Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Was Elvis Jewish?

According to a book by Elaine Dundy, ELVIS AND GLADYS, he was. I always suspected. The obsession with karate, the white jumpsuits, his love of the traditional Jewish meal of peanut butter and banana sandwiches – he might as well have been Larry David with sideburns.

The book claims that Elvis’ grandmother on his mother’s side was Jewish. So his mother, Gladys, was Jewish, and thus, following the birth line according to Jewish law, so was the King.

This now explains all the Cadillacs.

And why he was “Crying in the Chapel.”

Elvis’ middle name was Aron, which the book suggests was just a misspelling of Aaron, the brother of Moses in the Bible. Jews are usually better at spelling so I question that claim.

Elvis had uncles named Sidney and Jerome. That alone does not make them Jewish, but if they annoyed young Elvis at Thanksgiving and told endless stories about going to high school with Milton Berle then you can confirm it.

Gladys was proud of her Jewish ancestry, the book attests. The fact that this was not mentioned in any of the five hundred other books about Elvis must mean her pride did not extend to two separate sets of dishes.

When she died, Elvis put a Star of David on her tombstone to honor her Jewish heritage.
Apparently, his parents told him to downplay his Jewish ancestry because of all the anti-Semitism. (In the South? Really?) I imagine his record company probably felt the same way, although it was okay for the public to think he was black.

The book says at one point he lived in an apartment below a rabbi and he would confer with him on occasion. Religious ethical questions like should he sleep with Delores Hart?


Elvis wore a piece of jewelry called a “Chai” which contained Hebrew words and the Star of David. Here too, this was not a convincing argument for his Jewishness because everyone who wore a gaudy jumpsuit in the ‘70s wore a Chai. It was just part of the look.

A stronger argument would be that he had no chemistry with Mary Tyler Moore who played a nun in his movie CHANGE OF HABIT. And the tagline for that classic was “When the King of Rock meets the Queen of Comedy romance rules.” Well, it didn’t. ‘Nuff said.

Jewish numerology is very significant. There is a Jewish holiday called Lag BaOmer. Literally, the name of the holiday means the "33rd day of the Omer." Elvis made 33 movies. That’s both eerie and conclusive.

By the way, ELVIS AND GLADYS is not the only book to contend the King was Jewish. (Note: ELVIS AND GLADYS is not to be confused with PETE AND GLADYS, a sitcom from the ‘60s starring gentiles.) There’s a book called SCHMELVIS: IN SEARCH OF ELVIS PRESLEY'S JEWISH ROOTS by Jonathan Goldstein & Max Wallace. But unlike Dundy’s book and this post, they don’t take the subject seriously.

So was Elvis actually Jewish? Throughout history Jewish scholars have argued over everything else, why not this too? I’d like to think he was, if for no other reason than Nixon would be spinning in his grave for befriending him.

UPDATE:  Tomorrow's post will appear a little later than usual.  I'll scribble down my first thoughts on the Emmy nominations, which will be announced tomorrow morning. 

33 comments:

Mac said...

"his love of the traditional Jewish meal of peanut butter and banana sandwiches"

He also liked a bacon sandwich, Ken. I'm no expert but I'm pretty sure that's not a traditional Jewish meal? When I say "sandwich" it was six rashers of bacon between a split loaf and deep-fried. I quite like the idea of it but I'd also quite like my heart to keep working for a while.

Pete Grossman said...

Ken, (you knew this was coming) is Tricky Dick spinning in his grave for befriending Henry Kissinger? Then again, there's a proving HK wasn't really Jewish since he married a Shiksa Goddess his second time around and worked for a guy named "Ford."

Mike Barer said...

I believe the rookie announcer for the Mariners Aaron Goldsmith is. I like to think that you paved the way for him.

benson said...

Oy Vey.

Mark P. said...

I'm Jewish. I have a brother named Paul. When I mentioned my family's names to a coworker, he grinned and said "just like the apostles!" I countered with "to be honest, we had the names first."

Cathy S. said...

I remember seeing stories about Elvis being a Shabbos goy. Tough to do that and be Jewish at the same time.

Brandon said...

