Elvis Film Sparks ‘Riot’ of Juveniles’
Commotion on a much wider scale occurred at the Paramount Theater in Oakland, California, at a showing of Jailhouse Rock on November 13, 1957. The next day, the Oakland Tribune reported on the “riot.”
A packed house had just finished viewing the 6 p.m. showing of Elvis’s newest film when the action started. When the theater lights went up to allow the audience to leave, five boys reportedly “grabbed” several girls as they walked up the aisle. Other boys jumped to the girls’ defense, and fistfights broke out.
Eighteen Oakland police officers responded to a riot call at the Paramount and found about 1,000 youths milling around inside the theater. Fights were still breaking out, and one boy even took a swing at a special police officer. The theater was closed down for an hour while officers suppressed the disturbance. Five boys were initially arrested, but three were soon released. One 15-year-old was booked for disturbing the peace and resisting arrest. Another boy, age 16, was held for disturbing the peace. Estimated damage to the Paramount building was assessed at about $1,000.
According to the Oakland Tribune, “The showing of ‘Copper Sky,’ the theater’s second feature, was held up for an hour while the management refunded money to more than 500 youngsters who panicked when the scattered fights broke out.”
Comment: Did the disturbance in that Oakland theater really qualify as a riot? Let’s see—multiple fights, a thousand dollars in damage, some arrests. Let’s call it a mini-riot. The amazing thing is that in that one theater a handful of teenage punks were able to cause more of a ruckus than occurred at any of Elvis’s 28 live appearances during 1957. The reason there were no riots despite Elvis’s wild act on stage?—Colonel Parker. He made sure enough security was on hand to keep things from getting out of hand. It’s just one of the many things he did for which the Colonel never received the credit he deserved.