Part I of III: An in-depth look at the movie “Wild In The Country”
On November 6, 1960, Elvis flew to California to begin working on pre-production for his seventh feature film “Wild In The Country”. The 20th Century Fox film finished principal photography in January 1961 and premiered in Memphis on June 15, 1961. Elvis did not attend the premiere.
The screenplay was written by Clifford Odets, based on the novel THE LOST COUNTRY, by J. R. Salamanca. In the book, Elvis' character Glenn was an artist, and the character of Irene Sperry was a teacher. In the film, Glenn is a troubled youth and would-be writer and Irene is court-appointed to give him psychological counseling.
After a scandal results from false rumor of an affair between her and Glenn, Irene Sperry, played by Hope Lange, attempts suicide. In the original ending she succeeds. Preview audiences did not like this ending, so on Monday February 6, 1961, Elvis was called back to Hollywood to re-shoot the ending of the movie with Irene surviving.
Originally, the dramatic movie was not going to be a musical, but eventually Elvis' character's singing was written into the story. Elvis recorded six songs for the movie, which included the title song “Wild In The Country”, “I Slipped, I Stumbled, I Fell”, “In My Way”, “Husky Dusky Day”, “Lonely Man” and “Forget Me Never”. The last two were cut from the movie.
Producer Jerry Wald had enjoyed a successful career that included producing films such as “Mildred Pierce”, “Johnny Belinda”, “Flamingo Road”, “Peyton Place”, “The Long Hot Summer”, and “Sons and Lovers”. He received several Academy Award nominations over the years and received the Academy's Irving G. Thalberg Award in 1949 for “Johnny Belinda”. Wald died of a heart attack in 1962 at age 51.
“Wild in the Country” director Philip Dunne was likely better known for his screenplay writing. He received Academy Award nominations for his writing in the movies “How Green Way My Valley” and “David and Bathsheba”. He was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for the screenplay “The Agony and the Ecstasy”.
“Wild in the Country” cinematographer William C. Mellor won Academy Awards for his work in “A Place In The Sun” (1952) and again in 1960 for “The Diary of Anne Frank” (1960). He was nominated for both “Peyton Place” in 1960 and “The Greatest Story Ever Told” in 1966. Mellor died of a heart attack during the production of the latter in 1963 at the age of 60.
Part II of III: An in-depth look at the movie “Wild In The Country”
“Wild In The Country” was filmed in 1960 and was Elvis' seventh feature film. Location shooting took place in the Napa Valley of California. Some of it at The Ink House, which still operates as a bed and breakfast in St. Helena. The film company stayed at the Casa Bellvue-al Motel. In this movie Elvis played a rebellious young man who seems to always be in trouble.
Hope Lange played Elvis' court appointed counselor, Irene Sperry. Hope Lange, born Nov. 23, 1933, was only 13 months older than Elvis in real life, but was cast in this more mature role as counselor and mentor. Already a twelve-year veteran of Broadway, Lange made her movie debut in the film “Bus Stop” with Marilyn Monroe and Don Murray. ( In 1956, Murray became Lange's first husband. ) She went on to star in films such as “The Young Lions”, “In Love and War” and “Peyton Place”, for which she was nominated for both a Golden Globe Award and an Academy Award. She was nominated for an Emmy Award for the TV production “That Certain Summer”. Lange won two Emmy Awards in 1969 and 1970 for her leading role in the TV series “The Ghost & Mrs. Muir”. Her most recent role was in the 1998 production “Before He Wakes”.
Tuesday Weld played Elvis' cousin Noreen. Born Susan Ker Weld, she became a child model and the family breadwinner shortly after her father's death when she was three years old. Her turmoil-filled youth was fueled by her on-screen persona as a teenage sex kitten. She appeared in such films as “Return To Peyton Place”, “Bachelor Flat”, “I'll Take Sweden”, and “Pretty Poison”. She starred Thalia in the TV series “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis”. Weld won a Golden Globe Award in 1960 as “Most Promising Female Newcomer”. She was nominated for a second Golden Globe for her performance in the 1972 film “Play It As It Lays”. She was nominated for an Academy Award for her supporting role in the 1977 film “Looking For Mr. Goodbar”. In the 1988 film “Heartbreak Hotel” ( set in 1972 ), Weld plays an Elvis fan whose unhappy life prompts her son to kidnap Elvis Presley and bring him to her to cheer her up.
