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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, July 20, 2003

Colonel Parker left fond memories in Hawai'i

By Ron Jacobs

I met Colonel Tom Parker when he arrived in Hawai'i with Elvis Presley in November 1957. We became friends and remained so for 40 years. Parker in no way resembled the subject of your book review of July 13 (" 'The Colonel' paints portrait of self-serving, sadistic tyrant").

Rob Jacobs, right, was a young radio personality in Honolulu in 1959, when he got together with Colonel Tom Parker, center, and Tom Moffatt to hear Parker read a radiogram from Germany, where Elvis Presley was serving in the Army. Elvis' message said he'd like to perform in Hawai'i when he got out. As it turned out, his first post-Army show was a benefit for the Arizona Memorial. Jacobs, writer of this article, says a recent book was unfair to Parker, failing to show the Colonel's generosity and, as Elvis' manager, his interest in the star's career.

Ron Jacobs photo

I knew George Chaplin, The Advertiser's editor in chief for 28 years, while he lived in Honolulu. I doubt Chaplin would have OK'd that review. How could you?

Chaplin knew his readers. I bet he would assign someone with first-hand knowledge of the Parker-Presley dynamic to review the book. One choice might be Wayne Harada, who observed and wrote about the pair during their many Hawai'i visits.

Perhaps Chaplin would select a freelance writer such as former Hawai'i resident Jerry Hopkins. Hopkins' recent "Elvis in Hawaii" illustrates how Parker's promotional skills and Presley's talents combined to increase the state's fame and fortune.

Beyond Tennessee and Nevada, Presley's greatest triumphs were in Hawai'i. But the author of "The Colonel" did not attempt to contact Tom Moffatt or myself, although we were involved with Parker in Honolulu, Los Angeles, Memphis and Las Vegas from 1957 until his death.

Of interest to local fans is Presley's 1961 Bloch Arena concert, which kick-started the struggling USS Arizona Memorial building fund. It was inspired by Chaplin. Attempts to raise money for the memorial had run dry. Chaplin wrote newspaper editors across the country about the problem.

Reading this in Los Angeles, Parker conceived the idea of a charity concert. Proceeds would go to construction of what would become Hawai'i's No. 1 visitor attraction.

Parker's aloha for Hawai'i began in the early 1920s during his two years stationed at Fort DeRussy. Those feelings gave origin to millions of positive impressions of the Aloha State created by three Presley feature films and the world's first live satellite concert, all shot here. Proceeds from the latter raised $75,000 for the Kui Lee Cancer Fund.

Gov. John Waihee saluted Thomas A. Parker on his 80th birthday with a proclamation representing Hawai'i's people. I read the commendation at a party at the Las Vegas Hilton hosted by Barron Hilton himself. The dignitaries and celebrities there to honor Parker reacted with a standing ovation.

Seven years later, Jan. 25, 1997. Moffatt and I were back in Vegas as honorary pallbearers at the memorial service for our friend. We joined Priscilla Presley, Jack Soden, CEO of Elvis Presley Enterprises, and longtime Parker friends, associates and admirers. (These people "despised" Parker, according to tabloids, sensationalistic TV shows and trashy books like Alanna Nash's.)

A pianist played gospel and spiritual music. Two maile lei-draped oil portraits of Parker stood on an empty stage. One portrayed him as a dashing Southern colonel; the other evoked the jolly fellow we first met on a Hawaiian Village lanai 40 years earlier.

People recalled the man who, "almost single-handedly, took the carnival tradition first to rock 'n' roll and then to modern mass entertainment, creating the blueprint for the powerful style of management and merchandising that the music business operates by today."

That quote from the Nash book appears in many reviews; it's not included in the "sadistic tyrant" one that ran under The Advertiser's headline that reads like a review of "The Saddam Hussein Story."

Never told until now is that the Arizona concert production costs came up $54,000 short. Tom Parker and Elvis Presley split the costs. They paid for the losses personally, quietly, with no public notice. But then again, they performed hundreds of kindly acts from the goodness of their hearts and souls. They didn't need publicity, man.

Longtime broadcaster Ron Jacobs lives in Kane'ohe.