Elvis studied EVERYTHING in the '70s... Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism... he wore jewelry of all of it often at the same time. When asked why, he would say, "Just covering all the bases." He may have been Jewish by lineage, but did he practice? Not so much.

Ron Rettig said...

Ken, Care to comment on this up-Lyft for actors? This might help aspiring sitcom (or horror) writers!
"Actors, musicians and filmmakers are making extra cash with their cars by working as drivers for Lyft, Uber and Sidecar."
http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-ride-sharing-services-20130630,0,1691348.story

Max said...

Little known fact: the Jordanaires were originally a Klezmer band.

BigTed said...

Why all the speculation? Just find out where Elvis is living and ask him.

Rock-a-Hula Benny said...

Elvis didn't make 33 movies. He made one movie. One long, repetitive movie.

Great Big Radio Guy said...

Let the Jewish Elvis songs commence.

A Hunka Hunka Burning Bush
You Should Be So Cruel
Big Boss Mensch
L'shana Me Tovah
King Koogle
All Meshugenahed Up
The Wonder of Youkilis

The Mutt said...

For what it's worth, Elvis pronounced his middle name Ay-Ron.

Arty Crane said...

And this is important?

Justin Murphy said...

Speaking of Jewish connections -- country singer Hank Williams Sr.'s birth name was Hiram King Williams.

Wayne said...

So when Elvis sang "In the Ghetto," he meant Di yiddishe gas?

BobinVT said...

Friday question:

I was wondering Ken if you've been approached by the Archive of American Televison.

http://emmytvlegends.org/

They missed the golden age of TV, but are doing a great job compiling an oral history of television by interviewing actors, writers, directors, etc. I don't see either you or David Isaacs on the list of interviews so far. Based on many of the people that they have interviewed already, I have to question their priorities.

Tor Hershman said...

According to this video
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z7iQRFP_e90
Jews ain't Jewish.

Henry D said...

Not sure why anyone but the Orthodox would cite the "Jewish Law" on birth line to determine if someone is Jewish.

That's like saying someone is or isn't a Christian because some fundamentalist sect says so.

If one of his grandmother's was Jewish then, at best, he's a quarter-Jewish.

Still a quarter Jewish Elvis is better than an Elvis not Jewish at all.

Tom Quigley said...

My first tipoff was when I heard him sing "I'll Halvah Blue Christmas"...

Greg Ehrbar said...

I dunno, Ken, remember these lyrics?

"Wise men say / only fools rush in."

That's based on a quote.

By Alexander Pope.

chalmers said...

It's down on the end of lonely street, the "Tsuris Hotel."

Pete Grossman said...

And let's remember - we have it on film - that Forest Gump taught Elvis how to swivel his hips and shake those legs.

Lou H. said...

Don't forget Elvis' rare recordings of Shtick on You and Gentile on My Mind.

Johnny said...

Was Elvis the REAL King of the Jews?

I can't believe this sentence wasn't used.

Mike McCann said...

>>By the way, ELVIS AND GLADYS is not the only book to contend the King was Jewish. (Note: ELVIS AND GLADYS is not to be confused with PETE AND GLADYS, a sitcom from the ‘60s starring gentiles.)>>

FWIW, Cara Williams, who played *that* Gladys, is Jewish.

Brandon Peacy said...

Elvis DID record a song called "Promised Land"... HELLO? He couldn't have made it more obvious. And don't forget "Guitar Mensch".

Storm said...

Three thousand years of beautiful tradition, from Moses to Sandy Koufax...


Storm

Jeffrey Mark said...

So I imagine Elvis had a Briss and was bar-mitzvahed?

Jake Mabe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jake Mabe said...

I guess I'm the only person in America who actually likes "Change of Habit." Sigh...

Of course, at that point, I'd watch Mary Tyler Moore read names out of a phone book (especially if she were wearing Capri pants) and Elvis was the King after all.

elviszel said...

The effect Elvis had on the Jewish identity of the generation coming of age after the second world war is far more important than his religious affiliation. Please read Elvis Presley and the American Spirit by Howard Senzel, available on Amazon and you will gain much valuable knowledge and insight

Lara McCully said...

How come people are only considered Jewish if their Jewish blood comes from the mother's side and not the father's?