Today in History: Nov. 15

Love Me Tender, Elvis Presley’s first film, debuted in movie theaters 60 years ago today. Presley, a new star, was billed third among the actors, after Richard Egan and Debra Paget.

It is the only film in which (spoiler alert) a character played by Elvis Presley dies. Fans were upset by this; most important, Presley’s mother cried at the scene, which is understandable. The studio added a reprise of the title song, sung by a “ghost Elvis” over the end credits, to help the fans. Because of his mother’s upset, Presley included a stipulation in future movie contracts that his characters not die on screen.

Presley’s recording of the song, “Love Me Tender” was already on the charts when 20th Century Fox was finishing the film; as a result the studio added four songs to the film soundtrack. Presley’s remaining films all included songs whether or not circumstances in the plot demanded them.

Film historians report that Presley arrived on the set overly prepared: he had memorized his lines, everyone else’s lines, and all the stage directions. The film (after the jump):

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One day in the Kansas State Penitentiary, a convict learned about an easy job: his cell mate had worked for a farmer and the farmer kept all of his cash in a safe at the house. Plans were hatched, and the amount of money stashed in this safe grew and grew as the plans more and more resembled a sure thing. The two men were paroled and in need of a sure thing and a new beginning. That safe sang out to them.

The two men took hostage the family of Herbert Clutter of Holcomb, Kansas, on this date in 1959, and when they discovered there was no safe (Mr. Clutter paid his farmhands and creditors by check and had done so for years), they killed Mr. Clutter, his wife, and the two children still living at home. Instead of thousands of dollars, they made off with about fifty dollars and a transistor radio. The two men were arrested about six weeks later, tried, found guilty, executed in 1965.

In the early 1960s, a writer interviewed the killers while they were awaiting their fates and he started to write about the crime and the small town in which innocence had been killed. Truman Capote’s series of articles, titled “In Cold Blood,” started to appear in the New Yorker magazine in September 1965 and the whole series was published in book form in 1966.

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Atlanta was burned down on this date in 1864 by the Union forces led by Gen. William T. Sherman.

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The cornerstone of the Jefferson Memorial was laid by President Franklin Roosevelt on this date in 1939.

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Alger Hiss died 20 years ago today.

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Georgia O’Keeffe was born on this date in 1887. Marianne Moore was born in 1887 on this date.

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Judge Joseph Wapner is 97 today. Ed Asner is 87 today. Petula Clark is 84 today. (She has a new album out, titled From Now On.)

Yaphet Kotto is 77 today. Sam Waterston is 76 today. Daniel Pinkwater is 75 today. Daniel Barenboim is 74. Governor Bill Richardson is 69. Beverly D’Angelo is 65 today.

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Please comment here. Thank you, Mark.

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