By Grayson Kamm
First Coast News
JACKSONVILLE, FL -- This summer marks the 50th anniversary of Elvis Presley's famous shows at the Florida Theatre. In the crowd sat a prominent Duval County Judge who wasn't there to enjoy the King's music. His job was to make sure Elvis' hips were behaving themselves.
It was the first big show in the history of the First Coast. The man we've come to call the King was just a kid, only 21 years old. But the way he sang his music -- along with the way he snarled his lip and shook his hips -- rocked this town.
When this guy wiggled his waist -- he hypnotized the whole world. And on August 10th and 11th, 1956, the smokin' hot singer set his sights on six shows at the Florida Theatre.
You can still see the spot on Newnan Street where teenagers lined up around the block to get a glimpse. The mob was so stricken by the sideburns, the smile, and the sexiness -- guards slipped him in through a back alley -- the same way they sneak in some of the biggest stars today.
And you can't blame the crowd for its craziness. Just read the ad from the Florida Times-Union that ran the morning of the first show. It's jazzed up with bold letters and bolder claims.
"On stage today and tomorrow!"
"Mr. Dynamite -- in person!"
"The sensation of the nation!"
In fact, "the nation's only atomic powered singer!"
The three big shows each night were well worth the ticket price: $1.25 in advance or $1.50 at the door.
For plenty of parents, though, all that talk of dynamite and explosions was more than just hype. Jacksonville is where the rock -- almost met the jailhouse.
"My father had gotten calls from various cities that he had visited -- by law enforcement and judges from the area -- saying that riots had been caused as a result of his performance," said Judge David Gooding, who holds the same seat his father did 50 years ago: Juvenile Court Judge.
"My understanding is that a civic group filed a petition to censor the performance," the younger Judge Gooding said. So the elder Judge Marion Gooding called the "sinful" young singer into his chambers. The two talked over how much -- was too much.
"My father's response, after meeting with Elvis and his lawyers, and hearing from the petitioners, was to instruct him that he would accept wiggling from side-to-side, but no back-and-forth motions," Gooding said.
"What I've been told is that Elvis behaved himself like a gentleman. He was represented by an attorney, and the petitioners got along, and everyone got along well. And I think Elvis understood the concerns that my father had at the time."
And to keep the King honest, the elder Judge Gooding sat quietly in the back row through all of the first three shows.
"What I have been told is that my father was very pleased with the way Elvis behaved himself during the performances here in Jacksonville," said Judge David Gooding, who was four years old when all this went on.
If you want proof the elder judge was all right with Elvis, consider this. "All three of my sisters had dates and tickets to come to the concerts... Dad let them come. He saw the performances and thought they were appropriate for them to see," the younger judge said.
And those three shows even won the King a new fan: the no-nonsense judge in the back.
"I can remember back during the '70s and '60s that my father would always watch Elvis with great fondness when he would appear on television. He was a big fan," Judge Gooding said.
One month later came Presley's first stop on the Ed Sullivan Show. Millions watched, and his fame only grew. But to this day, any true story of the King's life includes a stop in Jacksonville.
"It's really kind of a unique part of history. One that we'll never see again," Gooding said.
The Florida Theatre will be showing one of Elvis' biggest movies, "Viva Las Vegas."
You can catch that on September 3rd. There will be other activities to celebrate the history of the King in Jacksonville, including Elvis and Ann-Margret look-a-like contests.
Click here for more information.
Photos in the video story come from the book "Elvis Close-Up" by Jay B. Leviton and Ger J. Rijff, published by Simon & Schuster, Inc.
First Coast News