke or drink, says he does like to ride a motorcycle. And he has three Cadillacs. He drove one of them to the coliseum Friday night from the Westbrook Hotel where he was staying. ‘It ran out of gas on North Main and I had to walk for some,’ he laughed. ‘Almost missed the show.’”

Here’s another measure of how quickly Elvis Presley’s star was rising in the entertainment firmament: The website Newspapers.com returns only three search results nationwide for the phrase “Elvis Presley” in 1954 (all three in Shreveport). In 1955, 284 results. In 1956, 42,005 results.

Elvis would be back in town three times in 1972-1976 before his death in 1977 — 22 years after his first appearance in Fort Worth.

Mike Nichols blogs about Fort Worth history at www.hometownbyhandlebar.com.