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Elvis Meets Kurt For Kicks In Seattle

Elvis Presley spent September of 1962 in Seattle, working on his 12th movie, It Happened At The World’s Fair. Probably the most memorable scene from this movie involved Presley’s character bribing a kid to kick him in the shins.

That hired foot belonged to a young Kurt Russell; uncredited at the time, but a future Disney star. Russell would eventually portray Elvis in a made-for-TV movie, overdub the Presley voice in Forrest Gump, and in 3000 Miles To Graceland, would impersonate an Elvis impersonator.

The soundtrack work for the movie began in August ’62 at Hollywood’s Radio Recorders. Two tunes from the movie were picked for a single, both sides charted, but not that well. “They Remind Me Too Much Of You” made it to number 53, and the Otis Blackwell/Winfield Scott collaboration “One Broken Heart For Sale” missed the top ten, finishing at 11 in April, 1963. The Brill Building songwriting team of Bill Giant, Bernie Baum and Florence Kaye placed a song on the World’s Fair soundtrack, but would also provide Presley’s next entrée into the top 5.

Recorded in Nashville in May, “(You’re The) Devil In Disguise” would take Elvis to number 3 in the states in early summer of ‘63. Elvis recorded more than 40 songs written by the Giant, Baum, Kaye team, mostly as movie cuts. Writer Bill Giant’s real name was Zimmerman (like Bob Dylan), and a look at Bill’s other biggest hit leads us even further down the pseudonym superhighway.

Under the cover of his Bill’s wife’s name, Ethel Lee, Giant co-wrote the novelty song “Speedy Gonzales” with Buddy Kaye and David Hess. David Hess recorded the original version of the song under the alias David Dante. Dante’s version stiffed in the states, but was a huge smash in the Philippines. Guess who just happened to be playing a sold-out show in Manila and heard the song on the radio.

Pat Boone, whose real name was Charles Eugene Boone, got hold of a copy and brought it back to the states. Boone talked his producer Randy Wood into letting him cut the song. It made it to number 6 in the summer of ’62 faster than you can say:

  “¡Arriba! ¡Arriba! ¡Ándele! ¡Ándele!" 

Arguably, other than the genuine Mel Blanc cut ins, the hook of the record was the bridge, sung by studio vocalist Jackie Ward. Homage would be paid to that hook when it was revisited by Elton John, pseudonym of Reginald Dwight, in the turnaround bridge of “Crocodile Rock.”

Now, back to the singer of the hook. Producer Perry Botkin (his real name as far as I know), wanted to record a song demo, and called Jackie Ward, the girl from “Speedy Gonzales,” in to do the vocal. After goofing around with the old “tape-wrapped-around-the-capstan” trick, Botkin managed to make the 20-something Ward sound like a teenager, and chose to release the demo as the actual record. Jackie suggested they use her daughter’s name, so the single “Wonderful Summer,” released under the alias Robin Ward, entered the top 20 in late ‘63.

We would hear from that producer again in the seventies. Perry Botkin and Barry DeVorzon composed a song called “Cotton’s Dream” for the movie Bless The Beasts And The Children. It was picked up as the theme for the soap The Young And The Restless, and when Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci performed to it in the ‘76 Olympics, the resulting single was a top 10 smash under, of course, the alternate title of “Nadia‘s Theme.”

Robin Ward was a one-hit-wonder, but we would hear Jackie Ward’s voice on a number of hit TV series themes, including Flipper, Batman, the second-season-on theme of Love, American Style, and The Partridge Family. But I would venture to wonder if the performance which put the most food on Jackie Ward’s table may wasn’t, in fact, the “Rice-A-Roni” jingle. 

My heroes have always been disc jockeys. I especially admired the ones who could take the canvas of the fourteen-second intro of a teeny-bopper song and paint a masterpiece. From my youth, I strove to emulate them. I had the good fortune to walk in some of their footsteps, albeit a respectful pace behind.