Millie Perkins played Elvis' girlfriend Betty Lee in “Wild In The Country” Her other films include the lead role in the 1959 film “The Diary of Anne Frank” and the 1964 “Ensign Pulver”. She has performed in a number of TV roles that include such series as “Wagon Train”, “Knots Landing”, “Murder She Wrote” ( starring Angela Lansbury, who played Elvis' character's mother in “Blue Hawaii” ), “Thirtysomething”, and “Touched By An Angel”. In an ironic twist of fate, Perkins played the role of Elvis' mother Gladys Presley in the 1990 television series “Elvis”. One of her more recent roles is a recurring character on the Lifetime Television series “Any Day Now”. Reflecting upon working with Elvis in “Wild in the Country”, Perkins said she thought Elvis “was drifting” during the filming, that he was always surrounded by his entourage, that he was embarrassed by the way the script would have him lead into a song. She quoted him as saying “God, this is so embarrassing. Nobody would ever do this in real life. Why are they making me do this?” She also said, “He never used his star power - never. Maybe he should have.”
Rafer Johnson, who was the 1960 Olympic decathlon champion, played Davis in “Wild In The Country”. He had a number of roles in films and TV, including two “Tarzan” films, “The Sins of Rachel Cade”, “Roots: The Next Generations”, “Mission Impossible”, and “The Six Million Dollar Man”. He might be best known for working with Roosevelt Grier in 1968 to disarm Sirhan Sirhan, the assassin who shot and killed Robert F. Kennedy. Johnson was an Olympic torch bearer in the 1984 and 1996 Olympics and was inducted into the Sport in Society Hall of Fame in 1999.
Part III of III: An in-depth Look at “Wild In The Country”
Exterior shots for Elvis' seventh feature film “Wild In The Country” were filmed in the Napa Valley of California wine country.
It was during the filming of this movie that Elvis' manager Colonel Tom Parker first read a newspaper article on the floundering attempts to raise funds to build the USS Arizona Memorial in Hawaii. Parker and Elvis both had a great love for the islands and for America as a whole. He and Elvis came up with the idea of Elvis doing a benefit concert there in March of 1961 - a concert that raised over $62,000, the single largest donation to the cause. More importantly, it brought the kind of public and press attention needed to re-energize the project, which had long been planned as a memorial to the lives lost aboard the U.S.S. Arizona in the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Elvis performed the benefit concert on March 25, 1961 while in Hawaii for the production of his film “Blue Hawaii”. The memorial was completed and opened to the public in 1962.
It was during the filming of “Wild in the Country” that Elvis celebrated his 26th birthday on the set. The cast and crew gave him a plaque which read “Happy Birthday, King Karate.” Elvis had come back from his service in the US Army with an intense interest in the martial arts. He'd earned his first degree black belt in July of 1960 and would go on to receive two eighth degree black belts in two different forms of martial arts.
John Ireland played Phil Macy. A Canadian born swimming star, Ireland often played heavies in the 132 movies and 42 TV roles he had. He was nominated for an Academy Award for his supporting role in the 1949 “All The King's Men”.
Gary Lockwood played Cliff Macy and in 1963 co-starred with Elvis again in “It Happened At The World's Fair”. Lockwood had roles in such films as “Splendor In the Grass”, “Stand Up And Be Counted” and “2001: A Space Odyssey”, as well as numerous guest appearances on TV series.
Jason Robards, Sr., Pat Buttram, William Mims and Raymond Greenleaf - all well known character actors - had parts in “Wild In The Country”. Robards ( father to famous actor Jason, Jr. ) had parts in 189 movies and 9 TV series, “Wild In The Country” was his last film.
While Buttram was well known for his roles in westerns with Gene Autry and his role as Mr. Haney in the TV series “Green Acres”, he was also a voice artist in a number of Disney animated movies such as “The Aristocats”, “Robin Hood”, “The Rescuers”, “The Fox and The Hound”, “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”, and “A Goofy Movie”. In 1982, he founded the Golden Boot Award to honor actors, directors, stunt people and others in the industry who had made significant contributions to the Western film genre. Proceeds from the annual event are donated to the Motion Picture Health and Welfare Fund. ( Not to be confused with the Golden Boot Awards given by RCA to Elvis and their artists for hit country songs. ) Buttram also appeared in the 1964 Elvis film “Roustabout”.
Christina Crawford, adopted daughter of Joan Crawford, had her film debut in “Wild In The Country”. She played Cliff Macy's date Monica.
Red West, Elvis' high school friend and member of his entourage, had his first speaking part in “Wild In The Country” as Hank Tyler. He would go on to become a well-known character actor and stunt man.
Rudd Weatherwax, dog trainer for films such as “Lassie Come Home”, “Hondo”, and “Old Yeller”, owned Rosy the Irish Setter, used as Hope Lange's character's dog in “Wild In The Country”. It was Rosy's screen debut.
One of the girls Elvis was dating during this production was a wardrobe girl, Nancy Sharp. He had met her while filming “Flaming Star”.
The title song “Wild In The Country” peaked on the US charts at #26, while it reached #4 on the British charts. While the American reviews were lukewarm, David Cardwell of Britain's “New Musical Express” wrote “'Wild in the Country' is Elvis's best so far!…There is only one way to describe Presley's performance - superb!”